Archive for the ‘Accountability’ Category

This philosophy was a short synopsis for my parenting style that I heard at one point, and recent events as I’ve watched other parents around me over the last year just made this rise to the top of things I wanted to share on this blog.

The most recent example of “preparing the road for the child” is helicopter parenting, but it existed in other forms before that in coddling etc.  Some people, my wife included, feel I’m too harsh in my goal to never have our kids come home after they finish with college, for example, but this stance is bred directly out of the desire to prepare the child for the road.  I’m having to live in the same world they if they were to come rushing home.  My preparing them to understand that one of the key tenets of not having to do that is not spending above your income they should have no reason to need this proverbial “safety net” that has become all the rage lately and for some reason seems to have brainwashed otherwise rational adults into thinking that somehow “now is different”.  It’s not.

There have always been challenges.  In the 70s when inflation was over 10% and interest rates were even higher, there was not talk of kids moving back home.  When unemployment soared during the Great Depression people were struggling and such but there has not been anything I could find of this mass movement back in with parents.  Why?  Because the parents were in the same world they were in and this shift of making it OK to prepare the road for the child was not as prevalent as it seems to be today.

If the situation existed that I am a financially astute and responsible adult and the world is in such a state that I could only survive by dipping into savings each year, then we have a rational argument for a younger adult, not having built up that savings, to be unable to make it on their own.  That however is not anywhere near the situation in the US today, contrary to media hype of the sky falling.  Preparing kids for the realities of life puts them in a much more resilient situation.  There was a recent discussion I was involved in with folks trying to figure out how much they pay for for their high school kids.  One mom was feeling guilty because her daughter wanted to do dance but every week’s competition to team went out for a fancy dinner instead of doing something like a pasta party at a parent’s house, got their hair and nails professionally done for a hundred dollars a week and a bunch of other expenses.  She was uncomfortable telling their daughter this was just not doable in their budget and she’d either have to pick another activity, forgo some of the pre and post activities the other girls did or find a way to cover those expenses herself (like a job).  Some other parents were trying to convince her of all the reasons she just needed to find a way to suck it up and go into debt for her daughter to have this high school experience.  I knew my viewpoint was in the minority so I caught up with this person later and shared my perspective and it led to a really good conversation and she was relieved to hear someone who was not just buying into the spend, spend hype because it would somehow damage out kids if we did not make this happen.  It was another example where people were just killing themselves preparing the road for the child and the wondering why they hit to the rock or the pothole in the road later on because mom and/or dad was not there to pave it over or push the rock on to the shoulder.

The learned helplessness this creates in children is often overlooked.  A slight hiccup occurs and the child cannot figure a way forward without immediately calling the parent.  Somehow then people are surprised when this behavior continues for decades after their kids are “adults”.  I feel we do a disservice to our children when we do not prepare them to be independent, autonomously functional human beings.  There are fewer and fewer guardrails in the world these days.  More institutions lack customer service on any level and unless you understand how what you are asking for is to be delivered you will struggle your entire life ending up on the short end of the stick.  Everyone would like the easy way out, but not having that grit or resilience comes with a cost that is many times not understood until the emotional and relational damage is far too great.  I’d much rather coach my kids through the bumps and bruises and have them excited when the achieve something through hard work of their own than clear the obstacles entirely and then when I’m not there they stumble and fall and are clueless why.

I may not be the most popular parent in the room, but I know that if I focus on giving them the tools that is far more valuable.  We seem to have forgotten as a society that if you give a person a fish you feed them for a day, but if you teach them to fish you feed them for a lifetime.  In the same way if you make your guide “prepare your child for the road and not the road for the child” you give them what they need to handle the eight-lane highway, the treacherous mountain road, or the unpaved cow path all on their own.  It gives them more sources of pride and gives you a lot more energy back to handle all the roads in life you have to deal with yourself.

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My heart hurts. It hurts because I know that with my strong faith in God, if my heart hurts, I can only imagine what others without that hope are feeling.  For weeks, actually months, I have been feeling this way but unable to put it into words.  I have been paralyzed into inaction, slow decisions, lack of enthusiasm for doing something.  It’s been there and I know I did not enjoy the feeling but it had become common even normal, but the Spirit inside me has kept fighting against the oppressive weight that I could not name.  God, as He always does, pulled together a few things into my small sliver of the universe and made things a little clearer and resulted in this post.  With the confluence of national events, an ailing woman who verbalized her feelings and a baseball team I have adored my whole life, my frustration and this weight have become clearer.  I am paralyzed by fear and loathing.

That’s still not truly correct in naming what I feel, it is not fear that I myself am feeling, it is frustration for the cult of fear I see stifling many around me. It is that initial thought that save for the grace of God within me, I could be like them.  And that makes my heart hurt for my nation and my fellow people in it.

I have spent the last few months mainly interacting with people I directly know, trying to exercise some influence over something I hope I can influence rather than coming here to a medium that reaches many people that I do not know directly, and therefore feel that I have less influence over. Yet a big part of the reason I started and continue this blog is the share my thoughts on what is effecting our and our children’s lives, and it helps me to get those thoughts on paper (or screen, as it were).  So like the ailing woman I referenced above who finally returned to her video blog after months of absence and explained that the reason she had not posted any videos was that they all felt irrelevant, I felt this morning that I just need to get my thoughts out there and let God do what he wills with them, in the hope that perhaps we can all move past this paralysis I see.

We have a national election here in the US that is so detestable that it has sucked the life out of our nation, and I feel what I am seeing is a national version of something described during the NLCS Game 3 last night. The announcer indicated that hitting and executing on a baseball team is contagious.  As one or two batters enter a slump it seems to drag the whole team with it.  But the hope is that one hit can be the first step to turning that energy around and suddenly having a whole team executing again and doing no wrong.  That last little nugget of information was the key to connecting all that I had been mulling over for the last couple weeks of what has been occurring for the last several months or year with our national spirit.  I see a nation stagnant, might I say paralyzed, by fear.

I am not that old, but am old enough to remember a time when all around me there was a buzz in the air of the possibility and promise of America and of being an American. Even leading up to and after horrific events like 9/11 that buzz was firmly present and palpable.  Only in the last decade or so has it been fading to a dull roar, then a small short circuit and now on the brink of being snuffed out, I fear, forever.  For you see, much like a small group of nine men can “catch” negative thoughts and actions and struggle mightily and fail to extricate themselves from that, a whole nation infected by the fearmongering drivel of media and a candidate can take those final steps into the abyss, perhaps never to return.

I am angered by the fact that when I was in high school and college, my outlook and my nation’s outlook was one of extreme, maybe even delusional hope. It was fueled by a leader, Ronald Reagan, who while perhaps a showman like Donald Trump, was a showman with an entirely different core.  Reagan was a master at using poetry, artful delivery, and wonderful turn of phrase to inspire hope and desire for every person living in America to look for the best in themselves.  Yes, he was an actor who turned into a President, but even as a young adult I could see the goodness emanating from the man like the bright shining hope he told us America was to the world.  And the nation gladly followed.  We were still under the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union and had just emerged from gas lines in the 70s and staggering inflation that made mortgage rates so high that today while we complain about the horror of 2-3% were laughable and should have been stifling.  But the mood of the nation, and most importantly of the leader, made us all look past those things that were patently worse than anything we face now, while we have a buffoon posturing to “Make America Great Again”.  So today, I have children who do not truly look forward to the future, who talk down about themselves and their abilities and who are more and more infected by the spirit of sadness that has become the national mood.  Just like the Cubs in these last two weeks of October, our national mood is contagious, and it is making us all sick.  This makes me angry to the core.

Our entire focus has been moved from nation to self, and the vile nature of that, of what God clearly tells us in Scripture will eat away at the soul of a man, is on display for all the world to see. In my own circle I have a father who became a citizen in 1995 yet has never seen the point in registering to vote because the hope he saw in America when he immigrated here in the 60s is gone.  I have a mother who wants to vote but feels it is pointless because she cannot see a path forward.  I have a brother and a sister-in-law who excuse Trump’s behavior and core character as things to look past for possible good.  I have a smaller and smaller circle of family and friends I can even speak to about current events, including my wife, because this entire cycle has turned so heart wrenchingly sad that people would rather angrily say they no longer want to talk about it than do something about it.  It is a paralysis driven by hopelessness and perhaps fear and anger.  It is why I am sharing here to hopefully provide that last piece of the puzzle for someone to make positive change in their home, their neighborhood, their community.  This is done in the hope that with those small “hits” we can turn the mood of the nation around to one of hope and excitement rather than continue to be dragged down by an irrational fear of what is not.

My brother, normally an intelligent and very well spoken person, regularly spouts off that Hilary Clinton is personally responsible for six million deaths. He seems to believe that Putin is the nicest guy we’ve ever had in charge of Russia and that the only reason he is acting this way, invading Ukraine and trampling on human rights, is because Hillary and Obama have single handedly backed him into a corner and made him do it.  If not for our leadership we would be vacationing together in the Urals with Putin sipping champagne and converting Russia to a democracy and their citizens would enjoy unparalleled riches.  I heard some women at work excusing the sexual talk of a presidential candidate as “stupid things guys say” because they were not sure what to do.

God teaches us that He is in control. The fear I have with this election is that too many feel that they are in control and that with their vote and their rationalization of their vote, that they can see all the interactions like what Supreme Court nominees someone will name, what legislation they will get enacted and what the world situation will become because of it.  Nine men who sit together in a dugout, dine together and live together in hotels on the road, and know each other and have the same common goal cannot see clearly what their actions will accomplish in the world, but individual voters are making decisions about how thousands of people totally unattached to them will act based on which box they check and are delusional enough to feel they have the omniscient power to foresee what only God can see.  Scripture is full of verses that teach us that as long as we try to influence events rather than leaving them to God, our efforts are due to fail and only destruction is the result.

So how is one to decide? Again, we only need to look to God for the answer.  Seek the fruit of a person’s life to decide on their intentions, for God uses everyone to execute his will.  He can use Hilary, and yes, he can even use Donald Trump, but when we overthink things and look past the simple truths that He tells us to use, we try to wrest control from God and that path leads only to destruction.

This brings me to the other word in my title that I have not explained yet, loathing. I have never in my life used this term to describe my feelings towards anyone.  The simplest definition is “feel intense dislike or disgust for”.  Other examples are, “feel repugnance toward, not be able to bear/stand, be repelled by”.  The only person I have ever truly felt this way about is Donald Trump.  The book of Ezekiel uses the word loathe multiple times to describe how the nation of Israel will look upon themselves for their practices.  One of the key themes of Ezekiel is the need for individual responsibility and national accountability before God.  When the media states that this election is for the national soul of America they are not being hyperbolic.  Again, it is between God and them if they are saved, but even if they are not, God uses everyone for his purposes, and these views are very truthful.  Electing someone who is as far from servant leadership as you can be and who has not a shred of public good will as fruit of his life is a mistake.  For all we can say about all the other candidates, while their motives may be misguided, and may be self-serving to a degree, they are not anywhere near the entire lack of national good that we see from Trump.  For getting us to this point, for being a candidate for President, for keeping the national mood on fear and hate I loathe Donald Trump and have since he stepped on the national stage and announced his candidacy for the Presidency by lying about Mexican immigrants.

We are down to three weeks until the election. God is in control and our nation will be used for the purposes He chooses to fulfill His plan, but we can make it much worse for ourselves by denying that omnipotence.  My plea to those who feel that Hilary will pull this nation apart or destroy it is to know that she is not in control.  We are however in control of who will be in charge of our national mood.  I have hope for my beloved Cubbies because they have Joe Maddon at the helm and he exudes hope and positivity.  The Cubs players have rallied around their manager, even waking him up on the plane heading to Los Angeles in the middle of the night so he could talk to the team and lift their spirts.  As a young adult, even with all the challenges in our nation at the time, every time Reagan got on TV to address the nation, even though I knew it was about something sad or sinister or dangerous, I waited with hope KNOWING that at the end of whatever he had to say, I would feel better than how I felt before he started.  When we have a national crisis can any of us truly say we want to go to the front of the plane and wake up Donald Trump to give us inspirational words of hope and solid plans of action that will make us feel better at the end of what he had to say than when he started?  God has placed the answer in your heart to that question, if only you have the courage to listen to it and stop listening to the excuses we all make about why a despot is “not so bad” and things will work out OK if we put him in power.

My desire to stay informed is directly challenged by my desire to stay sane.

Variations of the quote above have been floating around for quite some time, but in recent times (mainly driven by our political cycle for me), it has been ringing around in my head more and more.

For well over a decade I have gotten out of the habit of watching the nightly news that my parents had ingrained in me throughout my childhood.  When I left home and went out on my own, for a few years, I kept up this habit, but over time determined that the negativity and that outright spin and omission that drove every reporter to have you see things their way was a problem.  Somewhere in here I read “the Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker (a book I highly recommend) and he had an epilogue in the book that really resonated with me, basically centered around the fact that the news industry is successful because they create artificial fear, worry and anxiety.  Removing this negativity from your life was something he preached to learn to actually know what to be fearful of.

Lately, as we have moved to the land of cord cutters and had less to watch, for some reason I started up on one nightly new program again.  After trying this for several weeks (and coupled with the fact that I am driving my wife nuts by not watching these news reports when they appear on our streaming service, already a day or two late, but binge watch them every couple weeks, so we are seeing very old news) it has started to bring back all those irrational concerns and skepticism and therefore I am going to remove this from our repertoire and go back to looking things up that I need to know about on the internet but staying away from all the sensationalism and junk.

A new temptation in this space are these new “reality crime dramas”.  The one we got sucked in to was “Making a Murderer”.  I was reluctant to delve into this as I thought it would be something similar; just a prolonged news story edited in such a way to cause fear, trepidation and panic in the viewing public about just how messed up the system is.  I found myself four episodes in to the ten episode series knowing where things were headed and really asking myself do I want to burn another six hours of my life to keep watching a highly edited train wreck.  After talking it over with my wife we decided we had already invested four hours of our life, so we might as well get the full payoff, a sentiment I’m sure was heavily discussed in the board room of Netflix when they were pitched the series.  “Most viewers will feel like they are getting the same information over and over by the mid point of the series and will see that we are painting a picture of Steven Avery as a tragically wronged soul, but we promise the series is just compelling enough to drag viewers into finishing it”.  My challenge with this logic is that had this been network TV, there would be ad dollars at stake to suck viewers in and make them stay.  I can see this with the FX American Crime Story that just started yesterday, I believe, and will have commercials to sell.  Netflix, however, does not make money by ads, but they already have it by subscriptions.  I suppose if they get me to keep burning hours watching things I should walk away from because I feel invested, that gets me further down the road to the next payment, when I can find something else to watch, so I suppose it works.  Thing is there are other shows on Netflix, like House of Cards or Orange Is The New Black that I KNOW are more entertaining than Making a Murderer, but that desire to stay informed won out over the desire to stay sane.  Maybe, I told myself, since this is a documentary, they will give me some great insight into how reforms are coming in the justice system to change it for the better.  Nope.

This all comes at an interesting time in my life.  I am having to find a new job, and in the last few days have been blessed with a lot of solid activity that now has me in the middle of four, marginally five, solid opportunities.  One of these is the typical, good job at a good company that could turn into a good career, and another is a really interesting company that really pulls at my soul as a thing I would love to be a part of but it is smaller, lots of remote staff and for all intents and purposes a start-up, at least for my department that I would be leading even though the company has been around for decades.  As I really step back and pray for guidance it slowly came to me that this impact of regenerating this fear and worry from getting back into edited and canned news is having an impact on things like deciding what truly is the best choice for a job.  Since the one opportunity is in a travel space I started taking the news of the Zika virus and all the hype around it and asking if it would impact this company and should I therefore stay away from it, but calmer, prayerful reflection showed me that that was not a sane response because the issues that are caused by Zika are really not ones that the target customers would be upset about.  If I had instead used a method of just learning about the real threats of Zika from a solid article versus the overhyped reporting showing the same three infants born with microcephaly over and over, my reaction would have certainly been less visceral.

It is this challenge that we need to guard against to keep our sanity, exactly as the lead quote indicates.  We need to find way to stay informed, but to do so in a way that is not effecting our ability to be rational.  We are constantly drawn to feel like if we are not informed we are somehow less, but I feel that is a societal pressure and not an actual reality.  We are made to feel like “what you did not hear what happened yesterday?” and that makes us feel inferior to the individual that is asking.  Are we really inferior?  No.  We can get informed in a few minutes from sources that we choose that are less entertainment and marketing driven.  It is this inferiority that led my wife to add a CNN notifier app to her phone, and me to think that watching news again, even if it is late, was somehow worthwhile.  It is not.  I can go out, as I had for over a decade and check a few sites to see what I might need to know about.  I can listen to conversations I have with others and if something peeks my interest, only then will I take time to go learn about it rather than have some news cycle determine for me what I should be informed about because they can make a sensational story about it.  I pray that in general my fellow countrymen will do the same thing as we move into a formal election cycle for an individual that can be our national guidepost for the next eight years as the world gets more and more complex, and when spun by the proper producer and director like in “Making a Murderer” or any nightly or weekly news show we can find, can cause us to lose our humanity and devolve into the fear and irrational behavior of frightened animals.

We all need to stay sane, and the first step in that is to understand the things that make it hard to do so. I’ll be removing these news programs from our cycle again, and we can dig into what we need.  This has been a blessing moving to streaming services has produced in that I can’t always get what I “want”.  American Crime Story is not appearing on Hulu.  I have been saved from my weaker self.  I’m pretty sure when I am looking for something good to watch later, this will not rise to the top of my list.

Through my work in the divorce ministry I get the privilege to take a more intimate part if some people’s lives than would be expected with strangers.  Many times the pain and struggles people face are worked through and they emerge on the other side stronger and better as the Lord intended.  I understand my role in this process is to simply be the one who can share wisdom gained from having traveled the road they are on ahead of them.

There are times, however, that the road someone is on is not one I have traveled and one I have difficulty understanding because I have no parallel experience I can pull from.  At times I can try to empathize and learn what is happening but there are limits to what our program can achieve as we are not professionals in helping to deal with serious issues.  We encourage and press our participants at that time to seek professional help, but we cannot compel and so it is difficult when someone is battling the demons within and there is little else we can do other than be an ear to listen.

Such has been the journey of a recent participant in our program, Scott.  I met Scott a year ago when he arrived at the DivorceCare session I was assisting with and he seemed to be in a decent spot given the recent timeframe of his divorce which had only completed a few months prior.  He had a job, had friends and had showed up to our program to help himself heal and be the best he could be for his son.

What came out over the next few weeks was a struggle that Scott was having that went into one of those areas I could not share direct of parallel wisdom on because it was so far from my situation.  Scott has an addiction to pornography.  I have never been drawn to porn nor have I been addicted to anything, so the associations I could try to pull from were things I had read or just a general understanding.  Scott was also drawn to a very bad relationship that he explained to use he knew was destructive but that he was unable to stay away from.  It involved too much drinking and too much sex that led Scott to some dark places and while he wanted to stay away for the sake of his son, he was drawn back in part because this woman also had a child that his son befriended and would ask about in the times when Scott had broken off contact after a particularly bad incident or situation.

During the session Scott reached out and wanted to begin some Bible study so I met with him at his home to begin a general discipleship process.  We met for a couple hours, but even during it I could see Scott was struggling, and we spent most of the time discussing his feelings there.  He was thinking about how different this was from what his friends would be doing and it was very boring to him.  I shared what was on my heart about the process but in the end I left feeling like Scott would not continue and he did not.  I sent a very long e-mail to my pastor asking for some guidance as I could not help but feeling responsible for the failure of Scott to grasp on to something that I felt would help give him the strength to see the destruction the porn and the toxic relationship were having on him and his son.  My pastor explained that I had done everything I could and that it was in God’s hands to work out with Scott if there would be more there between them.  Shortly thereafter Scott stopped coming to the DivorceCare sessions.  I continued to try to encourage him to come but he wanted to practice with his band and they met on the same night we did.  I explained that I felt the most important things he could do was heal.  I did not want to push him away but I also knew that I must speak truth or I was no better than the superficial friends he had that were guiding him down a dark path.

My wife and I are now trying to get a divorce ministry started in our own church so we have made the decision that we could not continue with the program I have helped with for four years.  Scott came back this last session and the leader reached out to me to be his accountability partner to monitor an app that will e-mail me if he goes to any questionable sites.  It has been five weeks now and nothing unacceptable has been flagged, so that is good, but I am saddened to see that over a year later Scott is in the same place he was, struggling with the demon of pornography.  He has made the step of trying to do something to stop, but he did share we me he has used this app before.  The difference he shared was that he picked a bad accountability partner.  I hope Scott sheds the pull of this vice forever, but if he returns and I see behavior and call it to his attention, will he just ignore the warnings and fall back into the darkness?

This is where not having the parallel makes it hard.  If I see something is bad for me I have always been able to walk away.  I call it will power or determination, but it is the same struggle I face with my kids when I explain to them how to stop doing something or associating with someone who is hurting them.  I cannot empathize with Scott about how hard it is to walk away because I have never been addicted to anything and it has never had that draw on me.  Therefore I cannot offer first hand guidance on what worked for me.  I feel a bit like an AA advisor who never was an alcoholic.  Every Thursday when the report comes out I offer praise for another good week but other than the first week, Scott had not replied to these messages.  I know how easy it will be for him to simply ignore me if he does regress.   The DivorceCare session he is in now will end in a few weeks and then he will be alone with the same struggles he has voiced to the leader this time around, which are the same ones he voiced the first time around; he feels stuck, he wants to not feel miserable.  This is where we pointed him to professionals.  For whatever reason he has not taken that step.  I know there is nothing I can do beyond that guidance, the old you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.  Just as I could not open Scott’s heart to a longing to learn about God’s Word no matter how eloquent I was about the glory on the other side, I get that in the end whether Scott succeeds or fails in his attempt to remove porn from his life is not in my control.  That does not make it any easier for me.  I know I will still be disappointed and will wonder if there is anything I could have done differently to help him choose.  I think part of what makes it easy for me to stay away from vices is that I see the despair and pain that those vices cause others.  I just want to grab Scott by the shoulders and shout, “What’s so hard?  Man up and just walk away and never look back!”, but I know that’s not how it works, and the fear that I cannot grasp why that is not how it works combats any desire that might spark up in me to head down a path.  People “experiment” with things, but how many fail in that experiment and never come out the other side?  Far too many.    So the parallel I get from this is that Scott and I are both just men.  If a man like him cannot shake the demons after the struggle I have seen, it helps me to understand why it is important to stay far away from those temptations for my path might not be any easier if I entered those depths as well.  That I it the piece I can empathize with here, and ultimately that may be all that God wants me to get from this experience.

Over the last few weeks the United States has been going through some interesting discussions.  We have home some really terrible incidents in the last few months and many have gone through the justice system and the results have caused major unrest result in protests, some peaceful, but many not and riots, which by their very nature are not meant to be peaceful.  For those unfamiliar with the situation (I know I have many followers from outside the US) these incidents involve how police handled situations with people like Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others.

I have often talked about our God-given expectations in our role as parents.  One of the most important is guiding our children to interpret and understand the world through the proper lenses.  Certainly my greatest hope is the first lens that my children will see through is God’s, however they may choose to discard that lens, so the next lens I can provide is that of basic decency and morality.  While I certainly have a Christian lens, for this discussion I am going to move from that to something I hope more people can accept, which is that second level, because I believe the topic at hand is important enough that I do not want to lose people who just do not want to read another discussion of what Scripture says.

As parents I believe it is a common wish to have our offspring be successful as they move through life and we try to equip them with this.  As a parent how I discuss incidents like these with my kids will determine how they frame their judgments the rest of their lives.  It will train them which lenses to use.

In the incidents at hand, there is a crucial question, certainly, but I think that too many in America have made it the wrong question because they have labeled these problems as having primarily a racial element, and I firmly disagree with that.  I believe to frame them that way clouds the discussion to the point of not addressing the real question, which is what must be done to hold authority figures (police officers) accountable for their actions when those actions exceed what would be considered reasonable and customary?  Saying that Michael Brown or Eric Garner were killed because the officers were white and they were black is not right.  They were killed, at least in Garner’s case, because the officers in question used poor restraint and judgment.

The officers involved in Garner’s case used a banned method of restraint.  To me this is the fundamental problem.  Garner died because an officer choked him to death.  He did not die because the officer was white.  I am not going to discuss what the consequences of this action should be for that officer.  That is for the authorities to decide, but what I have a problem with is that there should be some consequences when someone, regardless of position does something wrong.  This is my problem with diplomatic immunity extending to possibly allowing a homicide to occur because of someone’s status and no consequences being applied.  The situation is similar to a police officer being “immune” as well.  This is what I do feel was broken in this case.  I think using the race lens and protesting and rioting because of black and white relations is so disrespectful to people that it makes my heart ache.  Were there race issues in this country?  Unquestionably.  Are there still some today?  Certainly.  However, they are much improved over where they were 150 years ago, 50 years ago and even 25 years ago.  When I was in college my parents would still openly use the N word.  Today, while they may still think that in their heart, they do not utter it and they get upset when others do.  I do think we have a generation or two until this nearly vanishes from a daily concern, but the point is it gets less and less every day and prominent people like Chris Rock and others in that community have publically stated that as well.  By turning these incidents into black versus white, or anyone versus anyone we are creating natural defensiveness of entire groups.  When my black friends discuss this in those terms it makes it hard for me to truly talk about it and vice versa.  It is not a color issue, it is a people and relationship issue.  Is it ever right for a police officer to choke someone?  If the answer is no, then we need to focus on that problem and not cloud it with race.  This is what I hope everyone, including my kids, understands.

Now let’s look at another problem in these cases, using the Brown incident as our back drop.  Was what Brown did worthy of his death?  Again, that is not for me to opine on.  I was not there, I do not have all the facts.  What I have heard is that he was acting is a belligerent way at some point and the officer felt threatened.  This is the root of the situation as well.  Garner was doing something illegal.  Again, if people want to argue about if selling the type of cigarettes he was selling should be illegal or not, there are forums for that, but it will not be changed by yelling and screaming and rioting.  That just shows that proper, peaceful discourse is not a method of dialogue used by those making that choice and so their opinions are discounted because of the violence used.  Does anyone seriously want to make the argument that the right way to get someone to change is to violently force them to do so?  Should we wrestle or co-workers to the ground in a meeting or pull a weapon on them in the hallway because they want to do a project task in a manner different than we would?  If that example is obviously stupid, then why do we feel this is the right way to change a community?  Sadly, I think the lens these people were given by their parents or others was that violence is the way to get heard.  You do get heard; in the same way that Eric Garner and Michael Brown were heard.  Once you start yelling, screaming and threatening all the person or people you are attacking focus on are your behavior, not your goal.  No matter how much Garner or Brown thought they were in the right, arguing with a police officer who legally has the right to detain you and arrest you is not the answer.  Sadly, these men lost their lives doing that and investigations of these incidents were done, but I believe the fact that the focus of the public was diverted to race made it impossible to really address the problem.

Why?  Because of the fear of what strong discipline in these cases would mean.  It now became clouded with white and black instead of just being about right and wrong.  I do not care what color Eric Garner was.  What the police officer chose to do was wrong and there need to be consequences for that.  I do not care what color Michael Brown was, I care that he was aggressive to a police officer.  I do not feel he should have lost his life for it but I was not the officer faced with the situation.  We need to fix the abuse of authority in these cases.  I hope we can see our way clear to do that, and I hope all our children can get past the clouds of the race issues of the past and see what is really broken.  When we see injustice because of race we should certainly speak up, but we need to stop coloring what should not be colored.

In the end I do feel that the officers should have to respond for their actions.  In the Brown case, I believe that was done to some degree especially since the officer resigned.  In my mind, not knowing that situation, I’m not sure if he made the right choice.  Trust is shaken and in a profession where we need to trust that man, he realized he could no succeed and so will now choose another career.  In the NYPD case with Garner, I have not seen any consequences so this needs to be fixed.   The LAPD wrestled a woman to the ground a few months ago because she was on her cell phone while driving.  It is being investigated.  This is good.  People need to be responsible as so clearly stated in the video by Charles Patrick.  Let’s all try to be more responsible for ourselves today.

The greatest challenge that the Lord gives us at times is when He asks us to exercise patience.  For me it has been one of the items I still wrestle with.  I have been blessed with intelligence, logic and related attributes that tend to make me a high achiever and a quick thinker.  While most would say those things are good, I offer an illustration with food.  Many people would say that chocolate is wonderful and so is lobster, however, at least for me, the idea of eating chocolate covered lobster is not all that appealing; but chocolate covered raisins or lobster encrusted steak?  Mmm mmm good!  It is all about the right combination at the right time.

Similarly my Type A personality does not go well many times without patience.  It can be overbearing, arrogant or rude.  As I have gained wisdom and God has helped me reflect on situations I have been amazed at those teachable moments to show that those attributes of me, sprinkled with a little patience for flavor, turn mac and cheese into a five star meal.  At work, I still struggle as the drive to get things done many times overpowers me taking out the patience shaker, but over the years I have worked very hard to use it at home and feel I have more success there.

What I have discovered to my amazement is that doing so usually allows for more harmony in the household.  Once of the main reasons is that by being patient even when I may not be feeling that way inside offers me the chance to see differing perspectives and understand what other emotions may be at play, and so I would like to present you a few examples of recent events, but my method requires a little explanation.

Anyone that knows me understands that one of my passions is Disney.  As a child I loved the magic and wonder and as an adult I add to that the appreciation of a business built for the most part on family and fostering togetherness and improving relationships.  One of the coolest ways that I feel Disney does this is through their animation groups, especially Pixar, which is one of my favorite studios.  Just like some of us will buy any music put out by our favorite artist without listening to it, I know that whatever Pixar comes out with will have me in the theater on opening weekend with my candy and my excitement, raring to go.  So it is with the next production, Inside Out.  For those who are unfamiliar with the film, it basically explores the life of a teenage girl by letting us be inside her brain with her emotions.  But as is so often the case with Pixar, they take what is a brilliant concept on its own and add in some twists that take brilliant to genius.  You see, with the new trailer released today, I was able to see that not only are they going to help us see the emotions of the girl, but also of her parents, and I imagine those around her.  What God has taught me through patience, Pixar is going to be placing on screen as we listen to Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger and Sadness.  It is in this mode that I play out the rest of my story, which covers basically the last 12 hours of my life.

Last night, Marcia came home after a band concert.  Now to set the stage, my wife and I believe that the only reason Marcia is in band this year is because she wants to be with a friend of hers.  She used to love band but last year she did not participate and so it was with surprise that we greeted her announcement months ago that she was going to be in again this year.  In any event, her apathy has made me feel the same way towards her events and so during marching season I had not braved the cold and rain.  Nothing but the hand of God pushed me to decide to make the effort to attend her first regular indoor concert of the year now that marching has transitioned to the regular concert band season that will encompass the rest of the year.  I texted her a few times before and after and saw her when she got home.  She looked rather dejected when she came in.

Me: You look upset.  What’s wrong?

Marcia: Mom did not show up…. AGAIN!

Marcia Sadness: Why does she do this to me?  Why am I never a priority in her life?

Me Sadness: Why does she do this to them?  Why does she not make the effort to participate?

Me Anger: Because she is a selfish little b—h.  One day she’ll see how resentful the kids are and then it will be too late.  Serves her right.

Me Disgust: How can someone be so selfish?  Is sickens me to think I was married to someone like that.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that.

Marcia: It’s OK.  I’m used to it.

Me Sadness: If only Nan would understand how much pain she causes.

Me Anger: If only God would help Nan understand how much pain she causes.  He could smite the Egyptians, why can’t he wipe Nan of the face of the earth and remove the pain?

Me Sadness:  Because that would cause Marcia more pain.  I need to make sure I keep Anger in check.  It will not help Marcia if I get angry about Nan.

Marcia Sadness: What did I do to deserve this?

At this point Marcia just went upstairs and got ready for bed and school the next day.  My wife and I decided it was best to just leave her be as nothing we could say at that point would really make it any better, it would just prolong her sadness of what was a regular occurrence from Nan.  The issue here was that it was almost worse because now Nan’s mom has moved here so her grandparent who could also have attended now that she does not live several states away also was not present.  Now it is possible Nan did not make her aware of the event, but Nan’s mom has always been selfish as long as I have known her, so not sure the cause, and in the end, to Marcia, it does not matter.  Her perspective is that her mom and others do not care.  Again, I thank God for giving me the push to show up even though with other logistics with other kids we had that night it meant driving back and forth to the high school three times in about 90 minutes.  I think it was important in that moment for her to understand that I did care what she did and had I not attended no amount of explaining the difficulties would have helped.  In my perspective and other adults seeing what was going on that night it might have been a sufficient excuse.  In Marcia’s perspective it would have been the same type of crap she hears from Nan all the time about why she is unable to make it to events.  This was just worse because it was one of the few times Nan had actually said she would be there.  Normally her mode is to make the excuses well before hand and politely decline because of her busy life.  I cannot even begin to guess what Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger were doing inside Marcia for the rest of the evening, and even my narration above may be way off base, but I hope it allows you to see how things wrestle inside us.  Without patience I would have flown off the handle about Nan, but with it I understood it was not in either of our control and getting Marcia more upset would have just hurt more.

Let’s now move on to the next morning.  After being punished from driving privileges, Marcia has also been told that it is too expensive to pay for gas for her to drive to school every day so at least until her job hours pick up and she can begin pitching in once in a while they will only drive over when logistics require.  This effects Jan and Cindy as they also attend the high school and as freshman have enjoyed a rare event in the life journey of a teen; not having to ride the bus for most of the school year in their first year in high school.  Now that is being taken away and reactions abound.  This being the first few weeks of the change, everyone is still working on the system and with the business of last night I had not done my portion with all of the players to explain that today was to be a bus day, which means getting out of the house about 15 minutes earlier than a car day.

I had been downstairs, as is normal, for about ten minutes when Marcia came down.  It was about 25 minutes before they would leave.

Marcia:  Does Jan know we are taking the bus?

Me: I have no idea.  Go wake her up and let her know.

Me Fear: I had not told anyone they were taking the bus.  Something will go wrong.

Me Joy: Yippee!!!  It has only taken a week and Marcia gets that when there is nothing happening they take the bus and she is actually taking responsibility rather than being a defiant teenager and pushing back.  How wonderful!

Me Anger:  I bet Jan has no idea and it will be another crappy morning arguing about taking the bus.

We went about our morning routines and I got up to the kitchen about 5 minutes before departure time.  Marcia was present, Cindy had come down still sick so she was going to miss another day and Jan was nowhere to be found.

Me: Where is Jan?  Did you wake her up?

Marcia: Yeah, I did.  No idea.

Wife: Was she aware they were taking the bus?  You were supposed to be telling them.

Me Anger: I know that and I already beat myself up about that downstairs, thank you very much!  I know we agreed that I would be telling them, but rubbing it in does not help any!  Grumble grumble grumble.

Me Fear:  See, I knew she’d not come down.  Now I will have all that teenage drama.

Me Anger:  I had told Marcia to make sure Jan got up as she is terrible at waking up when not planned.  I bet she just rolled over and went back to sleep.  Why didn’t Marcia make sure she got up?  Why didn’t I make sure they were all aware last night?

Me:  Yes, I know.  With all the running around I did not get to see most of them last night.

Me Anger:  They are in high school.  Why can’t they assume the bus is the way to go.  Because they are selfish teenagers, that’s why!  Grr!

Me Sadness:  You were a teenager once.  Why are you so hard on them?  Meany!

I had to finish up some things on the computer downstairs so I went back down and in the meantime the bus came and went.  I walk upstairs to find Jan just running into the kitchen as we both hear the bus leaving the neighborhood in front of the house.

Jan:  I had no idea we were taking the bus today!  Now what do I do?  Not go to school?

Me: (Deep breath) No.  I will drive you over this morning.

Jan Anger: Why!? WHY!?  NO ONE TOLD ME!!!!  My life sucks!  Why can’t we drive?  This is stupid!

Me Anger: See!!  I knew this would happen!

Me Sadness: Yes you did, just try to get her to understand.

Me:  Give me a couple minutes to finish up and I will be ready to go.  You guys will be taking the bus normally so you need to figure that out.

Jan: I can’t get up that early! At dad’s I can’t get up that early and it is later than this!  I don’t understand (fade to Charlie Brown teacher warble as I tune out the tirade)

Me (calmly):  You’ll figure it out.

Jan: I’m too tired getting up this early!

Me: Then go to bed earlier.

Jan: I went to bed at 9!

Me: OK, then I guess your body is telling you it needs to be earlier.

Jan: I can’t go to bed earlier, I barely got my homework done!

Me: You’ll figure it out.

Jan Anger: This is stupid!  I don’t get it!  (Ongoing)

Me Sadness: Oh the joys of teenagers……

So now we circle back to patience.

By being patient I was able to see things from Jan’s perspective and not blow my stack, as this was a similar conversation to what has occurred every time the bus has come up.  As an adult I see no reason that the public provided transportation is not fine.  I can understand the “earlier” portion but I also struggle with the fact that it is 15 minutes, at most, earlier and if they are tired they have the whole bus ride to veg out.  Jan as a teenager does not see the problem with driving.  This is where her and Marcia have different perspectives, and Marcia’s has been provided to her by the fact that she has gone out and gotten a job and has paid for a few tanks of gas for the car she uses and has let us know how crazy it is.  Jan has not had the benefit of this reality yet.  She is still blissfully unaware that there is not a magic money plant out back, leprechauns do not arrive at my door just before they all wake up to let me grab all the money and more that I need for the day, or that I do not crap twenties out my butt like some variation of a human ATM.  She still exists in that nirvana of early teenhood where the world works and she does not need, or care, to know why.  Only when the world does not work (i.e. she is asked to ride the bus when there is a perfectly good car just parked out front calling to her) does she even attempt to understand how the big machine operates, but even then it is through teen colored glasses and hearing aids.  I say gas costs a lot.  She hears we are cheapskates.  I say everyone has to ride the bus.  She hears that we had to walk to school uphill both ways, with nuclear radiation and while carrying baby goats to market.  Not having the patience and willingness to understand the other perspective and empathize with the emotions those cause is truly the root of most disagreements.  I work hard to make sure that I keep that in mind even as Anger is pound on the control buttons in my head to get me to do something irrational.  To be a good parent, I think that is what God tried to teach us by giving us instruction to be slow to anger.  Once that short little fat guy (watch the Inside Out trailer) has a firm hold on the joystick, it is hard to break free of his control.  We face this with all our emotions and that is always the struggle.  What is happening in Marcia’s or Jan’s or my wife’s control center?  Sadly, unlike the movie or my attempt at some levity in this post, we do not get to know unless those people speak to us and tell us.  And for some reason we are all usually really bad at sharing that information in a constructive way.  That’s why the concept Pixar has is so brilliant and why I have been looking forward to this movie for years when I heard about the concept four years ago.  The new trailer is awesome.  The teenage girl has a tirade that starts out with the parents trying to be OK and ends with a punishment, but it is the emotions that play out that are so fascinating.  As a parent I could totally get the dad’s emotions and what they were doing and I still get the teenage perspective and what she was doing.  The battle between the emotions is awesome.  Can you tell I’m excited about this movie!?  I can’t wait until June!  Anyway, sorry.  I’m calm again.  Back to my post.  To operate better in our relationships it is important to have this perspective, I just wish we could find a way to see into each other’s brains and hear all the dialogue exposed in the movie, but we do not.  So we need to find other ways, mainly by patiently listening and then by patiently thinking before we act.  With our human frailty that is not always possible, but God demands of us to try.  I will just keep trying to do that knowing that my perspective is just that.  Mine.  Not my wife’s, not my kids.  I will continue to pray that they are understand that as well and that we work out of love for each other to get to a resolution for all life’s little episodes and we continue to encourage Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust and Fear to play nice.

Many Christians, my wife included, view the book for Ecclesiastes from a less than joyful viewpoint.  It has been said that it is depressing and it is hard, but as I have learned more about the Bible over the years I have never really had this viewpoint.  The book was written by Solomon, whom the Bible tells us is a great man of wisdom.  I think we can all agree that we avoid, or skim over something written by a great man of wisdom with peril.  Every day we make choices, but I’d like to point out something counterintuitive to those of you who feel this book of the Bible has little to offer in the way of encouragement by pointing out a little nugget buried in there that can make all the difference in the world in your marriage, if applied.

Before we get to the nugget, let’s first set the stage.  Our lives are full of challenges and difficulties at times.  No one escapes these for their entire life.  We may go for years coasting along in bliss and contentment only to have something smack of off our pedestal.  Suddenly our perfect life is not so perfect anymore.  It is at these times when we struggle most and our values, our faith, if we have it, is tested.  As we assist in counseling people who are going through or have gone through divorce we see the all too common result in our culture of these times. The choice is to leave, to break up the family because it will be better.  Is that really the right choice?

Have you ever felt your spouse was not there, spending their time working or buried in hobbies that take them out of the home and away from you?  Maybe they focus on friends and not your family.  Perhaps there has been hardship:  financial, medical or spiritual.  These storms of life bring with them sadness and test our resolve.  It has become too common that the decision reached is to throw in the towel and walk away.

This is where the book of Ecclesiates applies to our trials in marriage.  The NIV translation lists verse 9:9 as “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun–all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.”  At first blush, and through the lens of this being a depressing book, it reads pretty harshly, though as a piece of wisdom it holds all the hope needed to understand that God has provided us this life and expects us to enjoy it, even through the trials.  Certainly this is a choice we make, but if we take our hardships and things that drive us mad and look for creative ways to find some fun way to deal with them, suddenly our wife and our marriage are a source of power and not a drain.  If we look at what is viewed as a more literal translation of the Bible, the NASB, this verse reads: “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun ; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”

Suddenly the moroseness and depressing language is not really there, is it?  This translation removes the burden of digging for the real point Solomon was making and makes it front and center.  God intends you to enjoy life with your wife no matter what occurs.  It is our reward for all the difficulties.  So you, as always, have a choice.  Do you throw it away when it gets hard, feeling that your marriage or your wife are the source of your misery, or do you follow the instruction of one of the wisest men who ever lived and cling to your wife and labor with her while enjoying things together, even through the bad times?  If you change your perspective, not only can a book of the Bible that gets a bad rap as just a lament of misery suddenly offer some of the best hope in your life, but you can turn around your whole view on life and make your family a bastion against the storms and weather them together, rather than apart.