November 16, 2017

Lessons: what is life teaching you?

by Rod Smith

What is the year teaching you? Please, reflect and let me know. Here are a few things I am learning afresh and re-learning:

  • Trust broken is hard to restore. My experience is that forgiveness can restore broken trust but the ability to trust again can take a long time to restore. This is especially so with close friendships and infidelity in marriage.
  • No one is more important than anyone else. To be intimidated by another is a waste of opportunity and energy. Yes, we all have different roles. We are afforded a variety of degrees of power and responsibility that come with our varying roles, but using that power to lord it over another is the surest indication that the power is in the wrong hands.
  • Some individuals are so significantly hurt that the real person has disappeared behind shame, regret, and pretense. The defense has become the identity. The vulnerable person inside died a very long time ago and, sadly, will probably never be known.
  • Ignored conflicts and family issues that are unaddressed will remain and usually grow. The issues may change shape, may go into hiding, may remain latent for decades – but they will surface and get necessary attention.
November 15, 2017

Be more human

by Rod Smith

Slow down. Stop. Look at the beauty around you. Take it in. Breathe deeply. Treasure the moment. This will embolden you to….

Listen to others. Make eye contact. Don’t wait to speak or one-up things someone tells you with a better or more dramatic story. The person with whom you are talking probably wants human contact and meaningful connection and validation more than he or she wants a contest or a race. Listen to what people say and to what they don’t say. The latter may be far more meaningful and significant than the former. The person with whom you have this sacred moment is probably as lonely as you are, as afraid as you are, as desperate as you are, and as desirous of significance and validation as you are. Welcome this fellow sufferer into your circle – even if it for a few brief minutes – and make it unforgettable.

If you are talking to a child do what is necessary to be eye-to-eye and unearth the patience within yourself to treasure the moment and to ask questions and to engage the child on the child’s terms.

Indifference is a killer; engagement, involvement, and interest are its antidotes.

November 14, 2017

Inside / outside

by Rod Smith

There’s a cartoon I glimpsed that has stuck with me. The simple sketch and caption found an indelible place in my heart, mind, soul, spirit, brain, memory, or some combination of all these internal “places.” I list them all –I am sure there are more – because none of us know where within our complex human hard-drive these life-shaping things are stored.

“If you’re ugly on the inside eventually it will show on the outside,” the caption read. I thought of how the caption echoed Jesus who said, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Our lives are driven and guided by this inner-place.

In his new book, “Barking to the Choir,” Father George Boyle talks about the deep and hurtful matters in our lives that will be “transmitted” if they are not “transformed.”

He talks about the “language” of our lives – and how they can be lived from a heart of hurt and rejection or from peace and healing. He writes about burying over 200 victims of gang violence in his Los Angeles parish and about being treasured by his homeboys – the men and boys who have left their lives of violence and found lives of grace – as he continues his own battle with cancer.

If you are beautiful on the inside it will show on the outside.

November 12, 2017


by Rod Smith

“My son (17) son is in grade 11 and addicted to marijuana. My husband and I have tried to get him to stop but he seems unable. He has made two or three attempts but these have not worked. He does not achieve well at school and goes out a lot. He insists on driving unlicensed. My husband and I seem unable to control his behavior. We are at our wits end. I feel that I would prefer him moving away and fending for himself once he turns 18. Kindly offer me some guidance.”

It is easy for me to identify with your feelings of helplessness. I have seen this many times and I feel perhaps as helpless as you do with some of the issues and struggles I see my own sons encounter.

There is something to be said for his two or three attempts at finding healing for his addiction. Were these things he tried on his own or did he get professional help? I’d suggest it’s impossible for your son to face these demons on his own.

I applaud and admire your willingness to see him move away when he is 18. Your insistence may well remove the structures than covertly enable his academic irresponsibility and his need for a cure seem less necessary.

November 10, 2017

The week that just ended…..

by Rod Smith

I confess. This week has not been my easiest week in a long time. I have found myself being edgy, reactive, and a little more sarcastic than usual. I have had to try and tame my sharp-edged tongue my entire life.

As I reflect to gain some perspective, I look for my responses (or reactions) to what’s going on around me and try to see how what is going on around me may be different from our well-traveled family routine.

My blame-meter is up. I want to look for the ways life seems to be coming at me, targeting me, gunning for me. It feels as if there’d be some reward to being a victim. I could, if I wanted, see the glaring imperfections in my younger son’s public high school (he’s of 3800 students) and his day begins at 7:18am! This makes for a daily trek beginning at 6:20am for both of us.

“First world problems,” I tell myself. “Grow up,” I tell myself. “Read some of your own columns,” I persist.

Then, with some distance attained, some injection of humour, and a little time with my peers and my community, I brace myself, and ready myself for a great and fruitful and restful weekend.

Join me, please.

November 8, 2017

Midweek family meal

by Rod Smith

A family of mom, dad, and three children (all the children under 8) and grandparents were eating near me in a restaurant. Dad was adding out-loud how much he owed each child as he or she ate at the rate of a dollar per mouthful. Mom was showing one child how it is possible to eat and not lose points in the game he was playing on his phone while he ate. The other two children – both younger – had apparently already mastered that skill on their devises. The grandparents looked on with that distant but mildly amused and resigned look.

I head off home and I wonder if I will write about this experience. I amused at what I have seen but also aware that whatever I write may come off as judgmental.

My house is almost dead quiet. My older boy microwaved something and taken it up to his room. I can hear he’s buried in some Netflix series. My younger son’s got a game going on in his room. The only sounds are his frustrations that some friend is not online at the moment. The state of the kitchen reveals he too has helped himself.

“Get off your high horse, Mr. Smith,” I hear yelled from somewhere deep inside my head.

November 7, 2017

Anxiety – chronic and situational

by Rod Smith

If you find yourself identifying with the chronic list I would strongly urge professional help. Please, if you use my list at all, use it for yourself, and not to identify others.

Two kinds of anxiety: chronic and situational


  • You worry and you don’t know why – it’s generic and floating; it’s not connected to anything specific.
  • You worry even when things are going well – there are times when you worry about having nothing to worry about.
  • You worry as a way of life – when people tell you they are not in a state of constant concern you think they are surely in denial.
  • You worry about everyone you love and regard the amount of worry as proportional to the depth of your love.
  • The rumbling feeling of anxiety feels like it is deep inside you and has lived in you for as long as you can remember – it’s as if you were born with it or it came from another life.


  • You are facing an examination, a tough conversation, or an important interview. You know the tension will ease once you get started or once the trial is over. Your worry is attached to something real and when that is dealt with the worry will ease and then be gone.


November 6, 2017

(Extended) Family leadership

by Rod Smith

Every extended family (usually) has the need for a leader or leaders. He or she may vary as needs and issues change. The role may be offered through covert means – a sort of passive pressure – or readily announced and openly assumed.

That person may be required to:

  • Initiate meetings and facilitate conversations where there has been a falling out.
  • Empower family members to take a hard and loving stand against cruel or harsh treatment at the hands of another member of the family or even someone outside of it.
  • Go first – and be the first person in the family to travel or to go to university or to branch off into an area of interest or study that no one in the family has done before.
  • Go back, and visit childhood places and long-lost relatives and to hear the family stories that may have never be heard.
  • Demonstrate grace, generosity, and forgiveness in a family that may have for many years traded in selfishness, resentment, and judgment.
  • Speak well and kindly of those family members who for whatever reason have been rejected by some members of the same family and be willing to reach out to them in order to draw them back into the fold.


If it is you, may you have the courage and the wisdom to exercise your calling.

November 1, 2017

I met a retired headmaster

by Rod Smith

I sat and chatted at a Halloween function with a retired headmaster from a prestigious school in Indianapolis. He’s a loved neighbor to close friends but not someone I had previously met. His answers to my questions took me by surprise.

“After 20 years as head of one of our leading public schools what was your proudest accomplishment?” I asked. I really expected him to say the new basketball gym or the football stadium.

“The traditional five-paragraph essay,” he said without a momentary pause.

“Every graduate of our school knew about the structure of the five-paragraph essay and I believe that was one of the best things I introduced.”

I told him that I found his answer refreshing and that I was surprised his answer had no reference to sport or buildings.

“Oh, we did all that! Stadiums, trophies, bands, and so forth – but I most proud that all of our students could represent themselves well on paper.”

“What makes an exceptional teacher?” I asked.

“Well, of course knowledge and love of the subject is essential,” he said, “but when hiring a teacher I looked for the candidate who loved people at least as much as the subject. That’s what I always looked for.”

October 29, 2017

Absence makes the heart grow fonder…..?

by Rod Smith

Last week I divulged to the treasured audience of this column how close my brother and sister and I are despite the fact that we each live on a different continent.

A reader suggested we perfectly display the axiom “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” He said his four adult siblings all live within “striking distance of each other” but do not socialize. He said they hadn’t all had a meal together in 15 years!

Perhaps there’s an element of truth to his observation about my brother and sister, but I really think it’s minuscule. Despite the distance we’re in each other’s lives quite a lot! My brother and I talk a lot on the phone, sometimes daily, depending on the magnitude of what either of us may be facing. Then, he visits sometimes twice a year – especially if there’s a significant event in my sons’ lives. My sister and I exchange greetings and check in with each other so much it’s hard to even imagine there’s a vast ocean between us. She’s visited here with such investment that I have friends who think she lives here!

Maybe it’s absence that makes the effort to connect more focused.

I’ll close with a challenge to that reader and others of similar experience – make it happen…. call your extended family and enjoy the rewards of deeper and determined connection.