Monday, November 26, 2007

“Just Show Up…”

Many of life’s battles are often won by simply out lasting the enemy! The key is to “show up” day after day, week after week, month after month…even when every muscle fiber screams “STAY IN BED!”

Most of us have heard how Abraham Lincoln continued even with all the setbacks and difficulties...however, over the Thanksgiving Holiday, my wife and I watched Amazing Grace, the wonderful story of the young idealist William Wilberforce maneuvering his way through the British Parliament in 19th century England, endeavoring to end the horrid British transatlantic slave trade. Here is someone who understood that one critical key to winning in life’s battles was to “show up” week after week, month after month, year after year…Wilberforce persevered (he had much help along the way) and ultimately saw Great Britain’s laws halt all slave trade.

It is interesting to me that my God will open my eyes to this truth from time to time. Just today I read where if those with heart failure will simply stick to an exercise program they can recapture up to 70% of their exercise capacity. Recent research suggested that regular exercise impacts progenitor cells (a pool of immature cells in skeletal muscle that can divide into mature cells as needed for muscle repair) in a very positive manner. Heart patients who were at similar levels of heart failure were placed on a doctor-supervised exercise program and their progress monitored. The results demonstrated that the number of progenitor cells actively dividing to form new cells and repair muscle damage increased dramatically. By the end of the program these heart patient’s exercise capacity had also increased by an average of 35%, giving the men about three-fourths the capacity of healthy men their age. Hey, I will ‘settle’ for 75% capacity of ‘healthy men’ my age…now I must ‘show up’ every day.

We can learn from inspirational stories of God-fueled human determination in the face of adversity. The conflict between the people and their natural surroundings, an oppressive regime, or just themselves, but in any case -- and at any cost -- their ultimate victory serves as a boost to our spirits...hope for all of us.

I am not sure what situation you may face, but I know from history, experience, and God’s guidance, that being faithful and consistent in your daily walk will bring benefits in the years to come. So push through the tough time with your children, the trying time with your spouse, the boring time at work, and (for my students) the exhausting pressure of graduate school…show up and see if you don’t experience some victories in life.

"Show up" today, tomorrow, and on into next week!
John Mark Topics Covered At The American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Alone again, unnaturally (my apologies to Gilbert O’Sullivan...see the column to the left)

Being divorced, single again, and with two or three children is no picnic. Of course there is all the work that goes into child custody issues, realigning your finances, reconciling your divorce with your religious values, (for example, I was raised in a church that taught divorce for any reason at all brought God's judgment and if you were to ever remarry, after any divorce, anyone except your first 'wife' or 'husband', you would go to hell!) and figuring out how to do family as a single man or woman.

However there is also the process of reintegrating back into the social world as a 'single again' person…this time without the identity of being 'Karen's husband' or 'Frank's wife.' This time you are truly once again 'on your own.' Sarah (43, single with three great children) sent me an email, (not her real name of course) asked about dating. Where do I go and what do I do?

She wrote in her email, "I wanted to ask you if this is a mistake on my part. I placed myself on my church's singles site, have been talking to someone and he wants to take me out on Friday. He is divorced…his wife cheated. I am scared. He will drive 3 hours just to take me to a movie and possibly out to eat. I want so bad to go and want so bad to make up an excuse. That is what I do because I am scared. I have been single, and would be okay …but it is lonely and would be nice to have a friend… one to go to a movie with etc. … as for dating, what if I actually miss out on a most wonderful guy? 'Cause they are few and far between. I enjoy laughing and smiling, and people see a change in me at work and church and that must count for something. Single and enjoying it? I enjoy being alone sometimes. I don't have to answer to anyone. What else is so great about being alone?"

What am I to do when I am lonely? My inner core beliefs (my faith) give me the ability to see beyond the realities of my circumstances. And the 'truth' about who I am and my innate value to God re emerges as a certainty to remember, reflect upon, and to ponder as you wander through this world.

Here is the truth! God built into you to have a special friendship with someone. You are probably not breathing if you don't need an intimate, affectionate, transparent relationship with someone. And think about this: filling this need begins with Jesus. It is neither pedestrian nor in poor taste to say that Christ has everything you could ever want in a special, intimate friend. Jesus seeks your friendship. He wants a tight, up close and personal relationship with you. You are amazingly special to Jesus. To Jesus you are not commonplace nor unappealing nor ugly. You are incredible to Him. No matter what others see as your personality quirks or physical flaws, He likes you. He has reserved a place in His heart for you that no one can fill but you! (Don't miss this point, go back and read it again!)

His love is not fickle -- He will not ditch you because He is bored with you. Jesus has deep affectionate feelings for you. When you are down, Jesus cares. When your life is a thrill and you are filled with joy, Jesus celebrates with you! He is God Who feels and shares your happiness and sadness. He is involved in every aspect of your life. You can be intimate with Jesus. No one but no one knows your most intimate thoughts and feelings like this lifelong companion. He is so glad when you share your inmost private thoughts with Him. You can let Him in on your dreams and longings and know that He understands what you mean. Whatever part of your life is under stress, Jesus is available to listen!

There is little doubt that the turmoil surrounding a divorce and the commotion concerning 'being single' again, may dislodge certain truths from within your heart. However, here is one certainty that should be remembered. Your identity and your security must come from within. As you continually realize that your authentic self (the Christ within you) is in fact your source of personal identity and security, your sense of self will become more 'solid' and more durable.

By the way, enjoy the movies and dinner on the town...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Exploring Your Ideas about Love part two

Well, after the post on August 5, 2007 , I received an EMAIL from a very dear friend who said, "I hypothesize that the longer you are married, the lower your scores become. At 29 years and counting, I don't EXPECT anything. However, the relationship is way better than ever! Lying in bed holding hands is more meaningful than the lovemaking was years ago. I know that when she has to give - she gives all she has. I try my best to do the same…" I shared this story with a couple in therapy and they BOTH looked at me with that baffled and perplexed look which told me, "They don't get it!!" So let's push ahead and explore some more…

Thinking through your ideas about love (both by yourself and with others) is both challenging and enlightening. As you review the statements in the post above, you may be tempted to dismiss "those ideas about love" as belonging to someone who is not nearly as 'grown up' as you are…or you may be tempted to brush off these statements as irrelevant to your situation. But don't be fooled…some of these beliefs are in our very core and it is not easy to gauge how much of our 'relational unhappiness' is due to this irrational and unrealistic view of life. Of course if I have the unrealistic expectations then I am the one who needs to change! Always remember this 'truth' about relationships: Change occurs only as we begin thinking about and working on the self --- rather than staying focused on and reactive to the other.

Of course my partner plays an equal role in our marriage, however, I can place way too much pressure on my partner and on my relationship whenever I want my partner to be,

  • My friend in this world where I am friendless,
  • My companion in this world where I am close to no one,
  • My shield from my aloneness,
  • My playmate to keep me from getting bored,
  • My lover (of course I deserve world class treatment here!!), and
  • She is to be all of this automatically and most of all graciously…according to my whims and needs at the moment (which I myself may not even know!!).

I can also burden my relationship (and smother my partner with this suffocating anxiety)…

  1. When I expect her to do exactly what I want her to do at the moment I want her to do it and to be happily occupied whenever I am too busy for the relationship
  2. When I expect her to make me feel wiser more loving, but she better never ever make me feel inferior!
  3. When I want her to merge with me and complete me and to be me…but don't suffocate me or never bore me!
  4. When I want her to know my needs and meet my needs (ever heard of "his needs her needs?") even when I am being unreasonable. I once knew a very Christian man who demanded that his wife be a "proverbs 31 woman." Umm, I wonder how much peace, tranquility, and joy emanated from that relationship!?!? Doesn't that just radiate grace?!!
  5. When I want her to extend grace to me (forgive or at least overlook my limitations…) while I reject her imperfections!

Can you feel the pressure this type of a relationship would experience? Of course this anxiety forces us to face ourselves and think. These expectations have a way of rearing their ugly heads whenever we go through a stressful period of life, even the normal stressful periods like children getting married and grandbabies coming and/or even changing jobs or building a house!

The great news is whenever I see these irrational parts in me, I can learn to master myself and learn self control. This leads to 'grown up' marriages…where I can choose to believe 'truth' rather than some 'lie' I have picked up along the way.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Laughing Through Life Is Grand!

Tomorrow is my birthday (as my friend Owen often says, "Having another birthday beats the alternative!") and yesterday (August 13) was the birthday of one of my favorite cartoonists.

Now I know there is Hart and Parker (of The Wizard of Id fame), Charles Shultz (Peanuts) and Hank Ketchum (Dennis the Menace) but I have always loved Gary Larson. Gary created "The Far Side" and for many years he specialized in comics that provided jokes for a thinking people. Most of the comics had some connection to science or mathematics and usually were the types of creations that you would find in a college professor's office as an example of his "idiosyncratic" sense of humor. I have always enjoyed Larson's work because it was funny and it was comedy that made you think. I can show the pictures to my sons and wife and even buy a book with a collection of his work and leave it out where 'company' can pick it up and leaf through it. So enjoy a few pictures from "The Far Side" and pass them on to your friends. Now there are some people who look at his work and wonder 'what is so funny?' and of course if you have to explain it, it is no longer funny.

Proverbs 17:22 states "A happy and healthy outlook on life brings healing" so lets enjoy today and learn to laugh.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Explore Your Ideas About Love

What are your ideas about love, romance, and relationships? Exploring your ideas about love and relationships can be beneficial, not only to you but to your partner. Not long ago I worked with a couple who were in the morass of the post- affair swamp of confusion, hurt, and anger. As part of their work they were encouraged to explore their ideas about love. Below is a short list they worked through and they each rated their own opinion as to what constitutes a ‘good relationship.’

Before you complete this, let me point out that many times my unrealistic expectations, not my partner, may be responsible for my dissatisfaction with the relationship. Here are the directions. Read each statement carefully and then answer accordingly

5 = I Strongly Agree
4 = I Agree
3 = I Moderately Agree
2 = I Slightly Agree
1 = I Do not agree

_______ "My partner and I should feel a deep, unspoken bond at-all times."

_______ "My partner should be able to anticipate my needs."

_______ "I shouldn't have to work for love."

_______ "I shouldn't have to work to be 'trusted."

_______ "I deserve to be loved."

_______ "The chemistry is either right or wrong."

_______ "My partner should love me unconditionally."

_______ "My partner should be emotionally available to me whenever I need him or her."

_______ "Love is a feeling that can't be forced or manufactured. It either exists or it doesn't"

_______ "A good marriage is free of conflict"

_______ ''If I'm not happy in my relationship, it's my partner's fault."

_______ "We shouldn't have to work at feeling sexual desire for each other; it should come naturally or not at all."

_______ '"When passion dies, so does the relationship."

This post-affair couple discovered that most of their pre-affair relationship was built upon illusions, myths, and sometimes even delusions. Of course you and I both know that that this faulty foundation did not cause him to go out and commit adultery…anyway, tally up your point total see how you faired.

Scoring Key:

  • If your score was between 45 and 65 you are living in the valley of illusion…not only are your glasses ‘rose colored’ your ‘head is probably in the sand’ as well!! You are being set up for ‘heart-ache heart- ache heart-ache.’ Your partner can not nor will ever live up to those expectations and of course neither do you!
  • If your score was between 26 and 44 you have some high expectations and hopefully you are slowly puncturing your balloon. If you don’t puncture it, someone or something else will. Use this time to truly understand yourself and your partner.
  • If you score is less than 26 then you have a fairly good grasp of love, love expectations, and reality. A relationship built on truth, honesty, and commitment has a chance to survive in this world and also is the most satisfying.
How are you in your relationships? Want to to read more? In Lies at the Altar: The Truth About Great Marriages, Robin Smith digs deeper into what makes good marriages great!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Fathers Be Good To Your Daughters..."

Baseball hall of famer Harmon Killebrew tells a story that describes the impact that fathers and men have upon boys. He said (click this link and you can hear the emotion in his voice!), “My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard, Mother would come out and say, ‘You’re tearing up the grass.’ And Dad would reply ‘We’re not raising grass. We’re raising boys.’”
The needs of Killebrew and his brothers was a driving force in his dad’s life. We accept that every boy needs a father as easily as we accept the notion that he needs a dog. However, a father is far more crucial than a dog to the boy’s well-being but the question of how important fathers are to the well-being of their daughters is just being recognized.

John Mayer wrote:

Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too

Oh, you see that skin
It's the same she's been standing in
Since the day she saw him walking away
Now she's left
Cleaning up the mess he made

Boys, you can break
You'll find out how much they can take
Boys will be strong
And boys soldier on
But boys would be gone without the warmth from
A woman's good good heart

On behalf of every man
Looking out for every girl
You are the God and the weight of her world

As I watch my wife of 30 years interact with her sisters and as I observe their relationship with their father (my father-in-law) I am awed at the impact this man has upon these girls. Even now, my wife shines with delight as she talks to her dad via the phone and worries with cares as she sees him age. How many times have I heard her say, “You know Daddy just can’t do that anymore…?” In addition, you can ‘see’ on her face the love, care, and concern she has for this man.

I remember walking down our sidewalk one time when they visited and thanking him for raising ‘this girl’ that I love. I thanked him for never violating her nor for damaging her heart. I will never forget his old weathered face quivering with tears springing into his eyes. Moreover, in typical fashion he said, “Oh I have not been perfect and have made mistakes…” And his voice trailed off and I added, “But you loved her!” And he said, “I do…”

Not every daughter has a father like my wife. Many relationships between daughters and fathers are best characterized by ‘distance.’ The distance many times is both physical (they never see each other and he may not even attend her wedding) and emotional (she has no idea what he believes, what he thinks, nor what he feels, she does not even know his core values)

If a daughter's relationship with her father is very distant, it may seem that by the time she is grown and married it has become too late to do anything about it. Dr. Linda Nielsen, a psychologist and a professor of Adolescent Psychology and Women's Studies at Wake Forest University, says it is never too late. She has constructed and taught a unique course “Fathers and Daughters” nearly 20 years. This one of kind class (along with a companion book Embracing Your Father: How to Create the Relationship You Always Wanted With Your Dad, McGraw Hill, 2004) has helped many young women repair this very important family relationship.

She recently told Vision "Unfortunately, the sad fact is that most fathers and daughters do not know each other nearly as well or spend nearly as much time together as mothers and daughters do… you're told, as a Dad--once puberty hits you aren't supposed to spend as much time with your daughter. Once she is a teenager, you are supposed to back off and let Mom have the main relationship. If that's the message you're sent and you're told that's what a 'good father' does, then that's what you're going to do."

While many men are simply following society’s directions, encouraged by many dynamics, stereotypes of our post patriarchal world and culture, his distance may not be his responsibility alone. The daughter plays a role in her relationship with her dad as well. In any case, it is never too late to bring change to the relationship. Whether the change is one of ‘we are closer now’ or one where you have simply gained a more adult/mature/rational perspective of your dad’s world, the results will affect you and grant you greater sense of belonging and happiness.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Heart Bound

As you read “Heart Bound” by Rosie Hughes (first published in the Sept/Oct 2002 issue of Psychotherapy Networker), you will realize all over again that God works through people! And you will also appreciate how He has worked through people to give you His breathtaking GRACE! Breath in His love and give His Grace to all in your world!

Life lesson 101...A single relationship can change your life...

"SOME PEOPLE ARE BORN into families, and others are forced to find their own. The pathway to mine began circuitously enough in fifth grade, when my friend Barbara invited me to join Pioneer Girls, a church program similar to the Girl Scouts. “If you come three times in a row,” Barbara promised me, “you’ll get this white cross that glows in the dark.” In three weeks, I had my cross, and the ladies’ bathroom at the church where we met had my artwork of naked men on the lid of each toilet seat. I wore clothes too big and shoes too small. “Doesn’t she have a mother?” I overheard the club leader ask another mother one day. I had one, technically, but she was chronically depressed and spent most of my childhood sleeping.

The sharp Rocky Mountain winter came and I kept going to Pioneer Girls. In the darkening afternoons, I learned to shoplift. Afterward, I’d go home to my chaotic house in a poor Denver neighborhood and retreat to my bedroom, its biggest window cracked from top to bottom. I’d covered the half-inch crack with masking tape, and as winter deepened, I watched it turn to brittle brown paper that couldn’t keep out the cold. Often, too cold to sleep, I’d lie in bed watching the crack of light under my door. If Daddy was out drinking, he’d arrive home sometime before dawn, and the door crack would sway with the shadows of my parents fighting. Mother would be crying. Daddy would be slapping, swearing, snarling about the filthy house and the lack of food. He’d bang on the piano, throw up, and go to bed. On nights when Mother didn’t offer enough, he crawled in bed with me.

By the time I was 14; I was drinking, stealing, failing eighth grade, and bullying other children into giving me food from their lunchboxes. My father called me “Buzz Bomb,” his nickname for the kid who beat the cat and terrorized younger children. Yet I kept going to Pioneer Girls, and that summer; the Baptist church whose toilets I’d vandalized paid my way to a camp in the Colorado Mountains. I spent seven glorious days riding horses, hiking, singing, and learning that God was more than an angry expletive. “You have a heavenly Father who loves you and won’t harm you,” the camp director said, as she took my cigarettes away. The day I got back home, I told my father that if he continued to hurt me, I would burn down the house when he was drunk. He never touched me again.

After camp, I met a childless man Walter Ballou, the Sunday School teacher at the Presbyterian Church near my home. Each Sunday, I’d walk into the foreign territory of my newfound faith, and sit with Walter and kids my age in a circle of metal folding chairs in a basement classroom. The lessons were fascinating and everyone paid attention. There were even cute guys who had no legal charges pending against them. Amazing!

Walter was a lawyer. He wore wild-colored ties that matched his socks and handkerchiefs. I wondered why this successful, educated man would teach the Bible to kids—it seemed like something somebody’s mother would do. In time, I learned that he lived alone and trusted his bulldog more than men. He was divorced and somewhat of a misfit in the church.
Walter and I were instant pals. Once I told him that a store manager refused to refund my money for a broken hair dryer. He called the manager, calmly explained what had happened, then said, “I’m calling as a good friend of Rosie’s, but if necessary. I’ll call as her attorney.” I showed up unannounced at his law office with inappropriate boyfriends, terrible report cards, and miscellaneous problems. He’d take me to lunch and ask the questions a good father would ask — How long had my latest boyfriend been clean and sober? Why was he still living with people who used drugs? Conversation by conversation, we became family.

At 24, I married a man who was my own good choice. Walter approved. He led a weekly Bible study in our home. He taught through the noise of crying babies, ringing phones, and children giggling in the next room. He presented his well-researched lessons as though he were defending an innocent client before a jury. He challenged us to live what we believed.
Then, when I was 34, my life fell in on me, and with it, my faith. Already exhausted by a string of disappointments and losses, I suffered a devastating sexual assault and crashed headfirst into a debilitating depression. My pastor was speechless, my friends couldn’t relate, and my husband was scared. God was silent. I expected Walter to walk away in disgust. But he didn’t. Family don’t leave you!

The same year, Walter’s sister Joy, his only living relative, was diagnosed with cancer. He closed his law practice, turned his home into a hospice, and, cared for her until she died. Now I was his only family. By the time I celebrated my 40th birthday, he’d become a fixture at the head of our table for every holiday meal. Our relationship had settled into a comfortable, loving place, with a family’s inside jokes and teasing. I sent him Father’s Day cards and Mother’s Day cards. I introduced him as “my parents.”

Then we turned down the pathway that many families eventually travel. Walter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He got lost in his own home, burned pots on the stove, and gave away thousands of dollars to dubious political causes. He thought his reflection in the mirror was another man who dressed like him and smoked his brand of cigars. He reported imaginary trips on buses and entertained fantasy ladies for tea. He spun with elaborate hallucinations as he wandered at night, ringing doorbells.

Now the fatherless daughter and the childless man reversed roles. I became his caretaker, and our family became forever something beyond gratitude and sentiment. The man who had spent his entire life fighting for the legal rights of others now had none. He’d signed them over to me. I can still see him sitting on the edge of the examining table at the doctor’s office, swinging his tennis-shoed feet like a 5- year-old. I made sure his clothes weren’t too big and his shoes too small.

I held his hands and washed his face. My daughter and I sang hymns in his ear as he slept. We navigated the excruciating terrain that older members of many families travel, from dogged self-sufficiency to “no choice” dependence. And if anyone neglected or mistreated him, I declared war.

When I was 49, Walter was moved to a locked-care facility, where his brain died one neuron at a time. He forgot how to walk, swallow, smoke, and speak. Alzheimer’s took reason from his mind, flesh from his bones, and brightness from his eyes. There were times when the sadness was more than I thought I could carry. I had to learn to ask for help from others who also loved him. In the heat of the battle, Buzz Bomb whispered, “Hey! Let’s grab our cigarettes and head for the woods.” But I didn’t.

I’d had a wonderful example of “staying power” lived before me. Walter practiced what he preached, modeling acceptance, authenticity, understanding, joy, consistency, and unconditional love, He’d given me respect, and I’d learned to live with my head up. He taught me that my faith wasn’t to be thrown out when I didn’t get what I wanted. He could have hidden his light under a bushel and walked away from a desperate 15-year- old girl. But he didn’t. Walter was my father, and I was his child. Something supernatural had bound a fatherless child to a childless man." --- Rosie Hughes, LPC

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rules for A Really Rotten Life!

Everywhere there are articles, book and professional therapists offering advice on how to improve your life and help you become ‘happy and fulfilled.’ "How to" books fill the shelves of Books A Million, Barnes and Nobles and over flow our homes!!

There are even churches whose purpose is ‘help you become a better you in five easy steps.’

I have looked around and there seems to be missing a guide to how to make life truly miserable. Now there are some people who are have that special blend of passion and contentment and live a life of joy but what about the vast numbers of individuals who are determined to be miserable, these people have nowhere to turn for advice. With this predicament in mind I have some ‘never fail’ rules for a really rotten existence. If you are simply going through some painful times and you truly want the option of misery to blossom in your heart, then simply implement one or more of the following rules

Be a Success and Everyone Will Like You

Never let anyone see you sweat and don't let anyone know you have any vulnerabilities. You see, people want to connect with superstars and successful people, however, they want to attach in order to advance not in order to know!!

Make People Happy So They Will Want to Be Your Friend

As long as you are funny you will have friends! When people ask, "how are you?" Always do the American thing and say, "Fine!" As you do so, remember what FINE represents: Frustrated, Isolated, Neurotic, and Empty...ain't that the makin's of a truly miserable existence?!!

Don’t Do Anything That Would Upset People

In other words, make sure the needs of your husband comes before your own and really be careful not to share you true self lest he become peeved and pout all weekend (horror of horrors!) Of course, this is not gender specific, don't ever disagree with your wife or ever...well you know...

Avoid Pain At All Costs – Pain Will Destroy You

Don’t have dreams they will turn to nightmares. Don’t plan on anything because everyone will let you down and whatever you do, don’t take any risks! You should not have to tolerate any just isn't fair!

Always, I Mean Always Be Hyper Vigilant As You Look Out For Danger

Be sure you control everything or something bad will happen! Always protect yourself because people are out to get you...remember people are malicious.

Be Perfect At All Times

People only accept that which is perfect so you need to develop a highly self-critical mindset to remind yourself that you must do the job ‘just right’ or you are not good enough!

Always remember that pain is inevitable but misery is optional and to be sure you take that option let these rules run your life!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Mysteries of Grace

One of the great mysteries of grace is found in the strange attraction Jesus had for the unattractive. Jesus had this desire for the undesirable and a strange love for the unlovely! Of course we realize Jesus is simply reflecting Abba’s love…Jesus loves the ones the Father loves!

One “…time the disciples came to Jesus saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’” Jesus steps up and pierces our thick-skinned hearts and calls “a child, had him stand among them, and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! Whoever then humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4, The NET Bible).

Cutting right through our prejudices He sets this child on His knee…this child with no self-consciousness and therefore incapable of any charades, shams, or pretenses. Brennan Manning (in The Ragamuffin Gospel, a must read for all!!) tells of little three year old John Dyer. Brennan heard the knocking on the door, opens the door and there is little John flanked by both parents. Brennan said, “Well, Hello John, it is good to see you…” And to use a phrase my Dad often used, with his face ‘set like a flint,’ John looked neither left nor right but straight at Brennan with fierce determination and boldly demanded, “Where’s the cookies?”

God’s Grace belongs to those with no self-consciousness…those who are not trying to look good or impress themselves or anyone else. God’s Grace falls on those who are not worried about how their actions will be interpreted or wondering if they will get any ‘kudos’ for ‘good behavior.’ No, God’s Grace belongs to the child. “Who is the greatest?” is still yammering for an answer here in 2007 and with swift barbed jabs of love, Jesus incisively penetrates through our narcissism (“oh I wonder if I am good enough?”), our boasting (“do you know how many came forward and were baptized last week?), and our fretting (“I guess I am just fundamentally flawed and nothing will ever change!”). You see a child does not have to struggle to get herself into a good position to have a Grace Relationship with God, she does not have to paint a pretty face for herself, nor possess any great intellectual understanding. All she has to do is accept the cookies! Oh the Grace of God!!

I think when Jesus encourages us to become as little children He is asking us to forget the past and realize it is only NOW that I am with God. You see, it matters not what good or ill I have in my past, it is irrelevant to the MAX, or as my son says it is “uber irrelevant!” It only NOW that I am with God…not yesterday (“oh for the good ole days?!?) nor tomorrow (“oh I had better be sure this is taken care of) but only today!!

Living in the now, living life to it’s fullest, being fully human and fully alive; this is what God’s Grace offers. One day a monk was running away from a hungry tiger and saw a rope dangling over a cliff. He quickly grabbed the rope and let himself down. “Whew,” he thought, “that was close.” 500 feet below he saw jagged rocks and glancing up he saw the saber-toothed tiger. About that time two mice began nibbling on the rope and the monk thought, “Oh my goodness, what am I to do?” Then he looked at the rock wall in front of him and saw the reddest and biggest strawberry ever. He reached out, took it, and promptly ate it. He said, “That was the best strawberry ever!”

I would have never seen the strawberry! I would have been so preoccupied with my future (the rocks below) or worried about my past (the tiger above) that I would have missed the “here and now” with God today! Children do not focus on the tigers of the past nor worry about the rocks of tomorrow. Oh to be as Paul who says “I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead…” (Philippians 3:13 The NET Bible).

John Mark

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Awesome Power of Words...

You and I need to tell our BRAIN what to think! If not it will run willy/nilly and PING from one thing to another...part of the BRAIN RETRAINING is grounded in my FAITH and my THEOLOGY. My faith (Philippians 4:8) must inform my brain what it will think and what it will not think.

So I have changed the words I use in my everyday interactions with my family, friends, and everyone else. Words have meanings and meanings have consequences and to change consequences I need to change my words...words are expressions of faith. The ultimate expression of faith (one's individual salvation with God) is connected to The Word..."faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God..." (Romans 10), and in a very similar way, what I say is an expression of my what follows is a list of words that I will not use because my faith says, there is a better way of expressing who I am...

Read the list and let me know what you think...

Greedy, liar, cheap, hateful, jealous, vindictive, controlling, nasty, possessive, whiney, wimp, evil, geek, prudish, womanizer, angry, secretive, codependent, alcoholic, predator, drug addict, gambler, sick, fat, disgusting, stupid, idiot, fearful, unconscious, masochistic, bulimic, anorexic, unimportant, shyster, compulsive, frigid, rigid, abuser, manipulative, victim, victimizer, egocentric, better than, foolish, emotional, pompous, ugly, sloppy, loud mouth, big mouth, passive-aggressive, smelly, lame, coward, jerk, inauthentic, offensive, inappropriate, wild, dead, zombie, late, irresponsible, incompetent, lazy, opportunistic, lush, stingy, unfair, dumb, traitor, weasel, immature, gossip, snippy, desperate, childish, floozy, shrew, pansy, golddigger, hormonal, cruel, insensitive, scary, dangerous, explosive, perverted, psychotic, needy, energy sucker, mean, defensive, man-hater, sad, frail, impotent, insipid, castrated, mama’s boy, nervous, arrogant, miser, spinster, slut, deceitful, judgmental, imposter, superficial, violent, thoughtless, martyr, hypocrite, sneak, grudge carrier, condescending, competitive, power hungry, sinister, bigot, anxious, stuck, hot shot, goofy, woman-hater, sadistic, loser, whore, shameful, dirty, bitter, shameless, bossy, inflexible, cagey, resentful, racist, snob, dominating, sleazy, overbearing, ignorant, thief, cheater, trashy, devious, conniving, insecure, depressed, hopeless, not good enough, frugal, unlovable, delinquent, scared, hyper, intrusive, malicious, resentful, righteous, useless, destructive, resistant, thick-headed, betrayer, confrontational, self-destructive, pigheaded, oversensitive, empty, ridiculous, wretched.

See, none of them tell me anything about you...nor do they say anything about me...why would I use them??

John Mark

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Family Ties That Bind....

Once upon a time, a storm-tossed ship gave up one of its passengers. He clung to debris that had gone over the side with him and floated for a few hours. Finally, he could hold on no longer, and he let go. When he came to, he found himself on an un­charted island. The island was perfect. Tall palms, ver­dant brush, sparkling hills. Hardly believing it was real, he tried to wake himself from his dream, though with some fear that if he succeeded, he would find himself dead. It appeared, however, that he was very much alive. Curiosity and hunger moved him to explore. As he invaded the jungle's depths, he was struck by the calm. There were no loud cries of birds or beasts, and there seemed to be, if anything, a certain order everywhere.

He spent most of that first day feasting with his eyes and mouth. Many delicious fruits and nuts were easily available to his reach, and his stomach was soon satisfied. But so wondrous were the colors, the more his eyes took in, the more he wanted to devour. As the first evening came on, and he prepared for sleep, he found that the climate, while cool, was in no way chilling. Wearily he lay down to bed upon a mattress of soft leaves, thankful to be still alive, yet a little scared at being so alone.

When he woke the next morning, he was no longer by himself. Sitting all about him in a circle were men, women, and children. Some of the most beautiful men, women, and children he had ever seen. They had taken care not to awaken him, and they had brought gifts. Did they think he was a god? As he bestirred himself, they came over, offering food and drink. One who seemed to be a leader appeared to be asking if he were ill or hurt. He did not speak their language, but they easily under­stood his gestures. He quickly discovered that theirs, too, were easily understandable.

Indeed, he found that everything about these peo­ple was simple and graceful. They accepted him imme­diately and made him one of them. He learned their ways of communication.
But there was one idea he was totally unable to convey, that at times he wanted to be by himself. On this island, no one was ever left alone. When a baby was born, the people did not sever the umbilical cord. The child thus remained extremely close to its mother throughout its infancy. If the mother wanted to have an­other child, the umbilical cord was severed, but only from the mother, and her end was then reattached by a simple surgical procedure to one of the older women, who-con­tinued to care for the child until it was ready to mate. As part of the wedding ceremony, the future partners' cords were severed, but again, only the ends that were con­nected to the parent surrogates, and, as each loose end was attached to the intended spouse, the bride and groom were thus united. In those cases where a mother had had only one child, the cord was reattached directly from natural mother to spouse.

Shortly before a wife was to give birth, the hus­band and wife had their cords unjoined and the husband could then become attached to another female ready to leave her mother or mother surrogate. He also had the option of rejoining with his own mother, if she had not rejoined with her husband, or he could join again with some mother surrogate, perhaps his original one.
While to our modern sense, this way of bonding might seem primitive, even uncivilized, the effects of this constant attachment on society were astounding. Anger was unknown, depression was easily cured, crime was unheard of, envy and jealousy never spawned, and com­petition and rivalry were totally absent. There was no such thing as embarrassment, nor any of those behavior patterns that we have come to call neuroses. If there was fear or anxiety, it was experienced only during that pe­riod of time when someone accidentally "lost" a partner. Such loss was always replaced as soon as possible, how­ever, and the anxiety would quickly subside. Indeed, it was probably only because the islanders remembered these instances of loss that some sense of aloneness was known at all. Despite this, the expected death of a family mem­ber never increased anxiety greatly, because everyone had the assurance that the family would quickly make a re­placement available. Such back-up also may have meant that individuals were freer to die.

The man spent many years on the island, at one point becoming attached to a woman with whom he found mutual attraction. But he soon realized that he could not suffer her omnipresence, and rather than introduce the spoilation of bickering to these lovely people, he asked for a "separation." There was perhaps one time when he thought he had found a woman who might have tried his way of life, but she changed her mind at the last minute and soon tied the knot with another. As he retold it later, her change of mind seemed to have less to do with any failure of nerve on her part than with a concern to calm her own family. They seemed to be becoming increas­ingly upset over the prospect of their daughter's living unattached.

After several years, the proverbial ship appeared and he left these wonderful people sadly. As always, he was astounded by their reaction, this time to his depar­ture. For as kind and close as they had seemed, they now appeared to take his loss with perfect equanimity. In fact, he found himself wondering if they had ever cared at all. Whereas he, though he had been unable to be totally a part of their life, now found himself almost totally unable to separate.

When he returned home, his family was over­joyed to see him again, though his wife, thinking he had died, had soon remarried. He himself remarried shortly thereafter, and the pain of the loss subsided. He tried to publish an account of his experience in several scholarly journals, but they all said it was too fantastic. He finally sold it as a fantasy. One reviewer thought his style too realistic.

Many years later, a ship traveling in the same waters happened upon a gloriously beautiful, uncharted island. A crew went forth to explore. They were met by a patrol who ushered them firmly to headquarters. When it was seen that the men meant no harm, they were freed, and their ship was allowed to come into the port of the island's bustling metropolis. The men were quite sur­prised to see such an advanced society so far removed from the rest of civilization. Newspapers contained all the sections of any modern daily: current events, crime, economic issues, sports fashions, the usual range of ad­vertisement.

"You know," said one of the crew, "as a child, I once heard a story about a beautiful island just like this. A man claimed to have lived there for several years. He described it as one of the loveliest places he had ever seen, with the kindest and warmest people. In many ways he could have been describing this very place. Except that he said it was very primitive, and there was one other thing also. he said, "If you could feature this, everyone went around constantly tied to someone else by their umbilical cords."

"Oh, I remember him," the tour guide said, as he ushered them all into a waiting hovercraft. "That's just the way it used to be here," he continued, straining above the noise of the motors as they exploded into full throt­tle. "But after he left," the pilot shouted back through the spray, "we all cut them off."

From the library of: John Mark Trent, PhD

Excerpted from: (1990) Friedman, Edwin H., Friedman’s Fables, Guilford Press

Thoughts that were prompted as you read this fable?? Don't you like stories?

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