September 22, 2021

Two sides?

by Rod Smith

You will hear “there are two sides to every story” when people face interpersonal conflicts. I would like to suggest that there are usually about 7 sides – maybe more – and at least three or four layers to every story. People and relationships and people in relationships are simply not that simple. We are not jigsaw pieces in search of our perfect fit place in a puzzle.

Human entanglements are complex. Each of us brings to every relationship a complex history, a network of failures and successes, a compendium of both declared and undeclared, known and unknown dreams and expectations. We have needs and drives and hopes of which we ourselves may be unaware.

“I have found my soul-mate,” or “finally I have what I want in a relationship” are wonderful declarations. We celebrate when they occur. When such meetings occur and flourish there’s a lot more at play than pretty eyes or instant compatibility or his or her stability. How we get entangled, become involved, respond to our attractions, commit to friendships, give our word, enter into levels of deeper and deeper intimacy is as complex as it is exciting and invigorating. How we try to get untangled or unattached when relationships derail is just as complex and extraordinarily painful and much more a two-sided story.

September 20, 2021

New arrangements

by Rod Smith

It’s taking me a little time to get used to the idea that both my sons are now fully employed and earning their own money. 

I love it. 

For years I have told them they can live with me but I will not allow them to live off me and it seems, thus far at least, that trying to live off me will not be a problem.

I’m just not used to this new arrangement. 

This is the first time in about 20 years I have not had to rush out and get school supplies for a project or go to the school to sign some form one of them forgot in his locker. It’s the first time in years I am not trying to sell team T-shirts to raise funds for soccer or basketball travel costs. 

I could go on and on. 

The real transition is deeper. It’s deeper than escaping the repetitive tasks of running my own life and the lives of two growing boys. It is the mutual realization that we are now fellow adults sharing life and I just happen to also be their dad. I intentionally hold back on offering guidance, I encourage them to save as much money as possible, and there are whole volumes of their lives I steer clear of. 

It works.

Mostly.     

September 16, 2021

Combinations

by Rod Smith

When it comes to mental health and emotional wellness I like combinations, especially if they are paradoxes. I can work with them. They challenge me, offer me goals toward which I can work.

For instance, an emotionally healthy person is both intimate and autonomous. He or she has to have both and, at its best, in equal share. These two states, at first glance seem mutually exclusive, but they are essential wheels on the same bicycle. Unless I can be me without you (autonomy) I will not be too good at being us (intimacy) or me with you.

The less healthy person usually becomes so invested in the “us” that the “me” gets abandoned in the name of love. This is when one person in the twosome – the higher-functioning one – will whisper to close friends, “I just need a little space; a little room to move.”

Naturally, it is as unhelpful when it goes the other way too, meaning the “me” is so strong and independent that there is hardly a semblance of “us.” Careers can so fully consume a couple that the “us” of the couple is left in the dust until there is no semblance of togetherness at all.

Another combination I love is that of Ambition and Humility – and within this combination is the essence of true leadership – and the essence of Jesus’ Leadership style.

September 13, 2021

Do you need help?

by Rod Smith

Keep in mind the loose criteria for an addiction. 

It may help you to avoid some considerable pain and expense.

If it, whatever it is, alcohol, gambling, drugs, sexual activity, has caused you to lose your job, it is an addiction. If it has caused you to lose status in a community, lose face among people whom you value, it is an addiction. Seek help. 

If it, whatever it is, has caused you to lose an important relationship, it is an addiction. Even if it threatens your most important relationships and none has been lost, it’s an addiction. Get the help you may not think you need. 

If abstaining from it, whatever it is, causes you physical symptoms like cravings, headaches, bad moods, irrational behaviors, it is an addiction. This activity or substance is driving you and you are no longer in control of your own life. Get the help you need. 

If any of the above is true and present in your life, it’s likely that your life is slowly (or rapidly) spinning out of control. This it, whatever it is, is bigger than you, it’s in the driver seat of your life, no matter how much you think differently.

Humble yourself before life does it for you and get the help you probably don’t think you need. 

September 9, 2021

Hospitality

by Rod Smith

I loved it when I heard a British Naval cruiser or aircraft carrier had docked in Durban Harbour. 

I’d hear that The HMS Eagle – that’s one I remember – was at T-Jetty and I knew my dad would take me down to “the docks.” 

We’d be waved through the security booms, park the car, walk along the side of the ship until dad caught the attention of sailors peering down at us.

“Can take four,” dad would yell, “make it five.” 

Within a short while 6 or 7 sailors would come off the ship and make their way over to us and we’d all squeeze into the car and the sailors would stay at our home until they had to report back and head for England.

As a young child it felt like dad and I were doing the Queen of England a favor. 

We were giving her dedicated sailors a break while they visited Durban. 

While the visits were brief, just a few days at a time, they were many. British war ships docked often.  

I knew dad was offering radical hospitality to men he considered brothers having himself served on the HMS Dorsetshire and having survived her sinking.

September 7, 2021

Clarity

by Rod Smith

Yesterday I wrote about being “crystal clear and forthright about expectations in all areas of your life” to limit the amount of “having to clear things up later.” 

Most of us have been in situations where we find ourselves saying, “I should have spoken up.”

I have tended to avoid certain areas of conversation in the belief that I won’t get what I want if I’m seen as overly demanding. What I see in retrospect is that people value “upfrontness.”

I have recently had to interview a list of potential employees for a particular role and had several highly qualified candidates.

One person stood out.

She had done an amazing amount of research and could show me how much the job was worth and why she was probably ahead of all the candidates who applied.

Not only that, when I made her an offer she came back to me to talk about the culture of our organization and how I perceived she may or may not fit in.

The interview process revealed what it would be like to work closely with her.

Three years later I confess she was an excellent hire.

Her forthrightness has paid off for her and for our organization.

September 6, 2021

Hard lessons for my sons (and for me):

by Rod Smith

Hard earned lessons I’m trying to learn and teach:

When push comes to shove all you have is your word and your integrity. Treasure both. Sadly you will discover that some people are not as committed to honesty and integrity as they may declare and you may think. Everything has a price and for some even their honesty and integrity has a price tag.

Try to be crystal clear and forthright about expectations in all areas of your life. The more you leave to trust and to chance the more potential you will face in having to clear things up later. Remember, we all teach others how to treat us.

Don’t begin or dabble or test out behaviors and potential habits others are trying to stop. Surely this is one way we can learn from others. If seeing the pain an addict experiences trying to get his or her life back together after years of addiction doesn’t teach you, what will teach or show you? Learn from others, even their pain, actually, especially their pain.

Acknowledge that you are as prone to error and to lapses and to your own weaknesses as any person. You will never meet the day when you yourself are not vulnerable to common human failings and frailties. Embrace necessary, appropriate humility.

August 31, 2021

Grief and healing

by Rod Smith

Grief labors long over its healing work. In so many ways it is often never over, never complete. Some losses seem beyond healing. Accommodation is possible. A full life is possible. New relationships can develop. But, the vacuum of some losses is never filled. It is natural to want to rush grief and to want pain to be gone.

Who cannot want pain to be gone? But in rushing grief along, the pain can get buried, and run deeper into the soul only to manifest itself later and often arise later disguised as something unrelated to the initial loss. No matter how long ago your loss may have occurred, welcome the tears that well up within you. Let them flow. Tears are grief’s first agents, first responders in a tragedy.

No matter how long ago your loss may have occurred, welcome your desire to talk about it. Speaking about your loss stimulates grief to continue its unique work. Conversations facilitate healing and recovery, especially conversations with those who have walked a similar path. No matter how long ago your loss or breakup or violation may have been, welcome your desire to write about it and do so.

Words strung together into sentences, then paragraphs, then chapters may well deliver you into realms of peace and on-going healing.

August 29, 2021

Life does its good work

by Rod Smith

I am fascinated by process, time, growth; how life itself gets us ready for life itself. I don’t mean to sound so obscure but let me illustrate: 

When my boys were very young neither they nor I could imagine them leaving, going off into life on their own. None of the three of us was ready for that. It is different now. It’s not that I want them gone. I do not. But I do want them to forge ahead and get on with their own lives. I want them to find adventures in far off countries and to make friends with people I will never meet. I want them both to go to places I have never dreamed of going.

Life prepared me for that transition. I find no resistance within me for it to continue. I thought I would hold onto the boys in some way but I cannot find it in me to do so. That’s what I mean. I am ready, we are ready for things none of the three of us could have foreseen us being ready for.

Life did it. The process did it. This is what I am celebrating. What is bringing joy to your heart this morning? Let me know, please.  

August 26, 2021

Neighbors

by Rod Smith

Readers have been telling me friendship stories. 

I think it is a good thing to reflect on goodness. 

There are two men, Keith Jamieson and Adam Bergesen, whom I want to write about this morning. They were neighbors; men who came almost daily to my mom and dad’s shops at 161 Blackburn Road in Red Hill.

In those days customers stood in front of the counters. Shopkeepers would have to get everything the customer wanted, place it on the counter, wrap items in a brown paper bag, total up prices on scrap paper and then “ring it up” on the till and then cash would change hands.

Sometimes the shop was very busy and so Adam and Keith began to help themselves.

They’d come behind the counter, get what they needed, cut cheese, slice polony, wrap and measure, add up what they owed, ring themselves up, pay, take whatever change they were owed and be gone.

It wasn’t too long before they were able to serve customers to help out when things were very busy. There were times they’d run the shop when dad and mom needed a break.

Adam and Keith loved my parents, recognized their hard work.

I, in return, loved them, but that was very hard for a young boy to understand or admit.

Now I can, and I do.