I ran thirteen miles on my daughter’s first birthday. I was training for the Chicago marathon and felt extra good that day. I had a great endorphin high during her birthday party. I was relaxed and calm and thin and healthy. And though I had suffered a few minor career set-backs since bringing her home, I was certain everything was going to be fine. I had a lot of options. I had a lot of friends. I had a lot of money.
But soon, because of that very same precious little one-year-old, I had to stop training for the marathon. She had not slept more than two hours at a time, for four months. And I was getting so little sleep, I would actually throw up if I tried to run. Very soon after that first birthday, most of my money was wiped out as well. It only took a few months. Multiple ambulance rides (at around ten grand a pop) and several emergency procedures at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital can clean you out pretty quickly.
All those options I thought I had? They dried up as well. Three or four serious missteps by my label and my management and ME, was all it took. And the friends? Well, let’s just put it this way: friends are plentiful when the money and wine is flowing and there’s laughter and success all around. Those are the times I love, too. I don’t blame people for not wanting to be around serious trouble. I wouldn’t want to be either.
And so, my entire life’s foundation came apart, piece by piece, year by year, dollar by dollar …day by day. When you go from driving a Mercedes, having meetings about where to invest your money and how to “expand your brand” to pawning instruments and rolling quarters to feed your family, and you’ve lost your swagger, and you’ve lost your ability to earn a living, and you’ve lost your looks, and you’ve lost your health, and you’ve pretty nearly lost your mind …only THEN can you finally start becoming who you are actually supposed to be.
I’ve often said losing everything doesn’t only reveal WHO you really are …it reveals WHY you really are. At least it did for me.
In every person’s novel, if there isn’t a chapter called, “I lost Everything I had and Questioned Everything I’d Ever Believed,” then they’re not close to being finished with it. Because if you haven’t yet lost everything in your life, you may not be risking enough. If the answers to your questions are simple and the fixes to your problems are easy, you may not be doing it right.
My favorite Jesus story is the one about the rich young ruler. I love it because I think it’s the most misrepresented and misunderstood Jesus story of all. It also may be the most important. For those who aren’t preacher’s kids and who haven’t heard bible lessons since they were old enough to gum baby food, it goes like this:
A rich young ruler came to Jesus for some advice. “Rich young ruler” in today’s terms would be “trust fund baby” or “one per-center.” This kid was a good kid. He’d kept all the commandments all his life. He did all the good stuff. He hadn’t missed a beat when it came to “doing the right thing.” So, just to keep it real and keep himself “woke” (as the kids say), he went to this Jesus dude and asked what MORE he could do to keep his game tight. Jesus didn’t miss a beat. He just said, “sell all your stuff and give it to the poor …bye.”
The kid couldn’t do it. It was just too much. He wasn’t ready.
A lot of people make this story about “the poor” and how the rich have a responsibility to give all their stuff away and social justice and all of that. And I’m sure those temporal things certainly play a part in Jesus answer. But being rich and being poor are surface, physical things. They’re not “soul” things. I think Jesus was a little deeper than that. I think Jesus was saying to this kid, “you can’t buy your way out of getting your hands dirty, bro. YOU have to do it. Not someone else.” He was giving him a chance to find his real, true self. He was opening a corridor that would’ve been life changing. This (to me) was about saying, “until YOU LOSE IT ALL, you can’t find out who you really are. And until THEN, you can’t really make a difference in the world.”
And that translates further of me. I have to love and forgive and give back …not comment on ethers who don’t. Rather than trying to make everybody else conform to something …it’s on ME to constantly check my own self.
I lost everything, not by choice but by circumstance. So believe me, I’m not telling everyone to try and become poor. I’m not making a value judgement on how much money or stuff you have. I don’t think any of those things are, in and of themselves, evil. I’m also not telling you to give everything away. But I am advocating risking a lot for love’s sake. I am encouraging you to give more than you think you can.
I had lunch with a friend some time ago. They talked about how unhappy they were, even though they had plenty of money and security and success. I asked a simple question: “where are you giving back?” And that one question seemed to halt them. To me …THAT’S the point of it all.
And that leads me back to my daughter’s first birthday …
That little one-year-old mystery just turned fifteen this past week. She didn’t get better. Chances are, she never will. And that’s okay. In the fourteen years since that first birthday, I’ve learned a lot about Angelman Syndrome and special needs care giving. I’ve learned a lot about PTSD in parents of special needs children. And THAT has led me into PTSD work with veterans and others. I’ve learned what music is REALLY about. I’ve learned a whole lot about not judging people at first glance. And listening for some deeper issue in their lives, rather than making snap judgements on their choices. And I’ve learned to try and help instead of just being a spectator.
ALL of that was born of loss …not gain. I didn’t learn to love by winning. I learned by losing. Not that we shouldn’t try to win – of course we should. I’m cheering you on. And I’m always striving to win, myself. But there is a door you can walk through that will change you forever. And it involves finding yourself without all the things you thought were stable …to hold onto.
What I learned from losing it all is that terrible things are going to happen …and it’s okay. We will all come face-to-face with our greatest fears …and it’s okay. Everyone we love is going to die …and it’s okay. The world is not going to turn the way we want it to …and it’s okay. People will fail us and disappoint us and surprise us with their weakness …and it’s okay. We’re going to grieve great losses …and it’s okay.
My baby still has Angelman Syndrome …and it’s okay. I lost everything and then re-gained it all and then some. But even if I hadn’t, it would still be okay.
You see, once you lose everything you think you want …you can finally find what you actually need. And THEN, even when everything is not going to be okay …it’s okay.