Bianca’s Shoes

Starting your day usually becomes pretty routine. If your like me you wake up an hour before your alarm is set to go off. You roll over look at the clock, sigh and fall back asleep. You then wake up half an hour before the alarm is set to go off. You stare at the clock then close your eyes and go back to sleep. Then, 10 minutes before your alarm is set to scream in your ear, you wake up and look again at the infernal machine and wonder, not for the first time, what sort of sadistic person would create such a horrible thing. So before the demonic creation can scream out in what you are sure is agony in some other universe, you turn it off and sit up.

Thus the routine begins. You get up out of bed with a groan. You keep it quiet so you don’t wake up whomever you happen to be sleeping with. If you are my age, it is most likely your spouse or no one. If you are 20 years younger, it could be just about anyone. Either way, quietly or aloud, you groan and shuffle your way to the bathroom.
You look in the mirror and wonder who this old man is that is staring back at you. It wasn’t that long ago a handsome young stud always looked at you and winked. Sure that he would always be there. That reflection is gone. In its place is some old dude that vaguely reminds you of your father. You splash cold water on your face and then take a handful into your mouth to rinse out the dry sleep crap that grows there each night.
You sit down on the only throne you will ever know and pee. It seems to go on forever and wonder if your bladder can explode if you wait to long to use the bathroom. Probably not. Most likely you would just wet your pants and rue the day you got old. The day that handsome dude in the mirror up and left, and left you with the twilight zone version of your dad. Even though all you do is pee, you still sit down. Past experience has taught you that trying to stand and pee before you fully wake up, is never a good idea.
You then stand at the sink and proceed to brush your teeth and after debating whether or not to floss, you decide you can do it later, or tomorrow or never. While brushing you decide what you want to wear and mentally plan out the rest of your day.
Like I said, it is usually pretty routine. Until you wake up and it’s not.

I woke up this morning and expected to roll over and see that it was 4am, and that I had another hour to sleep. Instead, I roll over and instead of my alarm clock, I am facing a brick wall. My mind races. My bed is in the middle of the room so neither side should be up against the wall. I put my hand out and feel the cold stone. I turn over to see if my darling wife of 20+ years was playing some kind of prank and realize that I am alone. My bed is no longer a spacious queen but a tiny single.
I know I must still be dreaming so I close my eyes and know that when I open them again I will be home in my own bed. I squeeze them until they hurt and then open them to be confronted with the same narrow room and the same narrow, empty bed.
I sit up and feel something completely strange. I actually feel good. My aches and pains that have been steadily growing for the last 15 years are gone. I actually feel great. I hop out of bed and look down at my body. What happened to my stomach. My stomach flat. My stomach hasn’t been flat since I graduated from college. I look around the room and see that it is totally familiar. I know I have been here before. The Iron Maiden poster at the foot of the bed is the same one I had in High school. The one with Eddie (the bands mascot) manipulating a puppet that is Satan. I know that if I open my closet door there will be a full length mirror on the inside of the door.
I go to the closet door and tentatively open it. Inside there is the mirror. Not a mirror, THE mirror. The same crack along the bottom where it fell out of my hands when I was trying to install it. The same picture of Bianca Castle….. Bianca Castle, my 9th grade crush. I had swiped her school picture from one of her friends. So what if it said “Mari, my BFF 4Ever”, on the back. I was to afraid to ask for one and l, yes, I know that she didn’t even know my name. She was my first head over heels crush. And she never knew I existed.
I looked away from Bianca and at my own reflection. The young stud was back! No longer was I looking at some old man. I was looking at myself as a teenager. I stepped back, the back of my knees hit the bed and I fell over backwards, on to, then off the side of the bed.
So what was I going to do? I lay there on the floor of my old bedroom, in my old body and thried to fight the idea that I was going crazy. Was I still a married adult and in my own bed dreaming? I couldn’tbe. This felt so real. So was I still a teenager who had a really detailed dream about 33 years of my life going by? The problem with that idea was that my brain was still my adult brain. I knew everything that I should as a normal adult. So why was I in a kids body? What should I do? I wasn’tsure so I just went back to bed.

I woke up to my alarm. 5 am, time to get up for work. That was a wild dream. Weird though I always wake up before my alarm. I turn over to see If I woke up my wife. She was still asleep. Good. I turned off my alarm and went into the bathroom. I splashed water on my old man face. I sat down to use the bathroom, then stood to brush my teeth. Thank God for routines, I thought.
The day progressed as it always does. SSDD. Same Stuff Different Day. The only difference was I kept thinking about Bianca Castle. I hadn’t thought of her in years. Decades even. I dreamt about her and now I can’t stop thinking about her.
As with most days, it dragged by and by the time I got home, dinner was on the counter with a note to warm it up. The wife and kids had gone to the church for play practice and wouldn’tbe home till after 9pm. That was fine. All I wanted to do was eat and jump back into bed. So that’s exactly what I did.
I woke up the next morning and was not totally surprised to find myself looking at a familiar brick wall. I knew I was dreaming. I had to be. What do they call this, Lucid Dreaming? Dreaming when you know it’sa dream but keep dreaming anyways. So here I was, dreaming about being a teen once more.
I sat up in bed and tried to think about what I should do. It was my dream. I could do anything I wanted. So I went to the closet. Stared at Bianca and got dressed. I walked out of the room and a flood of memories hit me. I saw the same worn carpet in the same worn hallway that I walked down every day for the first 18 years of my life. I went down the hall and into the bathroom. It is a weird sensation having to pee in your dreams, so I figured why not. I was here so why not use the bathroom. I went in and was about to sit when I thought why not and turned around to stand and pee. It was liberating. Until I realized I missed and peed on the wall next to the toilet.
After cleaning up my mess, I proceeded to go downstairs. MM little brother and sister were sitting at the kitchen table eating cereal. My heart caught in my throat. My brother Bobby was killed in a car accident after his senior prom. I haven’t seen him in 25 years. There he was eating chex cereal and reading the daily comics out of the Binghamton Press. My little brother alive and well. I started to cry. Cindy asked me if I was ok. I looked at her and remembered how much I really loved her and how I missed her. After Bobby’s death she dropped out of college and moved to Colorado. She got married and had a couple of kids but we were never close again. She is in AA now and stopped drinking 3 years ago. She called me on my birthday and we had a pleasant chat. Then she hung up and we both went on with our lives
Now here they were. Sitting in front of me. Looking at me like I had lost my mind. I stood there like a lion with tears falling down my cheeks. My mother can into the room, young and beautiful as ever. She now has Alzheimer’s and is slowly wasting away at Riverside Manor. She is well cared for. Dad’s insurance saw to that. It was the best thing he left us when he passed away at 72. A nice insurance policy to make sure mom was cared for, for the rest of her life.
Mom, the young and beautiful mom, pulled me to her and asked me what was wrong. I said nothing and just held her. She laughed and asked if I was stoned. We had a great relationship like that always joking around. I said no and went in turn and hugged Bobby and Cindy. They were sure I had lost my marbles. Mom asked me if I wanted some french toast, and I said yes.
While we were eating, Cindy asked if I had asked anyone to the harvest dance yet? Bobby giggled and said “ like Bianca”? I just sat there dumbfounded. Today was the day I was going to screw up my nerve and ask Bianca to the dance. I know how that ended. I walked up to her, tapped her on the shoulder, and when she turned around, I promptly puked on her shoes. Undeniably the worst day of my life.
After I puked on her she screamed and ran away. She never spoke to me again and I never tried to speak to her again either. We both went on with our lives and I actually forgot about her soon enough. I graduated high school and went on to college, where I met my beautiful and wonderful wife. I can’t even say I wondered what it would be like if I never puked on Bianca’s shoes. I truly forgot about her and moved on. My life has been good. So why am I here in my mother’s kitchen, talking about asking Bianca on a date?
The problem is, now I was thinking about it. I was thinking how much would be different if I didn’t puke. What if we did go to the dance together, what if we did become boyfriend and girlfriend? How different would my life be?
I stood up from the table, kissed my mom goodbye, and gave my brother a nougie. If I was here long enough, I may even stop Bobby from getting in that car with his buddies after the prom his senior year. Sure I would be back in college but Oneonta is not that far away. I could come back and stop him. But first I have to get that date with Bianca.
I shot out the door and ran the 2 miles to the High school. (I love my young body ) Once at the school I found Bianca and asked her to the dance. I didn’t upchuck on her shoes an this time, and she just giggled and said yes. I was about to introduce myself when she said ,” I was wondering if you were going to ever ask me.” She then winked and walked off with her friends. I was on cloud nine. The rest of the day was a blur. I aced a couple of tests. Astounded my buddies with my superior knowledge of the future. They all laughed and thought I was kidding with them. But they would see soon enough.
I went home and ate dinner with my family for the first time in 20 some years. I loved every minute of it. I was exhausted though. I didn’t want to go to bed but when I fell asleep during Alf, my mom showed me up to bed. I crawled under the covers a happy boy/man. Before I knew it, I was asleep.

I awoke abruptly and saw that my clock said 4am. I was back in the present. I reached down and felt my belly just to be sure. Round as ever. I would have to fix that. I sat up curious and nervous. Was that still my wife next to me? Or could it be Bianca? I laughed it off, thinking it was a vivid dream and thinking I should go visit mom at the nursing home. I went to the bathroom. Same old routine, thank you very much. After brushing my teeth I went back to the bedroom to find my wife up and already downstairs.
I got dressed and went down for my normal bagel and coffee when a strange smell abruptly caught my attention. Was that bacon? I couldn’t remember the last time my wife got up before me and made me breakfast. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe it was Bianca, but I shrugged away that silly thought and continued downstairs to the kitchen.
Standing there in her robe was not my wife. It was not Bianca either. This strange but slightly familiar woman turned around to me and said I looked stupid with my mouth hanging wide open like that. Then she laughed and proceeded to put the plate down in front of me, close my jaw for me and kiss me on the lips.
“Who…?”
I managed to blurt out. But when she looked at me and asked what was wrong, I realized who it was.
“Mari?”
“Well duh!” she said. “That’s my name, don’t wear it out”.

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The Problem with Religion

Someone wiser than myself once said “religion is defined as what you can DO for your god”. I don’t like religion very much. When people ask me if I am religious I say no. The reason being, is that there is nothing I can do for my God. I mean He is God right. What can I give Him that he already doesn’t have?
There are many religions out there that teach that you must do something in order to succeed. Any god that I need to do something for, cannot be very powerful.
My God is omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (everywhere at once) and omnipotent (all powerful). The truth is He does not need me. The greater truth is that He wants me. He loves me. With all my failings and flaws, He loves me.
So what can I do for Him that he cannot do for Himself? I can love Him back.
I am far from perfect and that is ok. I come to God in my brokenness and failure and He looks at me not as what I am but what I can be. What I will become, only through Him.
Some people want to believe that when following a god, any god, that you must set aside reason and common sense. In some cases this is true. The God I worship and follow does not want that. He wants us to use all of our knowledge and reason to see what is right before our eyes. That He is real.
History and archeology support the basic claims of the Christian bible. The supernatural claims are not proven as easily. They need to be experienced. They can only be experienced by faith. The definition of faith is: Firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) :complete trust. It seems like an oxymoron, to believe in something that you have no proof of. God, the God I believe in, does not leave you hanging like that.
He gives you proofs in everyday life that will give you something to grasp onto. Only then when you have that small thing clutched in your hand does He ask you to step out in faith.
There are many things you can look at that are beyond explanation. Why do we have a functioning eye? Why do we have thoughts outside of ourselves? How do bees even fly? These are questions science cannot answer. Research these questions and you will see that while there is no rational explanation, we understand that maybe science will be able to answer these someday. Until then we have to accept them on faith.
If we take these things on faith, then why not God? Once we accept God on faith, then we can truly experience what He wants for us.
Don’t get me wrong, things won’t all of the sudden become perfect and peachy keen when we begin to follow God. There will still be pain and heartache and unexplainable miseries. What will change is that you will notice that there is hope in the midst of life’s tragedies. The feeling and knowledge that someone is in your corner.
It is this belief that gives you the strength and peace of mind to keep moving. This is why I believe. It helps me to get up and get moving on a daily basis.
So truth be told, there is nothing I can do for my God. There is nothing I can do to gain heaven. Another truth is that is has already been done for me.
My God is perfect an Holy. I am not. If I come to Him in my brokenness and failure He does not reject me though. He cannot embrace me because I am dirty. You see, if god takes me in with my sin covering me like a shroud, I would bring my dirt with me. Thus God would be marred by my filth. So being pure and holy He cannot be contaminated by sin or He would no longer be pure and holy. So he has to have a barrier between us. In Old Testament Jewish practice and belief, God would come to be with His people in the Temple. There was in the Temple a veil between the people and the Arc, which was where God sat to be with His people. But he could not embrace them you see. He wanted to but could not.
So to solve this, God created a new veil. Not one of thick cloth that was a physical barrier, but one of flesh that would not hinder us getting closer to Him.
He sent His son, Jesus, to become that veil for us. Jesus was sacrificed for us and in that sacrifice the old veil in the temple was torn in two. There was no need for it anymore. With Jesus’ death, He became the veil. When God was on the mercy seat (the arc), he could look upon us because the veil filtered out our sin. Now when we accept Jesus as our savior, He can look at us and can even embrace us because Jesus filters out our sin.
So it is only through the person of Jesus that we can be reconciled to God. It is because of what he did, in dying for us, that God can embrace us. It is what he has DONE, not what we DO, that brings us closer.
That Is why I am not religious. I am just a broken man who needs help getting closer to my God, who loved me first and sent His son to help me get there.

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The Problem with Religion

Someone wiser than myself once said “religion is defined as what you can DO for your god”. I don’t like religion very much. When people ask me if I am religious I say no. The reason being, is that there is nothing I can do for my God. I mean He is God right. What can I give Him that he already doesn’t have?
There are many religions out there that teach that you must do something in order to succeed. Any god that I need to do something for, cannot be very powerful.
My God is omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (everywhere at once) and omnipotent (all powerful). The truth is He does not need me. The greater truth is that He wants me. He loves me. With all my failings and flaws, He loves me.
So what can I do for Him that he cannot do for Himself? I can love Him back.
I am far from perfect and that is ok. I come to God in my brokenness and failure and He looks at me not as what I am but what I can be. What I will become, only through Him.
Some people want to believe that when following a god, any god, that you must set aside reason and common sense. In some cases this is true. The God I worship and follow does not want that. He wants us to use all of our knowledge and reason to see what is right before our eyes. That He is real.
History and archeology support the basic claims of the Christian bible. The supernatural claims are not proven as easily. They need to be experienced. They can only be experienced by faith. The definition of faith is: Firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) :complete trust. It seems like an oxymoron, to believe in something that you have no proof of. God, the God I believe in, does not leave you hanging like that.
He gives you proofs in everyday life that will give you something to grasp onto. Only then when you have that small thing clutched in your hand does He ask you to step out in faith.
There are many things you can look at that are beyond explanation. Why do we have a functioning eye? Why do we have thoughts outside of ourselves? How do bees even fly? These are questions science cannot answer. Research these questions and you will see that while there is no rational explanation, we understand that maybe science will be able to answer these someday. Until then we have to accept them on faith.
If we take these things on faith, then why not God? Once we accept God on faith, then we can truly experience what He wants for us.
Don’t get me wrong, things won’t all of the sudden become perfect and peachy keen when we begin to follow God. There will still be pain and heartache and unexplainable miseries. What will change is that you will notice that there is hope in the midst of life’s tragedies. The feeling and knowledge that someone is in your corner.
It is this belief that gives you the strength and peace of mind to keep moving. This is why I believe. It helps me to get up and get moving on a daily basis.
So truth be told, there is nothing I can do for my God. There is nothing I can do to gain heaven. Another truth is that is has already been done for me.
My God is perfect an Holy. I am not. If I come to Him in my brokenness and failure He does not reject me though. He cannot embrace me because I am dirty. You see, if god takes me in with my sin covering me like a shroud, I would bring my dirt with me. Thus God would be marred by my filth. So being pure and holy He cannot be contaminated by sin or He would no longer be pure and holy. So he has to have a barrier between us. In Old Testament Jewish practice and belief, God would come to be with His people in the Temple. There was in the Temple a veil between the people and the Arc, which was where God sat to be with His people. But he could not embrace them you see. He wanted to but could not.
So to solve this, God created a new veil. Not one of thick cloth that was a physical barrier, but one of flesh that would not hinder us getting closer to Him.
He sent His son, Jesus, to become that veil for us. Jesus was sacrificed for us and in that sacrifice the old veil in the temple was torn in two. There was no need for it anymore. With Jesus’ death, He became the veil. When God was on the mercy seat (the arc), he could look upon us because the veil filtered out our sin. Now when we accept Jesus as our savior, He can look at us and can even embrace us because Jesus filters out our sin.
So it is only through the person of Jesus that we can be reconciled to God. It is because of what he did, in dying for us, that God can embrace us. It is what he has DONE, not what we DO, that brings us closer.
That Is why I am not religious. I am just a broken man who needs help getting closer to my God, who loved me first and sent His son to help me get there.

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The Myth of Labels

How many of you reading this now call yourselves Republicans? How many of you call yourselves Democrats? How about Liberal or Conservative?
Who among you call yourselves Christian or Atheist?
Are you American or Chinese or some other nationality?
We want to label ourselves and others to show that we recognize and accept the fact the we have differences. The truth is that we are different. Some are short, some tall. There are those with red hair and those that are blond. Even the color of our skin differentiates us from one another.
What are differences should do is help us identify us. What they should not do is separate us. Unfortunately we have purposely chosen to promote the later and ignore the former.
We can no longer identify people by just looking at them. When we see a tattooed biker or a man wearing a clergy collar, we don’t know who is the nice guy and who is the villain. Maybe we never did. It just seems to be getting harder to tell the good guys from the bad.
We have allowed our differences to separate us.
Just look at the walls of any college union and you will see posters for the Asian Student Union, the Black Student Union and even the Gay and Lesbian Union. They are as numerous as there are differences. They were meant to serve the purpose of allowing minority groups to find a place where they could feel at home, with like minded people. What they have become is a way to isolate ourselves and never fully merge into the culture we chose to be part of.
It is not just on college campuses though. We see it in every walk of life. Churches have become a way for people to hide from the world. Workplaces can become traps themselves. So can the home.
In the home we have isolated ourselves to the point of not even knowing our neighbors. Why should we leave? We have cable, the internet and cell phones to connect us to the outside world.
In every walk of life we have found ways to separate ourselves from people who are not like us. We create these false labels of difference and hide behind them. Sure we intermingle in the outside world, but inwardly we have developed an “us and them” attitude.
This shines brightest in the workplace. We are the workers and They are the management. Unions have widened this divide and work hard to convince us that They, the management, are bad and without the union We, the workers, would be treated as slaves, who get minimum wage and suffer while the managers live in splendor. Don’t get me wrong. There are situations that need some kind of intervention. The Union steps in and helps the employees. The problem is that once in place, they don’t want to leave and continue the Us vs Them propaganda, long after they need to. So we have continual division.
There are people who make a living on division. When people are separated by inconsequential differences they are easier to manipulate. They are easily led. There is safety in not letting people get together and realize they may have a common enemy.
This has become apparent most recently in so called “race relations”. People like Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson, along with groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, have found that dividing people and stirring them up against each other can be a lucrative business.
Before I begin this next section on race, let me just state this, in the spirit of full disclosure: I have been married to a beautiful black woman for, going on, 14 years. I have 3 beautiful biracial children. I have no issues with people of a different color, race, creed or religion; just the people who use those differences as a way of dividing and profiting.
The label of race is a confusing one to me. If I see a black man in a crowd of white people, and I want to point him out, is it racist to say ” Hey, do you see that black guy over there?”. If I am just trying to point out a specific person, what is the problem with using skin color as a way to identify, specifically, who I am referring to? There is none. The problem is making general statements that usually start like this, “those black people…”
We are not born with racist tendencies. From birth children don’t care who they have as a friend, only that they are not mean. Somewhere along the line, with the help of parents and others we begin to label people. We start to believe that there is an “us” and “them”. Why does this segregation come so easily?
We may be born with an innate tendency to get along with others (regardless of their label), but we are also born with a self serving streak. A selfishness born of the need to have what we think we need. One of the first words a kid masters is “Mine!”. We want what we want and spend our whole lives trying to get it or defend it.
We use our labels as a way of finding like minded people who can help us get what we want. The truth is though, that even thought we use labels to get what we want, labels are not who we are. Labels are what other people have put upon us. Sometimes we hate them, other times we wear them like a badge of honor.
Identity is what we truly are, and no one knows our true identity but us. Our identity is who we are when we are alone. When we are not putting up false fronts for others. It is when we drop our labels and just be who we really are.
So where do we get our identity from? I’m know where mine now comes from and I also know that we are born with it and rarely does it change. Don’t get me wrong, it can change, but it is a hard process. It usually comes with some kind of devastating change in our lives. It does not happen but maybe once or twice in a persons life and is usually dramatic. Unlike some of the labels we are given, which can change with the wind.
My identity now comes with who I align myself with. My belief is in God has given me a new identity. It gives me something to strive for. It gives me hope that there is something better down the line.
My identity is also that I am a husband and father. I am a friend and a brother. This is who I am. If someone wants to label me as something else (whether it be white, conservative, slacker or nice guy), that is for them and I can’t allow their view of me to become my identity.
My identity is who I am. The views that others have of me, though than can become an issue, are not. Don’t let someone else define you. Just stay true to your identity and ignore the voices trying to tell you who they think you are. You may want to check your behavior if you get consistently labeled in a particular way, and be sure that behavior lines up with your identity. But never let other people define you.

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The Tyranny of Safety

We all want to be safe.
This seems like the most benign statement on the surface. If you look just below the surface though, you may find some disturbing questions.
What is safety, really? What are we willing to do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? How much do we really want to know about what we need to be kept safe from? Is there safety in the truth? Is safety just an emotional feeling, “I feel safe.”, or is it a more tangible thing we can grasp and hold onto?
I, myself, have to start with this question, “what makes me feel safe?”. It may seem like a pretty straightforward question, but it is not. At this very moment I feel safe because I have a hot cup of coffee in my hands and there is nothing at the moment that is threatening me or my family. This could change in a heartbeat. Just a few weeks ago I felt very unsafe because the ebola virus was in the U.S. and, working in a hospital, I knew I was on the front lines. That scare passed, but what is right around the corner?
As a child, it is much easier to identify your fears and thus find a place of safety. If I heard a strange noise outside my window at night, safety would be my parents bed. If the local bully was at the park, safety would come in my room playing games or reading a book. (Books have always given me a measure of safety from the real world.)
The key here, whether kids or adults, is that that there is a trade-off. I had to trade my warm bed for my parents bed. I had to trade a fun day outside for one inside.
When we want safety we always have to give something up. Here in the U.S. we have to give up two main things to feel safe. Money and freedom. We trade our money for things like home security systems and guns, in the hope that we never need them. We trade freedoms for things like invasive searches when we get on a plane or restrictive gun laws, all with the underlying hope that we will be safer in the long run.
Money is easier to separate from. We can always get more right? Just work some overtime or stash a little more away in savings. Freedom is not so easy to give up. We grumble about the TSA patdowns, we fight against the growing power of the State to take our guns; but in the end we let these things go, all because we somehow believe we are safer.
The hardest thing to let go of, though, is that gnawing sense that something isn’t right. Why do we have to lock our doors at night? Why do we always worry about out kids when they have run off to the park? Why do we feel less safe when we have given up so much to feel safer?
Fear is a great motivator. When people are afraid they are more willing to give up their rights. After Sandy Hook and other mass shootings, the media fed us a daily stream of images to feed those fears. They made gun control seem like a logical response. Many bought into that; hook, line and sinker. Why? Because we wanted safety.
Any cursory examination of the facts could tell us otherwise. Wherever gun control is the norm, crime is abundant. That seems counter-intuitive right? Not really. Reason brought about by fear is never true reason. Logic trumps reason in most cases. Logic tells us that criminals don’t abide by laws and regulations. Only the “law abiding” citizens do that. So logic tells us that if law abiding citizens give up their guns and criminals do not, then that makes us less safe. Logic trumps reason.
So in the trade-off of freedoms (and money) for safety, we want to feel like we have made the right decisions. We don’t want to be wrong so we hope and pray that we made the right decision. We still cant shake that gnawing sense that something is not right.
So what do we do? When there is a terrorist attack or some other disaster, we hunker down, lock our doors and try to continue on with life as we once knew it. We go into denial. We pretend that everything is alright.
So the question remains, “What do we do?”.
I don’t know. I look around and try to figure it out, but I don’t have an answer. I just know I don’t want the media telling me what to fear and what not to. No talking head on CNN can tell me how to stay safe. The only way I feel safe, and can lessen that gnawing feeling that something is wrong, is when I have a firm grasp on who I am and who I am not. I am me and I am not God.
I have to believe that someone greater than myself has everything under control. That they know better and have the bigger picture than I do. Is that a cop out? Some people believe that. Some people think that believing in God is akin to believing in Pinnochio or a genie in the bottle.
I disagree. When I know that God is in control, no matter how “out of control” the world seems, I can focus on what it is I have to do. It gives me clarity. I stop having those irrational fears that used to paralyze me. I know that EVERYTHING is not my responsibility, and I can free up my mind to do what I need to do in order to bring safety to me and my family.
One issue at a time and I step forward. I progress. I know that whatever decision I make will always work out for the best.
That is the best I can do. Just keep moving and try to sort out the good from the bad.
I won’t ever give up believing and trying to keep me and my family safe from whatever the world throws at us. I will (in the words of Dory), “Just keep swimming”.

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The Conspiracy of Pain

There are certain things we all take for granted. Depending on which country you happen to call home, these can vary greatly. I believe though, especially in western societies, the biggest right of all, that one we hold onto tightly, is the right to have some kind of relief from pain.
Those with chronic pain want the right to lessen it to a more tolerable level, or just have a short amount of time free from its grip. Those with the more acute or temporary pain, feel the need to be rid of it completely.
Pain has become the most unseen and common ailment in our society. It is one of the first questions asked when you visit the doctor. “On a scale of 1-10, please rate your pain level”. There is even a chart with faces ranging from a smiley face, to one grimacing with supposed intolerable pain. The problem with these questions is that they are totally subjective. There is no monitor that you can hook up, to tell you someone’s pain level, like you would for their blood pressure. We rely on the patients understanding of pain (which is very rare) and their honesty (which can be even more rare). People looking to feed their addictions or just looking for a cheap high are always overrating their pain
Another issue is everyone has a different tolerance for pain. Through my experience in the medical field, I have seen this phenomenon quite a bit. We have had an Amish person come in who mangled his hand in some farm equipment and he is very calm, and rates his pain at a low level, like 3 or 4. I have also seen people come in with a small cut or sliver and scream their heads off, saying that their pain is an 11. Are they lying, or is their pain really that bad. Who are we to judge?
Another complicating factor is disease. Diabetes can cause nerve receptors in the feet to die. Someone with diabetes can have a nasty cut on the bottom of their foot and never feel any pain. So how do we accurately assess the pain of someone else, let alone our own?
Maybe a better question is why do we obsess about treating a symptom (pain is a symptom of other problems), instead of finding the problem and fixing that? Fix the problem you ease the pain. We have become so fixated (in this culture at least) with pain, that it has become a disease in it’s own right. Specialties have come about whose main purpose is to ease pain. This is like having a runny nose specialist. Someone who focuses on treating the runny nose instead of the flu that causes it.
There is one other type of pain that bears mentioning here, but could be a whole other blog in itself. Emotional pain.
Emotional pain can range from slight distress and anxiety, to full blown depression and beyond. Sometimes we know the cause of this pain (someone close to us dying), other times there is no visible reason for it. Either way the pain is very real to those who experience it.
So we have a wide variety of pain and no way to truly determine the extent or sometimes even the cause. We have commercials telling us we can be free from pain and no shortage of doctors trying to prescribe it away or surgically remove it.
We have to ask ourselves why? Why is pain such a horrible thing that we try to rid ourselves from it? The answer may seem obvious, “because it hurts”. Is it really that obvious though?
What about the old adage “Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”? We see pain as a bad thing, but in reality, it is a necessity of growth and dare I say even life. When babies are born the mothers are in pain, but it is a good thing right? Think about muscle growth. In order for muscles to grow, there needs to be tearing and healing. This too is for a good cause, right? When we put our hand on a hot stove, we feel pain. That pain causes us to pull away, thus avoiding serious harm. This too is a good thing, right?
Pain serves a multitude of purposes. It helps us grow and even protects us from injury. The prevailing culture, though, tells us it is a bad thing, so we attack it vigorously. I know from personal experience that pain sucks and saps you of energy. We all do. But I also try to keep it in perspective. My herniated disk tells me daily that I am overdoing it and warns me to ease up. The pain in my knees tells me that I am overweight and need to stop putting such a strain on them. My body talks and sometimes I listen. Pain is sometimes the only way our body can speak to us and get us to listen. So if we mask that pain, or ignore it, we risk further damage. Our bodies were designed in such a way to protect themselves. (They can even heal themselves if given time to rest and restore. But time is something that people feel they cannot spare in this day and age.)
For some people pain is a constant companion, incessantly nagging (or yelling) at them. I understand that. I also understand that the constant barrage of lies telling them it is a bad thing, can be very damaging. So the question remains, “Why are we told that pain is a bad thing?”.
Well many reasons come to mind. First and foremost is that people don’t want to hurt anymore. I also know that big pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies need there revenue to go up, not down. Surgeons need to do surgery and doctors need you to keep coming back. These are a good and beneficial thing, in the right cases. Unfortunately sometimes you do not need these things, but have been convinced you do.
I am not saying that you shouldn’t see your doctor, or you should never have surgery. (Disclaimer: I make my living as a surgical tech) I am saying that you need to trust your body and listen to it. I am saying that commercials do not always offer the best medical advice.
Pain is one of the most troubling things the medical community deals with. It is also the most abused. It is abused because it cannot be truly quantified with any sort of reliability. It is also one of the most profitable. Pain relievers are one of the most, if not the most, prescribed medicine out there. If people had no more pain, companies would go out of business. Your pain becomes someone’s financial security. Think about that.
Again, I am not advocating blowing off your doctor or not looking for ways to ease your pain. Just think about why you have pain. Do what you can to solve the problem and not just mask a symptom. And always remember… things aren’t always what they seem.

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To What Do We Owe Our Thanks?

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving, or as some have redubbed it, Brown/Black Thursday. Then came Black Friday. While shoppers waited in line for hours to get that great sale, others, like myself, took advantage of a day off to kick back and relax. I always wondered how so many people get duped into believing they are saving anything by being the first one in that store come Friday morning. That 55″ big screen TV that is on sale for $799.00, yeah it was $799.00 back over the summer. The stores slowly raised over the next few months so that when they “lowered” the price on Black Friday (back down to its normal price), the price conscious consumers would line up to get it.
I don’t fault people for trying to get a bargain. If you work hard for your money , you want/need it to stretch as far as possible. I do dislike stores treating us like idiots though. I have many friends who work in retail and I hear stories, over and over, about how every week during the fall leading up to Black Friday, they raise prices, sometimes slowly, sometimes not.
So what makes people fall for these marketing gimmicks, over and over again? It is the same thing that makes them believe that things will be better if such and such party takes over the White House, or Congress after the next election. It is an unshakable faith in humanity. Always wanting to believe that those who have the power, whether it be in retail or government, are always looking out for us. We want to believe that people have “our” best interests at heart. Unfortunately most people do not.
This may come of as overly cynical, but believe me when I say, it is not. I have spent most of my 43 years on this earth believing the same thing. From birth we trust our parents to care for us, because we have no other choice. In school we trust that our teachers our teaching us the truth. At work we want to believe that our employers have our best interests at heart. In some cases, I believe they do.
Somewhere along the way we start to see something different at play. We begin to see that our parents aren’t perfect. We begin to wonder what it was that our teachers never told us. We see that our employers bottom line, is not it’s employees. In short we begin to see that the world does not revolve around us.
This perspective change can effect people in a few different ways. They either go into denial, like many people do, and continue to believe that everything revolves around them. They can also become cynical and depressed, believing that there is no purpose to this life except to live and die.
I also believe there is a third response. One that happens to people after they go through the other two, to some extent.
This response is understanding that this world is not here for us but we can make the best of it anyways.
We grow up, raise families and want our kids to have it better than we did. This is normal, even commendable, except when that means sheltering those same kids to the point of creating monsters who don’t have a clue how real life works.
As adults we see that life as an adult generally sucks (get up, go to work, eat dinner, go to bed, start all over again. With a well deserved vacation in there somewhere). We don’t want our kids to be jaded, so we pretend that all is well in the world and lavish our kids with whatever they want. They grow up believing that with a little manipulation (whining, begging, being good/bad) they will eventually get their way. In other words, we set them up for failure. Generation after generation has done this. Now we are seeing the predictable result.
We have a whole generation (yes I understand, not all are like this. I am speaking in general terms here) that believes that right out of school they should be making top dollar and when McDonald’s refuses to pay them more than the job is worth, they go on strike.
Which fits right into what I was saying about a section of humanity wanting to believe the world should revolve around them. Some go on strike, some become bitter and resigned to working minimum wage their whole life, and others, well others go out and work hard move up or on in their careers and make the best of it. All the while trying to make sure their kids have it better than they did.
Do you see a vicious cycle here? So what do we do?
Each generation rides this cycle a little bit further down hill. Things appear to be getting worse and worse. What can we do to change this course we are on?
I don’t know.
I don’t know how to change the course of humanity, society or this country. I only know how to change myself. I cannot change you or anyone else in this world. I can only try and show you things that I have seen and how I believe that I have changed over the years.
Have these changes been for the better? I truly believe they were. But it is hard to judge yourself. So here I am throwing it all out to you, and letting you be the judge.
I have a wonderful family, great kids and a stable well supporting career. I have a faith, that while hard to live up to, is great at building me up. I give thanks to God daily for these things that are good in my life, because there are many things in this life that are not so good.
I found my reason for giving thanks. Have you?

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First Things First

Blogs are written for many reasons. Some people feel their need to share their version of the truth, while others just want to share their mothers recipes. I am not sure I have anything new to add to either spectrum. I just want a place to share my thoughts and ideas about the world we live in. Here I can talk about religion, politics and all the other no-no’s of polite company.
I also hope in a small way to help others see that the worldview they are spoon-fed through the mass medias; TV news, sitcoms and the web; may not always be as straightforward as they seem. Thus the title “Things aren’t always what they seem”. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. I have no special insight into politics or how the world in general runs. What I do hope to share is the idea that there is more than one way to see things.

Look beyond what your eyes and ears tell you. Understand that everyone out there has their own agenda, their own version of the truth. I just want to share mine. If no one ever reads this, that’s ok. I just want a place to gather my scattered thoughts. So here it is.

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
C.S. Lewis

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