Guilt-Free V-Days

Two days before Valentine’s Day, I find myself sitting at a kitchen table while my student reinvents herself through a group science project. A project that is designed for a group, yet doled out for an individual student while she’s on medical leave….

THIS is what I’m facilitating as a blog from one of my favorite bloggers catches the corner of my eye.

Beauty Beyond Bones is one of the few blogs I read–mostly because I get an email every time the author publishes. But it’s easy to proclaim a favorite when there aren’t many others for which I will sacrifice my time. For as long as I’ve been on this reflective journey as a blogger, her blog has caught my attention. I suppose it’s because her persona reminds me of someone who I once loved. I say this with no guilt, however. And that’s because I gave up guilt for lent nearly four years ago.

That’s right! I gave up guilt for Lent. Here’s why:

This person I once loved, she has a name. But for simplicity, let’s just call her Love. She had convinced me that she was the one the Lord held aside just for me. She’d been praying her whole life for what she called “my sweet king-to-be” (MSKTB) for which became the moniker for this blog thread. She waited her whole life–and I mean she WAITED.

Her unrelenting chastity was something I honored. I’d figured that she was worth the sacrifice especially since she’d already sacrificed so much. But as the years passed I began to question the validly of a “sacrifice” of something that was never experienced. I longed for the integrity of a pure relationship. After all, no relationship prior had yielding a godly outcome.

This particular relationship did not come without its conflict and confusion. This was uncharted territory for me. I’d been divorced for nearly five years. My beautiful children and much-needed experience where the fruits of that union. Alas I’d experienced a sex-free marriage. How hard could an abstinent courtship be?

And believe it or not, it wasn’t difficult at all. The challenge was understanding the “rules” of an abstinent relationship. Love, well she didn’t make it easy. This courtship, as she called it, forced me to recall medieval times when marriages were arranged and fathers held the key to the mystical chastity belt. Weird!

It made me wonder if there were occasions where restricted access was circumvented somehow. Or if the whole concept was more-or-less a myth. I suppose I had a front row seat to my own private show. It was an interactive one-act play where I was both the star AND the antagonist. It hinged on torture, but Love led me to believe that it was necessary to truly appreciate the sanctity of marriage.

She had a hold of me. To my circle of friends, it looked like a circus. I thought I was the lion-tamer. Nah, I was merely one of the clowns (the one without the makeup).

As our relationship entered its first Lenten season, I asked her if she’d given any thought to what sacrifice she’d make for 40 Days. I figured it would be akin to my own fast of soda or chocolate. No! Hers was much deeper!!

Intimacy!

Huh? What?

I was confused. How much more un-intimate could we be??? I pressed her for an explanation. She obliged.

She said she’d spoken to God about it, and he told her to take her sacrifice deeper.

I thought this was a joke. But Love doesn’t joke about God. I began to plead with her. And then I realized that there was no integrity to in that at all. So I encouraged her to explain further. She said “no touching!”

Yeah ok.

“No kissing…”

Huh?

“No lustful gazing…”

To which I replied, “where will you be staying?”

This is where she became confused. I continued.

“When you spoke to God, did he tell you where you’d be staying when you come to visit me?”

I realized at that moment that I was venturing into a very ugly territory from which there’d be no return. But there was no turning back.

I gestured gingerly, “Hun, I know that you come a long way to see me. I know the sacrifice that you make to be with me. You are tired when you arrive, and most weekends you want to lay down; which results in you spending the night.”

“But you’ve also got to realize the challenge that comes from you spending the nights here when my children are home–the challenge created from trying to model this righteous behavior in the face of being “chased”.

My daughter had begun to emulate pristine behavior. She asked for a purity ring of her own. She spoke of the importance of waiting…

What father wouldn’t want that? Now I was offered an opportunity to step up. I’m not taking one for the team. I’m embracing a responsibility far greater than a “man-in-waiting” (is there such a thing?); or was my search for masculinity manifesting into a fatherly responsibility?

It didn’t matter. For a moment–perhaps minutes at best, Love melted. Her eyes gazed upon me and I felt appreciated.

But that too was confusing for me. And so I did what I do best. I stuck out my chest and…

Ruined it!

She asked me lovingly, “what will you give up for Lent?”

“Guilt! I’m giving up guilt!”

Love was lost.

I defended that if God was going to have a private conversation with my love, I was going to assert my role in my relationship with God. I looked up to the ceiling and continued, “you can’t stay here, wear sexy pajamas in my kitchen, tell me I can’t look at, touch, or kiss you and stay here. It’s teasing and it’s mean.”

Well maybe I didn’t say it was mean. It was a bad memory. What do you want from me?

“I Am giving up guilt for lent!” The Lord died for my sins. The fornication, the lust, the adultery, and all the other illicit stuff that I reluctantly confess to. I don’t need to harbor any guilt.

I sorta thought that I should have consulted a priest on this one, but…

I’m not catholic.

Love left that night. She went home to her father’s house where he and her mother later praised me for raising my own daughter to be a queen. I’m not sure how I felt about that, but…

Now THAT Ash Wednesday did not fall on Valentine’s Day (like it does this year), but the sheets have been cold ever since. Well, cold on Valentine’s Day at least.

As a middle-aged man who is on the cusp of denial, I will love myself this Valentine’s Day. And once you get your mind out of the gutter, you’ll probably do the same.

In case you didn’t know, the boxes of chocolate go on sale after 6pm at most pharmacies. And the Ex-lax is a few isles over.

Happy Ash Wednesday!

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I’m Retiring

The time has come for me to face facts. Retirement, as we’ve come to know it, has changed. Many of us sought out careers that would assure present security and future potential.

We may have accepted the agreement that our employers promised–hard work now with a pension or retirement benefit at the end of our career. But it was a lie. I haven’t decided yet whether the lie was intentional or simply a result of mis-planning. Either way, there wasn’t enough good faith investment in our future to insure that it will exist (the way our younger selves envisioned it).

The Promise

The promise was that if you accepted a career in public service, you’d have stability, decent fringe benefits, and a pension after at least ten years of service. Retirement age was contingent on your years of service and a vested pension. But these promises are dissipating before our own eyes. As worker bees, we’ve come to work daily, progressed towards our objective, and endured policy changes and threats of diminished contracts when we renegotiate.

For employees in the private sector, the promise of promotion in exchange for hard work and allegiance to the corporate goal motivates us towards a promising future. Retirement age depended on how soon your 401k (or other investment package) would mature, your level of risk, and your retirement goal. Will you be able to afford to live comfortably after you retire? Who knows?

We are hoping for stability in a still-unstable economy. So we begin to conclude that the promises made to us were built on infertile foundations. Our hopes sink on sinking sand. Our dreams fail to grown where our seeds were planted.

The managers who work within the confines of our annual budgets see the writing on the wall. They are reluctant to speak on it, for they have a much clearer view of the inevitable. I’ve stopped asking my managers questions because I can not trust them with my livelihood. Their objective is not aligned with ours. Managers do not enjoy the due process and semi-stability that the worker bees posses. Instead they have knowledge of the impending doom; and they adjust accordingly.

Instead of hope to gleaning a glimpse of the internal workings of our employers’ mechanism, WATCH the managers. If they are behaving as if their job is secure, know that they are acting with the knowledge that things are going well and will continue to do so. However, if they are using their vacation time (and not actually going on vacation), if they are bitter in their delegation of responsibilities or unwilling to engage in team problem-solving; it may be a sign that they are planning an exit.

When the captain of the ship is the first on the emergency escape boats, ask yourself why?

They aren’t worried about pensions and fringe-benefits. A managers salary often exceeds their responsibility. We know this as worker bees. How many times have you said, “I can easily do my bosses job,” because you know you can. You’re already doing it!!

Managers worry about their exit plan because they lack loyalty. They’ve “put in their time” and feel even MORE entitled than the worker bees.

How much longer will you allow your manager to delegate their responsibilities to you and your colleagues while they take larger salaries with minimal commitment? For that matter, why don’t we start running our own lives?!?

For those of us who allow our professional lives to infiltrate our personal lives; and our spiritual lives to infiltrate our professional lives (you know that you do this when you choose the high road instead of cursing your boss out like a heathen), it may be time to consider an alternative. It may be time to retire.

After all, what is retirement?? Nowadays, who do you know that REALLY retires? Retirement really means career shift. I can’t think of many retirees who simple stay at home and avoid any work or civic responsibility. Let’s keep it real! I’d happily volunteer my time if I could find a way to pay my living expenses. So there really is no retirement like we were promised there’d be.

Who retires the old-fashioned way? Politicians who collect multiple pensions, lawyers who negotiate huge settlements even when they loose the big case, and doctors who received commissions on peddling treatment instead of cures–they can retire. Hmmmm. Are you one of these? Me neither.

I spent enough time as politician to know that public policy rarely serves the public. My time as an educator has proven to me that managers are more concerned with the appearance of “collective success” rather than individual growth. And sadly my time as a social worker has left me feeling that (1) the work is never done, and (2) the policies favor the organization over the human being needing the support.

I share my perspective with you because I believe that once you look inside yourselves and develop a better sense of worth, you may agree with some of my points. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! The illusion of working to 55 or 60 with 3/4 of your salary to live the rest of your life is a LIE. The bankers have already collected the commissions on your investments. The politicians have already spent their mandatory contributions to your pensions! The lawyers get paid to fight this fight for us, even when they loose. And they will loose–because the money is all gone.

Who is going to replace those investments? The younger generations?!? Never that! They are too busy re-imagining a world without trust, a world without hope, and a world where they KNOW they can only count on themselves.

We need a new plan. We need innovation. We must do it now and for the humanity that is fading away. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.

The innovators are not planning for the far-off future. They are creating in the NOW. The hope for what is to come is bleaker than ever. But don’t be discouraged. Be inspired! It is because of the lack of innovation that anyone with an idea can become a hero to mankind.

And so I am retiring. Or I should say instead that I am re-inventing this world that I know. My pension is not promised. It’s barely there. My retirement investments evaporate the moment I deposit them (and my investments were LOW RISK). My mandatory retirement age has been arbitrarily prolonged another FIVE (to TEN) years–pronounced like a prison sentence. I’m not waiting to be eligible for “parole”. My retirement will be pronounced E S C A P E.

So who is coming with me? I’m seeking collaborators and innovators with no promises and no hope of a destination. We are planning a new route instead. The journey begins here…and never ends.

Holiday Dream

I had a holiday dream…

I opened my eyes. I thought I was in my own bed. It looked like my bedroom. The linens smelled fresh like my own. As I descended the staircase, the silhouette of an undecorated tree and the chore of unwrapped gifts still lay on the floor. Running water from the aquarium invited my gaze. The house mascot pawed at me–an unfamiliar sight. My bags were packed and sitting by the door.

The draft from the cool outdoors blew in from beneath the door as I noticed my canvas shoes laid out for me next to a cozy work jacket I once wore in a career long ago.

I looked in the mirror by the door. I was already dressed and my hair and face were well-groomed. With my key fob in hand, I pressed one button, and the lights in the driveway lit up. Was I driving somewhere?

Dishes washed, laundry folded, and trash taken out, there’d be no mess awaiting my return. The most recent message on my phone read “Merry Christmas and traveling mercies”. Where was I going?

I snatched the pre-packed backpack in and headed out the door. There were no voices acknowledging my departure. I turned back for a moment. No lights, no lingering fragrances, no melody looming in the darkness…

Good bye, fare well?

Will I return?

I turned the ignition and a voice from OnStar greeted me with no recognition of the holiday. “Your destination has been sent to your onboard navigation system. Enjoy your day.”

Reverse…creeping into the street; none of the neighbors were watching. The traffic light at the end of the block faded from crimson to go-green! There’s no turning back.

A half tank of gas won’t take me far. But the airport is only 43 miles away. Not a car on the road, the engine hums past 80mph. Whoosh up the highway. Record time!

My destination still a blur. The sun rises over the bridge. All tolls paid. Valet awaiting, and a chauffeur ushering me to my flight. Weeeeeee

I’m not coming back. I can just feel it (at least until after Christmas).

Where am I going, Denver?

Reason, Season or Lifetime?

drjoybjohnson

Ahhhhh relationships…for me I have learned to measure every human interaction with this question: is this person here for a reason, a season or a lifetime? It is an incredibly valuable question even though my actions never seem to change depending on my sub-conscious response. Whether at the beginning of the “thing” or the perceived end, I always commit…I know nothing less.

To contextualize, I will dance around a few songs…my happy place…

Reasons, the reasons that we hear
The reasons that we fear
Our feelings that won’t disappear, ooh
And after the love game has been played
All our illusions were just a parade
And all the reasons start to fade
La, la, la, la
After all our reasons why
All the reasons were a why
After all the reasons love was left aside

Ok…there are the strong sexual references but that notwithstanding the thought that love was cast…

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Legacy

How will they find you?  In your last moments, what words will you whisper?  What is the meaning of life? Will your love come through?

People go by.  

And most will be indifferent.  Every caloric cell in our bodies exists for the purpose of interacting with the world. What we consume directly correlates with our exhaustion.  Our time here is as relevant as what we do with our hours.  We are bound until we come unwound…unwind(ed); and it only makes sense when we stop trying to make sense of it all.  

There are no answers…just more questions.  And the unresolved conflicts have value only to the conflicted.  

Conflict 

Inflict 

Re-trick

ReMIX

We get one shot till we are resurrected.  The weary don’t want to be resuscitated.  Even the mythical creatures don’t want to be among the undead.  

Zombies 

Some bees

Red trees 

Bad knees

Give me no surgeries.  I want to die when my number is up.  But only the good die young.  

I’ll live forever.  

In better weather…

Till death do us part.  

But when WE are gone, our legacy lives on.  

But I’m no MLK or Malcolm.  


What will your tombstone read?  Mine will be blank.  Shucks the rest of my fam is creamated.  I yearn for no urn. My ashes won’t be creamy.  After all, I like my coffee BLACK.   

My blackness will be blank.  My whiteness is more grey.  My grey hair, once bald, will curl like my toes–quite bare.  

Summer has fallen.  Autumn is autonomous.  December’s solstice has lost us.  Spring will sprung no more.  In our final years, we will reflect on the memories once met.  Our legacy will mean more to those who loved us most.  

So what will your legacy be?   It need not be poetry.  Even lost sight can see.  None of this was meant to be. 

Catylist 

He was the catylist. He brought about an inadvertant change.  And her life would not be the same.  First in his mother, and then in the life of every woman whose life he touched thereafter.  

After every guilt-ridden argument he had with his mother (especially in his teenage years), he was left reminded that he was a complicated birth. “The doctor told me that I shouldn’t have you.”

“But you are our love child…”

“We wanted you!”

“And this is how you behave?!?”

And in true Oedipus psychology, he fell in love with a woman who is very much like his mother. He overlooked mental health and insecurity when he proposed. And their love-child was not only conceived in love, but raised with praise. He loved his daughter with his whole heart.  And that level of insecurity was too much for his wife.

He discarded the insecurity as jealousy. And he excused the jealousy to keep his own sanity; and by ignoring what he thought might be wrong, he enabled a woman who otherwise would not be able to get out of her own way.

He watched her destroy a relationship after relationship. She eventually partnered with his mother to collaborate and destroy his inner being. They wanted him to believe that he was crazy. Their private meetings were filled with how to manipulate him.

When he realized what was happening he confronted them both.  He refused to deal with the recent loss of both his brother and his father. He mustered what strength he had to assert his authority in his own life.

The fallout was immeasurable. This was his first lesson (of many to come) that he can no longer be too nice to the wrong people. He internalized that he created this problem.  He believed that the turmoil in his life was a direct result of him being kind for too long.

Every relationship thereafter came with caution-and a fear of betrayal. He would trust strangers more than his loved ones. It did not take long for new relationships to deteriorate as a result of his mistrust.

He began to realize that building walls was not only good for keeping others out, but keeping the wrong element in.  He wondered if he was keeping the wrong people too close. So he removed his walls and let everybody in.  He had to be on guard more than ever.  He began to question everything.  

Questioning everything evolved into challenging authority or anyone who tried to have dominion over him.  He believed that only if he understood the world around him, he could be a part of positive change. All he wanted was to leave the world a little bit better and he had found it.

He knew that if he modeled strong manhood and effective leadership, his daughter and son would come to have the moral fortitude that others lacked.

He wasn’t wrong.  

He grew stronger.  His eyes opened.  He awakened to a world that loved…

He became excited and built new relationships.  These relationships were stronger and healthier.  He became discerning.  He began to choose his own destiny.  His energy inspired others. But he didn’t want to inspire as much as he wanted to help.  Instead of allowing his passions to keep him from the people he loved, he encouraged them to love life with him.  

He loved. He loved life.  He loved people.  He loved the creations that God formed.  He acknowledged bad things as necessary evils to evoke change.  

He became aware of his passion.  He prayed more.  He took better care of his body.  He considered the alternatives.  He explored his options.  He moved away from what he knew.   He became uncomfortable.  His discomfort became tradition until he learned to be more mobile.  Now he can’t stop.  He was once lured drama.  But he learned  that drama can inhibit. He wanted to focus more on growth.

He became a catylist for change by rejecting the norm.  He won’t look back.  Never look back…

Where Have All The Angels Gone…

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to tell me angels were all around us. When my grandmother died, my mother told me that my grandmother was my guardian angel. I haven’t thought about my grandmother in years.  But I’ve been blessed nonetheless.

For years, I’ve angli-fied humans in my life.   Every time I met someone who helped me see the good in the world, I’d dehumanize her in my own belief.  She must be heaven sent.

Angels appear and disappear.  Never really able to make a distinction, I felt a spiritual hug.  Preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best seems gloom (at least to predict unpleasantness).  But there’s always a calm voice whispering, “it’s going to be ok…”.  

Maturity and growth have offered me a new perspective.  I’m no longer used to that comforting voice.  And it’s ok.  Have the angels gone away?  Why is it that they’re never here to stay.  Angel, who are you comforting today?

Better Days