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Ripples from bad parenting costs us all down the road
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Like most people, I tend to be so focused on my own "thing," my "agenda," that I can drive around town blind to what's going on. Lately, however, I've picked up on some tragic sights in Ceres. I'm amazed at what I see:

• A long-haired man, a throwback to the '70s, peddles a bicycle as his eyes dart about the neighborhood scouring for things to pilfer to support his drug habit.

• A collection of scary-looking people who have no money for entertainment so they resort to congregate on the junk-littered lawn of their rented Lawrence Street house and watch traffic go by.

• A leathery-faced woman staggers across Fourth Street as I arrive for work, apparently wandering nowhere but to the curb where she sits and hangs her head on her knees in a drugged stupor.

• A goofy-acting woman struts down the sidewalk, loopy from either her mental state or fueled by a fifth of Jack Daniels.

• A gruffy panhandler sits atop the Hatch Road overpass with eyes seeking to connect with the eyes of someone better off, yes, perhaps a sucker who may fall for his sign that should read, UNABLE TO FIND WORK BECAUSE OF MY STATE OF BEING.

My first reaction is to get judgmental about the condition of unfortunate people or criminals. My tendency to get critical and judgmental is somewhat of a character flaw of mine. (Journalists tend to run a cynical streak since being taken advantage of can ruin a writer.)

But the big heart inside me gushes pity and struggles to understand how a person gets to be in a less than desirable state. Certainly, mental illness plays a huge role in some of what I've described. But in many cases, the failure was somewhere else. In some life stories, it's easy to understand how a person can lose heart, lose hope, lose focus, just stop caring.

Truly, life can be brutally difficult. And we all need to humble ourselves and remind us "but for the grace of God, go I." An accident, a disability, a series of unfortunate events, a disease can change a life in an instant. Better people than I have lost it all.

I keep having to remind myself that my judgmental-ness damages more than it ever has the capacity to help. I've seen, however, the power of an action by someone who cares. A compliment, a good deed, a caring word or a helpful deed. It almost invariably costs the giver but blesses the receiver in ways we cannot imagine.

While one's background is no "excuse" to steal or abuse drugs or alcohol or live off the system - lead messed up lives, if you will - I have no doubt that it started with parents who failed miserably at raising children. A friend of mine tells of the pain in his childhood. His father, who put his life on the line for strangers as a Stanislaus County Sheriff's deputy, failed to protect his own son. His dad used to punch him, break bones, abuse him and once even used a Taser on him to amuse his contemporaries.

Other parents are less direct. They just don't care. They don't offer love nor tell their kids they are loved and valued. Their lack of love or critical spirit breaks children and frustrates them. No wonder so many people grow up and decide to self medicate; they just don't want to feel the pain. The problem with drugs is they never takes care of the issue; they just make things worse by destroying bodies, minds, relationships and families.

Parents simply must start caring and do whatever it takes to protect and nourish their children, to support them and love them unconditionally. We get messed up adults when they fail to do their job properly.

I got a mouth full of humble pie last week when I attended a group called Celebrate Recovery. It's a preferred option, in my book, to Alcoholics Anonymous but operates as a Christian-based 12-step program. Those steps include admitting our failures, our powerlessness to change on our own and therefore God is needed and taking inventory and make amends. The people in the group openly shared their struggles in their road to healing.

Unfortunately, many have the misconception that CR is only for chemically dependent persons. Not true. In fact, CR takes great pains to point out this truth: Everyone of us is "broken" in some way. All of us carry hurts or suffer from habits and hang-ups. All of us would do well to examine them and seek to become stronger people, not bitter one.

A CR program is conducted here in Ceres on Fridays starting at 6 p.m. at Ceres Christian Church, 3502 Roeding Road. The program welcomes anyone looking to make progress in any area of brokenness that is troublesome.

I don't think I am alone in my critical spirit toward others. I think we'd all be much better people, indeed a much better society, if we practiced developing a tender heart, when we see a drunk, a derelict, a thief and a drug addict. They really have no less value than I in God's eyes. Each one is someone's child, brother, sister, mother, father - someone to be prized not as who they are but who they can become.

That goes for ourselves. We need to look deep at times and think soberly about areas we need to improve.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at