Archive for May, 2014

The Mall Walkers

Posted: May 23, 2014 in Christian life, God, Love, Midlife
Not them and not the mall, but close enough.

Not them and not the mall, but close enough.

I am newly married and I find that being divorced it seems to make me a little jaded to the whole romantic wedded bliss environment that is pushed on us by the movie industry and others.  On the other hand, being divorced I learned a thing or two about what causes problems in a marriage both through my own experience and through helping with a divorce ministry and through my faith.  I’d like to think this ultimately makes me a better husband, though as I admitted above I have a little tarnish to my sparkly view.

I recently popped over to the mall during lunch.  It was a nice spring day and I was very surprised that just getting out into the sunshine on one of our first really nice days this year after a long, long grey winter was amazingly invigorating, inspiring even.  I was full of energy, had a dozen ideas fly through my head about all kinds of things and was really pumped up about my life.  After all I’ve been blessed by God with a wonderful wife, a great job, terrific kids, a beautiful place to live, material resources that comfortably meet our needs and provide a little extra for fun once in a while; in short I’ve got nothing to complain about.  As I was walking through the mall in this euphoric state, I came upon them; I’ll call them The Mall Walkers.

The mall was fairly deserted at that point of the midday Monday when I chose to visit and so it was certainly easy to see anyone who was there.  I saw them approaching, an elderly couple, leisurely walking.  Now when I said mall walkers, you were probably thinking that these were those power walking folks with weights in their hands, but this couple in no way represented that frenzied, hectic lot.  No, they were just the opposite, the other bookend to that alternative mall walker.  They  were as carefree as could be, I would guess both retired, simply enjoying the here and now and strolling through the mall before it will most likely tonight transform into the teenager, child-in-stroller, parent at wit’s end place that many of understand a mall to be.  Just as I know all the things I mentioned above as examples of my life were provided by God, I know this couple being there at that time was the provided by Him for my education just as well.

The moment I saw them, I went from the life I have now to what I hope God allows my life to end like.  I want to be The Mall Walkers.  I know nothing about them except what I witnessed in those brief moments and then what my mind has added, but again I feel it was an inspiration to make me be the best I can be.  The Mall Walkers were holding hands, smiling and just casually speaking to each other.  About what, I have no idea, as I certainly did not overhear anything, but it was certainly entertaining them both as they walked and smiled.  Were they reminiscing about a past experience, talking about their grandchildren or simply discussing what they had just eaten at the food court which they may have just left?  I’ll never know but in that moment their sheer bliss of life transported me from my happy state to an even happier one where I envisioned my wife and I doing just that many years down the road and being just as happy.  The Mall Walkers were obviously in love and totally content with just each other’s company on this sunny Monday afternoon at the mall.   My wife and I sometimes talk about how we are “old” yet newly married and how we missed the chance to have met decades ago and been one of those couples who get to their 60th or 70th wedding anniversary.  My wife always chides me for harping on the negative of that and points me to the correct focus; we can still have decades together and grow old together, even though we might not get to those astronomical numbers.  She’s right and in The Mall Walkers, I was given that glimpse.  After all, what if one of the things I did not know about them was that they were both divorced and had had similar conversations decades ago when God brought them together, and look at them now?!  God’s plan for our lives is what it is, just as it is for The Mall Walkers.

The gift God provided that afternoon was to instantly through The Mall Walkers take me what I hope will be at least 40 years in the future and to just imagine.  What will all our kids have grown up and done?  How many grandchildren and perhaps great-grandchildren will we have?  How will the challenges we face today be looked at by our 40-year-plus-in- the-future  selves?  Will they be something we laugh at, as perhaps The Mall Walkers were doing with one of their old challenges, or will they have consumed us in some way, removing a piece of our essence, our identity?  I felt an immense understanding in that moment that worrying about the moment is such a waste.  God teaches us that everything works for His glory and so if we follow His ways we will get to experience some wonderful things on the way.  Where will we have traveled?  How many people’s lives will have been made better because of our influence in them?  How many new souls will God have in His Kingdom because they ran across us just walking in the mall thanking God for the wonderful life He allowed us to live?  Is that what was meant to happen today?  I know God only knows but I am thankful for the experience and for the moment in time I came across The Mall Walkers.  I pray God blesses them with many more years and strolls together so they can continue to provide that impact to others and I can only hope we do the same in some small way.

All the petty things my wife and I argue about, all the dumb things we get upset about our kids about fall away when you change your perspective.  God teaches us to look at the eternal impact of things.  How we model life for our kids will impact how they model it for theirs and so on down the generations.  The Mall Walkers are not bitter and petty people, just happy and comfortable in their place in the world.  I believe they are God fearing souls who are an happy as they are because they are at peace that they have eternal life and a loving Father awaiting them and that in the meanwhile they are doing the right things here to those ends.  That’s all I can pray for with my wife and I.  She is wonderful and she makes me more wonderful because I am with her and we support each other.  Our trials are not her trials or my trials, but our trials.  I know The Mall Walkers spent their time the same way, lifting each other and other’s up just by their presence.  I love my wife so much I can’t wait for what we can do together to make the world a better place.  All we may ever do is point our kids in the right direction and watch them grow, but if that’s God’s plan then that’s OK.  If he has a bigger plan, I’m sure he will show us the way and give us what we need to accomplish that.

Life is good.  And God is great.

Somewhere in the reading my wife and I do we ran across an analogy that as a parent having a teenager is much like commanding a moon mission.  For those of you old enough to recall these missions, everyone in mission control would collectively hold their breath as the capsule went around the dark side of the moon and lost all communication with Earth for several minutes.  Anything could happen then, from nothing to disaster.  In the movie ‘Apollo 13’ they dramatized this during that fateful mission as all the people in mission control could do when they lost contact was wait and hope that when they re-emerged on the other side they would still be alive.

Luckily most of us as parents do not have that level of drama to deal with, however for some this is the gut wrenching reality.  For many of us dealing with a teenager is just that, a total loss of communication, but ours can last for months or years not minutes.  It really has been that way with Marcia, and until the last few weeks I felt we might truly be on the dark side of the moon with her until she hopefully emerged sometime in her 20s.  Lately however she seems to have opened up a little bit so it appears (and I hope) that our relationship with her might be more like the true lunar missions where the capsule orbited the moon and went through period of communication, no communication and back again multiple times versus just the early missions where they took one revolution around the moon and headed right back to Earth.

My challenge with Marcia, and what makes me concerned about all the others currently launched into orbit and headed towards that first lunar orbit and that first dark side, is that in hindsight I never saw it coming.  Sure I expected the “normal” teenage withdrawal and that I would instantly move from being the smartest person Marcia knew to the dumbest thing on the planet, but the total radio silence we experienced was deafening.

Here they go..... Are we ready?

Here they go….. Are we ready?

I look back on the photos from her pre-adolescent days and recall the conversations we used to have and see where we ended up and if I continue the analogy it does feel like Apollo 13.  The oxygen tanks have exploded and we have debris everywhere.  No one was expecting it, but it happened and now she looks very different and has totally changed what is important to her and as parents we need to figure out what that means.   Not only is she going around the dark side of the moon, when we see her before she leaves for school in the morning and then only see her when she returns, grunts, and walks up to her room never to emerge until the following morning, but we are left on Earth trying to fit the square filter into the round hole to keep her alive but with no way to clearly communicate the instructions to her.  At least the astronauts on Apollo 13 we willing participants taking diligent notes and making sure they understood what the engineers were telling them.  What would the result have been if the astronauts said “eff you” and plugged in their iPod?  Suffocation and death, that’s what, and as a parent it’s just about that nerve-wracking as you watch the child circle the drain and wonder if you can keep them from going down the toilet.  As I said, maybe I’m a little dramatic, because if you had told me Marcia would be sitting here not wanting to go to college, stating that whatever job she has should not interfere too much with her life in addition to all the other regular things rebellious teens say I would have called you a loon.  Sure I expected a rebellious teenager, but I at least had the comfort that she was into school, understood her need to work and actually cared about success which I figured would pull her through OK to the other side.

Jan and Cindy are already showing significant signs of being very close to the dark side of the moon if they have not already shown us they are in orbit.  Just like a rocket, the others have already left the launch pad long ago

and all we can do is watch them as they approach the moon.  We have some time with all of them to try to make sure they understand the procedures, know what to do in case of emergency and have enough food and air for the trip.  After that all we can do is sit and watch the blip move on the radar screen and hope when it comes around the other side we don’t hear, “Mom and Dad, we have a problem”.

Recently I came across a brief study of the section in Exodus where the Israelites camp at the base of the mountain and instead of following God they choose to do their own thing (worship an idol) and instead of entering the land of milk and honey they are led to forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

With the spectacle that happened in that time and place with God coming down on Mount Sinai in clouds and fire and still the people chose to ignore the fact that there is no greater God, how much more difficult is it for us to keep our eyes on God in our world where he does not appear with such obvious power and awe?  This is the vein I have found myself thinking in the last few weeks.

God makes it very clear in the Word that all he asks of us is to follow and revere him and He will guide us.  The example above was simply one of the most graphic preserved for our improvement in the Bible.  When people choose to follow their own interests instead of God’s bad things usually happen.  In the case of Israel they went from being at the doorstep of the Promised Land to then wandering aimlessly for forty years and never reaching what was the destination they set out for.

If we move to our modern world and look at our lives and those around us, is it not evident that the same thing happens today?  We all know someone, or perhaps many some ones, whose entire life never really got to where we thought it would.  When we look back with the benefit of hindsight the forks in the road and the paths taken are so obviously the wrong ones that we shake our heads in disbelief.  How could they not have known that making that decision as a teenager would haunt them their whole life?   How could the Israelites, at the base of the mountain on which Moses went up to meet God, have made the decision they made?  We all know the answer; that in the moments of our lives if we turn away from the teachings and guidance of God we end up on the wrong path, lost in the wilderness of life.

For non-Christians I imagine this whole thing called life can be extremely frustrating.  Nothing is connected to anything else except by perhaps some passing spirituality that they refuse to name or maybe never even acknowledge.  How empty it must feel to think that anything you do is contained in your own little bubble and not accountable to much of anything.  Sure it might be liberating for a moment, but I have countless people I have known over life with which I have had the “why did this happen” conversations.  In many of those times I was not yet equipped to understand what I do now with the wisdom provided by God to see those events for what they became.  God judges all, whether they believe in Him or not, and when a decision is made contrary to His commandments and teachings we all see the wreckage.  I have an uncle who never took to heart that work is responsibility and that God expects us to be accountable for doing the right things with people.  The result has been a lifetime filled with extreme hardship, disconnection from family and perhaps friends (none of us have heard from him in over a decade so perhaps he’s got some),and financial and physical ruin.  Like many, he went to church, perhaps still does, but just like the Israelites, while he may have witnessed and understood the glory of God he chose to go another way; the way of selfishness and inward focus.  The results are his own forty years of wandering in the wilderness as an adult and he may never come out of it, much as all those who died in the desert never reaching their desired destination.

For believers, when things are not what we would like, if we really take a look, we may have done our own idol worshipping and God has sent us wandering off in the wilderness for a time as well.  A key focus of this blog is divorce and its ongoing impact on lives.  For many of us, this is a key area where we went our own way, choosing helpmates based on our standards and not God’s, and the devastation of divorce is visited on us and ours.  In Exodus 34:7 we read of God visiting the iniquity of the father down to the third and fourth generations.  How many of us can look back on families who seem to have been shattered by something, divorce, or otherwise and the suffering and agony goes on and on from one generation to the next?  Non-Christians will look at this and say what a vengeful God, and why would this be the case, but a careful study of these lessons show that God in his grace and mercy does not condemn these following generations without recourse.  Later in Leviticus He gives clear guidance in 26:40 that if they “confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies” that, in verse 42, “I will remember my covenant with Jacob…Issac…Abraham”.  Only those who continue to walk their own way, who continue to hate God, will be condemned.  This is the fruit of what we cannot always see.  If we walk away from God, or walk off of the path He wants us on committing treachery and walking contrary we will always be judged and have a less than desirable result.

It took me a long time to understand this fundamental precept of faith.  When I do things for the glory of God, that make others who do not know Him look at my actions and wonder “why?” I always have a better outcome than if I do things for the glory of me or someone else.   I ended up in a marriage ending in divorce, I distanced myself from my children and I lost jobs when I made decisions by worldly rules.  When I stuck with the hard road after my divorce and chose to follow God’s path he led me to my wife and a loving and glorious relationship with a godly woman who makes all aspects of my life easier.  I am not wandering the desert of life, tripping over rocks, begging for water, watching death and destruction rage around me.  I have a helpmate who makes the crooked path straight, who clears my pathway and removes rather than sets obstacles in my way.  In engaging with my children in the love of the Lord and with compassion and mercy I have begun to heal the wounds created by following an easier worldly path that was saturated with bitter words, hurtful phrases and modeling a selfish man and not a loving God.  Instead of making choices at the workplace that felt good for me in the moment by confronting negative co-workers or incidents with anger and indifference, I have worked to choose the path God would want me to take of acting rightly and reaching out with care to understand the trials that might be making those individuals act negatively.  In short when I use my hindsight and look on those times when I chose to not drive God to walk contrary to me but with me because I was walking with Him, the outcome is always good.  Sure I still do things from time to time that have me walking in the wilderness but with a deeper and broader understanding of God I much more quickly find the path again.  The challenge is to foster that in the generation to come before they find themselves lost.  Just as Moses must have felt very frustrated and dumbfounded by the stupidity when he came down from the mountain and saw everyone dancing around the golden calf, so to do we as parents feel the same way at times when we witness the worldly decisions our children make and the pain it causes them.  When Marcia refuses to prioritize work over play her grades suffer, she does not find a job and she limits her options in life.  When Jan prioritizes an electronic device over the rules of when it can be used she loses that device.

Taken in this broader context is all looks so simple.  It’s just always a struggle when all of your friend’s are dancing around that pretty golden calf and grabbing your arms and asking you to join them.

For the last several months I’ve been navigating through a new era in our household.  Marcia turned 16 earlier this year and we have been trying to get her into the workforce.  After getting immersed in this for the last five months it has been very eye-opening to me how much has truly changed, and sadly not for the better, since I was at that same age about three decades ago.  When I as a parent with a lot more understanding of what America is supposed to represent and allow have a hard time finding the silver lining, how is a sixteen year old kid who is learning to navigate the rocky road ahead supposed to feel upbeat?  The promise of anything is possible is no longer engaged in our schools, our workplaces or our country.  We have become a nation of robots, to use a term one of my colleagues mentioned at work today, this place has lost any soul.

I had been reading for the last few years the unemployment numbers in the 16-24 demographic and thinking it was typical media hype trying to raise the bogey man where things might not be so bad.  Just as if you watch the news and just take it at face value you might be afraid to leave your house assuming you’d be murdered while getting your identity stolen and being injected with heroin, I thought what can be so hard about getting an entry-level job at minimum wage when you come of age?

Well, what I’ve seen in the last few months has been interesting.  A lot of my information comes from just paying more attention to the actual situation; using my skills honed with three decades in the workplace to trying to figure out how to get a job by trying to place myself in a sixteen year old skin but with my experience baked in.  When I was working the only person over 25 on the McDonald’s crew was the manager.  Now the only person under 25 might be the customer on the other side of the counter.  It is staggering.  In a typical 10 person crew you used to have 9 teens or college students and 1 “adult”.  That ratio regularly appears to be about 8 adults to 2 work force newbies and as I said sometimes I walk in and see a whole crew of elderly folks.  So strike fast food off as an easy place to score a job for Marcia.

I cut my teeth in retail and grocery.  Surely that will be better.  Baggers no longer exist (that was my first job at the local grocery store) and even though my local stores still boast about 75% checkout lanes that need a human worker to 25% that only need the customer to do the self checkout, what is actually open on any given day you go into the store?  All the self checkout lanes (usually 4-8) and 1-2 humans required.  I went to the 24 hour grocery store around 11:30 earlier this week.  If I was afraid of computers I’d be going home with no food because my only option was the 7 self checkout lanes.  There was one person monitoring them, but not a single cashier.  I had a week’s worth of grocery shopping, not something I’d normally go through the self check for, but I had no choice, and also meant less job opportunities.  In my days at K-Mart through high school, every department was staffed by one full timer and then 3-8 part timers, 85% of which were high schoolers.  Today, try to even find someone working in the store to ask a question.  And just as at McDonald’s the demographic of those workers are adults as jobs have become scarce.  Retail looks pretty sad as a prospect for Marcia as well.

The next segment was restaurants.  The only option open to my daughter is hostess/busser or dishwasher.  Servers no longer can be younger because the bar is not staffed to allow drinks to be delivered by someone there which would make the age requirement go away for a server to be of drinking age or close to it.  (Where we live, I found out through my daughter that if you are 19 you can serve liquor though our drinking age is 21.  Where I grew up it was all 21).  You have one hostess a shift in most places and perhaps 2-3 bussers and maybe a couple dishwashers.  Again, the pool of available jobs continue to experience a giant sucking sound.

The process itself has shifted even in the last 5-10 years.  You used to be able to walk into an establishment, fill out an app, and usually be interviewed on the spot and at times offered a job.  Now most places simply say, fill it out online.  I sat with my daughter for these applications.  It takes a good hour to fill out one app due to all the personality questions and situational scenarios they have.  The Buffalo Wild Wings test was so complex I had to re-read the 80 or so questions multiple times to make sure they were not tricking me, which in fact at times they were, making the “right” answer on the scale actually be strongly disagree than strongly agree.  It’s hard enough for a kid with no job experience to find a job, do we need to make it so excruciatingly difficult to even apply that most of the hope is removed?  She also does not have the opportunity to talk to a human being, to make a connection, to show that she can speak without “umming” herself to death, can look you in the eye and all the other aspects of human interaction that have landed me jobs over my career.

Now I do not want to say the only problems with my daughter finding a job are the system.  She does not apply herself to the process as much as I think  she should, taking on the millennial generation view of work taking much less importance in her life (on that same BWW test she would only answer agree to questions that were clearly designed to see if she would put work over personal time demands).  I’ve talked with her about this and I do think it will cause her to have some problems, but I do see a lot of her peers exhibiting the same attitude.  On the other hand, I did not have to deal with my job hunting experience being sitting at a desk and using Google.  I got to drive from one place to another, ask for the manager and actually get an interview or two on the spot from two out of five attempts.  I ended up finding her a couple sites that seemed to have some aides for teen job hunters like teens4hire and snagajob.  Those appeared more promising but that’s where she still entered into the Buffalo Wild Wings nightmare of an hour long application with a lot of questions that do not pertain to someone with no job experience.  You ask the persons birthdate and/or age right up front on most of these.  Is it so hard to not demand information someone who has not worked would not have, like the last five years of employment?  I especially likes the Subway application that asked if she was over or under 40, and proceeded to not allow her to actually complete the application if under 40 due to a bug that would not allow her to submit her final application saying that her birthday in 1998 indicated she was over 40 and could not proceed beyond this point.  I tried for 20 minutes to find a way she could apply with no success.  The store had flat-out told us they accept no in person applications.  They still have the same help wanted sign out that they did three months ago.  Is it a wonder why?

Another source of jobs, helping your neighbors has all but vanished as people become less community oriented.  Ever notice that I when you move into a new neighborhood the only way to meet your new neighbors is to camp out on their driveway and intercept them on the way into their garage?  Once they pull in and close the door most neighborhoods are like a ghost town.  You’d be hard pressed to know any people actually existed.  Our daughters tried for many months to hire out as babysitters.  They received a call or two in a year.  Lawn mowing is done by a million landscaping services instead of allowing the kid with an old mower to walk around the neighborhood and charge $10 a lawn, thereby usually making a modest $10/hour.  This culture of fearing our neighbor and becoming most closed off and suspicious of everyone has made it virtually impossible for jobs to be available on a door to door basis.  Think about how often you see a little kid out on the street with a lemonade stand anymore.  I can’t remember the last time I saw one.  No one’s out to buy the lemonade.

So my daughter is faced with a world that still needs her to have money, but that has made it very, very difficult for her to get it.  I had a job in three days six weeks before I was 16, and have been lucky enough to only be unemployed for one stint of 10 weeks in nearly 30 years.  Looking at people’s resumes and seeing the challenges my daughter faces now being 16 ¼ and still not even having been called in for an interview makes me understand her reality will be very different.  As we as a country have created this dynamic we push back wage earning, which pushes back consuming, which pushes back home ownership or home renting and car ownership which drags down the economy which pushes all these things back further.  I love this country and it saddens me to see this decline in the fortunes of our young people because I am educated enough about economics to know that is means very bad things for all of us.  How will these people be prepared to take over the higher jobs in a career path, when they can’t even get on the path to begin with?  What will be the impact on the tax base when higher costs of services are paid for by fewer workers?  I was able to go to a great private college for $6,500 per year.  That same college for the class entering 2013 is $33,390 per year.  I left college and got a job for $30,000/year.  Those students who leave college in 2017 will not be getting a job offer for $154,107 to keep pace with their tuition increase, they will have jobs open to them averaging around…… wait for it….   $30,000 per year!   And that’s assuming they can find a job.  The barriers my daughter and the rest of our kids and all the kids in America face are staggering.  The only mention I hear of the American dream anymore is in stories about how it is lost.  I honestly would not be surprised if I asked my kids and they said they had never heard the term.  In my household and my family growing up I know it well.  We were a family of immigrants and the opportunities that had afforded us the ability to sit around at the Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter table and talk about the American dream, were a direct result of it.  My father who had barely finished high school and could barely speak English would not even get a call for an interview for the same machine shop job he started at today.  It’s not because the job has any different skills.  The job in the manufacturing company I work at is nearly identical to the job he had at 18.  We’ve added complexity to the job market that does not need to be there and we’ve removed hope from an entire middle class in this country that our kids may never reach because they can’t even get a job at 16.  All I can do is encourage my daughter to keep applying but I know her frustration as the calls do not come and the process gets more tedious.  We’ve all lived it applying for jobs but we at least have had jobs for years before.  Our state does not allow her to not carry car insurance even though she does not own a car and could certainly not drive anywhere.  So she has adult bills, but she can’t get an adult job.  I have to foot those bills right now because she has no income and no choice to have the bill or not.  This isn’t a cell phone or a video game, it’s a government mandated service from a government that is doing very little to improve her prospects of becoming a wage earning citizen.  She’s not looking to be on the government dole.  She understands work is many times boring and you stick with it.  Does she have quirks and traits that might not make her the perfect employee?  Sure, but we all do.  Would I as a hiring manager label her unemployable?  Definitely not.  She is bright, articulate and healthy.  She wants a job for the same reasons we did at her age, to gain some independence and have some money to spend with her friends.   However, the adults that ran the world before her someone screwed it up in such a way that all the “easy” ways open to us to go out and start making $3.50/hour are gone and those that are left are taken up by people who can’t retire or find good jobs outside the traditional teen workplaces once again because of adults who screwed up and can’t find a way to make the economy work again.  We spend more time and energy looking for a plane that will never be found than on trying to fix problems that actually have some possibility of being solved.  I try to maintain a positive outlook for my kids on their future but I have to do it knowing full well that I feel I am feeding them a line of crap.  When my parents told me what a great future I would have it was easy to believe because they believed it and because the world around it was delivering it.  We need to figure out how to right the ship or we are all going to go down with it.  It’s like the ferry that sunk recently.  All the adults worried about themselves and let a ferry full of kids drown.  As I watch my daughter struggle to get going in life I feel that’s what we’ve done with the American economy.