What I learned from a reality TV show.

When I received the call to be on an upcoming reality show my initial reaction was laughter. Oh and of course my verbal response was “No way!” Without going into too many details (lawyers are serious) I was approached to be on a show that takes you back in your past and reconnects you with people you haven’t seen in years. There’s more to it than that but you’ll have to wait and see.

When my wife heard the concept she, in her loving way, asked me questions about my hesitation. After explaining to her that I don’t desire to be the next “Housewife of You Name the County” she reminded me of what this show’s stated goal was (more on that later); To reconnect people and share what’s happened since....

I expressed my worries of how I would be portrayed. I reminded her of the areas of my past I am not proud of. I told her I was fearful that I had not become the man some of those people thought I would and that I would be seen as the guy with all the potential who never did anything great. That’s when she laughed. She then listed out the series of accomplishments I had made over the past 25 years since I’d seen these individuals. She called me out on my fears and then closed the thought with this challenge.

“Sounds like this is going to be hard for you.” she said. And then she asked the question that changed the game. “What would you tell our boys about hard things?”

It just happened to be that at that time my youngest son was completing a reading challenge from me and he was reading a book, “Do Hard Things” which challenges young people to never settle for low expectations but to go above and beyond with excellence and dare to do what is difficult or scary.

My wife knew if she played the kid card she had me! She was right. I allowed my name to be thrown in the hat and within months I, along with 25 years of memories, was cast for this upcoming show.

Like I said earlier, I’m not at liberty to share the details yet but what I can share is that it was the best choice I could have made for myself at that point in my life. I learned more in that week of filming away from home than I had learned in a long time. I had more eye opening moments than I can count and discovered some of the baggage I’d been holding onto for the past 25 years wasn’t even mine to carry.

Here are three things I learned from Reality TV that I think you may need to know:

1. The past isn’t always in the past -

At sixteen I was diagnosed with cancer. It was an obviously life changing experience and in many ways is the catalyst for the areas of purpose I pursue to this day. Facing the reality that our lives can be over in a moment is a sobering realization for a 16-year-old boy. For the past several years I have a shared that portion of my past as “The best thing that ever happened to me.” It gave me purpose, it opened doors of opportunity, and it’s the reason I can say I’m an overcomer! However, just as any good show can do, reality TV exposed the truth that had been sitting inside for many years. Cancer sucked. Cancer was hard. Cancer wasn’t the best thing that happened to me and isn’t for anyone else. In one moment in front of a camera, I realized that I had carried a hidden pain with me for years that I had not dealt with. I had told myself really loud lies to protect me from this one pain. And I’m grateful for that moment. Because when the camera shut down the pain remained. I’ve learned through counseling that the only way to really get through something is to “feel it through to completion.” It took me 25 years to admit the hard truth about the impact of my past. What have you secretly carried with you from the past that you haven’t been honest with yourself about?

If the camera turned on in the reality of your life what would it expose that you need to “feel through?”

2. We are not who we thought we were

One of my greatest worries of reality TV was just that...REALITY TV. I remember who I was. I remember how I was. There are many things I am not proud of. I know that I’ve changed and grown but nobody cares about that one a 1 hour television show do they? So the day I walked on set and saw those people who also “knew me” I was scared of what I was going to look like to the world. But I was wrong. Not wrong that they would “expose” me but wrong about how I was viewed by my peers. Wrong about what was remembered about me. Sure there were moments because mistakes are how we grow and learn but these people didn’t remind me of my failures. In fact they shared things about my younger self with me that I didn’t know. Areas where my faith impacted their lives. Areas that my kindness made them feel welcome. They remembered the good while I had only looked at the flawed. And isn’t that was so many of us do when we look in the mirror of our lives? We are so much harder on ourselves than is needed. I was not who I had told myself I was and neither are you. You are the biggest critic in your own life and what do we all know about television and movie critics? They are wrong. Nobody watches a movie or TV show based on what the critics say cause critics never get it right. And neither do you. Give yourself a break. You are made well! God’s been watching the reality of your life the whole time and even in the blooper reel he looks at you and says,

“That’s my workmanship. They are in my image. They are wonderfully made.”

3. We are not alone

This was powerful for me. There was a moment around a fire that I will never forget. A moment of sharing from our past 25 years ago. And in that moment people shared difficulty, pain, insecurity, and regrets. Each of us was open an honest (reality TV has that impact) and it was shockingly refreshing. What made it so refreshing was that I thought I knew who they were and they thought they knew who I was. When one shared how they felt so alone in a certain situation and another shared how scared they were by their own experience a lightbulb went off and I realized...I was not alone. I just didn’t know it. Every one of us around that circle came from different families, cultures, and experiences but we each shared common fears, hurts, and insecurities.

The only thing missing from the past that changed that night was we were all being open and honest about it. Which led me to the question: “What would happen if we each would actually share with each other our whole life?”

Paul said this...

“We loved you so much that we shared not only the gospel but our LIVES as well.”

What if we shared our lives with each other. The good news and the not so good news. Is it possible we would discover that we aren’t alone? And in knowing that others are right there with us wouldn’t that empower us to get through whatever we are facing...together? I believe so.