Christmas Eve, Slivers, and PTSD

Marie came up to us after church that year and asked if we’d like to join their family for Christmas eve.  Sure we said, it beat sitting in our little rental house 1000 miles from home, missing family.

As it turned out, Marie had also invited Nancy, Karen, and Scott,  all singles, also away from home over the holidays. Marie had the gift of hospitality.  Those are still some of my favorite Christmas memories…

I remember coming into Marie’s kitchen, the smell of turkey and pumpkin pie, dimly lit Christmas lights,  scented candles..

It felt like I’d just stepped into a Hallmark card movie…and we were part of the story.


As I sat in a big stuffed chair after dinner, visiting with Sid, (Marie’s husband)  I absent-mindedly picked a callous on the tip of my pointer finger.   It had been  numb for months.

All of a sudden,  out popped an inch long wood sliver.

I thought back to early September when I had helped Joe V install a new set of pine steps.   I’d gotten a nasty sliver, and assumed I’d gotten the whole thing out.. guess not. 🙂


The same thing happened again yesterday.  I came into the house for lunch and I noticed a  small piece of wood protruding out of the middle finger on my right hand.  Last month, I was moving some old lumber in my way on a project, and I got “stuck.”  At first, I thought I’d gotten another nasty sliver but when I got home that night and dug around, I couldn’t find anything.  (I wasn’t sure then whether I’d gotten a puncture wound or another sliver. Figured if something was in there, it would eventually work itself out.)

I know how these things work now 🙂


Buried slivers are a great word picture for PTSD.  Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes…it could be sexual abuse. Could be trauma from combat.  Could be trauma from a surgery as a small child….  Sometimes after a traumatic event, in order for our brains to cope, a part of our heart goes numb.  It’s one of God’s coping mechanisms (I believe). The numbness initially allows me to continue to function…all the while the memory  foreign object stays buried in there somewhere, festering..and at the right time,  it will come to a head.  I don’t think you have to go looking for it.

I’ve seen this played out three times, in the lives of people close to me.   15 to 30 years after the initial trauma, weird things started to happen…unexplained panic attacks, the desire to cut, being in a state of constant hyper-vigilance, etc.

A marriage counselor told us  about the waves of terror that would overtake him when he started to deal with the abuse  he’d experienced as a child. Things didn’t come to a head until after he’d gotten married. Something would trigger the PTSD and it would incapacitate him.  One day, a friend of his stopped by unannounced, while he was in the middle of an episode. He told his wife to let his friend come up and see him…. The friend, a former marine,  had no idea that this guy was going through ptsd.  When he saw him, curled in a ball, covered with tears and snot, he crawled into the closet with him and just held him.

It was a turning point on his road to recovery.

If there is an emotional wound in your life that is giving you fits, don’t suffer in silence.  It means you are human.

Open up and let someone in.


Ordering Your Private World

“Throughout the film he contrasts the frantic pace of modern life with a thoughtful interior life….”

French film director Eugene Green in a recent interview

Those words…“the frantic pace of modern life with the thoughtful interior life” jumped off the page to me last night as I was winding down.

I forget  what it feels like to live  life at a  “frantic pace.”

My life has not felt that way ever since I began to intentionally weave “margin” into my life.  I am loath to get myself suckered into the rat race again.

It did  happen briefly last fall.   I had two major construction projects needing to start at the same time, due to weather and customer delays, but that is no longer the norm.

Don’t get me wrong…I have not “arrived” in terms of anything…BUT, I am convinced the frantic/ manic pace of life will suck the life out of me unless I am very careful.

I am a first-born type A personality.  I grew up on a dairy farm which compounded my need to stay busy, so I know what I’m talking about.

There are two young families that I know, (sort of) where the financial and job pressures are sucking the life out of their marriages. (Like  fire sucking the oxygen out of a room)  There is the illusion they have made it.  Super nice homes.  Nice cars.  Both spouses making multiple times more per year than I.

We could live off the income of any one of those four people and  have money set aside.

If that is the lifestyle both of you  love and enjoy…then there is not a problem.

Just different priorities.

If however, one of the people in either one of those situations feels trapped….then it is (a problem.)

How sad to live your life, day in, day out, commuting to a full-time job you hate,  never feeling like there is enough money, not enough hours in the day.  Being married to someone, who (initially) you thought you wanted to spend the rest of your life with, but now..not so much.

That is what I am talking about.

I’m a visual person, so it helped me to have something I could look at to get my bearings.

In my mind’s eye, I felt like I was the captain of a large ocean-going vessel, headed the wrong way….  So  I literally, drew a diagram with a large ship on a piece of white poster board/ taped it to the wall in front of my desk, with different positions on the chart showing the boat changing directions.

I needed to turn my ship around and set a new course….Well, you can’t turn a ship that size around on a dime…but once you move the rudder hard  you do change directions.

Moving the rudder meant setting some new financial, time management, and relational goals and then acting on them.

Just drawing that chart gave me hope.  I knew where we were headed,  even if the circumstances had not changed in the short-term.

There was a new sense of hope and purpose in our home, in our relationship, in my heart.

It all starts in the mind.

There were a couple of books that also helped me re-plot my course. One of them was called “Ordering Your Private World.”

I’ve written on this topic  before…As I find the older posts in  my archives, I will put the link to them here..

Here’s one of those earlier posts.

Chasing Rabbits

When I was @ the lumberyard yesterday,  the store manager asked me if I’d built such and such a building this fall… (a $400,00 commercial project  30 minutes from here).

“Nope, I said, although Jason and I did spend a month doing the landscaping…”

“Oh, I was just wondering” he said….

I thought to myself, I don’t have the crew nor desire to take on that large of a project….

Then fleeting thoughts of  “failure…looser”  went through my mind, but I ignored them.

This year, I have been doing mostly small repairs, building doors for a dairy set up, tables, fixing holes in buildings.. still working, but nothing large.

Yes,  there are times I wish I was generating more $ 😉

(see my last post)

and yet….there is a young man I know whom  I see regularly at the lumberyard, He just starting  his own business. He recently purchased a 2016 full size pickup with all the bells and whistles.   I know from various sources, he has financial problems…  Doing the type of work I do, there is no way, I  generate enough net income to afford that  truck….but if you were to meet him and I, and judge us solely by the  trucks we drive, you would think he is more successful than I…..

(I drive a Toyota Tundra with 180,000 miles on it, that is paid for)

I love what I do…but (and I’ve written about this before) when our kids were younger,  I was doing a poor job of managing my time. My marriage and  family was floundering.  We were living pay check to pay check. I was gone a lot. My wife was doing 99% of  the work raising our kids,  and we were drifting apart as a couple.

She finally said to me, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Then came across the following…

“If you make it to the top of the company ladder, but loose your family in the process, you are a fool….”

and another one…”if you are a hero to strangers, but a stranger to your children... (same thing/ you are a fool).

Whop/ Felt like someone had hit me across the nose with a 2 by 4…

So here I sit, almost 30  years removed from that season of my life, no longer a driven, workaholic and I meet young men all of the time chasing the  same rabbit around the track I used to chase…

But there is more than one way  to measure success.

I have two areas of my life that I keep an eye on.

Like gauges on an engine…

One is called relationship.

Relationship.  My relationship with God, (as I understand him)  my relationship with my wife and children.. relationships with the rest of the people in my life. (Which is also why I invest time blogging..I really do value those of you that I interact with here!)

And the second (and equally important)  gauge, my heart…

Not my physical heart, but, the  inner/ hidden person of my heart.

There is a mantra (I try) to keep in the fore-front of my life, that goes like this:   “Keep, (or guard) your heart with all vigilance (or diligence)  for from it flows the springs of life…” 

ie. inner life: (peace, joy, and all of that) flow out of an artesian spring, down deep in the bedrock of my heart… because of the world  in which I live, my heart  can easily become dirty and fouled, cluttered with too many job pressures,  financial pressures, etc.

So, if work, (or anything for that matter)  is choking the life out of me, then it behooves me to do something about it.


Google image


We have been on a BBC, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Larkrise to Candleford, Cranford, Bleak House, Downton Abbey kick.   Watching several of these period stories, back to back has opened my eyes to what it must be like, running in those social circles…. the attitudes, the temptations, the pressures.


Closer to home….

The other night I was curious as to where an internet business I am working with was located.   I discovered the company is part of a much larger set of companies owned by a family whose wealth is measured in  billions.   Those currently running things are my age and younger.  They attended ivy league colleges, sit on multiple boards, are well known for their philanthropy, play polo, etc. Made me realize that there is still a form of aristocracy  today, right here in America.

How well would I  handle it, if I had been born in that setting? (I hate dressing up and I am allergic to meetings, so I would not be a good fit) 😉


Last week as we were replacing a driveway, the neighbor came over and told me about the history of an adjacent house.  A hundred years ago, the guy owned a large clothing store, had his fingers in four area banks,  had a reputation for being promiscuous. The house had separate stairways for the servants.

You can’t tell me that was a happy household to  live in.

Then last night I read the following:

“People were poorer and had not the comforts, amusements, or knowledge we have to-day; but they were happier.  Which seems to me to suggest that happiness depends more upon the state of mind – and body, perhaps- than upon circumstances and events.”     Larkrise To Candleford 

Twenty years ago, in my desire to get ahead (financially)  I saw a mobile home for sale.      Only $3500.

Heck, in little more than a year, it would be paid off, then we would have additional $250 a month!


Next, a cute little fixer upper came up for sale for $28,000.  Our credit was good, and now that we were land lords…why not?

Felt like I was playing real life Monopoly.

We were on the fast track to get ahead…..

But then we started to get phone calls @ 10 PM. So and so wanted to let us know  the police had been called…something about a fight, some drugs, etc.  Then  we had an alcoholic tenant stop paying rent. He moved out but left all of his things behind. It took me two months of jumping through hoops before I could legally do anything about it. He’d got behind on his electric bill after he left, so they shut the electric off to the house, which resulted in a freezer full of putrid meat and a trashed apartment we had the opportunity to  clean.




Still remember the big black flies buzzing around my head, and  the stench of rotten meat in the chest freezer  as Paul, Matt and I carried it out to the curb….Talked with the daughter as we placed  her dad’s things on the curb.

His collection of toy tractors,  clothes, furniture.  My heart went out to her. Sheriff sat across the street to keep peace while we did the eviction.


Last week while I was pouring cement with my nephew, his phone rang (He’s making payments on a rental house) Got a call from a tenant.  Water bill suddenly went to $400 a month because of a leaky something or other.

Made me thankful I no longer own  am making payments rental property…because it does come with a price.


Decidedly No Longer A Hamster


I could see by the glazed look in Jordan’s eyes this past Wednesday, he was under pressure…The pressure  of trying to juggle all of the variables that come with coordinating a large remodel.

He looked at me mid sentence and laughed…”You really don’t care do you? “

I grinned, told him, “My mind was on  zeroing in a new scope I bought for my gun and picking the green beans in my raised garden bed….”

We never know what  pressures go with a particular line of work until we find ourselves in the middle of them.  And at that point, it is often too late to do much about them, at least short-term.

One of my sisters is an RN.  She used to work  on the intensive care floor of a regional hospital…commute 45 minutes each way, and often time found herself pulling a shift she would rather not pull, but because of staffing,  and the fact she had a house payment to make, she was stuck.  Stress. Eventually, a new job opened up at a hospital closer to home with 9 to 5 hours, no overtime/ no weekends, dealing with people in rehab.

Have another friend  who used to fly for a mid-sized private charter company.  The guy who managed things was….dare I say it?…an “Ass”   Absolutely no  concern for how his decisions  affected the families of the people who worked there…17 days away from home at a time was the norm.  Everything was all about the almighty dollar.   On top of everything else he was a bully. Verbally abusive.  My friend gutted it out for several years before finding another flying job….and again, house payments, and other financial pressures were in the mix.

In my line of work (construction)  work pressures can bury you.   Scheduling, dealing with suppliers, cash flow, weather, conflict,  help that doesn’t show, inspections, etc.   And if you multiply that by more than one job at a time, it can be quite a ride.

My dad ran a construction company for years.  At one point, they had twenty five guys on the payroll.  Looking back, dad said  they didn’t make that much more money than when they had a crew of nine or ten, just a  lot more headaches.  (Don’t think I didn’t tuck that little tidbit of information into my grey-matter.)

In the mid 1980’s my workaholics  / people pleasing, unable to say “no” to anyone but my wife behavior came to a head.   I was over committed/ burning the candle at both ends, with four little ones in tow.  To this day, I just shake my head when I think about what I was doing…

Put this picture on the wall in front of my desk as a reminder:


bucket list- hamster wheel picture

Business does not equal progress…I can be spinning that wheel like a crazy man, and going nowhere.

Words are powerful.

Came across the following the same time…

If you make it to the top of the company ladder and lose your family in the process…you are a fool.”

Felt like someone took a two by four and rapped me across my nose.

Here are some new words I introduced into my vocabulary during that watershed season in my life..




Here is a workaholic survey.

Check it out.

It really is possible to retool your life.

I know.

I am a first-born, former workaholic and I just scored 36.

Question… What are some of the unexpected pressures that are part of your life you never anticipated ? Could be work, family, or other.  DM

But I’ve Been To…..

“We we were in San Paulo last Summer with our two sons on a family vacation.   We wanted to expose them to the cultural institutions and a rich architectural traditions.  It was amazing!  Have you ever been there?” said Fred.

(I was at one of those boring high school graduation receptions, trying to mingle with crowd of complete strangers.)

“Nope.” I said.

I could tell Fred wanted to tell me more so I asked some open-ended questions and listened politely.

“The summer before that we took the boys to Saint Petersburg Russia.  It is a port city on the Baltic Sea….have you ever been to Russia?”

“No. I replied, but I did spend two weeks in Ibiza when I was sixteen…” (My comment fell on deaf ears.)

Five minutes later, Fred moved on to another guest at the party.  I could tell he was  talking about one of his favorite subjects…


Himself and his travels to far away places.


I remember being at a family reunion several years ago,  the same dynamic was taking place. Some of the cousins were trying to one up each other by talking about certain far away places they’d been to and discussing obscure facts that you would only know if you had been there too.

At the time it left me feeling inferior and inadequate.

I have a forty-year class reunion coming up next month.  I’m not going.  I am pretty sure I’ve written about it here on the blog not too long ago  (but I could be wrong). 😉

I grew up in small town USA.  My high school class numbered around 150.  I spent 13 formative years of my life  (counting kindergarten) with many of these people.  I was small and shy the whole time, except for the last 6 months of my senior year.  I was one of the last ones picked whenever we would choose sides in PE class, because I was so small.

I take full responsibility for the fact there are just a couple of classmates  with whom I still keep in touch.

In the past, I have gutted it out, and attended all the five and ten-year  reunions.  As many of you, I have grown and matured in my people skills, and while no one would ever consider me the life of the party, I do know how to engage in small talk with perfect strangers if I need to.

I can actually be kind of funny sometimes.

Few weeks ago, as I was again mulling over this upcoming class reunion,I decided to reprogram my  dark thoughts with something new. Identify some things to be thankful for, from  my years in school.  Here’s what I came up with:

I met my wife there.  If I never went, I most likely would have never gotten that first date .

I learned to read.

I learned to write.

What really excites me when I compare the person who graduated high school forty years ago and the person I am today is what has happened on the inside. The feelings of inferiority and inadequacy are 80% 90% less than they used to be.

I have navigated the treacherous waters of life, parenting 4 young people into adulthood. They all  stay in touch and  love to come home.  I have stayed married to the same woman for thirty-eight years, and we still like each other….a  lot.

Well, I need to run.  My siblings and I are taking my dad out for breakfast this morning for his 84th birthday.   I am a rich man…even if I have never been to  San Paulo.


It was time for our coffee break that day as  Jason and I crawled into my truck. We were siding a two story addition  and the 25 to 40 mile an hour wind gusts were taking their toll.   (One of the fringe benefits of working outside in the elements is I normally sleep like a baby once my head hits the pillow.)

Anyway,  my truck was pointed towards the neighbors house  and the first thing that caught my eye as we took our break was a thin, 60 some year old woman raking leaves.  She caught my eye for several reasons.  First off, she looked almost manic in the way she was using her rake.

Secondly, there were multiple trees along her street, and several of them were still hanging onto their leaves, even if the large maple in the corner of her lot was done for the year.  I thought to myself, why in the world was she trying to  rake on a day like today?  She would just have to do it again (probably multiple times) before it was all over.

The word “issues” came to mind.   Even though I did not know her personally, something was not quite right about that picture.

What would drive a person to try to catch every last leaf that early in the Fall.

I jokingly said to Jason, I definitely would not want to do any work for her because of her issues, (whatever they might be.)


Few weeks later, the homeowner I was working for, told me, a neighbor was interested in having me give her an estimate for some work in her house.

Was it so and so,  I asked?

It was!

The homeowner then cautioned me that if I did end up working for her, that while she was a nice person…she paused as she tried to find the right word, she was also  “frugal.” 🙂

I  told the homeowner to have the neighbor get a hold of me if she wanted.  I have a policy now that I refuse to chase work.  I also refuse to play the game of giving someone an estimate and have them ask me if I can knock so much off the bid, in order to match someone else.

It is disrespectful to me as a contractor.

It implies my initial quote may have been slightly out of line.   Better to either take the estimate or not….and another thing, the lowest estimate may not always be the best estimate.  You can pay someone $20 an hour who works like a turtle, or twice that amount to me and come out ahead.

I’ve seen it happen multiple times.

My dad, (who was also a general contractor for close to 50 years) was known for his integrity in our community.  I can trace most of my attitudes when it comes to work directly back to his influence in my life.

(Sorry if this comes across as a little bit testy.)

Growing up in a construction family,  I have had a front row seat to dozens of construction projects, and you better believe I have been taking notes.

No sense learning everything first hand.

Which is why, if I can help it,  I try not to work for certain personality types.


Because certain personality types have  certain issues I would just as soon not have to deal with.

Everybody has issues.  Doesn’t mean I didn’t have compassion for her. (Because I did)

Also doesn’t mean I have to enter into a business relationship with someone who has too many red flags waving over their head.

“An issue ignored, is a crisis endured.”

What do you think?