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Brilliant and Broken

James Warren August 14, 2022
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A friend #CheckedIn with me last week, during which I shared this description of what my family life was like growing up: Brilliant and Broken.

You see, Dad was a doctor. Mom was an opera singer and then a pastor. Maya had a law degree. I went Ivy League schools and had a successful career. So on paper, we had amazing achievements. And more than that, there was artistry. There was curiosity. There was laughter. There was spirituality. There was connection. There was inspiration. All this was who I was, I was proud of these things, and I wore them like a coat of many colors.

Beneath the surface?

An ocean of trauma that drowned us. Domestic violence. Joblessness. Financial desperation. Homelessness. Addiction. Health problems. I denied how these traumas made me feel for sooo long – partly because of the culture I grew up in: stay positive, keep moving forward, stay strong, just pray about it. And partly because of how I felt about these things: ashamed of them, and guilty for even feeling ashamed. Who was I to wallow in such despair? After all, I had inherited brilliance, so why think about anything else?

For so long, the brilliance is all I would project. All I would embrace. Until the brokenness demanded my attention.

That mindset often perpetuated problems in my life. Refusing to accept that BOTH things were true about us: we were brilliant AND broken. I think this was hard for Maya, too. At some point, I think Maya no longer saw enough of her brilliance, only her brokenness. And from that point of view, her death by suicide did not surprise me.

Now, the inner work is to mend the broken pieces and let the brilliant ones shine. To see how they fit together — for myself, with and for my children, and with my spouse – and to come to a place of acceptance. To remind all of us that often we come from places that feel like a walking contradiction: sometimes we’re shining, and other days we feel broken. To remind us that there is tremendous value in working through these things, talking honestly about these things, seeing all of ourselves – not just our brilliance or brokenness, and getting help when it is needed. That is how we care for ourselves and one another. At home. At work. In community. In society.  

To that end, here are a couple of additional resources I came across on Mental Health America’s site. First, I found this quick test to be a useful way to explore areas that might need professional help (this one is for depression, but there are other mental health tests on the website). Second, I thought this article about working through the guilt of feeling depressed was helpful. 

So, this is me checking in with you. Embracing Brilliance and Brokenness, and letting you know you are not alone. Because truth be told, I think we all have both Brilliance and Brokenness, and the journey is about working them out. 

Grace, peace and love to you all.


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