Relationship Advice

I am probably the last person who needs to be doling out relationship advice. I am a single, 40-year-old man who has had two girlfriends in his life. But I am pretty good at observation, and in 18 years of observing others’ relationships in ministry settings I have seen a few threads that have run through the bad ones. To avoid some of the pitfalls. I say…

  1. Accept all compliments. I am aware of the “love languages.” I get the point. But there is a fine line between “I love to be loved this way” and “If you don’t love me this way, I will not be happy.” Accept all compliments, even if they are not exactly how you want them to be packaged and delivered. If the person you love is attempting to be nice to you, don’t reject it. Don’t focus on the time or the place or the wording or the price. Sometimes it really is the thought that counts.
  2. Don’t give someone something and then hold it against them. Her: “I don’t care if you cut the grass tomorrow.” Him: “Ok.” The next day, her: “The weather was nice today. Why didn’t you cut the grass?” Don’t say things you don’t mean.
  3. If you think your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend is hot, then somebody else probably thinks they are, too. Don’t freak out because somebody gives your loved one a little extra attention. It’s okay to be a little insecure. It’s not okay to make your loved one walk on egg shells every time he/she is around someone of the opposite sex.
  4. Don’t treat your loved one like a patient, and don’t allow yourself to be treated like a patient. Your loved one is not a project. They’re not a problem to be fixed. They’re not a doll to be decorated. They’re not a child to be punished. Women tend to be “fixers.” Helping is one thing; fixing is something else.

That’s all. For now.

Lyrically Speaking

I love music. I love slow songs, fast songs, pop songs, love songs, rock songs, and everything in between…except modern country music. And the main reason I do not like modern country music is because the lyrics are so shallow. How many different ways can people sing about tan lines, drinking, and big trucks? Evidently, about 1,000 different ways. The lyrics, therefore, are boring, which makes the songs less interesting. I want a song to invade my head AND my heart. So, without further ado (whatever that means), here are the 10 best-written songs I have ever heard. (Keep in mind that I will inevitably forget a few and forget to edit this list, but these are the first ones that come to mind.)

  1. The Sound Of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel). Paul Simon wrote this in his bathroom, with the lights turned down. Seriously. It’s where he did a lot of writing. First line of the song: “Hello, darkness, my old friend…I’ve come to talk with you again…”
  2. Black (Pearl Jam). “All the love gone bad, turned my world to black…tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I’ll beeeeeeeeee…..”
  3. The Whiter Shade Of Pale (Procol Harum). Haunting. Mesmerizing. You don’t know if it’s a love song or the saddest song ever written. Is it a dream, hallucination, or fantasy? What I know for sure is that it’s brilliant.
  4. Love Me Tender (Elvis). I hesitate to put any love songs on here because love is the theme of most music. There’s too much competition. But…this song is isn’t vague, too mushy, or cheesy. Just a straightforward, rip-out-your-liver love song.
  5. Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen). This song and The Whiter Shade Of Pale tied for the Best Song From 1952-1977 in Britain at the Brit Awards. There is no other song like it. Period. It really belongs in its own category. It has three movements, like an opera. The lyrics are totally bananas, yet fans belt them out when they sing it as if they make perfect sense. Freddie Mercury was asked once what the lyrics mean, particularly the middle verse. He said, “Nothing. They’re just words.”
  6. Fire And Rain (James Taylor). The first verse is about his friend Suzanne who killed herself, and Taylor wasn’t told of her death until a few days after her passing. Then he sings about how his life changed after the demise of his first band, The Flying Machines. In the midst of so much loss, he sings, “Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end. I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend. But I always thought I’d see you again.”
  7. Hallelujah (Jeff Buckley). This song has been covered by a million people, but the only version that matters is Buckley’s. It’s actually a cover of Leonard Cohen’s song, but even Cohen didn’t do it as well as Buckley. Many people would put the song number one on this list, and I wouldn’t argue with them. It’s a beautifully constructed song, with biblical underpinnings. What does it mean? Is it about love or God or both? Like all great songs, it’s exactly whatever you think it is. And you can’t forget it. (Buckley only had one album, and this song was on it. During some off time while he was recording his second album, he drowned in the Mississippi River, on an evening swim by himself. He was only 30 years old.)
  8. The Unforgiven (Metallica). A song about a bitter man whose life has been dictated by others, The Unforgiven is a song for modern times. So many young people who have been the victim of bullying can relate to someone who sings, “What I’ve felt, what I’ve known, never shined through in what I’ve shown. Never be. Never me. So I dub thee unforgiven.” (The fact they chose “thee” instead of “you” is also kinda genius.)
  9. Purple Rain (Prince). A perfect marriage of music and lyrics. This is a top five favorite song of mine. Blazing guitar solos by the greatest guitarist ever (yes, Prince is the greatest guitarist ever) and a great opening line (“I never meant to cause you any sorrow…”) make this a masterpiece.
  10. He Stopped Loving Her Today. (George Jones). Considered to be the greatest country song of all time, this Jones tear-jerker balances love and death. Incredibly sad and incredibly loving. “He stopped loving her today. They placed a wreath upon his door. And soon they’ll carry him away. He stopped loving her today.” Jones almost didn’t record it. He said nobody would like it–it was too sad. He was wrong.

No Good Answers (Well, Some)

Seventeen children were gunned down in a high school in Parkland, FL, and the response was predictable. Liberals called for more gun restrictions. Conservatives called for more armed security guards at schools. Everyone simply dusted off the same political positions they have held dear since they began caring about politics. Parkland is in a heavily Democratic area of Florida, so it was no surprise that the students called for more gun control, a position they had undoubtedly learned from their left-leaning parents. All predictable. All routine.

We are a divided country because we would rather be loyal to our politics than be reasonable, nuanced, and objective. The guns/school shooting issue highlights this divide. And it’s not going away.

For what it’s worth, here is what I would do if I were in charge of all time and space.

  1. Ban all high magazine rifles. That doesn’t mean that all existing high magazine rifles will instantly disappear, but as a matter of principle, we should all agree that those guns have no useful purpose among the citizenry other than to kill lots of people at once. Hard core conservatives will say, “That’s a slippery slope. Once you start banning some guns, eventually you’ll ban all guns.” No, I won’t. The First Amendment guarantees the right of free speech…but it is not an absolute right. In 1919, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that free speech does not cover someone “falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a theater and causing a panic.” And any speech that directly causes others to commit criminal acts is not covered, either. The First Amendment hasn’t evaporated simply because we restrict some speech. All rights have limitations. Putting regulations on certain weapons is consistent with how all the Bill of Rights are applied.
  2. Allow handguns to be purchased after instant background checks for anyone over 18. I don’t want any 18-year-old to have an AR-15. But I do want an 18-year-old woman who lives by herself to be able to purchase a handgun quickly to protect herself against a stalker. Liberals don’t like this. They say that no one under 21 should be able to purchase any gun, because one can’t buy a beer until he/she is 21. But that’s an apples to oranges argument. I can live with a gun every day for years and the gun itself will have no effect on my judgment at all.
  3. Require every new school to have at least two armed, trained security guards on campus during school hours. All existing schools must present a two-year plan to have increased security, or lose state and/or federal funding. Even after all these shootings, most schools have little to no security, and visitors are allowed entry into the schools without as much as a wink. That’s unacceptable.
  4. Do not allow teachers to carry weapons. I like armed teachers…in theory. What I don’t like is students knowing that there are loaded weapons in the building that they don’t have to pay for and they don’t have to bring into the building. On balance, I would err on the side of teachers not having weapons. Leave the guns to the trained officers who are patrolling the building.
  5. Any student who makes a threat–whether serious or joking–will be expelled from school and be charged with a felony. Words have meaning. Threats are not free speech. If you act like a potential shooter, you will be treated as a potential shooter.

Here’s the thing: None of these ideas–individually or collectively–will end school shootings forever. That’s the problem when these issues are debated–each side thinks that if their idea would just be implemented, shootings would end overnight. But they won’t. Hey, murder has been illegal forever. Has the law against murder prevented murder? Nope, but the law has prevented many more murders from happening. Laws do not eliminate crime; they just represent how a society views certain activity.

My list addresses the gun issue and the security issue. A little bit of both. I think it’s a reasonable list of proposals. I think they are things that can be done without an incredible inconvenience or cost to local law enforcement or schools. But that’s just me. What do I know?

Valentine’s Day And Double Standards

Tomorrow (February 14) is a made up holiday. I know, I know–they all are, to some extent. But Valentine’s Day is different. Hallmark and other card and candy companies have created this day so people will buy their products. The only love they have on February 14 is for the Almighty Dollar. And that’s fine. Capitalism is based on profit motivation. Just like Red Lobster is in a perpetual “Lobster Fest,” and every mattress store is constantly going out of business, Hallmark can create a marketing plan that highlights their products.

But Valentine’s Day is not your average marketing gimmick holiday: it’s a test. Here is the only question on the Valentine’s Day test: Will the guy get the girl something “special” on Valentine’s Day? That’s what the whole day is about. Women are off the hook. They can get their boyfriend literally anything (or nothing) and nobody will care. She has no pressure or expectations. All of her friends will ask on February 15, “What did (insert boyfriend’s or husband’s name) get you yesterday?” and giggle. The guy is under the Romance Microscope. He has to perform. And if he doesn’t perform to her expectations–even if that means he wasn’t able to read her mind about what she wants–she is allowed to complain, roll her eyes, or basically object to the gift any way she wants. A girl might be reading this (I’m doubtful that anybody is reading this) and say, “Oh, I’m not like that. I love him. He can get me anything he wants. I’m not materialistic.” Uh, you’re lying. Plain and simple. You might be good at hiding your disgust. You might say all the right things. You might even wear the hideous sweater he got you or put on a fake smile when he gets you the wrong sized, wrong shaped, and wrong priced ring, but inside you are thinking, “This is not what I wanted. Why didn’t he get me what I wanted?” Then some day–maybe years from now–you will finally tell him about that Valentine’s Day when he got you that terrible gift and how it hurt your feelings. If you are a female human being in a relationship with a male human being on February 14, this is exactly how you feel about Valentine’s Day. This is indisputable.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not anti-gift-giving. I am not opposed to expressions of love. Love should be shown every day by people who love each other. What I am opposed to are double standards. Ladies, ask yourself these questions, and try–if at all possible–to answer them honestly:

  1. Do you expect to be treated a certain way by your husband or boyfriend?
  2. Have you told him how you expect to be treated?
  3. Do you get irritated if he does not treat you that way?

If you have answered “yes” to all three questions, good. It means you are a fully functioning American female. But let’s continue.

  1. Does your husband or boyfriend expect you to treat him a certain way?
  2. Has he given you a detailed list of expectations (verbally or otherwise)?
  3. When he told you, did you try to honor those requests, or did you think he was being selfish?

Here is where the separation occurs. Some women would answer, “I honored the requests to the best of my ability” to question three, but others–if they were truly being honest–would answer, “Who does he think he is telling me what to do?” to question three. Therein lies the double standard. Women, for whatever reason, are allowed to expect and/or demand certain treatment, while men are told to go along to get along. That’s why we have phrases like, “If momma ain’t happy, nobody is happy.” That’s why you never hear about a wife having to sleep on the couch. That’s why women are never “in the dog house.” That’s why it’s okay for women to have a “headache” and refuse sex, and the husband is supposed to nod his head, say something sweet, and roll over…or face the wrath. I come to these conclusions honestly. I have counseled dozens of couples over the years, and these themes are repeated time and again. The husband is constantly irritated that he is always trying to hit a moving target on how he can please his wife. She, in turn, is frustrated that he is not smarter, more compassionate, more thoughtful, more…everything. If he’s quiet, he should talk more. If he talks too much, he should be quiet. And so on. But if the roles were reversed, he would be seen as an inconsiderate, demanding jerk, and in some cases–considering the culture we live in today–emotionally abusive.

So, Valentine’s Day feeds the beast of female double standards. Watch the commercials. Notice how many are focused on what the guy will get the girl on Valentine’s Day. Some are about what the couple will do on Valentine’s Day. Very few will focus on what the girl will get the guy, which is strange considering that this holiday is supposed to be about love and not about the servicing of women.

Valentine’s Day is a lot of things. But first and foremost, it’s about a hollow, artificial, materialistic, double standard version of love. And sadly, we’ve all bought into it.


My mom, Dianne Downey Hoover Hayes, died on August 31, 2003 at about 2:00 a.m. She was 57.

It all started in the spring of 1999. I was in the last month of my last semester of college. Mom and Dad were in the last year of tuition payments. Since my oldest brother, Mark, started first grade in 1974, they had been paying for private school for three sons–twelve years of private elementary, middle, and high school, plus private college for all of us. The end was near. Their youngest was three weeks away from graduation. Retirement was less than ten years away for both of them.

But life doesn’t always go as planned. Mom went for a routine mammogram and got bad news. There was a small lump. She couldn’t feel it. She felt fine. But it was cancer. She came home after receiving the final diagnosis to tell everybody. I was reading the newspaper on the couch. She said, “I went to the doctor today. I have breast cancer.” I lowered the newspaper, made some dismissive comment, then went back to reading. On the outside, I looked tough. On the inside, I was in shock. I was scared. Breast cancer is treatable these days, but I had no idea how things would turn out for her. So, I put on a good face and went about my business.

They scheduled surgery to have the lump removed and start chemotherapy. A simple blood test before chemo revealed elevated liver enzymes, so they did some more testing and found another tumor on her kidney. The doctors decided to remove the kidney then do chemo for the breast cancer. That surgery went as planned. She underwent a series of chemo treatments (I think 7-8) and radiation treatments while still maintaining a work schedule at Madison church of Christ where she was the Senior Saints Coordinator. Her hair fell out (but she got a wig from a lady who had made some wigs for Dolly Parton).  It took about a year to do all the surgeries and chemo and recover from all of it. Then…she was in remission. She felt good. She looked good. I remember her bouncing around the house one Saturday, cleaning and joking. She stopped and said, “I haven’t felt this good in a long time.” She was happy. We all were. She was in full remission for about a year.

But there are valleys around every mountain, and her valley came soon enough. It was the summer of 2003. Another scan revealed that a tumor had formed in the duct between her pancreas and liver. It was inoperable. The best they could do is treat her with harsh chemo. She got jaundiced because her liver could not function properly. She was hospitalized. One day at the hospital, Dad and I were talking about multivitamins. Mom and Dad always took them. I never did. Mom said, “You don’t eat healthy. You need the vitamins to be sure you get what you need.” I said, “Mom, you’re in a hospital bed. You’re in no condition to be giving speeches about health.” She laughed really hard. I always felt good when I could make her laugh.

Our primary doctor came by one day to see her. He asked Dad and I to come out into the hallway. He got out a note pad and drew a rough sketch of the digestive system. He drew a circle around the duct where the tumor was. He said, “If chemo doesn’t work, her body will shut down. It will be her demise.” He was saying out loud what we already knew: Mom’s chances of survival were slim.

She was released from the hospital. Her color improved some, but her movements were slow. She couldn’t work. She was basically shut in. She would feel good enough some days to want to go out to eat, but when she and Dad got to the restaurant, she couldn’t eat. One day as she was walking to the bathroom, she fell. She didn’t break anything, but we knew something was wrong. We took her to her oncologist in a wheelchair. As I sat beside her in the waiting room, I noticed that she wasn’t looking directly at things. I said, “Mom, can you see me?” She turned in my direction, but she didn’t look me in the eyes. “Sure,” she said. But I knew she couldn’t. I was convinced she was blind. She had had a mini stroke. She wasn’t in the doctor’s office long. When Dad brought her back to the waiting room, he just looked at me and shook his head. I knew what He meant.

That was on Monday. Hospice came to the house on Tuesday and said she had two weeks to live, tops. She was still alert, though. She knew she was dying. Family and friends streamed into the house all week. Dad’s best man and his wife drove from Chattanooga to see her. People brought food. Stories were told. My niece, who was only four years old, fed mom ice chips. Then the end came. Mom fell asleep for the last time, at home, surrounded by her husband, three sons, her brother and sister.

She never got to experience the retired life. She never got to spend money on herself. She didn’t get to travel to the places she always wanted to go when she retired. That always bothered me. But she got to retire from this world of sin and death and receive her eternal reward. And that’s the best retirement. And for that, I am thankful.

The Sexual Devolution

The genesis of the sexual revolution is hard to date. The earliest overt demonstration of sex in the public realm was the creation of Playboy magazine by Hugh Hefner in 1953. Playboy featured pictures of fully naked women (as if you didn’t know that). Then there was Woodstock and the hippie movement of the late 1960s, when women burned their bras and considered “free love” to be a human right that should be celebrated. Soon afterwards, “peep shows” and adult movie theaters popped up around metropolitan areas. But nothing “sexualized” American culture more than online pornography. I have heard that 40 percent of the Internet is pornography. Forty. Percent.

So what has the sexual revolution accomplished for women? How has it improved their lives? Radical feminists will say that the sexual revolution has given women the right to do what men have always done–express their sexuality in public (or in any way they see fit). Whether that is a good thing can be debated ad nauseam.

But here are the negative things that the sexual revolution either directly or indirectly caused or exacerbated:

Unwanted pregnancies

Sexual harassment

Sex trafficking

Failed marriages/relationships due to the use of online pornography

Objectification of women

Warped self-images among young women

I have neither the time nor the inclination to debate if these things would have happened if the sexual revolution had never happened. No one knows. But I also live in the real world. Nearly every day for the past several months there has been a report of sexual harassment against someone in Hollywood–ground zero for the advancement of the sexual revolution. Coincidence? I think not.

Now the liberals are trying to re-draw the boundaries for sexual expression. Their solutions sound like things your conservative grandparents would’ve recommended: Don’t treat women as sexual objects. Respect their intellect. Honor their value.

More men would be doing that today if the so-called “progressives” didn’t think that the world would be better if we could see more naked women.

An Unexpected Phone Call

I was paddled in the fourth grade. When it came to punishment, my elementary school firmly believed the beatings would continue until morale improved (well, maybe that’s too harsh, but paddlings happened frequently).  I considered my crime a misdemeanor, but my teacher thought it was a first degree felony.  While the room was deathly silent, I started whistling. I didn’t do it to be funny or rebellious; I was just whistling. The teacher, Mrs. Stamps, told me to stop, so I did. A few minutes later, I started whistling again. I honestly don’t remember if I did it just to get a laugh or not, but it got some laughs, nonetheless. Mrs. Stamps was writing on the chalkboard (for all you millennials out there, teachers used to write with chalk on slate boards), and she whipped around and yelled, “Get out!” I was terrified. I slowly got up and walked into the hallway. A minute or so went by and three of my buddies joined me in the hallway. What was their crime? They were laughing at my whistling. So, they were sort of accessories after the fact. We were a little gang–whistling and laughing our way to certain doom.

We didn’t say a word to each other. We all knew our fate. We were getting paddled, and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it. Mrs. Stamps came out into the hallway, walked straight past us and got Mrs. Senn out of her room. Mrs. Senn would have to serve as the witness. So, one by one we each grabbed our ankles and took three whacks on the backside from Mrs. Stamps’s wooden paddle. Reminder: I was paddled for whistling at Goodpasture Christian School, AKA, North Korea.

Fast forward almost 30 years. I was minding my own business one night when my house phone rang. (For all you millennials out there, people used to have a phone at their house that didn’t have Minecraft on it.) Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: “Hello.”

Unfamiliar woman’s voice: “James, this is Mrs. Stamps. Do you remember me?”

Me, after I passed out: “Yes, ma’am. Of course. How are you?”

Mrs. Stamps: “Well, I am not doing so well. I was thinking about my former students, and your name came up. Do you remember when I paddled you?”

Me, still hearing the echo of each swat in the recesses of my memory: “Yes, ma’am.”

Mrs. Stamps, now crying: “Did you deserve that? I think you didn’t deserve that. I am so sorry.”

Me, feeling both vindication for me and sorrow for her: “Mrs. Stamps, you did what you thought was right. I was a child. It was your call to make. I have no hard feelings toward you.”

Mrs. Stamps, still crying: “I’m just so sorry. You were a good boy. I don’t think you deserved that.”

Me, not knowing what to say next: “You shouldn’t feel bad.”

We said a few more pleasantries and ended the call. It was the first time I had talked to her since my last day in her class.

I might be the first student in the history of modern civilization to get an unsolicited apology from an elementary teacher for a spanking I may or may not have deserved. It was surreal. As unnecessary as that call was, I have to think that it took an incredible amount of guts for her to make it. Most people would consider the paddling water under the bridge. But something made her call me. Our consciences are funny like that. Some things eat us up. We have to do something or say something just to regain sanity.

I didn’t need that phone call, but she did. Good for her.