The Truth About Your Situational Identity

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I hate catching myself as a hypocrite. It happened just yesterday.

When Dana and I realized some time ago that the corporate world is really no place for either of us, and that we actually wanted to do some things in other parts of the real world – some things that actually had meaning – we had some very real decisions to make about bills and income.

The result is we honestly just kind of piece a living together in different opportunities we find. The more restrictive it is, the less likely it is we’ll consider it. It’s easier than it once was because our bills aren’t extraordinarily high.  A few years ago the mere thought being labeled as anything other than the consummate professional would’ve appalled me. I’ve SO moved past it all. At least so I thought.

When Dana called me yesterday and asked my opinion about taking a one-day job where she’d pass out promotional materials for a new company at this Saturday’s Arkansas State – Missouri football game, my first reaction was telling her she didn’t have to do anything that menial. I processed it for a few moments and realized what I really meant  was, “of course we shouldn’t do that, what on earth will the people think?”

How gauche!Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 4.41.26 AM

Then I quickly remembered I, myself,  had just come from mowing a neighbor’s yard for 40 bucks.

The identity double standard we can have is ridiculous.  In Ecuador, we literally wouldn’t give something like this a second thought. And didn’t I just write last time about all the lessons I’d learned in putting my value in what I do? Two steps forward, one step back, eh?

A big part of the national discussion this year has focused on identity, symbolism and judgment. An olympic decathlon champion chronicles his struggle with gender identity and now wears lipstick and a dress.  Another – the leader of an African-American interest group is outed as caucasian – and explains she’s a black person trapped in a white woman’s body. She’s actually lived a lie for years.  And from stars and bars to rainbows, let’s not even talk about the identities we’ve placed in our flags.

Apparently, our identity means a lot to us. It clearly must represent something important.

***

When I studied mass communication in graduate school I completely loved the research of organizational behavior, especially as it relates to personality profiles – how we naturally behave, and how we adjust that behavior in different environments.  What I learned about myself  is that I’m actually quite good at being someone different when there’s a chance it will benefit my own self interest. For manipulative purposes, my subconscious will actually change the identity I project if I let it.

Keep in mind, I spent four years working for a member of congress, and another five years as a professional fundraiser. Both are areas where a chameleon can excel.

It’s one of the most revealing things I ever learned about myself, and is probably in the top three things that disgust me about myself most. It likely also has something to do with not always being comfortable in my own skin. I try to maintain a high awareness level about this tendency and sometimes, I actually have to guard against slipping into another persona, and work at just being who I am. Ugh.

I many ways, it’s what the world has trained us all to do, but it shouldn’t be that hard, and really it’s not.

***

Your identity can be like the way you perceive truth. It can be situational if that’s the way you make it. But when I write about “truth” these days, I’m not writing about “a” truth, I’m writing about “The” Truth.  The Way. The Truth. The Life.

The Truth is that your identity isn’t situational at all. It’s as fixed as the North Star.

I like what this Rick Warren devotional says about embracing your identity in Christ:

“Your faith will grow stronger as you do this.

What that means is that you abandon any image of yourself that is not from God. You stop accepting what others have said about you, how they have labeled you, and how they have defined you.

You start believing what God says about you, that he is pleased with how he created you, and that HE defines you.

You’re not defined by your feelings. You’re not defined by the opinions of others or your circumstances. You’re not defined by your successes OR your failures. You’re not defined by the car you drive, or the money you make, or the house you say you own, but most likely, the bank really owns.”

The thing is, if you don’t know who you are, then you’re vulnerable to other people telling you who you are.  But the concrete, solid Gospel TRUTH is that you are who God says you are, and no one else has a vote in the matter.

Have a great weekend and vaya con Dios for now.

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To Everything There is a Season

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I’ve always been over-zealously impulsive in an obsessive-compulsive sort of way.

My checkbook over the years would testify to that. In a fit of chronic depression one day, and minus the relatively decent income I’d had pre-depression, I drove a perfectly good Chevy Tahoe to Memphis and bought a Mercedes AND a Rolex. They went well together, I convinced myself. Long-term, it didn’t do much for the depression (or the checkbook), but it sure felt good in the moment. I’ve since dumped the Mercedes for a Toyota Tacoma, and gave the Rolex to my son.

I’ve also been fortunately introspective enough over the years to get acquainted with my eccentric personality to know there are predictable seasons when I really need something to anticipate, to work toward, or to set as a milestone kind of goal. Men live in distinct seasons. We really do.

Impulsive behavior and big dreamer type thinking don’t always complement one another so well. Throw in the other part of my personality that is addictive and self-sabotaging, and oftentimes … well, it’s not pretty. It can be a freaking mess, to be quite honest. Alas, we all live along such broken roads.

In my 39th year, at 250 pounds, I decided I’d run a marathon before I was 40. In the course of 12 months, I dropped 85 pounds, completed the St. Jude Memphis Marathon and ran two more before the end of my 41st year. It was hard. It hurt a lot. It seemed almost impossible. I think that’s what I enjoyed about it so much.

There are other examples of such extreme behavior ad nauseam. Cashing out a six-figure retirement plan to launch a new business in the midst of a recession, building a house on another continent mostly via the internet … Shall I go on?

And so I knew as I approached 50, these almost unmanageable personality traits that I’ve somehow learned to embrace, would manifest again. I just didn’t know exactly when or how, but I knew they would bubble up. I waited, knowing they would slip in undetected, like the morning fog that eerily engulfs and blinds its inhabitants. The desires would come, whatever their extremity. Steve Watkins – sacrificial lamb awaiting the sharpened sword.

I’ve desperately wanted to write again. Would I actually sit down and write the book that I’ve always enjoyed talking about, but never really shown the discipline to actually write it?

Would I launch some kind of new business that is always exciting to a point, but ultimately becomes a drudgeful bore?

Culinary school? I’ve always wanted to do that.

The seed was actually planted a couple of years ago, and I knew it in an instant.

Hard as it is these days, I try not to get caught up in things that aren’t real. Television. Social media. Labels. Most organizations. So many groups.

But as we watched a movie titled The Way, about an American man who traveled to Spain and trekked the pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago, some 550 miles across Spain, I knew I’d met my match. It was too much to resist. I remember looking at Dana. “I’m gonna do that,” I said. And we both knew it would be so. God bless her soul.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 7.14.20 AMI’ve already begun training for the pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied du Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, the burial place of James the Apostle. I’ll leave in mid-October with nothing but a backpack and a pair of boots, and will return some time in early December.

I’m at my best and my worst preparing for things like this, but am never more alive when doing so. It is both divine and horrific all at once. It’s even inspired me to fire up the old blog with a new look and new feel.

As a part of processing the milestone of 50 (which is still seven months away) I thought it would be beneficial to chronicle the experience of preparing for, and experiencing, the Camino de Santiago (translated The Way of James), and perhaps even throw in a thought or two about the radically changing world we live in today.

My writing is comfortably or uncomfortably transparent, depending on your point of view. I stopped wearing a mask several years ago. I’ve learned, much the hard way over the years, that when you peel all the layers back, and when a man strips himself down to the core of his soul, nothing really matters but Truth. All else is garbage.

Truth does not evolve. It does not have multiple definitions. It is singular. Dogmatic. Insistently authoritative. The North Star’s location may not be altered.

This is the manner in which I’ll write future posts, and it feels oh, so good to write again. This is what I do. It’s who I am. Really, it is.

So. I’ll see you along The Way. Join in the conversation if you like.

(Not an unimportant addendum: None of this would be possible without the amazing love, understanding and support of my wife, Dana. She gets me, and I am ever so lucky that she does. Her love is my greatest blessing).

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After 85 Days in Ecuador: 10 Things I Can Say

“No one ever became poor from giving.”

~ Anne Frank

Today,  Dana and I log our 85th day in Ecuador. The next three weeks will be a time of busy preparation and list checking before returning to the United States.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

Today, we waded through the Ecuadorian bureaucracy of a successful visa extension, and during the hourlong drive home I reflected on a few things.

These are some things I’ve learned, come to understand, or believe even more because of our time here.

1. I don’t care what anyone says, … generally, most people in the world are good. I said most!

2. There’s a great irony in the notion that we spend a lifetime learning, and yet I’ve discovered that oftentimes, and in many different situations, the best attitude I can have is to be present in the moment, forgetting everything I ever thought I knew.

3. As much as I detest labels, on the liberal-conservative, left-right spectrum, I’m probably more of a leftist-liberal than ever, and for that, I make no apology. Three months in a third-world country causes me to believe even more that government’s role is to provide:

  •  creative reinvestment and philanthropic scenarios for the wealthy;
  • stability for the middle class;
  • opportunity, a safety net and support system for the poor.

4. Church is not a place you go, but rather an attitude you embrace, and it’s found wherever you are at a given moment in time.

5. The American educational system should require that students be at least bilingual, and preferably have fluency in even more than two languages.

6. Charity, and a charitable spirit, is a fine quality in a man or woman.

7. A smile, and a friendly pat on the back, speaks volumes between those who otherwise may not communicate so well. And between those who do, for that matter.

8. Fear absolutely can be eliminated from your life.

9. As much as I love to stand up for what I believe is right, it’s not necessarily always the best thing to do. Oftentimes, yes, Always, no. It’s tough.

10. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone use the cliché’, “it changed my life,” after an extended trip abroad, I’d be rich. I’ve always hated that cliché’. And the interesting thing about this time in Ecuador, well, of course, it’s changed my life.

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Why Are You So Aggressive Toward the Things You Believe are Wrong?

(BLOGGER‘S NOTE: For a writer (at least for me, I should say) there’s no higher honor than reader commentary – good, bad or indifferent – it’s my cocaine. Last night, I threw out a quick Facebook post about my dilemma for choosing today’s blog post, with low expectations for feedback, and was overwhelmed with the response. Allow me this moment to say “thank you” to each of you, and anyone who reads either regularly or sporadically. From my heart, thank you. So … discounting the lady who submitted votes on behalf of her three pets, here’s today’s winner.) ~ steve

***

There it was, tucked away in the in-box, about at subtle as an elephant walking into the room. It came during what was a nearly 24-hour social-media hiatus, and when I returned, it was waiting.

The private, in-box message was a reader response to this Sunday post, one that left me physically, spiritually and emotional drained. Depleted. Spent.

It was one of my anti-religion posts. If you’re a regular, or even occasional reader at this site and don’t have the faintest idea what I mean by anti-religion there’s probably no point in reader further, so go on and have a nice day.

***

The subconscious is an amazing thing, is it not? Hiding back there in the shadow, lurking just behind the soul, prodding a low-grade awareness of certain things we may or may not wish to recall, yet always there.

Know this. When a reader points to a writer the very same thing the subconscious reminds him/herself about – well, it’s revelation.

***

Seeing the name, I opened the in-box message as a priority and quickly came to an attached YouTube video. Less than 10 seconds in, the narrator posed to himself this question:

“Why am I so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong?”

And so Jay Gunter, a man in many ways my spiritual soul mate, had done it

aggressive behavior

For me, it’s an ongoing exercise to just breath, and relax.

again. Pointing out something he AND my subconscious knew, but bringing it to the surface for my own awareness’ sake.

I’d show you the video here, but it’s much more powerful a bit down the line, so come along, you’ll get it soon.

In the meantime, why am I so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong?

***

As a writer soliciting public consumption, I’ve been called everything. Unpatriotic, blasphemer, un-American. One reader even called me the blackest white guy he’d ever known.  And because of my style, I consider the latter high praise, for I’ve never wanted to fit into any certain genre.

The question the narrator posed took me back about 10 days, when a man I hadn’t seen in 20 years asked me to meet with him and discuss blogging of all things. He drove 75 miles to ask for some tips on how to get where he wanted to go, and so first I posed the most obvious question:

“Just where is it you want to go?

His response was not only transparently profound. It was as if his words had come right out of my own mouth.

“I’m 50 years old now,” he said, “and because of so many life circumstances, I’ve been quiet. If you and I sat across this table from one another even just three years ago, and you offered up an opinion on some topic where I felt the polar opposite, I’d have stayed quiet just for the sake of avoiding confrontation. But I can’t do that any more because I realize it has to come out, and I realize I haven’t been true to myself all this time.”

This guy’s gonna be a good blogger one day. Really good.

I have to be true to myself. It has to come out. I can’t do it any more.

Been there. Done that. Yes.

In response to the question at hand, I suppose this is what I’d say:

I’m so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong because they’re the very things about which I’m most passionate … and I’ve spent a lot of years suppressing passion. It’s time to be true to myself.

***

why are men so intense

Unfortunately, intensity and aggression are prevalent, even in a friendly golf match with best buddies. You’ve gotta get your game face on, right?

Jay’s comments, and the message in his attached video, put me in an introspective mood, and I set aside a time to consider for myself: Why am I so aggressive toward the things I believe are wrong? I set the time aside because when a wise man offers up such a notion, it’s wise, in turn, to ponder it one’s self.

A bit later, I pulled out pen and paper and wrote down the topics that spark my writer’s aggression and considered all the reasons I believe they are so wrong.

So here’s my list:

1. Chief among them is the very thing we’ve all made of “the church.” Now, you’re about to get the opportunity to click on that video I promised earlier, but first, one of many personal experiences … and it’s one of ONLY many:

I’ve been a member of, or attended just about every denominational church you can imagine. Three years or so ago at the outset of an extended personal depression (yes, I can talk about depression for there’s no shame therein) I joined a non-denominational church. Almost immediately, the skids came off a place that previously seemed really safe.

This is a church most caught up in itself, focused inward, inside four walls. Structural leadership is regarded in high esteem. Elders are elected by the body, the elders, in turn, manipulate the people, and the people back-bite the elders on any given Sunday.

Losing control, the body fired the pastor, created a tri-lateral bureaucracy and spent the next nine months immersed in writing a set of rules and regulations for governance they call the constitution and bylaws. And in the end, they recreated what they originally established 30 years before – a self-governed fiefdom, blinded to genuine outreach.

Those are sharp words, for which I am accountable.

So if that account is self-righteous on my part, it’s mine, and mine only, for which to answer. But such a thing makes it hard to stay quiet, and I necessarily removed myself from the circumstance. I wish they would simply own it, and move on to better days.

As one friend recently, and so aptly put it, the value of most churches today is keeping the sin franchise alive.

If you have five minutes to set aside today, in no other way could it be more well spent than viewing this video. It profoundly captures what we’ve all done to the church.

2. Legislating morality. What a slippery slope. Most of my closest friends maintain strong positions on immigration, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, abortion, etc. For the record, and morally, I agree with them. But I simply do not believe we can legislate morality because it’s forced, enacted absent of love and sends the “minorities” an entirely ineffective message. I’ve learned over time that true heart change comes only from within and we can never impose “goodness” on others. Even if it makes us feel good, it NEVER works for the greater glory, or higher purpose. And so I stand against it, wholeheartedly, but respectfully. That’s a whole different column in the upcoming post list.

3. Racial intolerance. What can I say? It’s prevalent around me and I hate it.

4. Repressing freedom of speech. It’s truly one cause for which I believe every veteran would say he fought. The most aggressive post I ever wrote was one that conjured up a reader’s comment telling me to hush up. It’s one of the few times I’ve completely reacted to such a comment, and I’m not sure if I’m sorry or not about my response.

5. Self-righteousness. This was never more fiendishly prevalent than in the U.S. presidential race that turned into a red-state, blue-state debate over who had the higher morality – and a week later, it still saturates every venue in social media. The debate was good for us in many ways, but it became so personal.

One kind reader offered last night that she took such a strong position in support of Mitt Romney she believed she’d offended some people and reluctantly stopped offering her opinions. I wonder if this piece will offer her any condolence or recompense?

6. Passive-aggressive manipulation. I’m all for aggression, but I loathe passivity. Say it straight up, face-to-face, or don’t say it at all. Don’t be a coward.

7. Cultural superiority complex. Ever been to a foreign country and become frustrated with the way things work there? Have it in mind they are doing things all wrong? The world’s beauty is found in all the ways people do things differently. Right or wrong is all in your mind.

8. Rules. I truly believe Jesus died because he knew we could never follow the rules. I’m self-employed now, and hope never to be corporately employed again. Especially when it comes to managing creative people, I believe it’s the greatest misunderstanding in the corporate world today. Truly creative people can’t follow rules. Mathematically, I’d express it in this way:

Freedom³ x (x) = ∞

In words: Give a creative person, ultimate and unwavering freedom, and there is no limit to their capacity for achievement and success.

9. Hidden agendas. I (and probably you) see it all the time, and it flies in the very face of transparent value.

10. Blasphemy – It’s that which crosses the line of loving your enemy. I’m guilty many times over, and I hate it as much when I do it, as when I see it in others.

image of marathon runner

Perhaps the most intense moment of my life summoning up all the aggression I could muster — Mile 25 of my first marathon – the Memphis St. Jude. At Mile 25, a man poses to himself many questions including, but not limited to: What the Hell am I trying to prove, and to whom am I trying to prove it?

Two final notes on aggressiveness:

“Now, there’s one thing you men will be able to say when you get back home. And you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you, ‘What did you do in the Great World War II?’, you won’t have to say, ‘Well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana.'” ~ George C. Scott as General George S. Patton speaking to the  Third Army in the movie, “Patton”

  • Ever watched a young boy play? His spiritual DNA causes him to turn fingers into guns, sticks into swords and dirt clods into grenades. He’s built to fight and defend honor. Young boys aspire to become the likes of cowboys, police officers and astronauts, seeking a life full of adventure. No young boy dreams of living in a van down by the river.
  • Much of our confusion comes from misunderstanding the character of Jesus and the whole “meek” thing. It’s a whole different topic for an entirely different day, but research it yourself. Jesus was anything but a passive, man who stood on the sidelines.

***

I have no idea what dialogue this may bring. I say only this.

Raise up the brave warrior within you my friends, and bring it.

You’ve been great. I’ll be here all night.

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Why She Loves Me I’ll Surely Never Know

 

 

“A man has only one escape from his old self: to see a different self – in the mirror of some woman’s eyes.” ~ Clare Boothe Luce
Steve and dana watkins jonesboro ar
It often amazes me why anyone would particularly love a guy like me. I’m just glad there’s one who does.

The first time we ever spoke of a relationship between us, I asked Dana a simple question. “What do you want?” I asked, in a critical moment of transparency.Dana and Steve Watkins Jonesboro ar

“I want to take care of you, and I want you to protect me,” she said, with an answer that oversimplified anything I ever expected.

And so our lives began together with that simple foundation.

I’m not one of those dashing GQ cover guys with a sculpted body and perfect hair. Stimulating social conversation has never been my particular forte’. And the older I grow, the more set I become in my quirky ways.

But she loves me. It’s a thing I never doubt. And it’s an amazing thing to know as perfect truth. Why she does, I’ll surely never know.
new york new yorkDana’s unconditional love gives me a freedom I’ve never known. Permission to be free, imperfect and to pursue the most outrageous of things (what we call laughable dreams). It’s an uncomplicated life, and makes things much easier than they otherwise could be.

If I take four hours out of the weekend to play a round of golf with my buddies, it’s okay. There will be no passive-aggressive silent-treatment-type stuff when I return home.

If I hole up in an office for an entire weekend to write without distraction, it’s okay. She understands I had to get it out of my system.

A few months back while traveling several days on business, I returned home only to find she’d taken a spare bedroom in our home and turned it into a “man room,” especially for me.

When she throws her leg across me in the bed at night, it’s a subtle reminder that she just wants to be close, and it causes me to smile, even at 3 a.m.

I’ve been known to give her presents that were things I really wanted. She never says a word – just comes along for the ride.

Four years ago, I pursued a business dream, invested everything we had, and ended up flat broke. It was a laughable dream that laughed right back at me. For a time, I gave up on everything. She never flinched.

She calls me babe, sweetheart, darling … I often wonder how anyone could think of me in that way.Steve and Dana Watkins jonesboro ar

She’s never given me an ultimatum, quid-pro-quo, or a single demand I can recall.

She calls my mom most every day, just to talk and express her thoughtfulness.

She’ll text me later today and tell me she loves me. I can count on that.

How did I get so lucky?

Why she loves me, I’ll surely never know. I’m just glad she does.

Lord, help me do my part, and help me take care of her well.

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When Your Best Friend Dies

***

I first began thinking about this in 1985.

For those who are familiar with Larry McMurtry‘s epic Lonesome Dove, you know the story. It’s a story of two rough-and-tumble ex-Texas Rangers, who together, live out a life of adventure, love, tragedy and a shared vision of what life really should be.

Ultimately, Augustus McCrae (Robert Duvall) dies with Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones) by his side. Anyone who doesn’t cry throughout the final hour of the mini-series is a tougher man than me.

The “best friend” relationship is truly special. There’s only one best friend. I wouldn’t trade mine for all the tea in China. This is what I love about my best-friend relationship:

Augustus McCrae and Woodrow F. Call

This is a photo I truly treasure. On a recent weekend outing, my best friend and I came across this replica sign from Lonesome Dove. We both love it.

  • We have no secrets.
  • We have each other’s back – always.
  • Every time we’re together, we laugh until we hurt.
  • He is my cheerleader, and I am his.
  • Loyalty, truth and transparent honesty are the things we value most.
  • If one of us screws up, it’s okay.
  • And even though it’s unspoken between us, we’ve both realized our time on earth is short, and we’ve determined to leave the past behind, look ahead and make the most of what we have left.

Over the last few years I’ve lost a parent, a grandparent and many older friends who were my childhood role models. Each loss is a unique hurt, but I’ve never lost a best friend.

A few weeks ago I made a quick trip to my hometown and as I passed through its outskirts I saw an older man sitting on his front porch. I immediately recognized him as one of those older role models. His name is Gene Gathright, and a few years back, he lost his best friend, Devane Baldridge. It would have been easy enough to pass by, but I turned the truck around, went back and visited with Gene for a few minutes. Moments matter, and I didn’t want this to be a moment lost.

Gene and Devane were almost inseparable. They fished together, played cards together, loafed together and partnered in a number of community service projects. They were a pair naturally inclined to mischief. They were best buddies.

Since Devane died, life for Gene has been different. It’s just an indescribable void.

Another unfortunate scenario has caused me to think even more about this lately. Two men I know well are in the process of saying goodbye. I’ve shared many good times with both these men at family outings and on the golf course. One is now preparing for life beyond earth. The other is wondering what life on earth will be like without him. It’s a hard goodbye.

Have you ever lost a best friend? Would you be willing to share that experience?

***

Over the next year I’m assembling a collection of unique stories about goodbyes between best friends, both men and women.

If you’ve lost a best friend, or know of someone who has, and would be willing to discuss it, please message me on WordPress or send me an email at: stevewatkins71@yahoo.com. I’m interested in stories in the U.S. and abroad.

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