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You can’t stand in someone’s shadow if you’re standing in the light

33The Rev. Dr. A. Michael “Mike” Warren 1940-2018. This picture is the day of his graduation from Union Theological Seminary (Richmond). Mike served churches in Virginia, Mississippi, West Virginia and Tennessee as well as working as an Associate Presbyter for the Salem Presbytery (North Carolina) and in the national church office in the National Ministries Division.

Yesterday, I was installed as the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Mount Sterling Kentucky. I made it through the entire day without thinking about the fact that my dad wasn’t there. That he’d never set foot in this church, he’d never preach from it’s pulpit, he’d never meet the people that serve God here. And they’d never meet him. Sure, they’d get to know him through my stories, the ones my mother tells. Or even my son if he ever speaks of him (he’s not known for talking about his ‘mommy’ or his ‘fa’ to many). But before the wave of sadness could crest, it slowed – because this very thing is what he wanted. I know, because he told me. You’re a pastor – be a pastor.

There is an importance in knowing who you are, what you’re called to be. And being that. It’s not nearly as complicated as we make it out to be. Figure out who you are (which often starts by figuring out who you’re not) and then be that. It’s not an original idea to him, but it is still one that can have a profound impact on how we live and our level of happiness as we live it. It really makes the mid-life crisis easy when there are no major shifts to go through. The pre-life crisis carries less stress when you realize that you can always change. But most importantly, it makes the post-career crisis easy if you can look back with much less regret. Be who you were created to be and become who you are re-created to become.

You’ll have much less stress, and much more fun than most of the people around you.

21

My retired father and my pre-school son in Fern Creek Kentucky.

The Rev. Dr. A. Michael “Mike” Warren on the day he graduated from Union Theological Seminary. He would go on to serve churches in rural Virginia, South-West Mississippi, West Virginia and Tennessee. He served the Salem Presbytery as an associate presbyter and the national office in the National Ministries Division.

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How You Do You Do?

Ok, so lets get this straight. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have one. I share it every Sunday, but if that isn’t your thing, I suggest you read on because, I may not be able to answer the “mid-life” or “pre-life” crisis, but I can make it much easier for you. It’s a little disconnected, but you’ll see why that is important (I hope) later. First, let me give you my credentials.

in 1993 I met the woman that would become my first wife. In our twenty-one years together, I changed careers four times, drug her off for schooling twice, and put her through hell while we bought a house that I didn’t like without so much as a counter-offer. Years later, we adopted a son from Viet Nam, she went through various cancer treatments for six years and then in May of 2015, she died. My son was six years old, his mommy was gone. At that point, he became my timeline.

When he was less than one, we picked him up from an orphanage, he was abandoned by his mother hours after birth and left alone on her hospital bed. After 8 months of trying to locate her (she gave a fake name/address for unknown reason and did not identify the father) two people that sounded wrong, looked wrong, smelled wrong and fed him the wrong things. He got used to it. At six, his second mother died in the living room. His dad is freaking out, because he realized, although he’s been his son’s primary care giver for most of his life – he has no idea what he’s doing. Dad’s world is shattered. The boy’s world is shattered – but at least we had the church.

Less than a year later, his dad is dating a woman the boy has literally known all his life. A little more than a year after his second mother’s death, his dad changes jobs because the church can not be the caregiver to the pastor for long – it ruins both. Soon after going back to chaplaincy, Dad is soon after engaged. A few months later he’s living in a new house with a new “mom.” About a year later, things start going weird, a few months later he’s told he’s losing another mom – and he’s most upset about having to leave one of the cats behind and not living next door to his friends.

We moved into a “guitartment.” and we make it work. We still the “exs” (my soon-to-be ex works for the same company I do on a campus cross-town and visits campus regularly, her children with her first husband attend D’s school – or their school depending on which “side” you take). It’s a big ball of stress, but it works, at least it’s constant. Eventually, the “benefits” of the new gig’s schedule disappear, there are daily dreads that increase in weight and disappointment. And then, I start dating another woman, with a months old adopted daughter of her own.

Two months later, my father, my hero, dies suddenly. Not a single person that I work with managed to make it to the services. In fact, one of my best friends who works for the company requests time off just to attend the service and return – is told no. This reminds me of what my dad has been saying since I took the job (and left) the first time – this is not a good fit for you. I am suddenly hyper aware of any slight, rule change, unwritten policy, perceived unfairness and substantive messing over that comes in my general direction. I realize, emotionally, physically, spiritually – this “job” is killing me, and the more “they” make it a “job” the worse I feel. I can physically feel my BP rise when I get close to the building – my already short temper increases.

Eight months later, my son looks at me on a Sunday morning and asks me, “When can I go to your church dad?” And I realize, that he can’t. Not until he turns 14, becomes an official volunteer, goes through orientation and gets the proper shots.  I look down at him and say, “Soon.” The next day, I look my boss in the eye after yet another rule-change management meeting and say, “I hope you don’t take this as a reflection of the changes that were just described in the meeting, I actually wrote this yesterday.” I hand in my letter of resignation, we have a brief conversation and I remain standing.

Three months later, I’m sitting in the living room of my new house almost a hundred miles away, my son is playing an on-line game with friends who lived next door to mom #3 (wife #2) laughing his head off. I’m now a widower and a divorced solo dad. Yet I’m not afraid of that at all anymore. I quit a well-paying job with benefits out of principle. I broke a lease that required the equivalent of 5 months rent. I bought a house while technically unemployed without so much as batting an eye.

How do I do?

I’ve learned this one thing. Life is chaos. No matter how you plan, what decisions you make, life is purely and simply chaos. You prepare and are disappointed, you plan and get screwed over. You break promises and other people break promises to you. You can not guarantee anything – financial stability, health, whatever – if it’s “earthly” then it is, by definition transitory. If you can have one thing that is stable for any period of time, faith, job, family, whatever – take your chances then. Make your changes then. The days of same wife-same job-same house- they’re done. My mom has now moved 4 times since she retired (each time swearing that for the next one, “I will be the one in the box and you two (meaning my sister and I) will be doing all the packing.”

See – here is the thing.

My son’s first mother, wasn’t supposed to give him up. He was  boy, you keep the boys. My son’s mommy wasn’t supposed to die. My marriage wasn’t supposed to die. My love for chaplaincy wasn’t supposed to die. The healthy relationship I had with a previous congregation wasn’t supposed to die. I wasn’t supposed to go back to chaplaincy – only to end up doing social work so that my love of the job died. I wasn’t supposed to tear Lori away from her family to go to school. I wasn’t supposed to leave town. I wasn’t supposed to be able to raise Donovan on my own. I wasn’t supposed to get another church quickly. I wasn’t supposed to use my savings to prop myself up so I could walk away from the job, I was supposed to sit there and take it. I wasn’t supposed to fall in love again… even if I sang that Sammy Hagar song.

Life isn’t “supposed” it is lived.

Lori lived up until the last few days of her life when she was non-responsive. My dad lived until his final moment – a family-held last smart statement.

And 100s of times, I’ve seen people in their last months of life handle things that make my (or my son’s) life experiences sound easy, and they have taught me the one thing. Live every day – right up until you don’t. There are plenty of the living dead out there, walking around in a stupor, job they hate, life they hate, family they… hopefully don’t. Don’t accept your death, or presume someone else’s death, until time of actual death.

How do I do? I live.

And I’m going to live right up until the moment that I don’t.

 

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I’m apparently a small town guy…

I was driving in to the office the other day and I realized – I’m a semi-Appalachian small town guy. I’ve known it for years, but really didn’t admit it. Huntington, a town of around 50,000 was “too big” for me to visit the west end regularly (apart from my first paycheck job at Camden Park). Louisville was a strange anomaly finding it for a seminary that would allow pets, and staying in the area because of the relative safety of knowing the landscape, but I still disliked “going downtown” especially for Jury Duty (I was in the pool for 3 cycles, but mysteriously never ended up on a jury – perhaps suggesting that because of pre-trial prejudice, I already believed the defendant should be “put under the jail after being beaten in the name of the Lord” to the judge during the screening process was a bit much (the prosecutor was willing to let me serve). But the truth is, there is just more to small-town that appeals to me than larger cities and for my sanity’s sake, I’m going to give you some reasons why.

REASONS TO CELEBRATE: In NC we had the Wooly Worm festival that featured races of the creatures up pieces of strings. This sounds incredibly ridiculous, even more that I know there are several ways to “train” your worm. You use the method of intermittent reinforcement by placing a sugar-mixture at the top of the string in random intervals to motivate the worm to climb, that way in the contest, the worm will climb seeking the sweet nectar of, well sweet nectar. This has proven to be successful in the past. Others tend to use the “non-trained” method of blowing air out of their mouths on the bottom of the worm. This motivates the worm to climb faster. This has also won rounds at the contest. Some even mix both. This kind of thing is a staple of small town festivals that are usually much more fun than parades downtown in a large city. Search “Bridge Day” or “Christmas in July” or “Daniel Boone” festivals for events I’ve experienced – and I’m looking forward to “Court Days” in my current town next fall. It’s mainly an excuse to congregate, just to hang out and see people – most happen in the fall a short time before elections too, and you haven’t seen funny until you’ve seen a Senator sitting in an open Jeep duck as six guys wearing coon-skin caps fire off their powder-loaded KY long-rifles.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: “Honey” is not an insult. If you take it as such, you should probably stick to towns large enough to feature a “big-bucks” coffee shop. Fast-food joints with better service than places that work for tips. Granted, the Megabuylowmart parking lot is always crowded, but they also have plenty of human cashiers working to scan your stuff. The special orders I use that give city-staff an excuse to condescend-face me are handled like pros. Four weeks and I’ve yet to get an order wrong at a window or counter. Everyone in the city gives Kudos to the chicken-shack “It’s my pleasure” people – but here it isn’t a matter of training, it’s a matter of raising. I’m “sir”-ed a lot, and “Ma’am” isn’t a short-cut for the b-word. Which brings up another thing. I’ve forgotten what it was like to stand at the fast-food checkout and not hear profanity in the kitchen/drive thru area. I myself am actually cursing less because I’m not surrounded by the constant cacophony of curses.

CONJESTION: My last commute was 26.5 miles. From my 2 bedroom “guitartment” to my place of work. I lived in a small town, but worked in south-central Louisville. My commute ran anywhere from 25 minutes (Sunday mornings) to an average of 1:45 on the weekdays trying to get home. On average, I spent at least 10 hours a week in the car going from my son’s school to work and back home again if I didn’t have to work extra days (which I did towards the end, sometimes upping my average into the eleven or twelve-hour a week mark. Fifty weeks a year, that’s 500 hours a year in the car. I’m fine with “alone” time, but given that people can’t seem to drive in a straight line without crashing into each other on I-71 in Kentucky from the inner beltway to the fourth exit away, it was ridiculous. It didn’t matter the weather, I saw a six-car pile-up (literally) on a clear sunny day. Now, I put D in the car, drop him at school, swing by a local place for breakfast with the gentlemen whose wives want them out of the house for at least an hour in the morning and arrive in the office – about 4 miles and 40 minutes later. Directly, my commute time is six minutes if I get both traffic lights red.

LANGUAGE: It takes more time to have a conversation, and I like that because the conversations are a lot more interesting. There is a lot more creative use of simile and metaphor. “I hate her” becomes something akin to (see, that word right there, that’s an example too) “I haven’t liked her since the third grade, now we hate each other with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.” Sure, I’ve heard “Bless his heart” more than a few times, but yesterday I heard, “Cuter than kittens” when one person showed another a picture of her granddaughter in her Halloween costume. Never heard that phrase before, but it’s pretty clear what she meant by it. “As” and “Like” is used a lot, but not, like, totally, like, as a reason to like stop in the middle of a like sentence. It’s like living in a John Prine song – apparently she is as sweet as Tupelo Honey. I’ve missed this like butter on a bald monkey (if you get that – you get a point).

SHARED PARKING: I park in a handicapped spot during the week, because I have to. Apparently the church shares it’s parking lot with the local bank (we’re “land-locked” here in wonderful downtown Mount Sterling) and the only two spaces available for church staff are handicapped. Now, on the weekends, we don’t park there because they’re needed for handicapped people to come to church… and of course, none of this is written down, you just kind of pick it up when someone lets you know, “It isn’t a problem, but just to let you know…” There’s a grace offered to new people, and they don’t assume you’re “guilty” of anything, so if you’re used to the city-defense for every activity, you’re going to have to adjust because word is going to get around that you’re “kinda Rhude” if you don’t.

A GENERAL LACK OF SIGNS, ESPECIALLY “NO” SIGNS: Back in the city, I was always kind of saddened by visiting one of the big churches that had signs everywhere saying what you couldn’t do. “No Skateboarding, No Roller Skating, No Roller Blading…” that kind of thing. When I asked other people about it, they said things about insurance rates, or problems from ten years ago, or why they were in place, but unless I asked, no one else voiced even the slightest distaste for it. In small towns, when there are signs, they tend to say things like “RESERVED FOR SHEILA’S CUSTOMERS” as opposed to “PARKING FOR SHEILA’S ONLY – VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED.”

NOT GUILTY UNTIL RUMORED NOT ENTIRELY INNOCENT: There is an accountability of an semi-Appalachian small town that isn’t usually present in a larger city. You just can’t act a fool about anything, anywhere. Like it or not, when I go somewhere, I go as a representative of the church (I’m the pastor that doesn’t dress like one already). I introduce myself as tied to the church, and most people know it already. I walked into the local cycle-shop my first week here and, because I’d spoken to a member about picking one up in the spring, Roger already knew my name and what style of bike I was considering. He also knew my circumstance, and offered help with the testing, safety course and that I already had my gear (helmet, armored pants, jacket, gloves, specific-to-style reinforced boots) and what accessories I was likely to look at (nothing more than a top-case or paniers, hand protectors and maybe a crash-bar system plus a ten buck reflective tape rim kit). For crying out loud, he even knew that my focus was visibility/safety over being able to hoon the thing. I’m already a “made” man for the church – so if my order were to be wrong, I’ve got to be as apologetic about asking for it to be made right as they are during the process of making it right. Rumors fly, accept it or be bitten in the backside by it.

HOURS OF COOPERATION: One of my favorites. The Water Company on main was closed down because of Court Days – everything was closed on Court Days while I was trying to move. 24 hour anything is a rarity, and my personal favorite is that personal issues take the lead when it comes to personnel. In the city, a couple hours late because you’re looking for childcare is a sin of epic proportion. Here? I missed an entire day to drive to my old county to vote, empty out my apartment (which I still haven’t finished) and have lunch with my girlfriend Tammy. That’s not a huge deal. And you’ve got to give as often/good as you get. I’ve already been informed by a couple members of the congregation about the weather conditions that will affect their attendance and that occasionally, the office schedule will be rearranged because of the locations/conditions of cows. The assumption is not “They’re slacking off” but “Oh, something must have come up, I’ll try again later.” And my personal favorite is a couple stores down-town that are “staffed” by elementary aged kids who get off the bus at their parent’s business and hang out for the rest of the work-day (not to mention that occasional dog that is in no way shape or form “working.”

BOOK-ISH: Here is something I didn’t expect. I’ve read more in the past three weeks than I’ve read in the past 3 years. I’ve also kept my house “clean” (depending on your standards) more often. Part of it is because I don’t want to live in a house where I have to clean for eight hours in order to have company. But the other part is that I’m not worn out by a long commute. I’m also not worn out by taking care of business. I used to keep my kindle with me, and try to grab 10-15 minutes reading here and there. Like the DMV and County Clerk’s office. Yesterday, I got my registration/car tags, my license changed, registered to vote, payed my city taxes on my house, signed a form authorizing a specific withdrawal from the bank and did it all in twelve minutes. I also walked. I spent more time on the phone with my cable company trying to get my guitartment’s service turned off than I did applying for a loan for my house in September.

Certainly, there are disadvantages to small-town living. The nearest “good Chinese” is about a 40 minute drive one-way, the nearest Mexican has yet to be located. The local big-boxes should be called “Inconvenience stores” because they only have close to what I want (which is a problem in Louisville too, only they could check inventory at another “close” store and you could travel that in less than an hour). I still haven’t found a place that stocks my favorite brand of sweet-tea and the nearest dealer for my car is about a 40 minute drive (I’m due for an oil change and a tire-rotation). But I can brew my own tea and make sure the ratio is up to my preference, and one of the guys knows a guy at the local shop. He called him about my brand-specific oil filter. They don’t have them now, but will on Tuesday, and he’s set it up to keep a back-stock of two at any given time. Why? Because my real estate agent just bought a new car, same brand as mine, and I promised to let her know they had the parts.

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Liberty

On an island, off the coast of a mythic land, stands the New Colossus, “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land-to-land; here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightening, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (Emma Lazarus, November 2nd, 1883 – inscribed on a bronze plaque located in the Statue of Liberty’s museum – 1903).

You want to ‘make America great again? Then don’t fall into the soviet trap of building a wall (which a former GOP president mentioned in a famous speech). Live the ideal of a country newly rebuilding from a “civil” war taking the first steps to allow the “thems” to vote. Struggling mightily with inclusion that comes at a snail’s pace. While the hard-liners sought to maintain the exclusive boundaries, other Americans fought to add more voices and votes.

If you are a person of Christian faith – I ask you simply to love your neighbor, and do for the least as you would do for Christ.

If you are not, I ask you to please consider this. If we are “preserving” our country by keeping others from corrupting us, then what are we preserving. If we are ‘great’ then how do we demonstrate it? By caring for our aging? By helping those ravaged by storms? By lifting up those damaged by economic hardships? By treating illnesses? By feeding and housing hungry children? By treating our veterans with kindness and compassion? By educating our children? What are we preserving? Is it worth keeping? Have we solved the problems of hunger, health, race, gender inequality, scorn for others – have we accomplished “United we Stand” or are we dividing for a fall?

If we are to stand for some “thing.” Should we stand for a wall to keep others out – or should we stand for a noble idea that seems to be forgotten?
Light your lamp, not in anger, but rather lift it beside the golden door. Welcoming the homeless, the tempest-tost is not just a Christian thought, it is not “communist” it is not “socialist” it is liberty – for those “yearning to be free.” Yes, we have failed in our history, we have stolen land, stolen people, stolen ideas and corrupted our noble experiment – but we have also struggled to improve, sometimes in spite of ourselves. Which trend do we want to continue? The one that struggles to improve, or the one that seeks to preserve, at any cost, a systemic separation contrary to what our Lady Liberty stands for?

Do not misunderstand me – This is not a call to vote, it isn’t even political to me. It is ideological. Your heart, your mind, your daily life. If you are a patriot, do you stand with Lady Liberty, or wrap yourself in the flag and carry a different type of torch. To me the flag is not a cape that makes us a super-hero, it is a blanket offered to comfort. I am one voice, but I could maintain my silent lips no more.

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What I Wish I Could Say: Divorce & the Aftermath

These “WIWICS” are purely meant to be entertaining, not “advisory” especially legally. Any similarities between this and actual divorces I’ve witnessed, been through or seen in movies is purely intentional, because you can’t make some of this stuff up – at least no names are used. I know, as a pastor, people think I’m supposed to be “divorce is never good” but sometimes it is. And here is how I came to this conclusion.

At least ten times in twenty-years of ministry a couple comes in to my office for “marital counseling.” I generally refuse. I’m not a psychologist, counselor and if you come to a pastor to “fix” your marriage, I can almost guarantee you within a year, you’ll be just as divorced and neither of you will be members of the church you currently attend. You’re asking your pastor to get in the middle of your marriage and hear this clearly – we will. Some are gifted enough not to blunder in aimlessly, but most of us are conditioned to respond, mainly by telling you both where you’re wrong and to get it together. Even worse, some of us will just say, “You can’t get a divorce or God will damn you.” If you hear that – leave that toxic church immediately and don’t come back.

Case in point. I had a gentleman named Roxy come in with his wife Dave (the names have been changed) and while she sat on the couch with her head bowed he looked at me, with all seriousness and said, “I want you to tell my wife how she’s supposed to be submissive to my will.” Roxy was a good guy, I liked him, but this is a common thought. I sighed, “Why would I do that?” At that point Dave looked up at me – knowing this wasn’t going to go the way she’d feared. Roxy continued, “Because, in the bible it says that the woman is supposed to submit to her man.” I asked, of course for chapter and verse, and he gave it to me. I read around it and said, “OK, so I guess my first question is, Do you love your wife as Christ loved the church?” He was dumbfounded. I continued, “I think that’s a condition to the subservience, you have to be a man worth following in order for her to follow.”

He got mad – because this wasn’t about him, it was about his wife. He used the metaphor that I’ve heard 100 times. “IF we’re both on a horse, one has to be in front holding the reigns. That’s the guy, that’s me. She supposed to sit behind me and hold on to me.” I nodded, “Ok, but what if we look at it like this. You are both on a motorcycle, you’re in front, and everything is fine when you’re going straight, But then you come up on a turn and you lean… but she doesn’t, what happens?” He stared, “Well, you go down and eat pavement before you slide off the road You’ve got to be worth following before you can lead.”

Needless to say, this is not how a trained counselor would respond. So now, I have a list of counselors to make referrals. People complain that it costs money, which is a really nice way of saying, “We’re using you because we consider it to be a free service offered in return for our donation.” Well – you get what you pay for. Fixing a marriage is a long process, it involves grief-work, self-actualization, analysis, and hours and hours of a professional’s time because it isn’t like people come in at the first sign of trouble, usually visiting the pastor is more asking for a blessing for the divorce (both people defending themselves before God’s proxy) instead of “saving the marriage.”

Now, I don’t recommend divorce, but in some cases it’s a good idea. Not just the minor things: loading toilet paper/the dishwasher/the laundry etc. correctly, being in charge of the money, etc.” But major things: abuse, addiction, avoiding legal consequences, for the safety of the children, abandonment… notice I didn’t mention many scriptural reasons – you should already be familiar with the “endorsed” list.

Divorce is awful. Even an amicable one with no children or lawyers involved causes pain, anger, all sorts of emotions that can’t be labelled.

You’re going to feel worthless, angry, betrayed, and all those other things. You may even feel murderous or liberated. Here’s the thing, don’t be a dog. Remember, whatever you’re feeling is probably not only something similar to what your friends felt once-upon-a-time, but it’s not how you’re going to feel forever. I know this is trite, but here me out. Remember, there was a time in your life BEFORE the partner that recently ripped your heart out and squished that sucker flat. No love on earth is eternal – because there was a time when it was not. The reason I point this out is because you lived (in hope probably) quite well before that person came along. It wasn’t perfect, but it was livable, and during the divorce you want to be able to recognize livable. Take the time to notice things. For example: the car does not magically fill up with gas (bad) but you can sit down on the couch any way you want, even knee first (short-term good). The lawn will not mow itself (bad) but the dishwasher will loaded correctly (good). No one else is going to use “the last” of anything (Unless you have kids). Now, you’re going to buy some things (because one person takes the good ice-cream scoop and the other got the good pizza cutter), and it really does matter what chemical you use to clean different surfaces. Guys – unless you were previously fussy, buy cheap furniture, because you have no idea what spaghetti sauce can do to a “stain-proof” couch. And to all – avoid the leather furniture, apart from recliners.

Plan to “hotel” your life for a while. If you’ve been married for a long time – you probably don’t know what you like. One guy I know LOVED NCIS, Law and Order and programs about wives killing their husbands… then he got a divorce and realized he wasn’t interested in those programs at all. He even went so far as to get rid of his cable-box because it turns out, he likes online streaming services and does just fine without broadcast channels. One woman I know (Steve) lived on her phone, always texting, social media, etc. When her husband (Rose) left she realized that she was avoiding dealing with him, and discovered a lot of other things she enjoyed and now she can’t find her phone half the time.

Like it or not – divorce is going to change you. If nothing else, it pushes “reset” on your personality and you regress to back to the time before you were held accountable. Many people go off the rails for a bit, buying stuff they can’t afford, drinking too much, becoming “that old lady” or “that old guy” in their local bars, and it’s all just trying different things out. As Lucille put it, “I was ready man, I was going to get back out there, the day my divorce was final I hit one of the coolest clubs in town, I walk through the door, don’t recognize the music, everything is blurry and dark, and a twelve-year old girl in a very inappropriate dress asked me if I was her friend’s dad – apparently she was drunk and needed a ride home but her friends didn’t want to stop partying…” and my favorite part of the comment was the end, “… I”m not even comfortable using the word party as a verb.” Here’s a tip – if you’re unfamiliar with the terms pansexual or cis-gender, stay out of the clubs unless you see license plates on the wooden-plank wall. You’re living in a world of 1s and 0s (binary) and the world just won’t compute to you.

It’s ok – no one expects you to be sane, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be sad.

The main thing you want to do here is avoid the “forevers.” Don’t pick up a disease that will be with you until the day you die (and if you use the term STD, you’re as out of date as VD). Don’t pick up a life-partner until the insanity has run its course, lest you become “that old guy’s dad” or “that old girl’s mom.” Don’t go broke on a car. I met a man, I’ll call him Sally, who had just purchased a brand-new convertible Corvette ZO6 (still had dealer tags) in what looked to be a canary yellow with a tan-leather – I couldn’t look at it all that long, it hut my eyes. He was wearing, a yellow long-sleeve shirt, tucked in, jeans and a brown belt where he’d missed a belt-loop, white socks and one black shoe and one white shoe. I asked him, “So, I’m sorry about the divorced, but at least you were finally able to get it done.” He just stared, as did the people that were around us. He looked at me and asked how I could possibly know. “You have a new Corvette convertible, which you are apparently using to help match up your clothes in the morning, you’re dressed to show off your health, you’ve got a deep tan, apart from where your sunglasses are, you’ve missed a belt-loop and your shoes don’t match – so obviously no one saw you before you left the house, and your left ring-finger is still indented from the wedding ring you wore for more than a few years.” He stared. Then shook his head, and said he was doing quite well, later we talked in private, and that was a lie. He was sad, and doing everything he could to figure out a way to be happy again. I suggested he ride in the passenger seat while I drove his ‘vette – at least that made him laugh.

Now, to the many genders – you’re going to get mad, but don’t steal other people’s joy. Your misery doesn’t want company, and the people that now welcome you into “the club” of divorcees are not going to help you. It’s like when you were married and you took advice from your single/divorced friends about how to have a healthy relationship. If they have a formula or a scheme, and they’re single, it obviously doesn’t work. Picking up people is really pretty easy, carrying them is possibly illegal and getting them to follow you anywhere is like trying to motivate a well-fed cat to get up out of their spot… not likely.

If you thought you were good at dating, and maybe you were, but now you’re not.

Middle-aged dating is like a series of job interviews. First off, it’s more popular than ever to engage in on-line dating. Here’s what I’ve heard from the rather small sample I’ve taken, “It either works fantastically well or it’s a mistake of biblical proportion.” The biggest reason? Lying. No one looks like their picture, very few “enjoy hiking” and “reading” usually includes their friend’s facebook updates. Tinder, Snapchat, Zoo, REpatha… are now fodder for data-mining. Most of your information is available from a cursory Google search and even if you lock all your stuff down, at some point you’re going to date someone from HR or Finance and they’re going to know your credit history better than you do – and that’s before you show up for your first date. Here’s the deal – don’t freak out when someone you have known for ten minutes says, “I’m sorry to hear about your father’s death.” He/She/They just found that information because your name was listed as a survivor in an obituary. It’s public record- it’s creepy, but standard operating procedure. Get yourself linkedin, and keep it honest, because lies will be cross-checked. Long stretches of unemployment will be questioned, and my personal favorite was a guys I know that isn’t the most attractive guy in the world, but he made a shirt that said, “Employed since 1992, Insured, 775 Credit Score… how do I look now?” And that shirt has started more conversations than a Trump tweet.

Everybody has game, and the “non-game game” isn’t a thing anymore. Just be yourself, a good version of yourself (don’t kick babies in a restaurant, it’s apparently bad, even if it wasn’t on purpose). Go for coffee (and get tea or hot-chocolate if you don’t like coffee). One of you show up early, and one show up late so you can’t track the cars, park behind the place, and leave separately so it doesn’t have the appearance of creepy – oh, and just so you know, the harder you try not to be creepy or not to be needy, the needier/creepier you seem.

You are going to meet a lot of people – either on line, set up from friends – and you’re going to have absolutely no interest in them whatsoever because you will find yourself stunned that they’ve managed to live this long without a catastrophic accident of their own making. Famous lines within the first three minutes, “I don’t want you to think I’m here to steal a kidney or anything like that” (Well that’s good, because the odds of two serial killers meeting on line are pretty… well now that I think about it, probably fairly common) or “How come someone that looks like you can’t get a date?” (I think it has something to do with the fact that I’ve been in prison for the last 11 years) or “I usually don’t do this, but you looked like you might be ok.” (well thanks, you’re pretty ok yourself.) “I’m leaving my husband soon, and he has a violent temper,” (Does he own a gun and have you turned the tracker on your phone off?) “I have more piercings in more private areas, if you’re nice you can see them.” (No thanks, I think that’s a very manipulative way to see something that’s probably free on-line somewhere – this is my favorite and the woman that shared it with me is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met – I’ll call her Matthew).

Don’t judge the others – because they’re probably not thrilled about being with you if they’re saying these things. 

I know, you’re wonderful, the last person just didn’t see it. And this is the thing I really wish I could say. It may not have been all your fault, but at some point (even it if was picking the wrong person) part of it is your fault. And THAT’s the hardest part to admit, especially while you’re in the process. Until you admit that in any break-up (especially a divorce) you’re only ready to make the same mistake you made before. Trust me, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who date the same personality with a different body-type or hair color before they figure this out. Many people take the easy way out, “I”m never getting married again.” And I wish I could say “You probably will, and it will end the same way unless you work on being you.” All that “He/She/They never understood me” stuff is a subtle way of saying, “I wasn’t open and honest about who I was” or “we were so different, but I convinced myself that it was all ok.” IF someone says, “It’s always about you.” It means that you’re either self-centered (which may be true) or could possibly be their way of saying, “This isn’t about me enough” and if you think/feel that you’re already doing everything you can, it’s already over.

That’s the hardest part of the divorce, admitting that we were wrong. We were wrong about the person, we were wrong about who we were/are, we made mistakes, and they probably contributed to speed-up the process that was probably coming at some point.

And this is why I support divorce. Because sometimes everyone’s life is improved by it.

One final story. I have a friend, well, not anymore, but I had the opportunity to officiate his wedding. It was a lovely service, and his second wife was a vision. He was incredibly happy. We’d done the pre-marital counseling and they were so similar, I almost thought they were putting me on. The worked through money, family, friends, faith, children, every “deal-breaker” I could think of and were within range of agreement. And I thought they were honest. After his first marriage, that ended with everything but gunplay, I was happy for him. They left the chapel, climbed into their limo and headed off for two weeks, one on a cruise and the other staying put in an adults-only all inclusive in Mexico. He was a good guy, great job, well-paying, and he was surrounded by nice things. She was a funny/sweet woman a few years younger than him, also a professional in the medical field.

A couple-months later, he was sitting in my office in tears. They had just finished up the settlement in court. His truck was parked outside. In the front seat was a 19″ color television, in the bed was a folded up camp chair. That was all he had left.

Apparently, while they were out of town, the bride’s mother had posted a picture of her daughter in her wedding dress in the local paper, a great black-and-white (sorry, grayscale) picture that showed off her beaming smile. When they arrived home, she apparently checked their voicemail at their house. On the machine was a voicemail from his first wife, wondering why he hadn’t bothered to divorce her before getting married again. (They were married in the same county and the clerk’s office didn’t catch it when they issued the license.) The second, now voided wife, went a little more than nuts and threw him out of his own home. During the divorce from one, he lost his house, had a new order for child-support (and back-pay) issued along with her getting many of his belongings/cash/investments. His “voided” wife took what she could of the rest while he tried to avoid a fraud trial, and was awarded damages.

He was on the couch, and suddenly he just stopped crying, and sighed, then laughed. “At least I don’t have to live the lie anymore.”

Divorce: The perfect time to figure out who you really are, even if it is the discovery that you’re a jerk.

 

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Checking in…

Ok, so I’ve taken some time off from blogging, and without getting into particulars, here’s pretty much why.

I quit my gig as a chaplain. No plans for another gig, but it became apparent that with the work-structure I was going to have neither the time nor the energy to pursue what I felt called (wanted/needed depending on your theological perspective) to do. I’d been hemming and hawing about it for a couple months, looked at my savings account and realized I could pretty much live for a year without an income and said, “Well, I don’t want to do this anymore” and handed in my notice. That was a good thing.

I had a plan for insurance, rent, incidentals etc.

But a funny thing happened on my way to my last day. It didn’t go to plan. I wasn’t shocked, because I didn’t have high expectations. Ultimately, I left in a way that I could sleep well. I decided not to blog about it, because it was emotional and my singular experience. No good could come from my emotional responses that would be akin to me complaining about my ex-wife. There are good reasons that it ended the way it did (on both sides) and frankly, everyone is better off.

During all that petty nonsense (I speak for myself only), I managed to run across a church that had an information form that I could have written for myself. I talked to many churches while searching (before my last day) and by the time I drove off campus I had a good idea of what was coming up in my life. I didn’t blog about it, because in the PC(USA) there are “many a slip ‘twixt a cup and a lip” and it wasn’t appropriate to discuss publicly. That’s all resolved, and in October I’ll become a pastor again to a congregation that, paraphrasing from their statement, takes their faith and service very seriously, but doesn’t take themselves all that seriously. Sounds like my kind of people. A couple Skype interviews, some visits to town, a neutral pulpit, some committee meetings… and the way turned out to be clear. I start in October (which wasn’t according to my plan – but frankly, I hope everyone is better off).

So – time to freak out. I hate moving with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. I’ve only moved 13 times in my life (less than every four years on average) and I am not a fan. Combine that with the discovery that rental property in the town surrounding the church is difficult to come by and I don’t plan on moving again, rentals were out. It was time to buy a house. Did you know you can buy a house with no income? Thank you Dave Ramsey and your financial peace university, if you have no debt, a high enough credit rating and enough savings, you sure can. I picked one out, then wandered through looking at it calculating the hours of repair/remodel and the cost of replace/reuse that was going to have to go on. Five days later I walked through another one that was more expensive – I’m now under contract hoping the inspections go well. I didn’t blog about it because it hasn’t finished yet, but I’m including it here because … well, now I don’t have to.

I haven’t written anything about my son in a while because he’s doing very well, hanging out with his friends, spending more time with his father (mainly when his friends aren’t available) and not having major problems in school. To say that he is “not enthusiastic” about school at this point is probably accurate. He’s ten. But, he seems to be trauma and drama free at this point, so I’m just riding this out until he notices the little girl that sits at his table-group has a crush on him (it’s been two years and he doesn’t care yet) and then I’m going to stake him out in the backyard (which I will have shortly God willing) until he’s stopped frothing at the mouth long enough to get a job and move out.

I haven’t written about the Steps or any advice either, because I’ve been too busy living life (travelling, spending time with family, hanging at the pool and (don’t tell) napping and binge-watching movies I missed the first ten years of the boy’s life). I’m also quite smitten with a particular woman – and I’ve always found it to be smitten to only one woman at a time, so I may start a new blog under the heading “Miss Advice” because I can’t really give advice (get it). Most of it will sound sexist and be condescending, and I do recommend people read it because it will be both of those plus funny and not a tiny bit helpful.

And the most important thing is I became aware of something after leaving my chaplain gig. I’d pretty much hit “empathy burnout” on some levels. It was there for residents, but not so much for staff and was getting to the point where I would have no patience at all for administration. That’s my own work that needed to be done. That was changing me, as a person, into something I refuse to be. That part of my personality is a defining principle in my life, and I was violating it on a daily basis. I was “prioritizing care” of individuals, because I was exhausted. Part of my writing is thinking about the “other” persons perspective, and I lost that for a bit, and needed to find it before settling in on the corner of west main and… well, I’m not sure what the other road is.

So from time to time, I’m just going to post random nonsense rants about everything but politics because quite frankly – discussing American politics at this point is impossible, it’s just shouting prejudice (preconceived ideas) at each other until someone loses their voice or leaves. Anyone that honestly believes any of the women and men in Congress have the collective “our” best interests at heart I invite them to sit down, have some juice and I can read them a story about the giving tree – which is either about grace, co-dependency or communism if you want to get uppity about it – which is why you shouldn’t get uppity about it.

But that’s what we do – like today, I thought you’d be interested in this.

???

And now it’s time for my most difficult decision of the day. Pool v Nap. I think you’re right, I CAN do both.

(I have been writing outlines for series, sermons and yes, blogs in my trusty Elfinbook)

 

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FREE #3 Fitness

Here is something you’ll rarely hear, “I’m a fat guy that is going to give you advice about fitness.” I’m talking body fitness too, and my BMI is 33. I know you’re thinking, “How can I take advice from someone who is obese? or even morbidly obese on some scales? Because a little more than 14 months ago, my BMI was 41. That’s 60 pounds down if you’re scoring at my home, or 27+ kilograms. I would have lost more, but my body started changing. I started losing “back fat.”

Turns out, it doesn’t show up in the mirror, or really on the scale because I’m apparently developing what I’d like to call “flabs.” I swim about three times a week, not doing laps or anything too stressful, I started doing it because honestly, it was a way to stretch without getting stuck in weird yoga positions on my living room floor. I still hear the shoulder and knee cracks when I’m underwater. But my arms are more defined, my legs look great and if I had a bottom, I’m sure it would look more impressive. My belly still has some “dun-lap” (as in ma belly dun lapped over my belt).

I still can’t run/jog. My left knee won’t have it, even after losing almost 20 percent of myself. I can do minimal yoga (which is funny to watch I’m sure). And I still have a tan that only extends from my mid-thighs down, my shoulder to my finger-tips and my face/neck. To my eye, I still have a big-ole white belly. But other people have noticed. One friend even complimented (?) me by saying, “You’re not as fat as you think you are?” And therein lies the problem.

I’ve told myself I’m an obese slob for years of my life. Exercise? Why? I’m an overweight slob. Eat better? Why? I’m an fat-tub of goo. I was “actively” working against myself, and since I was passive, I didn’t mind drinking 3 liters of coke a day, having a pizza every couple and “eating healthy” by having a couple sausage mcstuffins for breakfast, hitting a Chinese buffet for lunch and then eating chicken on pasta (with an alfredo) for dinner. If Chik-fil-hey is healthy, maybe it’s time to rethink healthy.

Yes, I still eat that stuff, but that’s only because it’s delicious, but I stopped eating it as often and started watching what I was eating. I seriously started tracking my steps with a free app I got for my phone (please turn off your notifications). As the weight sluffed off, I noticed it was easier to do certain things, like actually walking 10,000 steps in a day. I started “pushing” myself to get more steps, and started skipping seconds. I also started getting a “to-go” box with my meals so I could just take half of it and pop it in before I started eating. I started intentionally slowing down (which people at work hated) and low and behold, I don’t get “hungry.” I stopped “bored” eating. I don’t have snacks in the house that I like. And lately, I’ve done the strangest thing. I started cooking food on my own.

So far, in the past 7 months, I’ve saved an average of $45 a week, which doesn’t sound like much, until you look at it this way. I gave myself a $1345 cash raise in the months I tracked it. By not tracking I didn’t pay attention. I was passive, but decided to be active.

Now I’m not going to be participating in the Iron Man anytime soon. And that’s not my ultimate goal. But I don’t look at myself in the mirror and call myself names anymore. My active voice can overcome those negative thoughts. So yes I do tell myself that I’m going to be an active participant in my life, and I tell myself I’m going to eat healthier and move more.

That is my new truth.