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“That’s All I Need.” February 23, 2015

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This morning I heard a “testimony” of a guy who was at his wits end because he was an alcoholic and how his mentor encouraged him, told him to take things one day at  a time, and to decide not to drink today.  He said when he woke up the next day, after choosing not to drink, the urge had left, at least for the day.  And that was enough.  I don’t know what he did the day after that.  Maybe it’s enough to deal with addiction one day at a time.  Maybe it’s enough to deal with life one day at a time.  But the future looms, dark and desperate, like a loud, windy thunderstorm on a black night.  I’m afraid, and it’s starting to downpour already.  I can’t avoid it.

I have moments of psychic pain that is difficult to put into words.  I’m sure I’m not alone.  The helplessness.  The hopelessness.  The purposelessness.  The disappointment.  The frustration.  The doubt.  The guilt.  The stress, with the related physical symptoms that I can’t shake on a weekday but that don’t seem to bother me on a weekend.  I don’t really understand other people’s depression, but I know mine very well.  Yesterday I taught a Sunday School class the first half of John 3.  You should read it.  You should read it slowly.  And today I woke up, got out of bed, got dressed, and drove to work.  A routine Monday.  I understand eternal salvation from a Judeo-Christian perspective.  In fact, I have no doubts about my spiritual estate.  When I die, I stand to inherit, if I’m right about how I understand John 3.  But while I’m living it’s an entirely different situation.

Those kids all had John 3:16 memorized.  They rattled it off so fast I don’t really think they understood any meaning behind the verses.  They, and I, need to take the time to slow down, read it for content and comprehension and not just for the pride of knowing all the words.  I noticed it in them yesterday, and saw in them a mirror, showing myself, the one who pridefully wishes to have it all memorized and know all the answers, all the words of the verse, without necessarily understanding the meaning behind it.  I think I need time to slow down until I fully understand.

Our pastor told the church yesterday that it’s not about us, and I would like to agree with him.  But how can I “Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus” (It’s an old hymn, we don’t sing those at the church much and didn’t sing any yesterday.), when I can barely drag myself to work through the haze of my feelings about life?  All those people who don’t know much about depression tell me I need medication, counseling, etc.  They tell me I need to think positive, focus on the good things.  There are plenty of those.  The problem is that with respect to my emotions, it is about me.  Do I really just choose to be happy?  Do I medicate it away?  Would a counselor really help, or would that just be another person I drag down by being honest about my feelings?

I have a friend who has all but turned his back on “my religion” at least his denomination of it.  He says guilt is useless to me, it cripples me and leaves me doubting and is the cause of all these depressive feelings.  There’s wisdom there, along with a great deal of experience.  But I still question whether I’m asking the right questions and seeking the right answers.

Maybe one of them is right.  Maybe I should surrender my dream of control.  Maybe I should surrender my guilt feelings over stuff I routinely do, just because an escape doesn’t present itself when I need it.  Maybe both of them are right somehow.  But I have another question neither of them is answering:

What if depression is like pain?

I mean, what if depression, like pain, can be a healthy thing?  If you can’t feel pain, like people with Hansen’s disease, you can get into serious trouble.  But feeling the pain is good because I’m aware to move my hand quickly away from the fire, or the stove, the hot light bulb, or move my foot off of the broken glass or the toy on the staircase.  If I medicate my depression away and I’m off in la la land somewhere, not aware of the stimulus that’s causing the feeling, how can that be good?  Maybe something needs to change on the outside, so my depression can go away.  Maybe I need to move in some direction or another, away from whatever is causing the pain.  Is the motion physical?  Is the motion mental?  Is the motion environmental?

I have everything I need except control.  And crowns for two teeth.  And the ability to do my own plumbing.  And the ability to fix my own car.  And manage my time.  And the time to slow down and understand and to do what I really want.  Anyone else hear Steve Martin from “The Jerk?”

Well I’m gonna go then. And I don’t need any of this. I don’t need this stuff, and I don’t need you. I don’t need
anything except this.

[picks up an ashtray]
And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one – I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.
[walking outside]
And I don’t need one other thing, except my dog.
[dog growls]
I don’t need my dog.

Steve Martin’s character was looking for a shred of control, something he could hold on to that was solid.  And there really was nothing to hold on to that would fix whatever was wrong.  When it all turned upside down on him, like a country song, even his dog turned on him.  Sometimes life comes after me with a vengeance.  And I know well that everyone else experiences the same kind of life.  What’s different is their response.  I don’t know any other response than to enjoy the good times and endure the bad times.  But I think that realistically, there’s nothing I can hold on to, materialistically speaking, that will fix my issues.

When I was a teenager, I contemplated suicide, and chose not to do that on that day.  I can’t say that the contemplation has left me.  But the urge, now there’s a different story.  I don’t cut myself.  I haven’t ever attempted suicide.  I try not to be destructive, and I encourage people to be creative above all else.  Creating is the oppposite, and it’s better in every way.  Being destructive doesn’t resolve anything the right way.  Suicide doesn’t resolve anything the right way either. It’s not logical to me, and to me it would feel like a cowardly escape route.  Not to mention, it leaves a mess behind, including cleanup and the physical disposal of a body, and the hurt feelings, leaving deep emotional scars on those left behind.  And what if you try it and fail, and leave yourself worse off than you were before the attempt?  I’m not going to try it.  And I’m not going to recommend anyone else try, or do, it either.

I think rational thinking, the desire to not make it worse for other people, and the endurance of some people around me have probably saved my life.  I don’t even think about my own exit, until I’m old or some unforeseen accident befalls.  I have my dad’s example.  Every day he woke up, got out of bed, and did his job, the same job or jobs he held for something like 30 years, until he retired.  And I think he’s settled into a new routine in his retirement.  It’s just a quirky routine to me, but he can do what he wants because it’s his time.  He has enough money, I guess, although major expenses still make him a bit cranky.  They go out to eat together, and with friends sometimes.  He likes to go shopping.  He spends it, and he talks to people.  I’ve gone with him and watched him do that.  He doesn’t need very much of anything, but he gives a lot of things to his kids still.  My sister lives two doors down from him and we live 30 minutes across town.

He has more control, I think, since he has both money and time.  But if I inherited a tendency for depression from him, I wonder how he feels.  Sadly, I know he recently lost a pet cat, and more recently a pet dog, to old age.  It’s got to get to him.  I think it would affect me.  He must be sad; he had that dog for years.  We had a dog when I was a kid, but it was always referred to as “mom’s” dog.  And her dog lived a normal dog lifespan and died before he retired.  They moved away from Indiana for a while, but then moved back to be closer to more of the family.  And when they came back, “Babe” was a part of their family.  Cats, the dog, and all their stuff, transported from Arkansas and deposited here in Indiana, and they settled in to a new routine.  I know he still misses the dog.  They went on walks together in the morning and in the evening, and she watched him mowing the grass and taking care of the yard.  And now she’s gone.

I think it would be great to have a pet dog.  Unconditional love and warm feet when watching TV, in exchange for food and shelter, and a bit of exercise would be good for both of us.  Maybe my dad wishes he had a dog but is afraid to make the emotional commitment again.  I wonder if I would feel that way if I were in his shoes, or if I would get another dog.  I don’t think he plans to get another dog ever again.  But I think it might be emotionally healthy for him, and if he took it for walks, would be physically healthy for both of them.

Despite the emotional and financial commitments, I still think I might like a pet dog.  It seemed to help my dad feel less depressed, and now he doesn’t have that buffer, that way to turn away from his inner pain, if I’m right about what causes our depression. We’re both fairly emotionally stable on the outside.  But on the inside sometimes I’m adrift in that emotional hurricane.  It comes and goes.  Some days I barely notice a breeze.

I think, just maybe, that’s all I need:  Crowns for my teeth.  The ability to fix my own plumbing and my car.  Enough free time to slow down until I understand, and the time to do what I want, after manageable busy time to do what has to be done.  And control.  And a pet dog.

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Fish Sandwich: Bait and Switch? February 16, 2015

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In the mail we received a coupon booklet.  It has a lovely picture of a fish sandwich on it, right on time for those people who routinely eat fish during Lent.  I’m not going to mention the name of the restaurant, but it is a fast food establishment.  It’s very popular logo is supposed to resemble their french fries I think.  I pass three or four of them every day on the way to and from work.  They are everywhere, and their food is just sinfully delicious.  I love fish sandwiches no matter what time of year it is.

The reason I’m not going to mention the name of the restaurant is because I’m giving them up for Lent.  And because I want an apology.  I made the mistake of reading the fine print of all of the coupons, which is better than if I had actually gone in looking for a couple of fish sandwich and trying to use one of the coupons.  If I had actually gone in and had to be embarrassed by the wonderful staff, who are only just abiding by the policies of the corporation, I might never go again.

The advertisement featured their fish sandwich on the front cover, an open invitation suggesting we all try that, and inside, there were a number of buy-one-get-one offers for sandwiches.  However, the fine print of the coupon mailer, on the back of each tiny tear off coupon that referred to sandwiches, excluded the beautiful one pictured on the front.  That’s right, a fish sandwich picture on the front, and fine print on the back, excluding the fish sandwich from any of the offered coupon deals.  Laugh it up at the literal nature of the pun if you will, but I feel we were baited and switched. I’m sure it’s just my impression, but it just feels evil.

Everyone in my neighborhood must have received that mailer!  I wonder if it was a national campaign or a local one.  Did they bait and switch all of the United States of America?  I’m kind of horrified.  Was it intentional, or just some unfortunate accidental misprint, from not reading and correcting the fine print on the back of the previous coupon print-run?  If it was intentional, I can picture the Mcxecutives sitting in their top-story office suites, laughing maliciously at the joke played on their customers.  If it was unintentional, I wonder if they’re wringing their hands at the gaffe.

It may have been a forgivable sin, but unless I get an apology from the corporation I’m giving up eating at this restaurant for Lent, because as much as I love their delicious fish sandwiches and the rest of their great food, I hate being baited and switched by anyone.  There are other vendors who sell excellent fish sandwiches, and they are also on my commuting route.

It’s me.  I’m sorry, it’s just me.  I’m too easily offended.  I tend to think the world at large and all the people in it have some kind of personal whatever against me.  I shouldn’t be so overly sensitive, say my friends and family.  I’m just constantly feeling the sting of everything and everybody who has done something that hurt my feelings, whether deliberate or not.  Everybody, and I mean everybody, has told me to just suck it up, toughen up, accept it and deal with it and move on.  That’s a wonderful suggestion, but I can’t.  In my world, people should treat people right. But in the real world, some people are wrong, tell lies, and do evil things that hurt innocent people like me.  Honestly, I just want to stay innocent and be treated right.  It’s my expectation, fair or not.  That injury hasn’t had a recent chance to heal; the psychological wound keeps getting re-opened and I don’t trust anyone any more.  So I know, it’s just me.  And I hear you saying, “The world does not have it out for you.  Toughen up, suck it up, and move on.”

The trouble is, EVERY time I read the fine print, someone is lying to me.  Right to my face.  I call the bluff and they hand me a line of verbiage that smells like something from the backside of a bull, and they proceed to tell me it’s actually rose blossoms and my smeller is misfiring.  So they tell me it’s my fault and everything I’m thinking is wrong.

With this persecution complex in mind, I’ve written not to suggest I actually expect an apology, but to say I hope everyone else will continue to go to this fine restaurant during the Lenten season and beyond, and not be offended like I was.  I tend to take things personally, especially things that land in my personal mailbox.  But if you go, you won’t see me there until after Easter.  Or if I actually get a written apology, perhaps with coupons for 40 days of fish sandwiches, or maybe even a years’ supply, just a suggestion I’ll put on MY hook to throw out to the corporate heads of that wonderful restaurant.  If they do something nice like that, I’ll let you all know.

I just checked my email and there’s another advertisement including fish sandwiches from a different fast-food place.  I might try them, but they’re a little out of my direct way home.  And I haven’t read the fine print yet.

Hate, Love, and Valentine’s Day February 12, 2015

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The marriage counselor was wrong.  We took personality profile tests, interviewed her together and separately and together again, and she told us that we should not get married.  She told us that our interests were not very closely aligned, our plans and goals in life were too very different, and she also told me that I was immature.  She further told me that the differences in our personalities, goals, behavior patterns, ambitions, and ways of handling conflict would result in ongoing, irreconcilable differences. She told me, in effect, that I was still, on so many levels, just a kid, and I shouldn’t marry her because she would divorce me and I would thank her for the papers.  I don’t know what she told her privately, but when we were together she said she advised against us getting married because “in [her] mind, it will never work.”

I finally convinced my girlfriend, and we were married 22 years ago in the middle of August.  Nothing romantic like on Valentine’s day or eloping to Virginia.  Just a beautiful church wedding at the First Baptist Church.  I wore a functional, rented tuxedo and she wore the most beautiful dress I have ever seen.  Ever.  She told me that I looked so pale and nervous, a few of our guests were worried I would pass out on the altar.

There were tests along the road to the altar.  I was so blind.  I was so in love.  I didn’t know how to do anything.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know the right things to do and frequently did the wrong things.  But I knew I loved her, and that voice in the back of my head said “She’s the one,” and never changed its’ mind.  Along the road to me saying, “I do,” I wondered.  I asked.  I tested, and so did life.

Ephesians 5 says we’re supposed to submit to one another.  When she told me that she believed I was called to minister and should submit and go to seminary, I packed and left, after asking her to come with me.  She declined.  I took it as a test of my own submission, not hers.  A few years later, we had kept the long-distance relationship going and she had an opportunity in a neighboring state and took it to be closer.  I had social opportunities, where I met other women, and wondered.  They were beautiful.  They were charming.  They were engaging, and they seemed to like me.  And they weren’t “the one.”  A year before we got married, I was feeling impatient, and lonely.  I bought her a calendar for Christmas and asked her to pick a day so we can finally get married.  She laughed and marked December 31.  And I was OK with that.  As it turned out, the Person I’ve always believed was behind the voice in my head arranged things and we were married a few months earlier than that.

There are still other women.  They are beautiful.  They are charming.  They are engaging, and I think they like me.  But they aren’t “the one.”  I might daydream about that for a second.  But honestly, that’s a very far possibility in my mind.  First, my wife is a smart woman.  Dumb as I am, she would certainly either already just know, or find out.  Even if she wouldn’t, I don’t think my conscience could bear it.  Second, I don’t know what they’re thinking, or why they’re thinking what they’re thinking if they’re thinking what I’m thinking they might be thinking.  Wow.  Did you get all that?  Sorry, I barely did myself.  But if they’re thinking I’m a charming gentleman and they’d like to try to charm me away from her, beautiful as they may be, I want to know why?  I’m not rich.  Oh, maybe that’s why I haven’t jumped, I can’t afford the one I’ve got the way I want to afford her, so I certainly can’t afford two.  I’m not powerful.  I’m not ugly, but I’m not that attractive, at least in my own mirror.  I can’t figure out why she finally chose me in the first place, unless it was just my persistence.  And third, I just love her.  She’s beautiful.  She’s a wonderful wife, a great mother, smart, funny when she gets in a humorous mood, she is, in so many ways, perfect.  I don’t think another woman would measure up.  And, she’s humble enough that when I assert she is perfect, she says she’s not.

Temptation leans on the doorbell.  (Mom says that, after “Opportunity knocks.”)  There’s always some beautiful woman who is charming and flirtatious who makes me wonder.  So far, if there was a pass made, from one side or the other, it was left, in football vernacular, incomplete.  At least once, she was a coworker.  Not a few fellow-students at whichever school you look at.  Once she even lived right next door.  A few were fellow-writers, and [expletive deleted] they are fine.  Yeah, you know who you are.  If I wasn’t married I’d be chasing one of you, the thought of which I apologize for, I guess.  Or not.  I suppose it’s the nature of temptation to be ever-present.  I hate that.  But if it’s a fact of life, at least they’re not exactly throwing themselves into my arms, and thank God I’m not trying to throw myself into theirs.  The book of James says to resist; so far, I’ve resisted.

So the marriage counselor was wrong, because I’m a stubborn guy.  “She’s ‘the one'” and I want to keep her as long as she will keep me.

And

The marriage counselor was right.  I hate that.  I hate that we speak totally different languages.  This fact means when I say something she doesn’t get it, or doesn’t hear it the same way I do, or doesn’t feel the same way about it that I do. This fact means that the way I love her and the way I want to be loved are very different than the way she loves me and the way I want to be loved.  Because as I’ve asserted before, those are linguistic.  She doesn’t like the same shows i like, I don’t like the same shows she likes.  We are different.  I hate that we are on two very different schedules.  I hate that she needs so much sleep.  These two facts really cramp my style.  Style and cramp are substitutes for what I really want to say.  Suffice it to say that neither one of us is totally satisfied with what we get from the other person.  And both of us think we’re doing everything possible to make the other happy.

I really hated that she called me out for immaturity.  It was true, but I still hated it.  It still is true.  But I hate it.  Who wants to be an old fogey, a curmudgeon, a hyper-responsible tightwad all the time?  If I want to do something flighty and impulsive, I want to be allowed to do it.  The extra purchase at the store.  Responsibility says I shouldn’t because it’s not in the budget.  But I like giving roses and expensive chocolates to her.  Most of the time, I’m the “fun” one and she’s the “responsible” one.  Here substitute “immature,” for me, and “mature,” for her

I hate that we’re on very different clocks.  I’m up half the night.  She goes to bed so early I feel put off.  I hate being put off, or pushed away.  I tease her about her responsibly mature early bed time; I joke about her getting dinner around 3:30 (she doesn’t) and paying the early-bird-senior-discounted-special price (she doesn’t), and we’re not seniors.

I hate that our interests are so different, she can’t watch anything I want without critiquing its’ lack of appropriateness for children.  And she doesn’t appreciate what I like or what I do, which are writing, and music.  Maybe it’s unfair to say that she doesn’t appreciate it, so much as she doesn’t see the value of it, inasmuch as it isn’t paying our bills.  I pour my heart into it.  The audience raves.  And she just says, “Yup.  It’s what he does.”  I feel blown off and taken for granted again.  I’m Rodney Dangerfield, for those of you old enough to know the name.  “I don’t get no respect.  No regard either.”

I hated the marriage counselor.  Maybe it’s better to say I hate what she said that I believed in my heart was dead wrong.  I hated that we wasted money paying that person.  Person is a polite substitute for what I really would like to call that person.  And I hated that my wife listened to her for a while, and put me through an extra “cooling off period,” during which I did not cool off.  I hated the waiting game.  I hated the waste of time.  But as much as I hated her message, she told her side of the truth.  Fortunately for me, there are at least 3 sides to the truth.  My side, her side, and the truth.  And as much as I hated her, I love my wife and still want to stay and work on our marriage.  We were not disillusioned.  We walked into it with our eyes wide open.  The pastor cautioned us both on our appropriate roles, the counselor told us what we might expect, and they were both right to a degree.  The pastor was more right.”  He just said if we both worked on it hard enough, it would work, and if we didn’t, it wouldn’t.  I heard a rumor that some people in my own family, immediate or distant, were making bets on how long it would last before it failed.  She has worked on the relationship.  I have worked on the relationship.  And I don’t expect the need to work on it to just miraculously disappear one day.

I love my wife.  She’s worth every bit of the effort.  I hate that my stamina flags when it comes to dirty dishes left in the sink, or when I’m feeling like we’re not communicating.  Or when there are other things I need to do after I’m too tired to move, but they need to be done and she’s off to bed.  We go through these cycles.  I once heard a preacher thank his wife for 15 happy years of marriage.  And then he quipped that they’d been married 25 years.  If I ever get a job in public speaking, there’s a joke I won’t be repeating.  Funny as it sounded, it was not a nice thing to say in his wife’s hearing.  Our days haven’t all been happy.  It’s up; it’s down.  We haven’t won the lottery yet, or come into a large sum of money, so we have to keep our day jobs.  And it’s hard.  But I love her and I live to look into her eyes and hold her hand, or give her hugs and back rubs and other expressions of affection.  Perhaps she would say the same.  And if not, I’d leave filing the divorce papers up to her.  Because it’s too much effort, first to file them and then to find someone new.  I wouldn’t even know where to find a courthouse to file them in.  Sure, I’m certain whoever it is, is waiting in the wings to take the lead role, but whoever she is, she’s not “the one.”  I joked with my wife that if she ever divorced me, she gets the house, the cars and the kids as part of the settlement.  Oh, and she gets me too.

It’s like that.  I love my wife, and I intend to make good on my vow.  The joke I heard was that a couple who had been married a long time were asked if they ever thought of divorce.  The response from one of them was, “Did we think of divorce?  Never!  Did we think of murder?  Occasionally.”  Well, I’m not ready for either of those kinds of drama.  I promised “…’til death do us part,” so if she decides to murder me, I guess it’ll be over.  Otherwise it’ll be whenever one of our cards get pulled by the Guy I believe is behind “The Voice” inside my head.

She’s my Valentine.  I’ve loved her through the endurance and obstacle courses of courting and then the endurance and obstacle courses of marriage.  Who’s your Valentine?  Is it real?  Have you got the stamina to endure, and the wisdom to avoid the pitfalls and obstacles?  Do you hear The Voice inside your head that reassures you it’s right?  Who’s waiting in the wings to replace your leading lady, or your leading man?   Or am I the only one who feels there’s some evil conspiracy.  I’m constantly worried about taking the bait.  It’s always out there, but I know that would be a disaster.

Whoever your Valentine is, I hope you’ll make the effort to make the day special.  We’re going out on a date.  And I’m excited about it, still.  It’s been 22 years.  And I still get that same feeling when we are going out on a date.

“She’s the one.”

On The Scale: Love and Celebrities February 5, 2015

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You know I love my celebrities, when I’m not ignoring them.  You know how much I dislike the celebrity magazines and mud-slinging television shows, but I like the guys who were, or are, heroic and dashing, the ladies who were, or are loveable and smart.  Well, I love my movies and TV shows anyway.  When I can escape and watch those plots weaving and unraveling and coming together, I remember why I want to write.  Eventually, this year perhaps, I’ll finish my first novel and move on, assuming inspiration and free time coincide, in an undeniable miracle.  But not today.  Today I have to comment about how the media handles and mishandles our dear celebrities.

I like to hear about the latest projects, and the family developments.  I like to hear some of them talk, off the set.  Some of them are just brilliant, others surprise me with their sense of humor, some are extremely talented at conveying emotions, some are good whether the role is creepy or dramatic or funny, some are just so beautiful, if they didn’t act they could be models.  I like to watch those people.  The celebrity news pretends to love celebrities.  But their love is very shallow.  It only goes so deep as to celebrate the success of a rising star, the awards for popularity, the longevity of a success, and the stability of someone who is stable.

What happens when their project goes south, the movie is a flop, the series is cancelled, the celebrity gets caught in an affair, the celebrity becomes an addict on display and in and out of rehab, the couple gets divorced, they don’t win the award.  What happens is the celebrity gets their name dragged through the mud.  I understand curiosity.  I understand the desire to report “the truth.”  There’s a lot of  so-called “truth” being reported.  But unfortunately, I’m becoming more aware that in the media there is very little “truth in love.” (see Ephesians 4:15)  Sure, the media, indeed Hollywood, is frequently far from Christ, and won’t realistically be held to a Christlike standard.  But why?

The big things the media grabs to have their stories- drug related death, a success story, I have no problem with those because they are real news.  Some celebrities sometimes use drugs.  Sometimes celebrities overdose and die.  Sometimes celebrities are successful or popular, and their project is well written, well acted, well publicized.  It’s fine. But I saw an item that I didn’t think was newsworthy at all, and yet it was on the news feed.  It was trivial, but somehow it was important enough to build a whole story around the idea.  And the way it was reported was just mean-spirited.  When I thought about it, I realized how unfair it is, how backward minded in our supposedly modern era of awareness and enlightenment:

Which celebrities have gained weight?  See the 25 pages of before and after photos.

I thought this was 2015.  Seriously, bullies?

And how hypocritical!

When the news media gets ahold of a bullying story, they’re all about support groups and help for people who’ve been traumatized by the bullies.  Dr. Whoever gets on and talks about the consequences of bullying:  guilt, depression, suicide.  But the celebrity news is immune to being shamed for shaming celebrities.  I say, shame on them for this “truth-without-love” reporting on them.  They are people, and they don’t deserve to be bullied, but they’re bullied for everything that the media and the spinners want to portray as “bad.”  I’ve already weighed in, so to speak, about the vegan and animal rights battle against all carnivores.  There’s no love there, whether one is a celebrity or not.  I daresay there’s very little truth there either.  Except when it boils down, the animal rights lobby wants to shame the carnivores into giving that up.  I understand their argument, but I don’t subscribe to it.  And their tactics won’t work on anyone who eats meat, because we’re not ashamed of it.  Hatred and finger pointing and other kinds of bullying never work to change anyone’s thinking.  Only love works, and even that is an uphill battle.  Ask anyone who tried to nag their spouse, or a family member, to change a habit, they’ll tell you that nothing worked until they showed their love.  The truth by itself only hurts.

The dumbest fat-shaming photo set was beyond dumb, it was ridiculous on so many levels.  Marlon Brando was the last celebrity on the fat shaming list.  I used to weigh less than 200 pounds, back when I was in my 20s.  Several years later I weigh a few pounds more, and it shows in my wardrobe and in my mirror.  My before and after photos show it.  If you love me, and lovingly offer encouragement to me to exercise and eat less, with incentives, I might start to fight that battle.  But if you shame me for being fat, I’m going to sink lower in depression and eat more, and be less motivated to exercise.  Why would a celebrity be any different?  And why was this last photo set just dumb? Because the photos were taken more than 50 years apart.  Who doesn’t gain a little weight every year unless they are vigilant?  And over 50 years, one would expect to become a little more grey, a little less svelte.  Over the years of my marriage, a skin-and-bones thin newlywed, loving life, ate and has gained perhaps 30 lbs.  It spreads ok over my six-foot-two blue eyed frame, but it’s there and I’m aware of it.  But happiness and security will do that to you.

He’s not even alive to feel any shame!  The late, and I might add, great, Marlon Brando, who passed away in 2004. Wait.  I thought this was 2015.  11 years later and you can’t let him rest in peace?  The photos showed a slim and muscular Marlon Brando back in 1951, and a more recent photo showing that Mr Brando had been living a life while enjoying his success, taken about 50 years later.  Shame on them for shaming him for his weight, shame on them twice for speaking ill of the dead.

The rest of the photo set were only predictably offensive, showing various celebrities who probably starved themselves to be so thin, and then with a little success, started to enjoy themselves more.  And the thing about the so-called “fat” photos was, the celebrities looked just fine to me.  They looked perfectly normal, and my attractive female celebrities were at least as attractive as they were when they were “thin.”  Maybe they were even more attractive, at least to me.  I’ve never been one to say anything about someone who was thin, unless of course they had an unhealthy obsession about it.  And I don’t think people become unattractive just because of some weight gain.  I think you might become unattractive if you stop caring for, and about, yourself.  Otherwise, If you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, end of story.  It’s just one man’s opinion though.  And my opinion probably won’t change the world.

But may I suggest, gently, if we’re going to love our celebrities, let’s love them.  If we’re going to speak the truth about them, let’s speak the truth in love, so as to not be hurtful, careless bullies.  And us normal people could learn how to do that too.  It might have the desired impact, instead of throwing the bullied into further depressed, destructive behaviors.  I’m prone to depression even without a bully’s help.  So I find when my wife is kind to me, it’s a lot easier to do better at living.  She’s so beautiful.  She’s very possibly more beautiful now than when I married her, and if pictures are proof, we’ve both added some to the scale.  I’ve done so less gracefully.  But she’s so encouraging, I’ve started to take the stairs again.  Maybe I’ll be around in 50 years, to still appreciate how beautiful she is.  And maybe I’ll have added a few stubborn pounds to the scale.  By then, though, maybe the world will change.

Maybe people won’t be fat-shaming others any more.  Maybe all forms of bullying will be shamed instead of openly tolerated, or accepted, or celebrated.  Maybe we’ll be speaking the truth in love by then, and in turn, even see the trend of successful and unsuccessful celebrities not surrendering to drugs, alcohol, and other self-destructive vices.  I’ll just say I think that would be a good thing.  Right now, if you weighed love on the scale, I know it would be found unhealthy, anorexic, skeleton-thin, and near death (Daniel 5:27).  Even in the modern, progressive, enlightened world, our love could use some fattening up.  And that’s just sad.

I can hope, but I’m not holding my breath while I’m waiting.  That would be self-destructive and pointless.  But we’ll see.

Her Awkward Valentine February 4, 2015

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When I think back as Valentine’s Day approaches I have to say it’s a miracle I’m married.  Here am I: socially awkward, physically awkward, emotionally awkward.  I’m so introverted it’s almost physically painful to interact with people, and yet I force myself every day because we have to, right?  Unless we have an inexhaustible support system of people willing to allow us to become hermits, we need gainful employment and we have to interact with someone.  Let me stay in my fantasy “man-cave,” and let people I don’t have to talk to bring me steaks and other diverse meat offerings, my favorite vegetables, pasta dishes, pizza, desserts, pies, and ice creams of various flavors, and good coffee.  Lots of good coffee. What a nice dream.

How in the world do people engineer a social support structure that enables them to be like that?  I see the TV featuring the human interest stories about hoarders, morbid obesity, homelessness and other social situations, and although I don’t fit into that kind of category I want a hermitage.  I want a place I can go, where I don’t have to worry about money, and things I want and need appear, like the perfect room service might offer.  “Hello, Jeeves, or Alfred, or Barrymore, or whatever your name is, send me up a nice medium porterhouse, with butter-sauteed onions added to the red wine deglaze, steak sauce, baked potato with butter, sour cream and seasoned salt and pepper, some al dente steamed broccoli, and 34 ounces of cold beer.  And after dinner, perhaps some vanilla ice cream and fruit pie, on separate dishes.  …Oh, today is Cherry pie?  That’s just fine.”

Don’t make me talk to people face to face.  I probably don’t remember your name.  You should know I feel guilty because I don’t. Don’t make me apologize and ask again.  If I have to see you, book an appointment with my receptionist, Janet, or Susan, or Erin, or whatever her name is, so she can tell me who in the world I’ll be talking to and what it’s about, and excuse the pajamas, bathrobe and slippers.  Another rich man fantasy.

I walk with a limp and am very uncoordinated.  I used to be more aware of people staring, especially in school when they noticed my right hand hovering limply up at my rib cage.  The bullies back then were their own support group, and the victims didn’t get the intervention supposedly available today.  So I had to toughen up and take whatever they dished out: verbal, or physical abuse, and any of a variety of forms of teasing.  I have a list of people I still remember, that I should hate for what they did and said.  But in my fantasy world, none of them matter.  I need a place I can go where no one picks on me for my physical differences.  The people I trust enough to let in to my world accept me for who and what I am, and they still offer support and encouragement.

On TV and in movies there are socially awkward characters whose intelligence is beyond that of ordinary mortals.  They think differently, they talk differently, they have a sense of entitlement, and on TV they don’t seem to lack anything they need, or they’re able to persuade their social support group to facilitate their awkwardness.  My IQ has been measured and I confess it’s so high I’m literally some kind of brilliant idiot, but I’m still jealous of the character’s teams of people who deliver food, help pick out clothes, provide transportation and other services, and the financial support the character either inherited or arranged.

I haven’t been diagnosed with any kind of -ism, but I’m very much aware of my mental tendencies.  I could disclose several, but it’s pointless.  Suffice it to say that what -isms I have don’t affect me in any profound ways.  I’m what’s called “high-functioning” because I’ve been forced to cope with them and deal with life just like any other person does.  But it’s my emotions when things don’t go as I’d like, or just in the normal course of life, that are difficult to manage.  I have a low tolerance threshold for frustration and a short attention span unless it’s something that interests me enough to get invested.

I want a place where I can vent my feelings and be myself, without the world shoveling that life-is-what-you-make-it-so-be-positive-and-expect-good-things crap at me.  In my family we are sensitive, and well aware that sometimes life hands you crap and you have to make something useful out of it in spite of, and things frequently (here read “always”) fall apart and we have to figure out a way to fix or replace or ignore them.  Here, take my man-card, sometimes I just want to have a good cry, or yell, or throw things, and not worry about the cost to fix or replace whatever latest thing that broke.  Sometimes I just want to be left alone.  And I don’t ever seem to be allowed to be alone long enough to satisfy that want.  There’s always something that must be done, and requires my participation.  I want a place where I don’t have to participate as a given, taken for granted.  I want a place where my participation is celebrated when I’m emotionally available, and not required when I’m not.

In my house, I dislike the buzzers and bells and alarms unless they’re tied to a recipe in the kitchen.  I have the washer and dryer alarm bells turned off.  The doorbell rarely goes off.  The grandfather clock doesn’t even chime.  I don’t answer the phone unless my caller starts to leave a message and I happen to be home and want to talk.  If I had my way, the ringer would be off and I’d only call people I wanted to, when I wanted to.  But the kids do want, need, and have a social life, so the door and the phone is for them more than for me.  I stay in my corner until something is required or requested, and most often it’s the kids wanting food, which I am happy to prepare.  Occasionally they just need an encouraging word or a hug, I’m happy to oblige.  Sometimes they just need someone to listen, and most of the time I can get out of my own emotional tortoise shell just long enough to endure, because “love is patient and kind.”  I need that for myself too!  But sometimes I wish we had a nanny.  And a counselor-on-call.  And a chef.  And a valet.  And a private home-school tutor.  And a chauffeur.  And…

How did I manage to get married and have children?  Well, miracles never cease.  I did campaign long and worked hard to secure the relationship, but in the end it was her choice.  The miracle is, she loves me enough to put up with me, to a point.  I can’t go to medium- or low- functioning; she won’t put up with that.  I don’t think my friends would offer the kind of financial or other support mechanisms I would need to go where I really feel like going sometimes, so I can’t go, and I’m just high-functioning enough to not go wherever that is.  Or maybe I’m scared of the consequences of going there, and not sure of how I would get out when I was ready.  She drags me out of my protective shell, helps me to deal with the crises of life when I need help, allows me a degree of emotional release and escape.  She loves me.  I’m very fortunate, one might even say “blessed.”  Somehow she fell in love with me long years ago, and in spite of myself she’s still here.

I’d love a place where finances didn’t matter.  Where I am provided whatever I need.  Where people leave me alone and don’t demand my attention, or pick on me.  I need a place where things don’t fall apart and require repair or replacement.  I need a place where I can cry, or laugh, or express whatever insanities or darknesses creep out, without being judged.  The way my heart cries out for a safe place, though my world is not particularly “dangerous,” I can’t believe anyone else is very different.  I believe everyone needs a place like I’m describing.

Maybe I’m just special, because I always feel that way.  I’m very aware of how I would like things, and my wife has taken to saying something about me “living in [my] perfect world.”  It’s almost Valentines Day, I’m awkward, but I’m Her Awkward Valentine.  So I guess I do have a place like that, at least when we’re not talking about life’s ills.  My spot, when I can get there, is in her arms.  Now, if we could just do something about the alarm clock…

A Scam By Any Other Name Would Still Smell January 28, 2015

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PT Barnum is famously accredited with saying “There’s a fool born every minute.”  If I could get a dollar from anyone I fooled I’d be pretty rich.  And some less-than-reputable people are doing just that, every day.  Scammers get a lot of people to hand them money.  Credit card fraud.  Spam emails.  Pop-up windows.  Links to irrelevant websites.  Computer Viruses.  Straight up, simple Theft.  And deception.  For some people, some of these are a gray area.  To me they are all darkest evil.

I once took a job from a guy in a nice suit who drove a nice car who had a slick smile.  He promised me things after 90 days of employment, and then more things when I became a permanent employee.  It turned out this was that as a temp, and that was nothing like what he had promised, and by the time I waited 90 days, this was that again.  I went on to become full time, and this turned out to be that again, and I got less than I was promised.  When it happened, I looked back and promised myself to get it in writing next time.  Since then I’ve been more aware.  But I should have already known better.

I once answered a classified advertisement, when I was very young.  I was fresh out of college and needed money like everyone else.  I sat through a minimally paid orientation program that was to last for a few days, after which we were to sign on the dotted line and be put to work to make a lot of money.  The promises were great.  The presenter was a man in his 50s, wearing a pretty gold ring and a pretty gold watch and a pretty suit and dress shoes told us things about his product.  It was “industrial strength.”  We would be selling “to corporations.”  He even told us it wouldn’t be door-to-door, but instead would be referral driven, with referrals coming from the corporate office.  He told us about the reward structure, how we could earn various pretty sales premiums, and we would even earn money just for setting up and displaying our products to customers.

The guy showed us the flashy stuff: the rings, the watches, on up to cars and boats and even a nice house.  About the end of the second day of this, I suspected something was amiss.  A guy sitting behind me mentioned he had quit his previous job to come and hoped it wasn’t some kind of scam.  We hadn’t seen the product yet.  I quipped, “it’s probably door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales.”  Not that day, but the next day, the product was revealed to us.  That’s right, after some missed three days of working a regular day job, they finally showed us the product.  A vacuum cleaner.  And it was referral driven, but also door-to-door, and there would be no sales to large companies as they had hinted, or perhaps actually stated.  If I had a recording device I should have made a recording and sued.

Somehow this was legal.

My own mother-in-law owns one of their older, heavier models, and it still works.  I admit, the product is great, but it’s very expensive and the way they tried to get us to sell it was, plain and simple, shady.  That was years ago.  Perhaps they have changed their technique.  But I’m not going to request a demonstration so I can interview the poor sales person to find out if they walked some sort of blindfolded plank, or jumped in with both feet willingly.

I hate watching television, although I do have favorite shows I’ll watch when I can catch them.  When I watch the TV, I just don’t like the news, the commercials, the reality TV shows, and the talk shows.  That’s about 95% of modern television programming.  They have trailers for movies, and I get that.  They want you to want to see the movie, so they show you just enough of the good parts to make you want to see how things turn out.  But now, the news media have switched to a trailer technique.  They tease, “The world is coming to an end!  Find out how, and how we might be able to avert certain doom and disaster, tonight at 11!”  Or worse, “Tonight our investigative team will report about a series of break-ins in the local area!  The victims were beaten, raped and robbed and their cars were stolen from their garages.  Find out where, tonight at 11!”  This last one I heard in the morning, and had to wait until evening to find out.  As a matter of public safety, that news, as bad as it sounds, needs to be reported immediately, without all the slick production values and personal interviews the station wanted to put together.  We locked the doors, and I glanced back at the flimsy glass in the windows of the house, knowing if someone really wanted into the house bad enough, they could get in.

But I felt baited to watch at another time, and I really didn’t feel it was necessary.  If my wife, or someone else, had been attacked that day I would think the news media outlet should be held responsible for not issuing a clearer warning for the law-abiding citizens to be on alert.  It felt like the news media were conspiring to give the criminals one more day to keep doing what they were doing, and a warning to skip town after that.  In clearer terms, conspiracy felt like it wasn’t the most apt description, but aiding and abetting was.  Who do these people know?  Who’s helping them to get away with this crap?  Shady.

I get a phone call every week or every other week, from a charitable organization asking for help.  They may be reputable, but then you look them up and it turns out some aren’t even directly connected with the organization they’re purporting to support.  Some people stand on the street corners with permits, collecting change for this or that.  I looked up one of those organizations and found out they come from a whole different state!  Shady.

I received an email today, from a source I generally trusted.  I opened the email and there was a link to a presentation, and I was curious.  The presentation started and it was a lengthy article in presenter-controlled video form so I couldn’t skip to the important parts or to the end, and it took more than 5 minutes and I still didn’t get the important information they wanted me to know about.  My this-is-a-sales-gimmick radar went off and I closed the presentation down before I got to the part where they said we’ll tell you how this great thing works for $29.95 plus S&H.  I hate those almost as much as I hate the emails sent from a blind email box that ask you to click here for your invoice, or your report, and they highjack your computer and stick a virus on it.  Some of them then follow with a popup that says to call them and they will remove the virus and protect your computer for $29.95 per year.  I have learned several scam-y sounding email formats and I delete some even if I know who sent it to me.  I just hate to be messed with, and some people act like they have nothing better to do with their time than to torment me.  I think some of them might be legal, but I know all of them are shady.

Certain car dealers and their bait-and-switch pricing drive me crazy.  Certain auto repair shops with their “I wouldn’t drive it like that myself, unless you let me put this new part on it,” too.  Q:  How do you know who to trust?  A:  You don’t.  Somehow it’s all legal.  Sometimes, you get your money’s worth and find one reputable one.  But too frequently, it’s shady.

Q: Who are you, demons?
A:  We are LEGION.

I hate every one of the legions of people who are in the service of the deceiver.  And I hate their father too.  I’m not supposed to hate the sinner, just the sin, but it’s hard to separate the two.  If it were my universe, these pigs, and the spiritual darkness which motivates them, would be abruptly ended.  But alas, or fortunately for them, it’s not mine.  Beware, people.  A scam is a scam is a scam, and they are legion.  Some of them are well concealed behind some shred of twisted legality, and behind their flash, celebrity, glam, promises, and perfume.  But in the end they all still smell bad.

In his book “No Exit,” Sartre is famous for the expression, “L’enfer, c’est les autres,” which translates, literally, “Hell, it is the others,” or “Hell is other people.”  Not exactly a universal truth, not exactly loving, but close to the former.

Ever been scammed?  It keeps happening to me because the scam switches and I get blindsided again.  Will it ever stop?  Can we have people who really care, offering the truth in love, instead of pirates who sell half truths for profit?

Someone tell me again, why am I a suspicious-minded introvert who dislikes most people and is well on the road to becoming a full-on hermit?  And how is that a bad direction to go?

Missing: One Left Sock January 26, 2015

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It’s just possible that somewhere, hidden, are all the things I have lost in my life.  I have lost socks, mittens, gloves, collectibles, toys, books, coats, that important piece of whatever it was so I couldn’t reassemble whatever it was I had taken apart, etc.  Fishing poles.  Knives.  Spoons.  Keys.  My favorite sweater.  My favorite T Shirt and pair of blue jeans.  I guess that means I’m not so different from anyone else.  Who hasn’t lost anything, ever?     If I had stalkers and fans I would blame them, and ask for some of it to be returned.  Keep the stuff I don’t use, stuff that’s worn out or too small for me, or the stuff I’ve already replaced.

I suspect my mom may have quietly burned the holey jeans and tshirt I revered beyond the “e,” and perhaps the sweater or pants on the mending table ended up in the trash as well, after the third or fourth repair.

I’ve lost significant things.  Money.  Education opportunities.  Job opportunities.  Connections with people I care about.  These weren’t entirely my fault, although to a degree I guess I was responsible.

Today I confess, I like having neat fingernails.  I used to bite them, and leave them with the dirt until whenever they came clean.  At least I used to like washing dishes, which by happy coincidence, usually left them pretty clean.  I still like to wash the dishes.  I’ve come a long way.  If you weren’t already going to revoke my man-card because I like a clean kitchen, you might when you read this:

I like to cut my nails.  I like to shape and file them, and to smooth them with an emery board.  And I know what a cuticle cutter and spoon are.  It’s her fault.  I don’t really obsess over shaving, or clothes, or anything.  But my nails bug me when they’re not properly taken care of.  My wife started me on the road to that specific grooming habit, and here I am.  When I was in High School, I needed short nails to play my viola, so when they got clicky, I’d bite them short.  I quit doing that, somewhere between college and marriage.  And sometime between engagement and marriage, I got in the habits of filing and smoothing my fingernails, and then, trimming the rough edges of my cuticles. The problem is, I buy a cuticle tool and it disappears within a week.  Somewhere in the dark regions of the bathroom closet, somewhere buried under the carpet of the house, somewhere tucked irresponsibly in a junk drawer or a pen jar, somewhere in the black hole beside the one that holds the missing left socks, are all my cuticle tools.  I just want one.  I’ve bought whole sets of nail care tools and danged if the cuticle tool disappears from the closet where I hid the whole zipper pouch.  No one claims to have removed it, or moved it.  But it’s gone.

If you’ve never seen a cuticle trimming tool, it’s a kind of heart-shaped tool on a stick, where the top part of the heart, toward the center, is sharpened.  It’s specially designed to smoothly capture the cuticle and neatly cut it, like scissors cut wrapping paper if you get it started and hold and move them right.

I envy people with those neat pegboards with tools hanging.  Some even have the outline of their tools so they know which one goes where.  But if my cuticle trimmer goes missing, what prayer do I have of maintaining such a system?  I’m lucky to find the drill and drill bits (and that thingy you use to tighten the drill bit- I think it’s called a “chuck tightener.”- I’m not even sure what a “chuck” is.) when some next-to-impossible household maintenance project comes along.  If my cuticle cutter is representative of the rest of life, I’d end up with the neat pegboard and the outlines of my missing tools.  And a few missing pegs while we’re at it.

I wish I could just hire “the guy,” for all of that.  Especially plumbing.  But I have learned, because we didn’t hire “the guy,” how to do lots of things.  But without the tool, I can’t do much.  And without the tool I can’t cut  my cuticles.  I don’t even know if, in the modern era of blood-borne pathogen awareness, manicurists are allowed to cut people’s cuticles.  I don’t think I want them to do that for me.  But that means I need it, more often than I need a drill.

I can understand, throw it away if it’s no longer sharp.  Fine.  But put it away, or back where I left it, if it’s still useful.  This weekend I realized that yet another has slipped away into the nail-tool black hole where all of my previous fingernail clippers and cuticle tools have fallen and disappeared forever.

These missing socks and gloves and tools and cuticle trimmers are like bits of my life that I have lost along the way.  Jesus said that he was like a vine-dresser.  If I’m the vine, He said He’d come along and cut away the stuff that was interfering with my spiritual growth, so I could bear fruit in my life.  I’ve lost touch with people.  Old friends don’t call.  Not that I miss some people, but sometimes I wonder what some of them are up to.  High School and college buddies.  Most of them I really liked.  Were they a negative influence on me?  Would I have been a negative influence on them and therefore was I the one who was pruned away?  Are these as replaceable as hat and mitten and socks?  They’re lost, and I feel a bit lost without my old connections.

When I win the lottery, they’ll be coming out of obscurity, I suppose.  But until then I was just a memory for them.  Was it a good memory?  Chess club after school.  Orchestra, and being in the pit for musicals.  I’m married, now, but then, some of those actresses…  Maybe we’d have been a negative influence on each other.  (Don’t kid yourself, MJ, you were a geeky loser, and you still bear most of those traits, says the accuser in my head.  Striking, how much that voice sounds like my sister sometimes.)  Friends in college that I absolutely adored.  They made me laugh, helped me to think, carried me through the doldrum days, helped me to forget the downward cycle that I regularly find myself trapped in.  And while I miss them, I don’t have a big vacuum in my life.  Other people have come along, like replacement gloves, and I’ve cared for them until they moved along and didn’t need me any more.  Or until I didn’t need them any more.  Or they moved a little farther away.  Or I moved.

For those of you (and you know who you are) who were supportive and caring friends in my past, know that I remember and still think fondly of you.  For those of you who gave selflessly to make sure my needs were met, motivated out of Christ’s love, I want you to know that you were God’s very hands to take care of me, and I appreciate you and your effort and sacrifice.  For those of you who turned my head (whether you know it or not), know that I’m glad neither of us gave in to temptation.  It wouldn’t have gone well.  If I turned anyone’s head, I wasn’t aware of it and I’m sorry if I disappointed you or made you sad.  For all of you, I hope God’s best for you, as I believe I have found God’s best for me.  Like the old song says, “somewhere on the other side, there will be an answer.”

I wish I knew how it all fit together, so I would be able to celebrate more how God is providing for me and protecting me.  Sometimes I don’t feel very well-protected.  Sometimes I don’t feel very well provided for either.  But I know in my heart that He does.  I have to trust in His character.

Just as I would celebrate if I ever locate the missing whatever-it-is, I know that God has a special place in His heart for lost people.  When they turn up He celebrates.  I’ve read, you may have read, the kingdom of Heaven is like that.  Celebrating finding that which was lost.  If you are lost, it’s not because God wants you pruned off the Kingdom of Heaven vine.  God wants you to seek Him, and when you do, I believe He’ll find you because He’s a good shepherd.  Once we’re in the right place, having sought out the Kingdom of Heaven, what He does with us is up to Him.  “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.”  We are his poeima, his artwork, his craftsmanship.  And we are also promised that if He starts something with us, He’ll complete it.

I belong to God.  I believe it with all my heart.  But to be honest, I frequently feel like a tool.  If I’m in God’s tool-shed, I’ve fallen off the pegboard, back into the dust and wood chips behind the workbench, and I don’t know if He’s just found a replacement tool, or if eventually I’ll be put to any good work.  What’s my purpose?  When will I figure it out?  When will God finish the work He’s started in me?  Anyone else feel like a misplaced tool, gathering dust behind the workbench because you’re not where the Craftsman thinks you should be?  I know how the lost get found.  What I haven’t figured out is how the found get found.  I’m better off because I once was lost lost, and now I’m found.  And I’m waiting for those instructions from God, so I can feel like I’ve been found found.

I recall from the Old Testament, two people.  First, Moses.  He spent 40 years, his youth, misplaced in Egypt watching people being mistreated.  He spent 40 more years in Midian, watching sheep.  And then he spent 40 years doing what God had purposed for him, which was to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery.  Joshua, before him, spent years as a boy and a young man, dreaming the dream that he would be important.  Then he spent years after his brothers sold him into slavery, and the time he was in jail because Mrs. Hottie Potiphar didn’t get what she wanted from him, before finally helping a lot of people survive a famine.  How many years before I can work on whatever it is that God has for me?

I have had dreams, big dreams for my life, and they haven’t come true yet.  Anyone else have that dream?  You know, but you’re not sure where or how to start walking toward it, working for it?  Anyone else feel like the substance of things you’ve hoped for is broken, and with it, your faith?  Anyone else feel lost and waiting?

And while you’re looking around, has anyone seen my cuticle trimmer?

Please (Don’t) Send Help! I’m Trapped With a Psychic And I LOVE Her! January 23, 2015

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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DEAR GOD!  My wife is amazing.  That’s not a vain expletive; it’s praise.

She is amazing.  She thinks she’s not perfect, but I think she’s pretty close.  Sure, she doesn’t do everything I want exactly the way I want, see the Love Language article I posted earlier for more about that.  But she’s pretty close.

You all should find someone like this.  It’s mushy and romantic sounding, but like the cheesy line from that cheesy chickflick “Jerry Maguire,” she completes me.  I don’t believe she’s really a psychic, since we’re both Christ-followers.  I think some of the people with “psychic” powers are either not spiritual at all (see the show Psych, on Netflix), but just people gifted with astute powers of observation and connection.  And if they are spirits, they aren’t really good spirits no matter how harmless they may seem.  I don’t mean to say that it’s not real, I mean to say that it’s dark and dangerous to tinker with.

But my wife!  I think if I were to spiritualize it, I’d do it like this:

You may have read King Lemuel’s words in Proverbs 31, about an ideal woman.  I’ll save King Lemuel’s identity questions for another blog.  Yeah, his “virtuous woman,” she’s so ideal she sounds “virtual.”  She runs the house, she does the shopping, she handles the investments, she commands respect at home and away from home.  What’s left for her husband to do?  It sounds like a fantasy, the stuff one would be inspired to write a poem about.  It’s an acrostic poem, taking each letter of the Hebrew alphabet and writing something good about her, like, the one you sang to your mom at the mother’s day presentation at school, “M is for the Many things she gave me.”  That was Eddie Arnold, if you want to look into it further.  Lemuel, or Lemuel’s momma, sounds pretty serious, when giving advice on what to look for in a great woman.  Maybe it’s his mom telling him how good she was, and he should be so lucky as to find another one. Or maybe it’s hyperbole, the sarcastic guy saying it’s not possible to find one.  If it’s sarcasm, that would render a hilarious interpretation.  Read that through with the sarcastic, incredulous mindset, just once.  And then, guys, read it through and pray you find one.  But my wife!  She’s the real thing.  Sorry, guys.  By God’s grace alone, she decided to choose me, and hasn’t changed her mind.

Hallelujah, because if she didn’t I’d either be working a lot harder than I do, or I’d be a hopeless wreck.  It goes farther than that.

And although Lemuel goes on to say how “charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised,” let me go on from the latter to sing the praises of the former.  Not only does she kick my butt spiritually, reminding me of things I need to be about, she is smarter than your average lady, and also my beauty contest winner.  Those eyes.  I’ve written about them elsewhere.  That laugh.  That smile.  And the rest.  I’ll stop now.  I once heard a hilarious comedian, Mark Gungor, address the Song of Solomon, where it described the woman.  My wife is nothing like that, thank God again.

I have to give praise where praise is due, or “the rocks [might] cry out.”  When I thought about that verse, I envisioned some other poor schmuck’s wife pelting him with the rocks and him crying out because he didn’t sing her praises.  Or a frying pan.  My wife is almost as jealous for me as I am for her, and by that I mean we want exclusivity.  When I mention how jealous we are, it’s not a bad thing.  I want her to be safe, and keep herself only for me, and she wants the same from me, just like we promised at the wedding.

But there is something to being completed, that only works in a marriage the way God designed us.  We are supposed to need each other.  We are supposed to complete each other.  There’s a physical design, there’s an emotional design, and there’s a spiritual design.  Taking anyone who doesn’t complete you by design is, in my opinion, a huge mistake.  If you just want some companionship, go to someplace where people spend time, and spend time.  If you want someone who completes you by design, you have to search diligently, or wait until the happy “accident.”  And usually the happy accident happens while people aren’t looking.  More often than not, I’ve heard the sob story of the lady who has sworn off all men because they’re pigs (sorry, just usually true).  She’s not interested, not looking, doesn’t care.  And then she meets the guy.  They like the same things, the same foods, have similar life goals, he’s polite and respectful and caring and gentle and clean and understanding of her past, and so on.  Yup, some people have to live life and kiss frogs to learn what a loser looks like before they can pick a winner.  I think life sometimes teaches us until we learn the lesson, and I hate that.

If you know what you want, you’ll either set an impossible standard, or he’ll rise to it, if he’s worthwhile.  If you don’t know what you want, you have to decide on the fly, which makes the whole thing difficult.  When I was younger, I didn’t know what I want and she was very much my happy accident.  But it went deeper than that.

I didn’t know what I wanted before I was married.  I know so much more now more than then.  And proving the wisdom of The Rolling Stones, I don’t always get what I want.  “You can’t.”  But I’m committed to make our relationship work in spite of the ways she doesn’t really speak my love language fluently, but uses an accent.  And thankfully, she puts up with my accent even though sometimes I KNOW she doesn’t understand and can’t hear my saying what she needs to hear.  If you’re already in a relationship, it may not be satisfying you, but if you’ve made the commitment, I believe you should keep trying.  And if you’ve made promises, I believe you should work hard, to keep them at all costs.  I prayed SO hard when I was dating.  I prayed I wouldn’t mess up.  I prayed I’d be wise.  I prayed God would send away the wrong ones.  I prayed for steadfastness and true love.  And I’ve messed up.  And I’ve done foolish things.  But God was gracious to send away the wrong ones, and she has proven herself steadfast and true.  (I hear the readers going, “awww!”)  I have held on for dear life, and it’s been worth the death-grip.

And, call me psychotic if you want, but there was a Voice in the back of my head going, “she’s the one.”  I prayed that if that Voice was wrong, it would shut up.  But it didn’t.  I met other women.  I was free to choose.  And the Voice kept saying, “she’s the one.”  I’d spot the lie, and see that the other women weren’t “the one.”  It didn’t change.  And hasn’t.  She’s the one.  I see the eye candy, in the media and in real life, but they aren’t real somehow.  I’m charmed by a beautiful voice, teased by curves, drawn in by written words that express someones heartbeat, shows the beauty of their soul.  I can honestly say that I love quite a few of those people, but it’s different.  I don’t want them.  They aren’t “the one.”  I want “the one.”  Not the others.  I celebrate that the others are beautiful and that my heart resonates with theirs, but I revel in my relationship with “the one.”  When it’s rough, sure, it’s rough.  But when it’s good, it’s perfect.

Guys, be the kind of guys that ladies will respect, or she won’t stay interested.  Ladies, be the kind of women that men will love, or he will look elsewhere.  You’re out there for each other, I believe it, but if you’re not ready, it won’t happen, or it will happen in a bad way.  Wait patiently because like First Corinthians says, “Love is patient.”  If you’re not, it’s not love.  Ask anyone who’s been married and divorced, they’ll tell you their horror stories.  “I thought [insert misconception] but I found out [insert realization of truth].”  Sometimes that one is the hardest one to deal with, and it’s why I was advised to summer and winter before I made my choice.  And I’m glad I did.  “She was so demanding, so nagging.”  “He never kept his promises and he kept going off drinking with his college buddies and gazing longingly at other women when I was RIGHT THERE.”  “She had an affair with someone from work, and tried to make excuses”  Et cetera.  See also lots of Jerry Springer and other “reality TV shows.”  Here’s a list for your review, amusement, or horror.  If he’s abusing you, call the police, file charges, run away far and fast, and don’t look back.  Some of these things are shallow when you look at them on paper, but if you look at them in your spouse, they can certainly seem significant.

Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19 show me what I believe is God’s pattern for marriage, that we are to be one.  But I believe it’s supposed to be true in ways much deeper than the physical consummation.  She does that whole “psychic” thing I was hinting at, like she’s in my head poking around and knows what’s in there.

Do I love her so much because she’s tinkering with the inside of my head?  Maybe she’s in there flipping switches and controlling and manipulating me and that’s why I love her.  I can joke about it, but I don’t think so.  But something just seems to click with her toward understanding me, better than it clicks with me toward understanding her, for some reason, and she knows me.  It’s happened more than once, that she just knew what I wanted and lovingly made arrangements for what i wanted to happen.

She does it with food, all the time.  She does it too often to just be a coincidence.  I’ll be at work, daydreaming about a food, and I won’t call her, but then I’ll drive home after work and there’s my daydream, my fantasy food, sitting on the table for dinner.  And it’s been different kinds of foods.  My daydreams are not always the same.  Burgers.  Pizza.  Eggrolls.  Fried chicken.  Pork cutlets.  Potato pancakes?  Broccoli?  “Breakfast food.”  Weird food.  Fast food.  A specific flavor of cake or pie.  A specific snack.  I daydream, sometimes it’s not even in the house and she’s gone out to get it.  Like she’s reading my mind.  Or maybe we’re craving the same thing, because we’re “…not two, but one…”

She did it today, which is why I’m writing this.

It’s Friday.  Normally we’ve been having pizza on Fridays, with the kids.  They like it.  But today, I had a very specific daydream about orange chicken.  After the daydream passed and I got on with my workday, I received the following email:
*****************************************************************************
So, Are you hungry for some Chinese? I am! Wanna go out?
We could go back to the house to watch a movie?

What do you think?
Love,
*****************************************************************************

And then she signed it.  I swear, I am not making this up.  Orange chicken.  Boom.  How does she do that?

Anyone else have a similar experience?  If not, I bet you wish you did.  Pray hard, work hard, and seek that kind of fellowship.  Communion.  Connection.  “The one who seeks, finds.”  Wait patiently.  Set the high and lofty expectation for what you want, not just what you need.  Someone who will bless you with a lifetime relationship, not just a soluble, degradable one.  When the storm comes, you want someone to hold on to, not someone who’ll flake out and walk away.  When you’ve weathered the storm, you’ll be tighter.  Storms come, because they’re part of life.  Temptation is so common, everyone faces it.  You can choose what to do about that temptation.  But steadfastness?  Faithfulness?  Love?  Patience?  Kindness?  That spiritual connection?  You’re worth it.  So is the one God sends you.  Wait for “the one.”  You’ll thank me in the long run.

I want to learn how to mind-read too.  But she hasn’t taught me how she does it yet.  Feminine mystique?  A Woman’s Intuition?  I hate that those expressions are so common.  Where’s masculine foreknowledge?  A Man’s logic?  No one ever talks about those.  Maybe I should just pray harder about it and see what God does to help me grow to understand her more.  It’s only been around 20 years and I’m still working on figuring out what makes her tick.  I’ll let you know.

My Life as a Wild-Eyed Conspiracy Theorist? January 16, 2015

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An anonymous source once quipped, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean everyone is out to get you.”  And an anonymous reply came back, “just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean no one is out to get you.”

When Mary Poppins measured Michael (hey, kids, that’s MY name TOO!), the measuring tape read, “Michael. Extremely stubborn and suspicious.”  I didn’t start out in life this way, but that’s how I’ve ended up.  I started out relatively innocent. No, strike that.  I started out pretty naïve.  I wouldn’t currently describe myself as paranoid, but I did turn out “extremely stubborn and suspicious.”  Just like Michael in Mary Poppins.

Why?

Because people with agendas that don’t involve being nice and helping others have interacted with me.  And the sciences conspire against me. It’s not that no one else hasn’t had a bad experience with another person, or with something basic like physics.  It’s just that I let it bother me more than I think other people do.  People lie, cheat, steal, cut other people off in traffic, they’re selfish, demanding, ungrateful, and unloveable in so many ways.  And physics?  Anyone else feel like everything they own is looking for a chance to fall to the ground and break, or be as difficult as possible to manage, or require a routine action to be performed at least twice before being successful?  Doors that won’t close unless you make them, and hold them that way so they don’t reopen.  Cups that fall and break.  No, it’s not a poltergeist.  It’s basic physics.  And physics, including gravity, acts in perfect obedience to the laws of physics, but in all-out rebellion against me.  Name it, it doesn’t do what I want, at least not the first time.  Or never.  Things fall apart.  I hate this reality of life and refuse to accept the inevitability of it.  I realize it’s the truth, but I don’t want it to be the truth.  I want reality to bend to my whim.

Some have mastered physics.  Basketball players who have practiced until their shots are flawless and effortless.  Quarterbacks whose passes always go where they are intended.  The ball goes where they want it to go.  Car drivers who can maneuver a car and make stunt driving look like child’s play.  The car goes where they want it to go.  Artists who can make a pencil or a paintbrush do magical things, capturing the perfect image.  Plumbers who have mastered fluid dynamics and they can make the toilet flush backward if they want to do that (take that, Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis)  I’m so jealous of their abilities.  Others, including me, botch it and make several rough drafts while trying for the final one.  Except sometimes, doing it over and over, and still failing, makes me want to throw a fit.

Go ahead and laugh, because it’s funny.

Some have mastered people skills.  They smarm and they schmooze and they do it so effortlessly you don’t even realize they’re lying to you and taking advantage of you until after you’ve signed on the dotted line, by which time the slick, greasy fast-talkers have skipped town with your money.  They tell you the offer is fair, knowing it’s actually to their advantage.  They’ll promise you things, and you’ll find out they were lies after it’s too late to call them on it.  They’ll tell you a price, only to send you to the sales office where they up the ante by at least $3,000  You’ve been in their offices before.  See, that’s yesterday’s article about getting it in writing.  And it’s why I don’t feel like I can trust anyone.

I don’t trust politicians, for instance, or used car salesmen.  Or new car salesmen.  Or salesmen, or FSBO Homeowners, or Employment Agencies, or insurance companies, or …  Well, I could go on, but everyone would be on that list, or at least anyone whose category I’ve had a bad experience with.  Sorry about that, everyone.  I just don’t trust you after you lie to me or cheat me.  So if you’re going to do that, make it good the first time, because there won’t be a second time.   No more verbal contracts for me.  If you say it, I’m gonna have you put that in writing and sign off on it before I commit. Politicians say stuff all the time, to get elected and then they blame the other guy(s) for why they couldn’t do what they promised to do.  The joke goes, Q: How do you know a politician is lying?  A: His/Her lips are moving.  Some recent politicians have told some doozies of lies, but they’re telling them so fast it’s difficult to keep up, and the press loved certain ones (or were well compensated to tell us to love them) and kind of spun the stories off, distracted lots of people, and pushed them on the world whether we wanted them or not.  is it a wild-eyed conspiracy?  Maybe.  Or maybe not. But I didn’t vote for certain politicians the first time, and I certainly didn’t vote for those politicians when they ran for reelection because the lies were already obvious the first time.  To me.  But they’ve swept all the suspicion away, the sheep are supposed to trust, and the wolves are guarding us carefully.  Or so I suspect.  We have the politicians that we have, and I’ll just pray for them to be kept safe because I dislike chaos even more than I dislike spun news.  People talk about certain ideas, and communicate either thinly veiled, or open, threats, whenever someone gets into office that they don’t like.  I think those people should be locked up for even saying it.  And if they ever did try it, God forbid, well, let the punishment fit the crime, or be more severe if possible.

I love a good conspiracy theory.  The terra-forming jet trails.  The alien coverups.  The Global Warming.  (sorry if you buy that one, but I don’t, I have my reasons).  The Illuminati.  The wilder the X-file, the better as long as you make it sound plausible.  But I’m not making those kinds of leaping logic, I-want-to-believe connections on my corkboard,  But there’s a novel in all my paranoid fantasies of things-made-right somewhere, or maybe a miniseries.  I’ll dig it out later.  It’s about a guy who quietly exacts fair and reasonable revenge against people who are evil and deceptive. Lie to a candidate for employment about their salary or benefits, get them to sign and then pull the rug out?  Quote a price and raise it after they’re committed?  Charge exorbitant interest and penalties?  Deny coverage you promised?  Bait and switch?  Take advantage of some helpless person?  It’s an injustice I want to see remedied.  But alas, justice is blind, and most people don’t have the time or money to pursue what’s actually right.  I love TV shows like that, where people make it their secret mission to fix it, to help the helpless, to exact revenge.  Leverage.  Dexter.  Back in ancient TV history it was The A-Team and Knight Rider, and before that it was The Saint, To Catch a Thief, The Lone Ranger, The Avengers, and shows like that.  You dislike the evil character, and celebrate when their comeuppance comes.  Up.

There was a brilliant movie called “The Villain” that had me laughing a long, long time ago, back when I couldn’t actually believe people could be as evil as the title character. I grew up and the next movie like that was “Home Alone.”  These shows have bad people with bad intentions who don’t get what they want.  “The Villain” was compared to Wile E. Coyote, but I can’t make that connection other than the fact that physics is their worst enemy.    Wile E. Coyote is just a hungry wild animal doing what animated hungry wild animals do.

We humans have no excuse, unless we claim the title, “wild animal.”  And what should be done with a wild animal that’s in the habit of hurting people?

When my stuff is stuffed correctly, it stays where it’s stuffed, until I go after it.  And then it feels like I have to move all of creation to get to what I want, buried in the back there somewhere behind everything else I don’t want.  That’s when things start to fall, and fall apart, most often.  Laugh again.  Usually my family has hidden whatever I want because that’s not important to them.  Whatever they put in front is more important, or they just put something away in the wrong place.  But wrong is relative, because “wrong’ is only my opinion.

In the show Dexter, there is a season in which Dexter is trying to integrate into his marriage, and move his stuff out of his old place and into his new place.  Initially he decides to try to keep his old apartment because he can afford it and it’s simpler.  She pressures him in ways I don’t think are fair, into giving up the place.  But then, when he tries to put his stuff into her house, there’s no place for him to put his stuff.  I feel like that.  I need my own place to put my stuff, and our house isn’t big enough.  There are no free wall spaces big enough to put up pictures I like.  There are no surfaces clear enough to put my keys and my wallet.  The old joke is that “feng shui” is an ancient Chinese expression that means “his crap goes in the garage.”  Except the garage is filled with her crap.  I mean “our” crap.  Lawn mower, I get that.  Kids bikes, I get that.  Even Christmas decorations, I suppose I get that.  But there’s clutter I can’t throw away because it isn’t really “mine” to dispose of.  I’m pressed in and the walls are coming closer.  Feel it, anyone?  I can’t even park my car inside the so-called “two-car” garage. When I get upset about these things, and want to throw them out, someone in my family doesn’t want me to act upset.  Or throw them out.  Which upsets me.  Repeat.

Things and people are out to get me.  Things wear out, don’t fit, don’t have a place to go that’s reasonably convenient, or don’t behave like I want them to.  People don’t do what I want.  Things, and people, waste my time and/or take advantage of me when it serves their nefarious purposes.  (Hahahahaha!  I used “nefarious.”)

Even the price of products, and the quality of products, is suspect.  I paid too much and it broke, and unless I paid even more for a warranty, if they even offered a warranty, I’m out of luck.  Or the warranty doesn’t cover what the seller decides is covered.  And is the demand, and the quality, really sufficient to support the price, or is there some investor who’s demanding a bigger slice of profit margin, driving the price higher?  A certain food retailer from a certain U.S. state sells a certain kind of fried bird, and other delicious things, and they call it a “meal.”  But the “meal” price doesn’t include a drink.  I don’t know about you, but when I sit at home it’s not a “meal” unless I have a beverage.  And the price I’m paying for the “meal” seems high enough already, without tacking on an extra two dollars for a drink.

Don’t get me started about car salesmen or former employers.  It was a long time ago, but I haven’t forgotten.  When the senior exec paid himself my annual salary, twice a day, and I was having a hard time making ends meet, I looked for a different job.  Eventually I escaped, but it wasn’t better.  “Meet the new boss:  Same as the old boss,” says the song. It was a long time ago but I haven’t forgotten.  When the temp agency owner lied to me about the starting salary, and then lied to me about the raise I’d get after 90 days, and the out-of-pocket cost for benefits and survival rose annually, faster than my salary kept up, I wished for the Leverage team to come to my aid.  And they didn’t come.  You, temp agency owner, you know who you are.  Liar. Cheat.  Cheapskate.  Evil villain.  You drive a BMW and wear fancy suits, but you are a small, greasy man who should be standing in a vacant used car lot trying and failing to sell used cars, with a small, unreformed-Grinch-black, greasy heart and an evil, greasy spirit.  Years have passed, lessons have been learned, and now I’ll get it in writing instead of taking anyone’s word for it ever again.  Because we used to shame people whose word was worthless, now we celebrate them and throw them investment money for being “frugal.”  But they’re cheap.  It’s been a long time, but I haven’t forgotten.  When the car company fixed our car “motor,” and the “engine” blew up and the company said they didn’t cover the “engine” in their repair warranty, only the “motor,” as if somehow these were separate and distinct parts.

Why don’t I trust people?  Because I’ve been cheated and hurt and lied to.  (Cue the country song, or your favorite tiny tiny, crying violin)  Why am I still profoundly introverted?  Because I’ve felt rejected.  Why have I not risen to the top of the heap and become a success yet?  I blame myself.  Because if I could put the past behind me quicker, and move on quicker, and roll with life’s punches, and everyone feels them, I might have been more successful.  Why don’t I get what I want?  I lack perseverance, I’m easily frustrated, and feel like the battle is already lost and isn’t worth taking arms against.  It’s my fault.

People pay for drug tests and background screens before they hire them for a job.  Why are they necessary?  Because employers lose money when they hire drug addicts.  Because if you didn’t get the master’s degree you claimed, maybe you’re not smart enough or durable enough to stay at the job and do what needs to be done.  I get that.  But I wish the process worked both ways.  I want a background check, including polygraph-driven reference checks, before I work for them.  Before I buy a car from them.  Before I go to their church or join their group.  Before I make a costly commitment of any kind.  Because when I make a promise I still believe I’m supposed to keep my word.  The world doesn’t work that way, Michael.  Get over it.  Maybe I should lower my standards and lie and cheat and steal and cut people off in traffic and run the light while it’s red, and cut in front of people who’ve been waiting their turn in line.  But I’d feel bad, because I still have a conscience that tells me those things are wrong.  Just because you get away with it, doesn’t mean it’s right.  I wish people all had functioning consciences, so right would be right, and no one would do wrong.  But then we wouldn’t have 3/4 of the news.  A tenth of the news at least is the weather and sports, and that leaves a small percentage I won’t calculate for you, for amusing, or fun, human interest and local events stories.  Sure, there would be natural disasters, I suppose.  But just imagine if there were no bombings, murders, rapes, robberies, rampaging terrorists, thefts, assaults, lying, cheating, divorcing, or hating celebrities, or traffic accidents (because most of those are caused by someone who is being a selfish (deleted))!  Picture it!  The news would have nothing to investigate, and they’d have to report on the good stuff.  Now THAT’s a good dream.  For now, I don’t even watch because I know what they’re going to tell me:  “The world is coming to an end!  There is no hope!  Have a nice day! (smile, laugh, gleam)”  Cut to commercial.

Alas, the world hasn’t changed.  If it has changed, it’s just getting worse.  And until it changes, for the better, I’m going to suspect that It’s a conspiracy against me, a personal vendetta. The world has it out for me and won’t be happy until I’m poverty stricken, clinically insane, or dead.  Maybe you feel the same way.  Maybe you’ve been cheated, hurt, lied to, too.  Maybe it’s a conspiracy against both of us.  I need to make a hat.  Pass the tin-foil, would you please?

What? January 14, 2015

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The last post left readers saying, “what?”  Yesterday I tried to write analytically about emotions and that’s very difficult for me to do, especially when I’m just feeling hurt and angry, or reflecting hurt and anger from recent experience.  I wonder if any of my readers ever wrote a letter and then decided a day later not to send it because of the damage it might do.  In the modern age of instant delivery, we rant and shoot off an email or a tweet without much thought of how it might hurt the person it’s being sent to.  Or bounce back and hurt the sender.

Most people I know are all genuinely beautiful, fragile creatures who put on a hard exterior show because they don’t want to get hurt.  Most people I like are those I’ve embarked on the journey of real friendship and we’ve lowered our guard.  There’s a language to friendship just like there’s a language to love.  The scary part of that is that everyone seems to speak their own languages and we’re all like travelers in another country when we start that conversation.  We know some of the words because we were curious, but we aren’t by any means fluent.

Maybe that’s half of the problem.

If you don’t speak the language you don’t know what’s offensive.  It could be a word, a phrase, a laugh at the wrong time, even a gesture or a facial expression.  We all come with baggage of our past histories.  I’ve probably offended people unintentionally just by expressing my opinions on this blog.  But my opinion is as valid as the next persons.  I don’t claim to be expert at anything, but I know what I know, think what I think, and believe what I believe, and I try to be logical.

Love doesn’t mean validating a behavior choice.  People say they don’t choose certain habits, they are born with them, and I agree.  When we are children our habit betrays us- we like to do the thing, whatever it is, that is dangerous, and it’s a parent’s job to intervene.  The parent who is wise knows a destructive direction, and either has to divert the child, or pick up the pieces in the aftermath.  The child doesn’t know and is curious, but chooses to do the thing.  So a loving parent does not validate the child’s curious behavior choice.  The parent either corrects, or diverts, or sweeps the brokenness up later.  I can love you and not validate the way you choose to behave, if I think it’s unwise.  If you ask me, I can teach you that there’s a better choice.  And you, another adult, can tell me where I can shove it.  And I can choose to point out that it’s impossible to do that.  It’s your choice as an adult to reject wise counsel.

This opinion of mine doubtless offends people who need or want my validation of their behavior choice.  I’m a Christ follower, I read the New Testament, and I think there’s wisdom there.  I read the Old Testament and there’s wisdom there too, but I don’t get all nit-picky with those details of God’s instructions to the Hebrews, lest someone decide I’m a bigger hypocrite than I am.  I’ve said it before.  If my wisdom, that I didn’t write down for myself, proves right and your house crumbles, call me and I won’t say I told you so.  I’ll just sweep up the pieces with you.  (and if mine does, kindly do the same.) When my child grabbed my coffee cup and accidentally dropped it from counter to floor, first I checked to make sure the child hadn’t been burned by hot coffee.  Then I removed the child from the dangerous broken shards, and swept.  I did tell my child to please be more careful in the future, and I did say, “I love you,” just so the child knew they were more important than a coffee cup.

OK, the pre(r)amble is over.

Q:  Who has offended me, who has disappointed me, who has lied to me, that I ranted so long and weird about yesterday?

A:  Lots of people.  I learn, and these lessons perpetually assert themselves annoyingly into my life, on a regular basis.

These are my lessons, my laws of relationships, not yours, but maybe there’s a kernel of wisdom in them for you to apply for yourself.  When I say “you,” insert “the writer,” if they don’t fit your experience.  With a proverbial grain of salt, here they are:
Postulate:  People are naturally critical.  One thing that unravels a relationship faster than anything else is a critical spirit.  It’s equally fatal at work and in a relationship.  But we’re naturally critical creatures.  I’m not pointing a finger of blame, but if you go into a room that’s freshly painted, you’re going to notice the spots the painter missed, before you commend them on the beauty of the coat of paint that covers the rest.  It’s natural.  But it’s dangerous, if taken to an important relationship.  If you are overly, or publicly, critical of an employer, they’ll very likely fire you in favor of someone who supports the company goals (or the bosses desire to get what he wants out of the relationship).  If you are critical of your spouse, they might try harder next time, but if the criticism continues it’ll fester and boil and bubble and eventually burst. If you want it to work, try praise, or constructive criticism.  A little honey goes a long way.  But this builds the foundation for:

Law 1:  People are going to disappoint you.
People have a funny way of showing you they love you, if they love you.  They’re going to communicate it in their own language, which is not going to match what you want or need from a loving relationship.  That’s going to disappoint you.  They’re going to give you what THEY need, not what YOU need.  It’s going to disappoint you unless you get a clue and start to give them what they want, which is what they gave you.  There’s time along the way, unless you take some drastic love-amputation action, to discuss as loving adults, what you want.  And when you do, they’re going to further disappoint you when they don’t change.  Your expectations and hopes are not going to be realized unless the person already speaks love in your language, and they don’t.  They have to learn it.

Law 1, Corollary Theorem A:  People don’t change.  They’ll try hard if they really love you, and they might even learn how to speak that love language for you, but it’ll be the hardest thing they ever do, and old habits die hard.  They’re going to relapse, or hate you for asking them for what you need.  (Whoa, “postulate?”  “Law?”  “Corollary theorem?”  Who knew this was going to be like your math or science book? – cue my involuntary flashback to Sam Cooke’s “(What a) Wonderful World (This Would Be).”  The truth is, we don’t know much about any of those subjects and love is possibly the most difficult class, even for those who are avid students.

Corollary Theorem B:  People lie.  I know why that is.  They love themselves.  They want what they want, even if it’s a short-term quick fix.  People go into life with their own agendas.  Sometimes they are transparent, other times it takes a little layer-peeling to figure out if they’re hiding something, or a few bad experiences.  Have I ever lied?  Sure.  Who lies?  People who want what they want, with reckless disregard for other people.  Who has lied to me?  Lots of people.  They got what they wanted, I learned what I learned, and I got out of the relationship as quickly as was possible for me.  Or I’m getting out, if I’m stuck there for some reason.  No, I’m not leaving my wife.  She’s quirky and speaks my language with this weird accent, I’m trying to get used to it and also learn her language.  She knows me better than anyone else, and if there’s a lie that would wreck it from my viewpoint, I haven’t figured it out yet.  It’s been 22 years, and in 22 more we’ll probably still have weird accents when we communicate that we love each other.

If an employer lies, it’s a bit more difficult to unravel, and to extricate yourself.  One needs an income stream, even if the employer lacks integrity.  That is on them.  So employers that have lied to me have gotten away with it until I was able to get out, which leads me to:

Law 2:  Get it in writing.  They have employment contracts, and they have marriage contracts.  If you really want it, get it in writing, or refer to Law 1.  If your would-be employer verbally communicates some promise before you sign on the dotted line, get that in writing before you sign or it’ll be worthless and they’ll do what their integrity (or lack of it) allows.  If your marriage is built on some foundational pillars that are different than mine, get that in writing too.

I have a verbal contract with God that should properly govern my conduct within our relationship.  I also have a verbal contract with my wife.  It doesn’t always get me what I want, and I don’t always do everything I promised in the way that I originally intended.  But we’re still working through, and occasionally enjoying, the relationship.  It’s very difficult, maintaining the effort.  And if I say that it means she’d say it too.  But when Pastor Hosea said “as long as you both shall live,” and I said “I will,” I meant it.  He was a great pastor.  For her, under his wise counsel, I memorized the entire chapter of Ephesians 5.

Guys love the part where it says “Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.”  But it says “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for her.”  All she has to do is render respectful submission.  But he has to love her to death, to earn the respect!  Ugh.  So difficult to love, even if, and especially when, it means putting my wants to death.  The wants keep resurrecting, don’t get me wrong, and she has her ways, with that accent, of keeping me quite content.  But it’s with an accent, meaning it’s not spoken the way I think I want it spoken.  And if you asked her she’d say the same about me.  I hope. (Makes me a little fearful just thinking about it.  It’s why the character Tevia from Fiddler on the Roof was written the song to his wife, asking if she loved him.)

I have a verbal contract with my wife.  I agreed to stay married to her for a term of 99 years, with the option of 99 more if she agrees to it, unless one of us dies in which case our contract is dissolved.  I also contracted that if she ever decided to divorce me she gets full custody of the kids.  And she also gets full custody of me.  Because I don’t really ever want out.  Compared to every other relationship I hear about, ours is pretty awesome.  I don’t ever want to leave what I know, for the level of uncertainty that comes from starting again.  I feel very much completed, by her.  If there was a missing piece in me, before we were married, it was her.  I don’t believe, when I’m happy with her, that I could be happier with anyone else.  And I could be much less happy if I tried with someone else.  The eye candy shimmers and glitters in the window.  It’s beautiful, and I leave it in the showroom.  Tomorrow it’s still shimmering and glittering and beautiful.  Sometimes I wonder, and sometimes maybe even doubt my choice.  And I leave it in the showroom because I can’t afford it.  Trust me, you don’t want to pay that cost, and if you’re paying it, or if you’ve paid it, you know what I am talking about.

Law 3:  God is not a vending machine.  Sadly, the truth is that I’ve even been disappointed with God.  As the rain falls on the unjust, so also it falls on the just.  I won’t claim to fit in the just category.  But I’ll say that when I read the Bible, things I read into the promises aren’t always intended in that contract.  I’m misinterpreting when I read it that way.  Just because I ask God for something doesn’t obligate him to give that to me.  Contrary to some preachers, God doesn’t seem to intend that all of his followers be rich and successful and happy with their circumstances.

I wish they were right, but Jesus taught, “you will always have the poor.”  Many, maybe most, of His early followers in the church were very poor.  Who’s to say that by modern standards you might find yourself rained on economically, just as everyone else is?  And while persecution and martyrdom may mark a “success,” it’s not a happy circumstance.  And just because I can see the words in the Bible that some use to justify their opinion or their belief (or mine) doesn’t make it a correct way of handling the Word of Truth.  It’s not so much that God allows bad things to happen to good people, so much as that God allows people to be selfish and evil and in His mercy waits and doesn’t destroy the wicked immediately.  And thank God for that, because I have moments of selfishness and evil.  Not that any of you ever would.

So although my prayers have been answered with “no,” or “wait,” it only makes God a good Heavenly Father, a good Heavenly parent, redirecting or correcting.  My spiritual three year old still wants what he wants, but can’t have it.  I wish I could say I haven’t ever thrown a temper-tantrum about circumstances as an adult or as a child.  I can’t say that.  I wish I had that wise fatherly view over myself, to understand how His “no” or “wait,” whichever one it is, was in my best interests.  But I don’t get it.

God is intervening, redirecting, diverting me when I’m choosing a thing, because that thing isn’t His best, or my best, for my spiritual growth and development as a child of God.  I have to trust Him and believe that He loves me.  I’m not on His level, nor do I understand things the way He does.  It sounds so cliche, but He knows what is best, and we have to learn what He says is right, or tell Him where to shove it.  And He will then gently let us know why that’s impossible.  Or not- He’s not required to answer.  “Because I said so,” is a perfectly valid answer for a parent to offer their child.  At some level, a child trusts their parent, at least until they’re maybe 14.  Maybe I’m not a three year old, I’ve become that self-reliant, petulant, mistrustful, disrespectful, eye-rolling 14 year old- I still need His help, but I wish I didn’t.  It makes me angry that I haven’t inherited independence and strength sufficient to go on my own.  Trying to be entirely self-reliant only leaves me wishing I had remembered to do my homework, and dreading the failing grade that’s coming.  And I wish I understood what He knows and what direction I should take.  I wish I just trusted and knew what He wanted me to do.  I wish I could communicate in His love language.

And in human love, and in human friendships, we have to trust each other, try to figure out how to say what we need to say to each other, how to say it so it’s understood, , and work hard not to betray that trust.  We need to speak the truth in love, not just the harsh, critical sounding truth.  We need to encourage one another.  If we fail, we’re going to break.  If we succeed, by our labor, we’ll grow up well, and become stronger together.
Blessings.