As I approach my 42nd birthday in a couple of weeks, I realize that I have been living a lie about relationships for most of those years. No, it isn’t the lie that I need anyone to feel fulfilled. In fact, I’m no longer convinced that IS a lie, actually. Hear me out, please.
Before I dive head-first into this topic, a quick disclaimer: I wrote about codependency in a previous column which, without a careful reading of that column, may seem to the casual reader like I am about to contradict what I said there. However, I was careful to point out in that piece that I am not an advocate of necessarily ending relationships just to cure codependency. My contention was that an ADDICTION to particular relationships is unhealthy, not the relationships themselves. Got it? Ok. Let’s get cracking.
I have been shamed for many years for feeling like I need someone in my life in order to feel complete. Most of this shaming, by the way, has come from counselors and “relationship professionals” (including ministers) who believe that we should only need ourselves and/or God to feel complete. That made so much sense to me for so long that I began preaching that message myself, but I have to tell you that it dawned on me recently that I was missing something in that narrative that I couldn’t quite identify.
Yes, we should learn to love ourselves and accept ourselves and forgive ourselves for the mistakes we have made. I won’t argue that point, but I will argue that we should not do all of that to the complete exclusion of others. After really thinking through this, I don’t believe that only needing yourself and God is even Biblical.
The Bible records that Adam was the only human on earth at the point of Genesis 2:18. No other human had ever existed, so Adam presumably wasn’t even aware that he had need of someone else to share his life with. God saw the need, however, and decided to address it. If you accept the Biblical account of creation, then you have to assume that God created man to be a relational creature. If you accept that God created us to be relational creatures, how does it then follow that we should NEVER need someone else to make us feel complete? How can we be complete without the full realization of God’s design for our lives — for our very existence?
Point number one of this column is that I will never be shamed or ASHAMED again for desiring relationships with other human beings. For feeling fulfilled with good ones and unfulfilled by bad ones.
I am miserable at this point in my life, and that’s something I refuse to lie about or gloss over or outright hide anymore, ok? I am NOT miserable, however, because I’ve sought relationships with people when I should have been only finding myself and living one-on-one with God and no one else. I am miserable because my need for relationships was so overwhelming that it crowded out my better judgment about WHICH relationships to accept.
Simply put, God created me with a need for relationships and that is not something I can merely train myself to ignore or shame myself out of seeking because Pop Psychology says I shouldn’t. What I must do, however, is recognize that this need can drag me into some really bad decisions (and most certainly has). Our inner hungers need to be fed, but in a healthy way — not from the scraps that someone decides to toss our way just to amuse themselves.
As I fully recognize that I need others in my life — and to be accepted in their lives as well — I need to lay a few ground rules for myself that hopefully will change the way I go about this and make for a more fulfilling second half of my existence.
- Set boundaries to protect myself. ME TIME is important too, and I have lost sight of that along the way. If I ever want to be a good friend and be able to accept good friendship from others, I really do have to have a pretty good grip on myself and my life.
- Be available for others in a truly GIVING way. It is so easy to seek out friendships that only meet our needs. I must recognize the ways in which I can enhance the lives of others and not be afraid to invest in them.
- Refuse to accept less than I am giving. I must stop accepting people who only take and have little or no regard for returning the friendship they have received from me. No more one-way streets. No more being used and discarded.
Point number two: I believe it is important to relate to others and allow them to relate to you, and I don’t believe it’s wrong to expect any relationship to be a two-way street.
Don’t allow anyone to dictate all the terms of your relationship with them. You will only experience a relational deficit that defeats the purpose of inner harmony. It is okay to expect friendship to be reciprocal, and it is okay to do something about it if it isn’t.
Bottom line? I need people in my life. I need to be in theirs. What I do NOT need is anyone who is willing to accept all I have to offer, yet marginalize me and then shame me for being disappointed in them.
I need relationships. What I don’t need is dictatorships.
The little boy puffed his chest out and drew up to his full 49 inches in stature. Today was the day. Nothing would stop him from conquering The Beast. He considered the idea of climbing this 30-foot wall before, but passed on it. He kept promising himself he would do it someday. At last, someday had arrived.
He strapped into his safety harness and tugged on the attached emergency line to test its strength. Before he began, I warned him not to look up or down as he climbed, but to stare straight ahead at the next hand hold on his path of progress. He nodded his head, slapped me a high-five, and fixed his icy blue eyes on the coarse, abstractly-shaped wall. With no hesitation, he began his attack.
He shot up that wall so fast I couldn’t get a good photograph of him. Notch after notch, handle after handle he climbed, never pausing to consider how high in the air he was or what it would take to get down. He was about a foot from the very top when I made a serious mistake. I began cheering for him, which caused him to break eye contact with the wall. As he swung his head around to look at me, his eyes dipped straight to the ground as though an irresistible magnet were pulling them down. The moment he saw how high he was, he panicked.
“Come on, Zach, you’re almost there!” I shouted. “You can do it, buddy!”
From 25 feet beneath the soles of his shoes, I could see his thin body tense and begin to tremble. He had two handholds clutched in a white-knuckle grip, and one slipped as his palms filled with sweat. He cried out to me in a shrill panic that turned my blood cold. I knew he was safe in his harness, but he didn’t know that and he began to cry.
“Let go and slide down, Zach!” I encouraged. “Nothing will happen to you, son. Your harness will keep you safe!”
He began to cry louder. He was completely frozen with fear and unable to move. I knew he wasn’t coming down with me standing there telling him to. I had to take action.
I was wearing flip-flops that day, but I knew I had to get up there somehow to bring him down. I kicked them off, strapped to a second safety harness, and began climbing that wall barefooted. I ignored the pain in my feet and scampered up that wall as fast as my limbs would carry me. My child was in trouble. All I cared about in that moment was getting to him.
I pulled up next to him on the wall and when he saw my face, he began crying harder. I tried to soothe him and reason with him, but he was too far into his own head to hear me from where I was. I began shimmying sideways to draw closer to him.
“Son, I cannot take you down this thing myself,” I said. “You have to let go and slide down.”
“I can’t!” he wailed through his loud sobs. “I can’t let go! It’ll hurt me if I do!”
I realized in that moment that he was holding on to that wall because he believed he had no other option. He was afraid of letting go because he thought it would be the end of him.
I put my arm around him, leaned in to his ear, and whispered, “My son, I would never do anything to hurt you. You are safe with me here and the equipment I gave you for this experience. Please trust me and just let go. I promise you with all that I am that you will not die. This experience will only make you stronger.”
His crying subsided at these words. He fixed his eyes on mine, relaxed his body, and pushed off the wall. My beloved son trusted my words and let go. He slid harmlessly to the ground, unsnapped his harness and stepped out, and threw his arms around me.
“Thank you for trusting me,” I said.
“Thank you for being there to protect me, Daddy.”
Sometimes, letting go is all you can do.
Frank Vaughn is a regional Emmy Award- and AP Media Editors Award-winning writer and columnist who loves to describe his view of the world from the cheap seats. A 22-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Frank has traveled the world and experienced many different cultures. He is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark. and the Defense Information School at Fort George G. Meade, Md., where he received training in journalism and public relations.
“Hey Uncle. Can I ask you for some advice?”
The Facebook instant message popped on my phone and when I saw that it was my nephew, I was surprised. We don’t really talk that often outside of one or two annual family things, and by “that often” I basically mean never. I quickly answered — I always do anytime someone messages me — and though I was being sought for advice, I came away from this conversation having learned something myself.
He wanted to know how to become a professional musician. He is quite good at several instruments and has developed a real passion for music, so he has decided he wants to pursue it as a career. I am, uh, NOT a musician, so I wondered why he would reach out to me.
“I know you are a writer and I was wondering if you could tell me how to get started,” he began. “This is really what I want to do with my life.”
I was just about to type out a brief note to him about how this isn’t my area of expertise when it hit me. OK, so I don’t know anything about music, right? I mean, the only instrument I have ever played was the radio. But I *do* know something about chasing dreams. As I began typing, I was surprised at how easily the advice came.
The first thing I told him is that no one will likely pay much for a vague idea or for talent at playing something that they’ve already heard.
“Michael, I know you play in a band outside of school and that you have caught a passion for that,” I said. “But there are thousands of cover bands all over the place, all trying to get noticed for playing something they heard on the radio. If you want to get noticed, you need to write your own music. Have you done that?”
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he has been writing songs for a while and had as much of a passion for that as he did for playing. He understands that he has to grind and put in the work if he wants to chase his dream. Putting in the work is a good way to succeed, but it can also be a good way to learn from failure.
I wanted to be a professional basketball player when I was growing up, and I put in hours and hours and hours of work to achieve that goal…only to top out at high school junior varsity before my career was over. I learned from grinding and putting in work that even though it was my dream, it was not my future. Which led to lesson number two for my young Padawan.
“I also advise you to have a backup plan,” I continued. “Dreams don’t pay the bills — especially while you’re chasing them. If you make it, then you have a character-building experience of having to really push to support yourself while also learning your musical craft. If you don’t, then you at least have a skill or trade that you can fall back on.”
Again, I expected him to balk — teenager, remember? — but he didn’t. He understands that chasing a dream doesn’t guarantee you’ll catch it, and that he has to balance his life between that pursuit and common-sense living.
The last piece of advice that I had for him really hit home for both of us. I told him that no matter what he does, he needs to do it for the right reasons.
“Michael, don’t chase music, don’t write music, don’t play music just to get paid or become famous,” I said. “Do it because you love it and because you have something to say. If you have pure motives in chasing this dream, the rewards will come. Those rewards may not be money, airplay or girls, but they might just be a sense of pride that you created something that speaks to who you truly are. If you really consider yourself an artist, then create art.”
May we all chase our dreams because we love what we do. What can be more fulfilling than that?
Frank Vaughn is a regional Emmy Award- and Associated Press Media Editors Award-winning journalist. His first book, “0.4 to Graduation: How to Finish College in 17 Years or Less” is slated for release in Spring 2018. You can connect with Frank at his Facebook page and on Twitter.
The man’s eyes darted around the room as he settled down at a table in the McDonalds on Saint Louis. Every tiny sound made him jump, which was the only interruption to the constant shivering from deep in his bones. His fingerless gloves were a punchline to some cruel joke about avoiding frostbite, and his tattered overcoat was a sieve for the unyielding frosty wind swirling just outside the door.
I asked where his home was and he favored me with an ironic grin. His food sat in front of him untouched as he pondered how to answer my question. At last, he plucked a steaming hot fry from its sleeve and considered it briefly before cramming it in his mouth.
“You mean right now?” he asked. “You’re looking at it.”
My confusion must have been apparent as I processed this statement, so he held up one hand and said, “I don’t have one. Home is wherever I am when someone asks.”
He told of walking most of the way from Kentucky to Arkansas to collect on what he believed was the promise of a job at a local horse farm. When he gave me the name of the person he spoke with, I suspected right away that something was not right with this story. After speaking with that person privately, it was confirmed that there was no job offer and I knew this situation had to be handled delicately.
I encountered dozens of indigent persons in my role as the chaplain for the Independence County Sheriff’s Office, but this encounter initially tripped my danger alarm. After making sure he was not a fugitive from justice, I arranged to give him shelter outside town for a couple of days. A local business donated some food vouchers, and the person he came to apply for a job with anonymously donated several hundred dollars to clothe him.
He set out on foot a couple of days later headed north. I got a call from him several months later and he reported that he was settled in Missouri—at a horse farm of course—and he had worked steadily for two months. He had a place to live, a little car to drive to and from work, and he was attending church. He needed one more favor from me, though.
“I have never had anything in my life,” he said with a cracked voice. “I was homeless most of my life and wasn’t sure whether I should even keep living when I got to Batesville. Now I have a place to lay down at night, food to eat, and clothes to wear that I can be proud of. But there’s still something missing.”
I tensed as I tried to guess where this was headed. He choked back a sob and continued.
“Several people in Batesville showed me a kindness and generosity that no one else ever has,” he said. “I was always the poor, dirty bum and most people wouldn’t give me a second look. Now that I have a solid job, I want to do something too. Can I send you some money to help the next person that wanders into town? It isn’t much, but I want to give what I can.”
I gave him a P.O. Box address, and three weeks later an envelope came that contained three $20 bills. That afternoon, I got another call from the Sheriff’s office that someone needed help.
Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on Twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.
The October sun beat down on my head with a relentless anger that seemed out of character for that time of year. As sweat beaded on my head and ran down my face in tiny streams, I continued to pull the rake back and forth across the ankle-deep leaves on that five-acre patch of land behind an old farmhouse. I was a starving college student in Arkansas in my early 20s, and the $100 I was promised for this particular task seemed like a small fortune—until about four hours into the job.
The man who hired me was a ruddy farmer who almost exactly matched my preconceived mental image of his weekly attire with old, faded coveralls and a straw hat to match a face and forearms that throbbed in a hue of dark red that reminded me of an overripe apple. I met him at a church I just started attending, and he seemed a genuinely nice sort who just wanted to help a youngster out with a temporary job. I learned a lot about him the first day I was there.
He set a platter of sandwiches and a jar of lemonade on the splintered and weather beaten picnic table on the side of his house and gave a loud whistle for me to stop and grab a bite. The whistle was quite unnecessary, as I was standing maybe 20 feet from that table. As I dropped the rake and stripped off my work gloves, he clamped his hands to his wide hips and shook his head slowly as if the burden of the world had suddenly descended upon him. His first words were jarring.
“Boy, you ain’t worth the skin God printed you on, you know that?” he said in his low, gravelly voice. “If you was my son, I believe I’d drop you off at a bus station somewhere and wish the world luck with you.”
Gone was the sweet, smiling older gentleman who welcomed me to his church only a few weeks before. His upper lip was curved in a sort of menacing grin that told me these next few days were going to be the longest of my new tenure in adulthood. As I settled down at that old, rickety table to hush my stomach with the help of a few ham and cheese sandwiches, he continued to stare holes through me.
“Seriously. What have you been doing all morning?“ he asked in a growl that dripped with disgust. “You should be halfway through this job by now and you ain’t got 20 feet from this house!”
He paused his tongue lashing long enough to bless the food, and once he uttered “amen” (in Jesus’ name, of course) the verbal flogging resumed. Each bite I took through that entire meal was punctuated with some new commentary on my work ethic, the way I gripped a rake, the size of the piles I made with the leaves in his yard. I waited through the entire meal for some nugget of encouragement, but none came.
The verbal beat downs continued each and every day for the entire week I worked for him. I went to bed each night with blistered hands, a throbbing back, and a wounded spirit. By the time the week was over, his entire property had been raked, an old storage shed had been torn down (and the rubble hauled off), his house had been repainted, and that old picnic table had been fortified, sanded down, and repainted.
At the end of the last day, he called me over to get my check before I left. My shoulders slumped as I trudged over to receive my remuneration—and probably one last commentary on how I represented the most worthless generation he ever witnessed.
I stopped in front of him and noticed immediately that the man I had been working for all week was gone. In his place was the warm, smiling man I met recently at a country church. As he handed me a folded check, he gripped my hand tightly and thanked me for all of my hard work. As my face turned into a soupy mess of confusion, he patted me on the shoulder and gave me one last speech.
“Son, I believe in hard work. Always have,” he said. “You were doing okay from the start, but I knew I could get a lot more out of you with the proper motivation. No matter what job you are given, you owe your best. All you can give. That will always be rewarded.”
As I climbed in my car to leave, his words continued to ring in my ears. I started the engine, but before I shifted into gear, I took one peek at the folded check from that old farmer with a unique motivational approach. He had doubled my promised pay, but I earned much more than a couple of hundred dollars that week. I earned a life lesson on the importance of pouring my all into every responsibility I have.
Frank Vaughn, award-winning columnist and aspiring author, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow/like Frank Vaughn on Facebook, @fnvaughn on Twitter and fnvaughn on Instagram.