May 28, 2020

How to love your backbone

by Rod Smith

To Whom It May Concern: How to Love Your Backbone 

A backbone is one of those “use it or lose it” things. In order to love it you have to find it. 

Some men and women, very sadly, have been filleted. Like fish.

This, the filleting process, can be done swiftly, or painstakingly slowly. It’s often done by life, “love,” family, or even by church.

It saddens me to know I have met several filleted men and women – men and women who stand for nothing – and there are many times I have felt spineless myself. 

If you lost your backbone some time ago its presence may be hard for you to locate. But, be assured, complete filleting is possible with fish. Not humans. 

It’s in there, really. Your backbone is in there. You just have to want to find it. And, to find it, you have to acknowledge its usefulness. Believe me you have a spine even if it has been ignored for years.

You have to see its purpose, its role in propelling you to face yourself and the world if you want it to be restored to full strength.   

You will start to find it when you believe you still have one and know you still need it.  When you practice using it, it will really start to grow in you. Everything will start to change for the good. Well, most things. The people who preferred you to be spineless, or, those who did the filleting, might resist who you become. But, you will be able to deal firmly with them as you discover the truth about your backbone and the power of using it.  You will see repeatedly how spinelessness got you nowhere worth going.  

Growth require practice. Practice involves showing up. Standing up. Speaking up. Even if it is at first in small ways and about seemingly insignificant matters.

If you start with non threatening situations, perhaps where you have been a pushover in the past, you’ll get used to the feel of your backbone.

You might even begin to enjoy it and feel it doing its amazing work within you.

Once you begin to trust its usefulness you will like it more and more. You will begin to use it in more important situations like in your intimate relationships, at work (with your boss), with your parents, and even with your children. If you use it consistently and without apology there will be people who will forget you ever stooped through life and stood up for little or nothing.

May 24, 2020

In the event you are interested……

by Rod Smith

This morning I invite you to begin our service with the first link for the call to worship, prayers, and readings.

Once you have completed the readings using that link, kindly click on the second for the sermon.

https://soundcloud.com/rod-e-smith/5-24-2020-call-to-worship-prayers-readings

https://soundcloud.com/rod-e-smith/5-24-2020-may-they-be-one-sermon

May 17, 2020

Evaluate your wellness in trying times

by Rod Smith

You are able to get some distance in order to gain perspective when things annoy you, be these annoyances consequential or inconsequential. You take a step back, you evaluate, you try to see the larger context of what is getting under your skin. This allows you to respond in creative, kind, and helpful ways and to minimize potential damage. 

You have recognized that immediate reactions, knee-jerk behaviors on your part are seldom helpful and quite often harmful to yourself and to others. Do not harm continues to be your mantra.

You have not lost your sense of humor even if it means an inner-chuckle that might be unwise to share with anyone. As serious as times are, you can still see the funny side of some events. That you can identify humor does not make you heartless to the suffering of others. You are careful with this because you are aware that some people are experiencing profound and enduring loss. 

You have private goals with which you are engaged and you are seeing some rewarding progress.

You know that emotional wellness does not mean wellness all the time. You know how to give yourself a break and even have a bad day on occasion.

May 13, 2020

Prayer upon rising

by Rod Smith

May I…..

  • be a source of healing and not hurt or injury.

  • learn to be more patient and loving with the people closest to me.

  • value other people more than I value things.

  • apologize sincerely and efficiently when I wrong others.

  • learn to respect and love myself without being self-indulgent, self-absorbed or self-centered.

  • be immovable about matters of personal integrity, and flexible and understanding when others do not do what is right and good.

  • learn to switch off or ignore my phone when I am face-to-face with anyone.

  • listen more than I speak.

  • be generous.

  • consistently spend less than I earn.

  • learn to define myself and not others.

  • learn to hold my tongue when tempted to gossip.

  • have growing clarity about what is and what is not my business and the power to mind my own business.

  • keep my word.

  • learn to promote the strengths of others even if it means stepping aside so others may get ahead.

  • learn to live in the present and design a great future rather than dwell upon the way things were or could have been.

May 11, 2020

All we can ask of our adolescent sons and daughters

by Rod Smith

The divine parent/adolescent exchange:

I expect you to tell me the truth to the same degree I have told you the truth. I do not expect you to tell me everything. I know you have parts of your life that has little or even nothing to do with me. I expect and welcome this.

I do expect you to tell me things that reasonably high functioning families consider important. If it, whatever “it” is, impacts you immediately and significantly or is likely to take me by surprise now or in the future, I want to know about it. I want to know about it as soon as possible. Of course, it goes both ways!

I expect you to offer me the same degree of freedom as I have offered you. I do not treat you like room service or 911 and I want the same respect in return.

I expect you will progressively pay your own way beginning around 16. This means you will assume all the costs related to your life as you work and earn more. I hope you will continue to apply the same aptitude to creating your great future as you have to creating your great success at school. While I will always be proud of your successes, they will always be yours,  not mine.

I expect you to write well, read well, and communicate well.

May 10, 2020

About adoption

by Rod Smith

About adoption – these matters surface strongly for me around Mothers Day and other holidays…..

I was approached by a woman who changed my life. She requested that I rear her then unborn son as my own. The rest, as it is said, is history.

Adoption is a beautiful institution. It’s as old as humanity and can be as enduring as the best and most powerful expressions of love. I find it impossible to believe that somehow I would love my children more were they biologically my children.

I think this kind of thinking is nonsense – but if you adopt you will meet it at many a turn.

Many people will insist on attaching “adopted” onto every mention of my children (and “black”) as if we all need constant reminders and as if my children are not clearly African-American. I have learned to (usually) ignore this despite finding it quite amusing.

People who are against abortion deny the very essence of their anti-abortion stance if they have not at least adopted a few children. I am sure my reasoning is flawed but I’m going to stick with it. If a person is against abortion he or she ought to be adopting and fostering left, right and center. Before I get yelled at I am also aware that in some places adoption is next to impossible for single people or people over certain ages.

Children are quite comfortable talking about adoption if the parents are. My sons freely tell people they are adopted and appear to have no idea that there was a time when people tended to keep such things secret. This just may be fostered somewhat by the fact that I am Caucasian and each of them is not.

In every adoption there is a set of biological parents and the adopted parent(s) – all are very powerful in the life of the child and in impacting the life of the child. Sometimes I feel that the absent parents wield greater influence than the parents who are present. Sometimes it feels the other way around. These things are not static.

Birth moms and dads usually remain intimately connected to the child even if they never see the child again. This is an invisible connection that defies distance and time, and, if the adopted parent tries to ignore this connection or even extinguish it, the parent will learn about this connection the hard way, probably in a way that will burn. Rather acknowledge it than try to deny it or get rid of it.

I had to immediately decide I was sufficient for the immediate (the nights, diapers, bottles, strollers, cribs) and long-haul (sports, school, homework, university, and so much else both expected and unexpected). This was not, I hope, some arrogant assumption on my part but a decision that was and is essential to our survival. It’s about faith, not self-sufficiency. Who needs an unsure dad? Who needs a hesitant dad when he’s the only parent you have?

I had to decide that I was enough for each child. While far from perfect, the role is mine and I was and I am and I will be equipped to play it.

I decided very early in the process that I would protect my children from behind and not by going ahead. I would stand back so my sons would have to clear their own paths (make their way) rather than my submitting to the pressure of going ahead and somehow doing life for them.

I believed and subsequently saw that parenting, nurturing, and knowing what to do would download into me in the manner software can be downloaded into a computer. I would have it (abilities, understanding, wisdom) whenever I needed it.

I decided that at the slightest hint of racist attitudes or comments made by anyone ever in their circle of influence, I would remove my children from the ugliness no matter what the source of the bigotry. Now that they are older I do not do this anymore.
I resolved that each son’s future would always be in his own hands: that I’d offer each the very best of what I was capable but that ultimately the success of each and potential failure was always in each boy’s hands.

I decided I would focus on encouraging strengths rather than spin my wheels trying to improve so-called weaknesses.

I decided I would lead my children from my strengths and my love of adventure rather than through a coddling empathy or a misplaced sympathy that could emerge within them for having been adopted by a single man. Last count we’ve been to about 25 countries together (Nate a few fewer since he is younger).

I knew I was taking on a mammoth task and that I was doing so alone. While the help and support and love of an immediate community and family has been irreplaceable and essential, I had to remind myself that if all was lost, if all were unavailable, if all ran for the hills, the joys and responsibility of rearing my children would remain mine and mine alone.

Let me close by answering a frequently asked question: Yes: I do believe children are usually “better off” in two-parent families. Had one stepped forward for each boy and had the mothers chosen those families I’d have willingly watched them go….until the moment the judge hit the gavel and the deed was done….

May 5, 2020

He asked a question and I was moved

by Rod Smith

One evening during the past few weeks, while we have all been really together, one of my sons expressed a fear. 

It was a gentle moment. 

It was as if he’d been storing his fear and comments for such a moment. 

“Dad, I am worried that you are going to die and, well, you won’t be at my wedding and all those sorts of things. Is there like a guidebook for what I must do without you?

His care and concern and brewing anxiety moved me. 

I explained that while it is indeed possible that I could die soon and even before his wedding, it was somewhat unlikely. 

We reflected on how very capable he is and how little he requires me to do anything at all for him. I reminded him that our many friends, men and women who had known him from birth and who had witnessed his every growing phase, applauded his every achievement, would rally around him to love and welcome his bride – whomever she is – and combine efforts and resources to make their day spectacular.  

I reminded him that my brother and and their families love him and his brother at least as much as I do.

And then we talked about something else.

I forget what.   

May 4, 2020

Life-altering truths

by Rod Smith

Five mind blowing truths*:

  • You are responsible for everything that you say, everything that you do, everything you eat, drink, smoke, or take into your body. Extreme conditions exist where this is not so but they are, well, extreme. Getting hold of this will help you to stop blaming others and foster a radical shift in your perceptions.

  • You are the common factor In all of your relationships. You are the central figure in all of your actions. Understanding this will give a meaningful context for everything and help you to understand the people around you – the same is true for others. You are no victim. If you think or feel you are a victim there are steps you can take to move yourself out of victimhood. Are you willing to give up the rewards of victimhood? Yes, even victimhood has some rewards.

  • Among your most powerful human tools is the ability to experience, extend, and express forgiveness to all others. Forgiving others is not about others. It’s about you. The rewards will be almost instantaneous but will probably follow a period of clean but necessary pain.

  • Offer outlandish grace to everybody you encounter. You will notice it has an amazing boomerang effect.

  • Most of us are surrounded by barriers, some self-imposed, some other-imposed. It’s our job as unique individuals to be able to look beyond those barriers and to imagine horizons for ourselves. No one can do this for you. Think of what you could become if you had no fear.

*I am my first reader – all this applies to me as well as it may to you.

April 27, 2020

High maintenance people

by Rod Smith

High maintenance people require constant attention and approval. They crave to be the center of almost every conversation and will often become symptomatic (moody, resentful, loud, threatening) when not. They review every move, thought, words and actions of others. They tend to read unintended meaning into statements, looks, sighs, and attitudes of others. They are easily hurt, quickly offended, quick to rebuke when lacking the attention they think they deserve. Threats of withdrawal or desertion become a way of life.

High maintenance people are difficult, sometimes impossible, even in relaxed circumstances. They pick fights, find fault, and personalize almost everything. They argue with others, especially with intimates, for no apparent reason. They pick fights with strangers like waiters. They often live in a world of cut-off relationships where most others are idiots.

What can you do if you are in a relationship with a high maintenance person? You can do very little that will not hurt, offend, or get a reaction, but you must make a stand. High maintenance people seldom benefit from pity, patience, or empathy. 

They will only benefit from being constantly challenged to grow up.

April 13, 2020

Challenges of Close-distance relationships

by Rod Smith

• You trip over each other no matter what size your living space. It seems urgently necessary to make a schedule for who can be in the kitchen (bathroom, laundry) at what times and for how long. When it’s vacant and you go in, suddenly everyone wants the space at the same time, dog included.

• Under lockdown your eyes become magnifying glasses, enlarging everything. The way he chews his food; the ways she sips her coffee; the way the children leave things open; how she chews ice; how he breathes when asleep; how the children leave stuff everywhere – everything gets magnified and amplified. You get sizzle eyes.

• Things get very personal. You become experts in hearing something behind everything that is said and not said. Whispers can sound like screams especially if the content can be perceived as criticism.

• The slippery slide – of making everything into a catastrophe – becomes really steep and it’s easy to think the sky really is falling.

Rejoice if any of this is even momentarily true for you and your family. You are on a wonderful journey to loving each other in ways you never heretofore imagined.