The Myth of Control

We don’t control a lot. We can’t. We think we can, and there are definitely people in the world that suffer from the delusion that they are “in control,” but they aren’t. You may have power, influence, wealth… but you are never, EVER, going to have total control. Right now in the US we have a president with enough money to make Solomon blush and control over most of the government – but yeah, even he can’t get the stuff he says he wants done finished. So if THAT guy, in THAT position, who cares so little about what people think can’t get it done, what makes you think you can? He’s “free” of needing money, free of a need of friends, apparently free of his wife’s influence if adult actresses are to be believed. He’s the world’s most jerkiest guy in supposedly the world’s most powerful position, and even he can’t get a fence put up because the HMO says no.

So why do we so desperately seek control? Because before we were two – and we figured out that screaming this way gets us fed, this way gets us changed and that way gets us a toy – we have tried to control our environment. And this goes on in life from “Ok, I had my food labelled in our staff fridge and someone ate all my thin mints!” to “If I rinse out this bottle of salad dressing and place it in the proper bin, I’m saving the world.” We think we have control, and so we stress out over it, but in the grand scheme of things, we don’t. And this is “pouring all the patience out of the bottle.”

I learned this watching motorcyclists and road-ragers. Do you know why drivers are so angry? It’s mainly because we’re doing something that we’re not designed for. When we go fast, weaving in and out of traffic, lane-splitting on a bike, or driving like we’re in a video game, we get amped up. Adrenaline rushes, we get focused (except for morons who still insist they’re good drivers that can text or watch TV while driving) and if we get hyper-focused (which we really should be while hurling a ton of metal around at speed) when that gets interrupted, we pop off. Add to it being late, trying to apply makeup, smoking, adjusting the radio, trying to open a bag of Cheetos… and we’re even more amped up. “I’m a good driver.” Yeah, but you know what you don’t control? The other drivers. They change lanes without signaling. They have blind spots (if they look at all). They think you should let them over, so they just come on over. Traffic, mis-timed lights, school busses, trucks that can’t get off the line because they have to go through 9 gears before they cross the intersection, anyone in a Prius, rental box-trucks driven by people used to driving a car that could be put in the back of what they’re driving with room left over for a couch… it’s not Frogger y’all. In some part of your brain, there is a small part, probably buried deep inside you that has been dormant since you got your permit – and it’s screaming “THIS IS INSANITY!” as you go past running speed and it’s churning away at the stress mill like an Amish woman making butter, and each mile, until our brains eventually shut it down (which makes us more dangerous) it builds, and builds, and builds until someone’s window washer sprays over their car and gets droplets of moisture on your freshly waxed… BOOM! Example: People have been shot over parking spaces and being cut off – YET we will still see people get out of their cars to go back to another car and complain. AND those people will actually roll their window down to shout back. AND then an even smaller percentage of that brand of idiot will get out of their car to directly engage. No one says, “Yeah, I’m so sorry, I’m glad you weren’t hurt.” And the biggest morons are holding a camera saying, “I got that on tape, I got that on tape” because at some point, someone is going to shoot them and take their camera/phone.

Telecomute? Computer viruses. Kid’s get sick. Customer service needs to be called. Pipes froze. The super is super-creepy. Flat tires. Need groceries. Power is out. The internet goes out. The DVR only recorded the first half-hour of Million Little Things. Parents. Homework. Projects. That evil person at work that has become your arch-enemy in some weird office drama/comic book situation that started over post-its and will end in death. We are all wound too tight. All the patience is poured out of the bottle, and we need a good stiff drink (If I EVER go into the bourbon business, my first product sold only in mini-bottles will be called “Patience”).

So relax. Which to show you how bad a shape we are in, is a trigger-phrase for most people. “Just relax.” Is pushing the final button. “What you think you’re better than me because I think this shows I care more, am more professional…” While you stand blinking & thinking “This is not relaxing.” But seriously, lighten up. You’re making it harder on the rest of us, at least until we stop caring, and (especially with Generation X) that’s a point we all get to eventually. And your level of mismanaging stress isn’t really helping anyone around you, “I’m just keeping it real?” Well, in the real world, you’ll notice when someone “unfriends” you. In reality your showing your lack of self-control and making a fool of yourself. “Well, they can think what they want to think.” Exactly – you have influence but no control.

IF you live in “crisis mode” you will eventually burn out and take out the people around you. Ever had a work-a-holic boss? The one that worked nights and weekends (while making 4x your salary) and expected you to do the same? You know the one with the really nice car, who is divorced and never sees their kids. The angry one. With the significant other that has the personality of a golden retriever (friendly, kinda goofy and not really ‘into’ things like the other dogs) The one prone to go off like a shot but then stay and carpet bomb? In other words, snap-reacts without all the information and starts a tirade that makes the employee go from “oh, I should do better,” to “Oh, this really must be important if they’re yelling this much” to “Ok, I got it, you can stop screaming now” to “And we’re still on this? When was the last time I updated my resume” to “Ok, now that I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get fired, does Chicken Palace deliver for lunch?”

Yeah – you can’t control work. If you’re an employee or a boss, or owner. You’re got to answer to someone at some time.

How about at home? When was the last time you got into a “discussion” and didn’t even realize it was a serious discussion until about two minutes had passed by? The “fun” about these is you get to have the same conversations over-and-over and in some cases both parties get to build stress. My first wife and I were together for 21 years. About year 6, I “corrected” her method of putting dishes in the dishwasher – she swore she’d never put another dish in it. 15 years later, in a cancer-induced morphine fueled fog she walked into the kitchen, looked at me and said, “I can’t remember your name, or why this is so important, but…” and put her dish on the countertop. (Important note: I loved her for it). You can’t control other people (see “carpet bombing”) forever. And, other people can’t control you unless you let them.

So – you can’t control “home.”

You can’t control who wins the big game (even if you have stood up and done the circle, wearing your rally hat and sporting the same socks as when they won their last championship).

You can’t control what other people think (even if you bring them Ruth Hunt Mint – Chocolate meltables – which are the single greatest thing every invented). You have influence, but not control.

And sometimes, you can’t control yourself. Look, I don’t just mean your mouth or thoughts, I mean physically. If you could, I would not weigh as much as I do and would still enjoy boxes of Ruth Hunt Chocolate-mint meltables. I’ve switched over to non-processed foods, limited gluten and almost no corn syrup… I drink a 12 ounce coke and my bowels are as irritable as my son when the internet goes down.

So – the first step in reducing stress is taking control of what you can (which is largely things about you), influencing others where possible and learning that HOW the dishwasher is loaded is much less important than if the dishwasher is actually run.

The old trope line (which I’ve yet to find scriptural support for) was “God will never give you anything more than you can handle.” Truth is, we often take on things that are well beyond our capacity to handle and then expect the higher-power to clean up the mess. And that is the height of our arrogance, and the depth of our ignorance. When we want God to take away our trash, but don’t invite God into the house that makes it, and think throwing in a $20 tip every now and again pays God back.

So give it up. Sit down and make a list of all the things you are “responsible” for, and then figure out exactly how much “control” you have over them. You’ll be surprised, and you may find yourself with more patience in the bottle. Sure, some things are going to fall apart – that’s what happens when you buy stuff at Buyabunchmart. But it’s also what happens when you buy stuff at Handmadeexpensiveprimo. But something is always going to fall apart. It’s life. And when you recognize your lack of control in most of it, it will give you focus for the things that you can control, or influence, or eliminate from your life.

But what do I know, I’m just a guy that still occasionally locks his keys in his car, with the spare key locked in a house, for which I have no spare key.


A Letter to My Younger Self (My Inner Child Needs a Better Parent)

Hey Kid,
I’d tell you to stop being such a jerk, and be careful of hurting other people, but you don’t listen and probably stopped reading about [here]. But if you were to read this as a kid, just before Jr. High (now middle school) this is what I would tell you (no spoilers).

Running your mouth is eventually going to lead to you getting the stuffing kicked (literally) out of you at some point. But your mouth is going to be your “money-maker” in almost every job/career/call you choose. You have a power to tear people down or build people up. Have more “up” days than down ones.
You’re going to have a “pre-life” crisis. You are going to freak out and put all kinds of stress on yourself because you think that you have to “get it right” or the rest of your life is going to be following a path that you didn’t want to go down. Guess what, you’re going to make major changes in your life every couple years for about a decade. So stop trying to lock yourself down to one thing or another. In twenty years, most of those incredibly hard decisions are going to turn out to be unimportant. Sorry – that’s just life.

Your life is not a contest with anyone else, but it is going to be complicated. Because life is always going to throw stuff at you, some of it is hard, some of it is heavy and pointy and it’s going to leave scars. Sorry kid, I know you wanted the rock-star lifestyle of easy, fame and money – but your guitar heroes in my time, well, some of them are dead. Most have been through rehab, lost fame, and you’re not working very hard anyway, take some lessons. But seriously, you are always going to be facing something. Sorry, but that’s the truth. You can’t protect yourself from it, and you can’t walk away from most of it. So, make it your business to take care of your business. Don’t let the piles of dirt that fall into your days build up, they are very hard to move from place-to-place and once they become a hill or a mountain it takes forever to get rid of them. This is the fight of your life. This is everybody’s fight for life, but the sooner you get that, the better off you’ll be.
The fight for your life begins between your ears. You’ve got a decision to make – and the sooner you make it, the better it will go for you. Are you worth fighting for? Hate to bring it up, but I know there is a good chance right now, you don’t feel like you are. I don’t remember why, and it has yet to make sense, but right now you’re pretty messed up in the way you think. So let me help – you are going to live. I know it doesn’t feel like it. But I’m the older you – you’re going to live. Because deep in the recesses of your brain and your heart, below those thoughts that tell you otherwise, you actually like yourself and other people. But the problem is – you’ve got the order backwards.

I know, people are telling you that you are self-centered. Here’s a little hint: You are supposed to be. You are not supposed to be selfish. There is a difference. Selfish is putting yourself above other people, self-centered is what you are when you’re trying to work stuff out, and you have a lot of stuff to work out. You have to figure out who you are man, and so is everyone else.

Right now, you’re trying NOT to be selfish, even though you are, and like everyone else, always will be to a point. But not looking at yourself, figuring your own stuff out, you’re an empty suit of armor. People see you and think well of you, but they don’t see what is inside. That’s living a lie. You’ve got to fill the suit. You can have the greatest shining armor, people see it and admire it, but you’re going to be empty until you figure out the person inside. You’re never going to be able to accept praise for the armor AND most importantly, it’s heavy, takes a lot of maintenance and it’s not going to protect you. Plus, while you’re out fighting other people’s battles, the suit is going to fill up with nonsense that you just have to clean out.

While I’m on the subject. You are going to develop a hatred of suits. But for you, today, I want you to look at what you’re wearing and I’m going to make an observation, “You aren’t a real rebel if you dress, act, talk, walk just like all your friends.” That’s conformity. Sorry to say this young punk – but the stuff you’re doing that makes you a rebel was done by kids ten years before you, and will be done ten years after you. Want to be a rebel, do your homework.
I know it’s boring. I hate it too. But here is something you will learn. Repetition (like practicing scales) is the child of self-discipline, the mother of learning and the father of success. And relying on people outside of yourself to discipline you? It’s foolish, because they won’t always be around. Pick up your room, make your bed, go to work, not because someone else says you have to, but learn self-discipline. Trust me, if you do that now, you won’t have to reform your life in your forties. And here is the thing, it’s not your parent’s fault. God knows they tried, you’ll eventually appreciate it, but it isn’t up to them. It’s the choice you make between your ears.
When you fill the suit, you’re find out that the “enemy” is between your ears. All that negative self-talk, all that emotional weight, is there because YOU will make the active choice to carry it. Sure, it may have been FROM what happened to you, but if you keep it on your shoulders, it’s because you chose to bring it forward.
Here is a great secret of life kid, pay attention, people are always going to say negative things about you. If you’re doing something, you’re doing it wrong, or it’s not the right thing to do. If you’re not doing anything, then you are lazy. But, just like you figured out that your teacher’s opinion of you doesn’t really matter, you’ve got to thicken your skin to those people – and what they say is more of a reflection of themselves (things they don’t like about themselves or things they fear) or their own way of wearing the suit to cover up who they really are. Fight for yourself between your ears, and ANY of that negative stuff that comes in, either confront it or discard it, but one way or another put it behind you as fast as you can. You will struggle with this your entire life. But the weight of it all will only wear you down day to day if you decide to pick it up in the morning.

Which is why your safe-zone is about as safe as three-mile island (later Chernobyl). You’re building a blanket of negative self-talk and pain to carry with you. It’s comfortable, it’s well-known, and it isn’t a blanket. It’s an anchor – and that’s why you’re going to go a bit crazy for your mid-life crisis (you still don’t get a Corvette or Ferrari). Your inner-child is a bastard who is five times greedy and ten times needy, and the only person on this earth that can parent that little sucker is you. Your inner child needs a better parent. You’re going to have to do that. Don’t put it off for later because one other issue you’re going to deal with is that your “today” Rob is going to despise your “yesterday” Rob because he was such an idiot.

Look man, I know this is long, and doesn’t include any spoilers about sports-betting (did I mention, no time-machines) but it’s important. You are going to develop a unique ability to self-deceive. And the great part about that is, everything you say to other people, because it doesn’t come from truth, is going to be a lie. And your lies are going to hurt others, deeply, and you’re not going to even know you’re doing it. Because you’re so focused on the armor, no one gets to look inside. And that is going to be lonely.

So, when you’re in your mid to late forties, you’re going to have the dumbest mid-life crisis ever. You’re going to correct mistakes you knew you were making when you made them. You’re going to strip your life to the bones and then rebuild it. You’re going to raise your inner child in a very short period of time. And most importantly – you’re going to find happiness.

Not just in God, not just in a person, not just in a gig, not just in habits that you will change and wonder why you didn’t change before. You’re going to mess up, but it’s going to be ok. You are, believe it or not, going to live long enough to change your mind about a lot of things (Bill Cosby and Bruce Jenner in particular). And everything you believe about life, the future and everything is going to turn out to be wrong.

So do me a favor.

Relax. Your life hasn’t even started yet.

Do not start smoking again. Get some exercise and for the love of all that is holy, try to eat better.

Tell mom and dad you love them every day. You have no idea how important that will become later. And tell Sheryl she’s the best sister a guy could have, because she rarely lied, and when she did it was about parabolic cylinders and you will eventually stop caring about those.

Stop pining for the girl, redefining for the other one and when you meet her (you’ll know when) marry THAT girl. It’s going to break your heart but get you ready for what comes next.

Don’t stay too long and never go back to where you were before. Learn to let the past be dust, yearn for the future’s dream and work every day to make it happen.

Remember the words of your dad, and do not limit your possibilities.

Be kind to yourself, treat yourself the way you want others to treat you (because that way if no one cares enough to take care of you, you can do it yourself).

Fill the empty suit, and if you have to wear a suit, get a good tie.

Treat every single girl/woman that was kind enough to spend time with you, crush on you or just be nice to you with respect. Most of all, the ones that do not want to date you will end up good friends – do not violate that friendship, because thirty+ years later, some of them are your friends years later and while they may not introduce you to people to date (because secretly you’re their plan B because even though you’re a mess, you’re a hot mess) they will help you get your head together when you go all “piney”

Do not worry about someone else’s preferences of partners or politics, but learn what their favorite drink is, having it on hand shows class.

Write man, every day, and let other people read it. Their opinions may help you thicken your skin.


The Summersayin Family (One illustration for Six Sermons)

The Summersayin Family

Once upon a time there was a pastor named Kenneth. Ken was a bright young man and was more than excited to accept a new position as a solo pastor at the Watershed Community of Faith Church. The people learned quickly that he was a strong preacher and they had passed through their first year largely without incident. But towards the end of the first year, “that boy pastor” Ken started to notice something odd.

It seemed every month a new problem was bring brought to the board by the Summersayin family. In twelve months, He’d never met the Summersayins, but they were apparently powerful. And the Monday after his anniversary the elders were once again dealing with the concerns of the Summersayins. Pastor Ken started to doubt his work there and it took the fire right out of his preaching and the energy out of him being a pastor. After his second anniversary the board came to him and let him know that the Summersayins were thinking it might be time for him to move on.

Now, Ken was a very hard-headed kind of pastor. He loved that church, and he loved those people, and he didn’t mind that it had a short steeple and it seemed like everyone, except the Summersayins liked him. So he started seeking them out, and he couldn’t find out any of the Summersayin’s names. They weren’t on the roll, they weren’t on the attendance sheets, and according to the giving records, they’d never given anything to the church. He even went to the courthouse and he couldn’t find one single Summersayin’ in the county.

Yet, every month, when the board met, the Summersayins were still concerned about everything from planting seeds for grass outside to planting seeds of faith all over the county. So, as soon as the board got happy with his preaching and pastoring, he asked them to support a policy that any complaint had to be presented in person or at least in writing signed by the people that were concerned.

February came and Behold! Not a single Summersayin’ concern. There were concerns that came from the members of the church and the Board dealt with them accordingly.

March came and “Look here!” (a rough translation of behold) there were a couple of members with an idea for a summer festival to be held on the church grounds, including a tent, visiting preachers, dinner and hopefully some baptisms.

In April, the Reverend Kenny noticed that he didn’t get nervous before worship anymore and he was genuinely excited to come to church.

By September, Pastor Ken didn’t feel nervous before Board meetings anymore, apparently the Summersayins had left the church and it didn’t affect attendance or giving, But the whole mood of the church had changed.

Even the Beenheresawhile were active, and the Newcomers were helping out. Sure, they’d disagree over the taste of salt, but they never held it against each other in the fellowship hall.

After his third anniversary, Ken saw that the church had started doing new things, and while they didn’t work out all the time, there were no Summersayins around to tell them it wouldn’t work because they tried before in 1974. There were just people getting excited, serving in new ways, and they trusted each other that whatever strange idea they had, at least it was for the good of the church and the furtherance of God’s kingdom. And the board took care of it’s people, because everyone knew the names of the people trying to help the church, and how to comfort them when they didn’t get their way, even when they disagreed with preacher.

Over the next 23 years, Pastor Ken thought about moving on a couple times, but when he talked to other churches, it seemed the Summersayins had moved in and he’d already been through that once. Watershed CoF was no longer afraid to make them mad, or disappoint them, or say no. He already served a church that didn’t let the Summersayins steal energy from the mission of God, or direct the church anonymously, and he knew how rare a church that was – and when you find it, you don’t let it go without God speaking clearly.
____ *____

Can you find all six sermons intentionally written into this story?


My Brain Needs An Overhaul

A few years ago, I used to watch a show on television called Overhaulin. The show was basically about stealing a friends beat up car, handing it over to an expert and letting them either restore it or modify it to be better than when it came off the showroom floor. It was a brain drain of a show, but I like cars so there you go.

Post midlife crisis, I need someone to do the same thing for my brain. Like the people on the show I obviously can’t do it on my own and just keep running along with the same worn out thoughts and feelings as the damage slowly worsens. If I keep going like that I’m going to end up in the junk pile.

What brought this up is a conversation with my fiance. I won’t go into the particulars, but the main concern was that I was presented with a situation that I’d been quite a pain about in the past (yes, THAT word) but the situation is different because it’s different people, in a different time and I supposedly have this new mind-set less encumbered by all that baggage – Except that my “auto-pilot” mouth spouted an old rule – forcefully…

… and this is a  problem because it’s childish, self-centered and mean. It was one of the contributing factors to my mid-life crisis – that point that I reached when I looked in the mirror and thought, “I really don’t like myself very much.” In fact, I hated my life, and had finally realized I had no one to blame but myself, I’d inflicted every wound I was feeling either actively or just by going along with whatever was going on around me. I was not an active participant in my own life, and God (even though I preached differently) wasn’t exactly called upon apart from prayers to change it. Passive faith, passive life – and I could count on no fingers the number of people that were happy about it. I hid it well. Except that everyone who knew me knew better – I was lying to myself about that too.

So, I hit “reset” on my situation. In the past two years, I’ve finalized a divorce, moved and then moved again a hundred miles away and changed professions (again).

I “swore” a whole bunch of things that I was never going to do again. And added that to my list of things that I’d never do again from previous experiences. More rules, adding to my list instead of knocking them off. My list of rules for me, and those around me, kept getting longer and longer and what I failed to realize was this was a continuation of the negative pattern – a life needs rules right? No – a life needs order, structure, but set tropes keep you from thinking and when confronted with a new thing, tend to respond in the “old” way, which was for me negative.

Some of them were simple, “I don’t like this… unless it’s this” kinds of things. I don’t want a birthday party because people never buy me good gifts and I don’t particularly like cake. But what that says to other people is, “Hey, I’m a jerk that doesn’t want you to show me love, and I’ll evaluate your gift, given in love, to see if it meets my “this is stuff I want list.” I thought the solution to people saying, “You’re impossible to buy a gift for” was to give them a list – but then I realized, the real solution is being grateful, genuinely for someone taking the time to pick something out. Last year, someone gave me guitar picks, the precise brand/color/thickness that I prefer. Do you know how petty that is? But more than that – do you know how hard it was for that person to find out that information (given that I have a thousand picks laying around of all sorts of styles?) about the two I like. That’s almost stalker-esque, looking at pictures to see “oh, he must like those orange ones and the ones with the eagle, let me find them and make sure they’re the right shape, and this is a .6 and these are a .63 – that must be important. It takes a lot of love to figure that out – and I must be a pretty particular type of jerk to require that level of obsession from someone just to pick out a less-than-twenty-dollar gift. Do I put that much effort into others?

Or how about someone that knows about the only green thing I’ll eat is broccoli, and that I don’t like most kinds of cake. So, for my birthday, a cake was made, intentionally tasting nasty, in the shape of a broccoli sprout. A way of saying, “Here you go, you crotchety old man, a cake I know you won’t like in the shape of a vegetable. Again, a lot of thought and effort for a joke – and it was hilarious, and I found myself laughing about it- while wearing a party hat, and in the back of my head on some level, the rule about cake, birthday parties, gifts… still lurked in the rust of my brain. I actually had a good time at my small birthday party.

What I need is a bead-blaster (or sand-blaster) to get in there and scrape all that rust off, take it down to bare metal,. Because that auto-pilot that runs my mouth is constantly spewing misinformation that other people listen and think of as my “final thought” when it’s actually “before second thought” which was the name of my original blog for a reason. And one of the reasons that this is titled something different is because I really need to keep those “before second thoughts” out of the world until I repair the damage and repaint my brain.

I imagine most of us, if we’re honest have the same difficulty – some call it “baggage” and some call it “don’t someone else’s time” (when you hold a new significant other responsible for the damage done by a previous significant other)…

… a couple years ago, I decided to drastically change my life, and I have. But one of the next steps is to get in my head and clean it out a bit. Starting with the rules. So, it’s time to take a look at these rules because as I’ve tried to list them four times it comes down to one simple foundation – trusting others and allowing myself to feel loved. Who knows, maybe they’ll help me get rid of this rust…

Random, Uncategorized

I Didn’t Have Any Plans (and you can tell from how long this is)

Apparently, you’re supposed to dream things. Then you write down the ones that you want to do, make a list of how to get from where you are, to where you want to be, then you’re supposed to make a time-dependent checklist of when the things on this list are supposed to be accomplished. That is how you become an “achiever.” Well, according to most folks since the second grade, I’m an underachiever. See, for nearly ten years, I have been without a state-able “dream,” without a cohesive “vision,” without a plan and without goals. Not entirely you understand, but on the larger scale, I’ve had no “grand scheme.” And honestly, I’ve been largely happy that way. Life has worked out fine, because it has a tendency to move along if you plan or not. But, apparently this “Dream, Vision, Mission Plan, Goal, work” structure works out well for some people. It used to work well for me, even if I had to adapt.

You see, once upon a time, I had my life planned out. I was going to work at the same church until I retired. Most of the major decisions in my life (who I was going to spend it with, what I was going to do, own a gun/motorcycle/pool etc. already decided) had already been made. But what I failed to realize was that it was just the second story of a life made up of volumes (Book one: Childhood to fourteen. Book Two…” you get it). I did plan some things, that first marriage, the first house, adopting our son… but in March of 2008, every plan I had went out the window, and disappeared so quickly, when I got to the front door to chase it, it was already out of sight. I received notice that I was going to be a dad to a young Vietnamese-born son on the same day my wife let me know she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she was starting chemo in two days. My plans went out the window.

And I never got back into the habit of making them, and until now I always thought it was because I handed the planning over to someone else – but it wasn’t. I just shut down that part of my brain that looked more than a month or so into the future. I started living a life focused on the days, maybe weeks, as opposed to the months and years. What’s the point if everything is going to shift around again. I’ve spent majority of the last decade wandering around waiting to be told what to do (insert generic second-marriage joke here).

But, inadvertently, my “mid-life” crisis, which I didn’t plan for, came out of nowhere and slapped me out of my idyllic existence. I don’t mean “blessed” I mean “blind and coasting” or self-delusional and apathetic. And I have to blame someone for that (because being woke from a dream inspired to created a vision-mission… is kind of like homework. I blamed God. So many people kept telling me, “God is getting you ready…” “God is preparing you for something…” things like that. Then, all of a sudden, I got hit with something that, while it threw me into emotional/spiritual shock, proved to be the beginning of something that I’m still beginning (Book 4?).
It’s one thing to rely on God to lead you – it’s another not to look up and use the brain God gave you. Or if you want to hear it another way – If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything, and I fell. Not in a spiritual way, but definitely in a life way. May of 2017, I was a widower, solo-parent, looking forward to a hate-fueled divorce (that I couldn’t admit was hate-filled divorce) and living in my parent’s basement that they’d converted into an efficiency apartment for me and the boy. Creeping into my consciousness was a thought, a seed of a thought, that was beginning to grow, “This is what a lack of planning gets you.”

It brought about a LOT of hatred for myself and from others toward myself. So – first I had to figure out where I was (mentally/spiritually/physically). I was near 300 pounds (not “single guy” shape at all). I was in shock/angry and mainly hurt. Life had betrayed me – but God hadn’t. Thankfully, because I was raised that way, life and God have always been separate. God is always there, always kind. Life is always there to kick you in the teeth. You can trust God to lead, desire good things, bless – and life to tirelessly work to break you of your faith. Problem? I viscerally, completely and angrily HATED my soon-to-be ex-wife. Blind hate. It creeped out sideways because I couldn’t admit it. I couldn’t forgive, and that made it even worse. I couldn’t “put it all down.” So, I started my journal of hate. Every day, sometimes several times a day, I would write out where I was slighted, where my son was wronged… Why? Because I was already living in hate, so why not document it? Eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And in the middle of it (not the end) I realized – I put up with it. I was an active participant in my own imagined demise. If I’d been stronger, the marriage would have fallen apart sooner. The “courage of my convictions” was gone. I agreed to all kinds of stuff just to avoid the argument. I wasn’t being honest, I wasn’t being open, true, I was walking on eggshells – but I made the choice to do that. It was on me. The “journal of hate” was more about self-loathing than anything she was responsible for. On some level, I had to admit that her claims of my not being truthful were (on a level she didn’t know) correct. She was wrong about the content of the deception, but not the deception itself. I was self-delusional, so everything I said to her was a lie on some level. I lost myself a long time before she “lost” me. And yes, most of it related to death of my first wife. I couldn’t admit it, but I did love her and I missed her “well.” I loved her deeply before the diagnosis. We’d had our troubles, but I convinced myself (to make it easier) that I hated her too, before she was gone, but in reality, it was for getting sick, for changing, for not being there, and yes, even for dying even though that brought her the first peace and lack of pain in six years, And I couldn’t admit what a bag-of-dirt that made me. In order for me to live, to avoid making the same mistake over again, I had to admit that to the one person I didn’t ever want to talk to again. So I put that on the back burner.

Because my professional life was taking a hit too. I was a chaplain, more of a pastor, but working as a chaplain. Then, the unthinkable happened. I was moved back into social work, something I quit doing to go to seminary. I had truly stepped back into my twenties. I was living in an apartment, working as a social worker, single… the main differences were I had a ten-year old and the quality of my car and apartment were much nicer. 47 years old, and back to being 22. Somebody pushed “reset” and I was NOT thrilled. I’ve never been one to set the world on fire with my success, I’m more “rambler” than “racer” (as most blog-posters are) even when I’m motivated. I had to get myself in shape for dating, because I realized something that was the major drive in getting married the second time. I had always wanted a family. That realization came when I filled out an on-line dating app and was basically, “are children a problem?” and I thought, “How creepy would it be if there was an ‘actually children are preferred’ button?” (VERY creepy).

Met this woman on-line, ticked all the buttons, religious (even prays in public), doesn’t drink wine by the bottle (she brought a bottle once that still sits unopened in my fridge), and this is important, is slightly crazy. That’s important because I am. Everyone you meet is, the difference is the people that admit it (without wearing their psychosis as a badge of honor or armor) are generally a lot more fun to hang around with than the people that believe themselves to be completely sane. If you can’t admit your a little bit nuts, then the truth is not in you and you deceive yourself. So, she’s fun, and Godly, and all the other stuff… but I was still ambling, and I still had no plans for the future.

January of this year – my dad. My mentor, role-model, hero, all the good things dads are supposed to be, especially if you share a vocation, died suddenly. In less than a second. He was walking down the stairs and then his body was at the bottom in a gruesome scene I wish I could scrub from my mother’s memory. I made it to the hospital too late to say goodbye. But after Lori, my first wife, I made sure that I’ve said what I need to say to everyone. He knew, and more importantly, I knew – no need to hear it again, it had been said. “If something happens to me, make sure your mother is taken care of.” and “You’re a pastor, be a pastor.” I knew his regrets. I knew his sadness, and after ambling through life for the better part of a decade he told me, “The problem with hiding your feelings isn’t that they’re going to come out in a rage – it’s that eventually you find yourself so numb that you wonder if you have any feelings at all.” and the one piece of advice I give to my son at least 3 times a week – “Don’t be like me. Be better than me.”

I did Lori’s funeral in an emotional fog – and Dad finished it for me. His was a spiritual high and I sang him out on a song we’d played together even rewriting some lyrics. I preached a message close to his heart, one that he always needed to hear and frequently shared. I realized, standing in someone else’s church, behind a strange pulpit, with a guitar in my hand, wearing a vest without a robe. Damnit, this is who I was made to be. The clothes don’t make a difference anymore (because I’m an adult) but I got angry. VERY angry, and this time, I didn’t deny it. I let it burn. The only way through it for me. I looked into the gathered people, everyone from his biker friends to pastor’s he knew from 30 years prior and realized what a varied life he’d lived. I sang it, I preached it. He came from the coal fields, was told he wasn’t smart enough and worked hard. He had visions, he had plans, he worked, right up until the wind came out of his sails and he was tired. He’d literally gone from a coal-town church to paid staff at the national church office. Not for his own sake – but to try to serve as best he could.

And I was wasting my time completing forms that were important for reimbursement for a company providing care, in constant conflict with other staff members, hearing from the residents that I was “too busy” to visit with them. Working longer hours, and being told to expect more, working two full-time jobs while they searched for a replacement, then helping train someone that was let go and placed back into the department. I was angry. It was showing. Not directly, but sarcasm became my weapon. Outward defiance, initial refusal to get the poison into the system, then compliance. So I could tell myself that I was a good employee, and they would have reason to believe otherwise. Still “volunteering” for extra, and hating them for it. By this point, social work drained away what passion remained, more meetings, and still higher expectations. I put on weight. Rule changes, “other duties as assigned by…” and weekends disappearing. Time with my son almost gone, that sweet woman that helped my family in the hospital by being there for us, who had helped clean up the gore shoulder-to-shoulder with my mother, with whom I had fallen in love was hearing nothing but anger and invective. Everyone around me wondering, “Is today going to be the day he quits spectacularly?” Friends terminated, other’s quitting. Yet I’m still here… but I had a plan.

The week before Memorial Day, I interviewed with a church over Skype. I had my information out for less than a week. Over the process, I had 108 churches contact me to say, “Would you be interested?” (Love the Presbyterian computer job-search system, it’s like on-line dating without a user-friendly interface). I interviewed with my “top” choice first – always my habit (which carries over to TJ by the way).

On Memorial Day, I sang in a program that I didn’t know I was doing until a few days before, and didn’t know before that day it with my ex-wife. I realized something on the second song. I couldn’t sing without looking at her. We’d been singing/playing together for more than a decade before we got married. I’d ALWAYS relied on her for tempo, cues, and she knew by the look on my face when I didn’t have the note coming and would play it. We made a good team. I found myself smiling. I wasn’t angry anymore, well, not all the time. Since we shared a boss, I don’t know if it was intentional on her part to settle down something she saw – but it gave me an opportunity to ask for a few minutes of conversation.

We had a brief private conversation and I’ll mostly preserve that privacy here. But I can say, I didn’t have a deep well of anger towards myself or her anymore. I’m glad the process went as well as it could have. I will say, I “deceived” her (by her standard) one more time, by telling her the truth, but this time it was purely for my own fun, not avoiding some confrontation. When talking about working together in the future, given that this was our first civil conversation in months. I said, “I don’t even know where I’ll be in two years.” I still don’t know where I’ll be on Memorial Day 2020. But I knew where I wasn’t going to be. I would have been fired for popping off in a public forum one-too many times, which would have led to my Norma Rae moment and being escorted off by police under the watchful eye of one my friends that left 3 days after my final day. . Back-burner Plan: Set the past to rest – DONE.

I already knew I wanted to be in a church, where I have authority, not in chaplaincy where you only have responsibility and accountability. I know myself well enough to know if you say, “You will finish these 20 files before you leave today.” that’s all the work you’re going to get out of me that day. I may knock them out before lunch, but then I’m going to practice my “look busy” skills by carrying a clipboard while I wander around campus taking fifteen hundred “smoke breaks.” And to make sure the point is made, I’m going to drive by the office window ten minutes before I’m “off” waving. Or worse, flaunt your authority in a shared mission. “I’m the boss, my way or the highway” and I’ll play that game until another opportunity comes along. I will play beautifully, and as irritatingly as possible. Juvenile? Yes. Passive-aggressive; almost to a spiritual level. Set yourself up before me, and I will see you fall, while smiling. Seriously, It’s kind of the very core of my vision for solo ministry. To look at earthly kings that think highly of themselves and think, “Hmm, that pedestal seems to have a crack in it, what happens if I do this…” Show genuine humility and vision, and I’ll follow you through hell. Tell me to mind my manners and stay in my lane and I’m renting a monster truck with a BIG horn. That’s what pastor’s do – not just comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable.

Problem, I couldn’t do any of that, and I couldn’t properly search for a new gig as long as I had that one. I worked every Sunday (full-day) and I would be needing to do neutral pulpits on Sundays. So, after a few evening interviews and needing to be open, and since taking one Sunday off necessitated me working an addition 1 and 1/2 days to be accepted, I decided I should quit. But I didn’t. Not until my son looked up at me one Sunday morning and said, “Dad are we ever going to go to church together again?” That was against policy – and if I don’t like policy I could leave. Well, I didn’t like my gig, didn’t like the policies, so I wrote my letter of resignation. The next day a new policy was introduced requiring all managers to do something else that I wasn’t happy about. After the meeting I handed in my notice, “I hope you don’t think this is in any way reflective of todays change of rules – l’ve already sent copies to your supervisors.” Considering the tremendous hole I’d dug for myself, this was a crazy thing to do. First real sign of my truly choosing to reset my life. I didn’t have any prospects, but I had savings that survived the divorce. The only issues are minor now, but major insults to me at the time – but then tried to remember the words of Jesus… something like, “Thou shalt document your visitation, any signs of abuse. Thou shalt conduct the holy memory and dementia screening or thou shalt be out of compliance.” (I think that’s from the book of Second Opinions). The only real problem was working out my notice in the summer – I spent the last month making the following decision, “nap then pool” or “pool then nap.” I know, but doing both at the same time was too efficient for me. Quit job – check

Next goal in the be who I am plan? Find the right church (check) and stay there as long as they’ll have me. I started the interview process with my favorite info form. I kept them as my “compare” to for other interviews. I had several other good churches, but they just didn’t “fit” like this church. Why? Lots of reasons, that I found because of one quote, “We take our mission very seriously, but don’t take ourselves that seriously.” Ok – where can I sign? Seriously, that was it. There are people going through serious things with complicated lives. I know it’s early, but seriously, if we continue to serve God together, hang out until at least 2035. Not nearly as dramatic, I know, but you’ve been skimming for a long time. Goal – find a calling that seems the beginning of shared ministry. Mission Accomplished.

Find a house – bought one, sleeps up to ten. check. Has a pool & room in the garage for 2 cars and a motorcycle.

But here’s the problem. When you do this planning thing, you find yourself doing it more and more, like some kind of psychosis.

I realized in 2008, one of the things I had to grieve was not just the potential loss of my wife, but any hope for a family. I told my wife six months before she agreed that I was ready to start a family. She came around, and we realized that adoption was our option. One of the things that died with her, was that potential, and I think, on some level that was a draw of my second marriage. Three kids? Family. Stability. Out of the chaos comes what I had when I was a kid, us against the world. Our “unit” or “band” in my case. But that fell apart, not because of effort, or planning, but because it was wrong. I figured that out over time, talking to that woman that I met before my dad died. That one that sat with him at dinner as they laughed as mom and I solved the world’s problems. The only time they ever met.

Listening to her talk about not just my kid, but her own, the love she had for them, I found myself, not only interested, not only caring, and listening to my dad’s advice, I let myself care. It help’s that three of them are grown with their own partners/stories to tell. Even if M, reminds me of D when he was a kid, “two speeds, FULL ON and THE SLEEP OF THE WELL JUSTIFIED.” See, TJ fits, she’s seen the “uncensored” me, and been honest, she doesn’t like some of it. I’m not perfect. Which means I don’t have to be “on” all the time. Which means she puts up with a lot of garbage from my mouth. I’ve hurt her with my words, but there is something to the way we interact with each other. Forgiveness. I used to say that Lori made me want to be a better man (which I said before the movie popularized the phrase). This woman – makes me want to serve God better, which will make me a better pastor, husband, father… Watching my mother’s face when the babydoll came flying in from the side only to land squarely in the middle of her plate I realized (as I froze hoping not to be noticed) she’s mellowed. Of course TJ was already “levitating” as mom put it, handling it.

Are they stable? Yes, in a way. But they’re crazy fun, the kind of crazy The Rev. Bishop Tutu says we need in the world, a crazy that comes from love, compassion… my sister and I can sound like we hate each other, but she really loves me, and mom says I have to love her (see?). Seriously we love each other.

I think this year, hanging out with everyone, I found it without making it a condition. I wanted a family, this Thanksgiving we had all of TJ’s kids and mine in the house, my sister and her family – had to split them between two high-chairs, and two rooms (I asked everyone to mix up) and standing on the porch with her listening to the laughs (and the small kids talking to us through the window) and I realized – I’ve ambled way too long. It’s time to make real, substantive save-the-date kind of plans. I know I’ve already talked to her kids, and her dad seems on board, my mom loves her and they hang out about as much as we do when she’s in town. I know she’s reading this. (Hey TJ – don’t overthink. I knew it was right before, I felt that it was right before that moment, but in that moment it was a deeper sense of urgency. I even mentioned it to you at the time).

Dad wasn’t here – but I was, fully present for the first Thanksgiving in a long time, not worried about the family falling apart, the job calling, just hanging out listening and telling stories, trying to cook turkey for the first time. I realized, too, that I was taking my dad’s advice, a new “rule” for my new life.

Because I don’t hide myself away anymore, not even from myself.

New Goals:

Personally: 1) Ask Tammy to marry me (she knows it’s coming), 2) plan a wedding and a reception that is “us” (and since we’re smack-dab in the middle of Louisville and Huntington, y’all better get your selves over here ’cause I’m not doing this again).

Oh yeah, since I have to put them in writing. 1) Pass my paper exam for motorcycle permit 2) go through MST and get my proper license, 3) get insurance quotes, 4) buy the Versys

Professionally: Keep getting better where I am until God says otherwise.

Spiritually: Keep getting closer to God wants me to be because God leads.

Jesus rambled about – with a purpose – surrounded by his band of fishermen & sinners. I have my purpose, I’ve ambled enough, now it is time to formalize the band.


Angry Love

I really want to say so much about our shared political status right now. But I won’t. Not because I don’t have an opinion, not because it wouldn’t offend just about everybody I know (which I enjoy on some level) not out of fear – but out of a sense of responsibility.

I believe the gospel calls us to stand against actions we believe are immoral, unethical, evil. But I also believe, ultimately, it is all beneath the cross. In making a scape-goat, centering it on one individual, we are no better than the rock hurling ‘justified’ that Jesus confronted.

I believe the truly radical change is not any more possible through the system than it would be by a revolution of zealots – I hear the old Caedman’s Call song, “I can hear Jesus, saying put away your sword. I can see Peter, putting away his sword… Love has come, and it’s given me strength to carry on.”

I can not condone or support the justified hate or visions of vengeance that hits me in the core of my sarcastic, all too human mind. I can not support, and will not accept it in silence any more..

What brought me here?

This week, I was priviledged to witness boxes dropped off for strangers so they may know the people calling themselves followers of Christ (in many different denominations) chose to show love. This week, I was priviledged to tour a local free health clinic where people, regardless of the “isms” are cared for by volunteers – health, dental, nutrition… and I was fortunate enough to deliver food prepared by volunteers to those that may not have a hot, nutritional meal otherwise. And nobody cared about anyone’s ‘politics.’ And God saw that it was good.

I write this so it stays out of Sunday’s sermon. Few know my politics, I am simultaneously liberal & conservative (it mainly depends on who is looking) and my hope is that people see me as someone who struggles to walk what I fearlessly talk. Yes, I am a hypocrite. Yes, people judge me. People make assumptions – sometimes because I am bored and want them too, only to make a point later.

But that’s me – the me trying to become what I soon will be – as the Spirit reforms me. I’m not entirely self-centered, but I will not apologize for my confidence in who I am becoming or the faith that shapes it.

I have, at best, about 25 minutes a week of influence, probably only 12 to 17 minutes of authority and I choose not to waste that on earthly kings and suited jesters. I choose not to complain, nor condemn nor condone. I choose to challenge and to comfort with the Word of God. That is MY calling, not to be a pundit, but to be a pastor.

So this week, I make this promise, the same unspoken promise I’ve tried to keep since my first sermon more than 30 years ago.

No politics – only God’s promises.

My authority is borrowed, and I will not cheapen that intentionally.

No politics – only our professions.

My anger is deep, but I will not let it damage my ability to rely on the Spirit to share the Word of the Lord (Thanks be to God).

What got this started?
It would be too irresponsible to share.

But this isn’t.
I have the right to remain silent.
I have the responsibility to shine light into the darkness of the world… And for that, I give up my right.

You see, in the kingdom of heaven there will be no Green, no Libertarian, no Democrat, nor Republican. There will be no liberal nor conservative, nor rich, nor poor… No communist, nor fascist, no nationalist or apathetic. No patriot, no traitor… Because none of that adiaphra (sp?) matters.

If you believe otherwise, feel free to pick up your sword and follow… Um, I guess the earthly kings and jesters.

As for my house?
We will serve the Lord.
With all the Grace we can show and share.
Hypocritically on occasion,
but loved continually.

Love has come!
Love has come!
And it’s given me hope to carry on.

(I now return you to my usually vapid posts)


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.


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.