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Friday, February 22, 2008



This is a little video I made about depression. The text is right off of a National Institute of Mental Health Brochure. The first part is the information and the next two parts showcase some more famous persons who have struggled with depression. The entire video is 21 minutes.

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, February 19, 2008


25 years of marriage

Today is my 25th wedding anniversary. It went quick. A testament to Barbara's patience. I made a little video to commemorate the occasion.

Friday and Saturday, we will celebrate in New Orleans. It will be fun because New Orleans is where we dated. Some of our favorite places no longer exist, but then again, many still do.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, February 17, 2008



The older I become, the more I am given to looking back and trying to make sense of things. The life cycle interests me; first my own life and experience, and then the lives of others. I look for things all of us have in common. It is a constant exercise that I do instinctively being an analytic sort of person. Writing about it is a way to more clearly develop what would otherwise be mere fleeting thoughts, little bubbles from the subconscious rising and fading away.

Today, I was thinking about "focus". The thing to which a person focuses on in life has a lot to do with his attitude, energy, outlook on life, and general sense of happiness. One's expectations, perceived success in achieving them, and how objectively realistic the goal(s), are other factors. Then, when things change, necessitating a realignment of foci, how nimble one is applying to a new object also determines one's level of contentment.

In counseling, one's depression or anxiety is often rooted in their focus. They are not getting what they perceive to be necessary for a happy life. Or maybe they are getting something unwanted making a happy life impossible. In both instances, they are trying to resist a reality. Resisting reality is something I do not recommend, at best you are crazy, at its worst, you may suffer an untold number of vexations and real calamities.

An ostrich sticking its head in the sand may not see the approaching predator, but the danger still exists. (by the way, ostriches really do not bury their heads in the sand. It is a myth, but a myth that serves well here.) A child may not want to hear something, but loudly singing la la la la la while holding hands firmly against her ears does not make the words go away. Fred Sanford's practice of placing bills back in the mailbox unopened did not settle his accounts.

It may not be what you want to do, but dealing with reality is your best chance of success. It is also a good way to avoid ruin. As a matter of fact, it also helps the success rate to play by the rules. That is to be honest, realistic, flexible, resourceful, and ambitious. I have noted in my counseling that those who lie, are unrealistic, inflexible, without a clue, and lazy tend to be less successful than their opposites.

When I think back to my younger years, my life's focus changed frequently. I always wanted something. I was easily hooked by the Saturday morning commercials. I believed them, after all, if it was on TV, it had to be true. So I wanted to eat Popeye spinach noodles, Chef Boy R D, I wanted to wear Red Ball Jets and PF Flyers, I longed to play with all of the toys they made look so fun. My focus was toward getting things. I longed for some things, but when I got them, I found they did not quite give me the life satisfaction I had imagined.

I thought my life would be bliss once I laced up a pair of Red Ball Jets or got the latest gizmo from Wham-O. The funny thing was that other than the initial elation that waned in a few days, life was just the same. I reasoned that I just needed the next thing. As I grew, I wanted radios, tape recorders, cassette recorders, bicycles, riding lawn mowers, mini bikes, go-carts, BB guns, and on and on and on.

I got some of those things, most of them, but they only quenched my life's thirst for happiness for a few moments. I remember times looking at the thing I had once longed for but now felt unmoved, and even then I knew there must be more to life than acquiring stuff. I haven't completely learned to live without toys, but I don't expect my toys to give me more than a little happiness.

In the teen years, I needed money, so I focused on work. I had paper routes, and started working as a bus boy at a Red Lobster when I was 15. Those experiences were like catching a tiger by the tail. At first I was happy to have landed the beast, but I soon learned to appreciate my former life of leisure.

Then girls entered my life and my focus was on landing one of them - talk about a tiger by the tail. My first girlfriend was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me in a matter of 2 to 3 months. There is nothing like that first broken heart to set you to rights.

My focus turned to God during my teen years. I reasoned that if there was a God, and I believed there was, then I should see about what He might require of me and to be about it. I must confess, that the first steps of that journey were less motivated by devout fervor than they were a fear of burning in hell. Still, that inquiry set in motion forces that would affect the rest of my life.

It was not long that I went to college and the focus of my life was getting educated to be a minister. College was 4 years and Seminary was another 3 years of study. Along the way, my focus began to blur. I was growing weary of the school thing mid-way through the seminary days. One of my professors shared just the right words and helped me refocus.

As I was nearing the end of my studies, my focus began to shift toward a mate. I met Barbara and before long, we were married. Everything seemed to be going according to Hoyle. Then decent employment began to elude us. We struggled financially and my focus was on making ends meet for now, but improving our lot later.

We were living and working in Illinois in a little church. It was a two year assignment. Toward the end of our time, it was nearing decision time. We could stay in a similar position or leave. For some reason, I had attended a continuing education event about marriage counseling. That Friday afternoon, I realized that counseling was for me. I had felt out of place as a minister, but that seminar helped me refocus.

We returned to New Orleans and I continued my education at the Seminary. Only now we had a 6 month old baby. These were difficult years financially. Barbara's parents helped us stay fed and kept diapers on John. I worked 2 jobs and Barbara worked at some pretty rotten places. I was focused on obtaining the necessary education to become a counselor so the hardships were endured and accepted as necessary evils.

I could have been miserable during those days, but I chose the life and knew it was not forever. If I had looked at it as a punishment or if I did not really have the conviction to do what was necessary to obtain my education, I may not have endured.

By now, you may have asked yourself what is your focus. It is a useful question. No doubt you have one, but if you have to think too long, you may need to make it a matter of contemplation. Focus is that to which our lives are navigating. Our courses are charted toward that destination. A word of caution though, the point of life is not arriving at a destination, but traveling. A destination is only a stop until you carry on toward the next goal.

Remember when I wanted the "things" and they did not satisfy me? Those were a kind of destination. The journey is the joy. My focus now is to be as much in the moment as I can. If I can be in the moment, I am not regretting the past, nor am I fretting about the future. If I am in the moment, I can work to be prepared for the points to which I am sailing on the distant horizon. If I spend the present worrying about them, I will arrive at those ports unprepared.

I also want to focus on appreciation for life. Saturday morning, I walked outside about dawn and I noticed how many more birds were singing. The seasons are changing. The air was warm and blustery. It was cloudy and a honking column of geese lazily flapped by. Bear was standing there with his football in his mouth. I was standing at the end of the driveway about to pick up the newspaper and I had such a realization that I was happy. What a wonderful moment to experience.

I know I will have to endure pain and loss in life. I don't necessarily dread this as it must happen, but that is all the more reason to be satisfied with things as they are. Today, this moment, I feel good - I'll take that and offer a prayer of thanksgiving.

It is funny how I have rambled in this piece entitled "focus".

May your life's focus be yours and may it bring you happiness.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, February 14, 2008



We fall in love. We make love. We love hot dogs. We love to play golf. Valentine's Day is a special holiday to make men look bad. If you don't provide your sweetheart an appropriate expression of "love" then the man is a flat, a scoundrel, or a total boor. So like most things, they are reduced to monetary measure. The person, who loves his sweetie the most, spends the most money.

With that line of reasoning, Bill Gates could easily out love me. However, I subscribe to another system of thought. Love is what one does. Love is a verb. Love is the result of purposed thought applied to action. This definition does not exclude persons without money.

It is easier to write a check than it is to spend an hour or two doing something you rather would not.

Children want their parent's time and attention over their money. Money is cold and indifferent. Time and effort come with feeling.

Over the years, I have made the mistake of forgetting birthdays, anniversaries, and special holidays. I don't anymore and I don't commemorate them solely with money. I strive to demonstrate a gift of time and attention. I want the offering to be meaningful.

I have had the good fortune of being loved unconditionally by my family, my wife, and some close friends. Of all the treasure the world has to offer, nothing can out shine the luster of such a gift.

May you be as fortunate

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Resisting the lure of settling

Hi folks,
I have been a less occasional blogger than ever these last days. Routines are wonderful things, but they can be a challenge finding room and rearranging for all of the duties, disciplines, whims, and pleasures.

I am a morning person. That is when I am most creative and have the most energy. The theory of entropy applies to my day, I gradually slow down, with the possible exception of Friday night when I have dinner with friends and whet my whistle.

My new job requires me to be on station earlier than my old one did by one hour. In addition to that hour, the new salt mine is 30 minutes away instead of 5 minutes away. So I am having to roll out of the rack by 4:30 AM so I can get my running in. That wouldn't be so bad, but I often don't hit the hay until 11:00 PM.

Before I go to bed, I make the coffee so all I have to do in the AM is stagger into the kitchen and push one button to start in motion a chain of events that provides that wonderful morning elixir I call coffee. While the coffee is dripping, I shave, feed Bear, walk Bear, then do my run.

By then it is near 6:30 AM. I may do a few pushups, pullups, dips, and chinups, but then it is onto the showers, make my lunch, and try to be on the road no later than 7:30 AM.

Hey, you may say, he didn't mention writing a post for his blog. That explains why my monthly blog archives are as sparse as hairs on my crown. I just have to do it at some other time. So here I am at 6:30 PM. Bear has had his nightly walk, I have perused the daily delivery of bills, half a box of Cheez Its have settled my hunger pangs, Barbara is in the other room gyrating to some sort of exercise DVD, and I am fixing to write a post. Maybe this will be a new routine?

Today's post begins now - "Resisting the lure of settling"

13 "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men."
14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden."
15 "Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house."
16 "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
-Matthew 5: 13-16

What is settling? One may settle for something rather than spend the extra time, money, or effort to have something better. "That's good enough," one might say, "What's the point . . . It's not worth it." I am thankful our forefathers didn't settle when they were faced with the Great Depression, World War II, and flying to the moon. Each endeavor cost uncommon time, money, and effort to succeed.

There are different kinds of settling. Settling can be simply a matter of choice. One cannot go "whole hog" all of the time. The cheaper shoes may serve as well as the more expensive pair. Settling for a "B" in a class because you used study time to be with your children is a “hat tip” to your most sacred values.

I want to talk about another kind of settling. The kind of settling that trades exception for mediocrity. The kind of settling that allows fear to keep you out of the batters box. The malignant kind of settling that robs people of their life and causes their light never to shine and their salt never to be used.

My job now is to talk to people who walk into our mental health clinic. They come to us in crisis and I try to help them. The demands of life and the individual realities that result from a concoction of choice, the fates, and planetary alignment can sometimes be overwhelming. For the person in crisis, they are often out of answers, depressed, anxious, and viewing death as a way to make it stop.

Some who pass through our door have left a wake of poor choices that includes dropping out of school, committing crimes, turning to drugs, bringing children into the world with no way to support them, and pairing up with people who equal or exceed their litany of poor choices.

Then there are those who seem to have been born under a bad star. Misery, bad luck, and circumstance have frowned on them in ways to rival the Greek tragedies and that man named Job.

Some are a combination of the two, but when they come for help, they are usually out of ideas and their hope reserves are only fumes.

Why then do they choose poorly? How does this happen? There may be many reasons, but one thing I have seen time and time again is self-loathing. People don't like or respect themselves. They do not feel worthy of love.

"My dad never loved me." "He never said he was proud of me." "My mother knew her boyfriend was molesting me, but she pretended not to know." "I just can't measure up, no matter how hard I try." "Everything I touch, I screw up, I'm just no damn good like my old man always said."

If you hang around people who tell you that you are no good or, more subtly, you are not quite good enough, you will begin to believe it. If that indoctrination begins at childhood, you learn to keep feeling like that child even when you are an adult. The fears, and uncertainties grow.

Instead of learning that risks are rungs on the ladder taking you to your dream, you avoid risk because failing means you are a failure and you have grown weary of the pain. Failure means shame and embarrassment. People will laugh at me, people will look at me with scorn, my secret will be out - everyone will know that I am no damn good.

We have probably felt this to some degree. Our nerves flare if we stand to speak before a group. We fear saying something wrong or being looked on as incompetent, unintelligent, not hip, and ridiculous. I have seen people refrain from playing the piano or singing around others because, "I'm not good enough."

The fear of failure guarantees incompetence. You have to swing the bat to hit the ball. Failing is a good teacher as long as you do not end up feeling you are a failure.

If you feel you are no damn good and a failure, it is easier to say "f"it and make a poor choice. The poor choice and predictable consequences further confirms your suspicions that you really are no damn good and that your old man was right.

What to do, what to do?

You get them to realize that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. You try to get them to sprinkle themselves around and spice up life. You try to get them to risk letting their light shine.

I once heard a preacher say that Christians are like millionaires writing ten cent checks. He was referring to untapped potential. I have seen a lot of people like this. They have chosen to settle. They have reasoned that to follow a dream or even an interest is unreasonable. “Dreams are not for me. I cannot take the pain of another failure.”

The good news is that the answer, the ingredients, and the stuff needed to right the ship is already possessed. You don't need anything but a different perspective. A new way of thinking will net different results.

I have found that this message is well received. It is a kind of key to a prison. Opening the cell and walking out into the sunshine is a process.

The aim is to stop the pain. Stay away from those spewing the venom of fear. At the same time, you want to start doing the right things. One must make better choices and learn to take risks.

Life is way too short to spend it upset and hating yourself. We are surrounded by beauty, good people, and opportunity. You can choose to focus on the things you don't like in others and thereby stay angry and bitter. However, we have much more in common with each other than we have different.

Don't settle for getting by. Don't settle for a miserable angry existence. Life can be much more. I am not talking about discovering the cure for cancer, just removing the cancer from your soul that is known as self-loathing. A malignancy that blinds you to all of the good and all you have to appreciate.

This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine

Until the next time
John Strain