Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Who Says I'm a Failure?

As I was training for my Masters Degree in Social Work I learned about Freudian concepts, as well cognitive therapy. Very little was taught about the role of siblings, peers, and school teachers in the development of our self-esteem. Currently, it is recognized that our siblings play an important role in our self-image and self esteem.

I don’t know how old I was when my sister told me I was fat. That wasn't true, but for an entire year I refused to wear shorts. I didn't want anyone to see my “fat” legs.  As I look at pictures from that time in my life, I feel a sense of sorrow that I believed what my sister said rather than what was obvious to the eye when looking at my pictures. I was a very skinny child whose body image was messed up because my sister decided to tease me by telling me I was fat. Unfortunately I believed her rather than the reflection I saw in the mirror.

She was the smart one in the family. Her teachers enjoyed having her in the classroom. I was very different. It was a disaster for me to be in class if a teacher had experience teaching my sister before me. Undoubtedly, the teacher would make an unfavorable comparison more than once during my time with that teacher. It didn't take long for me to resent both my sister and my teachers.

While I hated the comparisons the fact was my sister was consistently an A student, while I struggled to get C's and D's. Beginning in Kindergarten, I learned the best way for me to get attention was to act out in class. Rather than receiving praise from teachers, my teachers devised special punishment dittos I had complete after school in detention. My experience with detentions began in Elementary School and continued throughout High School.

Many of my teachers made it clear they didn't like me. I remember one teaching telling me she wished I’d get sick so she wouldn't have to see me in her class. From Elementary School through High School  I was a very slow learner. I was put in special classes for slow students. In High School, while all my friends were deciding on what college to attend, my adviser told me I wasn't college material. She suggested I forget about college and learn a trade.

My friends were academically brilliant. They were all A students in Elementary School, High School & in College. I was the dumbest kid in my peer group.  My friends did what kids do, they teased and reminded me of this fact many times throughout the majority of my Elementary and High School life.

These experiences had a profound effect on my self-esteem. Even though I went to college and graduated with honors when I received my Bachelor’s Degree and my Masters Degree, I attributed my success to taking easy classes rather than believe I’d earned those honors. I always considered myself an academic dummy.

I've come to believe all of us have a committee in our heads. Most of the members of our committee are  siblings, peers, teachers, parents, and a few people who for better or worse had a major impact on our lives.

If you were blessed with the capacity to get good grades, had a skill that was valued, or had the status of being in a high valued peer group, the chances are you have some fans on your committee. They are the ones  who believed in you, who encouraged you or  had a positive impact on your life. These committee members  provide you with positive feedback and encouragement when you need it.

From the other direction, if you did poorly in school, were in a low status peer group, or had family members who were highly critical, abusive, or absent in your life, the chances are that the majority of your committee members are not your fans. In fact they consist of a group of individuals who are highly critical of who you are and what you do. They are your detractors who never have anything positive to say.

My committee recently held a meeting after a week went by without selling a single copy of my book I Left My Prostate in San Francisco-Where's Yours? on the Amazon website. I was surprised to hear from committee members that I fired long ago. I wrote down some of their remarks.

Committee member #1 said “I told you not to write that book.” #2 said “I warned you that you’d lose a lot of money if you self published your book.” #3 said “You're not smart enough to write a book, why would you think anyone would read something you wrote?

Then I heard from the Chairman of the board. He had the most to say. Here’s the summary of His remarks:
He began by saying well done good and faithful servant. If you didn't sell a single copy of your book, I’d still be well pleased because you were faithful writing down the ideas I gave to you. We both know your book won two awards this year and it will win a third award before the year is out.  Your on-line diary has received more than 40,000 page views. Your blog has more than 5,000 page views.  Your website receives more than a thousand page views a month. Your Pre-Surgery Forum and Post-Surgery Forum set a record number of visits when 100 people visited the forums in a 24 hour period this week. You've received more than 90 likes on your author Facebook page and the number of page likes grows higher every day. If you examine your website and book statistics you'll notice you are helping people with prostate cancer in this country and  around the world.

It's important for you to understand, the awards you've received, the amount of  people you reached, or the number of books you've sell does not determine your success or failure in my eyes.  It makes no difference to Me whether you sell one book or a million books. What matters to me is whether whether or not you've been faithful and obedient carrying out the mission I've placed in your heart.

Therefore, give up your worldly definitions of success and accept what's really important, My blessing and approval.  I know you've invested a lot of your money in this ministry. I've asked you to leave comfort zone many times. It was necessary to take risks and develop new skills in order to spread the word about the ways in which I can help others cope with prostate cancer.  I'm pleased with all that you've done in My name.

I was grateful to receive that message from  the Chairman of my board.  If you've got too many critical board members on your committee, or you'd know you need a new Chairman of the Board, this Bible verse is for you:

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  (Cor 5:17-18 NKJV)

When Jesus became the Chairman of my Board,  I gained the authority (and ability) to fire my entire committee. The old fired members sometimes pay me a visit, but I've learned to ignore their remarks. I wait to hear from the one person that matters, the Chairman of my Board, who is Jesus. With your invitation, He's willing to become the Chairman of your Board  if you invite Him into your life as Lord and Savior.

 I've had decades of experience with Jesus as my Chairman, I can tell you that if you allow Jesus to be the Chairman of your Board, (as well as your Lord & Savior) your life will never be same. Will you accept His invitation?

An addendum:
One day after writing this blog I sold both soft covered and Kindle editions of my book on Amazon. While I was delighted  this occurred, I didn't feel any more of  a success on that day than I felt the week prior when no books sold. Lesson learned, Thank-you Jesus.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Important Life Lessons I've Learned From Our New Puppy

                                                       Life Lessons From A Puppy

Toby was 7 months old when he came into our home and our lives.  The woman who previously had Toby during a critical time in his developmental life was diagnosed with cancer. It’s unlikely she was well enough to spend time socializing Toby with other dogs or exposing him to a variety of new situations, places, and new people. She returned him to the pet shop at 6 months of age because she wasn’t well enough to care for him.  Toby spent the next month in a glass cage by himself at the pet store. When we took him home, he was 7 months old.

Toby is very shy dog. He’s sensitive to all novel circumstances. He is easily spooked. For example upon a taking a walk we walked over a grate. It made a noise that frightened Toby.  For five consecutive walks after that experience Toby would freeze, sit down, and refuse to walk forward every time he saw a grate. In other words he developed a phobia about grates after one unpleasant experience with an unexpected noise. I was shocked he could develop such a strong negative reaction based on a single experience. I knew immediately he’d be the most difficult dog I’d ever trained in my life.

I don’t believe in giving a puppy free access to food.  I believe puppies should  work/train in order to earn their meal. One of our first lessons I wanted Toby to learn had to do with trusting me with his food. I began our lesson with feeding him by hand. At first he’d take some of his food in his mouth and run some distance away in order to eat it. Once he finished he’d repeat this cycle. He never got tired of this. He’d take his food and run away.

 We did this for many days until the day came when he decided to stay close and eat in my presence. Once he started doing this, I’d surprise him by adding an additional tasty treat. Now, he wants me to rub him while he eats close by. However, a sneeze or cough can send him scurrying away. Now that he trusts me he’ll comes back quickly. It’s going to take weeks, possibly months to desensitize him. What makes this task more challenging is Toby’s refusal to take food when he’s frightened.

Toby gave us a demonstration of how easily it is to lose his trust. My daughter Kate was using powder. She decided it would be fun to powder Toby’s nose. Had I been there, I would have warned her not to do that. After she powered Toby’s nose he ran away from her. When Kate tried to call him back Toby wouldn’t come, instead he actively avoided her. I told Kate it could take days for Toby to regain his trust in her. I’ve had dogs all my life but I’d never lived with a dog with such a sensitive spirit.

Watching how much purposeful work and time it took for Toby to regain trust in Kate taught me a valuable lesson.  I’ve learned I can’t yell when I’m frustrated or raise my voice when I’m angry. Physically punishing him with a corrective jerk from his choke collar is out of the question.  As I typed the last sentence Toby found the wire to my laptop and began chewing it. A firm “no” brought Toby’s chewing on the wire to an immediate halt. He came to me expecting something positive to happen. I didn’t disappoint him.  I stopped typing to retrieve and offer him his rope chew toy. He happily took his chew toy to his pillow and chewed on the rope to his heart’s content. For good measure, I use my clicker (which I wear on my wrist at all times) to click/treat him for chewing on his toy. Both of us were pleased with this outcome.

I’ve come to the conclusion I can’t train Toby the way he needs to be trained. I’m out of my league and I need help. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, the help I need won’t come from a dog trainer. The help I need must come from the Lord. I need the fruit of the Spirit which is:
….. love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Gal 5:22-23 (NKJV)

I don’t posses any of these traits. I’m easily frustrated, short tempered, prone to use punishment, gruff, and lacking in self-control.  The personality traits I possess are the exact opposite of what Toby needs to learn and to thrive. The good news is I don’t train Toby with my personality traits. I train him when I have access to the fruit of the Spirit. In those moments we are a great team. Both Toby and I are doing so well together. He’s a fantastic dog who challenges me to solve problems and teach me ways that don’t come natural to me. In fact it’s hard to know who is training who. It’s clear we are both training each other. The end result of Toby’s training will transform him into a well-trained and affectionate friend. The end result in my training will transform me into a better person. It’s a win-win. Toby will be a better dog and I’ll be a better person. You can’t lose when you are living a Spirit controlled life.

I wonder what aspects of life you’ve encountered where you realize you don’t have what it takes to do the task well. For me it’s parenting. As Father’s Day approaches I’m vividly aware of how important it is for me to be a Spirit controlled father. I confess I spent way too much of time as a Father using my own personality. That was unfortunate for me and for my children. The good news is that it’s not too late. In the same way I can be a better trainer for Toby, I can also be a better Dad to my children and a better husband to my wife.

I want to give Toby special thanks for teaching me that lesson.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thank You Prostate Cancer

This week my wife and I adopted a puppy. The timing was bad, but the story was compelling to us. Toby was sold to a woman when he was 7 weeks old. A few months later she was diagnosed cancer. Given the effects of radiation she found herself unable to care for her new puppy. She asked the Pet Store if they would take him back. He said he would.

The dog was at the pet store for a month before we met him. He was selling for 1/6 the price of a King Charles Spaniel, and my wife has always wanted this breed. So even though the timing wasn't right, we made a heart decision rather than head decision and took him home with us.

Today our second day wasn't an easy one. There was lots of crying. When I woke up I found Toby's crate full of poop, so was Toby. That's the hazard of living in a pet store. The dogs get use to laying in their own pee and poop. Today my head was laughing manically at my heart saying: "I warned you, but you didn't listen."

 Last night Toby's previous owner was given our phone number. I understand she is receiving radiation treatment and may not feel well enough to call.  I'm praying she will call us so we can give her pictures, updates, and even a visit if she so desires. That said, it could be too painful and she could want a clean break. Time will tell.

If I had not been diagnosed with prostate cancer, we wouldn't have adopted this dog. If I had not been diagnosed with prostate cancer and we had adopted him, I wouldn't have thought at all about contacting the previous owner who is coping with cancer. I wouldn't have offered to send pictures, give updates or visit her at home.

 It's nice to see that having prostate cancer has given me new sensitivities. So I can't believe I'm saying this, but thank you prostate cancer, and more importantly, thank you Lord. This verse has come true in my life:
 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28 NKJV)

It's a promise you can claim as well if Jesus is your Lord & Savior.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How My Experience With Prostate Cancer Influenced My Decision To Get A New Puppy

On 6/4/13 My wife and I did something that defied logic. Let me re-phrase that. We used heart logic rather than head logic. On 6/3/13 we visited a pet store that sells puppies. We weren't in the market for a puppy we just wanted to see the breeds they were selling.

Visiting any place that has puppies is a dangerous activity for me because I have a soft spot for dogs. I usually find at least one I’d like to take home with me. Yesterday was not an exception to that rule. On our visit we saw a beautiful 7 month old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  For years Brenda has longed for a Caviler King Charles Spaniel but the $1,500 price tag was more than we could afford.

This dog was much older than the all the other puppies in the store.  We were struck by the price tag. He was selling for 1/6 of the price we've seen  Cavaliers sell for.  Despite the deep discount and the fact that the dog was quite lovable, we made it out of the pet store that day with out taking him home.

The next day I called the pet store owner who happened to be the breeder as well. I wanted to know the dog’s history. There was no way I’d purchase a 7 month old dog who’d been in a cage by himself for 7 months. The owner/breeder  told me the following story:
The pup was sold when he was 7 weeks old. The women who purchased him was diagnosed with cancer shortly after she brought him home. She realized given her disease and the treatments she required there was no way she could take care of a puppy. She called the pet store and asked if they would take him back. They said they would.

He’d been back in the pet store for about a month. Since he was now 7 months old, they reduced the price so they could find him a new home quickly. On both our visits we noticed that Toby was very shy. Under normal circumstances I would not adopt a dog with his temperament.  Yet somehow, being  prostate cancer survivors, my wife and I felt a special bond to this pup who lost his home because his owner had cancer.  We took him home that day.

We also felt a bond to a woman we never met. She’s not only coping with a recent diagnosis of cancer, she is also coping with the loss of her beloved pet. Tomorrow I’m calling the pet store one more time. I’m hoping the owner/breeder has the previous owner’s phone number. We want to tell her that her dog has a new home where he’ll be well cared for and loved. We also want to ask her if she’s well enough and interested in having us visit with Toby.  I hope this will be possible.

As I reflect on the fact that I've got to train a new puppy who is going to require months of training, and who isn't housebroken, I wonder if I've lost my mind. Truthfully, I don't know if it was the compelling story, the amazing price, the fact that I'm a sucker for cute dogs, or a combination of all three that came together in a way that resulted in our making a 10-15 year commitment to love and care for Toby.

This much my wife and I agree upon, sometimes in life it’s important to throw logic out the window and listen to your heart. Because we did that, here's the newest member of our family.

After the call to the pet store I'll write a follow up note about our efforts to locate Toby's previous owner.