Archive for February, 2012

Water between my fingers

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Kids, Lessons, Parenting, Reflection

I was inspired this week by a wonderful analogy; being a parent and trying to raise our children and influence them is like trying to hold water in my hands.  No matter how tightly I try to grip, water seeps out between my fingers.  In much the same way, no matter what I do as a parent, only a portion of what I share with them will be retained no matter how significant my effort.

Admittedly, this is a rather sobering vision.  In a conversation I had yesterday, it was pointed out to me that Revelations talks about our world getting worse all the time, in an inexorable slide.  The analogy struck home with me coupled with this fact, because it always does seem like I keep trying to “pour” good information and influence into my kids, but it trickles out into a world seeming to go further and further astray.  I wrote about our local tragedy here in my last post, and this has led to a lot of reflection this week as I consume media sources about the event and just see how things have changed.

A correlation my fiancée has drawn is the decline of society running parallel to the removal of prayer and corporal punishment from schools.  We talked about it last night and as I explained I can agree with those things running in parallel with the overall slide, but I disagree with them being a causal event of the decline.  I do not believe she was really tying those things together in that way, as she explained it over the course of the conversation, but initially that was what I believed she was alluding to.  I believe the decline in society over time caused those events to occur and they were merely indicators of how pervasive the changes were becoming.

If you look back to the founding of our country, the “separation of church and state” clauses that current pundits push have always been present, but it is only in the last few decades that prayer in schools and other such supposed issues have come to be a cause of concern for some.  I do not think corporal punishment has a helpful effect, but that is based on my personal experiences.  I, like many of my generation, grew up in a house where “wait till your dad gets home” was a disciplinary tactic.  When dad did get home I would usually be spanked or some other physical discipline was administered.  Did this make me respect my parents or truly internalize my need to change my behavior?  In my case, no.  I obeyed from a position of fear, similar to why a hardened criminal may obey because of the threat of solitary, or a lab rat will stop touching the cheese to avoid a shock.  Their deep seated belief did not change, they simply conformed to avoid pain.  Only when I was able to think through the behavior and consequences of the world did I have a true change of heart.

Returning to influence on our children, this is the same impact.  Over time I have determined that what I see as most effective is influential conformance rather than forced conformance.  This is why I disagree with anyone who suggests that if we had prayer in schools or corporal punishment that these would curb the violence we see in schools.  I believe that what we are seeing is a validation of the fact that societal influence is having a more profound effect on behavior than forcing ever does.  No matter what I do with my children I need to realize that slowly it will trickle away, and if I do not continuously replenish the input, it will come from somewhere else, be it other people, media, etc.  I have grown over time as a parent from thinking in my younger days that I could make my kids think like me by sheer will power and “forcing” to understanding that I can only influence to truly change their heart.

 As our children age, a significant shift occurs.  We will always be their parents, but as they transition to adulthood, we move from a position of telling them what to do, to asking them to do what we want.  When they are small we can observe and have visual evidence that they are obeying.  I get them in the car and I can see that they have buckled their seat belts.  Since they cannot drive I know that whenever they are going somewhere they are wearing their seatbelt.  When they become older, I can still see them get in the car and buckle the seatbelt, but the moment they are off the driveway and out of my sight, I can only trust that they have their seatbelt on.  Telling them what to do has now turned to asking.  The influence I have on them will trickle through my fingers no matter how hard I squeeze.  It is a scary thought at times and I know the only option I have is to just hope they drink the water before it all seeps away.

Shots fired

Posted: February 28, 2012 in Kids, Parenting

I live with my children in northeast Ohio.  As many of you reading this in the US know, we had a senseless tragedy today in a high school in Chardon where five students were injured by a gun wielding student.  At the time I write this one of them has died.  As a parent, I feel great pain and sorrow for this day on so many levels, and of course immediately go many times a day to the children that God has brought into my life as my personal responsibility whether they be my biological children or those of my fiancée who have become part of my life through marriage.

One of my company’s offices is located in one of the largest cities in the US but we have not heard from nay of the people there.  Ex-employees of the Ohio office have called to find out if anyone was affected, and it became a topic of discussion at lunch today.  When there was a business shooting less than two miles from the other office people here called to see if everyone at our company was OK.  The people local there were not even aware there was a shooting.  The discussion was more philosophical because we do not know why this is the case.  Is it because of the “big city” mentality where focus is on self, or is it that Midwest character that really does seem to make people in the center of the country more people focused than on either of the edges?  We had people in both camps as we discussed the cause.

Regardless of what it was, it did not take long to see how in a smaller city, even though we were dozens of miles from the actual location of the shooting, ties ran deep.  An employee at our office had a son who was a freshman at the school.  We found out about the shooting mere minutes after it happened because of him when the school called the employee to inform him that the school was on lock down.  His son was in the café for study hall in the morning, and this is where the shooter began.  Concern permeated our office, and an hour later we heard his son had responded.  He was OK.  At the same time I received a text from my Divorce Care leader.  Her daughter-in-law works with the grandparents of one of the students who were shot.   Prayers were requested and I was all too happy to oblige and add them to my ongoing thoughts.

For those of you familiar with Columbine in Colorado, or any of the myriad of other school shootings, they evoke a unique sense of fear and helplessness in a parent.  When Columbine occurred I had a two month old daughter, and school was a distant reality.  I could empathize, but only on a basic level.  In addition that incident took place in some town I knew nothing about and which was hundreds of miles away from where I lived.  Oh how easy it is to go into the “It wouldn’t happen here mode” that God seems to provide us with to get us to not freeze up and cease to function as we struggle.

Today’s event occurred in a town I had visited many times for various activities.  My son took martial arts lessons there at one point.  They have a great candy store, one of the few still around that I took my kids to two summers ago when I came across it driving through town one day.  It is small town America, with only about 31,000 inhabitants, 1,100 of which were in that building as this unknown student began to fire his weapon.  Though I had lived here just a couple years, within an hour I now had two people I was connected with that had connections to someone who dearly loved at least one of those souls know in jeopardy.  The difference in what I felt during Columbine and what I felt today was so vast it was really overwhelming.  Similar to hearing about all the people that die of cancer, heart disease or other common killers and then having someone you love in the throes of that disease.  It knocks the wind out of you.  As we sat around at lunch and the news rolled in, three grown men had tears in their eyes as we took it all in.

We found out during that lunch that our employee’s son was about twenty feet away from some students that were shot.  We also knew by then that one of the students had died, and one of our group received a phone call from his wife during lunch.  The young man that had died lived across the street from her parents.  He had known the boy in passing over the years as he had played over at his in-laws house sometimes when they visited.  The connections were being made and it hit us all very hard.  Later that afternoon in texting my Divorce Care leader the news I found out that the boy she had asked me to pray for, was this same child.  The grandparents of this young man were co-workers of her daughter-in-law.  Six degrees of separation at work in a strange and macabre way.

The discussions throughout that day were many and varied and the thoughts in my head in addition took me to different arenas as well.  Let me walk you through some of them.

First was the comparison and contrast to the school environments we grew up in and those our children now face.  At my school all the doors were open and unlocked and students could come and go as they pleased.  Schoolyard fights were the norm once in a while, I had my share of being bullied for being a nerd, not wearing the latest clothing style but I handled it.  I think I remember a knife being confiscated once out of a “burn out’s” locker, but never even a discussion of a firearm.  Hall monitors were teachers or little old men who had retired and needed something to do in the era before the Wal-Mart greeter.  The local high school in town serves between three and four thousand students and there are two entrances that they all must funnel through.  Both are manned by active police officers and metal detectors.  We had nuclear drills, the old “duck and cover” where we would hide under our desks to be safe from the nuclear wrath that the Soviets were going to rain down on us any day.  I shudder to think of the parallel.  Here I was as a child believing that a desk would save me from a nuclear warhead, and now kids were huddling under desks in Chardon to be safe from a gunman who simply bent down and shot them.  The Columbine library was similar with several of the victims “hiding” in plain view under an exposed table, but when in crisis mode our minds try to rationalize the irrational.

A football coach chased the student out of the building.  As we talked about that at lunch, we all agreed we’d like to think we’d do the same in that situation, but we were all honest in saying we were not sure.  It’s easy to be the hero at the lunch table where the only thing threatening your life is the cholesterol you are building up that will maybe kill you decades down the road versus a gun in the hands of a troubled young person with who knows what agenda on their mind.

The next issue was just the loss of innocence of our children today.  I can never recall even having a remote thought in all my years of school, even through college, when I ever felt that I would be in physical danger of never coming home at the end of the day because I would be shot by another person, let alone a classmate.  With a bullying incident with my daughter as victim earlier this year, the viciousness of today’s youth was already on my mind.  It is still impossible for me to fathom the depths of despair that drives someone to this type of action.  I could certainly say I was quite heavily bullied in my childhood, but I never contemplated killing the bullies.  My children now need to worry about these events and with guns being the solution of choice now rather than fists the victim count had the potential to rise to scary levels as it did in Columbine.  My soul regularly cries out for the lack of childhood my kids have as it is.  It is in full blown screaming agony after a day like today.

So then we delve into the deeper recesses of this situation.

Why do these things happen?  I read the book “Columbine” along with my daughter late last year, and even full blown experts take years to figure it out.  In this case the shooter is alive and can be questioned, so that should help, but our kids have been so programmed to answer with the standard responses that it gives little comfort.  Just as in Columbine the shooters were first labeled as “outsiders” but then the book explained that Eric Harris was one of the most popular kids in school and this was not accurate, the initial reports from the school by many students were that they all knew him but he was an “outcast”.  So easy to label, because if we call it an aberration it makes it easier to comprehend, we think, but as a parent it gives me the opposite effect.  I also heard the expected answer later in the day, “the student was heavily bullied and this was the cause of the shooting”.  I love the freedoms of America, but in these times I want to muzzle the media and make the take responsibility for the garbage they spread.  No one knows in eight hours what the motive is.  We barely were told at that time the identity of the shooter.  God forbid if they don’t get “the scoop”.  Instead they fill the world with false information that takes on a life of its own.  As you looked on the media sites at the same time there were one or two shooters, 3 -5 victims and other impossible contradictions.  So what did I get to deal with when I got home?  My daughter saying, “a kid shot people because he was bullied”.  Thanks irresponsible media for making the job of parenting even more difficult at the worst possible times.  And my parents wonder why I haven’t watched the TV news with any regularity for the last seven years.  They peddle in fear not fact.  By creating a sense of drama and tragedy beyond the scope of reality, they draw people in and cause terror.

I am one of those people that will place the blame, if you will, for these types of events on the regular erosion of society and the family over the last thirty years.  To those who post on blogs today that school shootings were just as common when we were kids they just were not reported I respond to that with a rip-roaring “bullshit!”  I went to school then, and as I said there was never a sense of impending peril as there is now.  Rougher behavior is accepted.  If most students mouthed off to a teacher or counselor their parents dealt out the discipline at home and that child was straightened out quickly.  Today even the good kids know they can snap and talk back to adults with abandon without any real consequence since it is the adults who are unable to respond and not the students.  Say the “wrong” thing to a student these days and you are liable to be sued and possibly lose your job.  And this “wrong” thing is usually as common as simply letting a parent know that their student is a poor student.  Sure in my childhood, not everyone was a winner either, but now the losers respond with violence at an exceptional rate.  Is it a lack of parenting?  Perhaps at times.  Is it a lack of God in their lives?  I think this is a larger and larger source.  Someone explained today that they told their wife that “Danica was on the pole in the Nationwide race”  His wife responded, “Why do you make everything sexual?”  He was not, he was just being factual but she was responding to the increasing programming of our world where innocent comments are considered the exception now.  When parents and churches no longer teach morality and the difference between right and wrong and how to handle situations, how do we want our kids to learn?

An additional item is the rebuilding in this environment we live in of the confidence and security in the children in Chardon and the surrounding communities to return to school.  I rejoice for the physical safety of my co-worker’s son, but cried out in anguish as the impact to his mental well-being that being twenty feet from a fellow student who was shot will have.  How do you get that out of your mind and walk back into that school and sit in that cafeteria?  How do you trust the world again?  As a parent we are to keep our children safe.  How can we feel secure in our jobs when we can’t even send them to school and be certain of their safety?  These were the discussions in small groups throughout the day in my office.

The stupidity of the media continued to plug away at me when I got home.  My daughter wanted to watch some of the news to hear what happened.  After fifteen minutes I told her we needed to turn it off and explained why.  They had an “internet expert” (how does one get that title, really?) who was suggesting that the school should use social media to monitor students and foretell these things.  In a school with 1,100 students, what does she want them to do?  Log onto 1,100 FaceBook and Twitter accounts each morning and check them out?  The idiocy of the suggestion just floored me.  Yet I promise you less technically savvy parents who saw this “expert” will be contacting the school asking them when they will begin doing this and cause the school to waste valuable resources chasing a dream rather than doing something that could really help like teaching students how to identify and report concerning behavior.  In addition, the comments of others on the broadcast of how school shootings are “common”.  Really!?  They are more frequent than they were but I have seen no actual statistics that they are “common”.  It certainly would help if the commenter would quantify what that means.

So tonight my kids seem in good shape.  I have not yet talked to my fiancee to see how hers are doing.  I mourn for the dead student and pray for his family.  I pray for everyone involved in the shooting as they all need God’s guidance and assistance at this time.  I mourn for the continued effects of a broken world that my children will inherit and hope that God will guide their hand in a productive way to improve the situation, full well knowing that generations before me have done the same thing.  I am spiritually grounded and taught enough to know this is not some indicator of imminent end times, though some yahoo somewhere will use this as another “indicator”.  I also sadly agree with the comment someone made at work that some funny student will arrive when school resumes and set off a firecracker or something else because they think it is hilarious and set off a wave of new emotion in students who are still healing.  I am grateful for my faith at times like these.  It is easy to have faith when all we need to do is praise God for the blessings He provides.  The testing is in the times when we have no control, such as every morning when we send our kids off to school, and trust that God will keep a troubled young person from acting out because they feel no other way will work.  Faith is built in good times, but forged to strength in the bad times.  Here in our area, I pray that God is doing a lot of forging right now.

Divided allegiance

Posted: February 24, 2012 in Random

This month has been highly political.  We’ve had all the Presidential nomination activity.  President’s Day places our historical leaders front and center in our minds.  It had me really thinking about things as I look at raising a family and where we are at and possibly headed.

Much of this stems back to my family’s background.  My parents were both born and raised into early adulthood in Poland.  They came over with their parents when they were in high school and met here, in America.  One came from the city and one had been raised on a farm in the country.  Both had difficult lives growing up in a Communist Bloc country and the lack of freedom’s that provides.  Their parents felt this country was a better place to make their lives than Poland was and so they made the difficult journey by boat overseas and had the proverbial immigrant experience of having little or no money, not speaking the language and building a life in a foreign land. 

Growing up for them quickly became about raising a family as I was born when they were very young.  My dad worked hard in a factory job moving up over the year’s until he was in management.  It was a great example of what makes this country a wonderful place to me.  His previous station in Poland had nothing to do with what he could accomplish here.  He learned English and though he still talks with an accent to this day, he functions perfectly well in American culture.  My grandparents learned enough English to maintain jobs but really were more comfortable speaking Polish.  One of the most impactful things I recall from my childhood was how my maternal grandmother used her time and energy after my grandfather passed away when I was twelve to become a way for other immigrants who wanted to make the journey to America to make the transition.  She would open her home and help them get on their feet and did this not just with distant relatives, but with strangers who were friends of friends in some cases.  She worked hard to get them to see the benefit of this country and how they could succeed here.  They would live with her for a year or two, women, men, she really worked with anyone and then they would move out on their own.  I know she kept in touch with them, but in most cases I do not recall seeing them again.  She kept this up until Poland moved out from under Soviet domination when the emigration process out of Poland became much easier.

As I grew up my first language was Polish and I learned English mainly in the school system.  I was born here, so a citizen, but I had some of the immigrant experience entering school with English being my second language.  This background and experiences helped me develop a very deep appreciation and understanding of what America really is and can be.  I have a love for this country that seems to be rarer as the years go by.  It provided an opportunity for my parents to make a life that I was able to grow from and can do the same for my kids.  I grew up with enough stories of what things were like in Poland to appreciate the unique advantages a free country has.  It made me more accepting of people from other cultures and backgrounds and to never take for granted what we have.

When I was younger, the pride in America was everywhere.  You could feel it, see it, smell it.  I understand the excuses that we had common enemies with the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the Japenese for economic domination in the 80s and so forth.  Recently though it has become OK to become self-centered and inward focused.  It’s rare to see neighbors doing for neighbors and for communities to have more than a small turnout for Independence Day gatherings.  Days that used to be focused on celebrating America such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day have just turned into days off from school and a way to spend another day camping.  Groups argue about accepting other languages and creating more divisions.  Our political leaders cannot even have adult discourse any longer.  It was less than a hundred years ago that Theodore Roosevelt had a lot of influence over the attitudes of the American people, but his thoughts hold a lot of value.  The quote attached to this post is not one verbatim quote, it is pieced together from various letters he wrote near the end of his life, but the consistency of the message is clear.  Divided allegiance is damaging.  Our world is challenging and it can take a huge amount of effort to get things done.  If you are not sure which master you are serving, it just wastes efforts.  This is the message my kids get time and again.

It is good to discuss and debate ideas to help the group get to the best choice.  It is not good to just hate someone, like our President, because we disagree.  As American’s we owe allegiance to the office and to the person in it.  Our children pledge allegiance every morning to the flag and “to the republic for which is stands”.  So why as adults in this country are we doing such a terrible job of doing that?  We grumble about the country and instead of drawing together to fix it we sit in our corners and stay divided.  Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” and this is so appropriate in our times now.  We face outside challenges for other nations who seek to do us harm.  Let’s focus on making ourselves able to address those and improve our situation and not disagree for the sake of it as our current leadership is modeling.  Just as management in a company can infect a company culture, so too is the tone at the top of this country pervading into the American people and causing more dissent and squabbling amongst the people.  Frivolous lawsuits are at an all time high.  We let “freedom” dictate too much at times.  We also have the freedom to enforce rules that punish people for wasting the time of the citizenry.  But we all are so worried about being “PC” that we don’t make Occupy Wall Street people accountable for the waste of public resources after their point was made but they chose to turn a political sit-in into a taxpayer funded party.  We let people sue companies rather than acknowledge their own stupidity.  If you put a hot cup of coffee between your legs in a moving vehicle and it pops open how is that McDonald’s problem?  If you poke a hole in your tongue and wear “jewelry” in it and it causes you to get sick, how is that anyone’s issue?  American people have a harder time day by day taking responsibility.  It is always someone else’s fault and our kids are learning these lessons.  It has to stop.  We are responsible for our own actions and the results of them.  Demand punishment for things that truly are exceptions not simply scapegoats.  It is another form of divided allegiance for our own personal responsibility.  The court time that is wasted in domestic court for example on stupid issues for divorce court where people are allowed to file just because is amazing.  The process should include a penalty if the judge determines you are filing a complaint without real merit.  Waste the court’s time and you pay an additional $5,000.  Just see how many requests dry up if the only time you don’t get slapped with that after your initial settlement is if something substantial happens.

Finally, the continued message of a secular society that makes everything OK and challenges God’s rules and understanding.  I’m not advocating public beatings in the square for adulterers but I’d challenge anyone to have an intelligent conversation with me to prove that allowing this behavior without comment is not damaging to people and society.  Churches pander to their audience.  Very few say, “this is what God said, understand it, and if you don’t like it, suck it up”.  We can’t hurt anyone’s feelings.  Really!?  What good does that do?  Did God worry about hurting the Egyptians feelings?  What’s right is right.  We should not need to apologize for it.  I will spend the rest of my life teaching my kids to be comfortable to stand up for what’s right because others will make them feel guilty about it.  When you divide your allegiance between God and wordly temptations you face this struggle.  The influences only increase in our divided America.  Slander and call people names because they think differently.  Label movies unfairly as being anti-Christian because you want to twist the Word of God to serve your needs.  Within those who believe in God we grow more divided.  New beliefs rise up to cater to people and make religion “easy”.  Scientology, the Emergent Church, Vineyards, to name just a few.  It takes an enormous amount of effort to avoid the shiny objects and feel-good doctrines that are preached and all the while that energy is not used to fix our country and our society. 

So the best thing I have found to do is to follow the KISS principle, or Keep It Simple (insert descriptor of your choice here).  Teach my kids to believe in God and have Him help them make decisions and see through the fog of life.  Help others make our society better through solid churches and other groupings with like minded people.  I would like to be assured that my kids will have a better life than I did, but with our situation right now, I really fear that will not be the case.  We seem to find an inordinate amount of ways as humans to mess up even the most basic of things.  It’s that tug of war between leaving it up to God and wanting to take all control away from Him if we can.  I continue to pray we will find our way as a nation and regain that sense of pride that I grew up with and still carry in my heart every day.  We can succeed as a nation and a world in spite of our human failings but only if we pull together rather than pulling apart.

My ex and I are quite amicable after the divorce is finalized.  A good portion of this is simply because we do not interact with each other every day to the old arguments and issues are not present on a daily basis.  When we do talk it can devolve pretty quickly. 

I certainly would take the situation we have over that of divorced couples who hate each other, cannot speak to each other, and more importantly cannot be in each other’s presence without developing eye ticks and seizures.  I am really sorry for those people as it is a huge waste of energy to go about that upset about anyone.  I think some of these people would rather have shared a sleeping bag in Antarctica naked with bin Laden than be in the same building with their ex.  This is one of those things that just do not compute for me, so maybe that’s why we never really developed that bitter hatred towards each other.  She moved out, a few weeks later the divorce was final, and life went on and we talked to each other and existed just fine.  There were certainly moments when we wanted to rip each other’s heads off and yelled quite well at each other, but we did not stay in that perpetual stew that is all too common.

While I would not trade my situation for the other, I do think the general lack of hostility contributes to a problem I do have that rears itself from time to time and just gets me to shake my head.  The most recent one was when she called about a month ago and talked for a while and then basically asked if I would do her taxes for her.  Prior to that she wanted an opinion on if her workplace could dictate her hair color and before that we had an incident when she was making a cake and wanted to come over and use the mixer.  Each time I explained I was not the person she needs to go to for these things, as we’re not married.  She seemed very confused on all counts as it was just a friendly thing to do.

That may be true, as I would certainly entertain the thought of having a friend stop by and bake a cake in a pinch, talk about their work troubles and for some might even go through the work of preparing their taxes, but that is a different relationship.  The boundary is clear to everyone involved in that case.  From her requests, it is clear that is not true in her case.  Somehow she misses the inappropriateness of the situation.  My friend coming over to use the mixer does not send confusing signals to the children that there might be some kind of hope of their parents getting together, because kids always will lean in that direction.  She went off and had someone do her taxes and she owes a ridiculous amount of money.  She of course had to send me a text and then try to call me to explain that she did not know what she was going to do.  I redirected her to her fiancé and explained she can consult some professionals about her options. 

For her she see would like to treat things as if we’ve been lifelong friends.  I’m sure it is a coping mechanism of some sort to gauge things and to get more information that she can complain about to the kids when she’s blue.  She likes to regularly explain how she has no money to the kids who then grumble to me.  It really is a little ironic in that when we met, she was the outgoing one who had a lot of friends and I was quite introverted and had a couple really solid friends and did very little.  Over time it appears she had become less able or willing to reach out and I have become a raging extrovert who likes to be involved with many things and usually can talk to anyone about anything.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I do not have to explain my life choices to others when they meet me, but her situation is so bizarre to many people that it requires a history and that perpetual retelling must wear on her.  After all her choices are not turning out so well, and can best be summed up by a friend’s comment many months back of “this is how white trash is made”.  We are both new to the area in the last few years and have no family locally, but I keep looking for ways to branch out and get to meet others either through church or activities.  She has chosen to stay very close to home and not do that.  It seems to create this recurring need every few months to over share and try to get me to offer some support, because she is not getting it elsewhere.   In those moments when she talks on after we cover the details about the kids she has talked about how things are not working out as she had planned.  I just politely explain that’s not my concern anymore. 

I will continue to be connected to her for the rest of my life through the lives of our children.  I’m hoping one day I can be free of the need to be on guard for when the conversation strays too far, or when I assume she’s calling on the kids but just wants to bring up something awkward again.  Right now, given her situation, I do not expect that blessing to happen anytime soon so I’ll just keep reminding her that she needs to handle this on her own and find someone else to help.  I did not do the leaving, so it’s weird that this is so hard to grasp.  I know her well enough to understand why, as it is just easy for her to talk to me rather than make new connections who will judge her.  I’m a safe format, as I already know her dirty secrets.  I think this has to do with her never really processing the divorce in a productive way.  Having gone through the process I can see it clear as day. 

Overall, the frequency had certainly decreased and this last time she was very easily redirected when I answered and asked if she was calling about the kids.  She got the hint and basically said, “No, just calling to vent, but nothing you can do”.  I agreed and that was that.  I have a pretty good understanding of why she does it, and maybe I’ll cover that later, but it does not change the fact that I cannot wait until she stops doing it.

My church journey

Posted: February 21, 2012 in Christian, God

We have been looking for a church home for a few months now and have settled into a non-denominational church that operates as a first century church, which really means nothing more than that they focus on Bible and Jesus and nothing else.  It is one of those places that I feel very comfortable and every encounter I have there creates a feeling of “Yup, this feels right” that I have really never had before in my entire life with a church.  My fiancée and I are involved in the new member class which continues on for about two more months, and my oldest daughter wants to come with us after she attended a session this weekend.  She was there due to the logistics of leaving for my aunt’s funeral right after the class, but asked if she could keep coming because she really enjoyed it.

One of the things we need to do as part of the process is to write our testimony about when we were saved and anything else that we want to add.  In an initial questionnaire we had the questions, “Are you saved?”  and “Were you baptized after being saved?”  This combination of items has really caused me to look at my situation in a lot more detail than I ever really have and I find myself in a semantic no-man’s-land.

You see, I think what most people want to hear is that moment when you really believed in Jesus.  But what if you have the opposite situation?  What if when you think back with all your heart and soul you can’t think of a moment when you DIDN’T believe in Jesus?  It seems there is this expectation what being saved involves something life changing and memorable, but for me I feel I was always saved in that I have always believed.  Because of this I am in the quandary of semantics.  Was I baptized after I was saved?  In my mind, yes, because in all my memories there was never a doubt.  On the other hand, people can argue, since I was Catholic and was baptized as an infant only months old, that it really was not my choice.  Certainly I understand that is true, but I have had the choice for many years to renounce that baptism and claim it was not my choice and I did not believe in Jesus, but I have never done that.  So I consider myself not in need of an adult baptism.  As I explained to my fiancée, if I did it, I would be doing it for the benefit of others and not for any benefit for myself as I am completely comfortable that I have been baptized in Jesus and am His servant.  So the struggle I have is when I talk to people about this over the years, I sometimes get these strange looks or smirks or whatever that makes me feel they think I’m just making things up.  How I feel in my heart about this is between me and God and He understands I have always believed in Him and been saved.  If people want to doubt that, there is not much I can do about it.  For me the process was more about finding a church that really helped me grow. 

What I realized through this process is what causes the confusion.  I was looking for a new church and for a time I was not active in church.  A stereotypical born again Christian will look at that and surmise that I must have fallen away from Jesus and therefore at some point I was saved.  However that’s not what happened and it really took arriving at the church I am at now and spending the last three months there to understand what did happen.  I was having a problem with man’s way of handling our relationship with God.

What I mean by that were the trappings of religion, what my pastor calls the man-made additions.  As I look back it is all really clear.  The Catholic church is the Beverly Hills of man-made religious additions.  They pull in extra sacraments, they create rituals, and purgatory and other things that may have small Biblical origins but that are the result of too much time on someone’s hands.  Altar boys, and confessions of faith and adding worship of Mary as crucial were always explained to me as “because that’s just how it is”.  Not knowing anything else, it never occurred to me that it was strange in a church that the only Bible in the building was on the altar.  When we went to the funeral this weekend, which was a Catholic ceremony, when they did the readings my daughter was trying to find a Bible to follow along.  Of course, there were none to be had.  The only explanation I ever received from Catholic priests on the question of why they could not be married was “Jesus was not married”.  There are no Bible verses saying Jesus was not married as part of His obedience to God.  An over active imagination was reading too much into a behavior.  I left the Catholic church because too many crucial things could not be justified in scripture.

Addressing my not going to church at times, my initial pull away right after college when I left home was that I had seen little value in church as a child and young adult.  All it did was create questions that were never answered and I knew there was a better way.  After all Jesus did not answer his disciples questions with “that’s just the way it is” as every priest I spoke with did.  He gave them reasons and pointed them to earlier scriptures (there was no Old and New Testament then, they were living and creating the New).  Subsequent removals from a church family were based on my family situation of being married to an unbeliever and how I chose to handle those struggles.  Never was I not going because I was not saved and living a sinful lifestyle.

In the times when I went back to church, I was still trying to find a home where I felt right.  The Methodist church had more of a teaching style, but it still revolved around rituals.  At other churches I felt the focus was too much on keeping the audience, and yes, I use that word very deliberately, entertained.  I felt most people were not there to worship God, they were there for the music and dancing and fun.  It felt a bit too much like a social club to me at times.  I also could not stand the theatrical preachers.  To clarify what I mean by that, it is those people who have a cadence or style where they raise their voice, stomp their feet or cry on command at moments that were focused to add to the entertainment.  I could not help it but it came across to me as a well staged play.  It was designed to pull at the emotional heartstrings by stirring the emotions at scripted intervals.  Not every church I went to had that, but a good portion did.  Honestly, in the beginning I thought that was what I needed, but when I tried it a few times I found I still felt empty inside and not understanding the lesson I was supposed to learn, but perhaps excited about the delivery.  Yet, I understood that the delivery was not supposed to be my inspiration it was my understanding of the Word.

Part of what pulled at me and let me know to keep searching was the understanding that I should not feel that the church would not be as valuable if, for example, the music director was changed out.  That’s what I felt at the last Methodist church we attended locally in the last year.  It dawned on me that I was still finding the service enjoyable because of the music, and not the message.  A pastor is a little trickier, but it was still possible for some to get drawn in to things about a pastor.  For me, as I mentioned, those things tended to push me away rather than pull me in, and I can’t describe it any differently than authenticity.  I can feel when someone is pandering and that was the feeling I would struggle with, that they were trying to increase the funding.

The thing that really got to me was a description the pastor gave this weekend at the new member class.  He was relating a story of how he describes our church to other pastors.  His simple reply is that “if you but our people in a room with a box and a book, and that book was the Bible, and that was all there was, our people would be thrilled”.  I really felt at that moment that this was the place to be, even more than I had prior to that.  That’s what I have been struggling with for my entire life.  I keep trying to see with spiritual clarity in every church environment I’ve tried and something keeps distracting me.  It was refreshing to finally hear of an environment that was not focused on trappings.  He talked about how the general reaction he gets is of more questions, “What no programs to bring in new members?  No big musical engagements? No visiting dignitaries?”  It’s not that the church does not have programs, they are just focused on being Biblically based and not just for drawing in passive people. 

When I talked to some people about where I am attending, I was told I might not like the environment because they focus strictly on doctrine, referring to it as legalistic.  Having really spent time getting to know the church, I think more people would enjoy it.  Most impressive to me is the fact that all the visitors I have seen come in each week keep returning each week after that.  That shows me that the method is not the barrier some perceive it to be.  The energy of the congregation is palpable and it really is a fun place to be, but it is fun because of the Bible focus on everything and the energy that draw out in people, not because they have anything flashy going on.  I’m actually looking for ways to get more engaged in various aspects, which was really not something I have ever been drawn to do before.  I think it is more difficult for our kids to get engaged because they get the every other week experience, but there has been some progress with one of them for certain.  We hope over time the others will have similar experiences.

The strangeness of life

Posted: February 16, 2012 in Reflection

I got a call this morning.  My mother was crying and at first I thought she was calling to tell me that my grandmother, who recently moved in with them, had passed away.  Instead she was calling to let me know her younger sister, who would have been 60 in two weeks, had died.  I knew she had been struggling with an illness for a few years, but in wanting to maintain their privacy my aunt and her husband did not share much with anyone, even my mother.  This was therefore not a total shock to me, but certainly not knowing what her situation was in anything but very basic detail it still was a blow.

My grandmother is still alive at 88 and living with my parents since Christmas.  At the request of my aunt the extent of her illness was also kept from her, so I can only imagine the shock she is facing.  This may seem a little strange or callous until you understand that my uncle had been taken from us in October, 2010 at the age of 55 by a heart attack which was totally unexpected.  In the span of eighteen months, my grandmother has had to bear the death of two of her four children.  Now the oldest and the youngest remain, the two in the middle have been “plucked out” as my mother stated this morning.  I cannot imagine her feelings at this point.

They had been unable to determine what my aunt was suffering from for a long time, which was part of the reason for their privacy needs; they did not want to keep getting calls from people asking what was us only to have to share their frustration over and over that they had no idea. In the last few months their seemed to have been progress.  They were testing siblings for bone marrow matches and I learned in calls this morning the treatments were set to begin in a matter of hours when my aunt died.  Just as answers seemed to be coming and a plan forming, she was gone.  I know God understands what He’s doing and perhaps His message is that it was not worth it to have her and other family members go through difficult and painful procedures when her time may have been short anyway.  It still is an unknown and I know we are not meant to know, but it still does not remove the desire to know.

My aunt was always the fun one.  She was single for much of my childhood and used to take all the kids in the extended family to amusement parks and such.  She did it on her own and never complained no matter how crazy we were.  Eventually she got married to someone who had lost their wife and had a son, but they never had children of their own.  I understand her husband and stepson were there when she passed this morning.  I do not know the details of my uncle’s first wife but I believe she also succumbed to illness.  I also cannot pretend to understand the emotions this must evoke going through it a second time with someone you love. 

It is these type of things that give me an easy answer in my current situation when people wonder if somehow I had “rushed” my relationship and moved into a marriage too quickly.  My answer has always been the same.  I feel God is setting our timeline and when He brought us together and how He worked things out, I do not question.  Just as I do not question the deaths of my aunt and uncle beyond the immediate moments.  I have faith that God has a plan for all of us.  I would be lying if I said these events have certainly not called into question my own mortality.  Does the fact that two relatives died in their 50s mean something to my health?  Since they are not my parents I think it has significantly less impact, but I’m not a medical professional.  I will certainly raise the question at my next physical.  I certainly hope I have long, healthy and fruitful life ahead of me to share with my fiancée.  But the fact is I don’t know.  None of us do.  I take the blessings, and look at all I get to do and go from there.

I had a conversation with my brother this morning about the appropriateness, if you will, of bringing my fiancée with if she can make the trip to the funeral.  Honestly I suck at the proper thing to do in these situations.  I was concerned that since basically the only people who had ever met my fiancée that would be there is my brother, would it somehow come across as some weird spotlight shifting move to have them all meet my fiancée for the first time at my aunt’s funeral.  He said I was nuts, and certainly if she could make it to bring her no questions.  As he pointed out funerals are not just about being sad, it’s about laughing and moving on.  As he said, life goes on, and that is really the interesting part of all this.  No parent expects to lose children before they go.  Certainly this was common long ago, but with modern medicine and better understanding of health, losing two children in eighteen months is not the norm, yet my grandmother has lived through it and her life goes on.  She picked up her family and arrived in this country with teenagers and young kids with none of them speaking English to get them to a place where they could have a better life.  Does she question her decision in light of recent events?  I think not, but it’s possible.

So I’m in a weird place right now.  Planning a wedding while learning of my gone-too-soon aunt’s death.  Moving forward and reflecting.  The life God designed is strange.  We need to juggle happy and sad, fun and serious, certain and uncertain.  I will tell my kids when we get home tonight.  If they go to the funeral, this will be the first one for all of them.  None of us have seen anyone except my parents and brother in over six years.  It is at times a challenge living this modern life where families do not live nearby.  A life where a mother lives while two of her children do not.  A life where a simple funeral beings a lot of other situations to the table because of choices made years ago. 

Sorry for my rambling.  Hope it made some sense.  Let’s see what life has to offer.  God makes sense of the strangeness, and I have faith in that.

The devil loves texting

Posted: February 16, 2012 in Communication, Consequences, Tools

Ever since man has been using tools we tend to screw it up by pushing too far.  You’d think we’d learn.  We created knives to hunt and skin our food, and then we decided to use them on each other.  We created the internet to share information, and then we use it to anonymously convince people to send us their bank account numbers so we can transfer $20 million there for safekeeping.  We discover nuclear energy, and then we turn it into a bomb to kill others.  I swear the devil must love our creative thinking.

In the era of cell phones eventually we created texting.  I am convinced this is the latest tool that the devil just has to dance over. 

As I said in the last post, if my fiancée wants to let me know to pick a pizza up for dinner as we meet for the weekend, texting is great.  If my daughter misses the bus and sends me a text, “Missed bus, can you pick me up?” it’s great.  Anything more than that?  Not so great.

This last weekend we had discussed (in person, not via text) beginning to go to Sunday school.  On the weekends we have the kids obviously all of us will go to our respective sessions and on the weekends they are with our exes, my fiancée and I would meet up for the adult class we would attend, so for us we’d go every week and the kids every other, but it was the best we could do. 

When the time was approaching to leave I received a text from my fiancée (I’ve deleted the texts from my phone as it was out of memory, so I need to paraphrase) indicating she was having difficulty getting her three kids to want to go.  Since the devil encourages us to walk into stupid situations, instead of calling her, I engaged in texting.  I’m serious when I say I think we need an amendment process to the Ten Commandments to say “Thou shalt not text anything requiring more than a ‘yes’ ‘no’ or ‘OK’ response”.  At this point, my kids were getting their shoes on and I let her know we were almost out the door.  We’ve not really reached a critical point here as no choices were being made.

She responded back after a few minutes (which to me indicated she was dealing with all out meltdown) that she would try to get them there but they would probably be late.  A few moments later I got the “text that changed everything”, “I believe we are engaging 1 while alienating 3” or something along those lines.

So now let’s step back from the phones and enter my head.  First I’m confused because we discussed going last night and I thought I was clear in indicating it was just an idea not a requirement that we go.  I was a little taken aback as I took the tone of the message (written text has no tone, but the devil convinced me it did) to mean that she was thinking this was a stupid idea and since I suggested it therefore some of said stupidity must splatter on me.  I’m pretty calm so I was not angry or anything, but certainly confused and beginning to fume a bit.  Ah, the things the devil loves were starting to play out.  My next thought was that this meant she was going to make little effort to actually make them go.  After all, if I feel I’m alienating my kids on something we said was optional, I will back off and regroup.  So when my two youngest started complaining about how long we would be there since it was now Sunday school and the service, I thought, “Well,  my fiancée and her kids are not going, so no point in pushing this right now”.  I proceeded to make it very clear that we would not be debating this in two weeks next time they were home.  Everyone understood.

Now back to the texting part of our story.  I’ve now handled the physical situation and kids are deciding they will eat breakfast and settle in until we need to leave for service in about an hour.  In the interim my fiancée had sent a text indicating our original plan of waiting until the summer and why we had done that.  This however is the point that things may have been salvageable if one of us had picked up the phone, but alas it was not to be. 

Since I was feeling I was being told I made a poor choice to suggest we go this week because of the reiteration of the summer plan and the resentment her kids had about changing churches and therefore a little stupid (read “waaayyyy too complicated a topic to handle with text, but hey we have it so what the hay”) I texted to ask if she was having second thoughts and added in exasperation that we talked about it last night and why did she not bring this up then.  Basically threw up my texting hands and told her to let me know if we are going next time or if we are waiting to the summer and I’ll explain to my kids either way.  Imagine if peace treaties were negotiated via text.  I promise we’d never stop having the war.  We’d go right back to it.  Somehow this fact escaped us both and we kept texting.

After a few minutes of no reply, I again make an assumption.  She must be upset that I asked about second thoughts and this texting thing is causing a problem (I felt the devil’s influence finally).  I called.  She answered and hung up.  In case you’re lost step back to my assumption and re-read, it helps to understand what I did next.  I now am in a bit more of a huff, so I text, “So now you won’t even talk on the phone?”  I’m assuming she’s mad and that she’s just sitting around because her kids did not want to go and she was not making them since they were feeling alienated.  Since she was taking a long time to text back I figured it was nuts over there, but I later found out it was not that bad.  Do you start to see what a ball of crap texting can create?  This is all in about 15 minutes. She’s not answering the phone so I feel she’s acting childish so I’m getting mad.

A moment later I get a response, “If you keep texting me I can’t get them out the door”.  At this point I see all our assumptions were wrong.  I was thinking she was not going.  She was assuming I was, but I had stopped after the alienating text and my kids pushing since we had wanted to try to get them into this stuff together.  So I text in all caps, “WE ARE NOT GOING AT 9”.  Text stopped.  Whew.

At that point it would have been too much added havoc to change plans again, so I stayed home until service and she went.  So what initially seemed as us going and her not, through texting hell turned into us staying and her going, though as I found out later her going was not in question, I just inferred it was.

This ties to the other brief caveat I want to add to this tirade about texting being evil.  I think it might be possible if both parties are VERY, VERY clear on their communication styles to have a conversation like this effectively via texting.  After all the Apollo 13 astronauts did make it back because some guys figured out how to get a square filter to work in a round hole and relayed all the instructions on how to build it accurately from Earth to a spacecraft around the moon.  So it should be possible to do something like work out if we are dragging the kids to Sunday school in a given week via text right?  It’s not like saving a space craft and human lives.  Oh, but wait…..  The Apollo guys relayed the instructions by talking to each other not via text, so scratch that.   There is no way to text effectively with anything but the most simple of missives.  That’s the message my kids and fiancée will get from me.  If you are just sending me some information I do not need to respond to with anything other than ‘yes’, no’ or “OK”, text.  Otherwise call.  If not don’t be surprised if the devil plays with our intent and the result we have is not at all what we expected.