Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Proverbs 14 is a wonderful text that most Christians are familiar with.  As a book written mainly by the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, any chapter is a great trove of what it means to be wise, but chapter 14 stands out as one of the simplest ways to determine your standing in this era of quick quizzes.  You can read through Proverbs 14 like a Cosmo quiz; am I this or am I that and then add up the score at the end of the 35 verses and see on a score of 0-35 how wise (or conversely how foolish) you are.

Today I wanted to focus on two specific verses, verse 14 and verse 29 as I find myself assessing how we are doing as parents all the time using these two measures that God has so wonderfully provided.  For those not familiar with them, let me reprint them here.

Verse 14 says “The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, But a good man will be satisfied with his.” Verse 29 reads “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.”  I’m going to talk about each of these individually and how I feel they should impact our lives as parents.

One of the things anyone who knows me understands pretty quickly is that I love personal finance and helping others with it.  I’ve been contemplating ways to start financial coaching as a side hustle because I think my combination of financial simplicity joined with a humble Christian spirit of wanting to help can benefit a lot of people.  I’m not looking to write books or be on TV, just to help people and as a bonus maybe make a little extra money to help my family.  One of the first concepts that anyone needs to grasp as a motivation for not spending (which leads to saving, which is the goal) is compound interest.  You may have even heard the statement attributed to Albert Einstein (most likely falsely but done so nonetheless to add some weight to the importance of it) that goes something along the lines of compound interest being the most powerful force in the universe, the eighth wonder of the world.  That he who understands it, earns it and he who does not, pays it.

Again, if you are unfamiliar with the concept, compound interest is what happens when you let money just sit in some instrument that provides a return.  What happens is that you earn a little interest that first period, and then in the second period you earn interest on the whole balance including the interest you earned before and ad infinitum until some point in time.  If you make a sound investment in a stock of a great company such as GE (less great this week after its last announcements), a very small amount of money invested when the company started would be worth millions today.  And this is just over a little more than 100 years.  This is an example of the power of compounding and we can see it at work all over the place in the financial world.

I believe we can take this same principle and looking at Proverbs 14:14 as our base and, understanding that God’s promises are eternal, apply this same concept to the power of influence we have through our connections.  As with any of the statements in Proverbs 14, you can be on the wicked/foolish side or the wise/godly side.  As the Einstein quote explains, if you are a fool you pay the interest, so it can drain your savings just as quickly as it can add to it, if you make the wrong choices on where to let compound interest work in your life.  With our kids we also are making an investment by showing them how to live with what we say and do every day.  We can live for the world and it’s ephemeral, short-term “rewards” or we can live for God and His eternal purposes and rewards.  Verse 14 tells us we can be guided and satisfied by what we do in following God, or we can have our fill, reap the cost, of backsliding to the world’s way of thinking about anything.  Every “investment” we make in our children can have eternal consequences.  Every word we say, every action we model they take in and it impacts them from that day forward.  What we then have the ability to do is change what happens in the world to a greater and greater degree the more time that passes.  How our children develop and how they treat others including their children continues to ripple outward and grow and the number of connections and generations grows.  We can radiate good out into eternity by making the right investment today.  Imagine what the impact you have today will have on this world 10,000 years from now, 100,000 years from now.  It is just hard to wrap our heads around that but if we return to the financial analogy, the impact we see in just 25 or 100 years is impressive, but if we calculated that out for 10,000 years it would be mind-blowing.  This is what God offers all of us to understand in life, and as a parent I think about that a lot.  Our decisions echo in eternity.  This is why God fights for every soul to be saved, because he understands the impact the compound interest of our actions has.  What we do today does not only impact today, it effects and changes everything that happens into eternity.  Can you even begin to think about what that means?  Does the awesomeness of that weigh on you as much as it does me?  That, and nothing less, is what God has given us a chance to impact.  What will you do with that awesome power?  I try to make it impact my thinking as often as I can and it helps me understand the importance of standing for what is right, asking What Would Jesus Do, and driving in the positive direction as much as I can.  Will you let this sink in and reassess your thinking?  What verse 14 challenges us to do is realize we cannot always change our position, but we can always change our disposition.  And that is the lesson of compound interest when applied to parenting.

Moving on, let’s look at verse 29.  I’m sure we all have heard this many times but do we really get what it means? Let’s walk through a scenario we all face many times as parents.

I ask my kids to do things, such as clean up around the house.  After I asked the first time, in a few minutes I heard raised voices.  When I approached I found they were arguing about who had done the most, complaining to each other that one or the other was not pulling their weight.  I asked them kindly to stop and keep working.

After a few more minutes, I returned to find them bickering about who was going to do what.  Who would vacuum, who would pick up the socks.  I stepped in again, got them to be quiet and told them to finish the job.

Finally, the third time, I checked out the results after they said they were done.  What I saw was very lackluster and not the result I expected, and they explained they did not understand what a clean basement looks like.  At this point I lost it and yelled at them about how they never help around the house, how they make no effort, how they never listen, how they never show any respect and I stormed upstairs as they started flinging their feelings at me.

I stood there thinking two things. Why am I having this discussion?  I should just tell them what to do and if they don’t I should just bring the hammer down and remove all their privileges! but the second thought pierced me to my soul, deeper than any basement could ever be, I let my anger get the best of me and I am acting like a foolish child.

I do not remember exactly what I said when I calmed down and laid out my expectations clearly along with consequences of not being able to use the space later if it was not clean in the future to help the lesson sink in but most importantly in these time I need to understand If I am going to help these kids grow up emotionally and teach them to appropriately express their anger, than I need to grow up myself. 

God never says to not get angry but he does give us example like verse 29 and Ecclesiastes 7:9 “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” that are meant to clearly explain the consequences of improper anger.  We look and act like fools.  God never said we should not be angry, but he did warn us to not let anger turn into sin.  The easy way out is to think that losing our cool is human and natural and happens from time to time, but we are called to be better than that.  Let’s not take the easy way out, let’s help our kids learn how to behave like caring, rational adults and not like raving fools.

With a lot of kids, there is always a lot going on in our house.  It takes effort to not get angry, and we can say it is worse with more people, but those are just excuses.  God does not give us criteria for when it is OK to be a fool because we just can’t handle life.  His criteria, like him, are absolute.  Unrighteous anger is always a sin and as such we should avoid it.  Like any habit, this takes conscious effort.  It takes having a plan on how things will be addressed.  I have a plan, and even though that plan is when I feel my emotions getting the best of me to step away and regroup, I sometimes fail to execute the plan.  I need to then ask God and those I was inappropriately angry with for forgiveness.  However if we circle around to the earlier discussion, these actions have eternal compounding interest built into them.  Do I want people around me to learn that what we should be compounding is anger, or should we be compounding love?  Christ makes that answer very clear for us and we need to get better at laying the troubles we cannot handle, those that make us angry and irate like exes we cannot control, at His feet and try to emulate Christlikeness and show that we trust God.

So, can we be more like Solomon and less like ourselves?  I believe we can, but I know it will be hard.  Every sinner is on a road to improvement right up till they leave this world and then I am not sure if it continues in heaven or not.  I won’t be able to update this blog once I find out, but I do thank God for the fact that he gave us a Cosmo quiz right there in the Bible in Proverbs 14 to go down and assess ourselves and the ability to reach out to the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance to fix the warts we find.

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“just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” – 2 Peter 2:1b-3 (NASB)

We have recently been talking about this section of the Bible in our Sunday school class.  Our sermon this week was about Psalm 73, that most scholars describe as contrasting the end of the wicked and the righteous.  As we left church one of the pastors commented “You guys live this every day”, and he was right, though we are certainly not alone.  For those who question my Christian faith and how I can feel so strongly about it, it is times in my life like these where what is weighing on our hearts aligns with outside support that those without faith would simply label “coincidence”.  Our current season of life is one of those times, for not only did a sermon and a Sunday school lesson align, but so did the timing of a move “Paul: Apostle of Christ” happen to hit me with questions and lessons that fit the problem at hand.  You see, what the pastor was referring to and that we continue to wrestle with in our children’s lives, are the influence of our exes from a position of authority similar to what Peter was speaking of within the church.  Parents who secretly introduce destructive heresies into the lives of our children, who lead them down a path of wickedness with seemingly little conflict (Psalm 73) and inspire in them fascination with flawed gods gone by (similar to Maritius’s unrewarded belief in “Paul”) that goes beyond just being interested in mythology.

A brief comment by my wife after the comment from the pastor kindled in me the seed for this post, for in blended families we have the added challenge of being exposed to attacks from within, from the other parent.  For some people trying to blend, those attacks also can come in their new household with disagreements between each other as they try to meld different upbringings, food choices and lifestyles.  I have heard recollections from multiple people about how things that really are not normally a part of life for an intact family because everyone in the household grew up with the same rules, traditions and experiences, can become a litany of challenges for a blended family.  This is another one of that endless stream of things that are just difficult to grasp and fully appreciate unless you have lived it or walked very closely with those who do.  It is important to formulate how you will navigate those obstacles early and often within a new blended family and I feel we’ve done a great job in that area.  I also feel in other but the worst circumstances that these are not really attacks, because in a loving couple there is not poor intent.  That’s why I will focus exclusively on the other parent.  It helps hearing from outsiders from time to time about how well all our kids appear to get along, because as with anyone, the self-doubt constantly creeps in and outside affirmation helps, especially when it comes with godly counsel.

So while we have done well to work with our helpmate within our own four walls to craft a new family dynamic, let me return to the other possible source of attack from within a blended family, that of the other parents involved.  I have mentioned before of Bert’s total lack of God in his life as well as Nan’s at best luke warm, convenient and superficial belief.  Bert tends to replace God with other mythology which created a high fascination with Greek and Roman gods, in Jan in particular, and open the door to other things like witchcraft and other pagan idolatry.  It is hard enough to guard our children’s souls against this in normal circumstances but when a parent, who is in their lives with positional authority simply from being a parent, shares what can be seductive and intriguing information, it is exponentially more difficult to combat, most often to the point where we find ourselves having to turn it over to God and trust that He can hopefully establish enough of a foothold to turn them away from falsehood.

These attacks occur on many fronts and conspire to erode our ability to influence and at times leads us to situations where it seems, and likely often is, best to withdrawal and allow the children to make up their own minds, for shortly they will all be aged out of the mandatory presence in our sphere of influence and able to decide for themselves what is right or wrong, what is fact and what is fiction.  I have this argument often with my parents where they get upset that I am not “making” Marcia, or Greg or another do the “right” thing.  I calmly (OK, many times not so calmly) repeat what it feels like I have covered dozens of times, that making someone do something is not a sustainable goal as someone who is coerced or bullied into a behavior will simply drop that behavior the moment they are free from the means of coercion or pain, a point all our children are fast approaching.  It is this ongoing onslaught of the world coupled with the exes that has led us to lay the problems at God’s feet and pray while still trying to ascertain when to get involved.

It is on this front that we find ourselves with Peter and Bobbi and that my wife has been wrestling with for months.  Peter fought so hard to embrace the false teaching of Bert that his diabetes is not really that big of a deal and therefore he could play with it and manipulate it to get what he wants in life that he endangered his health and his life by overdosing on insulin to make himself ill perhaps because he did not want to attend school and certainly because he wanted to spend more time with Bert after visitation was curtailed due to Bert’s lack of responsibility in Peter’s care.  Basic parenting skills are missing, such as actually knowing what kids are doing within his house or if they are taking medications needed, so that Peter created a poor outcome.  Further false teaching about how things were not important, doctors are all dumb and therefore their input can be ignored at will and other such drivel also contribute to Peter’s belief that our household stance of following your medication regimen and believing doctors in major medical systems is important to good health, especially with a chronic medical issue.  Fighting this never-ending battle has caused my lovely wife to have to vacillate between fighting against the noise or just letting it go and trusting God.

A similar path has been embarked on by Bobbi, where my wife finds herself as being the only adult that Bobbi might want to listen to (she has zero desire to listen to me over Bert) that is advocating for Bobbi to finally get her drivers license.  The paradigm my wife and I operate in is one similar to parents our age that assumes that children will not be able to wait until they are sixteen to get that document and be able to move about the world less dependent on someone else to get them places.  As we have been finding out for a few years now, since Bobbi is driver number four in our brood, this paradigm has shifted, as kids have less desire to take on the responsibility and see much less benefit in driving than we did.  So Bobbi is supported by a general peer group paradigm shift, a counselor who has expressed Bobbi’s input on being “terrified” and other such alarming (at least to the counselor who does not understand the Bert led teaching of exaggeration of negative feelings to alarm adults) words of driving and Bert’s support of her not driving because it lets him control her more by being the only driver she has reasonable access to (where he uses another false teaching to reinforce the fact that working at a normal job the way my wife and I do that does not allow you to be available throughout the work day to drive kids around is showing a lack of love and caring for your kids).  This led my wife to once again feel she needs to concede, as she is the only one “forcing” Bobbi to get her license and now Bobbi is alienating my wife because she feels uncared for.  Bobbi has amplified childhood feelings about being worried about others not wearing seatbelts in cars to the point she would burst into tears for fear of their safety, to now perhaps creating psychosomatic symptoms of legs that go numb when she drives because she is too terrified.  Never mind that she recently drove a total of about three hours round trip for the Easter holiday without any indication or complaint of this paralyzing numbness that she mentioned to the counselor.  We feel this again is her taking the teaching of Bert to use those people in her sphere (counselors) to get results she wants rather than having real conversations with her mom about how she feels and how to get past it like most people do.  After all, even in the new paradigm of her generation, kids are not foregoing getting their license because of numb legs that did not impact prior generations but suddenly are because of the secret design changes in car seats that only impact teenage drivers lower body blood flow but leave older drivers unimpacted.  Trying to have any sort of discussion with any of Bert’s kids that borders on the rational, preparing-them-for-responsible-adulthood kind is nearly impossible (Jan with accident and liability responsibility, Bobbi with a driver’s license or real concerns of a food allergy and Peter with his diabetes) and places us in a very unhappy situation.  We feel forced to approach these conversations with kid gloves or alienate the kids to the point of having them run head long to Bert because he supports, coddles and encourages them to be irresponsible and crafty.  Both of these approaches are less than optimal, we are forced to be half-way parents.  They have a parent, a false teacher, who models poor living and social responsibility (not conning people to live versus getting a job and making money as is socially acceptable).  He not only teaches them poorly, he lives poorly and so they see this as a normal situation.  Bert’s way appears easier to an uninformed child who cannot rationalize all the unseen impacts yet (and may never be able to if not free of Bert’s orbit long enough to learn there are better ways) and so it is easy to ridicule our “stupid” ways.  It is this type of way that basic teaching in the Bible aligns with clear lessons in everyday life to support my faith that if in doubt on how to address a topic, the Bible is the owner’s manual for life.

I do not want to imply that Nan comes off scot free in false teaching, i.e. difficult to combat, influence; she simply is not as egregious as Bert.  Nan certainly does not encourage living within a budget, thinking things through clearly to avoid unintended consequences, or teaching responsibility.  She brushes off the importance of missing lessons for Greg, of giving solid financial advice to Cindy, or helping Marcia figure out how not to live in a perpetual financial hole.  Some of this is a result of Nan just not understanding how the world works (during our divorce she once called me in a panic from the cellular carrier store on New Year’s Eve because she was convinced all cellular contracts renewed on January 1st and wanted to make sure she had her own phone for the coming year, when we would be divorced, and felt if she missed this window she’d be stuck until January 1st the next year).  Nan also does not seem to argue too vehemently against my input, as Bert does against my wife’s, but that viewpoint may just be wishful thinking on my part.  Nan is also usually aligned to, at least to what might be considered a normal degree of difference between adults, most critical issues like health care, need to get a job in life and other things that we are at odds with Bert on.

The further challenge that my wife struggles with in relation to Bert is what is the pain of the writer of Psalm 73.  How does Bert continue to live wickedly with seemingly no consequences and yet winning the hearts of his children?  Bert could not do this without the benefit of false teaching, for if he did align with society or the teachings of Jesus, then his teaching would also by definition align.  By presenting a more enticing worldview, Bert seduces his children just as the snake hypnotized Eve, but just as we learned about hypnotism, one cannot be hypnotized without at some level wanting to be hypnotized, to be convinced.  The unfair position Bert takes here is that he has the love of his children, so they are therefore already open to his influence far more than say, to mine, and then he offers a tempting and seemingly rewarding option.  After all, why take responsibly for anything when you can apologize for the impacts to others, blame other things or people, or claim ignorance?  The danger is that the kids do not understand that as one gets older the consequences get larger and they are not able to see the path they are being led down as one with a large cliff at the end labeled failure that does not have a trampoline at the end to bounce them back up on the road.  The danger now is that the kids are old enough to get a bit of Bert’s manipulation of others and not see any real consequences, so it seems like Bert might have pulled a fast one on the world.  We are not sure what to do with this.  Our advisers in our pastors, our parents, our sibling and friends have assured us that eventually Bert’s ways would catch up with him.  After all how long can it go on?  This is our Psalm 73 moment (a moment which for my wife is stretching into decades) and why our pastor said we live this every day, because we do.  But it does not make us feel better.  Because while the end of Psalm 73 says that in the end God will give Bert his, that’s all well and good for Bert.  Our concern is that he may drag his kids along with him into the fiery pit of doom and therein lies the real anguish for a divorced parent facing an attacker from the inside.

As I mentioned last August, it has been a while and I wanted to really have the “pull” of something to say rather than just sticking to a regular posting schedule with nothing going on.  I’ve come to the point when I feel some topics have arisen that can either be revisited with new episodes in my life or be addressed anew.  Not sure the best way to determine which is which for some, but in those cases I’ll just write and let you decide as you read if you feel it’s a new spin on a topic I’ve covered, something new or a blend.

We’ve had a major situation going on since early September last year (Labor Day for those familiar with the US holidays).  The kid in question is Peter but it spilled over in various way to all my wife’s kids, Jan and Bobbi, as Bert ratcheted up the crazy, to phrase it as my wife often does.    I’m going to provide the high level points you need for this post here and may go back in later posts to more details from the past.  If I tried to cover it all in one post you’d be here for hours to get through it all.

In case you had forgotten, Peter has diabetes and this comes with all sort of things that need to be monitored, administered and dealt with.  Peter’s situation has been a constant state of tension regarding Bert and my wife and Bert has been terrible at any sort of consistency, regularly choosing to disobey doctor’s recommendations and in general not doing what he should.  We speculate about the reasons why over the years but we really have no idea as we’re not in Bert’s head.  In this case the why is less important than the fact the results of those actions created the situation we are in the midst of.

Peter was sick around Labor Day with various symptoms and eventually things led to a couple hospitalizations in mid-October.  In the first visit they did a ton of GI (gastro-intestinal) testing and decided to place him on several medications to try to get things stabilized.  After going home for a little over a week and counting on the visitation schedule between our home and Bert’s, Peter’s condition deteriorated to the point where the doctor’s admitted him again.  It was during this visit that the current stream of events began.

In speaking with the social worker at the hospital my wife determined that while at Bert’s very few to none of his meds had been given.  She called me up at work distraught and asked if I could join her at the hospital for moral support and to figure out what to do.  She was extremely upset and as we talked through the details of what we had before us we decided to file an emergency motion because of the impact on Peter’s health.  We felt Peter needed to be with us until he was stable and also that Bert should have any medical decision-making authority revoked.  Our attorney recommended that Jan and Bobbi be included in the changed visitation being asked for, as he felt the court normally likes to keep all the kids together.  The ruling given to us very quickly was to have Peter with us full time until further notice, all medical decision making for all three kids to my wife, but the judge did not alter the visitation of Jan and Bobbi.  Jan is now over 18, so she’s not really under any court visitation any more and while Bobbi is not that old, the judge felt the situation was really about protecting Peter (which it was) and not the others.  Bert was first notified when he came to pick all the kids of for his normal visitation for a weekend and I just told him at the door that Peter was not going and handed him the executed court order.

Needless to say, Bert was not happy.  He loves to have control and this unexpected situation shattered that in an area he likes to portray himself as expert in.  Bert thinks he’s expert in everything, so perhaps trying to single this out from any other area is pointless.  He stood on the porch and read the order for a while and then asked me if this was our only attorney.  I shot back telling him yes and asking if he felt we needed an army of them.  His retort was that we likely would before he was done with us.  At this point all the kids were out so I shut the door and he went on his way after looking over the order for a few more seconds.  My wife and I laughed a bit about Bert’s comments but also realized the crazy train had left the station and that we were in for an interesting ride.

So with these initial points explained, I want to divert and explain the topic of parental alienation.  In brief, parental alienation is when one parent tries to impact how the children view the other parent in a negative way with the goal of driving the children to want to be hostile and/or to cease contact with the other parent.  Bert has always had this on his agenda but when pushed into a corner as we had just done, his attempts moved into overdrive.  You can find a much older post talking about some resources to help deal with parental alienation here.

Within a week, Bert began driving in some of the wedges to increase parental alienation.  When my wife went to pick up the kids after five days, Bert met her and handed her a motion of his own that indicated that the girls were staying by him because they feared for their safety at our house.  The motion was filed but the court had not ruled, so my wife asked to speak to the girls but Bert refused.  She called the police who arrived and demanded to speak to the girls who verbally shared various items that would be typical for any parent, that they would at times get yelled at etc.  In our state the police will not make a determination and send the kids with one parent or the other, they just note the call and let you deal with things in court, so the girls stayed as Peter went with my wife.  My wife at some point in the next few days checked the girl’s room and found all their drawers empty as they had taken most of their clothes to Bert.  There was a pre-trial session rather quickly and the court demanded that Bert abide by the order and that his motion was discarded and my wife went and got Bobbi but Jan insisted she wanted to remain with Bert.

This was when some decisions were made that are always hard in these situations.  For us it was very difficult and this situation is unique to blending.  I tried my best to be a supportive spouse, but I also understood that I needed to let my wife take the lead on where her heart and mind were leading her.  This is where I think a lot of tension can me introduced and I have no idea what is really the “right” way, I can only share my way.  My desire was to have my wife not let her heart override her mind where it did not make sense, and by sense I meant both financial and emotional sense.  In divorce the only people who win at these times are the lawyers and other professionals who get to bill us when emotions drive the process.  As the days went by, my wife did an excellent job of removing more and more of her emotions from the drivers of the decisions and settled on pursuing the process in a way that protected our blended family as well as doing what made general financial and emotional sense in regards to Peter’s situation.  I’m not sure if I’m explaining it in a way that is clear for the reader who was not in the middle of it, and putting it into words is hard, but one example might make some sense in that my wife indicated at one point that we were not going to jeopardize our overall long term savings or kids college funds to fight this battle with Bert.

Once Jan decided to remain with Bert my wife made it clear that certain privileges that come with being a part of our household then are no longer hers such as access to a car or a cell phone paid for by us.  Jan needed to return the car key and her cell phone.  Jan still has minimal contact and sends jumbled messages such as the reason she is away is she need to figure things out on her own, yet she does spend some time at Bert’s so even though she is claiming she is not involved with either parent, she seems to be exhibiting behavior that shows Bert is favored and my wife is the rejected parent from a parental alienation standpoint.

The situation escalated in January when Peter was again hospitalized.  It was determined that he had been self dosing and giving himself extra insulin and after getting him involved with a psychologist it was determined this was driven by his desire to see Bert and not have visitation withheld, so he acted out in this way and with lying and so we have been slowly working with the psychologist to have Peter understand he can spend more time with Bert but that comes with the responsibility of maintaining his health properly, which means taking all the meds the doctors want him to, logging what is happening and handling his insulin properly.  Initially we were told to lock things up for his safety until it was determined why he was doing these things, but at this point we are back to the situation prior to December and after another day in court the judge set visitation for everyone back to normal (which really only impacted Peter, but he was already doing that for the last two weeks as part of the process with the doctor) but my wife still maintains medical authority.
As we have navigated this situation there is no clear path.  When a parent is twisting everything and also not cooperating in any way it makes an already stressful situation worse.  While Bert bad mouths our household to everyone he can which at times is parroted through all the kids it is difficult.  It is very hard to know which way is the right way.  We do know certain behaviors we will not engage in even though Bert does, such as name calling, fabrication of events, and encouraging the kids to fight against things in an inappropriate way.  It is one thing to state what you want, but another to engage in manipulation and tactics to try to force something.  Guiding them in a way that we believe is right is the only thing we know to do though that may mean they buy into the propaganda and falsification of Bert.  This is the difficult situation my wife finds herself in at this time.  Having to balance that with the possibility of losing the desire of her children to maintain a relationship with her largely based on Bert’s web of lies.  I do the best I can to be supportive.  If I knew the path to take I would say it, but for everyone facing this you have to take it one step at a time and do what aligns with your beliefs, ethics and stances.  My brother is walking through a custody challenge that also have parental alienation involved.  It is another unique situation that is a fruit of divorce and the dynamics it places us in.

I did my daily quick news review this morning to the horrible realization that it has happened again; Trump has said something even more ridiculous and outlandish than the previous thing he said that I was hoping he could not top.  Yesterday his bombshell was a hint that perhaps, just maybe, gun owners should take things into their own hands and make sure Clinton does not infringe on the Second Amendment.  This was of course quickly discounted by supporters as a misinterpretation, but in Trump’s own words “ya know..”

The realization I have come to over the last few weeks is that this is a golden opportunity as a parent to discuss some really crucial issues about character, responsibility and accountability with our children.  This to me is the silver lining in this freak show that is a Trump candidacy.

While people go around claiming things are misinterpreted or that is was a mistake, I use it as an opportunity to explain to my teenagers that as you rise in level or responsibility (or responsibility you hope to gain by, say being elected President of the United States), you must become less and less ambiguous in what you say, because words have impact.  At certain levels you cannot hide behind, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.  If a CEO made a comment at a company meeting that “Sales are good, but sometimes they start to slide and it that happens, then, you know, maybe I need to make some decisions”, expecting that some people will not speculate about those “decisions” being something that the CEO did not mean or would not contemplate is a very, very poor response.  The simple solution is to be clear.  The CEO could say, “we will need to determine how long we can proceed at the lower sales rate before we need to make decisions about plant closings and staff reductions”.  Is that a great message?   No.  But it is clear.  In a similar manner, I expect Presidential candidates to not give fill in the blank responses.  Trump could have avoided controversy by instead saying, “if you do not want your Second Amendment rights endangered, then do not vote for Clinton”.  Instead he chose, to say something which could be implied and then denied with a wink and nod, when more sinister implications were drawn.  It was a deliberate choice and it is important to show our children how and why these seemingly small choices have large implications.

A key ability that we all need to develop is a really solid “BS meter”.  To do this involves a lot of work, and this election cycle is offering a real world example to use to teach our kids why it is worth the effort.  It is very easy to be lemmings or sheep and get led down the path to the cliff or slaughter by a smooth talking con man (or woman).  To have your BS meter working you need to learn enough about  a lot of things to actually be able to make a decision yourself on the merits of an idea.  In this case understanding the limits of presidential authority, the checks and balances of the government, what is and is not in the Constitution, what impact the Supreme Court can have and when they get involved and when they do not, knowing how to do your own research to fact check something “many people” have told someone, and being able to think logically and factually versus emotionally are just some of the skills and knowledge one needs.  The implications of not doing this in a presidential election are staggering and educating our children on this is a great opportunity.

So I attempt to have conversations where we calm down and just walk through the real issues.  We strip away the emotion of moving to Canada if someone gets elected and instead talk about what might be a better response and what we can do instead to improve our system rather than take the easy way out and just give up.  We get to talk about why not voting really is a poor option and the value of living in a land where you get to vote and contrast that with areas of the world where people literally die for that opportunity.  We get to talk about why words matter and why saying someone “just” did or said something is letting people off too easily at times and how to gauge when that time really is.  We get to look at why a President does matter in an era when we are being spoon fed BS about why they are no different than a Queen in England or an Emperor in Japan.  A disengaged citizenry is exactly what dictators love to prey on.  They reach for the fear of what we might lose, or what might be done to us and expand than into a monster that is hard to ignore.  Let’s take the time to educate our children about how to turn on the light, open the closet door and see that the boogeyman really does not exist and to see the importance in being smart enough to see what really is there.  The issues we face every day and in the election are real and serious.  The people that will lead us when we deal with them should be the same.  Knowing how to use your BS meter to ferret them out is a skill our children will need for a lifetime.

It has now been five months since Marcia decided she could no longer live under our roof on a regular basis (and as we have seen over the last five months what she really meant was “at all” since she has not been back at all except for two hours on Christmas Eve, then sleep and then waking up at 7 AM as asking if she could be taken back to Nan’s because she was sick).  Over the last couple weeks I’ve had some time to sit an ponder the situation.

The sad realization, and it has been said a few times in passing in our home, but as I sat around and applied some hindsight to the situation, it is very true, is that it has been so incredibly different in the house without Marcia here.  For reasons that I am either not professionally equipped to determine because I am not a psychologist, and/or because it has not been revealed to me any other way, Marcia just has always had a tendency to get upset at just about anything.  I’ve thought about the nature versus nurture aspect most certainly, because if I somehow caused this strange behavior that is so contrary to my nature, I would like to understand how and if I could fix it.  The latter piece of the puzzle I am sure simply comes from me being male.  Perhaps if I was female I would simply be content to analyze the former part of the statement.  In any event, both Cindy and Greg, Marcia’s biological siblings and therefore the relevant subjects in this thought experiment having been in the same environment for the longest time possible, do not have this predilection, which seems to point against the nurture aspect.   I suppose one could make the case that something we did in raising Marcia for the first 2 ½ years of her existence was so different that it took hold and yet did not impact the other two but an honest assessment of parenting style is that nothing changed at that time.

The big change in the environment was something I had written about four years ago (My darkest day) but that happened when all three of the kids were around so that more toxic environment that existed before should certainly have impacted all of them if that was the cause of Marcia’s demeanor, so I still find it hard to find any evidence that points to nurture and determines that nature is not a reasonable cause.  In fact, I think any reasonable person would determine that since 66% of the sample in our experiment is not behaving this way that would be a strong indicator against nurture so I lean towards nature.  In the end, the topic of this post is not about the cause of Marcia’s behavior but is about the result of what has happened in our home, what I have come to call the calm after the storm.

These last five months have been amongst the most peaceful and serene times in our home that I can ever remember.  Certainly the latter years I was married to Nan were chaotic because of the lack of marital harmony and all the subsequent mess that caused and is covered very thoroughly here in the earlier posts in the blog for those who would like to learn more.  The blended years had challenges as well, and I think in the throes of them it was easy to assume that a lot of them were related to the blending, and to be fair I would be foolish to say none of the tension in the house was related to that, but looking back the added catalyst of Marcia’s presence sadly seems to have been a significant contributor because it is much more peaceful.

Certainly with a house full of three teenage girls and two pre-teen boys there are still times when it is not peaceful, but the discipline is metted out, the discussions are had and things get back to an even keel quite quickly.  In fact, compared to the protracted, sometimes, multi-day storms clouds that lingered in the house while Marcia was upset about something, it seems almost as if the current times are gone in a matter of seconds, though I know that is not the case.  It just is amazing to see how much impact one child can have on the tone of an entire household.  To be clear, I am not sitting here happy to come to this realization, in fact I am quite sad to determine how much more positive our home is without Marcia’s presence.  This is because as a father I would like to fix this because this will only continue to make Marcia’s life more difficult than it needs to be.  I certainly tried to work with her on her temper and way of handling things when she was present here, but the results were never very good.  This root of the issue as far as I can diagnose it is that Marcia is just not at all happy when things do not go her way and feels it is her mission and duty in life that everyone know she is not happy and why she is not happy.  Some of this is because she still has not matured to understand that this behavior is not pleasant for others around her and that people therefore do not want to be around her.  She attributes this however to the fact that people are not accepting of her sexuality versus that they are not accepting of her tantrums and unwillingness to accept other viewpoints.

The new normal in our home has fostered a lot more dialogue with the other kids and it is sad again to think that perhaps this was being stifled with the storms of Marcia versus the fact that the dialogue just was not needed.  Again, with multiple teenagers in the house, I would be naïve to think it was the latter.  Certainly there is nothing we can do to turn back time, and frankly, if I could have stopped or lessened the Marciacanes I would have, so going back in time would have had little chance of having better results.  This realization was what led me to very seriously explore the nature versus nurture aspect when trying to determine where Marcia’s behavior comes from.  After all, if it was nurture then maybe I could see how different actions would have mattered, but as I stated above, I would need to make some very significant mental leaps and turn a blind eye to much contrarian evidence to land anywhere other than this is just Marcia’s personality and then to pray that God will help her with it so she can have a less chaotic life.  Another piece of evidence is that even though she has not been here for five months the information I get back from Nan seems to indicate that Marcia is the same there as she was here and just uses a different reason for being upset since Nan does not provide the excuse I do since Nan is not a believer.  The scapegoat Marcia used was my Christianity but that scapegoat is not present with Nan, but it seems the tantrums and the guilt trips and everything else are still coming forth from Marcia.

I am certainly open to Marcia mending fences, however now that she has entered legal adulthood she needs to make those first steps as anything I do is seen as nagging.  I’m here if she needs me and I have let her know that as much as possible.  In the meantime, we are certainly using the calm after the storm to impact the remaining children who are still engaged with us for good.   I pray for Marcia every day.  Life is hard enough on its own.  When you create your own storms around you however, it just gets harder.  I pray she learns that with some simpler lessons rather than massive life-changing ones, but she keeps writing off lost job opportunities or financial costs as other things rather than self-induced failures.  As a father whose job it is to prepare children for adulthood, this is hard to leave in her lap, but at this point I have no choice.  She has not been interested in my input since forever, so this is nothing new.  What is new is that she is not here to let me make sure she gets some parental wisdom regardless of her desire to hear it.  This is my new struggle to accept, and I have come a long way in the last five months with the somewhat unexpected total severing of ties.  I’ve been forced to go cold turkey on parental input and that is not at all what I expected as a father.  We are prepared for the expectation that our children will grow up and slowly move away from that, but usually they still remain connected and ask for advice here and there.  We are even aware of the shift that happens when a child gets married and their biggest source of advice becomes their spouse and not their parents.  We are even aware of situations where children are intentionally destructive or disobedient to the point that you must throw them out of the house, but this is none of those.   This is a willful immediate separation that has caused a strange calm in the household as a result and it is a confusing set of emotions because I am happy for something sad, and then sad that I am happy about it.  I think it is because God does not mean for it to play out this way, but it has.  One day at a time He gives me the mercy I need.

One of the gifts that is often overlooked that we need to thank God for is memory.

I have long been one to emphasize experience over things in vacations or other events.  If given a choice between two options such as going to a concert or buying some new clothes, I will always choose the concert.  Things that are truly needs, obviously come first, but if both the items above are wants, the experience wins every time.  A big part of this for me is that I can revisit the joy of the experience time and again, view it from different angles and perspectives and even get new insights thanks to the gift of memory.

Nowhere is memory more valuable than in our families.  As a blended family this can be a double edged sword as some memories of the “before time” can cause friction and tension where before they used to cause joy and pleasure.  For example, old traditions, some no longer practical, others perhaps “lost” because of an agreement with your spouse to compromise and just do something new, can cause issues especially if they are brought up by the children.  Suddenly the old dynamics of the earlier days, of sides, come up.  It might be a place that was regularly visited that has value to some but has little pull to the other “side” or to an activity undertaken as specific milestones in life that were fun for some but that seem stupid and silly to the other “side”.  How we look at memories can determine how this proceeds in a blended family.  Just as with any gift, it is not always only a good thing.  A new toy may be sheer joy and pleasure for the kids but a major irritant to one parent who cannot stand the noise or the mess it makes.  Similarly, if we choose to keep bringing up these old memories and lamenting over what once was and then starting to frame the new family as the barrier that exists in making it happen again, we are only headed for bad things.  Instead, I find that celebrating those memories for what they were, experiences at a place in time in a certain family configuration and just enjoying them in quiet times is what is best about them.  I do think this only works if you are making new memories, which comes back full circle to my focus on experiences over things.  I would imagine a life in which you stopped making new memories as a blended family and only lamented those things you used to do before you blended could very easily lead to heartache and sadness.

My own personal memory sink right now has to do with Marcia.  I wrote several months back about her decision to move out.  Since then contact with her has really been non-existent.  I reach out to her with an e-mail or text when I feel compelled to let her know something, to parent from afar if I really analyze what it is, and this results in at best a token acknowledgement such as “OK” but more often is just greeted with radio silence.  My decision, and only time will tell if it is “right”, is to let her live her life as an adult and not force myself into it, though as a parent there is some pain in a child just tuning you out of their life as if they flipped a switch.  It’s as if Marcia walked out of the house right after Thanksgiving, and much like we do when we leave the house every morning for work, looked over at the switch labeled “Dad” and flipped it to Off and then closed the door and drove away.  I have no idea if there was more to it than that (for my sanity I do think at times I have to believe there was) but in the end that’s what it feels like, an afterthought in her life on the way on to the cool things of the rest of the day.  So when I get to those points I choose to unpack a memory or two.  Perhaps it is something simple like a conversation we had, even are argument we had in her last couple years in the house, and see the good in it and her struggle to define herself in a world that she was railing against, or perhaps it was those older memories when I was her hero and we were doing something fun and exciting.  This is the gift of a memory.  It can change our perspective.  Depending on your mind though, it can be a danger.  I do not struggle with it often, and it is so rare that it is very easy for me to walk away from that cliff edge of resentment of why things are not the same, but I know of others who have this torment sometimes on a weekly basis.  These are the people who struggle to heal and move on and make the best of their blended family instead of focusing on them as the cause of why.  By the grace of God this is not a problem for me, but if it is for you, I cannot stress how crucial it is to get yourself some help or you will be heading down the trail to tension and strife that may lead you to another divorce.  When you unpack those one sided memories do not let them begin to rub you the wrong way and create judgements and barriers that can be difficult to erase.

Moving back to the true gift of memories.  The road continues on and the kids keep getting older.  Sure the big experiences build some great memories, but just as every gift from our loving Father, it is more important to appreciate the little facets of it.  Those memories that exist in the everyday, that spring forth just from the minimal effort involved in letting life unfold.  I believe I am more appreciative of it because of what has happened with Marcia leaving and those things that no longer happen.  It makes little difference if those things are negative or positive, what matters is that it has brought more to the forefront that we are closer to more of this than less, this nearness of getting to the point of the never more.

Shortly we will no longer have the sounds of a group of girls standing around the island in the kitchen and being loud and probably laughing at something I find utterly stupid.  The boys at the computer debating the best way to do something in their game at hand or talking about a video will be a thing of the past.  The house will not be quiet in the morning for about twenty minutes after I wake up and then start to echo with thumps and thwaps of footsteps or drawers or doors being moved as they all wake up and begin getting ready for school, it will just remain quiet.  We get a taste of “empty nest” on our weekends and for now my wife and I mainly view it as wonderful, but the prudent analyzer in me understands that part of this joy comes with knowing that it will end in a few days and they’ll start coming back, however one day they will head out and we’ll have no idea when they will be back and I know that will be less joyful.  This is when we need to look to the gift.

Memory will allow us to look back on all these trivial happenings, some that occurred more frequently than others, and recall.  We’ll recall them playing on the floor with the pets, being upset about some slight or other of the day, or the prayers we prayed for them each and every day.  The thousands of prayers lifted up to help them find their way.  When they all move away the home will not be empty.  There was a poem in the late 60’s by Bob Benson titled “Laughter in the Walls” and it fits well in what I’ve been talking about especially towards the end, when he says, “Every corner, every room, every nick in the coffee table will be crowded with memories”.  He goes on to list his particular memories, general enough for everyone to find something, as a commercial poet would be wont to do, but I will replace them with our own memories.  Our Creator gave us this wonderful gift, and I pray that all of us find the best ways to use it, rather than the hurtful ways it can be turned towards.  The goal for me is always good.  Thank you Father for this wonderful gift and for the wisdom to use it wisely.  To be able to say thanks for the memories and to enjoy the laughter in the walls.

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.