Posts Tagged ‘real life’

Getting Through Hell

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

hell_headerI just got a call from a friend that made my day. He told me that his son was in treatment at Sierra Tucson for drug addiction. I had lunch with this man last week and had recommended that the son go there. I shared with him how my time there, for trauma treatment from childhood sexual abuse, in 2005 had been life changing. Shortly after I returned home from ST, a friend took me to breakfast. He presented me with a refrigerator magnet that says, “If you’re going through hell, keep going”.  Better advice I have never been given! Thankfully, I have made my way to the other side and now I have something in common with millions of others who have  taken the same advice. The key to any recovery or even life in general is to simply “keep going”. As a pastor and former hospital chaplain, I have ministered to hundreds of dying people.  They pretty much always fall into two categories: quitters and folks that “keep going”. There is no comparison to the quality of life of the two.  Regardless of the struggle you may be in right now, the key is to “keep going”, because when you do, you always make it through.

When your “hell” is rooted in actions done to you by others, the best means of propulsion through it is forgiveness.  Without it, we become frozen in our hole of misery, victims trapped by our own bitterness. That is a hellish way to live! When you hold on to your security blanket of hate, you automatically stop moving.  At that point all you are doing is slowly squeezing the life out of your soul. You never get on with your life unless you let it go. Without forgiveness, sooner or later you are toast. That is the reason the Bible tells us not to keep a record of wrongs (I Corinthians 13:5).  Every time you recall the hurt you immediately make a willful choice to “keep going” by reminding yourself anew that you are once again going to give up your right to get even. Instead you mindfully pray that God will bless the very people who have hurt you. One of my “ah ha moments” was the day that it occurred to me that life never happens in a vacuum. By that I mean, that as a rule, other things are going on because people do not wake up one day and decide to hurt you. It is only hurt people who hurt people — understanding that truth has been a healing salve in my own journey. Never forget that as bad as things may be, they are never as bad as they seem and there is always a bright light when you make it through.

Leave it to a Woman

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

1376059845000-Mona-Lisa-2Two guys were sitting in the steam room at the Y discussing their consternation over the room not being hot enough to suit them. There wasn’t enough sweat to drip. Oh, the agony and disappointment of it all!  I was one of them.  About that time a woman came in and immediately said, “Gee, not much steam in here; do you fellows mind if I open the door to trigger the thermostat?”   Thank God for sending the woman; she saved the day!  We soon had plenty of   steam, sweat and humility.   The truth is I had actually thought about getting a cup of cool water to throw on the thermostat but I didn’t have a cup. It never entered my mind to simply open the door.

So often we go through life lamenting this or that, but doing absolutely nothing to make our situations any better. Instead, we settle for our default setting which, more often than not, tends to be the complaining one. That also happens to be the one that requires the fewest functioning brain cells. So, here are my take away from my steam bath: When life doesn’t suit you do something besides complain. Secondly, the simplest solution is usually the best solution.

Something to Think About

John

The online version of my book for free Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure, rehab, forgiveness and victory. http://johngouldener.com/?page_id=3877

Chapter 31 – A Dog Named Limp

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

pet-dog-tortureFrom my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure, rehab, jail and victory.

There is a particular gift which is very pricey and unfortunately never on sale. But before we go there I will take a brief detour to say a few words about its antithesis. That would be the word “bondage”. It is a bondage that can screw up every one of us by sabotaging the kind of life that God designed you to have and that He surely wants you to have. For many years I struggled with this bondage, and I know that many of you have too. I am talking about the bondage that comes from choosing not to forgive.  Can you relate? Be honest here, because this is a critical issue for your quality of life. Here’s what I want you to understand. To use one of my momma’s sayings, a person who chooses not to forgive is “cutting their nose off to spite their face”.  Momma had a way of getting her point across.  The point is the person who refuses to offer forgiveness is actually the real loser in the equation. Perhaps that might be the reason God put this in the Bible:  Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Colossians 3:12-17 (NLT) That last sentence is kind of a butt kicker do not you think?

In the fall of 2005 when I was at Sierra Tucson for my high priced makeover in the Sonoran desert, the rattlesnakes were on the move as the weather was changing from summer to fall. That time of the year seeing a rattlesnake in the desert was a pretty common sight. Holding on to a hurt is like grabbing a rattlesnake by the tail, sooner or later you are going to get the juice. And when you do your hurt will ratchet up to the red level. So what I want you to understand is that your pain actually has the potential to destroy you. I am wondering are your still aching from a slight or perhaps a rejection or a hurt? At night when you climb into bed do you lie there fantasying about getting even or how wrongly you were treated?   Maybe you have been making a pastime out of scheming about how you would get back at them or embarrass them. Perhaps you were abused as child or maybe betrayed by a friend or it could be a zillion other things.  If so, you may be on the brink of being set free from a bondage that you did not even know was keeping you a victim. You may be about to understand for the first time why you act the way you do in certain circumstances.  Whatever your situation, whatever has happened in your past, no matter if the past was 30 years ago or 30 minutes ago, remember that you are the real loser if you do not deal with your unforgiveness.  But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” Mark 11:25 (NLT) God wants you to be freed from bondage. He has been setting slaves free since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Like I said this is a “pricey” gift.  What I am talking about is very, very difficult to do, but the result is well worth the effort.

For 45 years, up until ten years ago I hated a man for what he did to me.  That guy had been dead nearly 20 years; yet, I continued to allow him to control my life.  I went to Sierra Tucson to deal with that guy. So a few days before I came home, I sat in a room with that man. Not really, he’s dead, but with an empty chair in front of me I went through a process that took me back 45 years to when I was 14.  As though that guy were sitting across from me, I began to talk to him about what happened that Saturday afternoon in the locker room at Father Ryan High School, 2300 Elliston Place, Nashville, Tennessee. I told him how it had impacted the quality of my life. I reminded “Father” how he had set me up and then how he had abused me.  I told him of the hurt, the anger, the guilt, the shame, hatred and the fear of intimacy that I carried for all those years. As I stared at that empty chair I could almost see his boney body with those hollow eyes and his thin, blondish, flattop hair. I hated him! I screamed and cried and screamed some more until I could not scream or cry any more. It was all out, the bitterness was gone. The hate was gone. The fear, the shame, the guilt, and anger it was not there anymore.  I felt it drain from me – completely drained out. During that hour or so all of those feelings gave way to a degree of understanding and the hate to words of forgiveness. God always works things out for our good. What that man did to me so long ago has been a factor in everyday of my life since. I simply decided that I had hated too long, so I forgave him.

For the first time in 45 years I saw him as a really sick man, not a demon, but a sick man.  I still do not like him, but I have forgiven him and I no longer hate.  I am free! Perhaps you might wonder how could I do that? Two reasons actually and honestly I do not know which is first. I know which should be first. I realized that hating him was killing me. When I thought about how God has forgiven me for everything I have ever done wrong or will ever do I began to “get it”. I had no right not to forgive him any longer. That day I broke forever his chains of bondage, I walked out of that room a free man and I got ready to come home. And I stopped hurting for the first time in 45 years.

When I got home, another fire of hate was kindled in me and it nearly burst into a raging inferno. But this time it was not about that guy who had abused me. It was someone else and in a sense this new betrayal was worse.    It was all I could do to keep from striking back which would have again been surrendering to hate. And then Cathy and I went on our retreat to my favorite spot on earth, the Abby of Gethsemani located in Trappist, Kentucky (http://monks.org/).  During those days God spoke to me through a dog, a dog named Limp. You know God does do that kind of stuff. I believe that He does. The people in the neighborhood know that the monastery is an easy mark, so for 150 years people have been dropping unwanted dogs at the front gate. One day about 25 years ago the monks woke up to the “Dog of the day”.  This dog was in really bad shape; she had three good legs and one bad one. Obviously, she had been starved because the monks could easily count her ribs. She had stripes on her boney shoulders where the fur was missing; most likely she had been whipped. There was a scab around her neck where she had strained against a chain or rope until she was raw. They named her Limp. She was one pitiful, frightened, bitter, unforgiving dog. So frightened that she would not let anybody, not even the gentlest monk get anywhere near her. She trusted no one because she was in bondage to her past. As the days went by and as Limp began her recovery, almost every monk would take her a little something from his plate.  For the longest she refused to eat out of their hands. The food had to be put on the ground then she would snatch it and run off. Finally she began to trust again and she got where she would eat out of the monks’ hands and then even roll over and stick her paws up in the air and say “please rub my belly”. She became a brand new dog! She came out of bondage. Limp had recovered! She started following old Father Matthew on his early morning walks through the woods. One day, just past Half Moon Lake, Limp picked up the scent of a deer. She started sniffing around, found the deer and gave chase until the frightened deer got caught up in a barbed wire fence. Instantly, without warning Limp made a leap for the neck killing the deer.

The sad truth is that the story of Limp is a parable of life itself. More often than not when God has nursed us back after a horrible injury instead of passing on his mercy and grace to someone who hurt us, we try to get even by taking them out. If I choose to remain bitter and continue a “get even attitude” then, I am not a bit better than that ungrateful dog named Limp and neither are you. This is not going to be easy, but we’ve got to choose to forgive and to love our enemies as hard as it is to do. If we do not then we are sure to live out our days in a self-imposed one man/woman cell of bondage that might rival my 45 years. I have tasted freedom; I do not want to go back there ever again. I refuse to!  I pray that you do not either. Jesus was pretty straightforward. He simply put it all this way. Love God and Love you neighbor. Let us all do that starting now. (Talk by Father Matthew Kelty, Abby of Gethsemani  November  22, 2005)

Up next: Epilogue

For the complete beta version of my book  for free Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory. http://johngouldener.com/?page_id=3877

Misinformation

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Misinformation2There is a lot of talk/debate going around in Christian circles lately over the nature of hell. Someone asked me Sunday what it is like. I replied that I do not know and hope I never find out.  Personally, I find God a much more intriguing subject. Some time ago, a man from London, England contacted me through my blog (http://johngouldener.com). He said if he lived in Nashville, that he would try our church. For most of his life he has not wanted anything to do with God.  He feels that God has let him down too many times. Like so many others, as a child he was terrified of God because his church and his parents taught him that God was up there just waiting to “swat me to like a fly”.

Ouch! What he said resonated with me. Frankly, that is what the church of my childhood taught me or at least that is what I thought it taught. Like the Brit, many of us have misconceptions about God that find their roots in faulty teaching. The problem is, when you believe stuff that’s not true about God, you’ll feel guilty when you shouldn’t. You’ll carry fears you don’t need to carry. You’ll worry about things you shouldn’t. Perhaps, you could even end up like my new friend from across the pond who doesn’t have anything to do with God. That would be a tragedy; all because you misunderstand or you were taught stuff that was wrong about God.

That kind of misinformation will rob you of a great portion of your happiness and you will never be completely fulfilled. It might even cause you to have more than a passing interest in the nature of hell.

Hopefully, you have a best friend — one that you know backwards and forwards. You can probably complete his/her sentences. How did you get to that point? Did you read about him? Did someone tell you what she was like? Did someone teach you about him? My guess is that it was none of the above. Oh, perhaps someone introduced you, but you got to know each other by spending time together. That is the only way you will ever accurately know God. You can begin to get to know God anytime you are willing to shut it all down and spend time alone. Trust me, nothing else will work. Why not start with five minutes right now? I expect He is waiting just for you.

Something to think about

Check out online beta version of  my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory. http://johngouldener.com/?page_id=3877

Chapter 18 -After the Music Stopped

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Southwest Airlines JetFrom my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory.

The days immediately following September 6 were an especially stressful time in Cathy and my relationship. I had never told her the truth about what had happen to me as a child. Of course when it came out like it did it was like her getting broadsided by a ton of dung. Barely twenty-four hours earlier, all she had to worry about was a husband who was addicted to “the best job in the world”.  Now, he was an emotional basket case who was nearly non-functional, crying most of the time and maybe even suicidal.   The person who came home from the office did not bare a faint resemblance to the man who had walked out the kitchen door that same morning with a gym bag over his shoulder.   She was shocked, angry, hurt, confused but maybe mostly disappointed because for thirty years of our marriage I had not trusted her enough to be honest with her. Those days were not warm and fuzzy for either of us. The truth is they were horrible days and I suspected that our marriage could actually come to an end as a result.

On Saturday September 10, we went to Prime Trust Bank near our home to get the money to pay for my treatment. We knew most of the officers as we had been banking with them since our construction loan thirty years earlier. I shudder at what they must have been thinking, when we came in surely acting strange and me looking like a cast member form the “Walking Dead”, to transfer into checking a large amount of money out of a CD that I had just renewed a few weeks.   When it was all said and done, we transferred $35,000.

Since the day in the spring of 1987 that we begin tithing, at least ten percent of our income to whatever church we were attending, God has provided for us financially. As I type I realize, somewhat ironically, that the reason that we chose to tithe was because of the example that we saw in the Robinson family. Regardless of what happened, I know that the good that I got out of those relationships far exceeded the bad. I have no doubt on that.  A few years earlier we had come into a modest inheritance. Most of that money we had put into retirement accounts, so funding my treatment was not an issue. We were fortunate in that there was never any panic about the money. That was a true blessing I did not fully appreciate for some time after September 6, 2005.

As Cathy was driving me to the airport on Tuesday September 13 for my flight to Tucson, I was barely functional. I had had nearly no sleep for over a week and had lost several pounds and looked like death warmed over. I was also crying. In fact I cried off and on now for a week. Maybe I cried more than I did not cry. I was scared of going to Sierra-Tucson. I was scared of what was going to happen when I returned. I was scared of what was going to happen to our marriage and I was scared of what people might think of me when the word filtered out that I had been abused. I was afraid that my life-long fear of being abandoned was happening and I could not do anything to reverse it.

During my flight to Tucson I felt like a frightened child. I thought back to a spring afternoon in early May when I had stood alone on a hilltop looking down on our sixty-six acre campus and our brand new state of the art building, which was the grand culmination of our highly unlikely twelve year dream.  Through God’s guidance we had traveled light years since our first “practice service” with about ten people in the round room at Brentwood Academy in the summer of 1993. I thought about the journey and God’s amazingly talented team of everyday people that he had put together which had turned our  dream into fact.  A dream for what we had called “a different kind of church” that had its genesis in the hearts of six people had come to fruition and quite frankly it was way beyond my wildest expectation.  Sixty-six acres in the center of town only a mile from the expressway, an incredible building seating 800 people and carrying a debt of only slightly over 1.5 million put Highland Park Church way ahead of the curve.  Obviously, I knew in my head that along with the others I had played a pivotal role in all of that. As a result of my coming to Christ in 1987, I had been the original vision caster.    I had worked the first seven plus years without pay. Cathy had given up being a stay at home mom so we could continue to eat along the way. I knew that without us there would be no church. Yes, I understood that. I had all the head knowledge, but as I stood there on that hilltop with a gentle, spring breeze blowing  I did not feel one morsel of personal pride or sense of personal accomplishment at all in what my eyes were beholding down below — none.

Fearing what lay ahead while listening to the hum of the Southwest 737 as it streaked west it occurred to me that maybe that day was a premonition of what was to come. Perhaps my time at Highland Park Church was over. Maybe God used that day as preparation. Maybe I would literally no longer be a part of that great campus. A few days later as I tried to explain my feelings in group while  at Sierra Tucson; I described it as kind of like I was watching an exciting movie, but I was not in it. I was not the star, co-star, supporting actor, or even an extra. That kind of feeling had been a basic facet of the diamond of my life as far back as I can remember. Other than carrying a tune and golf, I have been blessed with a fair amount of success.  But even with all the praise and accolades that I have received over my life, until my time at Sierra Tucson, I could not feel any of it in the fiber of my being. What I have come to learn and realize is that I am just one of millions who, for one reason or the other, have detached themselves from their achievements because of their toxic shame.

As I made my way to the baggage claim I felt like a little boy. I was afraid of the unknown. I was clueless what rehab would be like. I wanted to be back with Cathy. More than anything I wanted to be in control. My instructions said that my driver, who would take me out to Sierra-Tucson, would be holding a sign that would say “Fred”. What if he is not there? Oh, he will be there, they must pick up “nutcases” like me all the time. At what they charge they will not screw up meeting me. Stop worrying! There he is! Fred looked like white haired angel. As we made eye contact he flashed a warm smile as he extended his right hand while saying, “Welcome to Tucson, John. You have nothing to worry about. Everything will be OK.” For some reason I believed him. On the drive over Fred was very encouraging. I could tell that he was the real deal. I recall thinking, I hope he is the one who will take me back to the airport in 30 days. I was sold on Fred, but not so much as to my immediate future.

We drove through downtown Tucson out into the high desert and the stunning Santa Catalina Mountains. Even in my condition those mountains rising out of the desert floor were an incredible sight to see. Unfortunately, my sightseeing tour was short lived. As soon as we pulled into Sierra- Tucson my fear came rushing back full force. As I checked in I had to surrender my phone, wallet, medications, laptop and control. All I got in return was a plastic water bottle. I felt shortchanged. Upon completing the registration process, each new patient is assigned a room in the detox wing. Fortunately I was only there the first night as my physical exam showed that I was free of any drugs or alcohol. I did not sleep any the first night so I had ample opportunity to reflect on the horrible fact that I was in the detox hospital room. The next day I was assigned a room with a roommate. He seldom got out of bed and snored a lot.  Burt from New York City and John from Music City made quite the contrasts. The only thing we had in common was that we were both there and did not wish to be. Burt disappeared after ten days. I heard that he was asked to leave.

The second night, after dinner, we all gathered outside in a circle in a huge recovery meeting. Between 2000 and 2005 I had attended around 1200 Twelve Step meetings. But none were as impacting and life changing as this one was going to be as I sit under the stars in the Arizona desert with fifty or so people I did not know. Finally my turn came. “I’m John, I’m from Nashville Tennessee. I am here to deal with trauma from being sexually abused by a priest at my high school when I was fourteen. I kept it a secret until last week”. The thing that amazed me was that the very secret that I had kept for 45 years somehow rolled off my tongue with ease and precision. Not one person got up and left. Nobody abandoned me. They loved me and I loved them back. From that moment I was cool with Sierra – Tucson. I made some very good friends and left my fear of what will people think if they know in the Sonoran Desert that night. It was gone and would never come back. I make a habit of recommending Sierra-Tucson to folks because a miracle happened to me there on the second night and there were many more to come.

Every Sunday afternoon, while at Sierra Tucson I called Cathy.  Those calls were a strain on both of us. They were not what you would expect from a husband and wife who had to be apart for an extended time. The truth was we were in our own isolated worlds of confusion, hurt, uncertainty profound disappointed and fear separated by almost the entire continent and what seemed like millions of questions without answers.  Consider the fact that Cathy had been married to me for 30 years, when she was abruptly blindsided by Glenn Cole’s malevolent revelation of my childhood abuse.  That was promptly followed by my emotional / mental breakdown. Then within a matter of a few days, I had left town for treatment, more or less looking and acting like a complete basket case, leaving Cathy holding the bag back home.  So during that critical time in our relationship, we both were in the initial steps of our own personal healing journeys, but with miles and miles ahead before we would attain any sense of normalcy again. When I called her the afternoon of October 2, 2005, the instant Cathy said “hello”, I intuitively knew that something was very wrong in Nashville. The very next thing out of her mouth was “John there is something I have to tell you. I have talked to the people at Sierra Tucson; they think this is the right thing to do.  John, Glenn has moved into your office. Dave is not going to let you come back.”

That particular moment in time is etched into my brain like the day   President Kennedy was murdered. I can remember every minute detail of our conversation.  My pain was immediate, profuse and excruciating, as I know it was for Cathy also. There was a feeling of a death-like grip talking hold of me.  I retorted, “Why did you tell me this now? I am 2200 miles away and there is nothing I can do from here. Cathy, why didn’t you wait until I got home to tell me this?  Her reply made perfect sense, but at the time it did not register at all. “Because you will need some help in dealing with this new trauma. I have talked to the people out there. They will be there for you. They will help you get through this.”

Right then I noticed that my lips were dry and parched, as was my throat.  Sensing that phenomenon, my mind flashed back to my cotton mouth of September 6, when I had to excuse myself in the midst of my emotional breakdown to get some water. Fortunately, this time around, I was already holding a bottle of chilled water; I sipped it as I listened to my wife, in essence,  tell me that the church which we had spent the last twelve years sacrificing to build,  had been taken from us by my best friend, Dave Robinson, under the presumed tutelage of his jealous father.  If you ever played sports and had the wind knocked out of you that is about how I felt. In my ears I could hear the thundering beat of my pumping heart; it seemed as though it might explode with each mighty thrust. The “fight or flight instinct” kicked in.  In a matter of seconds, my mind replayed my twenty year relationship with Dave. They were mostly good memories, but in hindsight and in my recovery, I now see all the multiple red flags over those years

So as I listened to Cathy on the phone, I felt like crying, but I did not.  I knew the truth of what she was in the process of explaining to me; yet, something deep inside me thought, “No, somebody is going to shake me and tell me that this is only a nightmare”. I guess my emotions unconsciously held out hope that somehow things would magically become like they had been before. From two time zones away, Cathy, was trying, as best as she could, to support me, even though she was as devastated as me. In my absence, Dave had pulled a bloodless coup, unilaterally fired Cathy as children’s director and told her not to come onto the church property. Dave’s true character had manifested itself unfettered. I felt completely lost, alone and without hope. For some reason, I recalled the words of my friend Eric Armstrong. During his time in prison, during a desperate act of self-defense, he had stabbed another prisoner to death. Eric once told me that when he had been in solitary that he felt so dark and alone that they had to “airmail me light”. As we talked I felt like I was in absolute darkness. I longed for even a shred of a ray of light because I was very frightened.  I became aware of a pervasive evilness that I reckoned had its genesis in Dave’s very soul. Several times in our marriage, Cathy has said that I was the most naive person she had ever known.    I had trusted my best friend, who had promised to help me deal with my abuse. He had promised me that “I will take care of everything while you are away taking care of yourself and getting well. If Kristen is still pissed off when you get home, you can work at your house until she gets over it.” (2) At his insistence, I had agreed with a counselor, whom I barely knew and who was a friend of Glenn’s, to go to Sierra Tucson for thirty days in patient treatment of trauma for my childhood abuse.  Because I thought Dave was my friend, I had blindly trusted him.  At the time, under my diminished mental condition, I had failed to factor in George, his jealous dad, who in my thirty day  absence saw his opportunity to get something he later unabashedly admitted  to Lou Alvarez, in a clandestine  meeting at Palmer Park, that he had always wanted —-  “a church like this”. In that same conversation he told Lou, “I have finally got my son back”. (3)

The previous August, on a Wednesday night, George had stopped to chat with me in the hallway of our new building. While he was marveling at that wonderful structure, as was his usual habit, he repeatedly and rapidly picked at his left chest with his right hand. That is a reoccurring tic that always seemed to manifest itself most, whenever he was serving up a double portion of his ego-based bull shit. He said to me, “John it is remarkable what you and Dave have accomplished since the Franklin days. (4) And you know John, I have never been jealous of you”.  Ding, Ding, Ding!  I mentioned George’s remark to Cathy as soon as I got home.  She immediately said, “Be careful because what he is really saying is that he is jealous of you”.  Cathy is almost always right about people. She had long before seen through George Robinson.   That evening I knew she was right on target with her assessment of George, as I had already heard the bell ring loudly earlier in the evening.

When we got off the phone, I did not know what to do, so I just sat there in silence trying to absorb what I had been told.  Since I was a little boy, when my mom had depended on me for her emotional support, I had always known what to do in any and all situations.  I had been wrong many times, but I always had a plan. This time I had no plan. It was surreal; I did not want to do anything.  Specifically, I recall not wanting to fight.  Many times during adulthood, events as simple as a word inflection or a look would trigger what I called “my little boy feelings”.   This was one of those times that the little boy trapped deep within me was feeling particularly venerable and really very small. In typical little boy thinking, I considered running away. At no time during this mess did I ever want to fight for what was being taken from us. I never considered doing that. After being the primary force behind Highland Park Church from day one, I simply decided to give to Dave and George what they craved enough to possibly risk forfeiture of their very souls and just walk away from them. To be perfectly candid, I am not sure why. Since that terrible day with Father Hollis, I had stood my ground, but not this time. I think part of that stemmed from the fact that I loved Dave and Kristin with a near unconditional kind of love, a love that, even today, the embers still continue to glow a bit.  Secondly, and perhaps even more causatively, was that I was extremely codependent on Dave. I think we had both realized years earlier that our relationship was no longer a healthy one. But neither of us had a clue what to do about it, so we chose to do nothing. Doing nothing seldom make things better.

About that time, I looked up and saw Maureen Jones standing in the lobby watching me.  I walked over to her and related my conversation with Cathy. She hugged me and suggested that we hook up with Katie Moss and the three of us go for a hike in the desert. God in His divine protection assigned Maureen and Katie as my tandem guardian angels for the remainder of that horrible Sunday afternoon.  Our time together was exactly what I needed.  I felt Maureen’s and Katie’s love for me, as the three of us journeyed along the forbidden trails of the Sonoran Desert. I knew Maureen and Katie were there because they loved me. And oddly, I was able to soak up their love like a sponge without any feelings of unworthiness. Writing this nearly ten years later, I now realize that by accepting their love that awful day, it was a sure sign that my rehab was producing fruit. Even in the midst of my profound pain, I sensed that my life was in paradox mode.  I felt my recovery was taking hold.  Yet, that afternoon, under the crystal clear Arizona sun, suspended in an incredibly deep blue sky,  like some kind of fire hot Christmas ornament, as the three of us walked upon God’s fantastically beautiful desert canvas, I did not have a clue what to do next.  As we neared the end of our hike, perhaps fifteen yards ahead, a rattlesnake slithered across out path. It was the first one that I had seen; although, I had been warned that the desert was full of them. It was months later, during a time of reflection that I realized the hidden meaning of the snake.

When we got back from our walk, I soon realized that every staff person was aware of what had gone down in Nashville. Each made a point to reach out to me. Cathy was right, as usual; it was best that I learned of Dave’s betrayal while I was at Sierra Tucson.  The staff helped me to understand my feelings and well as Dave’s actions. More importantly, they let me begin to process them, verbally, emotionally and spiritually.  When asked for one word to describe my feelings, I immediately responded, “confused”.  That confusion would follow me like a dark and menacing shadow until Monday April 10, 2006.

One day, in a session Mary Harper, my therapist, made a reference to the “known and the unknown” in my situation. I actually laughed and accused her of being a student of Donald Rumsfeld. (8) That was the first laugh I could recall in almost a month. I cannot remember the exact context of her comment, but the bottom line was something like,   what I already knew about Dave’s actions, as bad as that knowledge was to me, at least I knew about it. What I did not know was what else his newly liberated ego was cooking up on his fast track climb to be top dog for the first time in his life and escape his self-perceived, perpetual second-string life.  I never saw him that way, but I knew that was the way he saw himself when the lights were turned off.

What a son does or does not get from a father always has a profound effect. It seems clear to me that Dave’s betrayal was ignited by the unquenchable need to feel affirmed by his dad. To have that need realized, Dave willingly paid a huge price. God’s design of each human being contains a phenomenal healing ability. That Sunday, Dave’s hatchet job was just underway and with each day it became clearer to me that his sinister intent was like a snowball rolling downhill. As it grew in size and speed he decided that he would  destroy me however he had to. Fortunately, God protected me from the full force of his butchery.

On October 14 a few days before I left for home, in a phone conversation Dave told me that if I attempted to come back to HPC that he would have me arrested and he was thoughtful enough to remind me what that would do to my mom and that if that happened she would learn of the abuse. He said the media would have a “field day”. He then instructed me to call him cell and leave a message that I had decided not to return. I did that as soon as we hung up. What was so amazing about was that I did not have any trouble whatsoever in doing that.

Before we hung up Dave told me that I should sue the Catholic Church for “big bucks” and even offered to put me in touch with an attorney. He also suggested that I write a book about my abuse, saying “You might end up on Oprah”. This is that book; that was the first time I considered writing this one. Good ideas can come from strange places. Then he went into damage control mode when, he told me that my friend, Lou Alvarez wanted “to throw me under the bus, but that I (Dave) would not let him”. Of course I knew he was lying.  He also said there were “many rumors” about me at church. I responded, “I bet there are; why not just tell them the truth about what is going on?” He replied that if he did that people might feel for me over Kristen (9). When I inquired as to the nature of the rumors, he replied that for one, Sam Garrett was “stirring up trouble”. He said that Sam was telling people that I was a racist. I pretended like I could not know Sam Garret, but the truth was I knew Sam well.  I also knew that Dave was on one of his trademarked lying binges.  In fact, as he was talking, I imagined him having to look away from the phone, as he lied to me. Dave had spent a great part of his life looking away when he was talking.  He is not an eye contact kind of guy. During my stay at Sierra Tucson, I learned a great deal about liars.

By coincidence, when I returned home, Sam Garrett was one of the first people to contact me. I met with Sam and his lovely wife Linda. They told me that when they had gone to Dave to see what had happened to me, that Dave had told them, “John is a very sick person; he is a racist and that has finally caught up with him”. Linda interjected that it was obvious he was lying because she had known me since my building supply days when I had regularly called on her company. She said, “Dave could not look us in the eyes at all”. Sam told me that he “jumped all over Dave about the racist comment” and told him he was going to tell me about it as soon as I got home. Obviously, when Dave claimed on the phone, that Sam was the source, he was merely trying to cover his tracks.  I thought to myself. A lot has changed over the past month, but Dave has not.

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Ham and Eggs on a Wobbly Table

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

ham-and-eggA while back Cathy and I drove to Memphis to make a prison visit.  On the way down we stopped in Jackson, Tennessee at the Casey Jones Village for the buffet.  If you have never stopped there it is really a cool place especially if you are into trains. They serve country ham to die for. The restaurant has brick floors. Let me tell you something about brick floors. I love them! Our first house had brick floors in the kitchen. The problem with brick floors is most of the time, since part of their mystique is to look rustic and old, they are by design seldom smooth.

So here we were at Casey Jones’ chowing down on country ham and eggs and all the other stuff that goes with that kind of fare and our table was like a see – saw. Each time we touched it would go first one way and then the other.  Our coffee had whitecaps! We had to chase that ham all over our plates.  We got to laughing about it; so I folded a napkin and jammed it under one of the legs. I began to look around at the other tables and under nearly each one was a wadded up napkin or paper under one or another of the legs. Ham chasers who had come before us had stuffed them there. My paper wad pretty much fixed things until we were almost finished eating. At least no more coffee was spilled.

As we drove on toward Memphis I got to thinking about all those wobbly tables and how they are a great parable of life itself.  For one reason or another, often times our lives get a little wobbly.  Perhaps the cause was a not so wise choice we made, or maybe it was a choice someone else made, but either way our lives were adversely affected.  Things are now a little wobbly. About 99.9% percent of the time, figuratively the first thing we do is wad up a napkin so to speak and stick it under a leg or two. That metaphor for a quick fix will not stand the test of time. When our lives get uneven and out of kilter, quick fixes are mostly no fixes. I wonder how many of us right now are depending on quick fix instead of biting the bullet and taking the bull by the horns and saying, “Whatever it takes to really fix what is wrong in my life, I am going to do with God’s help”.

Maybe your wobble is a relationship issue. Maybe it’s a personal issue of the past or present. Maybe something happened to you and you have kept it a secret for many years and it is eating a hole in your soul.  Maybe it is something you did or said or that you should have done or said. Maybe for you your pride will not allow you to seek help. Whatever it is, a wobbly table only gets worse with time, never better. I expect the person that I visited in prison that day,  might have said the first time those steel doors slammed behind him “Gee, I sure wish I had done something about my wobbly table before it collapsed on me”.

Something to think about.

Why?

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

The other morning I was in line at McDonald’s watching people and wondering what was taking so long. I noticed a woman over in the next line step up to the counter; she kind of flipped her hand out in front of her face. For some reason her action caught my attention. Immediately, the woman at the register handed the customer a paper and a pen. She wrote on the paper and handed it, along with a five dollar bill, back to the cashier; not a word was spoken.

I stood there wondering what it would be like not to be able to speak. Then I ordered a large drink and a yogurt parfait and as usual told the cashier to have a great day. From my booth I watched as the woman walked across the parking lot to her car. I felt sad; I’m not sure if my sadness was a result of seeing the woman who couldn’t speak or if I was sad because I take my very blessed life for granted.

Sunday I spent part of the afternoon with a wonderful church family as they gathered around a dying wife and mother. As we prayed and reflected on Barbara her eldest son said, through a curtain of tears, that he did not understand why bad things happen to good people. A question of the ages and one without an answer. Why can I speak, often entirely too much, and the woman at McDonald’s can’t utter a single word? Why will she never be able to say “I love you” to her child? Why did the son’s mom, a godly woman of amazing faith, die way too young? As I grow older I discover many more questions that I can’t seem to answer. However, I find that watching people often leads to life-clarifying experiences. Lord, why me and not those two women?

Showtime

Monday, November 10th, 2014

music_city_miracle_12I had a delightful lunch with a friend who is a director for ESPN. As we were talking I noticed that my television guy used the word “show” instead of “game” when referring to the broadcast.  At first that seemed a bit strange.  He then reminded me that the game is what takes place on the field, but the show is all that appears on my television screen. Actually, the show is a great deal more than just the game.  The show is made up of such eclectic ingredients as the personalities of the broadcasters and coaches, the camera angles, the graphics, the features, the interviews, the cheerleaders, the bare chest guys painted in school colors, the mascots, the commercials, the blimp, etc.  The game is one thing, but the show is whatever my friend and his producer decide to show us.

Quite often life itself becomes a show.  The real us is one thing, but what we decide to show is often something else. For good or bad the image we decide to send out is the show. Like when we live with the compulsive desire to project the perfect image, hoping somebody will admire us, that is show. When our insecurities pound us to the point that we have to always be right and everybody else is wrong, or when we embellish ourselves — show.  When we say yes to things we really don’t want to do desperately hoping folks will like us — show.  When we bury ourselves in unnecessary debt to have things we can’t afford in order to appear better off than we actually are —- show.  When we pretend to be one thing, but we are really something else — show.

Sadly, sometimes we lose sight of where the real me ends and the show begins. The sure thing about a show is it always comes to an end. At ESPN they end the show on their own terms at a predetermined time and live happy ever after. On the other hand, in real life the show often comes to a screeching halt at the most inopportune time.  More often than not when the lights suddenly go dark on our self-directed shows nobody lives happy ever after.

Isolated

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

mobile food_180867803-thumb-380xauto-3210I’m having lunch at Wendy’s. Across from me, there is a couple with a little boy about five; he is watching a movie on a device. Mom and dad are both playing with their smartphones.  Occasionally, one will show the other something on their screen and they will laugh and then go about their separate “smarting”. The entire time they have been over there, other than telling the little boy to stop kicking the table, they have ignored their son. He looks bored and left out as his parents continue to be enmeshed with their screens.

Honesty requires me to tell you that I have been guilty of the same thing. If you spot it you’ve got it, I guess. There is no question, that one of the greatest causes of social ills in this country is our lack of personal communication. Until recently, one of the few places folks actually talked to each other was when eating together. With the near universal preponderance of digital devices, that bastion is now gone.

According to Pew Research today 91% of adult Americans have cell phones; yet, we are perhaps more isolated than at any time in human history.

Something to Think About

Not Too Bad

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

thThe other day at the Y, I asked Greg, the lifeguard, how he was doing and he replied, “Not too bad”.  It sure seems like I am hearing that expression a lot lately and mostly from young people. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean what it says – “bad”, but not “too bad”?  Does “not too bad” mean life doesn’t exactly suck, but it really isn’t anything to write home about either?  Actually, I believe that today “not too bad” actually equals “good”, “well” or even “great”.

I suppose it is an inescapable fact of life, that language is constantly going thorough metamorphosis. Tim McGraw had a hit song about that a few years back. For better or worse, the meanings of words do change. Some words have done 180s in my lifetime.  Today, in addition to the word “bad” actually meaning “good”, the word  “Cool’” used to mean, you better take along a jacket. But according to the Urban Dictionary, “Cool is now the best way to say something is neat-o, awesome, or swell”.

Here is what I’ve come to conclude: When the kids started wearing their caps backward, I thought it was crazy — for a while. Then I decided that it was really cool. I secretly longed to wear mine that way. Of course, I didn’t. At my age that would really look “bad” and I mean that the old way. But this language deal is an opportunity. If you want to feel a bit younger, the next time you make a mistake, say “my bad” instead of “my mistake or I was wrong”.  The next time you are asked how you feel, simply reply, “not too bad” and the next time you see something that is downright “swell” say it is “cool” and before long you might even begin to feel that way too!

However, before I end, I feel compelled to say that even though linguistics change, morals don’t. For instance, when Jesus condemned such things as pride, envy, adultery, hate, revenge, hypocrisy, badmouthing and the rest, he was speaking for the ages.  So in moral terms, those things never change. If it was wrong for the Pharisees to be hypocritical back then, it is still wrong today. Or in a more hip way, if that stuff wasn’t cool then, it is still not cool today. And that is not too bad!