John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise XIII

John Michael continues his series, reflecting on life and people encountered, with two new stories, the first about judging others and the second about coping with struggle.


The Less We Judge

The saints say, and I imagine it is the truth, that your true self lies beyond personal identity. I was reflecting, and often reflect, on me still being a smoker, chewer, and drinker with the occasional hit of acid for stability. (I tease about that last part.)

As a kid, my life rotated around athletics and I was fascinated by the word “healthy” and wanted to be as healthy as they come. Somewhere in grade school, I got the idea that milk was healthy. (Clever marketing by the Dairy Council, I am sure.) So, for a while there I was drinking milk like it was water, could not get enough of the stuff.

Well, I started doubling over with stomach pain at recess. My parents either thought I was faking it to avoid work or thought it was in my head. One of my teachers convinced them to take me to the doctor. I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance and so my milk drinking days were over.

Other “healthy” kids pitched me shit once in a while implying I had some kind of mental weakness that caused me not to drink milk. They would chug it right in front of me just to prove how healthy they were and how much of a wussy I was.

That healthy identity is still with me some, but it took a big blow in college. I remember telling a friend over a very late-night breakfast that people who did not drink or smoke really did not understand life.

My dentist confirmed that my lower jaw has moved forward some since I have been healing my shame. Now chewing tobacco may or may not have helped those muscles loosen enough so that my jawline has become more rugged. I like to think it did, however.


I have found that the less we judge and try to correct the behavior of others, the more they seem to like and trust us, easing the loneliness of both parties.


My desire to smoke and chew and drink is far less now as my spiritual life blossoms. Smoking is so tied to the homeless culture that I assume I will always have a pack on me even if it is just to pass them around in a friendly manner.

Now, every once in a while, someone will bring up the cancer issue as tied to tobacco. I imagine those folks will have three different reactions if I do indeed die of cancer. The sadistic self-loathers will be, “I told that son of a bitch he was going to get the cancer, serves his dumb ass right.” The self-righteous always-righters will say, “I warned him and warned him to no avail, may God have mercy on his poor misguided soul.” The everything-is-all-my-fault folks will be like, “Oh, my God, I put that cancer idea in his head what was I thinking. Punish me, Lord, until I too die of cancer.”

Now, I hold firm on the fact that we are all eternal beings and yet we live in a world where life and death appear very real indeed. And there certainly is a mystery to how life unfolds for each individual. I am by no means making light of cancer and how it can bring loss and heartache into people’s lives.

I am just pointing out that how we identify ourselves in this world, from always-do-gooders to rebels-with-no-real-causers, affects our approach to life. I ain’t judging one single approach, but the best is to hold to the idea that, “The creator of all things and I are one and it has always been so.”

That quote is from a good friend of mine from my New Mexico days. She is struggling some now with health issues and could use some prayers, as I imagine we all can at times, as we navigate our way back home to the gates of heaven.

Also, I have found that the less we judge and try to correct the behavior of others, the more they seem to like and trust us, easing the loneliness of both parties.


It Is What We Tell Ourselves

“I am not here for the cool kids.” —Jesus Christ

Now, there are several layers to this made-up quote I am attributing to Jesus. Much of it has to do with my ego.

I came off the streets, very much in touch with my higher or authentic self, so to speak, but still with many emotional wounds in need of tenderness and care. I also had quite a bit of resentment towards my family and society in general. My family, for the tears of my childhood; and society, for what I perceived as a lack of empathy toward homeless people.

Well, as my wounds heal, I understand it is a good thing to treat everyone just as I treat hoboes. Except for a few saints, most everyone struggles with themselves and most everyone tries to keep that struggle hidden for a variety of reasons. My goal is to respond to everything that happens with the natural kindness that resides in the heart. Can you think of anyone in your life who could do with a little affection? That naturally applies to my immediate family as well.

Now, I spent a lot of my life trying to be cool and yet being rejected by every cool crowd I ever came across. It is odd because I had a very similar relationship to Christians, just feeling rejected.

I have made my peace in both those places. Cool people are sensitive folks for the most part and artistic. If I still have a quibble, it’s that they are not so open to being kind to people with different beliefs. But that could be said of almost every group of people out there.

I have written that the bad things that happen to us are not really the problem. It is what we tell ourselves about ourselves after they happen that causes our suffering.

I had a certain amount of rage towards my family for not protecting me as a kid. As I have written, I went through a pretty violent molestation. Well, a couple of thoughts emerged this week that were possibly at the core of all my false beliefs. The thoughts came with some healing tears.

The first was there must be something severely wrong with me, that I must have some fundamental flaw for the molestation to have happened. The second thought surprised me somewhat, it was, I was not worth protecting. Why I told myself that I have no idea, but it is such a freeing blessing to let it go.

I was aware that in my life I had a deserving issue and allowed myself very few good things. Now that I clear out the false thinking in my life, maybe I will have a vehicle to drive and a whole bunch of very nice shoes.


Most everyone struggles with themselves and most everyone tries to keep that struggle hidden for a variety of reasons. … Can you think of anyone in your life who could do with a little affection?


The other aspect of that quote is, where do I focus my time? On the things I enjoy (which is a very large list of things), on the uncoolest kids of all, homeless people, or some kind of joyful combination? We shall see, I am certainly content not having much of anything. Whatever it is will be done with joy, for I am joyful.

After writing the above, I went outside for a cigarette and had the thought, No molestation can stop me from loving you. I assume that thought came from God as I started crying. That was my biggest fear as I entered the streets, that God didn’t love me. Thought I was sure that he did. Well, if I was not then, I am now.

I climbed into heaven a little too quickly a couple of times in my life. Our secular society has little understanding of spiritual crisis and transformation. Many folks end up in hospitals and heavily drugged who are simply trying to find a truer way of being.

Those spiritual feelings I started having at age 25 may have been a reminder to me of where I wanted to go or may have been a shamanic initiation of sorts. At any rate, it was too much at the time for my conscious mind to understand and incorporate. So, I was hospitalized and lithiumized.

When I entered the streets, for whatever reason, I was not sure God loved me anymore. Now, most of us believe God is love and loves his children. However, I encourage you to take some time with that thought and see if you really believe it. Because many of us have taken to heart very untrue things about ourselves.

By the time I came off the streets, I thought I had been convinced of God’s love for me. What I also knew was that I still had some emotional healing to do, but I was sure, and it turned out to be true, that I could handle whatever emotions arose in me without lithium or any other medication. Although, there was one point, after an hour-long panic attack, I did consider going to the hospital.

God’s timing is much slower than mine and I still get impatient now and again. Since coming off the streets for a second time, I have been the quintessential Taurus. Comfort, routine, comfort, routine … repeat, repeat, repeat. This, even though at times I have felt starved for adventure.

The right thoughts at the right time seem to come from my healing. I wrote about my latest unbidden thought, No molestation can stop me from loving you. Now, to understand that God fully loves me after spending most of my life in doubt. The thought itself allows for some real rest and resting for the last couple of days has been most all I have done.

We all find heaven at our own pace, I guess, and over lifetimes, I suppose. I took a break from writing this to refill my coffee and have a smoke. For some reason, some old Kansas lyrics came to mind and as I started singing them I started crying some for the joy of it all. “Carry on, my wayward son, there’ll be peace when you are done, lay your weary head to rest, don’t you cry no more.”

Blessing, my good friends.


John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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