Controlling Expectations

Image result for controlling expectations“Expectations” can be defined as the belief that certain things are going to happen.

Expectations can be negative, positive, or indifferent.

We all have expectations. They can be elementary like Annie sings, “The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar there’ll be sun.” They can be grandiose and complex or small, underwhelming, old, and ordinary.

Expectations can be goals and dreams for the future. The lack of expectations can be an admission of defeat.

You can manipulate the outcome of your expectations in a negative way by sabotaging your success. All of us have a way of bringing about the results we expect.

Expect poor results, and the odds are you will get poor results.

Manipulation does not have to be a bad word. Dr. Keith Drury said,

“The person with the plan is the person with the power.”

Expect good results, and the odds are in your favor to get good results.

You are disappointed when your expectations are not met.  When I married, I expected it to be easy. We both were from Christian families and reared in church in sister denominations, attended the same Bible college, shared the same belief and value system, loved music and performance, and were devoted Christians.

What could go wrong?

Plenty!

We soon discovered we had many and significant differences. She was a spend-thrift, I was a saver. She was an emotional thinker, I was a logical thinker. She was always on the go, go, go, I was a homebody. She was spontaneous, I was a planner. She was gregarious and recharged her batteries by being with lots of people, I was an introvert and recharged my batteries by being alone.

Our adult daughter observed, “Everyone can see you have nothing in common.”

There was frequent conflict.

She wanted a gentleman, I wanted a wife who could play the piano and sing alto. We both got what we wanted, but from the beginning to the end it was not what we expected.

I have learned something about expectations:

  • The only expectations you can control are the expectations you have of yourself.
  • Good, bad, or indifferent outcomes depend upon your level of control.
  • The expectations you have that you cannot control is a recipe for disappointment.

Before my second marriage, I remembered the words of a former pastor,

“Do not have any expectations of her.”

That is exactly what I set out to do. I wrote down the expectations I had of myself and read them frequently. It is working thus far.

If you are measuring others by your expectations, you are using the wrong yardstick. Use the one closer to home.

The LORD be with you.

I Am Stuck

Image result for boots stuck in mudIf you have wintered in a climate where the snow flies and the winds blow until there are large drifts and closed roads, you know what it means to be stuck. If you have driven in a field, yard, or on a dirt road during a rainy spring, you know what it means to be stuck. If you have tried without success to solve a problem that appears to have no resolution, you know what it means to be stuck. But, you can shovel your way out of a drift, and push or pull your way out of the mud. You know you can get unstuck, eventually, even if you have to wait for the snow to melt or the mud to dry. And, there are very few problems mathematically or socially that cannot be solved with some knowledge and cooperation. However, I am stuck emotionally.

For the past three years, I have gone to counseling regularly for help with my major depressive disorder and the emotional stress from some disturbing experiences in my past. It took a few months to get stable, but afterwards I made good progress. My depression is now in a mild to moderate state and life is much better. However, the things haunting me in my dreams and many waking hours continue. My counselor tells me, and I acknowledge the truth of her observation, that I bring up the same subjects each session. So, there you are, I am stuck.

Here is the kicker – there is a way out, but I do not know if I want to take that path. My therapist has told me there is a treatment called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR that has shown great promise for people with single or multiple episodes of trauma. In fact, the clinical and field trials show great success – over ninety percent for single episodes and over seventy percent for multiple. Apparently, I am in the “festering wound” stage emotionally and I need to activate my brain so it will remove the block in order that my healing may continue. I am told that it will help me become an objective observer of my experiences rather than an active participant.

My question is, “Do I want that?” Do I want to look at some of these troubling issues from a distance like a spectator? You see, my concerns are near and dear to my heart and they are very active, ongoing issues. I pray about and over them. Cry and get angry. Feel hurt and emotional pain. Ask the question “why?”, experience frustration, and wonder how others cannot see the answer that is so clear to me.

My problems are three in number. The first is with my ex-wife. There are some unresolved issues that I have attempted to settle without success. My goal is not that we would become besties and have standing invitations to each other’s events. No, I want an amicable relationship in which we share what we have in common – our children and grandchildren. This has been my prayer for nearly four years now.

Sure, I would love to be rid of the nightmares with the accompanying screams, yells, physical thrashing in bed, and fighting to stay alive in life-threatening situations. I would love to make the conflict dreams that are filled with arguments, disrespect, and aggravation end. It would be nice to have the subtle needling stop. No more “alternative facts” spread.  And, an end to using our children against me.  But, at what cost – less concern? Satisfaction with the status quo? Indifference?

The second of my frequent topics with my counselor is the loss of my ministerial credentials. Actually, it is not so much the loss, but the refusal to give me a path to reclaiming them. When I asked to be put under discipline in order to be reinstated, I was refused. No one interviewed me. I was not asked to produce character witnesses nor were any contacted. There was no guidance given me about the process or what the ministerial committee required. My defense was not asked for or recorded. The decision appears arbitrary to me, and I was told an appeal would be pointless. Do I need to just let this go? I have held a ministerial license of one kind or another since 1975. It was one of the things that defined me to others. Is there a way to feel differently or look more objectively at what appears to me to be a decision based on less than all the facts?

My third concern is my greatest. Two of my three children refuse to talk to me. Diligently I have sought reconciliation with them. I have written letters of sorrow, accepting blame and guilt, and asking for forgiveness. The efforts I am making to stay in touch with them are ongoing. I send them letters on New Year’s, Valentine’s, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries. They have chosen to not respond to my outreach. When I was diagnosed with cancer I thought surely they will contact me now, but it was not to be.

Both profess to be Christians, and one works at a Christian organization and travels in ministry almost weekly. One of the them says I am forgiven, but continues to shun me. Not only was I not invited to their wedding, but some of my relatives were not invited simply because they helped me in a dark and needy moment. They blocked me on Facebook from seeing their site and had their spouse do the same. That does not look like the forgiveness the Bible espouses and which I once preached and emulated.

Am I wrong to believe that forgiveness and redemption cannot abide with shunning? Is it too much to ask conservative, evangelical Christians to live up to the Bible they profess to believe in? Sure, I hurt and offended them. I was not a good father after my depression went clinical. Anger, isolation, and emotional distance were what they experienced from me for many years. They have a right to feel wronged – I do not deny that; however, “all have sinned” and yet God seeks to save and redeem the sinner.

Maybe the image of what I was is so seared into their minds that they seem unable to see the new man I have become. Perhaps they fail to see me as redeemable, and therefore are blind to the redemptive work that continues to make me a better man. It appears there is so much insulation about them that they cannot or will not allow themselves to trust me and be vulnerable enough to give me a chance.

Is it too much of me to expect a Christian to forgive and act like it? Will EMDR rewrite my brain in such a way that I can see their side of things and conclude that they are justified in their continuing behavior? Will I suddenly have an epiphany that forgiveness and redemption can be interpreted to exclude rather than include? Do I want to not feel so troubled, disappointed, and hurt?

The answers are not readily evident to me, thus I remain stuck. I am open to solutions, but if they involve escape, indifference, and/or distance, I am not sure I want to be a buyer. What do you think will help me get unstuck? Response are welcome.

Three Days Without Medication

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There were more days left than there was medicine. Between my last med check with my psychiatrist and my next appointment to come, I was going to be left with too many days and not enough medication to last. Of course, I did not notice this until the time to do anything about it was already past. To top it off, it was a holiday weekend – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday would pass before my regularly scheduled doctor’s visit. It was not a good three days.

I have missed taking my pills for a day before without any noticeable side effects. And, I knew from experience that any prolonged time without my medications would land me in the hospital. My last hospitalization was testimony to that. Before I left that mental health facility one of the group session leaders asked us what we had learned during our stay there. I had a ready answer, “Take your meds.” But, how would three days affect me? Here are my observations.

First, my sleep patterns were interrupted. For the past several years I have had PTSD-type symptoms during sleeping hours in the form of nightmares that often involve verbal and physical confrontations, some of which are life threatening. I can physically thrash about as if I were fighting someone, experience a whole range of emotions from crying and laughing to yelling and screaming, and talk in incomprehensible jabberings to quite intelligible conversations. It can all be very entertaining for my wife. Although my medication does not eliminate all of the above, it greatly suppresses it.

The first night without my medication I had trouble falling asleep and was awake until about 1:30 am and back awake by 3:30 am. I stayed up the rest of the day. The next night I slept longer, but the dreams came fast, furious, and vividly. According to my wife, I did a lot of talking and even cussed in my sleep – something I never do when I am awake, and especially the word I used. By the third night I was flailing about fighting perceived threats and defending against oncoming foes. To say it was a rough three nights would be fairly more than an understatement.

The next thing I noticed was headaches, flaring of my long dormant IBS, and a strange electrical shock-like feeling behind my left ear. I can explain the headaches – they were the first symptoms of withdrawal from some of the powerful medications I take. The IBS triggering gave me pause, but it sent me a warning that I may not be handling my stressors as well as I think. That popping in my head still has me puzzled, but I have a hypothesis.

You may think me not only off my rocker, but someone has also stolen my rocker off my porch when I propose that it was my neurons misfiring for lack of synaptic activity. Admittedly, what I know about the brain could be fit into a thimble with room to spare, but here goes anyhow. Our bodies send billions of messages to our brains along neuron pathways each day. In the brain, these pathways are interrupted by large fissures or canyons that have to be crossed. The neurons need help to get across these ravines in order to connect with the neuron pathway on the other side. That is where the synapses take over. They ferry the messages over the gorge to enable the neuron pathway to continue undisturbed. I think my brain’s electrical system (neurons) were misfiring for lack of current carriers (synapses). Whatever it was going on in my head felt physically uncomfortable and made a static electric shock sound in my ear.

The last thing I noticed was my mood began to change. Normally, I am a calm, quiet, somewhat reserved, unflappable guy. I do not react unless severely provoked.  My voice rarely goes above a conversational tone, and then only for emphasis or to communicate firmness. I never yell or holler. But, during those three days I was harder to get along with. I still did not raise my voice, but I was more easily provoked, quicker to discipline our grandchildren whom my wife and I are rearing, and generally testy. My emotions were rawer as well. Several times I felt near tears and I thought I could lose control any minute now.

It really bothers me to be so dependent on my medication. It scares me to think how rapidly and far I can fall without it. For this man, at least, it gnaws at me to realize I have so little control over my own body, mind, and emotions. But, it is my reality and if I am to remain healthy I must reconcile myself to the fact that I need my medication to stabilize me in order that I can successfully address the other issues in my life.

I Am Resolved

Image result for new years resolutionsIt has been a very long time since I have made a New Year’s resolution. After failing to keep most of the ones I ever made I quit deceiving myself and ceased the practice. Nineteen-eighty-five or so was the last time I kept this long-held tradition. But, for 2017 I believe I am going to return to the custom. So here goes . . .

I resolve to:

  • Not eat tomatoes and onions by themselves.
  • Not eat cooked spinach.
  • Not eat okra unless it is battered and deep fried, and
  • Not eat asparagus, artichokes, and Brussels sprouts in any form.

I resolve to:

  • Eat all things pork except Spam and pickled pig’s feet.
  • Eat all things beef except the internal organs, especially liver.
  • Eat all things fowl except livers and gizzards.

I resolve to:

  • Not eat too much goat cheese.
  • Not eat American processed cheese food.

I resolve to:

  • Leave Braunschweiger and Souse to my German ancestors and
  • Eat more food from my Scotch/Irish and Native American heritage.

New Year’s resolutions date back at least 3000 years and have become a tradition in western cultures. As a boy growing up in church we regularly attended New Year’s Eve watchnight services. About one or two minutes before midnight it was customary to pray the New Year in with promises made to God. The verses of this old song reflect the kinds of things one may have prayed.

I Am Resolved

I am resolved no longer to linger,
Charmed by the world’s delight,
Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
These have allured my sight.

I am resolved to go to the Savior,
Leaving my sin and strife;
He is the true One, He is the just One,
He hath the words of life.

I am resolved to follow the Savior,
Faithful and true each day;
Heed what He sayeth, do what He willeth,
He is the living Way.

I am resolved to enter the kingdom,
Leaving the paths of sin;
Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me,
Still will I enter in.

It is reported that people who make resolutions are ten times more likely to make progress toward their goals than those who make none.

If, like me, you decide to make some resolutions this year there are at least three categories to consider.

  1. Personal improvement goals: This may consist of physical and/or mental health, finances, career, education, and special destination trips.
  1. Social objectives: Such things include improving social skills, making new friends, bettering family relationships, and serving others less fortunate than you.
  1. Spiritual aspirations: Prayer, Bible reading and study, church attendance, and becoming more involved in your church are common aims.

The best way to hit your target is to:

  • Keep your resolutions to a limited number, perhaps one to three.
  • Make a written record of your resolutions and log the progress you make as you go along.
  • Get accountability from friends and family.

My resolutions for 2017:

After losing 80 pounds over the past three years and making no progress in 2016 except to maintain, I resolve to lose 20 pounds in 2017 and keep it off.

Because it is important to help my grandchildren come to know and follow God, I resolve to teach them Christian catechism for 2017.

Although the following is one of my regular practices, I want to become more consistent, thus, I resolve to pray with my wife of a morning and before going to sleep at night five of seven days per week in 2017.

Our God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Let me trust in Your omniscience, seek and follow Your will, and rest in the confidence that Your plans for me are for good and not for evil. May I rely on Your omnipotence and with assurance know that through Your powerful grace I can face whatever comes my way and it will not overwhelm me. Remind me that You are omnipresent and You will never leave me nor forsake me. Help me when I do not understand Your ways to depend upon Your wisdom and not substitute my lesser knowledge for Yours. Teach me to accept that You know what is best for me. Thank You, God, for Your goodness. You are good all the time. All good and perfect gifts come from You. Give me the grace to achieve the righteous desires of my heart.

To the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit we pray,

Amen.

Happy New Year

When Dreams Die

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I was helping my step-son load some things into his truck when I noticed this fence and structure. Out of the frame and to the right was a large wooden structure with a metal roof that appeared to be some kind of shop. In the middle of the photo you can see the remains of another smaller structure, now collapsed and in ruins. Surrounding it is this five foot heavy gauge fence with its galvanized coating long gone. Weeds, trees, and cacti have taken over and with time will blot out any recognition of what this may have been.

This was someone’s dream. It appears they poured a lot of money and sweat equity into making it a reality. The shop and fence were well built and appeared professionally constructed.  I wonder how it died. Did the owner with the dream become injured or pass away? Perhaps the cost of running the business left him/her with too little cash to meet expenses. Maybe the community in which it existed went through a prolonged depression and s/he could no longer keep the business running. Possibly federal, state, local, and/or insurance requirements became too overwhelming. Conceivably the owner had the right dream for the wrong place or at a disadvantageous time? Albert Einstein is attributed with saying, “If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new.”

Some dreams live and die without much notice. I wanted to play the electric guitar and piano. I took lessons, but I did not have the aptitude or discipline required to be a musician. For me it was not traumatic to fail at playing an instrument. It was more a hobby than a hope, besides I can still find a C chord on a guitar and play scales on the piano.

But, there are those dreams that define us. I had a roommate in college who wanted so desperately to be a Marine, but he was discharged out of basic training. For several years he struggled to find where he belonged. Many of you reading this can identify with shattered dreams. An almost college degree. That had-to-have-it job that turned out to be disappointing. A marriage that ended in divorce. Deserved recognition overlooked. Promotion denied. Ideas rejected. Career destroyed. A once-in-a-lifetime vacation spoiled. A special-sought-for car that turned out to be a lemon.

If you have read my blog you know I have had several dreams die. From the age of fourteen, I dreamed of being a pastor/teacher and then one day I got sick and I was finished at 41. My next career choice was to be a counselor. Depression ended it at 53. After more than 34 years of marriage a signature and a court record said I was single again. At one time I was recognized as being among the top 50 graduates of my alma mater, a college with a 116 year history, but today my reputation is in such ruins I am not sure I would make the bottom fifty.

How does one carry on when his/her dream dies?

Grieve Your Loss

The five stages of grief are well known – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Your loss is real and it is painful. You conceived your dream, felt it grow, gave birth to it, and did everything possible to make it live; but, alas, . . . it died. When my depression went clinical and became severe, I was pastoring the best church. Our attendance had nearly doubled, the church was once again healthy financially, the education wing had been remodeled, the church had settled on a purpose statement that was to give it clear direction for years to come, and property had been purchased for a new church campus. Everything I had dreamed I could be as a pastor and a leader was coming true, but it ended. Four years later when I was asked to choose a place where I dreamed of being; I said I wanted to be the pastor of that church again. For nearly fifteen years I carried a dollar bill in my pocket that the church had given me as a gag gift at Christmas. I hurt. It took a long time for me to get to acceptance.

Grief is messy and does not work itself out in five sequential steps. You often find yourself in déjà vu all over again. And, yes, you have been there before and it is not likely the last time you will visit. But, grief is essential and in the end the journey to acceptance is worth the heartache.

Assess Your Strengths

Remember the good times you had while your dream was alive. Think of all the things you have learned. Assess how you have grown. Consider the secondary skills you have gained. All of these add to your current strengths.

If you have lost a career, ask yourself what is it you like to do and can do well? Look into your past for what you have done before and enjoyed doing? Do you have something you always wanted to try and are willing to learn the necessary skills and make the sacrifices required to master it? I would have never learned counseling had I remained a pastor. Without losing both of those careers, this blog and my writing may never have existed.

Did your dream relationship go sour? What do you want in a relationship? What do you have to give? After my divorce I spent many hours taking relationship assessments, determining what kind of husband I wanted to be, and what kind of wife I wanted. I married again, but not before my wife and I vetted each other for three years. We are very compatible and happy together.

Dare to Dream Again

When all your dreams die there is nothing left to do but be buried. It can be devastating when a dream dies, but dare to dream again. New dreams are costly and risky, dream anyway. Learn from your failures and keep dreaming. My college roommate eventually reinvented himself as an expert in theology and his latest incarnation is as an advocate for those on the autism spectrum. After my many failures I can truly say I am especially satisfied with the man I am and am becoming, and with what I am presently doing.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, ” plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)