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Thursday, August 31, 2006


This is dedicated to . . .

Walk a mile in my shoes - Elvis Presley

I want to dedicate this song to all the people out there who are blaming someone else for their trouble. I don't want to stop there either. This song has a good message for all of us who find it too easy to criticize, demean, and generally hate others without even knowing them.

Folks spend a lot less time trying to understand each other than they do pointing fingers. I still believe we have much more in common with others than we have differences.

Life is way too short to spend it angry, bitching, and unhappy.

I may sound like a broken record, but I believe it is true. We are the ones who stress ourselves out. We choose anger when we have it and it destroys us from the inside out.

Choose to slow down. Listen. Hear someone out. Talk to them if they will. If they are not reasonable, don't waste your time trying to convince them. As for you, keep your life clear of these poisonous thoughts and patterns of thinking.

The good stuff is lying right next to the bad. What we focus on and what we pick up is a matter of choice.

"Before you abuse, criticize and accuse - walk a mile in my shoes."

This Elvis song has me primed for my trip to his birthplace this weekend to run the Tupelo Marathon.

Have a nice Thursday folks,

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Bear with me

by Bear

He everyone, it's me Bear. It has been a while since I have applied my paws to the keyboard; have you missed me?

Daddy wanted me to tell you that the BearCam is in operation again. Apparently, you can watch me from your computer. I am not so sure if I like that or not. When Daddy came home from work today and after I settled down - I go crazy a little - he told me that he saw me licking my nads on the BearCam. I guess I will have to be more careful.

It has been hot around here. I stay in the air conditioning as much as I can unless Daddy is outside. If I stay out very long, I look for a bush then I dig into the cool dirt and lay down. Daddy always tells me to stop because I am scattering the dirt too much.

I have been playing football. Daddy bought me a football a couple of months ago and I really like it. I like the tennis ball too, but the football is funner to chase. I never know which way it is going to bounce. Daddy puts different spins on it to make the bounce even more unpredictable.

My brother LJ is back at school in Baton Rouge. It was fun having him home in the summer. I miss him because my days are longer now. I just sit and wait for my Mommy and Daddy to come home.

No big deal though, I do some serious sleeping during that time.

Daddy says I have to stay at the vet this weekend because he is going to Tupelo, MS to run a marathon. Rats.

OK, that's all I have to say. Be sure to watch me on the BearCam.

Bye for now,


Tuesday, August 29, 2006


My Life Part XIX: They keep telling me I can't

When I returned to school in New Orleans I entered familiar territory. My former roommate, now married was working at a psychiatric hospital as a clinical associate. Other names for the position are aid, tech, mental health worker. This job falls under nursing. It is entry level and you work directly with the patients. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers come and go as they please, but the techs have to stay with the patients. They maintain the levels of observation like visual contact. They give the patients their sharps (toiletries) and check them back in. They monitor their whereabouts, walk them to meals and therapies, accompany them on outside appointments, and take vital signs.

Richard told me they needed more clinical associates so he would speak to the nurse manager about me and try to get me a job. I had hope. Not only did a job look promising, but it was going to be in my field of study. What a great deal. Sure enough, Richard got me an interview with Kathy the nurse manager. Kathy was a nice lady, very outgoing and proud of her Italian heritage. The interview went well. She let on that she would recommend me for hire, but I still had to interview with the medical director and the administrator.

I figured I was in. With a friend vouching for me, and the person who would be my boss liking me, what could go wrong? The medical director was a young guy. He wore a leather jacket and proclaimed himself "the Miami Vice of psychiatry." He had the kind of ego that made Narcissus look like he had an inferiority complex. He came from wealth and trained at one of the ivy league schools back east. He focused on my eyesight a lot. I was used to people having questions, but I normally set folks at ease. I am resourceful and adaptive. By this time in my life I knew my limitations and did not attempt something I did not know I could do where work is concerned. I did not expect any special treatment or accommodations on the job. He continued to ask me what I would do if an adolescent patient made fun of me and how would I get to work if I could not drive. He asked questions that to me were not even issues, but my answers did not seem to end his inquisition. Funny how the people who should be most understanding; are sometimes the least understanding.

I did not get the job. I thought for sure I had it, but no dice. I heard from Kathy that the medical director and administrator thought I would be a liability due to my poor eyesight. I was angry, but mostly hurt. I can handle failure, but not "getting a chance to swing the bat" tore at me. It was a familiar scenario. I was often told I could not do something I knew deep down I could do. I had also learned that some people see far worse due to their self-imposed limitations they accept. I am not talking about eyesight, but vision of the mind. I had to move on and find another way.

This was in October of 1985. Nothing emerged right away. In the mean time, I did the grounds at the apartment complex where we lived. Eventually I had a promising lead at a rescue mission in New Orleans to work with an alcoholic treatment program. Before I had accepted the position officially I received a call from the administrator of the hospital that turned me down for the psych tech job.

Sam hemmed and hawed to say something to the affect, "sometimes you make a mistake by not giving a person a chance and we would like to give you a chance." He did not say this exactly, but it was the meaning I understood. Then to my surprise, Sam offered me a job as a security guard. Without thinking I blurted out, "wouldn't I need to have better vision to be a security guard than to be a psych tech?" I was told that if I did well as a security guard, I could eventually move to the clinical associate job. Security guard was a generous term for what I did. No gun or uniform - just a name tag and a vague job description. The new building for the hospital was under consruction so that was my post. Walking around in a nearly completed building.

I started working nights as a security guard at a psychiatric hospital. Barbara dropped me off for the 11 - 7 shift, then drove back to the apartment. We had to get John out, now 9 months, each night since there was no one at home to watch him while she drove me to work. In the morning I took the bus to school, rode the bus home in the afternoon and got some sleep before getting up about 10:00 PM to get ready for work and replay the process.

I began in January and only because of my bugging them was I able to switch to a psych tech job. In March of 1986 I was given my first position in psychiatry. I should not have had to jump through all of those hoops, but I am glad I did. We do not often get a lot of say so about our journey. I would have been justified to tell them to shove the security job, but by taking it, I eventually got what I first sought. Life is about settling for close enough a lot of the time.

When I hear someone say something to the affect that they are too good to work at McDonalds, I want to wring their neck. It would be nice to begin at the top, but you can learn a lot working your way up.

One of the morals of this story is to break your goals down into smaller goals. Be flexible. Keep in mind what you want and be willing to crawl a bit to get it. So far it has worked for me.

I had my start. I was learning psychology in the classroom and I was learning it on the job.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, August 28, 2006


My Life Part XVIII: I know what it means to miss New Orleans?

Maybe it's magic, or maybe there is something to those Voodoo spells, but we were missing New Orleans. Maybe it was the unique food and people, maybe it was the riverboat's lonely call at night, Mardi Gras, Spanish moss hanging in trees, or maybe New Orleans had cast her spell on us.

We liked a lot about Illinois, including the people and the changing seasons. I grew up in the Midwest so it was more like home to me than New Orleans. Barbara was a southern girl and it was hard for her to be away from her family. It was difficult for them too.

I remember when Mardi Gras rolled around; knowing what was going on in New Orleans was tough to take when life was just normally going by in Rock Island. I felt like I was missing something and I was.

There is something about the south. It was my home now and I would not feel at home until I would return.

Before John was born, we had decided to return to New Orleans and I would go back to the seminary to work on my doctor of education degree in the area of counseling and psychology.

The work in Rock Island was a two-year commitment. The understanding was that an evaluation would occur sometime to determine what to do next. We hadn't started a church, but we had a few people who were meeting regularly at our services.

Those folks could easily cross the river and attend the church in Milan. There were no hard feelings about us leaving. The folks who hired us were good to us the entire time and were also gracious with us leaving.

In a way I suppose we were lame ducks that last 6 months. I had plenty to do. There was work in local churches that could use an extra hand and I was taking care of John during the day.

Barbara was working at a shelter for battered women and I stayed home with John. I even changed dirty diapers although my method was a bit unorthodox.

I have no problem getting dirty. I can work on an engine and get covered with grease and oil or work in the yard and have mud and dirt from head to toe. Smells, however, are my kryptonite. That little baby could manufacture smells that would run dogs from gut wagons and send cockroaches running into the light to escape it.

I couldn't hold my breath long enough to change the diaper like Barbara could. Women seem to have a special ability or are immune to noxious odors.

I developed my own method. First, I would take a few deep breaths in the safe zone to build up my air. Second, I opened the diaper, removed it, bagged it, and then disposed of it, while still holding my breath.

Then I would grab John and move quickly to the bathroom. By now, I would take my first breaths. In my left hand, I held John with his backside up. My right hand turned on the bath water and I let the water wash over his rump cleaning away the debris from his digestive tract.

After that, the smell was tolerable and I could devote full attention to A and D ointment, baby powder, and anything else he needed.

It wasn't easy working at home with a baby. He always needed something, like bottles, changing, being held, played with, it never seemed to end. The one thing I relied on was his wind up swing. The swing was magic. It had the ability to keep him busy so I could do my work. The only problem was his mother. Barbara believed I used the swing too much.

During the day, I would put John in the swing and he would often go to sleep. The first time or two, I tried to remove him and lay him on a pallet where he might be more comfortable, but it only woke him up. So I learned to just leave him in the swing, slumped over.

I had to keep an ear out for Barbara coming home, because she would give me the third degree if she discovered her precious baby all crumpled up in the swing. She didn't like the marks the swing left on his legs from hanging there even though I pointed out that they always went away. It was a circulation thing.

One day, I had John in the swing and he went to sleep just like clockwork. I was working and being productive without the interruptions he could make. I looked down the hall from my office to check on him and I noticed something dark directly under the swing. I prayed it was a leaf, but when I arrived on scene I learned the awful fact that he had pooped. It was all over him, the swing, and the floor.

Of course I heard, "If you wouldn't leave him in the swing so long, that wouldn't happen," from Barbara.

It was fun taking care of him. One thing about walking around with a baby, women are drawn to you like a sale sign at a department store. It was always fun at the mall. Barbara would be shopping and I would be sitting on a bench telling every woman in the mall how old he was and how much he weighed when he was born.

Our days wound down in Illinois. It was a nice chapter in our lives. We met nice people, enjoyed the changing of seasons, and found some direction for the future.

We were headed back to school. Times would be tough financially, but we felt that we were on a path that was leading somewhere. Barbara's parents were thrilled we were coming home and we were too.

Like a big magnet, New Orleans had drawn us back in. She hasn't let us go since.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, August 25, 2006


Sometimes it works

What do you do for a living? Do you make or sell widgets? At the end of the day can you look at what you have done and measure it objectively?

A couple of summers while I was in college, I hauled bricks and mixed mud for a mason. It was gratifying to look at a pile of cinder blocks at the beginning of a job and watch it transform into a building of some sort or to watch a naked house grow brick clothing and a chimney to boot.

I have bussed tables, washed dishes, prepared food, and delivered papers. All of those jobs had a certain feedback built into them.

What if your job results aren’t so easy to measure? How do you know if what you are doing is working or if it makes a difference?

As a counselor in a psychiatric hospital, I cross paths with a lot of people that I am charged to help. Some I never meet; I just talk to them on the telephone. Others I only work with briefly for a day or two. Most of these people I see for about a week or so.

Some of them come back and over the years, I get to know them fairly well. Others we never see or hear from again.

Occasionally, our patients make the papers. We read of a suicide or the details of a police report.

Every now and then, our patients just call to check in. They want to let us know they are doing well. This is always a nice surprise. It is confirmation that sometimes it works. “It” being our efforts applied to the efforts of the individual.

A couple of days ago I got one of those phone calls. It was from a young man we had in the hospital two or three years ago. I will refer to him as Christopher.

Christopher’s main problem was drugs. He had made a pretty big mess out of his life at a young age. By the time he crossed our threshold, he had already been through several treatments.

Christopher was intelligent and said all the right things. This is not unusual for someone with a drug problem. Addicts are notorious for promises and good intentions. In Christopher’s case he had sampled some of what the Prodigal son had tasted. His life had spiraled down to living out of his car and bouncing from one treatment center to another.

I spent more time with him individually than I usually do with patients. One reason was because he requested the meetings. He talked about the future and looked forward to living independently, going to school, and getting a job.

Those were nice goals, but that’s what they all say. I wouldn’t say I have become cynical, but I don’t hold my breath every time someone shares a dream. I believe these folks mean well, but one reason they have problems is because those good intentions are often abandoned when reality sets in. There is nothing like hard times and difficulty to send an addict back to the bottle or the crack pipe.

I remember Christopher being humble. He asked questions and seemed to have the right mix of confidence and fear. I helped him get into a group home with a good reputation for helping folks. He stuck it out and completed about a year of treatment.

Along the way, I would hear reports about how well Christopher was doing. I was glad. Eventually, he moved on. Christopher told me he wound up in one city and fell back into drugs for a brief time. He quickly got back on the wagon and got away from the bad influences.

He completed technical school and is now a computer technician with a good company. He is staying in school for more certifications. He met a woman and things seem to be going well on that front.

All and all, Christopher has the life he dreamed about only a couple of years ago. He is in love, he is working, he is going to school, and he is living independently. He called to thank me for my help, but I told him that what he has is because of the work he has done.

All of this would have been enough to feel pretty good about Christopher, but there is more. He told me that he has been active in the local Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. He is a “sponsor” which is someone who serves as a lifeline to new folks in the program.

Christopher has spoken to groups at some of the treatment centers he attended. He is living proof that “it” can be done. A little work and sticking to it goes a long way.

So here’s to Christopher. I hope he is toasting with Coca Cola. May he continue on the path and see his dreams fulfilled along the journey.

So you see folks; sometimes it really does work.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Why is everyone so angry?

It is inescapable. Our media displays it 24/7. Angry people with a cause spewing hatred for those they feel are to blame. Nationalism, political polarism, racial tension, and even sports rivalries have been an anger on steroids.

Rodney King had the correct sentiment, "Can't we all get along?"

Monday and Tuesday's television viewing brought this condition of anger and hate to a sharp focus within me.

Hear me out.

Monday: I watched Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.

I was here before, during, and after Katrina. I was interested to see how Spike Lee would tell the story. Hurricane Katrina affected millions of people and therefore there are millions of stories.

The documentary has received good reviews, but I found it extremely one-sided. It could have been more aptly named. Katrina: How an incompetent, uncaring, racist government tried to wipe out the black people of New Orleans.

80% of New Orleans was under water after Katrina. The entire Parish of St. Bernard was inundated. So whoever was living there lost everything. The urban myth of the levees being intentionally blown up was floated again without any proof more than opinion.

There are so many things I could respond to in the film, but it would only draw me into what I am trying to avoid. The film fans the flames of hatred, paranoia, and the opinion “I've been wronged by the white man again.”

Harry Belafonte praised Hugo Chavez the dictator of Venezuela while calling George Bush a racist. Al Sharpton had numerous spots and freely spewed his racist commentary.

Spike Lee is a powerful man. He uses his power to proclaim his racist views through pseudo art.

Without going more into the points of the film, my point is that the media is chalk full of anger, hatred, and racism. The result is more anger, hatred, and racism.

Tuesday: I did not feel like being preached to for another two hours by the reverend Spike Lee. Thankfully, I recorded another HBO movie on the TiVo: Because of Winn-Dixie.

The movie is about a 10 year-old girl who just moved to Naomi, Florida with her preacher father. Opal crossed paths with a dog she named Winn-Dixie and a series of events were set in motion that brought together a lot of people from various walks of life.

People who were loners, misfits, and outcasts came together. The movie transcended age, class, and race. The story showed how an open mind, time, listening, and an open heart could result in an enriched life.

Lonely people found friends and everyone learned more about what is really important in life.

So what?:
It is my belief that because we are saturated with more of the negative, angry, hate filled media offerings than positive ones; negativity, anger, and hate become a habit or a reflex. When we watch something good and wholesome, it stirs something inside that makes us feel good and warm.

I don't think the world has changed as much as we have just started looking at it differently. Good is out there. It is within each of us. We see acts of kindness and sacrifice all the time.

We are the ones who must modulate how much hate and anger we let into our minds and hearts. This is done by changing the channel and certainly by not spreading it.

It comes down to personal choice. There are many things competing for our consciousness. Take stock of your attitude. If you are too negative, angry, and complaining all the time, do something about it.

Don't jump into the negative discussions at work. Instead look for something that is realistically positive and hang on to that. Negativity and anger is a cancer that will eventually destroy you. Learn to let go of conflict. Laugh more, and choose happiness.

I am not suggesting we all join hands and sing Kumbaya. A move away from hatred and anger does not mean you have to be Pollyanna either.

It can be done. We are only alive for a blink of eternity's eye, don't spend that brief moment all knotted up inside. Do something happy today; let go of something that is eating at you.

It is after all up to you.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, August 21, 2006


My Life Part XVII: Birth and nearly death

The pregnancy went well from my point of view. Barbara had to deal with morning sickness and a host of other things that occur when you have something growing in your body.

We converted my office into a nursery. It was fun gathering all of the baby things. It was hard to believe we were going to be parents. I bought a couple of books and kept up with what was happening inside Barbara. I was fascinated with the whole experience and I wanted details.

We attended a birth class at the hospital where the baby was to be born. Barbara grew and grew. Eventually it came time for the birth. We went a few days with the false labor. Barbara was miserable and the doctor decided it was time. He set a date for us to come to the hospital and he would induce labor if necessary.

I guess the baby got the word and decided to start the labor pains on its own. They started in a way, Barbara thought she could handle, but they intensified. Barbara is one of the few women who have to drive themselves to the hospital. I wasn’t Desi Arnez; things went pretty smooth. The hospital was just down the street and we had already discussed all of it.

We made it to our room around 10:00 AM. We were given our instructions from the nurse then left pretty much alone. The contractions began to come faster and stronger. Her demeanor changed from jovial to serious.

Barbara had what they call back labor. She felt a lot of pressure in her lower back and it helped some if I could put my arms around her and lift her up. That little maneuver hurt my back, but I'm not looking for sympathy. The contractions were about two minutes long and one minute apart. This went on and on.

The doctor broke the water himself trying to speed things along. Finally she dilated to the point we were moved to the labor room. By now there was some action. I gained a lot of respect for Barbara and her ability to take pain. She needed an episiotomy and that looked like it hurt.

Anyway, things got down to business. The doctor said to me, "Did you want a boy or a girl?" "I just want it to be healthy," was my response. "Oh, come on, what do you want?" he said. "A son", I answered. "You have your son; it's a boy." Then he told Barbara, "I now pronounce you unpregnant."

I couldn't do anything but stand there with a softball lump in my throat. John was being cleaned up and attended to by the nurse. I followed her to have him weighed and measured 20.5 inches 7 lbs. 7 oz.

The rest of the evening was a blur of phone calls and emotional highs. I was happy and proud at the same time, but it was a feeling I had never experienced.

I walked the short distance home and barely felt the ground. I was a father.

Those of you who are parents know the elation. You know the relief too, because in the back of your mind there is a fear something may go wrong. In our case, the birth went normal as far as we knew. John was born in the evening and after he was weighed, cleaned, and all of the things they do, Barbara and I called our families and friends to share the good news.

Barbara's mom, dad, and sister were on their way to Rock Island, IL from Mississippi. They would arrive the next day, Saturday. The whole event was emotionally draining for me and physically and emotionally draining for Barbara.

That evening when I left the hospital, I snapped this photo of my new son. I stood there staring at him, feeling very responsible. I had a little person depending on me. It felt good. I had so much to teach him and prepare him for, but I was tired, so I decided to begin the next day.
LJ less than one day old

Saturday was a great day. I went over to the hospital to see Barbara and John. On the way, I stopped at the gift shop and bought John a small, white, Scottie stuffed animal. They brought John in the room for a while, then he had to go back to the nursery. Barbara's family arrived in the afternoon and they were thrilled to hold their new grandson and nephew. Life was good.

I had preaching responsibilities. Sunday, I went to church, then beat it over to the hospital to see the family. When I arrived, I heard a nurse's voice say, "There's the father." The way she said it let me know something was wrong. One of the nurses stopped me in the hall and told me John had developed a fever. It was 101 at present, but has climbed since it was first discovered. They had Barbara sign a release for a spinal tap so they could determine what was happening.

After the nurse briefed me, I went into Barbara's room and I could tell she was scared. Things had been so good, now I was getting concerned. The nurses were serious in their speech and mannerisms. Something was definitely going on. Barbara said when she tried to feed John last night, he was a bit listless, but she only recognized it in retrospect.

Barbara's parents arrived and we waited together only having conjecture to occupy the time. Finally, the doctor came into the room. He told us to sit down. "Your son has meningitis. If he lives, he could be blind, deaf, paralyzed, mentally retarded . . ." The doctor went on with a list of maladies that had our head spinning. He further explained, that newborns often are not strong enough to fight off this disease. The fever rises, the brain swells, and they eventually die. Many times, the condition is caught too late. Fortunately, the nurses were on the ball. They called the doctor, penicillin was started immediately, then the spinal tap was ordered to confirm their suspicions.

I was scared now. After what the doctor said, I had very little hope. John was going to take a helicopter ride to Peoria to another hospital. This was necessary in case he needed a white blood cell transfusion. John's white count was getting dangerously low.

By now, the baby had a significant headache and was generally miserable with the fever. I saw him lying in the incubator. I reached my hand in and his little hand grasped my index finger. All of a sudden he jerked and began crying loudly. Then when he cried himself out, he would loosen the grip and be out of it. Soon the pain would grab him again and the process was repeated. I would have taken his pain or traded places with him if there had been any way, but there was not. His first battle, he had to fight alone. I could not help and I felt the intense helplessness.

We had support from our family and our church family, but the fear, disappointment, sadness, and grief was heavy. Barbara was recovering from a grueling birth and felt bad enough all other things being normal.

The flight team prepared John and the incubator for travel. The helicopter arrived and we had to say goodbye. We watched as they wheeled him outside down the sidewalk to the helicopter. Then the rotars began to turn and in moments the noise of the helicopter was at peak. As it lifted off, Barbara and I held each other and cried. Our joy had been transformed to deep sadness and uncertainty. That night would be one of the most difficult I have ever experienced.

Back in the room, I looked at the stuffed animal I had bought John. His goodie bag with the name tag which adorned his bed was taped to it. Everywhere I looked, I saw, what were supposed to be happy things, but they only made my fear and sadness greater. I could hear other babies on the floor. Other families were happy like we were only a few hours ago.

We packed Barbara up and went home for the night. The house was decorated with pink and blue streamers and balloons. I had printed off a banner saying "Welcome Home Sweeties." All of that seemed so out of place and just added to the emotional pain we were feeling. How can things change so quickly? How can you be on the mountain top one moment and in the valley the next?

In the morning, we were going to head to Peoria. Hopefully, Barbara would be better suited for travel in the morning. I tossed and turned all night. By morning, the news had begun to change. His white count stopped the slide. The fever did not increase. He never needed the transfusion or oxygen. The doctors were sounding more optimistic.

Traveling was quite uncomfortable for Barbara, but we made it to Peoria. St. Francis Hospital had a state of the art neonatal intensive care unit. I learned how to gown and scrub up. This was necessary to enter the unit. The rest of that week, I fed John every chance I got. He continued to improve and the fear of losing him was gone. The doctors ran tests to assess any other damage. They could not find any. At the end of the week, we were transferred back to the Rock Island hospital. John would spend one more week there to finish his antibiotics.
John in the ICU

Long story short, he made it. No damage of any kind. He is a normal kid. That was one heck of a scare, but now it is the cornerstone of my gratitude to God for restoring my son to me. My life has been enriched with the experiences of fatherhood and getting to know this fine young man God gave me to raise.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, August 17, 2006


My Life Part XVI: Hello Daddy

After being married just over a year, we began talking about having a baby. It was strange having the discussion. Thinking of being responsible for a baby was interesting sure, but mostly it was scary.

Money was our greatest concern, but we soon decided we would never have enough money. The decision was made to try to make a baby. Barbara stopped taking the pill and we allowed nature to take its course.

I bought a book about babies and learned about ovulation and timing. It was in the summer of 1984 during the Los Angeles Olympic Games when Barbara began to feel different.

Her period was late so we purchased a home pregnancy test kit. The following tells the story about the test.
Hello Daddy

"Hello daddy," those two words set off a silent explosion inside me. All at once I was thinking about the joys and drawbacks of having a child of your own. Everything from playing catch with my son to where is the money going to come from for junior's college tuition.

Barbara and I had just started trying to have a child. It didn't take very long. Several of the signs were present so to confirm our suspicions, we invested in an $8.00 early pregnancy test kit. It resembled a small chemistry set, so naturally Barbara let me figure out how it worked. It was very simple really, a few drops of her processed water and 45 minutes were all that was required. If she was pregnant a little circle would appear in the solution.

I got up and started the test about 7:00 AM on a hot summer day in August. 45 minutes was too long for me to wait standing still, so I opted for an 8 mile run. I remember running along and thinking about all the "what ifs" and possible scenarios. I really hoped that Barbara was pregnant. "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" was my attitude. If other people could do it then so could I. I do admit to being a little scared. I guess if you half way realize the responsibility and opportunity that comes with being a parent, you would be a fool not to be just a little scared.

I finished my run and came up the stairs to our apartment. Tim and Prisca were visiting us from New Orleans and Prisca was in the bedroom with Barbara. When I came in things were relatively quiet given the fact that it was morning and Tim was sleeping in the next room. Then Prisca looked at me and said very matter of factly, "hello daddy" and I knew that the circle must have appeared in the chemistry set. Audio version

Things were about to get interesting and we had no idea just how interesting.

Until the next time

John Strain


Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Nose to the wheel

Nose to the wheel

Yes friends, it is back to work. I had a fun day in Baton Rouge yesterday getting John and Roy set up at LSU, but now it is back to the old grind.

Have a nice Wednesday.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, August 15, 2006


No work today; sort of

School has started and the colleges will be back in class soon. I took off today to help my son move some things to Baton Rouge. I have been enlisted to hang a flat screen television for John's roommate Roy and some rerouting of cables.

First things first, I have to run 9 miles, feed the squirrels, and walk the dog.

The anniversary of Katrina is creeping up on us. The other day when I came out of work, it was cloudy and blustery. A chill ran up my spine because it was so reminiscent of the conditions when Katrina was approaching. The news media is making a big deal out of it (the anniversary) and trying to gin up emotions.

They run stories about how people are going to freak out on the anniversary. Let me just say – BS. There is no reason to freak out. The hurricane was a year ago. The time to freak was during the hurricane. If you didn't lose it then; you missed your chance. You should just continue to live your life without emotional interruption.

The news folks would love to have some folks commit suicide or take a gun and mow down a crowd of people due to post traumatic hurricane stress. They are after the self fulfilling prophecies.

An anniversary is a time to remember. No doubt it will stir feelings, but those who get overwhelmed focus on the negative. They will only think about what they lost, how things are different, and how awful all of it is. People will have those feelings, but they should also allow the other feelings to come in. A lot of good has resulted from the hurricane. America opened their hearts and their pocket books to this region.

Katrina brought out the best and the worst in people. Most of us down here have brushed up against both types of people at one time or another since the hurricane. Mostly, people are just trying to get their lives back to some semblance of normal; the new normal.

Many are still displaced or living in trailers. Insurance companies and the government are still trying to figure out what they want to do. People are waiting, working, or moving on.

Yesterday I wrote about how happiness is largely a choice. Freaking out on the anniversary of Katrina is too. Don't do it; it isn't dignified.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, August 14, 2006


Are you happy?

Are you happy? If not, what would it take to make you happy? If you are happy, what is it that makes you so?

I see a lot of people each day who are not happy. I deduce this from their complaining. People are constantly annoyed by coworkers, family members or someone else. There is usually a lack of finances to do what they want. Conditions in the world are not to their liking.

The weather is either too hot, too cold, too rainy, or not rainy enough. The government is run by idiots. Everywhere one looks is an invitation to gripe.

I realize some people just need to vent a bit and their complaining is benign, however, sometimes it is a symptom of a deep unhappiness and that is too bad.

The seeds of this topic arose from my recent awareness of some younger people lately who at an age younger than 20 seem to have no joy in life. They are not enthralled by anything. Nothing is cool. On the contrary, everything sucks. Their studies have been abandoned and they lay around their house doing virtually nothing.

What of adventure? Why don't they know there is a great big, beautiful, exciting world out there just waiting to be explored? Where is the enthusiasm of youth?

Are you happy, content, satisfied?

I think that to be happy one must be realistic. In life, there will be problems. Some problems will be big ones. It is only a matter of time until they touch you or your loved ones. So I do not define happiness as an absence from problems.

Since trouble is coming, I revel in the mundane. I am happy, satisfied, and content with the little things. Walking the dog, taking a shower, having food to eat, enjoying friends, being employed are all reasons to be happy. I have known what it is like not to have these things.

It hurts my soul to see a young person with a negative attitude about life. Their gift of youth is a treasure being spent whether they use it or not. If they squander their wealth, they will likely be even more bitter old folks in 40 years.

We get 100 years if we are lucky. Things will never be perfect, but a lot of the things we complain about are more about our ingratitude and inability to appreciate things around us than they are about the situation really being bad.

Much of happiness is choice. We tend to be as happy as we choose to be. Yes we will experience grief, but it only helps us treasure the relationships we do have. We may experience financial hardship, but that teaches us what is important. There is a flip side to everything. Hardship and pain enhance our understanding and appreciation.

As we grow older, we can shine brighter for those following behind us. Our light may illumine the path so others avoid the pitfalls.

I know it's Monday and we may gripe about going to work, but I would rather be going to work than standing in the unemployment line. The weather is hot here, but we have air conditioning.

Look at the suffering around the globe. Compared to so many others, I have it made. I live in safety and comfort. Do I deserve it any more than those living in opposite circumstances? My fortunate condition is a gift that carries with it responsibility. To whom much is given much is expected.

I can truly say that I am happy. I still want things and I complain about things and people like anybody else, but deep down, I know I am fortunate. Some things are results of my work and choices, but a lot of it is dumb luck and God's grace.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, August 12, 2006


Wagons ho!

Road trip; destination Vicksburg. We haven't been up there since March and we have missed birthdays of Barb's two nieces and her father's birthday is approaching soon.

I kind of like the change of running scenery and the added difficulty the hills create. Sunday morning isn't for sleeping, it is for running 16 miles. September 3 is fast approaching so I am completing the final preparations for the Tupelo Marathon.

Last year the Tupelo Marathon was one week after Hurricane Katrina and I didn't get to make the trip.

Next week I am going to Baton Rouge to help John move some stuff to his apartment. I am also moving TV cables around and hanging a flat screen for his room mate Roy.

Football is back and the world seems to make sense again. I am more at peace and waves of contentment are washing over me with every image and sound of football. Everything from beer commercials to the referee's whistle are a soothing balm.

I am a traditionalist and do not like the new referee shirts. Leave stuff alone.

Have a nice weekend.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, August 09, 2006


My Life Part XV: The Calling

Ministers are said to be called by God. In my case, I received no phone calls, telegrams, or audible voice from God. Instead, I had a desire to serve beyond what church membership could afford. I wanted to serve God and help people. I had an idea of what that would be like, but reality is often different than our expectations.

Christians often fret about following God's plan for their lives. They believe there is one "right" answer to all of life's choices. They do not want to make the wrong choice.

However well intentioned this frame of mind is, it is not realistic. People drive themselves crazy second-guessing every decision. They judge each choice with its instant results. I tend to think God's will is a wider path. It is less important what we do than how we do it.

So I knocked on doors and pursued what I thought to be God's will. I based this on prayer, logic, counsel, and gut feelings. I figured if I were going the wrong direction, God would intervene and alter my course. My faith was; if I set out to find God's will, then I would.

In my way of thinking, nothing is wasted. Even if you spend time doing something you will not ultimately settle into, you learn something. I was learning in Illinois, but it was not to be something I would settle into.

From pastor to counselor

My position of Church Planter Apprentice was a two-year job. At the end of the two years I could either stay at the church I started, continue trying to start one if it was still in process, or leave.

As we began our work, we figured we would have a church going, but as time went on, it looked as if we would only have a small group of people gathered and no one with the ambition or financial commitment to make a new church a reality any time soon.

Scanning some of my letters from those days, I found evidence of my decision making process. There were two events that nudged me in the direction of counseling.

I already had an interest in counseling and psychology. Psychology was one of my college majors. I had to choose between graduate school in psychology and seminary. Of course I went the seminary route. There I met my wife and wound up in Illinois.

One of my seminary friends called me after I had been in Illinois for about a year. He was going back to seminary to work on his doctors degree in counseling and psychology. I was envious. The work in Rock Island was slow and the lack of results was difficult for me. I was questioning myself and my decision to be a church planter in the first place.

I knew I could do anything I wanted to do with God's blessing, but I wasn't feeling the fire of ambition. Counseling was appealing though. So a seed was planted that day. I could go back to school after completing the two years in Rock Island.

The second thing that took place occurred when I attended a training for ministers and counselors. It was to learn how to administer and interpret a couple of psychological tests. One was for marriage and relationships and it was called the PREPARE / ENRICH. The other one was a personality test named the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

You can Google Myers Briggs and take the test or a short form of it yourself, but don't expect it to change your life. There were many forces at work in my life at that time. First, I was struggling with the question, "What am I to do with my life?" Second, I was pressured by time and circumstance and third, God was at work in there some place.

Part of the seminar involved taking the test, scoring it, and listening as the presenter helped us understand or interpret our results. The test places you into one of 16 personality types. No one type is better than the other; just different.

The implications are to learn what you are and develop insight to know what other people are. If you can do this, you will communicate better and make better decisions. This is great stuff for counselors, employers, and for your own relationships.

Failure is not always about someone doing a poor job, but being placed in the wrong spot. A pro bowl quarterback might be a lousy offensive tackle. Studying my type helped me see that my strengths and gifts were less suited as a pastor of a church. Counseling was a better fit.

That test was the thing to solve my guilt problem. I would not be leaving the ministry to be a counselor if I chose to do so, I would be refining my place in it. I was called of God, but God calls people to do many things beyond preaching in churches or leading the music.

I believe that people who become police officers, nurses, doctors, counselors, ministers, and teachers are pursuing a calling. They are choosing to serve others and that it more important in their choice than how much money they will make. Later on we sometimes wish we had thought a bit more about making money, but not really.

The above list is not exhaustive. One may pursue any number of paths to follow a calling.

So the seeds were planted. I think I knew that day that at the end of my two years I would return to New Orleans and enter the doctoral program to begin preparing to be a counselor.

Life was exciting, and it was just beginning to get interesting. Our family was about to grow by one, but that is a tale for tomorrow.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, August 08, 2006


My Life Part XIV: Rock Island Baptist Chapel

I was 26 and had been married for 8 months. Barbara and I were leaving our friends and the familiarity of New Orleans to go where we thought God was leading us.

We looked at Rock Island and everything new through the eyes of optimism and adventure. We welcomed the new things and were hungry to learn about our new home.

I was a Southern Baptist minister, but I was not of the mind set that everyone needed to be a Southern Baptist. Rock Island did not have any Southern Baptist churches within its city limits, but there were churches of almost every other faith there.

I began the work by the book. Step one says to knock on doors and introduce yourself to the community. I had printed up a brochure about our new work, which I left with people. It introduced Barbara and I and what we were up to.

The object was to get a Bible study going, and then build on that to eventually grow a congregation. I don't know about you, but I am leery of people knocking on my door. I was amazed though at how many people would invite me in to talk.

If you have ever knocked on doors, you probably know what I am talking about. Some people are rude and slam the door in your face, while others are cordial.

In the summer, we were helped by out of town churches who sent mission groups to help us. These folks helped us run vacation Bible schools for the kids and assisted by knocking on doors.

I became involved in the church in Milan that was sponsoring our efforts. I also became involved in the surrounding Baptist Association. I did trainings for Sunday School teachers and other things.

I also got to preach some at area churches when their pastor was to be away on a Sunday. So I had some outlets to speak and do minister things even before we got our own thing going.

Slowly but surely, we got a few people together and we met in a little day care center on Sunday mornings. I printed up bulletins, led the singing, and preached the sermon. I was the chief cook and bottle washer, but I was having fun.

It would be a mistake if you thought of me as one of those holy ministers. I am a regular guy and I was never comfortable being treated like I couldn't hear any bad words or listen to any sordid stories.

A lot of times when people found out I was a minister, they would say, "Oh I didn't know you were a minister." I suppose that could be a compliment or an insult, but I took it as the former.

The first winter was one of the coldest in years. Barbara had only seen snow once or twice in her life. The first cold snap below freezing, she was suffering. I told her, "One of these days it will warm up to 32 degrees and you will think it is warm." My words were prophetic and I reminded her of them one day when she was running up and down the stairs to the laundry without a coat and the temperature a balmy 32 degrees.

Barbara had to learn how to drive in the snow too. I was some help. Although I didn't drive, I knew a few things about driving in the snow.

The following is a reprint of my December 2, 2003 post:
Driving in the snow
I do not drive due to being legally blind, but I grew up in Kansas City. Therefore, I am an expert at driving in the snow. Barbara was raised in Vicksburg and had virtually no snow driving experience. Shortly after we were married in 1983 we moved to Rock Island, Illinois, where I worked as a minister. I know, I know, I don't strike you as a minister. That is why I am no longer a minister, but that story will have to be another blog. Just suspend your belief for now and try to pay attention to the topic at hand. It took some convincing to get Barbara to leave the south and move to frigid Illinois, but it was early in our marriage and she was a good sport. Today she would probably tell me to take a flying leap. I tried to brainwash her by telling her things like "it's cold, but it's a dry cold" and "you'll get used to it easy" and "winter cold is overrated." It might have worked, but the winter of 1983-84 was the coldest in fifty years. The month of January, the mercury did not climb above zero. She began to question me as a source for reality. I kept telling her, "this is really unusual" and "I bet it is just as cold back in New Orleans" and "this is really unusual." I know, I used that one twice, but I ran out of explanations.

As many of you probably remember, the car you have when first married often lacks something to be desired; ours was no exception. We had an old Ford Mustang. The paint had oxidized and the right front fender was smashed from a yellow parking lot pole. Barbara maintained the pole hit the car not the other way around. It was a perfect pole imprint in the fender. We never got it fixed, because the money was always needed somewhere else.

The car had more than cosmetic problems. The neutral safety switch was also bad. What that meant, was the car would often not start unless the gear shift was jiggled and jiggled until contact was made. If jiggling the gear shift did not work, I had to get out, open the hood, and short across the solenoid with a pair of pliers to turn the car over. If that technical description did not paint a clear picture for you, let me try another way. We could be at a red light and the car might die. Turning the key would return nothing. Jiggling the gear shift might allow the car to start. If that did not work, my only recourse was to have Barb pop the hood, I grabbed a pair of pliers from under my seat, opened the hood and let it rest on my back (too much of a hurry to prop it up with the support), locate the solenoid on my side of the car and hold the pliers across the negative and positive poles enabling the car to start. Once running, I slammed the hood and jumped back in the car. I had to perform this operation once in the middle of a busy intersection. What a car.

Now for the story. One snowy Sunday night after church we were driving home in the Mustang and it was having traction problems due to the light rear end. On the way home we had to pass through Black Hawk State Park and a fairly steep hill. it was like being in a Christmas card. The big snowflakes were floating to the ground falling silently. The snow stuck to everything making it look white and clean. We were making the first tire tracks as we entered the park and started up the long, gradual hill. Part way up the hill, the Mustang started spinning. Lucky for Barbara I knew how to drive in the snow. I told her to stop and let me out. "OK, I am going to push. Once I get you moving, just keep going or the car will slip again - don't stop." Now around the back of the car, I had poor traction myself in my leather dress shoes. I yelled at Barbara to give it some gas and at the same time I pushed and just like I told her, the car began to move. I pushed all the way to the top of the hill. I was a bit winded and ready to ride for awhile, only one problem, Barbara kept going. I remember standing there in the falling snow. The quiet beauty of winter, but I was not dressed for it and I was in no mood for a long walk home. I was watching the tail lights getting narrower as the Mustang kept going when something inside me said, "you better run like hell." So I did. I ran as fast as I could to catch the car. Snow covered the windows, so Barbara had no idea she was leaving me. I was gaining on it when she rolled down her window and yelled for me to get in the car. She thought I was horsing around and she was not amused. I was not amused either. I yelled back at her to slow down so I could get in, but she just kept driving (like I told her to do). Finally I got to the front door and opened it with the car still moving. She is still yelling. I am trying to get in hopping on my right foot while trying to get my left foot in the car. "WHY DON'T YOU GET IN THE CAR?" she yelled. "I am trying to if you would stop the $#@%&*! thing." Yes, sadly, a minister was cursing only moments after church. "STOP YELLING AT ME!" she screamed. "WHY DIDN'T YOU STOP WHEN YOU GOT TO THE TOP OF THE *^%#@#! HILL?" I yelled. "YOU TOLD ME NOT TO STOP!" she screamed. I said nothing and we drove the rest of the way in silence. When we got to our apartment, I got out and opened the garage door. Barb pulled the car in and we walked up the two flights of wooden stairs and entered our apartment. Once inside, I turned on the light and we caught each other's eye. Then we burst into laughter. The whole thing was so stupid and hysterical, we only needed a few moments separation to realize it.

We broke the whole thing down. She took me literally and I thought it was obvious she could stop once we crested the hill and started down. We laugh about this to this day and our friends request the story every time winter weather threatens. This winter will mark the 20th (now 23rd) anniversary of that fiasco, but it is as fresh in my mind as anything.

We do not have to worry about winter driving very often here in Louisiana, maybe it is for the best.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, August 07, 2006


My Life: Part XIII: Assignment and ordination

(If you want to look at previous chapters of "My Life", click the "About Me" tab at the top of the page.)

Barbara and I visited the Quad Cities on Labor Day weekend. The Quad Cities are Rock Island, Moline, East Moline, IL, and Davenport, IA. They are perched on the Mississippi River and the terrain is hilly and wooded. The maple trees provide spectacular fall colors.

The area was predominantly blue collar and it was hard times. The UAW had gone on strike and the two major employers, International Harvester and John Deere responded by moving their operations overseas.

Many of the people were bitter and angry. Work was hard to come by and most folks were having a hard time making ends meet. People there were staunch Democrats and I was a Reagan man.

The day we arrived was one of those chamber of commerce days. Perfect weather and a parade in progress. The people were out in force, bands were playing, flags were waving, and the smell of BBQ was in the air. It was that familiar wholesome Midwest feeling and we both loved what we were seeing.

The church that was sponsoring us was in Milan, IL, just across the Rock River from Rock Island. It was a small church of mostly the blue-collar folks I described above. They were nice and made us feel welcome.

Our job was to start a new church in Rock Island. We would have to do this with little more than moral support from the church. They had few resources; human and financial.

Long story short, they offered us the job and we took it.

That decision threw things into high gear. We had about a month to tie things up in New Orleans and move about one thousand miles up the Mississippi River.

Barbara's folks were going to make the trip with us. Her dad would drive the U-Haul, her mom and sister would drive their car and Barb and I would be in our old beat up Mustang.

On the way, we stopped at my mother's house in Willow Springs, MO. I was to be ordained at the church where I had made my decision to enter the ministry.

Ordination in the Baptist faith is a recognition and a blessing of sorts. It amounts to a church saying, “This guy has demonstrated that he is called of God and we are giving our stamp of approval to this observation.” It merits a special afternoon service. In addition to the regular church members, other ordained individuals are invited.

The minister leading the service usually says a few things about ordination, then he says a few things about the one being ordained. At one point, all of the ordained folks come to the platform and surround the candidate for ordination. They place their hands on his head and shoulders and prayers are said.

It is a powerful moment. It is a rite of passage. I was aware of being one in a long line of men and women who have come before me. I was aware of my responsibility and the privilege I was being given.

On October 2, 1983 the folks at the First Baptist Church of Willow Springs, MO recognized me as a minister. I was ordained into the gospel ministry.

The next morning we pulled up stakes and headed north. We got as far as Galesburg, IL before stopping for the night. It was a short distance from there and we made it to our apartment around lunchtime the next day.

We had a nice little apartment at the top of two flights of wooden steps. Those steps were a curse when we had several loads of laundry or groceries to ferry up and down the climb. On the other hand, they provided good exercise.

Barbara and I were the youngest people at the apartment complex. Most of the residents were widows. They were curious about the “young couple” that was moving in. They worried about loud music and parties. It seemed to calm their fears when the apartment manager told them we were in the ministry.

In the two years to come, we would do a lot of favors for those ladies. I dug gardens, shoveled snow, carried heavy packages, went to the mailbox in the cold, and whatever they needed. Barbara was a chauffeur for our next door neighbor, Mrs. Wilcoox. She liked to go get a donut and a cup of coffee after grocery shopping.

We were given a week to move in and get settled. We were on the job now and it seemed we were in a nice location surrounded by pretty decent people. The leaves were changing and the cloudy apple cider was in the stores.

There is nothing like a warm glazed donut and hot cider on a cold rainy autumn day. We would have a few of those to enjoy.

Barbara was about to get a lesson in what winter was all about. It was all a big adventure to the two of us.

I'll get into those adventures in the next chapter.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, August 04, 2006


Help's on its way

There was a time once when baseball was heating up for me about this time of year. Kansas City Royals fans have had little to cheer about since George Brett and the 1985 World Series.

I have had to concern myself with other things, but help is on its way. As I write these words, men are in camp. They are studying plays, lifting weights, practicing their craft in the summer sun, and welcoming rookies to the NFL.

Football is in the air. I love the sound of a football game on Saturday and Sunday. It is like a heartbeat. It is the background noise that makes me feel like I am home.

The pageantry, tradition, and drama are just around the corner. I can't wait.

I will be pulling for the LSU Tigers in college football. The NFL teams that garner my enthusiasm are the Chiefs and the Saints. When the Chiefs play the Saints in preseason, I will be pulling for the Chiefs.

What lies ahead are days of great joy and great sorrow, but the contest is decided in three hours. We don't know who will win or how it will happen, so we watch. We watch and witness what may someday be historic.

We will someday be able to say where we were when so and so played so and so. We can regale our comrades with our version of the incredible plays. We will grill burgers and drink beer. We will participate in something deeply ingrained into our culture - football.

Help is on the way. Cue the Rolling Stone’s song Start Me Up.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, August 03, 2006


The ultra bug

Precious Moments God's Speed
I have been bitten by the ultra bug again. I am toying with the idea of entering an ultramarathon in March of 2007. It is called the Brew to Brew 44 mile solo or team run.

One runs from the Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City to the Free State Brewing Company in Lawrence, Kansas.

I haven't run a marathon since April and I am getting the itch. September 3rd is my next race and is in Tupelo, MS. Let me know if you need any Elvis souvenirs.

44 miles may not sound like much, but it will amount to about 7 hours or more of running. On top of that there is some climbing up and down river banks just to make it interesting.

Do I want to do this? I th th think so.

I am not saying yes now, but if one person dares me to, I'll have to do it to save face. Call me a pussy and I will go to extraordinary lengths to prove I am a moron instead.

Today is only 11 miles in the heat. 11 X's 4 is 44. Maybe that is a sign.

Here's to biting off more than you can chew.

Until the next time

John Strain


Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Thief of the present

Who am I?

I think you know me.

I live inside your head and I talk to you often. To some of you my voice is prominent, while others only hear me at times of weakness and doubt.

I am a thief. I take your now, your present. Because of me you do not enjoy what is before you. I make you think of what might happen, what you need to do, and fill you with doubt.

You worry about what others think about you and if you are going to be in trouble. You are not sure of yourself and it is because of me.

Who am I? My name is anxiety, but my friends call me worry.
I see it everywhere; the affects of anxiety and worry. We feel it first as children, probably before our earliest memories.

I can remember being worried sick in school. Believe it or not, I was not always on the right side of the law. I often worried the teacher would share my crimes with my parents. That feeling in the pit of my stomach; dread, fear, worry is the same thing I feel now when I let anxiety get the best of me.

I see it in my patients, coworkers, friends, and everywhere. We all deal with Mr. Anxiety at one time or another. If you see him more than you would like to, then maybe I can help you see him less often.

Dealing with anxiety is like carrying around extra weight, having extra thoughts, and just plain complicating any situation.

If you are trying to speak in front of other people, anxiety makes it difficult for you to focus on what you want to say. Instead, you think about what would happen if you were to make a mistake or what would happen if the people don't like you. "It would be awful," you think.

Maybe you are at work and things are beginning to pile up. "I'll never get out of here," "I am going to be late picking my child up at the day care," or "my boss is going to think I can't handle things," are things you might think in response to the pressure and make it harder for you to do the work.

Anxiety robs us of our "now" and makes us live in the future. We act based on what we think or fear might happen instead of dealing with what is in front of us.

We drive those around us crazy with our worry. Have you ever had anyone say to you, "Earth to -insert your name here-?" Are people telling you to relax and stop worrying? Do you always feel like you need to be doing something to prepare for a thing a few moments, days, or weeks in the future? Do you feel guilty if you ever sit down?

Here are some examples of how anxiety robs us of our present:

• You are on a vacation and you get out of the car at the Grand Canyon. After a moment of gazing at the breath taking vistas, you hurry everyone back into the car so you can keep on schedule.

• After opening the presents Christmas morning, the kids start wadding up the wrapping paper piled on the floor and begin throwing it at each other, while others are rolling in the piles of debris. You snuff out the spontaneous, but undisciplined fun with a statement like, "OK kids, clean this up because it is time to eat, hurry now."

You have been under stress so you decide to attend a movie. Just as the movie begins you wonder if you locked your car. You begin to fret and ponder going out to the parking lot to check. You don't want your car stolen, but you don't want to miss the movie. Instead you sit there and half pay attention to the show.

Anxiety robs us of the joy of the moment. We sacrifice all we have and chase the carrot on a stick. We think that if we take care of things now, we will have peace later, but it never works out that way.

OK, I think I have stated the problem, now here are a few ideas to put things right in your head.

Remember, it won't change over night. Worry is the result of poor choices, which grew into bad habits, which became familiar ruts. Getting out of those ruts ain't easy and even harder not to fall back into.

John's tips for taming the beast:
1. Marry money.
2. Win the lottery.

If numbers one or two don't work out, proceed to number three.

3. Use the past to predict the future:
Chances are you are at an age where you are not facing many new circumstances. The things you worry about now are the things you have worried about before.

What happened in those situations? Did you die? Were they awful? Did the sun come up the next day?

I am amazed how folks can continually be surprised at something they can predict with 99% certainty. Take family gatherings for instance, I would wager that you have a family member you have had an annoyance with for years. You know that when you two get together, you will argue the same old script. Then when it comes true, you get upset and gossip about it. The result is you get all stirred up, but feel justified because the other person is such a jerk.

A more elegant solution would be to expect the opportunity to fall into the argument rut with your favorite relative, but when the invitation is extended, do something different to stay out of it. Don't take the bait.

When you go into the setting expecting “it” to happen and it does, you will feel smart and in control. It is easier to "be above it all" and not to fall into the same old behaviors.

To generalize this advice, just take what you are worrying about and think about previous examples. Think about what you did or did not do to make it better or worse. How much control do you have over the circumstances anyway? Come up with a plan, do what you can, then wait for it to play out.

Eventually, you will be able to reduce your worry, because you will develop confidence and a feeling of control.

4. Practice being in the moment: To do this, you must be aware when you are not in the moment.

You can start practicing this by sitting on your porch or by taking a walk. During that time focus your attention on your senses. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? Drink it in, and describe it to yourself. Doing this forces all of your other thoughts out of your head. You are immersing yourself in the moment.

Anytime you feel worry, you can do a similar exercise. It is like pushing the reset button of your brain. You break the worry cycle and give yourself the chance to do something about it.

5. Use humor: Anxiety and worry is another way of saying you are getting too serious. Humor balances things out. Use absurdity. What is the worst that can happen if you are late? Will you be tarred and feathered, thrown into jail, or publicly beaten? Probably not. I don't normally answer rhetorical questions, but folks with anxiety don't always recognize rhetorical questions.

Think about it. However old you are, 30, 40, 50, 60 you have been through a lot. Is the thing you are worrying about something you haven't handled before? Bring it on, you can take it even if it is what you fear. Have a little faith in your own abilities.

Maybe you are worrying about what someone thinks. Just imagine yourself mooning those individuals. In your mind, you can say to them, "What do you think about this?" It works for me.

I think like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I think about what old Bugs would do in my situation. It makes me laugh and makes me realize things aren't that bad.

6. If none of the above works, try a good stiff drink. Just kidding.

It all boils down to making choices. We choose to worry and we choose to let go of worry.

Oh, I have to run, I have so much to do and if I don't get it done, it will be the death of me, and the end of the world.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Post #1000

1000 times I have sat down to write something. It has been a rewarding experience thus far. When I began this blog I wanted to learn HTML and web design. I also wanted to write.

I had no idea I would be interacting with a new community of friends. I did not think people would read my writings, much less comment on them.

The past three years I have been looking at the world with that "this could be a blog" mentality. I have moved from the initial addiction phase of blogging and have broken through a few bouts of writer's block.

I have written about my life and my thoughts. It has been rewarding to do that and even more so to receive so much good feedback and encouragement.

The blogging community is a good one. It is a new neighborhood, but old friends live there.

If you have been coming here; I would like to extend a thousand thank yous.

Now I had better get to thinking about post #1001.

Until the next time
John Strain