Half soul

David was born with only half a soul, but nobody noticed for years. He was a twin, not conjoined, but still half of a whole. The doctor said that they were identical, but he and his brother thought otherwise. To their eyes, they looked only as similar as brothers do, nothing unusual or special. They also didn’t have the same interests or tendencies as most identical twins did, and would point these facts out to their mother when she would bring up their connection when one would bring a new girlfriend over for dinner. Because the doctor said so, she too was convinced they were identical and no amount of fact would make her budge.

She was long dead before there was any suspicion that one of her sons had suffered any ill effect from his natal experience. You can get by with half a soul if you get the correct half. Daniel was lucky. As the one who was on the left side of his mother’s womb, closer to her heart, when the quickening happened at 18 weeks of gestation, he got the good half, while David, on the right side, got the bad half. Now the bad half wasn’t evil per se, it just wasn’t quite up to snuff. It made him less compassionate, less caring. He was a bit self-centered, a little selfish, even.

Daniel was usually picked first for group projects in class because he simply worked well with others, while David was usually picked first for any sport that required ruthlessness, like rugby or dodgeball. Compassion never won a sporting match, after all.

Neither one felt left out by this arrangement, which had developed quietly and surely over the years. Neither one realized that the repetition of this pattern, determined by their divergent natures from their half souls, over the many years shaped them into the people they had become. They were in fact identical, as the doctor who delivered them had said, but they were as different as the two sides of the coin – one thing but with two halves, both different. Just like with a coin, with one side you won, and the other, well, you didn’t.

David wasn’t bad, he just wasn’t good either. Some people thought he was shy, and that was part of it. He wasn’t shy out of actual bashfulness or a desire to be polite, whether they were friends, family, or coworkers. He kept to himself because deep down, he didn’t like other people. He thought they were lesser than him.

In school, he blamed his average and never exceptional grades on his belief that the teachers were jealous of him and gave him lower marks then he deserved out of a desire to put him in his place. He was convinced they had a coordinated plan to subtly remind him every report card day that they were in charge and he wasn’t. He was sure that they did this to him and only him out of a mistaken desire to keep him from getting full of himself. He was sure that they were operating on the premise that too much praise early on and the child wouldn’t get along well with others – they’d either lord it over their classmates or they would shun them. They were doing it for his own good, he told himself, so he said nothing to anyone, not even to his brother.

When they moved three states away after his father’s job transfer, the low grades continued and he just knew that the teachers at his old school had sent a letter explaining their plan along with the transcript to the new school. Never once did he think that his lackluster grades were due to a lackluster performance. He maintained his fecklessness throughout his life, never quite amounting to much in whatever he did.

He wasn’t a schmuck, but he certainly wasn’t a mensch either. He had married well, with a patient wife who usually made up for his social gaffes. Their son, an apple from the tree, was possibly even more socially inept than his father and even with a graduate degree still lived at home and waited tables for a living. Members of their church gossiped that David’s wife, Jane, had married him as either a favor to him (she was forever taking in strays and rehabilitating them) or as someone who wouldn’t have the spine to challenge her whenever she wanted to do her own thing. Headstrong men were challenged by strong women. They felt threatened by a woman calling the shots, so some nontraditional girls chose to stay single, associate with other women, or marry a man who acted tough but really was a wimp. The latter was most certainly the case.

He was all show and no go. At work, where he was a manager solely out of attrition, he would bluster about schedules and vacation requests from his employees, but clam up when they would confront him with the unfairness or duplicity of his newly minted rules, which never seemed to apply to him. He had become a manager because of budget cuts. His job as an designer was being eliminated, so he had a choice: become a manager or go find another job. He was already counting the months until retirement (it was under 100) so it made more sense to take what they were offering, distasteful as it was, than get a cut in his pension and have to start all over at the bottom of the pile somewhere else.

Fortunately upper management put him at a location where he could do the least amount of damage – one with little business. They were few customers and enough staff to cover his ineptitude. This worked well until further budget cuts and staff complaints forced him out of his office and at the service desk, assisting customers. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know how to use the software to look up auto parts or how to use the cash register to sell them. He had glided by on ignorance and feigned helplessness for too long. It simply wasn’t fair to force his subordinates (in position only, not a know-how or aptitude) to do all the work while he spent his 40 hours a week reading a book, chatting with friends from his previous office, or writing his latest novel on work time.

The CEO was aware of how much he shirked. Everyone knew. The only person who was fooled was David, he thought he was doing a fine job. He thought he’d coast right on for another year until it was time to retire. Little did he know that his invisible handicap was soon to catch up with him. Little did he know that going through life with only half a soul would have negative repercussions very soon.

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Melissa’s story

3

 

Melissa knew it was time to leave her job when her boss sent her that email. Nearly 20 years with the same firm and it all came down to one thing – trust. She simply didn’t trust him to be honest. Or fair. Or rational. He was her third boss, but they were all the same. All toed the party line, all had degrees in “CYA”. Normally, she would have put her head down, not drawn any attention, and soon things would blow over or the manager would retire or get transferred.

It took her six years to realize that her job, while saying that it cared for its employees, didn’t back that up with real action. The bullies and incompetents got the management positions. They wrote the performance reviews too, and they were all one-way. All the reviews were top-down, so the subordinates never had a say in how they were being managed. This was the norm all over, so it never occurred to her that it was wrong, never occurred to her that it was possible to change it.

Her friend Bobby had died because of it. He’d drunk himself to death over anxiety and fear, too much stress and a job he had to have to pay his mortgage and his alimony. He managed to work up the momentum to leave the sinking ship of his marriage, but his job was another matter. He was dead three days before he was found. In many ways it was three years.

Melissa wasn’t going to go out like that. She wasn’t going to give her boss the pleasure of knowing he’d won with his squirrely ways. She ran over Paul Simon’s song in her head for options. Hop on the bus? Make a new plan? Drop off the keys? Well, she wasn’t leaving a lover, but it still sounded like a good exit strategy. And, after all, she had been screwed.

The email that morning said it all without saying anything. She’d asked for some time off. Her only joy now was looking forward to vacations, yet she was told, in writing, that her request did not meet his guidelines. There was also a mention that this was her second attempt to violate this policy. The only problem was that it wasn’t written policy. It certainly wasn’t corporate policy. And he did not say at the time that it was his policy, but just a guideline. She had no way of knowing that she’d stepped over some line into dangerous territory.

He told her more with that email than simply “no”. By putting it in writing, his not-so-veiled threat was made clear. Two violations, without the first one even being intentional, meant that three and you’re out. What nonsense. How could she have known she broke a rule the first time she did it when he hadn’t told her the guidelines? Heck, he hadn’t even given her a list of her job duties. Suddenly she was one step away from trouble. It was like driving on a road that had dangerous curves and no guard rails and no warning signs.

He was a squirrel.  That was certain. Everybody knew that he was a manager in title only. The problem was that nobody bothered to tell him. So he sent passive aggressive emails rather than confronting people directly. He didn’t manage. There was no plan or direction. He didn’t lead. Well, he led by negatives. Don’t do what he does. He didn’t even know what people did for their jobs, so how could he manage them?

Melissa took a breath in and reminded herself that Jesus said only God is above us. Don’t follow people. If you do, you are saying that they are more important than God is. To follow a person, no matter who they are – brother, father, aunt, boss, teacher, minister, spouse, governor, president, – anybody – was to make them into an idol.

She often wondered why she had so many bad bosses, so many who let the power go to their heads and quit working. It wasn’t fair that they got paid four times what so she did yet did a fourth of the work. It’s like they forgot what it was like to be a subordinate.

Perhaps that was the problem. Where could she work with there were no was no hierarchy? She left the social group she was in because of that kind of bullying. She left the church too for the very same reason, among many others. Over and over again she kept hitting that wall. The lesson wasn’t learned yet, apparently.

She’d waited out bad bosses before. How long until he retired? But deep down, she knew that if she didn’t learn the lesson with this one, it would resurface with another one.

Back to Jesus. What does he say? First, give thanks for the situation because it reminded her to pray and seek his help. Sometimes that was as far she got in her prayer, but now she knew there was more.

Jesus said that before you take your offerings to the Temple that if you have issue with anyone, you must leave your offering and go make things right. But how was she to do that? She was starting out in the negative. And she wasn’t even the one who had caused the problem.  Her boss was in the wrong.  This was backwards.

She remembered that story in the Bible when David was small and had no armor. With God’s power he killed Goliath with just one stone. Not even a sword. Anything was possible with God on your side.

Would talking with him make him feel threatened and thus worsen her standing? She knew she’d get no backup from higher up in the corporation. She’s gone that route before with an even worse manager. She still had unresolved trauma from that time. There’d be no help from her husband, either. He was even more bullied in his past. He couldn’t be objective.

So she was alone, again. Sure she had Jesus, and God, and the Holy Spirit. That had to count for something, right? But they weren’t physically here. They couldn’t go talk to him for her, or find her another job, or kill him off, or magically change everything. Perhaps that was the point too.

Perhaps Jesus came and said all that he did to tell her to not even have him above her, but within her, to give her the strength to do it herself. She wasn’t alone, then. She was doubled. Enhanced. There was a synergy, more than the sum of the parts.

But she still didn’t know what to do. Wait, and seem passive? Or wait until there is a clear path, a plan, and instruction from God? In the past, she always found herself doing the right thing, like a puppet, motivated by God. This current problem was a jigsaw puzzle and she didn’t have all the pieces yet, but God always does.

Was this event shifting her away from this job? Was it right to stay in a place, work 40 hours, and not feel like she fit? Had she outgrown it? It isn’t like she married this job. It wasn’t “till death do you part”. It certainly wasn’t for richer.

She prayed some more, and then she knew what to do. She was grateful that even though God doesn’t provide a map for life, God most certainly provided a compass.  With her heart focused on God, she knew she could walk through any situation, knowing that it would come out the way it was supposed to be.

Tilly and the lawn.

Tilly and the lawn

 

It was a big yard, and somebody had to mow it. 82° in the shade, and there wasn’t much of that to be had, but the grass still needed mowing.

Tilly was pleased with herself. All 7 acres in one day! Maurice said it couldn’t be done, but she did it. All week long he doubted her and it only egged her on. It was years later before she suspected that was his plan – to fire her up to do it by saying she couldn’t.

He was forever getting out of doing things one way or another. He thought he was so clever, but she was the real winner. He spent his whole life making others do everything for him and had never learned how to do anything for himself. Now he was a manager at a forgotten branch office of a small appliance outlet. Upper management had been fooled for years, thinking he did all the work.

When employee after employee quit, the house of cards tumbled down. They’d held it together for a very long time, but there was only so much they could take, watching him get the praise, the bonuses, the requests for motivational speeches. They couldn’t get why nobody else could see through his lies. Finally they left, one by one, and he was left by himself to run the shop. He didn’t even know how to run the cash register. It took the corporate office a week to suspect something was wrong. It took them a month to find an out-of-the-way office where he couldn’t do the company a lot of damage.

They couldn’t fire him, no, that wouldn’t do. Nobody really knew why. It wasn’t like he had tenure, not officially. This wasn’t a college after all. Plenty of half-rate incompetents had slid under the wire in that field. He was likable, in an odd kind of way. Perhaps that was how he could cajole everyone – employees, family, neighbors, into doing things for him.

He wasn’t pushy in an obvious kind of way. He just knew how to put a little pressure here and a little finesse there and before you knew it you’d agree to give up your one day off to work his shift. Somehow, at the time, you forgot you had plans you made weeks ago with friends you’d not seen since September. Somehow, it took several hours into your shift – his shift – to remember, and get angry and even a little resentful.

He was far away by then, and maybe that was part of his magic. The closer he was to you, the more you couldn’t resist, the more you couldn’t say no. Even 30-some-odd feet away at the other end of the building, his influence could still be felt. When he was at home he didn’t have the same power over them. But he sure had it over his wife.

Tilly made less than Maurice, always had. She was fine with that, because she had something he’d never have, something more than money. She had respect. She was respected by her coworkers and her family – people who had to be around her. Her friends didn’t just respect her – they adored her. They were drawn to her charm like a child is drawn to fireflies. They all did what she asked joyfully because she rarely asked – asked only when absolutely necessary, and even then she always said “You can say no”. They never did. Doing for her was like doing for a saint. You felt better after doing it, whatever the task.

Years later Tilly saw the picture of her standing on the front porch and laughed. If she’d only known just a few years later there’d be gas powered motors to speed things up. Just a few years later and there’d be tennis shoes, not loafers, for better grip. Just a few years later and she could have worn a T-shirt and shorts to do this chore, free to choose to wear a dress rather then it be the only option. All these advancements made her mowing accomplishment at the time all the more impressive because she did it without them.

She’d always thought that handicaps were advantages in disguise. They made you work harder, not take anything for granted. They handicapped the athletes who were stronger, didn’t they? Or was it horses? Something about making it a fair match. So being handicapped meant something good to her, meant that she secretly was better, stronger, more capable. Like she had secret powers and had to figure out what they were, hidden under that handicap. She always said that the more you focus on what you don’t have, the more you miss what you do.

Maurice was her handicap, so he was her blessing. Because of him she learned how not to treat others. He gave her so many examples of how not to act that she had a clear road in front of her showing her the way. It was like he’d gone through the test book of life and crossed out all the wrong answers, leaving her with all the right ones. It was an odd way of learning but it was learning nonetheless. It took her years to understand the gift that he given her by teaching her backwards.

Fair wages

In the third chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, we read about John the Baptist chastising some people who came to be baptized by him. He felt that they weren’t repentant – that they were not turning away from their lives of self-serving behavior. They were selfish and self-centered – they didn’t care about other people or about God. He felt that they shouldn’t be baptized because to them it was just something that everybody else was doing. Essentially, they wanted to get baptized by him because it was fashionable, like the latest dress style.

He said in Luke 3:8 that they needed to “…produce fruit consistent with repentance.”

What does this mean? If you are truly repentant, if you’ve really changed your ways, your actions change as well. You don’t continue to live in a selfish and self-serving way. Not being repentant is like an alcoholic saying that he’s going to get clean, and right after he goes to his first AA meeting, he goes to the liquor store. This is a sure sign he isn’t changing his ways – he just says he is. John wants people to really change. He won’t go through the motions of baptizing them unless they really are ready to live in a changed manner.

Some of them were startled, and asked him what he recommended them to do. This is in Luke 3:10-14 –

“10 “What then should we do?” the crowds were asking him. 11 He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He told them, “Don’t collect any more than what you have been authorized.” 14 Some soldiers also questioned him: “What should we do?” He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or false accusation; be satisfied with your wages.”

Ok, so the first part is easy – share what you have. If you have extra, share it with someone who has nothing. But then the next two kinds of people who ask, what do with do with that? How does their situation apply to us?

Sure, you’re probably not a tax collector or a soldier, but notice that both of these replies are about money. Only take what you are expected to take – nothing more, whether it is money you are collecting for someone else (in the case of the tax collector) or money you are collecting for yourself (in the case of the soldier.)

Probably the most easily understood example is with the soldier. Say you are at a job where you feel that you are doing all the work and the manager is getting away with doing nothing. You get paid less than she does, but she gets to sit in her office all day and play games on the internet and works on her book she’s writing. You might be mad about this. Maybe you’ve thought about reporting her to upper management. Maybe you’ve thought about sneaking in some of your personal chores while on the clock. She does it – why not you?

The difference is that you can’t fight fire with fire, and because of the covenant you have made with God, you shouldn’t act like this. You have to act better than she does. Goofing off on the clock isn’t the right thing to do – and even though she is doing it, that doesn’t mean you should. Reporting her will only make you look like a snitch, and might get you in trouble. But more importantly, it isn’t in line with what God expects of you.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-48 –

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

We aren’t expected to mirror the world – we are expected to be better than it. When bad things happen to us, we aren’t to be lowered by them, but to rise above them.

Life change cake

Yesterday was the icing on the cake. I don’t know where the cherry is. And if yesterday was the icing, then I don’t know if that means the cherry is good or bad.

The cake is a multi layer cake.

One layer is made up of a car dying and having to buy new car. I’d paid it off and become very fond of it. It was cute and familiar. I wasn’t planning on buying a new car. For a while we had two car payments, and I was grateful to not have any. I was using the extra money to pay off the mortgage sooner. But I have to have a reliable car, and one that won’t start isn’t acceptable, especially when the dealership can’t even tell me what was causing the problem. Since they didn’t know, they couldn’t fix it. They got it running, for another day, and then it wouldn’t start. I’m grateful that it failed to start while I was at home – so I wasn’t stranded doing errands or at work.

Another layer is finding out that I’m being transferred to another branch a week later. I’ve worked at the same place for almost 15 years. That’s a third of my life. I created the order and routine of the branch I came from. It’s a huge loss to have to go somewhere else. I’m grateful it is close to my home and in a safe neighborhood.

Another layer is the loss of my normal schedule. Because this other library is on an opposite schedule of opening and closing I can’t go to my exercise class like I used to. All the people that I knew at work and at working out are gone to me.

I might as well have moved to another country for the amount of loss that I am experiencing. It would’ve helped if the other branch had even welcomed me. But there was no welcoming note, no welcoming words, not even my desk was cleaned off. It was like it was a catchall for debris. I hate being the only person who is sensitive to other people’s feelings who thinks about how hard things are and is considerate so that they feel welcome and included. I hate feeling so deeply.

Adding to that is that I’m at a place that has three people, and only two do the work. The manager sits in his office and types at his computer, only coming out of his office to go to lunch or yell at the kids when they are loud. I’d love to have a job where I could get paid, yet do my own work (like write books) for 8 hours a day, like he has. But then I’d feel that I’d feel guilty about it, because I know that I’m not doing my real job.

I was reading Proverbs this morning and came across some parts that are applicable. (All translations are HCSB)

Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding;”
To me, this means that I don’t need to worry about this. To rely upon my own understanding is to say that I’m wiser than God. Ultimately it would mean that I’m setting myself up as an idol. The height of idolatry is to worship yourself. Sadly, a lot of today’s new religious leaders are saying just that. I’ll go further into that another day.

Proverbs 3:31 “Don’t envy a violent man or choose any of his ways;”
I’m taking this to mean more than just violent. I’m taking it to mean someone who shirks his responsibility. I should do my job and not follow the way of someone who isn’t doing his, as I know it to be bad. However, I won’t do extra or wipe myself out to get it all done, either. If I do more than my share, it will not be obvious that he’s not doing his. Upper management knows what is happening but they aren’t doing anything about it. I don’t know why, but I have to trust that God is in charge.

And then I read this, and it confirmed my feelings.
Proverbs 3:35 “The wise will inherit honor, but He holds up fools to dishonor.”

It doesn’t make it a lot easier. I still have to figure out how to live with this situation. I’ve spent a lot of my life with similar bosses.

Jesus teaches us that the best boss is also a worker. When he washed the feet of his disciples, he was teaching them that they needed to lower themselves from thinking they were above everybody. He was teaching them that they had to see themselves as equals. Everybody has to do “the dirty work”.

Sadly, many managers, even ones that are Christian, don’t seem to get this. It draws resentment upon them. Even if they are paid more, they aren’t respected more. I knew a lady who retired after 40 years of “work” and not one of her employees attended her retirement party. There were a lot of people there, but they were her friends – nobody she had worked with or “managed”. Sure, she got paid more than her employees, but she was overdrawn in the respect department.

I’d rather be paid in respect. I’d rather be paid in knowing that I did my best, rather than cheating the system. I’d rather know that the money I make I made honestly.