Fly My Pretties, Fly!

According to the Mayo Clinic cases of Narcissistic Personality Disorder are rare. I am not going to say that is wrong but I also bet that you know know several people that display more than one or two of the traits. The narcissist doesn’t seek treatment or counseling because, in their mind, they are beyond okay, they are fabulous. Anyone that can’t see their awesomeness is the one that is crazy.

Someone that has Narcissistic Personality Disorder has a history of having an exaggerated sense of self worth. They don’t just see themselves as important, intelligent and special but more important, extremely intelligent and incredibly special.

Flying Monkeys have a tough job. One wrong move and you risk being exiled from the clan

The Narcissist thrives in the limelight and is gifted at controlling conversations and situations so as to keep the focus on themselves or what they want to talk about or do.

It would make sense that such a person would not have friends or romantic relationships. That, however, is seldom the case. Initially the narcissist is charming and interesting. Early on they even seem to be fascinated by you and your life. Just as a person that abuses their spouse didn’t smack them around on their first date the narcissist trains their flying monkeys gradually.

Flying Monkeys are loyal and accept that the witch is in charge.

If you are in a relationship with a Narcissist think back to when you you were first getting to know them. Did they say and do things that boosted your feeling of self worth and made you feel special? This happens in a lesser degree in healthy relationships too but the narcissist draw you in and helps you be accepted by the team of existing flying monkeys (enablers). The other monkeys may not readily accept you in the beginning but the Witch (narcissist) will keep them in line as s/he adds you to the ranks. You may even feel indebted to the witch because for awhile it can be exciting and fun to be with the witch and the other flying monkeys. We all like to be part of something and feel connected.

The problem arises when you think for yourself and offer ideas or opinions different from the witch. A true narcissist will either ignore you, make you feel inferior for even suggesting your thoughts or ideas or subtly make it clear that they are in control. You must comply to remain part of the band of flying monkeys otherwise you get kicked to the curb. The monkeys don’t talk about it, but they all know who is in charge. Don’t look to the other flying monkeys for support. It is a dictatorship, not a democracy.

It sounds a lot like bullying or an issue that wouldn’t come up in adulthood, right? Narcissists attend the school of, “I’m not getting older; I’m getting better.” They have honed their skills over years, even decades.

Perhaps you have worked with a boss or supervisor that keeps employees in line through intimidation? Perhaps it is a spouse that always manages to get their way or the friend that always dominates the conversation and mostly talks about themselves?

Am I right that you know some of these people? It can be difficult to break ties with the witch and the flying monkeys.

If the witch is a spouse or parent they have likely lead you down a long path of low self-esteem making you believe that you are such a looser that you are just lucky they still throw you a few crumbs from time to time.

If the witch is a friend it can be hard to break free since you accidentally distanced yourself from other relationships as you were drawn into the the flying monkey clan.

The Narcissistic wife or husband will have you convinced that you are unworthy and maybe even crazy. Given the opportunity they will also convince relatives and friends that any problems are because of your mental state, difficult personality or character flaws.

It isn’t easy to break away from any kind of abusive relationship without a support system. You may need counseling to get through the hurt as you rebuild trust in yourself.

If you are being victimized by a Narcissist seek help. The abuse they have dolled upon you isn’t visible like a bruise, or heard like name calling. It attacks you at your core and eats you up from the inside. The witch has the disease but his/her victims are the ones suffering and in some cases dying.

You can call the Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 . Not every abuser hits or calls names.

I’m Confused

I live in the part of the United States that is nicknamed the Bible Belt. More and more I am getting the vibe that some of the people I consider to be friends are annoyed or perhaps even angry because of my faith. According to Wikipedia, “The Bible Belt is an informal region in the Southern United States in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism plays a strong role in society and politics, and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation’s average.”

Being a Christian doesn’t mean I follow blindly.

Knowing that definition sheds a good bit of light on my confusion Since while I am a Christian, I don’t fit into the mold described as the Bible Belt. I was born to Protestant (Baptist) parents but converted to Catholicism in my 30’s. It works for me even though I admit there are certain aspects of being Catholic that I don’t necessarily embrace. That is pretty much true for me being part any formal group. I will go a step further, at the risk of stepping on toes,and say it is part of being an intelligent human being. We question things that are considered fact or truth; it is how we attain the highest levels of learning.

I describe myself as a liberal that at times leans towards the conservative side. I am a Catholic convert raised by Baptist parents. That makes me somewhat of a freak here in the Bible Belt and I am okay with that.

I am also more liberal than conservative. It is very unpopular stance in my community and I accept that some will avoid me for that reason, that is their prerogative. I just don’t understand why that should keep us from being friends. Can’t we still watch a movie, share a meal or have non-political conversations?

I believe that God gave us all free will. As an American citizen I can still enjoy freedoms including voting. I respect that others don’t always share my views and only find it annoying when they treat me as less because of them.

An acquaintance from one of my book clubs proudly shares that she is a member of a local meet-up group called the Godless Heathens. She knows I am a Christian and, at least so far, our differences have not created any tension. While I am concerned about her when it comes to eternity, I don’t preach to her. She in turn doesn’t disrespect my faith or try to change me. Clearly, we don’t agree, yet we can be respectful.

I am totally unprepared for a zombie invasion, yet I still sleep great.

Still, I am confused. If one doesn’t believe in God or a higher power why do you need a group that proclaims it? I don’t believe in zombies but I also don’t need to start a group. I don’t eat beets, I think they taste like dirt, but I don’t need to start a group of beet haters.

Can beet haters and beet lovers live in harmony?

In an online group for writers a member shared a post, an excerpt from their memoir, making it known that they are atheist. A few paragraphs later they described a time of stress and heartache and recounted how they had looked at the other person and cried, “Why, in the name of God would you do that to me?” I commented that I meant no disrespect, but wondered why anyone would cry out to God if they don’t believe in him. It would be like me saying that I cried out in the name of the Tooth Fairy.

The precepts of my faith instruct me to treat all with kindness and love and cautions me that I will be judged as I judge. I try, and frequently fall short of my goal but not everything is about being perfect. My effort gives me a more abundant and happy life. I think I am right, but even if I am not, who am I hurting as a result of my faith?

Thanks for reading. Remember to vote on Tuesday even if it is just to cancel out my vote!!

Special thanks to the following for the use of their photographs; Nick Collins, Zahre E., Aaron Burden, Karl Fredrickson and Zorik D.

19 Things to Love during Autumn 2019

As of tomorrow we can exclaim, “Happy Fall Y’All!”  I enjoy all of the seasons, but if I must have a favorite, then autumn is the winner.  Here is my list of 19 things to celebrate before winter. I call it my, Everything Nice Except Pumpkin Spice, list.

What would you add? Football, tail-gating, hiking, Haunted Houses, pumpkin spice? What made me list that wouldn’t be on yours? Please share your comments below. Have a blessed and beautiful autumn.

Thanks to the following for the use of their photographs; Yours truly, Ron McClenny, Josh Campbell, Patrick Fore, Sara Dubler, Jessica-d-vega, Alex Geerts, Joanna Karsinkaua, Alas, Krivec and Corwin Thiessen

A Forest for the Trees

Today’s post is a fictional piece that, like many of my stories, seemed to take over and write itself. I have completed a full 26.2 marathon (Indianapolis, November 2017) and that experience is part of the inspiration for this piece. To all of those that have run the Boston Marathon or know the intricacies of being an elite runner, I ask for your tolerance regarding the poetic license I used for the sake of the story.

I understood what it would take to win, to be number one, the victor, the champion, the best.  I knew that to be these things I had to focus and not let distractions keep me from my goal.  

It wasn’t unusual for me to hear bits of conversation that tended to swirl around me rather than be said to me, “He is very tenacious” or “ He never quits.”  I enjoyed these sound bites, knowing they were said in my praise, but I didn’t turn my head. Pride, being full of myself or listening to praise might slow me down.  I was on a mission and I appreciated that they understood, even when they didn’t.

Sleeping late on Saturdays was an indulgence that I could not afford.  Everyone knows that Saturday is Long Run Day. Contrary to how it sounds, it isn’t just a day.  It starts on Thursday,well, actually on Sunday, with the perfect blend of complex carbs and proteins, strength training and the study of split times and cadence.  Thursday and Friday’s menu is tailored to my body’s particular quirks rather than my pallette. Low fat, but high carb, shrimp, pasta with minimal seasoning and lowered fiber for the next two days.  The end of the work week is not celebrated with friends or a late evening with the wife or kids; 3:00 a.m. comes early. The weather is studied and clothes and shoes are set out for the morning. Hydration belt, headlamp, goos and portable carbs are tucked into my clothes designed specifically for such activity.  9:00 p.m. finds me sound asleep dreaming of things like heartbreak hill, and ancient civilizations in remote Mexico desserts where men run without science and can kick my ass without planning or GPS.

Saturday afternoon, while lounging in a tub of ice, I ponder negative splits and what it will take for a new PR. The study of the mechanics and the plans are as intricate as blueprint. A glorious nap follows while the wife and kids take in the latest Pixar at the matinee show.

Sunday, I plan the rest of the week making time for the necessary work that ends in a paycheck.  Distance, pace and mathematical formulas that provide the best odds for winning. Things like the 10% rule, ice baths,tempo runs and fartleks grab my attention. The average person doesn’t realize much less comprehend that to run 26.2 miles at a pace of 4:53 per mile that the man will log an average of 100-110 miles a week.  Even a newbie, that just wants to complete a full 26.2 needs to be at 30-35 miles a week to start training.

Patriot’s Day

We stand packed together like cattle in the corral, yeah, that’s what it’s called. Then we stretch or shift our weight from foot to foot and check our gear while we wait for the gun to fire and start the race.  I go through the motions of respecting my country and the flag during the national anthem but my mind is already on mile 20 and climbing heartbreak hill. There is a guy not far away that is carrying an ultrasound picture of his yet to be born child, he says this is his final race because God and family will always come first. A woman I passed earlier was chatting up about how she was running for charity, raising money for research for cancer or alzheimer’s or some other disease that would probably, regardless of how much she raises, take her life in a number of years.  I blocked it out, there was no room for that at the moment.

I think I hear the sound of my own child proudly shouting, “Daddy, my daddy is going to win!”  I don’t look, I can’t, I must stay in the zone.  

The gun sounds and my body knows what to do, my brain is along for the ride for at least the first 20 miles.  It’s job will be to get me through the final 6.2 miles including lactate thresholds from Hell and emptied glycogen stores.

At mile five my eyes try to turn to a cheering, waving, spectator that might be my wife.  I don’t blink even when I hear my name being chanted by voices that must belong to family and friends.  I stare straight ahead, looking could cost me a whole second. It isn’t worth the chance. There will be time after the finish line.

At mile 20 I start up Heartbreak Hill with only 3 men ahead of me and all of them in sight.  At the crest there are only 2 ahead of me. It is tempting to go all in but I resist. Not yet; not yet.

At the end of mile 23 runner two makes his break.  I could laugh or even smirk, but I won’t use any precious energy.  He lacks patience and at mile 25 I pass him without increasing my speed.  I start to gain, on number one but hang back, 5 strides behind. He can’t see me but knows I am there; he didn’t get this good, this elite, without developing the sixth sense of knowing exactly where I am and how much I have left in reserve. I evaluate his energy and fortitude, he won’t go down easy. 

I allow myself to fall in beside him, less than 6 inches in second place.  At 25.7 miles I summon my brain, my energy and even my faith and pull into the lead. I am going to win, I am going to receive the prize I have longed for my entire life. I can smell it and my mouth waters in anticipation of the rare flavor.

I break the ribbon as the world turns to shades of grey.  It occurs to me that I may pass out, but it’s okay, that no longer matters. I have won!  The grey images begin to blur. I see my family, my wife, my parents, my kids and many others but they are turning away, their heads down.  Are they crying?  

Don’t they realize that I won?  

I stumble on becoming increasingly confused but I find that there is a line forming comprised of other runners that have just finished.  I see a light ahead and move that way thinking it must be the podium where I will receive my winnings. Others are ahead of me in this line and while that is still more confusing I stand and wait my turn thinking it not all that unusual to be in a brain fog after such a feat and monumental victory.

I didn’t notice all the trees before but now the line seems to be weaving through a wide variety of deciduous timbers, and while I know it isn’t possible, there seems to be more trees everytime I blink or exhale.  I see the female winner at the front of the line. Words are exchanged and then she turns around, her expression is empty.  She takes two steps and when she stops she is suddenly no longer a woman, she is a tree. The same scene plays out as other runners get to the front of the line, then after a brief exchange of words with whoever is in the light, they too turn into trees.  Finally, only two runners in the line are ahead of me. I am suddenly terrified and I try to flee, but all of my energy is spent. The next person to face the light is the woman who was running for charity. The light is too intense, I can’t look at it straight on but I hear a strong voice lovingly say,  “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”  The next person in line is the father that commented before the start of the race that it would be his last due to family obligations. He hears the same words as the woman before him and then steps into the light where I can no longer see him.

Understanding fills me with sick certainty. I fall on my face knowing that I am not worthy. Mercy is the prayer arising from my soul.  I plead, “ I worked hard, I wasn’t a bad man. I just wanted to win the race.” The voice of my God commands me to look behind me and to describe what I see there.  I obey; anything for a chance. “I see trees, lots and lots of trees.” “Keep looking” instructs the Lord. I start to notice the trees have words on them, the words are prayers.  Some ask for love, others for shelter or food, still others have prayers for peace or for safety. “Tell me what you see” commands the Lord. I weep as I say, “I see the woods, a dense forest full of people and their prayers.”  

“Yes,” said the Lord “and you ran past each one ignoring their needs, their hurts and their unanswered prayers.  My child, you didn’t see the forest for the trees.”

I wail, “But I just wanted to win the race!”  

 My limbs stiffen as my body turns to wood, roots sprout from my feet digging themselves into the soil below, anchoring me in place.

The last thing I hear is my creator explaining, “It wasn’t a race; it was never a race. It was your life and now the real prize will forever be very close, but always just out of reach.”  Just before my eyes seal themselves shut and become covered in bark someone hangs a winners medal on one of my branches, I try unsuccessfully to shake it off as the aroma of acrid wood smoke fills my nose.

*Matthew 25:23, Holy Bible, KJV

Thank you for reading. I appreciate the following for the use of their photographs; Chase Clark, Jakob Kriz, Matt Howard, Tikko Maciel, Joshua J. Cotten, Jennifer Birdie, Shawker and Natalie Desirre Mottet.


Just Say No

While it is not a bad idea for people to just say no to things like drugs, alcohol, and tobacco; that is not what I will be discussing with you today.  I want to talk about the lame excuses that people offer up to us instead of simply saying the magical two letter word.

Example: Liz calls up her friend Kathy and asks if she wants to go see a particular movie the next day. Kathy doesn’t want to see the movie with Liz even though she and Liz are friends.  Perhaps, Kathy just wants to spend the evening at home, or she doesn’t think she will enjoy that particular film. It could be that she doesn’t like watching movies with Liz because Liz chats throughout the movie, something that both Kathy and other movie goers doesn’t like. There are a zillion reasons why Kathy may not want to go to the movie on that particular day or with Liz, yet if Kathy is like most people she won’t simply say no.  Unless she already has a commitment for the following evening the odds are that she will make an excuse.

Why do so many of us struggle so much with that simple little word?  I only know one person that has refined this skill into an art form.  A friend, that I won’t call by name, (you know who you are) will simply, yet politely, decline an invitation by honestly saying, “I don’t want to do that.”  I don’t get my feelings hurt, in part because I am an adult, also because I know I can be just as frank with her when I turn down an invitation. It is so much simpler this way.

Another reason most of us struggle with saying no is that we don’t want to hurt a person’s feelings.  If Kathy tells Liz she doesn’t like how she chats nonstop during movies it is possible that Kathy will get angry.  It could damage or even end the friendship. Perhaps, Liz has never had anyone tell her this before and if made aware of the issue she might change her ways. Tough Call.

Another reason could be that while Kathy doesn’t want to go to the movies the next day she hesitates to say no because she fears that Liz will not ask again in the future. Fear of rejection is the number one reason that lots of people struggle to say no.

In recent years I have noticed a trend where instead of saying no, people just avoid giving any response at all.  I am dubbing a new name for this, let’s call it selective ghosting.  Almost everyone has experienced this a time or two, or 200.  You send out an email asking people on your team to let you know if they can attend and assist with an upcoming event that your mutual organization is sponsoring.  Some will say yes, a few may tell you why they must decline and the rest will make less noise than crickets. They know that it would be easier for you to proceed if they would just act as an adult and say no, but they won’t do it.  Do they fear you will hound them or try to change their minds? I can only speak for myself; I don’t have the time, energy or inclination to hound someone about volunteering. I take their no as a no. But I need them to cough it up.

The same kind of thing happens with text messages and voice mail. I know there are exceptions, everyone forgets once in awhile.  But I suspect about 90% of the time it is selective ghosting and it is, at best, highly frustrating.

There are also people that prefer to make you regret contacting them at all.  I know a few of these and I admit their tactics work. It goes something like this:  After you send out the email or text the person asks you to call. You do as asked but you get voicemail or worse you hear this, “The party you have dialed has a voice-mail-box that has not been set up. Goodbye.”  If you are one of those folks just realize that you are not fooling anyone. You;re screening your calls. There is nothing inherently bad about screening calls unless you use it because you are not adult enough to say no.  Later, you reach out again to the person or they call you back and they start in telling you about their third cousin’s new baby and how they have been busy with helping decorate the nursery and that they have been working long hours and their cat just got neutered and shouldn’t be left alone.  They are waiting for the cable company to call, while they bake cupcakes for P.T.A and their fibromyalgia is acting up. They pepper the conversation with little comments about how they are interested in whatever it is you are suggesting as to string you along. Eventually, you get so tired of listening to them going on about Aunt Ethel’s gallbladder surgery that you just say no for them. They make you so sorry that you asked them and waste so much of your time that you promise yourself to never ask them again. 

A couple of years ago I was doing some freelance work for a magazine.  The editor called me and was interested in an article about The March of Dimes.  He was hoping I knew a local person that was involved with this charity so that the interview would have a personal flare.  I informed him that I did know such a person and that I could take the assignment.

The lady I had in mind had been a pretty good friend in years past when we were both involved in a social group.  She was always very active in raising money for March of Dimes and I had always contributed as generously as I could when I received her annual appeal in the mail.  The social group we had both been involved in had dismantled a few years prior and while our paths seldom crossed, I still considered her to be at least a good acquaintance.  

I called her office and left a message with her secretary asking that she return my call.  Two days later when I had not heard from her I sent a message via Facebook messenger. No Luck.

I few more days went by and my deadline was inching closer.  I again called her office and again had to leave a message to which she didn’t reply.

The next day I saw her husband while working out at the gym. I told him about the magazine article and asked if he would relay the message to her.  I also added that if she was just to busy to grant me a twenty minute interview then I understood but my deadline was approaching and I really hoped to hear from her, even if it was just for her to say no.  Nothing. Not so much as a cricket chirp. I had to call my editor and apologize that I couldn’t write the story because my “friend” was ghosting me. I didn’t count on the pay from my freelance work to make ends meet but it was a missed opportunity and payment.

About a year later I started seeing campaign signs for this lady.  She was running for office. As the election day drew closer I would sometimes see her, her husband or even her teenage kids out knocking on doors asking for votes.  What was I going to say if one of them approached me?

I decided an appropriate response would go something like. “Yes, I have seen Betty’s (not her real name) campaign signs. By the way, you (she) never got back with me about that article I was trying to write about how she always worked so hard supporting March of Dimes.  I would have thought she would welcome positive press.” I would wait for whatever excuse she or one of her family members would conjure up while sitting on the hot seat. If they continued to pursue having me verbally commit my vote to her I would tell them that her not returning my call to even say no made me concerned that she would not be a voice for the people she would represent in office.  I would not vote for her.

When the election rolled around I didn’t forget.

That scenario was only slightly nerve-racking when it played out in my imagination.  It was different when two days later someone rang my doorbell. It wasn’t her or her husband, but some relative that I didn’t know.  He quickly handed me a campaign card and said she would appreciate my vote. He didn’t ask if I would vote for her and I simply took the card.  

Later that same week I showed up at a small community event. I spotted Betty’s husband who was milling around asking people to vote for his wife.  I tried to casually stay out of his radar, but after awhile I turned around and there he was. He was more direct and after a few pleasantries he abruptly asked if he and Betty could count on my support.

I didn’t say yes, but I totally wimped out.  I tried asking about their triplets, if he was still going to the same gym, blah, blah.  I talked around the question and lost my nerve.  

I admit it. I am a chicken and at times have difficulty saying no. I didn’t promise my vote but I also didn’t actually say, “No, I will not vote for her.” I didn’t vote for her, end of story.

How do you handle being selectively ghosted?  Can you say no regardless of the circumstances? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Happy Labor Day, especially to all of you that will clock in at your work place without a day off. I appreciate you and hope that you at least earn time and a half for your loyalty.

Photo Credit to the following; Max Kleinen, Andy Tootell, Element 5, Gemma Evens and Patrick Tomasso and Heiko Haller


Let Us Pray…in school?

Pardon me a moment while I put on some protective gear. It may be needed once this post becomes public. Okay, now that I am suited up in Kevlar, tucked away in my safe room, and brandishing my weapons, let’s talk about prayer in school. (Next week I will move on from school related posts.)

I am a Catholic Christian, and as I have said before, make no apologies for that.  The reason that I add the, “no apology part,” is that I live in a place where being Christian is the norm but many don’t accept Catholics as being Christian.

Before I get around to my personal opinion on the matter let’s quickly review why prayer in public school is such a hot topic to both those that are opposed and those that are in favor.

Those in Favor Claim: *

 School prayer would allow students an opportunity to observe their religious beliefs during the school day.

Schools must do more than train children’s minds academically. They must also nurture their souls and reinforce the values taught at home and in the community.

A simple and voluntary school prayer does not amount to the government establishing a religion, any more than do other practices common in the U.S. such as the employment of Congressional chaplains or government recognition of holidays with religious significance and National Days of Prayer.

To ban school prayer diminishes the religious freedom of students who would like to pray.

Those Opposed Claim* 

School prayer violates the separation of church and state clause of the Constitution

School prayer is inherently coercive and cannot be implemented in a way that is truly voluntary.

Prayer in school is already legal. Students are already allowed to pray on a voluntary, non-disruptive way. 

The public school system is created for all students and supported by all taxpayers. It should therefore remain neutral on religious issues over which students and taxpayers will differ.

My Two Cents Worth

I honestly don’t understand why this topic is so prone to causing argument and division.  First of all, prayer has not been banned in public schools. I know of several schools in my area where voluntary, student initiated and student lead prayer circles are held on a regular basis.  Staff are present at these times because any student activity at school must be monitored for safety.  At one particular school, I know that staff often volunteer to be present during prayer circle time because they know that just being there demonstrates their support. Also note that monitoring students during prayer circle time is done on a voluntary basis; no teacher is assigned to this as a required duty.

Let’s talk about the part of the Constitution that mandates a “separation of church and state.”  Have you read that document recently? The Constitution does not address this topic. That comment  about separation of church and state was made by Thomas Jefferson is a letter to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists.

What the U.S. Constitution does say is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Sound familiar?  Our country was founded in large part because people wanted freedom to practice their faith even if it wasn’t totally in line with the reining government. They didn’t want the politics or politicians controlling their spiritual lives; I don’t either (Can I get an amen?).  The other part is that the government can’t prohibit the free exercise of religion. I never want that to change either (Can I get another amen?).

I know there are some people reading this that will claim that back when the school day was opened with a teacher led prayer we didn’t have all the problems we have today.  Mass shootings have become common, drug use is destroying lives more than any other time in history and people in general (not just kids) are more disengaged from one another.  Is the absence of teacher lead prayer related to the increase in our society’s problems or is it that fewer families. I say no, the two are not connected.

According to self reporting through the Gallup pole questions, 40% of Americans report regular church attendance. The actual percentage is below 20%.* It is no longer reasonable to expect public schools to reinforce the values that children are taught at home because in truth there is a significant number of parents that are better at lip service than they are about teaching morality and character to their little ones.

We are a diverse nation and not every home embraces the same moral compass.  Those that smirk and say, “Well, they should.” would quickly change their minds if it turned out that what was taught wasn’t in line with their own idea of what is scrupulous. 

Several years back I was talking with a group of educators and the topic of school prayer came up.  I tried to hold my tongue (I was only one of two Catholic Christians in a staff of almost 100) as they all seemed to agree that teacher lead prayer would make a positive difference in the students and thus the community and the country.

While I tried to refrain from sharing my opinion my mind wandered to the the time my son was young and he came to me very distraught.  I learned his friend Michael had informed him (according to Michael’s mother) that he would be going to Hell after he died as would his entire family.  Michael had been taught that Catholics worship idols and are not real Christians.  

I had to say something yet I didn’t want to offend these ladies; several I considered to be friends. I wanted to make them think.  I started by asking a clarifying question. “Are you saying that you think it would be good for us to start our day with teacher lead prayer?”  

The neighbor that had told her child, who in turn told my son that his family would spend eternity in Hell certainly wasn’t a person that I wanted to lead a prayer that my child would have to hear. This neighbor earned her paycheck teaching in the district schools.

My next question cut to the chase. “How would you feel about me leading the students in reciting the “Hail Mary” prayer?”  Their eyes grew wide and jaws fell slightly slack, followed by two seconds of pregnant silence. Finally, one person mumbled, “That would be different, you can’t do that.”  The bell rang and the school day started.  

I know of at least three of these banners displayed at private residences in my city and a couple more at local businesses. I love the message!

They never discussed the topic again in my presence, although I would venture to say they did revisit it in my absence.  I hope they thought more about my question. My intention wasn’t to divide, but to give reason to reflect on how respect should be granted to all, not just to those that pray the same way that we do.

I value prayer, it is an important part of my life.  I can pray anytime and anywhere that I want to communicate with my God. Sometimes that is when I am at church, other times I may be at home, driving my vehicle, at a restaurant or even in a school.  What’s amazing is that this privilege doesn’t discriminate; it is available to any American that chooses to enjoy it. The Constitution has it covered, let’s not mess with it.

Please share your thoughts (prayers are welcome too) in the comments or feel free to email me at 3rsof50plus@gmail.com. May the peace of the Lord be with you.


*Information regarding the pros and cons of school prayer was gleaned from allabouthistory.org

**churchleaders.com

Thanks to the following for providing photographs; Ben White, NEonbrand, David Beale, and yours truly

Starfish, Sand and Ripples

 Many of the little things we do to show kindness and caring to others go unnoticed and even more are quickly forgotten.  For the most part, it isn’t a big deal; we are guilty too. Two days ago, I needed a special, hard to find bolt for a home project. I finally found it at an independent local store (Dal R’s) where they refused payment since it was such an inexpensive item.  Despite being very touched by their kindness, I also admit that if I saw the clerk again today I wouldn’t remember his face.

  Early in my career when I was still a newbie to the counseling profession, I found that I was struggling with the fact that not every student that came to me for guidance or therapy walked out with the knowledge, skill or mindset to improve their circumstances.  I had become a counselor to help others and when I failed it troubled me.

   I remember one young man in particular named James. He was a self-referred sixth-grader. Back in the early 90’s it wasn’t common for upper elementary boys to self-refer.  I don’t recall what was happening in his life that prompted him to ask for weekly sessions; what I recall is my feelings. My best efforts didn’t seem to be enough; I wasn’t able to help him get where he wanted to go, or so I thought.

This went on for several weeks, perhaps months. I couldn’t refer James to another counselor because I was the only one assigned to the small rural school. Referring him to a community counselor was also out of the question because he had made it clear that he didn’t want his parents to know he was talking to me about his problems. I didn’t give up on James but perhaps more importantly, he didn’t give up on me.

  I finally asked Alan, another counselor that I had become friends with during graduate school, if he had ever had a student that he just couldn’t reach.  He admitted to having the same experience from time to time. “How do you deal with it?” I asked.

No matter how tightly you grasp sand, some of it will slip through your fingers.

   Alan told me that counseling our students was, in some ways, like grasping a handful of sand.  No matter how hard you try, some of the grains of sand will slip through your fingers. You can use all of your energy to worry about those or you can focus on the ones still in your hand; the ones you can still touch.

   I accepted that theory and it helped me.  It was spring and when school let out for summer vacation, James stopped by for one final session.  He would start middle school across town when the summer break ended. He didn’t get emotional but asked if there was any chance I would be willing to change jobs when school resumed. It was a high compliment; still, I told him it wasn’t likely.

   Summer break, short as always, ended and school resumed.  The middle school students, my former “kids”, rode buses back to their previous elementary school, where they switched buses to ride in the ones that would deliver them to their homes. I had hall duty rather than bus duty so I didn’t get to see James or my other former students during those brief moments of transition. From time to time I would think about James and hope that he was okay.

   Two years passed, I no longer had hall duty at the end of the day. Typically I used that time to finish up notes and straighten my office for the next day.  I was at my desk with my back to the hall when I heard a voice asking, “You don’t remember me do you?”

  I turned around and saw a much more mature version of the student I had worked with when he was a sixth grader. “Of course I remember you, James!”  I was happy that he thought of me and took the time to say hello.

  He gave me a sheepish smile and admitted that he had told the busdriver he needed to use the bathroom as an excuse to come into the building and quickly try to locate me before the buses left again.  “Do you remember when I used to come talk to you?” I said I did and to my surprise, James very sincerely stated, “I probably never told you, but it really helped me.” He didn’t have time to say more and dashed out the door just in time to load the waiting bus.  I have never seen James again.

   All the time that I thought I wasn’t helping him, thinking I was failing him, I was wrong.  In that moment, knowing I had been wrong was the best thing that had happened to me in a very long time.

   The sand analogy, while pretty cool, may not be the best one for those of us that make our living in one of the helping professions.  Instead, our work may be more like the story of a man that is walking along a beach that is heavily littered with stranded starfish. As he walks, he picks them up one at time, tossing them back into the ocean.  When his companion tells him it is impossible to save them all, that his efforts are futile, he responds by tossing yet another starfish back into the sea and remarking, “Yes, but I saved that one.”

   Some of our good intentions go unnoticed and sometimes our best efforts fail.  There is another angle to keep in mind. James gave me a gift. He made me realize that we don’t always get to see the fruits of our good works but that doesn’t diminish the sweetness to those that reap the harvest. I venture to say that, James has no idea that in thanking me for helping him, he helped me.

  I am challenging myself to be mindful off this, especially when others treat me with disrespect or are intentionally hurtful. If I can see past their behavior in the moment, to where perhaps a broken spirit resides, then I might just be able to choose a reaction that doesn’t further break them. 

  As we go about our lives this week, I hope you will join me on this quest;  the quest of the ripple effect brought on from human interactions. We help or we hurt and most of the time we have no idea how far our ripple travels and how many lives are touched. I set off a small ripple for James and it returned to me as a wave. That is why I want to try harder to be a helper instead of a hurter. The difference I make might be compared to giving first aid rather than a cure but isn’t that better than twisting the knife sticking out of someone’s back?

Be well, my friends. If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to your friends.

Photo credit to the following: Deepak Mahajan, Ian Dooley, Pedro Lastra and Amy Humphries.

55 Minutes on Thursday

Today’s post is shared with permission from the author, Joyce Busic Davis. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

It’s Thursday and I cannot sit at my desk for one more lunch this week.  So, off I go to Panera Bread. I deliberately left earlier than normal lunch time because the crowd there makes it so difficult to sit back and enjoy lunch.  I am taking a book I am reading and these few minutes are for ME – no one but – ME.

I place my order and spy a small empty booth and make a bee-line for it.  Before I get there the hand-held pager tells me my lunch is served. I go to the counter to pick it up and then stop by the beverage area for some Sweet Tea and lemon.  All seems well in my little world.

I pass a couple in the small booth adjacent to mine.  He is strikingly handsome and she is lovely as well. I smell his cologne and it is expensive, not overpowering but certainly intoxicating.  I want to know about him/them. He is foreign – his English is good, but a hint of an accent. His clothes are impeccable and also expensive. His hands look soft and his nails are manicured. There is a Rolex watch and the diamond on his little finger is sparkling.   They are holding hands across the table. I become every old gossipy woman in my hometown I have ever known. I MUST know more.  

His tone is sincere.  I cannot hear every word yet I certainly tried.   I was totally taken with this couple. In voices low and intimate, I heard their words like. 

“ I don’t want to go, my Father has called for me.  

I love you so much and I know your heart is breaking”. 

 Her head is bowed and I can feel her pain.  She softly cries, she thought she would be better today.  On her left hand is a beautiful engagement ring and she touches it tenderly as they speak.  

His hair is thinning and his complexion is flawless.  His eyes are black and he has a thin pencil moustache.  His teeth are perfect as he smiles at her with sincerity I can feel in my being.  I am worried about myself. I forget the lovely lunch in front of me. I am overcome with emotion.  I cannot explain it.

The conversation deepens and by now I am almost melting through the booth to hear more.  Gosh, where are my super powers? Why can’t I have built in radar? And of all things, the table close to them is filling up with students and lots of laughter.  I want everyone to shut up and allow them this private moment.

He continues to hold her hand and I hear low and sweet laughter.  He promises he will return to her as soon as his business is complete.  She says she understands but is still crying. An employee walks by to offer samples of a new product and they politely refuse.  I refuse too and am hopeful the employee will move away quickly.

They pick at their lunches and there are more tears from both of them.  More private and sweet words. They walk down memory lane and I secretly journey with them.  They reminisce about last weekend on the river. They laugh and I find myself smiling as well.

The time for me to leave is drawing near.  I look up and they are leaving. He offers his hand to her to assist her to stand.  I wanted to stand as well and be swept away with them.

As they were walking toward the door, I wondered what is ahead for both of them.

I quickly finish my lunch and as I make my way to my car, I see them in the parking lot.  They are three cars away from me. I walk in slow motion to see if I can hear or see more.  He is holding her tight and now her tears are not holding back. She is sobbing. He kisses the tears on her cheeks and they embrace.  He is holding her as I prepare to leave. By the time I near them heading for the exit, he is passionately kissing her. You can feel the emotion and the power.  They are in love.

I am finally on my way back to work and of course, back to reality.   For 55 minutes on Thursday, I was taken to somewhere else. I was an intruder into other people’s lives.  My imagination was untamed. In my mind’s eye, this could have been Egyptian Royalty being summoned to his homeland to conduct family business.  His demeanor certainly exuded more than someone stopping off for lunch and to break his lover’s heart. For 55 minutes on Thursday, I am privy to a beautiful love story – even if I am the trespasser in this chronicle. 

Photographs provided Rob Long, Bekir Donmez, Toa Heftiba and Bailey Mahon on unsplash.com

They’re Back

I was telling Kelly about how an old boyfriend from over twenty years ago had reached out to me. She didn’t seem surprised and between  bites of chicken salad and slurps of Diet Coke she shrugged, “They always come back.”

   Now, another twenty years further down the road I think she may be right. I can’t decide if that is good or just another proverbial splash of gasoline on my stress inferno. The older I get the smaller the world becomes. 

   A few months ago I was in Kroger at time not typical for my shopping. I had just pushed my cart through the  entrance when I heard my ex-husband, the one I call #2, calling out my name from the fruity area of the produce aisle. Most often when #2 and I end up at the the same place at the same time I choose to ignore him. I responded with a wave and moved on with my quest for the perfect avocado. He must have thought my wave was an invitation.  A few moments later as I was bent over searching for green bananas in the boxes stashed under the display, he bumped his cart into my backside. 

He was always, and I assume still is, a very shallow man with an ego that would make Donald Trump envious. He was quick to criticize and control. If I gained a pound he noticed it two days before the scales confirmed it. Back then I had a winter coat that I loved but he hated so while I was out of town on business he gave it to Goodwill. I’m sure this helps clear up any misconception of why I now call him #2.

     As he stood there, surrounded by fruit, I observed the 30 more or less pounds he had put on kind of made me think of a peach that was past it’s prime; plump yet the skin was wrinkled and rather saggy, even the smell was a little sour.

“You’ve gained weight” I commented and intentionally cast a judgmental glance at his mid-section.

“It happens” he grumbled and swirled quickly away as if I had just pulled the flush lever.

     I went on about my shopping and was leaving the produce section to check out the discounted flowers when someone banged their cart into mine. Ex-husband #3 looked up and was about to apologize when he recognized me.  The words, “Excuse me” were also formed on my tongue yet neither of us said anything. I think we were both in shock. For all I know he had just had an encounter with his #2 over in the deli-section. This sort of thing is a small town hazard.  Both of us turned our carts to go around the other and by the grace of God we turned opposite directions and didn’t end up doing that awkward, Perhaps we should just dance , left then right turn thing.

I decided I had experienced enough fading flowers for one day as I tossed some fresh carnations into my cart without so much as a glance at the price. Next I pulled my cell phone out and called my son.

“Hello” came my adult baby’s bored voice.

“Hey Tyler, It’s your Mom. Crazy question, Does your Dad ever come to Kroger to buy groceries?”

“Uh, I don’t think so.”

“Oh good, because if he does I need to make a run for the parking lot and start buying all my food and household supplies from Amazon.” (I think I just figured out why grocery delivery is becoming so popular). 

Tyler doesn’t appreciate my weird sense of humor so I didn’t get the chuckle I had hoped for when I explained that if all 3 ex’s and I were at Kroger at the same time the place would certainly implode.

     Last week I bee bopped into the post office to pick up a passport application.  I looked like warmed over crap and as luck would have it, there stood one of my former flings.  Steve is a very nice looking bad boy with a slightly crooked smile that makes him irresistible. I hoped he wouldn’t notice me because while I don’t want to get involved with him again, I like the idea of him wanting to get back together with me. I was almost out door when he called out my name. We talked for a few minutes and then when I was about to back out of parking space he was at my window and I could either talk again or hit him with my car.  It gets harder to hide in world that keeps shrinking.

     Just last night I got a friend request on Facebook from my high school, on again off again, boyfriend. I have some knowledge about where life has taken Max because his sister and I were friends and she and I have maintained contact through social media and even met for lunch a few years back. Still, I was more than a little surprised by Max’s friend request since I had not talked to or laid eyes on him  in well over 30 years. In my head I heard Kelly’s taunting voice singing, they always come back.  I didn’t accept the friend request immediately and instead looked at his page. His profile picture was of both him and his wife. After debating for a minute or two I clicked accept. I figured if he started trying to reconnect in any way that his wife would not appreciate I could always delete and block him. I decided he must have seen my comment on one of his sisters posts and was just curious about where life had taken me on this loopy, crisscross journey. Thirty years ago Max could melt my heart and make knees weak.  The guy that looked back at me from the screen of my Android was nothing like the senior portrait that sat atop his parents console television and is still burned into my memory. Now he just looks like an almost 60 year old geeky guy on a bike and I suspect the helmet was concealing a bald head.

     All of this prompted me try to recall the ones that had not come back and to my knowledge had not crossed my path.  I say to my knowledge because, as evidenced by Max, most of them could have been in Kroger along with me and my ex’s and I wouldn’t have even given them a second glance.  I spent several minutes searching Facebook for the boy that gave me my first kiss. I think I found him. I had no luck at all in finding Tyrone, my crush from second grade. 

     Finally I searched for Tim, the sweet guy from high school that was either a freshman or sophomore when I was a senior.  Surprisingly, I easily found him and immediately recognized him. Even without his gorgeous, dark, naturally curly hair which was completely gone I knew his smile. If he had been a few years older we would have dated, of that I am sure. I was 17 and he was a 14 so it was out of the question no matter how mature he may have been. That isn’t so bad, he will always have the honor of being my “If Only”.

His profile says he is a “Christian, Husband, Father, Soldier and Nurse Anesthetist in that order”. I smiled knowing that he was and still is a good human being. There is, of course, a small possibility that he is a jerk, but I will happily never know. I won’t message him or send a friend request, I prefer to keep the faded memory free from blemish.  I don’t have to cross his path again. It is enough to believe that life has been kind to him and that he is a good man and that I might also be on his “If Only” list.

Have a great week, I’ll see you at the grocery store!

Photos provided by: Adam Stefanca, Christian Buehner, Matthew T. Rader and Daniel Jenson.

It Will All Work Out In The End

My dad tended to leave 98% of the parenting for my mom to handle. I think part of that was just the way things were in the 60’s and 70’s, but he stuck to that unspoken rule more than most. I have wondered why he didn’t play with me very much or attend the little performances and functions that are part of growing up. I can, at times, feel some hurt over this but mostly I just don’t understand.

Perhaps he didn’t know how to play with a little girl. I would have been all about having him teach me how to catch and throw a ball but it didn’t happen and I still stink at both. It could be that my klutziness got on his nerves or maybe he didn’t think that was the kind of thing that little girls need to learn. My best guess is that he just didn’t know what to do. It is possible that he wanted so badly to not screw up parenting that he just never got into it. As a kid no one told me how he had grown up in a family that was cold and abusive. It was only towards the end of his life that I was given some not very clear details about his childhood.

As I grew from a little kid into a preteen I had strong opinions and I longed to have serious discussions about things that mattered. Dad stayed busy earning a living and going to his social functions and didn’t have much leisure time for chats with me. Somewhere around his 80th birthday he told me that he regretted not making time for things like school plays and softball games. It meant a great deal to me that he would say that since I know admitting fault or weakness was not natural to him. Part of me wanted to say that it was ok, except that it wasn’t.  Furthermore, I knew he wasn’t asking me to make any excuses for him. It was enough for him to say and for me to hear the words.

Dad was my nephew’s hero and role model. I think it is safe to say he was the voice in his head that tried to steer him to be a good man. I also believe that when he suddenly had to become my nephew’s father figure he was beginning the mellowing process that would follow him until the end of his life. In his final days he was able to apologize for things he wouldn’t even admit a few years prior.

I have cousins that often tell me that their best childhood memories were times that our families spent together and how they loved my dad with his stories and jokes.

After my dad passed away there were neighbors and friends that told me about acts of kindness and compassion that he did for others with no expectation of anything in return. I am glad that they shared these things with me.

I have long thought that my father had an awkward way of expressing tender emotions but now, my 5th Father’s Day since his passing it occurs to me that perhaps I was awkward about accepting his attempts to show love. Perhaps, as folks in the like to say, I come by it honestly. I am afterall his daughter.

Mom once told me she believed that the reason he and I had such hard time understanding each other was because we were so much alike. That makes no sense at all and yet explains so much.

A snowstorm of historic proportions landed on much of the country during his final days and consequently I was the only one that was able to find a way to get to the hospital and be with him. He didn’t say a lot but I saw him cry for only the second time in my life as he found a few words that told me he loved me and that he did indeed have regrets. I let go of past hurts and he knew I had forgiven him. On his next to last day he could no longer talk but was conscious and I could tell thinking clearly. I called all of his most special people and put them on speaker phone so they could say good-bye. The last call was to my mother, snowed into a place four wheel drive trucks couldn’t reach, she was strong and told him it was ok, he didn’t have to hold on any longer.

Being the only one with him at the end was hard but I also believe it gave the two of us our chance to finally let go of the expectations we had for each other and just be content with our imperfect relationship.

An hour or so later he drifted off to sleep and never woke back up. I think he had finally found his peace and ironically the two of us, in those final hours, had reached a tiny bit of understanding. Not everything broken can be fixed but not everything that is broken should be tossed out. Our elusive butterfly had finally arrived.

Photo credit and appreciation to: Julie Johnson, Daan Stevens, Lauren Lulu Taylor, Jian Xhin and Arleen Wiese