Listen, Learn, Love!

The life and death of a Greater Cincinnati transgender teenager, born Joshua Alcorn, but later known as Leelah Alcorn, is incredibly tragic. [Josh], had known since [he] was 4 years old that something was different about [him]; [he] felt like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, with no idea how to escape. Finally, when [he] was 14 years old, [he] found out there was a name for this situation: transgender. Leelah was born. Her ten-year labor and birth was disregarded by her own parents like a bastard child of a shamed teenage mother, unwilling and unprepared to accept and embrace the reality of the gift she had been given. Leelah’s parents tried to fight Leelah back into obscurity with everything their religious beliefs had to offer, in order to “regain their son,” Josh, whom they raised and loved.

With their image damaged and their religion tested, the Alcorns felt a need to pull Leelah from traditional school and continue her education at home, online. Further discoveries of what they considered inappropriate materials led them to prevent Leelah from using any forms of social media. Leelah was essentially cut off from her friends. The only people she had contact with were her family and people at church – both groups representing oppression and negative judgment, forcing Leelah into isolation and depression. Her parents made token attempts to help, but ended up making things worse. Leelah was prescribed increasing amounts of antidepressants and was sent to a therapist. This therapy, however, was something I had never heard of but apparently is quite a hot-button issue. It is called conversion therapy and it has been deemed harmful by many and even outlawed in some states. The apparent goal of this therapy is to use some bad religion to convert the person to a “normal,” heterosexual christian. Ultimately, all of the methods the Alcorns used left Leelah without any true sense of love, acceptance, or HOPE. They soon found themselves without hope of ever “regaining their son” Josh, when Leelah stepped in front of a semi-trailer on I-71 and died at the scene.

My goal is to simply offer a fresh perspective and possibly bridge a gap of misunderstanding. Believe me, I am neither a therapist, counselor, psychologist, nor psychiatrist. I am neither a pastor, reverend, expert, nor someone close to the situation. Additionally, I do not represent a group or organization involved with political activism or lobbying, especially associated with this particular issue. What I am, is a father and a person whose heart breaks with every detail released about this story. With respect to this subject, I have a particular interest because my oldest daughter, Madeline, is a lesbian. I know it is not the same as the situation laid out in this story, but it is relevant.

They share a theme of someone realizing a difference between themselves and the majority of people around them. As Madeline told me, “You’re constantly affirmed of who you are because everyone around you is like you.” She added, that’s not the case with transgender people. It never used to be the case with homosexuals, which is why there were so many too ashamed to come out. Consequently, both share a longing for a similar sense of affirmation, acceptance and desire to be loved and treated just like anyone else, but with respect for their individualism. Also, these self-realizations have been met with a lot of self-doubt and questions of whether God loves them. That’s why it is crucial for them to have people in their lives that can model that love for them.

I am a Christian. Born, raised and educated in the Catholic faith, I decided my relationship with God is better cultivated in a non-denominational Christian environment. In fact, my faith has consistently been put to the fire and I continue to be refined by it. This story is a good example of a refining moment. It has brought to the forefront many of my own thoughts and emotions; making me acknowledge them, deal with them, and as this post accomplishes, articulate and admit them in a public manner. The public admission being the most challenging because it becomes more real and makes me vulnerable. It also leaves me open to public scrutiny, which admittedly, gives me even more reason to reevaluate.

One thing that troubles me about this story and others like it, is the perception people develop of God and Christianity. The fact that Leelah’s parents are devout Christians, which “justifies” how they handled the situation, causes many people to demonize Christianity and Christians as a whole. Of course, that’s not too much of a stretch for those in the LGBTQ community, since many of them have already been incorrectly convinced that God doesn’t love them. I believe, however, they can understand the danger and the damage created with the use of negative generalizations and the resulting prejudice. Another thing that troubles me is when religion and FAITH are confused. Many Christians, among others, exploit individual parts of the Bible while ignoring the grand message. They are so faithful to their specific religion that they completely fail to convey their faithfulness to God. Meanwhile, others – a child, for example – pay the consequences. Christians are humans, too. It’s not realistic to expect every (or any, for that matter) Christian to fully represent and appropriately live out God’s will for us. It certainly is the goal, but not an expectation. Even God knows and admits that. The expectation, however, is that Christians possess and display the humility that Jesus modeled in order to recognize their faults and put LOVE of others before personal pride, public image, or anything else. It has to be love they can recognize and feel.

Ten years ago, I would not have anywhere near the same perspective I have now. Due to friends and coworkers and especially because of Madeline, I have grown exponentially in awareness, knowledge and wisdom, with respect to all things related to the LGBTQ community; and I am still learning. What I wish for the LGBTQ crowd is that they will understand that God does not condemn them any more than any other sinner, including myself. We are all sinners, because we all fall short of God’s glory. This is how I can say God knows and admits that we can’t live a perfect life because it is through the life, death and resurrection of His perfect Son – Jesus – that we are offered salvation from the death (the chosen eternal rebellion and separation from God) we deserve. This is the message so many people continue to miss – the Good News! We don’t have to focus on the things that condemn us or divide us. We can and should celebrate what saves us and brings us together – the love of God!

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV

Love is a noun and a verb. It isn’t something you can hide behind. It has to be on display as a representation of who you are and what you believe. There is nothing to love about Leelah Alcorn’s story. Her life was tragic and her death was even more so. Everywhere you look, people are suffering – internally and/or externally – from something. Leelah wanted her death to “mean something.” Unfortunately, taking her own life (without regard for others directly affected, like the driver of the truck) really only means that another person has fallen victim to a misrepresentation of faith, the absence of hope and love that fell aimlessly into the abyss of misunderstanding. The true meaning that must result is in the lives of the rest of us.

I have no doubt the Alcorns had a strong love for their child. They just didn’t understand or accept who their child was. It’s easy to criticize or accuse. It’s easy to defend and protect. It’s easy to take something from this story and blow it up into a national campaign. Life isn’t about doing what’s easy. It’s about doing what’s right and necessary. In this case, we all need to show each other love by listening, learning and doing our best to understand. Most importantly, by not judging and condemning. We need to offer a sense of hope that whatever suffering someone may be going through, it is temporary. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if that tunnel is down a completely different road than the one we’re traveling. We all must have faith that even when doing the right thing feels wrong, the reward will come. So, whatever your religion or prejudices, love one another as much as you love yourself.

As always, I welcome any and all questions or comments. This issue is very important and very difficult. It has taken me a few days to process through the many varied feelings I have had in order to produce the most understanding, objective perspective possible. As I stated, I am still learning. No matter where you are in your own process, I respect your honesty. If you have no intention to learn, grow and develop, and only want to sensationalize and brutalize, then please choose to be respectful by keeping any cruel or inappropriate comments to yourself. Remember, everybody lost something in this story!

Below are a few links to news stories and columns about this story. Please take a few minutes to view them.

http://www.people.com/article/leelah-alcorn-death-sparks-emotional-debate-parents-speak

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2895534/Heartbreaking-suicide-note-17-year-old-transgender-girl-DELETED-Tumblr-page-candlelit-vigils-held-honor.html

http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/davidbadash/dan_savage_parents_of_trans_teen_leelah_alcorn_threw_her_in_front_of_that_truck

http://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news/hamilton-county/cincinnati/leelah-alcorn-vigil-organizers-hope-to-show-other-transgender-teens-there-is-love-hope

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Getting Better, Bit By Bit

“Technique before speed. If you can’t do it right, it won’t matter how fast you do it.” When Chef Rob said these words to me on my first day at Kroger, while I was cutting up vegetables in the kitchen of the Bistro at Kenwood Fresh Fare, I doubt he understood the lasting impression they would have on me.

To me, how I work is just as important, if not more so, as how much, how fast, or even what kind of work I am doing. Generally speaking, I am a quality over quantity kind of guy. Of course, there are always some exceptions, but I digress. Looking back, I can think of many times in my life when I have allowed my perception and frustration of not performing at an acceptable level, to get in the way of completing and sometimes even starting a task, project, activity, or endeavor of some sort. Over time, I have developed the patience and resolve to work things through, bit by bit. I have learned performance perfection is not necessarily the goal, especially when you’re just beginning. Mistakes and frustration are real and they are okay. In fact, mistakes are the lessons we learn from and frustration is a sign we already possess the confidence and the know-how to improve. The goal, is to perform every step to the best of your abilities.

No matter what I am doing, I always try to remind myself that every step along the way has value. Even after the muscles have committed every movement to memory, the brain still needs to evaluate, prioritize, and communicate. Even though our habits are developed, the world around us is still subject to change, which means we must also be adaptable. Often, we find the world around us is not as patient with us, so we must continue to push ourselves with increased effort. It is through the continual practice and performance of this, over time, that enables us to improve how much and how fast we work; and that will help influence what kind of work we will do.

Flash Fiction Monday – Bouncing Back

If you love good writing and quick reads, you do not want to pass this up. It has a powerful message, or two, packed into a wonderfully pleasant little package!

Brigham Vaughn

Week Five

Bouncing Back

The house sat—vacant and alone—for many years.  The roof sagged, the paint peeled, and the house lost hope.

It slumbered until the rumble of low voices awoke it.  It creaked and groaned as the men inspected it, caught snippets of words like “great bones” and “so much potential.”  It was afraid to hope, but one day the men moved in.  The work was endless and the house shuddered as its roof was replaced and the floors were resanded.  But there was happiness in the house too, murmured “I love you’s” and once a “will you marry me?”.

The work brought the house back to life as the couple lovingly painted the siding white and planted flowers.  The house settled in for a long spell of contentment but it was broken by the loud screech of a very small person.  Alarmed, it watched the small one, unsure of what…

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The New Year

A new year begins as another year ends.
How was your year? How good are your friends?
Your job, your health, and your finances;
Your social status and your romances;
All contribute to the year you’ve had
And whether you consider it good or bad.
But have you considered the most important things?
Not your favorite celebs or group that sings.
Have you thought about the gift of you?
Your contribution from the deeds you do.
How much of an impact have you made on others?
How many strangers have you loved like brothers?
Has someone else given you such grace?
Met you in the most unlikely place?
Has anyone blessed you without expectation?
Has your love reached out to another nation?
What about your addictions and vices, you know,
The ones you try so hard not to show?
Have you done your last drug or placed your last bet;
Had your last call, smoked your last cigarette?
Have you watched your last porn, or wrecked your last house;
Fooled around for the last time with someone who isn’t your spouse?
Are you tired of eating out or dying inside;
Or giving in to your foolish pride?
Are you riddled with guilt or cloaked in shame?
Has laziness become synonymous with your name?
Are you fighting a battle you hoped would be done?
Did you realize the victory has already been won?
If you accept the One who has saved your soul,
Prepare yourself for a stronger role.
This next year may be the best one yet.
You never know how many more opportunities you’ll get.
So don’t waste time with a loved one or friend,
Because before you know it, this new year will end.

Jesus’ Top 10 Facebook Posts

While writing my most recent post, “Motivation vs Affirmation,” I made a comment regarding Jesus and social media. Immediately following that post, my mind was flooded with humorous thoughts of what Jesus would post on Facebook. Here is my Top 10:

clover10. Changed profile pic to a clover – props to St. Patrick for the idea – b/c getting all 3 of me in a selfie was just too challenging! #holytrinity

clover9. Feeling super jealous right now. Lebron goes home to play ball and he’s worshipped. The Son of Man goes home to fulfill scripture and gets run outta town! #notcool

clover8. Compiling my biblical name-change list and need suggestions. Here’s what I have so far: Simon = Peter/the Rock; Levi = Matthew; Saul = Paul; Jacob = Israel…

clover7. Just unfriended Judas.

clover6. I should try voice recognition software. Hurts to type with these holes in my hands.

clover5. Tried voice recognition software. It couldn’t tell which language I was using.

clover4. Now Hiring: Recruiter!
I ask for 50 good candidates, Abraham talks me down to 10, but I only end up with 1.

clover3. Tried Crossfit today. Not what I was expecting.

clover2. I am totally shipping Adam and Eve.

clover1. You are forgiven! #thanksforasking

I hope you enjoyed this list. Please check out the rest of my blog and leave comments! If you think of a humorous post that could be added to this list, I would love to read it. Leave it in the comments on the blog itself so others can enjoy it as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivation vs Affirmation

Recently, I was given some troubling news that instantly made me angry enough to have some vengeful, unpleasant thoughts. These thoughts were so strong they were followed by a desire to share them with others on Facebook, or by word of mouth. Then, the guilt set in. I felt the need to include the caveat: “If it weren’t for the Christian in me, I would…”

Next, I started thinking, “When Jesus walked the earth, do you think He ever thought to Himself, ‘If it weren’t for the God in me, I would…’?” Probably not. As far as I know, Jesus was not into expressing thoughts just for the sake of being heard, or just to get a reaction. He did want to be heard and He wanted those who heard Him to react, but it was not a selfish endeavour. His message was always for those with ears to hear and eyes to see, for their good and the good of all mankind.

So, who benefits from me sharing my shameful thoughts on social media? Sharing lessons are one thing, but sins are quite another. Obviously, it seems as though the more shameful posts get the most attention. But again, what is the true motivation for the post? Would that motivation match the desire God has for me? More importantly, is that motivation worth discounting the most valuable aspect of my existence?

If Jesus were here now, how would He be perceived in social media? I think the memes, photo and sound editors, and anything else you might find on tumblr would contribute to His message getting butchered! I suppose He could tweet, but the character limits could cause an issue. He would be a YouTube sensation, though. What we wouldn’t see is anything that even implies a need or desire to separate Himself from His Father who sent Him. They are one in the same.

Finally, with all things considered, I believe as a Christian, I am better off sticking with promoting an image God can be proud of. I would love it if I knew God thought of me the way He thought of David: as a man after God’s own heart. That is an affirmation any son would love to receive from his Father. Unfortunately, my human nature forces me to constantly choose between my motivation and God’s affirmation. With all do respect to my friends, family and anyone else that “likes” my posts, God’s is the only real affirmation I truly care to get!

Which option would you/do you choose?
What filters do you run your reactions thru?
How do you think Jesus would fare in the world of social media?

Please answer or comment below. Thanks for reading this post and feel free to check out my previous posts.

Just a Day at the Mall

This past week, while working at the Fresh Healthy Cafe at Kenwood Towne Center, in Cincinnati, OH; a special customer came thru the line. My wife Julie, the manager, had called me from the storage room to the counter so I could meet none other than Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, Andy Dalton. Very quietly and unassuming, there he stood, leaning back against a pillar, looking down at and tapping on his phone.

With a ball cap on, covering his distinguished eyebrows, he was an average Joe; not especially large or obvious in any way. Until another employee connected the name Andy on his order with his well-known face, his identity was  secure. Then suddenly, it wasn’t.

He seemed to be waiting forever. All of a sudden, our smoothie orders were backed up. I ended up making one of his and poured both into cups from the blenders. About a dozen mall patrons had gathered around him by then, snapping pictures of him and selfies with him. Very quickly, my excitement turned to pity. No matter what he does for a living or how much money he makes, he was just a customer wanting a couple smoothies.

About 15 minutes later, my wife and I sat down with our lunch in the food court and I almost went into shock. Andy Dalton was still there, sitting just ten feet away. I was simply amazed to see him sitting there in a booth, playing with his baby, having a seemingly normal conversation with his wife – taking a break during a seemingly normal trip to the mall. The best part was that nobody was hounding them or fussing over them. They were just your average family of three doing an average family activity. So, what did I do? I ate my lunch with my wife, then got back to work.

That day ended up as yet another good lesson in humility. Andy Dalton certainly played the leading role in that, but I believe he was also a benefactor of it. I would hate it if I felt like I was not able to go out in public with my family, simply because of my job and the fame that may go along with it. It was a good reminder that celebrities are everyday people – and people, every day. They should be allowed to carry out their normal, daily lives, as much as we expect them to behave in a normal, civilized manner.

So, thanks to Andy Dalton for not acting like a one-man circus. Thanks to the many mall patrons, that day, that were either considerate or busy enough to leave him alone.

#ThoseWhoDared

I was watching a show saved on our DVR that was originally aired on Veterans Day. During one of the commercial breaks, I was delayed getting to the fast-forward button, so the first commercial began. When it ended, I rewound and watched it again; and again; and again. I was practically in tears! USAA was thanking everyone who dared to take the oath to join the armed forces.

Not just those who fought in a war. Not just those who were deployed overseas during their time of service. And not only those who completed a full term of enlistment or as a commissioned officer, or graduated from a service academy.
They appreciate everyone that simply dared to sign up to serve, regardless of their performance or the circumstances of their discharge. To me, it was a game changing message. Plus, it echoed the words of an old friend. Why, you ask?

Because I dared. I dared against the advice of many people around me. I dared when most people said it was a bad time for me to do so. I dared anyway. On July 24, 1998, at the Indianapolis MEPS, I dared to take the oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic.” On September 2, 1998, I kissed my proud, tearful, pregnant wife and our 3 and a half year old son goodbye, boarded a van bound for the Indianapolis MEPS again, then the following day I arrived at the United States Navy Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, IL. On July 8, 1999, I was administratively discharged under honorable conditions.

Apparently, the stress of military life plus having a new baby did not mesh well with me. My mind and body began rebelling in ways I couldn’t control. At first, I was getting in trouble for oversleeping and showing up late. Then, my wife witnessed some strange behaviors occurring at night. Finally, after I dropped my baby because I fell asleep holding her, I sought help. Sleepwalking was the diagnosis. The options were to ignore it or be discharged.

Ignoring it didn’t work, so ultimately, I was sent packing. For a while, I just accepted it. Then, for a long time, I was ashamed. I wasn’t strong enough or good enough. I couldn’t even fulfill one term of enlistment. I never even made it to a ship. I wasn’t sure I was actually a veteran, so I wasn’t comfortable discussing the fact I was even in the Navy. So I mentioned it to a friend I grew up with, Michelle Breyer, who is a Marine officer currently serving in either Japan or Korea.

She said it doesn’t matter what happened, because at least I was willing to make the sacrifice. I signed up, finished boot camp, and performed well throughout training and in school. The results were beyond my control.

As a father I can easily grasp this message because I try to tell my kids the same thing. You can’t control everything. If you maintain the little disciplines and put yourself in a position to where you are prepared to handle almost anything, or serve beyond your own personal accommodations; then you have done your job and you are successful. If you have put your own ambitions of personal wealth and comfort aside and took an oath to promote freedom and democracy around the world; then you are a veteran. Thank you, USAA and Michelle, because you have helped me remember and realize my true identity and my creed.

I am a husband and father of four, because I love to be. I am a college graduate, because I put in the time, worked hard and never gave up. I am not where I thought I would be, professionally, but I am dedicated to continual development; because I want to be.

“I am a United States Sailor…” because I dared to be.