Category Archives: Life Decisions

Guiltless

A few years ago I was dating someone who was living what she called an abstinent lifestyle. Her consecration dictated that she’d have no lover before marriage; and further her courtship was to be a spiritual walk during which she’d be able to determine how’d “equally yoked” they’d both be. A relationship like that brings with it all types of challenges.

I may have thought that I was confident and spiritually grounded, but I learned some very interesting things about my tolerance of others’ beliefs during my journey.

40 Nights

One Lenten season, I asked my girlfriend what (if anything) she’d given up for Lent. I’m not catholic but I believe in self-sacrifice in the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. I smile at the idea of giving up chocolate or soda in hopes that the sacrifice may evolve into a healthier lifestyle. I’ve been successful on a few occasions, but usually become glutinous on the other side of the “fast.” But my faith has not required me to give too much of myself. Moderation. Moderation… A mustard seed of faith is all that is required. No need for extra!

Well, she didn’t see it the same way. Her response sent us down a path of true faith-building that would last years. She said, “I’m giving up intimacy.”

Intimacy…

Our relationship had already been defined by abstinence that was occasionally diluted by kissing and heavy petting. I was in uncharted territory but defended (to myself) that I had already endured a sexless marriage. If distance can make the heart grow fonder, then abstinence can make for short engagements, RiGhT??

So to try something new would be as easy as offering a kid an amalgamation of fresh uncooked vegetables. Carrots, celery, broccoli, and cauliflower…

Not so fast!

And that’s what she said…often! Shaking my head sadly, I accepted the rules of engagement. (Pun intended!)

So she’d given up intimacy. In search of just one more simile, it was like asking a diabetic to give up chocolate. I had to question the lunacy.

“Who told you to do THAT!?!” One of the stupidest questions I could ask, I realize now.

“God!” she affirmed.

“Well, did He tell you that you couldn’t stay here anymore?”

“You mean I can’t spend the night?”

“No!”

I suppose at the time I was more superstitious than religious. My faith wavered more towards punishment than grace. And I was already certain that if I pressed this 40 year old virgin to give in to her hormonal urges, I would be struck by lightening for sure.

I had figured that this would signal the end of the relationship. I was not offering a compromise, nor did I plan on playing games with our emotions. After all, a direction from the Lord did not require my consent.

For me it was a spiritual awakening–an opportunity to assert my own beliefs, develop a sense of responsibility, and most importantly model for my own daughter a balance between religion and self-love.

She asked, “what will you be giving up for lent?”

“Guilt! I’ll be giving up guilt.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean IS that I’m tired of feeling guilty.”

Lust, gluttony, sloth, greed, wrath, pride, envy…cardinal vices. Carnal too. Flesh. The world…

I’m being asked to live according to someone else’s standards. I’m expected to live a life of decency despite the temptations that my brothers (and sisters) in Christ lay before me (?) and, AND, and…

This was years ago. I recount the years that have passed since my life changed. The seasons have cycled many times, but one theme has become constant in my life. I now live guiltless.

That doesn’t mean that I live carefree; nor does it mean that I allow myself to discard the beliefs of others. What it means is that I refuse to allow someone else to project their values on to me.

I can not feel bad because someone else has regret. I must not be held accountable for someone else’s hang ups. I must be free from their sin.

“You mean I can’t stay here for 40 nights?”

“You can not stay here at ALL!”

The love I had for her changed that day. It grew less as my heart and brain began to work together for the first time in my life.

Reason

I began to reason with my own conscience. I began to question how my faith drives my actions. I developed the ability to stay “no”. And only after years of practice have I become proficient is saying this too:

“I don’t believe that I can offer you what you deserve…”

What do we deserve? We deserve to be happy.

Happiness requires our own actions–our own growth and development–hard work and dedication–and most importantly…faith.

No one can give us that.

And that is what she wanted. She wanted me to have faith in HER. She wanted me to adhere to her belief system and to honor her in the ways that she wanted (that were also subject to change whenever HER god saw fit). The god in her was not the God in me.

And the God in me said, “no more”.

The God in me said, “I release you from your own chains and the invisible chains that have shackled you to your ‘future queen'”.

“You can never stay here again.”

“But I’ve come all this way for you!” she exclaimed.

“Don’t come here. I have children who are watching me closely. I have a daughter to whom I should never have to explain that we sleep next to each other, but we don’t touch each other. I don’t want to lie… down to anyone. I don’t want to feel guilty!”

I stood up. Standing on promises. Standing up for my future generations. Building a new legacy. Starting now…no wait. Starting NOW. No wait! StArTiNg…NoW

Christ died for my sin. He spread his arms wide, and His believers cried…so that I may never have to cry again.

“I don’t have to die. I don’t have to cry. And I don’t have to lie (or lay) next to you again.”

She left. And although she came back, she didn’t stay.

She didn’t stay.

Forty days passed. And 40 more. Till there were no more.

“Don’t let the door…hit you on the way out.” What began as a challenge, became a life lesson and a new diet–a diet filled with moderation and understanding and a relationship with God that was far greater than a relationship with any person.

Someone else can bear that cross. Some other man will make her sacrifice. If it goes well, it won’t be a sacrifice at all.

But isn’t Love a sacrifice. Must it be? I may never know again. But that’s a beautiful thing too. Not knowing…there can be beauty it not knowing. But it can be painful as well. Devine agony.

What agony, to love no more?

And now her beliefs are beheld by another, till death do them part.

I recall a time when that destiny was mine. But with the will to change (my mind) and the desire to live for me, I am guilt free.

And no less…

I am guiltless.

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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!

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?

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…

Ode to Amy

On a late-summer evening, as the streets begin to cover with autumn foliage my spokes whistle through the gentle breeze.  A bike ride at dusk and Amy in my ears, I experience a brief euphoria. 

Nothing was as it seemed.  It was all a mystery and maybe even a fantasy.  Surreal!  Waking from a midsummer’s dream, perhaps, the years passed so gently.  Nothing was as it seemed. And I am not harmed; not even by the gently lies. They could have hurt so much more.  Any pain I once felt is but a needle prick in a world of syringes and hammers.  

Even the things the I thought were happiness and bliss were merely a smoke screen. How could I have known?  And it doesn’t matter now anyway.  

The breeze blowing across my face reminds me of the gentle lips I kissed not long ago.  It made the news I received today a little less emotional. 

She’s finally engaged.  I’m glad.  I think we all deserve happiness.  And I am happy for her, and the one before her.  Whereas so many can not find the happiness they seek, it may be only because of the company that they keep.  

And then I hear this melody in my ears…”Our time will come...” One of many songs that remind me of another time, I shed no tears-which surprises me because I thought I’d be overjoyed.  Perhaps I’m underwhelmed until I sleep tonight.  

There are things that happen for reasons we will never know.  Accept that!   

If not for the signs that are prevelent only to me…BeautyBeyondBones and songs that only I seem to feel on SiriusXm and the colors I see when I close my eyes and the fragrances of flowers that aren’t real, and the people who whisper my name now that she’s no longer here, and…there’s so much more. 

The universe is talking to me. And I want to pretend that this journal entry is about an vocalist that I’ll never meet; and I want to write because I can not speak; and I want to close my eyes because I can not sleep;  and I write this now because it’s not too deep; and…


I am not the poet.  I am not any more than I have ever been.  And I can not be him or him or Him.  

Reactionary as I am…not! Nor will I be.  

Twilight plays in the background.  Dusk is in the rear view, and my bicycle reaches its home.  I am happy.   Not for me.  But for you.  

her Roeck

What we want is a reflection of who we are. Why would you want someone who would give so much of themselves that they would neglect their own needs? What is it about someone who is so forgiving and so giving that they would neglect themselves? How desirable is a person who would forget their own needs? Are their gifts so great that it’s possible to overlook their own self-care?

A firefighter who goes into a burning building to save another (without putting on his protective gear) is no more likely to save the victim then he is of becoming a victim himself. Although it seems heroic, it borders on the careless. More often than not such a hero will need to be rescued as well.

Women who want a man to put her needs before his own may be overlooking the fact that he may not be able to take care of anyone’s needs for a larger period of time.

“Here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice…”
Ladies reconsider what it is that you seek. Gentleman think twice before you leap.