One Important Question 

I spend a lot of time teaching youth peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. Violence isn’t just hitting, stabbing, or shooting someone. Peace isn’t just refraining from hitting, stabbing or shooting someone. Violence and peace are mindsets. Peace and violence are choices. In making the choice of violence, there are many ways to carry it out. In making the choice of peace, there are many ways to carry it out. Once any decision is made, the path becomes clear. Once a commitment is made, the path is walked, and becomes something you know, not just know about.

There are far too many youth who know the path of violence at an early age. And there are too few adults who teach the path of peace by example in thought, speech and action. Peace is not passive, or cowardice. Peace is active and courageous.

There is an old samurai proverb that says, “A warrior can choose to be a pacifist, everyone else is condemned to it.” After being proven in battle in the ring, dojo, and on the streets many times over, I chose peace and then committed myself to its grace. And when I made that commitment, there were few men who supported me in that. But the men who did support me in my commitment to peace were men who’ve experienced the extremes of violence and war, so they understood, better than most, the importance of peace. After enough experience you learn that all violence is senseless.

When I was struggling to commit myself to a path of peace by taking my first steps upon it, the Creator posed a question to me deep within my heart, “Do you think I created you to be a healing force or a destructive force?”

It’s easy to say something negative and mean. It’s easy to throw a punch. It’s easy to use a weapon. In a world that glorifies violence and even rewards it, it takes strength, courage, and trust in the Creator to bless those who curses you, and walk away from those who want to fight you.

My uncle taught me a long time ago that the war is always behind the other person’s eyes – the war is within them, their own mind – their own choice. And so it is with peace. Peace is always behind the other person’s eyes – the peace is within them, their own mind – their own choice. Peace can be behind our own eyes, and in our own mind at any moment we choose.

What’s the reward? Often times I’ve found the reward for choosing peace is simply peace itself. And I have found few, if any rewards greater than peace.

The question the Creator posed to me years ago is a question I’ve asked many youth over the years. Although for most people the answer is obvious, the commitment to being a healing force needs to be obvious now more than ever before. Do you think you’ve been created to be a healing force or a destructive force?

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Prophets, Like Leaders, are Often Without Honor in Their Hometown

Matthew 13:57: “And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own household is a prophet without honor.”

Whenever I am invited to a community to facilitate presentations and workshops, I always remind the community I am visiting to look around and see their leaders again. Often I will share, ‘I would love to be invited back, but I assure you that there are some, if not many, right here among us that you know well and see every day, that can facilitate this type of presentation or workshop. But you overlook them because you know them. You know their strengths, weaknesses, triumphs and failures, yet they are doing the work every day and night, just like I do. They have the same amount of experience as I do. They can translate decades of experience to a fantastic training, just like me, but they’re from here, they live here, and you’ve known them your entire life, and that’s exactly how you stopped knowing them. You’ve become blinded by the snapshots you hold in your mind about their downfalls, mistakes, and idiosyncrasies and have forgotten how much they’ve overcome, all the valuable wisdom they posses, and the importance of the work they do. It’s time to see them again. Contrary to popular belief, an “expert” does not have to live one-hundred miles or more away, because chances are, there are some, if not many leaders, that are sitting right next to you. See them again. Honor them again. And don’t forget to include yourself in that seeing and honoring.’

Honestly, I don’t even like using the word leadership, because for me, it’s so overused, and somehow, at least for many, it’s become linked to status, money, titles, and get rich quick schemes, which of course have nothing to do with leadership. True leaders are servants, nothing more, nothing less. Not when it’s convenient, or during “normal business hours,” but wherever and whenever service is needed. And I promise you, because I am blessed to serve in 24/7 youth crisis counseling and youth residential services, I work with true leaders every day and night, who stop at nothing to ensure youth and young adults are safe, fed, clothed, working through their pain, taking steps away from the trauma and walking back towards their God-given destinies. Unless you work with me, you probably don’t  know the names of the leaders I am blessed to serve with. Their titles range from residential adviser, prevention specialist, counselor, social worker, director, janitor, groundskeeper, outreach worker, violence interventionist, gang specialist, etc. But none of them care about their titles because they know that their titles are not nearly as important as their testimonies. And in that truly called and anointed position of being a servant, they know the youth and young adults that we are blessed to serve are our leaders, and they treat them that way.

Those I am blessed to serve with are true leaders, and may not be honored as such by some, but I honor them, and the youth we serve certainly know who it is that’s ready and wiling to help in the middle of the night when there is a crisis. You see, when someone is truly in crisis they’re not in need of an “expert,” they’re in need of a willing servant. And you won’t see the leaders I speak of at all the black tie events and fundraisers, not because those things aren’t important, but because they’re facilitating a suicide intervention, sitting in a psychiatric hospital getting a child admitted, sitting in an emergency room waiting for the rape exam to be completed, under a bridge giving youth sleeping bags and food, at the shelter facilitating healing, or they’re sleeping off another shift that lasted nineteen to twenty-four hours, because they don’t go home when it’s time, they go home when the mission at hand is completed.

These leaders may not be honored in terms of recognition by politicians and such, oh but they’re recognized by those they’re called to serve. They’re not interested if someone of so-called prominence recognizes them or what they do. They’re focused on ensuring that the traumatized, marginalized and rejected are being recognized as the sacred blessings, miracles and gifts they are. They’re focused on teaching those who many said are unteachable, and reaching those who many said are unreachable. And guess what? They reach them and teach them, because they understand that as long as adults are willing to learn from the youth, the youth are willing to learn from adults, and that understanding only manifests from a servant’s heart.

Leadership, being a servant isn’t a high standard to achieve. It often begins at a very low place of misfortune, mistakes, loss, pain and tragedy, then in that same low place, on our knees in communion with the Creator of our understanding, a servant is sent to kneel with us, encourage us, and together we rise. And from that experience, another servant, a true leader walks among us, simply giving all that was given to them, understanding both the depths of trauma and the truth of miracles. And this experience brings forth the wellspring of the only necessary qualification of a leader – love.

True leaders are servants, nothing more, nothing less. And like prophets, true leaders, servants, may not always be recognized or honored in their hometown because the labels of “former gang member,” “former addict,” and all of the other past tense stigmas mask the reality of who these leaders are today by those who claim to know them, but really only knew a moment in time of them. There is not one human being in existence, that if we were to live with them or work with them day in and day out, that we wouldn’t soon realize that all the frailties we want to crucify some for, are the same frailties we willingly overlook in others. We choose who we honor as leaders, and we choose who we overlook, including ourselves.

Honor is not something we as human beings receive, honor is something we live. Honor is something that cannot be bestowed or taken by anyone or anything outside of ourselves. So instead of asking you to honor those servants among you, I will simply encourage you to follow their example. And by doing so, everyone is honored and leadership is reframed back to what it truly is – service.

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Bravo, 13 Reasons Why!

A few weeks ago when our youngest son, who is fifteen years old, asked if we can watch 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, I was unsure, but was most definitely happy he asked that we watch it together. I had heard many things about the show from many different people. In my full time work as the assistant administrator of an emergency youth shelter and a street outreach crisis counselor, I have many conversations with youth, parents, and my colleagues in the field of youth development. What I heard from many youth is that I should really watch 13 Reasons Why because it is amazing and powerful. What I heard from many adults is that I should watch 13 Reasons Why, but only to know what the youth are watching because the show is dangerous, harmful and glorifies suicide. My wife, fifteen year old son and I just finished watching the final, thirteenth episode of 13 Reasons Why. As is so often the case in my personal and professional experience, the youth make more sense than the adults. 13 Reasons Why is just as so many youth had described to me – amazing and powerful.

After watching the entire show, I now see why so many adults have found a way to interpret the show as something dangerous and harmful, because the show reveals and places right in your face the dangers of maintaining the current status quo in many communities, that to this day still exist and reinforce the three rules that are present in all unhealthy relationships: don’t talk, don’t tell, don’t feel. The show reveals the harm that impotent anti-bullying policies do nothing more than tell victims to ignore the torment, yet every day students pass by anti-bullying posters at every turn, in every hallway of every school. The show reveals the dangers of the very real rape culture that exists. The show reveals the harm of doing and saying nothing; the dangers of politics that work to protect an institution rather than the victims; the harm of policies that work against truth rather than revealing it; the dangerous truth about the direct and indirect threats that youth and adults who are ready and willing to expose, address and find solutions with those who are marginalized, victimized and suffering experience when advocating for justice. For the aforementioned reasons, and so many more, 13 Reasons Why is not dangerous and harmful, but reveals a great deal of the direct and indirect dangers and harm that our children maneuver through every day. And for this reason, 13 Reasons Why is threatening to those who profit from, don’t care, or lack the moral and ethical courage required to address the dangers and harm that have become societal norms that our children experience every day. As for the glorification of suicide, 13 Reasons Why absolutely does not promote nor glorify suicide. It does however shine a spotlight upon many causes that require deep, in-the-trenches work, which seems to be a place few want to look, and even fewer are willing to work within.

Professionally, I have no idea how many suicide interventions that the Creator and I (I would be a fool to attempt to facilitate such things on my own) have facilitated. There have been countless youth over the years who have handed me the gun, knife, razor, or box cutter that they were going to use to take their own life. And it is never their life they are seeking to end, it’s the pain they’re experiencing that they want to end, but at that moment in time the pain seems endless. It’s so easy to tell someone, suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem, and the person delivering such bumper sticker psychology doesn’t see or didn’t listen to the fact that the young person standing before them has been dealing with their struggle for twelve, thirteen, fifteen, or eighteen years or more. I’ve watched adults deliver clichés like that to traumatized youth who’ve experienced endless pain, placements, systems and institutions for decades, but the adults delivering such clichés will lose their shit if their latte isn’t prepared correctly and ready in under five minutes at their local coffee shop.

A while back in my full time job there was a young person who wanted the pain to end and felt the only way to do that was to die. The young person attempted to throw themselves in front of a truck. I was there and was able to push the young person out of the way, but in the process I fell in front of the truck. I thank God (literally) that the driver of that truck was paying attention and swerved out of the way. I was able to restrain the young person until the police arrived with emergency psychiatric personnel who transported the young person to a psychiatric emergency hospital where the young person received the long-term care they needed. In the three or four minutes it took for the police and the emergency psychiatric personnel to arrive on scene, the young person hit me very hard in the groin, and screamed over and over again at me, “You don’t give a fuck about me! Why didn’t you just let me die?!” Experience, both professionally and personally, has shown me that this initial reaction to a successful suicide intervention is not uncommon, because due to the abuse, pain, loss, tragedy and trauma that so many of our children have experienced, they truly are astonished when someone really does care about them, because in the lives of far too many young people no one has cared, and if they did care, they’ve never demonstrated it to the young person in consistent, unconditional loving and compassionate way. After that young person was in a psychiatric hospital for a while, and had time to be open to and receive the best treatment there is, which is love, I received a letter from them along with the bracelet that I have chosen to use as the photo for this article.

For some, I may be using extreme examples. For others, it’s their daily professional or personal experience. Yet, how many suicide interventions have we all facilitated and never even knew it? Those moments when we give a compliment. Moments when we soften our eyes and allow love to shine through us, looking upon someone gently, simply acknowledging their precious presence in this beautiful life. Sending a random message to our family and friends that they are a sacred blessing, miracle and gift. Telling a stranger that they’re a sacred blessing, miracle and gift. Letting someone know we believe them and believe in them. And how about with and within ourselves? Look in the mirror, especially in severely challenging times, even through tear-filled eyes, and remind yourself that this is a shitty moment in life, but it is a moment in life, not the rest of your life, and that you, too, are a sacred blessing, miracle and gift. Oh, there are so many ways we’ve all facilitated suicide interventions and will never even know it, because we will never know who is standing on the ledge. And there are so many ways all of us have facilitated suicide prevention and will never know it. All the moments when we allow love and compassion to pour through us are moments we are facilitating healing that is literally beyond measure.

Personally, my family has been impacted by suicide attempts and completions. I survived two suicide attempts as a teenager, and again I emphasize, I did not want my life to end, I wanted the pain to end, and it did, thank God. God sent people like you into my life, even if for a brief moment, to extend love, compassion, guidance and care. I am eternally grateful for loving and compassionate human beings like you who were there for me when the only thing I had to offer were my tears. Bravo, 13 Reasons Why for your courage in lifting the rugs where secrets remained hidden, but were no less dangerous, so that those who are willing will willingly be vessels through which the prayers of others are answered, and even in the midst of a person’s many reasons why, a bright light shines forth revealing many reasons to live. Be the reason someone says, “Because of you, I am here.”

Because of You, I am Here

by Anthony Goulet

Until someone can see you as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, they cannot see you.

Although I was told many times that I would be dead or in prison before the age of eighteen, you didn’t see me as a problem needing to be incarcerated, beaten, or thrown away.

Although I was sexually abused and experienced other traumas that no one should ever have to endure, you didn’t see me as a victim, who, at best could only rise to mediocrity. You didn’t see me as at-risk, a problem, victim, or mediocre. You saw me as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift. I knew that for the first time in a long time I was seen. And because you saw me, truly saw me, I began to see myself. Because of you, I am here.

Until someone hears you as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, they cannot hear you.

Although I was talked at and talked to most of my life, you wanted to hear my voice. My voice that had been beaten back into the recesses of my mind. My voice that I had hidden for so long out of fear that it would be scrutinized, disrespected, mocked, and rejected again. I didn’t even know where my voice was when you came to me. Yet, through your ability to listen and skillfully use the power of silence, you walked me through my internal abyss of pain, loss, tragedy, and shone a powerful light of listening upon the words I thought were lost. You unraveled the voices of strangers, illusions, and lies, gently removing everything I’m not, so I could once again hear my own voice recall and reclaim the sacred blessing, miracle, and gift I am.

You heard me. And because you heard me, I began to hear myself. Because of you, I am here.

Until someone believes you as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, they cannot believe you.

Before you came to me, I had made many outcries, none of which were ever investigated. I was not advocated for. I wasn’t believed. So, I began to follow the three rules that exist in all unhealthy relationships: Don’t talk. Don’t tell. Don’t feel. These three rules amount to nothing more than suppressing our truth, but I followed these three rules to where they always lead us, bottles of alcohol, drugs, putting ourselves in harm’s way, and suicide attempts. But you weren’t like the others. You saw me, listened to me, and believed me. You told me and showed me how to talk, tell and feel.

Because you believed me, I began to believe myself. Because of you, I am here.

Until someone accepts you as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, they cannot accept you.

Because you saw me, heard me, and believe me, I knew you accepted me. I knew it was acceptance because it wasn’t conditional. I didn’t have to prove anything. Your acceptance didn’t depend upon my attitude, behavior, grades, or what I could produce or consume. Before you came to me I was around people who accepted me only as long as I followed their rules. As long as I didn’t talk, tell, or feel, I was accepted. As long as I was willing to not be true to myself, I was accepted. As long as I was willing to harm myself or die, I was accepted. You could have cared less about my willingness to die, however, you were extremely passionate about me regaining a willingness to live.

You accepted me. Because you accepted me, I began to accept myself. Because of you, I am here.

Until someone has faith in you as sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, they cannot have faith in you.

You saw me, heard me, listened to me, and believed me. How could I not know you had faith in me? You didn’t just believe me when I told you what was done to me as a child, you advocated for me in the face of those who wanted me to crawl back to the three rules of don’t talk, don’t tell, and don’t feel. You didn’t just ferociously advocate for me, you saw what no one, including myself, could see in me, you saw greatness. You were highly experienced and skilled, so you knew that you could not have a relationship with my potential, but you knew I could. You uncovered the lies and illusions that blocked me from seeing, hearing, believing, and having faith in my potential. You often quoted Robert H. Schuller, “Anyone can count the amount of seeds in an apple, but only God can count the amount of apples in a seed.” I found it funny and exciting when you would say, “Only God knows how many apples are within the seeds of greatness within you, but I am willing to bet anything that you have at least a one-thousand acre orchard!”

You had faith in me, and because you did, I began to have faith in myself. Because of you, I am here.

Sacred blessings, miracles, and gifts are kept safe.

You saw, heard, believed, accepted, and had faith in me. How could I not feel safe? Yet, it was more than a feeling, it was truth. A truly safe place and space majestically appeared whenever I was in your presence. I need you to know that knowing I was safe made my life easier, and although some days I still tried to push you away, it was only because I felt safe that I dared to push the limits. Because what I learned before you came into my life is that conflict, no matter how minuscule, has one result, violence. Whether the violence was physical, where someone is beaten for having a bad day, a different opinion, or just saying a little too much, or the type of violence where someone is ostracized, no longer to be included, with a shunning that would make a physical beating feel comfortable. Then there was perhaps the worst violence of all, when someone disappears, not away from you, but right in front of you; a disappearing act where someone who was safe, no longer is. With the pop of a pill, the piercing of a needle, the gulp of some wine, a puff of some smoke, or a snort of some powder, then they were gone, and so was my safety. You never forced anything. You allowed me to be. My experience wasn’t something you tried to interpret, but something you didn’t allow to interpret me. Although our experiences form us, shape us, they don’t have to imprison us. The place and space of safety that came freely in your presence freed me. Knowing my life, words, thoughts, good and bad days, mood swings, laughter, prayers, love, tears, hopes, dreams, and fears were safe with you freed me. Your safety freed me from the worst kind of prison, a life sentence, not behind bars, but within my mind. You helped free me so that moments of my life didn’t become the rest of my life.

You gave me safety, and because you did, I began to feel safe to take refuge within my own heart, and live from my own heart. Because of you, I am here.

We trust sacred blessings, miracles, and gifts.

Like you, and most other people, I had given my trust to many who broke my heart. At the time I didn’t know why I was giving life and trust another chance. Now I know. When you said the words, “I trust you,” it permeated through my soul like a life-giving breeze on a dry, humid day. Your trust renewed me. There was no calculated, direct or indirect threat attached to your trust. You trusted me the same way you respected me, you just gave it with no conditions. And when the time came for me to have some closed-book tests, those times when you told me to make my own decisions, I didn’t pass all of them, but you reminded me that there’s no such thing as failure, only lessons. During my relapses of old habits, behaviors, or choices, you kept telling me, “Relapse is normal. It’s part of this dance, and does not mean you failed. I trust you. You are a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift.”

You trusted me, and because you did, I began to trust myself. Because of you, I am here.

We give peace to sacred blessings, miracles, and gifts.

I could let my guard down with you. I could be me and experience the power of being invulnerable by being vulnerable, which is a manifestation of courage that can only occur when someone knows they’re truly safe. Your presence provided peace. I didn’t know how to react to peace because I was so used to swimming in chaos. I spent so much of my childhood at funerals, hospital waiting rooms, rehabilitation centers, car wrecks, waking up to glass breaking, screams, fighting, and excuses to try to hide what the neighborhood already knew. Peace was loud, uncomfortable, and not easy to digest. But with your help, guidance, and most importantly, your consistency, I grew accustomed to peace. No matter where you are now, just knowing that you gave someone the gift of peace should fill you with the truth that you truly followed a special calling.

You gave me peace, and because you did, I am living a life of peace, and always looking at how I can better share peace with others. Because of you, I am here.

We know that sacred blessings, miracles, and gifts are of benefit to others and all life.

Before you came into my life I didn’t think my life was of value to anyone. I was not simply within the grips of self-pity, I was depressed, arrogant, and angry. I lived in a constant state of despair and hopelessness, yet you taught me that all of my experiences, if I allow them, can be not only of benefit for me, but for others. You taught me that any poison can be transformed to a healing medicine with the right ingredients. You taught me how to transform poisons to healing medicines and that the antivenom does contain venom, but other ingredients are added to it. You gave me the ingredients of love, faith, hope, and compassion and let them run their course. Your ingredients of love, faith, hope, and compassion mixed with my anger, false pride, un-forgiveness, hurt, pain, and loss, until I awoke from my coma as a healed, renewed creation, with many tests that have been transformed to my testimony. An experience that no one can take, and with a love and gratitude that awoke me to wanting to give all I have been given to others.

You showed me that my life is of benefit to others, and because you did, I live every day to be of benefit, to give all I can, and in this giving I have recognized my true calling by one key trait: that which fills me when I give it away. Because of you, I am here.

We love sacred blessings, miracles, and gifts because they are a reflection of the truth of the Great Love that created us exactly like itself.

I had been told, “I love you,” in many ways, yet none of them filled me with the undefinable concept of love until you came into my life. I had such a huge void that nothing I used, drank, smoked, swallowed, or snorted could fill until you came along. Little by little, with each time you saw me as a sacred blessing, miracle, and gift, and each time you heard all that I was saying and not saying, with everything about me being believed, and all that I am being accepted, and you having faith in me, making a safe place and space, trusting me, giving me peace, and helping me realize that my life is beneficial to others, the huge thick walls that locked my heart away came crumbling down, flushed out through the river of my tears, and I loved again. I loved again because you loved me.

You loved me, and because you did, I love myself, and because I love myself, I love others. Because of you, I am here.

I love you

A Survivor’s Scream

Do you really understand?
You say you do,
but I can see in your eyes
that you cannot read
between the lines,
so if you really understood,
I wouldn’t have to spell it out

Besides, when I stood
before you as a youth
telling you my truth,
you rejected me

Where I’ve been,
what I’ve experienced –
the sights, sounds, smells,
pain, brokenness –
the colors of the institutions
isn’t something you understand

You think words like
fuck and shit are offensive
So when I enter a room
and instantly connect
with those you can’t
I see the condemnation in your eyes
the same looks
those like you
gave me when I was a youth –
daggers of self-righteous condemnation
emitting moral vomit,
puking your credentials, expertise,
and religious verses on us survivors
that we’ve heard so many times before,
but you’re not even strong enough
to listen to the truth we’ve lived
because that would interrupt
the delicate images in your mind
of how we’re supposed to be,
and cause you to miss our beauty –
the truth of our perfection
forged in fires of hell

We talk because we need to
not because we think you understand,
not because we think you’re listening
because you’re too busy
trying to protect yourself
from the realities
of a survivor’s scream –
a scream you cannot recognize
when you hear it,
and so you’re also blind
to
those
Sacred
moments
when
healing
is
happening