Lessons on Fat Reduction or What I Did During Christmas Vacation

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During my sixth grade year in 1975, Miss Baker [not her real name] was the P.E. teacher for our self-contained classroom.  She was an athletically stocky woman in her thirties with a soft voice and a motherly attitude.  During sunny days she took us outside to experience a variety of team sports activities.  On rainy days, she brought “Chicken Fat.”

“Chicken Fat,” also known as “The Youth Fitness Song,” was a song written in 1962 by Meredith Willson, the composer of The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Miss Baker would bring in her record of the classic and her portable phonograph. She would open the lid of the machine, plug it in and commence with the exercises.  With stirring lyrics such as, “Push up every morning—ten times. Push up starting low. Once more on the rise, nuts to the flabby guys! Go, you chicken fat, go away!” she demonstrated the basic exercises and then had us repeat them on the left aisle besides our desks.  On the tiled floors we would do push ups and sit ups.   With Miss Baker as our sweet southern drill sergeant, we ran in place and jumped our jacks.

On one particular rainy day before Christmas break, we were in the middle of the routine.  Katherine Dewbury [definitely her real name] was exercising next to the desk next to mine.  She would periodically glance at me with what I hoped were flirtatious eyes, and roll them in disapproval of the corny lyrics in a way only a dramatic sixth grade girl could master.  I knew I would never impress Katherine with my physique.  At eleven, I looked (and sounded) more like nine, a fact I was occasionally reminded of by Chuck Wilson [not sure if that’s his real name because I may have suppressed it] who, a foot taller than I, showed the first strands of a moustache and spoke with a raspy, maturing voice.  But at 88 pounds, I had a goal. I would woo Katherine with my rebellious wit.  That was the area in which I excelled.  I was, after all, the one who created and sold humorous yet dirty lyrics to popular children’s songs.  I had a reputation to maintain.  “This is so stupid,” I whispered.

When we remember events from our childhood, time is a difficult thing to judge.  Did Miss Baker really respond in less than a second, or did it take her a few minutes to reflect on class room discipline? At the moment, I felt as if the lady worked on sheer impulse.  The music stopped with a screech of needle on vinyl.  All students froze in the middle of a jumping jack.  “Please be seated and put your heads on your desks.” We obeyed, a few of us asking why.  I felt cold and shaky.  There was no way she had heard me.  No one had heard me but Katherine.  No one else in the classroom had heard me.

“I spend my life,” Miss Baker said, “trying to find fun, educational activities for you to enjoy.  Even in rainy weather.”  She curled the phonograph cord and stored it under the base. “For one of you to call them ‘stupid’ is just an insult I can’t take.  You can keep you heads down until your teacher returns.”  She had heard me. She moved toward the door.

“But Miss Baker,” called Chuck “It was Jeff that said it, not the rest of us.  That’s not fair to us.” I stopped breathing in preparation to be exiled from the class.

Miss Baker stopped at the door and looked out over the class in a morbid version of the last scene from Dead Poet’s Society.  Her neck was a splotchy red as her hand gripped the handle of the phonograph case so hard a vein bulged on her hand. “It couldn’t have been Jeff,” she defended me. I exhaled.  “It was a girl’s voice.”

I never talked to Miss Baker about that incident.  I’m sure she forgot it when the Christmas break started.  I remembered the scene and her hurt words the entire vacation asking God to forgive me at every holiday church service. But by the spring, I had forgotten any plans of confession and had moved on to other middle school sins.  I had P.E. with her the rest of the year, and then she moved on to another teaching assignment.

When I saw her again, I was beginning my student teaching at a school where she was Director of Special Education.  She had quit teaching P.E. years earlier.  She seemed fulfilled and less impulsive, but she was still sweet Miss Baker.   I thought about reliving the event with her, confessing, laughing about it, and receiving some reassurance to assuage my preadolescent guilt.  I updated her on my after college plans instead.

I’ve now been a teacher for over thirty years.  We all hear stories describing drastic reactions children have to mean comments from their peers, comments perhaps made casually to impress a peer—maybe even as a flirtation.  Unlike the young Miss Baker, I know better than to place too much value on flippant comments that sting.  But the harder lesson of editing what we say before we say it was taught the one time Miss Baker’s adult wall cracked and showed us the hurting child on the other side who taught me the best lesson of P.E. that year: many times our comments are blabbering blubber, layered with excessive wit and poorly considered humor that can be unhealthy even to those who seem strong and fit.

 

Spiritual Abandonment

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Photo by Josh Sorenson on Pexels.com

When I tell people the areas that I work with in counseling, I usually say, “anxiety, mood disorders, male mentoring, and spiritual abandonment.” The last one is the area that many people don’t understand. I define spiritual abandonment as, “any action on the part of a spiritual leader or institution that leaves a member of the same faith feeling forsaken, worthless, or without hope or meaning.”  By “spiritual leader” I mean any person with the same faith who has a position of authority in a person’s life.  This position may include someone as magisterial as a pastor or as personal as a parent. I suppose that spiritual abandonment can occur among people without a religious faith, but my experience in that level is quite limited.

As someone who tries to practice Christian logotherapy, I am concerned with the meanings that people have in their lives.  This may be simple daily meanings (feeling purposeful or needed) or ultimate meaning (a search for a connection with God).  When someone experiences spiritual abandonment, one feels that her meaning is questioned, that what he believed about God may not be true.

Sometimes, the abandonment can be cured by restoration.  Both parties can come to an understanding, the relationship can be restored, and both parties can walk away having grown in their personal meaning about God.

However, sometimes when the abandonment starts because a leader or institution is afraid of confrontation or the legal entanglements they feel may result from the confrontation, they are resistant to sit down with the hurt individuals.  They would rather simply cut the person off and put them away than to meet with them privately and discuss the reasons there is a problem.  The more I meet with people who have gone through spiritual abandonment with a church or Christian organization, the more I find that the leaders are scared of meeting with people under them.  They hate conflict.  Because of this revulsion, they simply want the problem to go away.  If this involves rejecting a person without giving support or a sense of hope, so be it.  They are fearful of resolution because they are afraid it may mean not getting what they want. With legal concerns looming over them, it is better not to speak than to show vulnerability.  I have met people who were cut off from members of their church or even fired from positions within Christian organizations with leaders who simply would not explain why they were committing their actions.

What we who have done mediations know is that sometimes mediations are not pretty.  Sometimes there is crying or even screaming.  Shockingly, people act humanly. Hurt may pour out of the person feeling abandoned in a variety of ways, most of them stemming from childhood fight, flight, or freeze reactions.  If the leader responds with kindness and understanding–even if she must stand her ground and hold her position–there can still be restoration, a grace between two people who must “agree to disagree.”

The problem is that leaders of organizations are often choleric (they operate on power and want their own way even if they have to bulldozer people) or phlegmatic (they operate on peace and see conflict as an avoidable evil).  Melancholy leaders (those who operate on the basis of perfection) may cut off those they feel don’t meet their standards without taking time to listen, and sanguine leaders (those who operate with the desire of popularity) are often afraid that approaching someone with negativity may make them disliked.

Without resolution, a person who has been spirtually abandoned must search for their own meaning.  With the help from God, he can forgive without the other party asking forgiveness by asking, “If she were to ask me for forgiveness, would I be willing to forgive her?”  Through time, prayer, and counsel, the door can be closed, and the abandonment healed by the only One who will never leave us.

Why I Love Libraries

When I was a college student, I worked as a library page at a public library.  I loaded and shelved books for the Book Mobile Department, supervised by four ladies in their sixties.  These ladies could have been characters in a southern gothic novel.  One was grandmotherly and chipper, one was sarcastically witty, one was grumpy, and one was bashfully shy.  They were there for me when I struggled with classes, when I came in after sitting with dying relatives, when my mother died.  That library became a quiet, calming place where I tried to keep my life in order as I slipped books into their homes in the Dewey Decimal system.

I love working in libraries.  When I have work that needs to be typed, writing that needs to be done, or online materials that need to be graded, I love to do it in the library. Today I am in a public library near my house in Georgia.  There is a young man in his late twenties/early thirties working on his laptop at a table near mine.  The other two patrons who are here for a while are gentlemen who are definitely in the over fifty range who are reading newspapers, casually looking at books, or surfing the web on library computers.  The main librarian, Myrna,  is a young woman who probably just finished her master’s in library science (or whatever the modern alternative is).  She treats each visitor with respect and kindness and promptly produces whatever book they ask for.  During downtime, she catches up on local news with the older librarian and a senior citizen who shelves books.

An older patron enters and asks for her favorite library worker, Nancy, who is at the dentist today.  She shares with the staff that Jimmy came up and mowed her grass today.  It was growing well this year, but it was knee high because every time he started to mow it, it rained.

Why do I love this library?  It’s not the quietest place to work.  The elderly patrons let their cell phones ring.  The gossip and patron visits are noisy. Its selection of books is abysmal.

It provides the things my anxiety-ridden mind need most.  It is organized. It is cheerful. It is friendly. It is calm. It is familiar.

As I check out a novel, I make a mistake with the automated system.  The older librarian assists me.  “I used to work in a library when I was in college,” I say. “Back then, we had to take a picture of the book to check it out.”

“I remember those days,” she says.

“Times have changed,” I say.

“They certainly have.” She smiles.

Maybe they haven’t.

 

What (really) Happened.

To me, the thing that is worse than death is betrayal. You see, I could conceive death, but I could not conceive betrayal.–Malcolm X

There are a couple of things I have to make clear before I begin the story:

  1. The story is only from my perspective.  Because of this fact, I have only stated things that I know from first hand.  Over the last two years I have tried to remove my emotional responses from my memories.  That’s an impossible task since memory is created in our seat of emotion in our mind.  We remember things that have emotionally affected us, but I’ve tried to edit the emotion out of the telling of the story at any rate.
  2. The purpose of the story is cautionary for any Christian organization.  Although my flesh immediately wanted revenge and to destroy the organization I gave twenty years of my life to,  my Spirit only wants to keep other Christians from finding themselves in the same situation.

My wife and I were the first two teachers hired by the small Christian school.  Her job was to start the Science Department, mine the English.  After we completed our Counseling degrees, I became the Director of Counseling, and she became the first College Guidance director.  Over time we also developed a program for students with learning differences.  We both continued to teach as we took on new roles.  I was in the administrative staff by the second year of the school.

Eventually, when a principal moved on, I suggested that George (not his real name), the third teacher hired, and I become co-principals.  We both could contribute to the roles according to our specialties.  The Head of School agreed, and we built this professional relationship on our personal friendship.

George and I had known each other since the school started.  When his daughter was married, I was there.  When I had interactions with parents at the school, I ran my reactions by him.  When he discovered marital problems,  I was the first person to support him.  We were brothers.  We were also good administrators.  He was slow to respond.  I spoke too hastily.   I was an open ear to faculty.  Faculty often saw him as being detached.  We balanced each other.

The problem didn’t start when a new Head of School came.  It started before that.  Fear set in as enrollment struggled.  The Business Manager came to my office and discussed her fear with me.  She also discussed her concerns about some of the teachers.  One she felt shouldn’t teach PE because she had knee surgery.  Another, who also had knee surgery, she criticized because she couldn’t move around the classroom.  I was puzzled as to why I was getting a rundown on her opinions when I was the one who observed and evaluated teachers.  She finished by saying that she had so much fear that the school would not survive financial problems that she could not sleep at night.

When the new Head of School did come,  he spent much of his time with the Business Manager.  Then the day came when a meeting was held to discuss the teaching loads of the teachers for the following year.  I usually had a huge role in this discussion, but I was not invited to the meeting.  George, the Business Manager, and the Head of School met alone.  The next day, I discovered that the decision, shared with several staff before it was shared with me, had been made to remove me not only from principal, but from the administration completely.  I asked what I had done wrong, but I was told that my performance had been exemplary.

When asked privately what went on in the meeting, George wouldn’t tell me.  Apparently, the Head of School wanted one principal and not two, but what made me the one not chosen? No one would explain.  I finally met with George and ended our twenty year friendship.  He still has not told me what he knows about why things happened the way they did.  He’s only told me that it was what the Head of School wanted, and he didn’t feel free to talk to me or my wife about it.  When we tried to have a pastor mediate the situation, George refused.  I did the last thing I should have done.  I joined the fear of the Business Manager.  I worried about my $10,000 salary reduction.  I made the problem about money.  It wasn’t about money.

When it was time for our contracts for the next year, my wife, who had been offered a contract verbally and in writing three times, was not offered one. She was told she acted unprofessionally. She asked whom she had offended. She was not told. Although she had been told there would not be a full time counselor position, a full time counseling position was given to someone with less experience and seniority.

I stayed the following year at my reduced pay as a teacher because there were no other jobs opened for me elsewhere.

The questions never answered were

  • What did my wife do that was unprofessional?
  • Why did the Head of School and George refuse to meet with us and discuss the situation and those we may have offended?
  • Why did the school board not allow us to have outside mediation as designated in our contracts?
  • Why did no one seem concerned that my wife had received a verbal contract from the Head of School only to have it withdrawn?

I don’t expect answers.  A lawyer told us that the school could be sued for violating contract.  There was only one problem.  My wife’s new job paid $10,000 more than the old one.  To have a case, we would have to prove that we were worse off for having lost the job.  Even though the school was culpable, we were better off without it.

As I spoke with other Christians, everyone had either had the same thing happen to them at other Christian organizations, or knew someone who had. One man, I learned, had asked why he wasn’t offered a contract to return to his Christian school. “You know what you’ve done,” was the reply. The man was never told what he had done. Apparently, Christian organizations were doing things that secular ones didn’t dare to.

What did we learn from which Christian organizations could grow?  Simply, put

  • Talk.  Remember that coworkers in a Christian organization are also brothers and sisters in Christ.  Don’t simply follow what the Business Manager advises.  Follow Matthew 18. Why do we look at conflict as something to be avoided instead of an opportunity for betterment?
  • Bring the facts into the light.  Don’t talk about staff and faculty without their knowledge.  If there is a problem with a staff or faculty member, make them part of the solution. In this school’s experience, sin was often hidden. A chaperone of a missions trip committed adultery while on the trip. The parents were never told, and the person is still employed by the school. Sin can’t be buried in a Christian institution.
  • Don’t let fear take its grip in the organization.  If God wants to close an organization, have faith that he will provide.  Don’t worry about salary.  God has you covered.
  • Don’t let the organization become your faith.  Your faith is your faith.  Your ministry is your ministry.  If God closes it, he will have a ministry for you.

The last word said to me as I left after twenty years of service was that the custodian would clean the floor of my office. No plaque, no party. As time goes on, I will continue to grow in my perspective.  For now, I want to know as little as possible about what goes on on the administrative level of my new job.

Running from Pain

 

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Our bodies, in our fight or flight reactions to pain, try to protect us by avoiding difficult situations.  Physical anxiety is merely our bodies’ protection response, providing us with more energy than we need to problem solve, but enough to escape the threat.  However, most of our threats aren’t physical.  There are not animal attacks to escape or boulders to lift.  Stress in our lives is more mental than physical, and the sympathetic nervous system energy is interpreted by our brains as anxiety.

Intuitively, the natural remedy for this would seem to be to avoid the pain.  Try to keep from anything that causes us the first signs of stress and anxiety.  However, this choice is very limiting.  Avoiding people or stressful situations doesn’t help us control our bodies’ reactions.  In fact, it merely keeps us from opportunities.

Seeing pain as a natural part of our human existence prepares us for facing stress with the knowledge that God empowers us for the success required.  Do I always believe this?  Please.  The human condition is a fallen one, and we often have to be taught the same lessons over and over again.  We must accept that we feel the pain while staying in the present moment. We must not run, but securely stand in a sense of peace.

The Bible speaks of the armor of God, and the part of the armor that gives us stability is the shoes of the gospel of peace.  By recognizing and accepting God’s peace, we are able to securely stand when pain comes instead of running in fear.

Happy Holidays for the Anxiety-prone

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For those of us with anxious tendencies, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other seasonal holidays can present their share of tensions as we deal with our own expectations and people overwhelm.  The fact that we want to enjoy these times, can make the experience even more stressful.  These are the points in life when we need to enact a strategy to keep us from fusing with the emotions we may have.

  1. Don’t allow seasonal expectations to create unrealistic hurdles to happiness. No one’s holiday looks like the greeting card.  Don’t allow the preparation for the holiday affect the way you experience it.  Someone will get upset.  Your best intentions will be met with judgement.  Experience the emotions you are feeling while staying locked on the here and now.  If you allow your feelings to drag you to the past (“I can’t believe he’s acting this way again”) or catapult you to the future (“They will all be talking about me tomorrow”), you won’t be able to appreciate the now. (See number 6 for more on staying in the present.)
  2. Focus on others. There is a self-involvement in anxiety and depression. When we are in this state, we tend to see our emotions looming in front of us.  Pick a person or persons who need you, perhaps ones that are feeling anxiety themselves.  Give to them.  Especially remember those who are reliving loss this season.  This can be a rough season for many.  Practice love. You’ll feel better yourself.
  3. Take time for mindful prayer and destressing. Holidays are extremely people-filled times.  Take time to break away from the masses and recharge your batteries.  Worship during this time can add dimension to the holiday and center it on its roots.  Recognize that your temperament, extroverted or introverted is the way you were created.  Your response to your feelings is where the choice is.
  4. Be flexible enough to change plans. There is nothing wrong with amending plans for the holidays. Too many parties?  Let one go.  Departure time for travel just not happening?  Remind yourself of the real reason you are visiting others.    If your plans go as expected this season, you are in the minority.
  5. Be open. If you are struggling with anxious times, find someone with whom you can be vulnerable: a spouse, close friend, a trusted family member.  Lay it all out.  The ones who love us the deepest are the ones who love us just as we are.
  6. Stay in the now.  When going through anxiety,  our emotions carry us to other times.  Don’t take that trip.  When you start feeling overwhelmed, find you can touch.  Look for things you can hear.  Take notice of the fragrances around you.  The senses will ground us in the now and will not allow us to get caught up in the past or the future.
  7. Finally, use your analog or digital production plan to alleviate stress.  Some people use apps, some people use paper notebooks.  Either way, we all need a place to capture those ideas, stressful or not, that pop in our heads.  We may journal or simply list, but the goal is to get it out of our heads and on to paper.  Then we’ve held our thoughts captive.

Above all, remember to be thankful.  Remember the real beauty behind the Christmas story.  Focus on God, and He will provide you with the ultimate strength to move forward.

If He has not given us the spirit of fear, why am I still anxious?

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For many of us who struggle with anxiety, spiritual references provide a more objective source of comfort during anxious times—a tool much more stable than the voices taunting us in our heads.  One Bible verse that brings us solace is from 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind.”  Time and time again I would quote that verse when I felt the waves of anxiety storm over me, but I’d walk away feeling the same anxiety as I had before.  Clients speak to me often of the difference between what we know to be true in our heads and the gap to the emotions that we battle with on a daily basis.

In my own life, I’ve identified three areas in my thought processes that keep me from being able to let go of my anxiety and rest in the knowledge that God has me in His hand. Not all of them are present in every anxiety struggle,  but I’ve found that each time I wrestle with the big A, one of these is there.

  1. I simply am not trusting. Sometimes, I’m not putting scripture into practice.  This usually happens when I’ve backed off of my prayer time a bit.  I’ll blog later on mindfulness in prayer, but for now, I’ll say that sometimes I’m not accepting the fact that Christ tells me not to worry and trust my heavenly Father.  I don’t internalize the promise.  I follow “be anxious for nothing” with a “but.”  I try to justify the worry as concern, or I compare myself to other people that have anxiety and feel I’m doing all right.  Then I can’t figure out why God won’t miraculously remove my anxiety from me.
  2. I mislabel my emotion. I find that many times when I am excited (right before a job interview, before a big presentation), my body sends off the same sympathetic nervous system’s body responses that I have when I am anxious.  When I examine my thoughts, I’m not necessarily worried.  I’m excited about the possibility to come.  My mind interprets those body responses as worry, and then may even pile on more worry.  Ever have anxiety about the anxiety you’re having?  Some of you may laugh, but I bet some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
  3. I am running from pain. Much of our lives is spent trying to avoid pain.  We make up excuses, we turn to substances, we oversleep, the list goes on.  We do these things to avoid facing the emotional pain that life has dealt us.  This avoidance is easy to do especially if we see themes running in the pain: we keep being hurt by the same type of person or by the same issues.  Although none of us want pain, relief can come by not running from it.  When we accept the pain and hold onto our Christian values, we are reminded that we have a Refuge that will always protect us.  When we run toward the pain we are experiencing, that is where we find Christ.  If we see pain as a doorway to life meaning, we are less likely to see it as a blocked passage.

If we rest in the thought that God has not given us the fear we feel, we can begin our journey to restoration and living with a “sound mind.” He doesn’t promise us that this will be a quick fix or that we will easily take our thoughts captive in one sitting.  He does promise to be with us.

 

 

 

 

 

Relevance

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When our main objective is to make truth relevant to young people, we get neither the truth nor the young people.

Relevant: adj. practical and especially socially applicable.

Truth: n. that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.

Adulterate: v. render (something) poorer in quality by adding another substance, typically an inferior one.

What do we mix with the truth we give our children?

If the goal is to make the truth entertaining, does it remain true?

If we believe the truth, isn’t it already relevant without our help?

Are we scared that if we don’t make the truth more palatable, they won’t buy it?

Do we even believe what we call the truth?

If we do, why do we worry?

Chapbook

product_thumbnailI have just self-published a chapbook of poetry containing all of the poems I have written for Dominion Christian Schools’ seniors over the last nineteen years.  Because I’m not so keen on the whole self-publishing thing, I’ve also thrown some in that have been published by real literary journals so you don’t feel ripped off.  It’s just $7.00 and all money made goes to the school’s Fine Arts Department.  It’s worth it for that reason alone. Buy at http://tinyurl.com/nnjp94z .

The Parent Trap

Gold-Nib-Fountain-Pen-Wallpaper

“Repentant tears wash out the stain of guilt.”

Saint Augustine

We all have insignificant things that we enjoy on earth because they bring us a certain amount of happiness.  For me, one of those things is my love for fountain pens.  I love the way the nib glides on the paper; I love the ritual of filling the pen with the desired ink, and I love the weight of the pen in my hand.

One aspect of fountain pen ownership I’m not keen on is the cleaning of the pen.  I’m extremely lazy about the proper maintenance of my pens.  I don’t do a great of keeping up with a regular cleaning schedule for them, the way I’m told to do by pen experts.  Pens were made to be cleaned.  It’s a necessity in order to keep them functioning properly in the way they were created to function.

People were made to be clean.  Every counselor knows that when we don’t habitually have ourselves cleaned form the sin, guilt, and overall gunk of living in this world, we do one of three things:

  • We repress our guilt and try not to think about it.
  • We enact penance so that we do good deeds in an attempt to balance out our bad deeds, or
  • We change our entire moral base, labeling things good—or at least tolerable—that years ago we would have deemed immoral.

We do the same with our parent guilt.  When we feel guilty for the mistakes that we’ve made, the things that we’ve said, or the prophecy in our heads that we’ve eternally maimed our child for the future, the dysfunctional us, the one that just really wants to be cleaned, is prone to do one of the above things.  We block our faults from our minds, scared to look into the mirror of self-introspection. We spoil our children with treats that are not healthy for them to try to compensate for how we’ve neglected or damaged them.  We think of a million ways in which what we said or the way we responded was warranted.

All we really wanted was a good cleaning.  All we really need is to face the guilt head on, embrace the pain, and repent.  By seeking forgiveness of God and our children, we can make a complete turnaround.  We can drop the guilt and proceed in grace, peace, and joy.  We write so much better when we’re clean.