School of Joy

I’ll never forget the day I was told by my parents that I would be attending a new jr. high school.

I hoped against hope that I would be sent to a private school, or even the older jr. high school just one suburb away. But my worst fears came true when my Mom said, “Honey you are going to go to the new jr. high school next to our church!” I was not excited.

Why?

Hmmm. Maybe the fact that this new school was notorious for brutality, violence and lots of bullying. I was told the scary stories by some of my friends who were a year older than I. Some of them even had the scars to prove it. This school had 7th, 8th and 9th graders together.

Also, you know – I was the firstborn; for those of you who think that’s a great benefit or something, think again. What that really means is this – I got no one to watch my back. I didn’t have a bigger brother who had already cleared the way for me. I had to pioneer the trail myself – my two younger brothers would benefit from the path I trod. It was up to me to start things off. Sure, I had my dad. My dad could beat up anybody’s dad, right? 🙂 Well, that was not too far from the truth. But why would I put myself in the position of being constantly tormented for being a tattler? No way. I basically never told my parents my junk. I just told them the good news.

Just days before my first day of school, my nerves were frayed to the breaking point. I might have even been having a mild nervous breakdown. My stomach was acidy and taught. My appetite was gone. I counted down the days, hours and minutes. Finally my dad realized how hard it was for me and encouraged me that most likely my fears were in my mind, and this could be the start of a wonderful future.

That was a soothing thought.

Still I was unsettled.

The first day at the new Middle School finally came. Well, I got on the bus that morning with a growing feeling of hope and confidence. I looked around and analyzed each student. They all seemed pretty tame to me.

The bus arrived at the drop-off area, and we all got out. One at a time, we sauntered single-file toward the entrance of the school. The first thing that struck me from the outside was how nice and clean it was. The building, I mean. Lots of glass. And a huge gymnasium – as big as most college gymnasiums. I was impressed. I always loved gym class.

As we got about 30 feet from the door, the line suddenly took a sudden left. We were now being directed to a side entrance door. No worries. There were several entrance doors.

I looked back and saw that in actuality, a few of us got diverted by some crazy kid up ahead. I was maybe the 3rd kid in a line of 5. The rest still entered through the main entrance. I didn’t give it a second thought and reached out for the door handle.

Now the deal about this entrance was that there was a “breeze way” style set up with inside doors and outside doors. I had reached out for the outside door handle, and began to enter this “breeze way” area. The next few moments were all a blur, I must confess. I vaguely recall the person in front of me jumping up and then screaming. I didn’t know what he was so worked-up about. Maybe he was just so excited to walk into that school.

It was then that I felt – it. Oh, I felt it!

A burning sensation suddenly pierced my right tricep. I could feel a massive clamp pinching down on my clothing and my flesh. I shouted out loud – pretty much exactly the way the kid in front of me had done.

And then, I saw – him!

This crazy 9th-grade kid was standing there between the inside and outside doors with a large firewood scissors/clamp. It shrunk to about 2 feet when retracted, and when extended, it would reach out to 6 feet or more! And even worse, at it’s full extension, the two ends would come together like a gigantic clamp.

I couldn’t believe my eyes! I wasn’t even in the school building and already, I was bleeding!

Bleeding! My first day of school! My first moment of school! Bullies so advanced and trained, they were located at every jr. high orface – probably with walkie talkies all in sync, just waiting to beat me up! Turns out the rumors about this school were not only true, they were horrendously under-played!

The first thing that entered my mind was this question, “Where is the nurses’ office?”

Throughout that first day, I witnessed people getting slammed into walls, getting their books kicked out from under their arms and scattered across the hallway floors, only to be further kicked and punted down the hallways by the rest of the crammed throng of jr. high youth. These kids were so mean, I wondered why didn’t we send junior highers into war to fight for our country instead of innocent 18-year old boys?

I wondered what those poor kids felt like when their books were kicked out of their hands? But not to worry – before long I was soon to find out for myself time and time again.

As a 7th grader, I got straight A’s my first semester – and it all went downhill from there. I was getting C’s throughout the rest of my years at this school. And the biggest reason for my scholastic decline was most definitely the numerous bullies who made me their main target.

The adults in the school were not unlike teachers anywhere. They would sometimes stand up for me, but most of the time they just stayed with the other teachers in the teachers lounge.

And so it was, my first day of school was complete. I had three more years of this treatment to look forward to. When I got off the bus, I walked up the driveway and into my house, where my mother greeted me as she asked,

“How was your first day of school, Jeff?”

“It was… great.”

Ha ha.

Tell you what, I will tell you PART II of MY EVIL SCHOOL! There are many, many more horror stories believe me!

See you next time!

Jeff

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Don’t get offended.

“I mean this in love and in no way intend this to come across as negative or critical, but…”

Ever have someone start out a conversation this way? Not the easiest statement to hear someone else say to us. Well, don’t feel too bad, it’s only natural to put up an emotional wall, or get verbally defensive when someone we know well confronts us with an issue.

Whether they say it in love or not, or whether it is even well-intended or meant to hurt us, I think we can learn to glean value from any kind of confrontation, rebuke, even attack.

Granted, some verbal attacks are purely worthless and should be discarded immediately. In fact, I sometimes think the reason many of us get defensive when spoken to this way is actually because of a lack of GOOD DEFENSE.

Now hear me, I am not saying that it is good to “get defensive”… not at all. What I propose to you is this: If we have built healthy boundaries (read any book from the amazing series BOUNDARIES by Henry Cloud and John Townsend) in our Circle of Relationships (ask ME for a copy of this helpful tool ), we won’t have to “get defensive” when bombarded, attacked, or lovingly addressed in a proper way.

You see, if you have built healthy DEFENSES ahead of time, you don’t need to GET DEFENSIVE at the spur of the moment!

You can listen to that person, chew any meat they may have given, and spit out the bones. And if someone gives you ALL BONES, well then you can spit the entire mess out and get a good breath mint later!

Jesus didn’t need to get defensive when verbally attacked by his critics, because he already had healthy defenses built before hand.

Some of these defenses relate more to a healthy view of ourselves and a confidence of who God is in us and the fact that if He is for us, we have nothing to fear.

In fact, if you find yourself getting defensive often, that indicates you probably have not built good DEFENSES up in your inner man. And in fact, you may find inside your soul many conflicting sources pulling and pushing you to really fly off the handle emotionally, psychologically, physically.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Now I would be a hypocrite to make it sound like I am such a well-adjusted human being that I have never, ever become defensive. The exact opposite scenario is closer to the truth. You see, I found so many unhealthy emotional triggers inside of me when I first started my spiritual journey – I was one of the most defensive people on the planet. I discovered part of the reason had to do with being a very caring person – I was sensitive. But sensitivity without a healthy defense system on the inside will produce a lot of pain. I had to “toughen up” as others say.

But truthfully, it had nothing to do with getting tougher, but with getting fortified with a good set of boundaries and inner foundational truths. It took years and still I am growing in that area even to this day.

I wish I could go into greater detail with this, but if I did, this would not be a blog entry, but a book. And for more detail, you are going to have to wait for THE BOOK – “The Life” ha ha.

So all I can tell you is this – you and I need our source to be God inside of us in order to build healthy defenses on the outside. Then and only then, when the time comes for someone to “share a personal word” with us, we won’t get defensive anymore, but instead, with peace and calmness we can gently listen to the person(s) and filter the information properly with a smile, and even say, “Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I will take it into consideration. Have a great day!”

Sounds easy, of course it is not. But with His Life inside of us, it is more than POSSIBLE!

Until next time,

Jeff Saxton

Paterno and Penn State

Well unless you have your head buried in the college football sand (which, if so, you are not alone. We college football fans are an unusual species) you are well aware of the horrible circumstances befalling the Penn State football program, as well as the entire university establishment and allumni.

And you surely have heard about the conviction of Jerry Sandusky, former assitant coach to Joe Paterno. Sandusky apparently has lived most of his adult life as a pedophile, and used the football program to launch at-risk youth programs… all which provided him with oportunities to recruit potential victims. It is sad beyond words. The negative impact of sexual abuse on a child has obvious never-ending consequences.

Apparently (According to the Freeh report (http://thefreehreportonpsu.com/) which Penn State ultimately endorsed as accurate, Paterno was made aware of instances where Sandusky abused children while he was still Assitant to Paterno. Paterno claimed he brought this to the attention of the University, but not to any legal authorities (which, by law, he has a matter of hours to report).

No question Paterno was in error. No question Paterno was therby complicit in Sandusky’s rougue affairs. No question, there must be serious consequences for actions, incuding possibly removal of his position as head coach, as well as other kinds of penalties for the football program. But what the NCAA eventually brought down on Penn State as punishment is, in the opinion of many, too severe for the actions committed by Paterno. Sandusky left his position under Paterno in 1999. One could argue that all actions after 1999 should not be viewed as happening during that part of Paterno’s career.

Take aways from this whole scenario:

1. The higher you climb in authority / position, the greater responsibility you hold. If you are not absolutely solid in your convictions and standards at the bottom on the ladder, you will not be prepared to hold to the highest standards (like telling a close friend, and assitant coach, that he has 24 hours to report his actions to authorities before you are forced to do, by law) when you get to the top.

2. People place great (unfortunately too much) trust in large, reputable organizations. And for a time, they may turn their head to improprieties in fear of being run over and blacklisted by that organization.

3. The crowd wants to have a lynching. The angrier the crowd, the quicker to judgment. In this case, it is my personal opinion that while there cannot be any punishment too severe to hand down for even one case of child abuse, we need to be sure we are placing the punishment fairly in the appropriate people. The NCAA took away every win the Penn State football team has won since 1998. On the one hand, I get that they want to send a message that sports and winning at all costs is not acceptable. But if it’s a strong message that is wanted, would removing every win Paterno ever achieved be enough? I don’t think so. Many former Penn State football players and alumnists are hurt and offended at why they had to be thrown under the same bus as Sandusky and Paterno. Why did many winning and even championship seasons have to be eliminated to make a strong message about Sandusky when most had nothing to do with Paternos actions?

4. Paterno – I think all would agree that people felt Paterno was one of the greatest coaches, even role models, in the history of college football. Did he really understand the weight of what was going on with Sandusky? Maybe he did. If he did, and chose to ignore it all in favor of winning and his reputation and the reputation of Penn State, then we could maybe agree that taking away as much as possible from Paterno’s legacy is appropriate. If he did not have the information and knowlegde of what was really up with Sandusky, I think he deserves at least some leniancy. The Freeh report says he did know plenty and covered it up. Fair enough.

Paterno died of lung cancer before the Freeh report. His statue was taken down (for now) and most of the penalties from NCAA is meant to be a certain amount of punishment due to the football program; understanding that the actual sentencing from the court will be directed mainly at who it should be – Sandusky.

I have been in private meetings with repsected family members who are forced to deal with a sexual abuse issue with one of their members. It is unbelievably messy to say the least. And many times, otherwise upstanding and righteous people are willing to ignore and even deny that anything is going on or ever went on – more for survival on a psychological level than anything.

In other words, we who are without sin, we can cast the first stone. The rest of us, we should take inventory, and make sure that we have, or can get to that point at which, we would be willing to confront and turn in a close friend who is doing a very, very wrong and damaging thing… Understanding the repercussions for us personally taking a stand could cost us a job, a future, our reptuation, or even perhaps our lives.

Timing is Everything

Comic genius Steve Martin explains the secret to comedy is “all about the… Time-t…ti-ming…. Timing!

I think success is very similar. I have tried to push through some projects and ideas only to hit a brick wall, resulting in complete failure, or frustration. But then there are other projects that seem to have a path cleared out before them. Even if there is a lot of work involved in following them through, there is a sense of “easy” to them.

Right now, one of the projects I am involved with is an adaptation of Charles Dickens classic tale “Oliver Twist”. This will be shown for a couple weeks run live on our stage at Rochester Assembly. I am re-writing it specifically for this production. Also our music director is writing new music for it. I am excited to see what we come up with!

We will be auitioning most of the parts. I have already chosen one actor to play one of the main characters. We will see who rises to the top this time around.

One of the reasons I opted for an original adaptation over a pre-existing version is because some of the characters and moments in the original Dickens novel are left out in many of the film and stage versions (including the Oscar winning film Oliver!). I want this version to be a touch darker and even deal with some of the more controversial material Dickens dealt with such as religious insensitivity, child abuse, the neglect of the poor, and basic love for the lower classes of society. But of course, true to Dickens form, there still needs to be plenty of humor and irony.

Will continue to update on this project!