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how to have hope in a broken world



Over the weekend, one of the deadliest mass shootings took place at a "The Dark Knight Rises" movie showing. Though I live far from Aurora, Colorado, where the shooting took place, I was deeply moved by tragedy. Sadly, this wasn't the first mass shooting I'd heard about on the news -- I still can recall those broadcasts flashing images of Columbine, the DC Sniper, VA Tech -- but this one seemed different. Perhaps the nature of where it took place is what left me so stunned. A movie theatre is a place for enjoyment -- and, more importantly, for escape from the troubles of the real world -- and to have something so horrific happen in a place of imagination and escape just seems even more tragic. 

When seemingly senseless tragedies like this occur, it's hard to stay positive. Random acts of violence make seeing the good in the world increasingly difficult. In general, it's difficult to stay focused on what's going right when the news often focuses on what's going wrong. With all the negative stories being shown on the news -- all that heartache and loss and tragedy -- it's hard to have hope. It's hard to believe that, in spite of all the madness and chaos, there is goodness in the world.

After hearing of the horrific incident that took place at "The Dark Knight Rises," I found my own hope waning. How could I be hopeful about my own future when there was so much darkness in the world? How could I see the light when constantly barraged with images of negativity and hate? And, perhaps more importantly, how could I share my message of positivity when I was failing to feel hopeful myself? 

The other night I found myself in bed, alone in the dark, imagining the terror those people in the movie theater must have experienced. I felt a rush of fear, tainted with immense sadness. I opened my eyes and noticed light from a streetlamp slipping through the slants in the blinds, painting a faint yellow light across the wall. It wasn't a lot of light, but it was enough to brighten the room. In that moment, I realized: even in the darkness, light can shine unexpectedly. Even in this broken world, hope can light up our lives. 

The key is to let hope in. Even when things are tough -- even when they seem terrible -- we have to have hope. Without it, it's much too easy to be overtaken by negativity. Without hope, we'll live forever in the darkness, never noticing that light slanting across even the darkest of times. The world is undoubtedly broken -- mass shootings, war, heartbreak, and pain -- but, as John Green said, hope is not crazy. It is necessary. 


How to Have Hope (Even in a Broken World)


Notice kindness in others. With all the negativity in the media, it's can be hard to believe people are actually good. But they are. Look around and identify the kind acts you see. Pay attention to the doors being held, the favors being done, the smiles being shared. Make a list if you can. In every day, there is kindness, goodness -- you just have to look for it. Choosing to notice the good will make you feel hopeful and will remind you that, in spite of the darkness, there are little glimpses of light. 

Be grateful for this life.
Cliche as it is, the old "every day is a gift" saying rings with truth. Tragedies like the one that took place over the weekend remind us of life's uncertainty. We really don't know what day will be our last. Now, before you let that idea bum you out, make the choice to see it in a positive light. The unexpectedness of life should not cause you fear; instead, it should inspire you to be thankful for every day, every moment, you're alive. Each moment is a opportunity and to realize that is to have hope.

Avoid negative-only news.
Most news sources focus primarily on the negative things that have happened over a course of a day. It's important to stay well-informed, but it's just as important not to let the news suck all the hope from your life. If you must watch/read the news, supplement it with some positive news (like Happy News or Daily Good). Seeking out positive news stories and focusing on them will encourage a sense of hopefulness, a belief that goodness really is out there (even if we have to look a little harder for it). 

Be enthusiastic about life.
The more you love about your life, the more hope you'll have. If you enjoy what you do, who you're around, and how you feel about yourself, you'll be much more hopeful when faced with negativity. Make an effort to be enthusiastic about life. Spend time doing what you love. Spend time with people you love. The things that matter most to you are the things that will help you embrace hope when times are tough; these are the things that will inspire you to believe in the good. 


Even days later, I struggle to shake the sadness and fear I felt when I first heard about the shooting at "The Dark Knight Rises." Perhaps I will never shake the feelings completely. But I know now that I have hope -- and that's not something to take lightly. Hope shines its light in even the darkest corners. Hope is essential to living a positive life, to believing that, in spite of all this chaos and pain, there is goodness. Hope is not always easy to hang on to; like light slanting through a window, it's not something we can easily grasp. But we must do what we can to hold on to it -- to believe it in. As Tyler Knott Gregson said: "Please hold on to your hope. It is in such limited supply around the world these days. Hold on to it and be proud that you are one of the ones that does." 

how to keep the main thing, the main thing

Stephen Covey's words of wisdom -- "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." -- are certainly poignant, but it's not always so simple to identify the main thing -- or keep it the main thing. With so many aspects of life to balance -- work, relationships, the pursuit of personal passions -- it's no wonder that that main thing often gets lost amidst the lengthy to-do lists and the impromptu must-do's. 

But Covey has a point. For each of us, there should be a main thing -- the thing that fuels us, that motivates us, that keeps us engaged and interested in life. The main thing could be a hobby, a career, even a relationship (though I wouldn't advise making another person your main thing...). Your main thing could be a state of mind, a life-long dream, a career path. No matter what your main thing is, we should all strive to keep the main thing, the main thing. Easier said than done, right? Below are some ideas for identifying the main thing -- and keeping it the main thing -- in your life. 


3 Methods for Maintaining the Main Thing 


1. Evaluate your current situation. 

Think about how you spend your time. Think about the people in your life. Are these things exciting you? Motivating you? Are they in tune with the path you want to be on? If not, what does excite you? What makes you want to get up in the morning with a big smile on your face? If that's not what you're doing every single day, then you're missing out on the main thing and it's time to make some changes. Remember: no one is going to make the main thing your priority for you. It's up to you to identify what makes you thrilled to be alive -- your main thing -- and it's up to you to make sure you prioritize it in your life. 


2. Make it part of your daily routine. 

If you want your main thing to stay in focus, you've got to put it where you can see it. Don't put it off until someday -- or even until the weekends. Make sure you do what you feel passionate about every single day. Pencil it in on your calendar. Schedule it as a meeting. Do whatever you need to do to make time for the main thing in your life. If you don't actively find a way to incorporate the main thing into your life on a regular basis, it will become out of focus, blurry, and it will become less and less of a priority for you. If you want the main thing to be the main thing, you have to keep it in the forefront. Zoom in on it daily. 


3. Create a to-don't list. 

Make a list of things that do (or could) get in the way of the main thing. Are any of the things on the list currently part of your life? If they are, stop doing/seeing/being them -- or minimize them if you can't cut them out altogether. Anything standing n the way of your main thing is essentially standing in the way of you. While I’d recommend directing your attention to how to incorporate more of your main thing into your life (positive over negative!), knowing what will stand in the way of the main thing is also important when it comes to keeping the main thing, the main thing.


Of course, keeping the main thing -- whatever that might be -- the main thing is difficult with all of life's distractions and detours. It will take effort, perseverance, and determination to keep the main thing in focus. But life's short. Don't you want what matters most to you to be what you spend most of your time and energy on? I certainly do. Don't waste any more time on the sideshows, on the things that don't really mean that much to you. Life is short. Keep the main thing, the main thing.  

two years + counting : 6 stay-sober suggestions


"Change is not a bolt of lightning that arrives with a zap.
It is a bridge built brick by brick, every day, with sweat and humility and slips.
It is hard work, and slow work, but it can be thrilling to watch it take shape."

Sarah Hepola



After reading Pick the Weeds, Keep the Flowers: My Year of Sobriety, a Positively Present reader recently emailed me and asked for my advice on how to get (and stay) sober. It's actually hard for me to believe that today it's been two whole years since I had a drink -- and it's even harder to explain (even to myself!) how exactly I've made this happen. Cliche as it sounds, it really has been a one-day-at-a-time thing. Each day I do it and then I look back and realize another day, week, month -- and now year! -- has passed. Over the past two years, I've learned a lot about how to stay sober -- and, in the process, I've learned a lot about living life without a substance available to cloud up my view.

Everyone's experience is different, but I believe there are some general principles for that can be used for struggling to stay sober -- or anyone struggling in general. Many of these are cliches or sayings taken from AA -- phrases that are used so often that we sometimes forget why they are used so often. Below are some of the sayings that have really worked for me ... I hope they will work for you as well if you are struggling to stay sober, to stay on track in any way in your life. 


6 Stay-Sober Suggestions

1. Actions speak louder than words. How easy it is to say you're going to do something! How easy to put it off until tomorrow or next time. But what works -- what's required -- if you want to stay sober is action. Words are meaningless without the driving force behind them: action. Do not wait until "the next time" to stop drinking. Do it now. Today. Commit to it and stick to it. If you slip-up (as I did two years ago, after I had been sober for eight months), start again. Action is everything

2. Take it one day at a time. The most cliche of them all is actually the most important to me. The idea of not drinking ever again seems terrifying and daunting. The idea of not drinking today, much less so. I can make it through today. And tomorrow I'll tell myself the same thing: just get through today. If you take it one day at a time -- sobriety, or anything -- it becomes much more manageable. Suddenly what you felt you could not do, you are actually doing. 

3. Practice makes perfect. If you want to get good at something, you have to practice. Professionals aren't experts in their professions because they just sit around and wait for genius to strike. They're professionals because they work their asses off. Same goes for you and sobriety. If you want to get good at it -- become a natural -- you have to practice. Don't hide out, avoiding all social situations. Get out there and practice living sober. It will be hard, but it will get easier. (I swear!)

4. All that glitters is not gold. I see the people laughing, the cold beers in their hands. I see the bubbling champagne and despair in how much fun it looks like I'm missing out on. And then I remember: not everything that looks fun is fun. I used to be one of those, glass in hand, head thrown back in a laugh. And I was miserable. Everything is not as it seems. The glitter is not gold, but bits of burning embers. Fire is beautiful but dangerous. I make sure not to be lured in by the sparkle.  

5. Don't mistake pleasure for happiness. Would the rush of being drunk again feel good? Hell ya. Would it be so much fun to go out, get completely wild, and relive the "good ol' days"? Sure. But that would be pleasure, instant gratification -- not happiness. I want a positive life, filled with true and lasting happiness. I don't want the rush of one more good time. Because I know now that those good times are only momentary highs. They don't last -- and they bring with them the lowest of lows. 

6. Detach with love. The people around you have such an impact on how well you cope with sobriety. Not everyone (even those you love most) is good for you. If you can get rid of those who tempt you or don't support your sobriety, do it. If you can't completely rid your life of those people, detach yourself from them. But do it with love. You don't have to be spiteful or angry. You must only do what is best for you and your sobriety -- and sometimes a little distance (physically and emotionally) is just what you need. 







Rober Schuller said: "Yes, you can be a dreamer and a doer too, if you will remove one word from your vocabulary: impossible." If someone had told me years ago that I would one day be able to stay sober not only for a weekend, but for years, I would have certainly screeched: impossible! But what once seemed impossible has now become a reality. What I once thought I could never do, I have done. Of course, sobriety will always be a work-in-progress. There is no end, no point when I can wipe my brow and think, phew, that's over! But I've made a lot of progress and every day I get stronger, every day the need gets a little less powerful. 

I used to be in a place that made no sense. I was washing down my fears and my pain with a heaping helping of poison. I wasn't here or there. I was nowhere. And now I am here. I am present. I am experiencing my life -- even the hardest bits -- without a veil of alcohol clouding my view. Is it easy? Rarely. Is it worth it? Yes. I'm much happier being here than being nowhere... 


in the no||where, wildfires are burning.
the flames stretch higher with every pour
licking the bark of trees, smoke kissing the sky.

how beautiful, those flames, when viewed from afar
when the charred flowers, the broken bones and branches,
are too obscure to be seen beneath the smoldering pines.

filtered in orange, the sky will catch embers, 
holding them up against its black backdrop
illuminations of beauty, a smattering of distractions.

fists clenched, the soaking storms will come.
the flames will fall victim to a change in the wind,
the sparks will be singed to nothingness by lack of air.

in the now||here, the smoky sorrow will linger.
in spring its sad scent will be vanquished by the
surprising aroma of wildflowers, the odor of now.

how beautiful, those blooms, when viewed up close,
when their buds are pushing up through the soot and soil,
their shoots and stems made stronger by freshly fallen ash.

"No||where, Now||here"