Archive for the ‘Family’ 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.

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.

One of the things I do not recall sharing here, because it was not relevant to any of the posts I made, was that Marcia came out to us several years back.  At the time my wife and I decided we would not share this news with many, other than what was necessary.  We told a few family members and the youth pastor at church and that was it.  Anything else was up to Marcia, just as she had let us know.

Trying to recall back several years exactly what I said or did is impossible, but I do not doubt that I know I was honest with Marcia about what God tells us in this situation and that I believed Him.  Exactly how I shared this and the words I used are lost in the fog of faraway memories, but Marcia has shared with me recently that it was more direct than she appreciated.  We all make mistakes.  Could I have delivered the message in a more loving, God-centered way?  I do not doubt it, but over the last couple weeks I have come to terms with the fact that nothing short of denying all my beliefs in the Lord would have satisfied Marcia.  I think this fills in enough backstory to move back to today.

I guess I will approach this post as is the latest fad in so many movies and TV shows of the day.  I’ll hit you with the now, then flashback to walk you through how we got here.  As you might guess from the title of this post, Marcia has decided to move out.  Frame the picture, start the opening credits and zoom in on Marcia carrying out some containers with Nan to Nan’s car and watch them drive away.  Cut to them pulling into Nan’s mom’s house and them moving those boxes in.  Cut away again and splashed over the exterior gimbal shot of our home appear the words “Two weeks before”.

As weird as this story is, it all started with a kitten.  My wife has been on me for a long time to get a family pet.  We already have two pets, but what we don’t have I guess is a blended family pet.  She has explained to me that I obviously don’t get it, and obviously I don’t because I still do not see how this pet is any different than the pets we already had.  It lives, it breathes, it eats, it poops, and it looks cute for a second and drives me nuts for hours.  On the list of things that I view as joyful and necessary in my life, I think you can see that pets are not one of them.  I’m not opposed to them and Nan was a pet person too, so they’ve been a constant in my life for many years, but so has snow, cutting the grass and taking my car in for an oil change.  They are just part of the world.  They make my wife and kids happier and they usually have no significant negative impact on me, so I just let it go.  That’s basically how we finally got to the new kitten.  I explained to my wife that at no time will she ever see me leap off the couch in utter joy and exuberance and exclaim, “I just had the greatest idea ever!  Let’s get another pet!” and then proceed to run around the house clanging pots and pans and urging the kids to fall in line in a parade where we all chat “Time to get a kitten!  Time to get a kitten!”  If she wanted to get one, go ahead, but waiting for me to be on board was not going to happen.

Most of the kids and her went off to get this kitten a couple weeks ago, and from piecing together the story later, it seems that there was definitely discussion before they left when it came to naming the kitten, everyone could add whatever names they wanted to a list and there would be a vote (sometimes democracy works in a family) and that it might take up to a week if the voting was contentious or if Trump showed up and said we had to build a wall between me and the kitten and that we would have a little cat door in it.  Somehow, as is wont to happen with seventeen year olds, Marcia seems to have missed, misplaced, ignored or otherwise confused this discussion.  While at the humane society selecting the kitten and getting to know it, a name was suggested my Marcia, a few of the kids kinda liked it and started calling the kitten this as well, probably more to test drive the name, but in Marcia’s head, the kitten had been named.  If this were Inside Out, the little kitten name memory ball was created and shipped off across the canyon to long term memory.  It was far away and hard to retrieve and change, or at least that’s how I associate this incident with what was to flow from it, because otherwise it has no chance of making sense.  Think itty bitty molehill.  Like the smallest mole you’ve ever seen, maybe a new species that requires a microscope to see that has never been discovered yet and then picture Marcia Mountain that makes Everest look like that microscopic molehill next to it and you get to see where we are headed, at least in my interpretation of the events that are about to unfold to get us to the scene we started our episode with.  The journey from “here” to “there” was just not connected in any rational way, but then again if you parent a teen you understand they are not rational, so who am I kidding and why am I surprised?

Kitten came home.  It kind of resembled the stuff that happens around the house when a new baby is brought home from the hospital, except I was happy to note, I did not have to wake up in the middle of the night to an elbow telling me to go change a diaper.  In fact she was already potty trained!  Who knew!  Eight weeks old and we were past potty training, I didn’t have to feed her with a spoon, and the doctor had already fixed her so I did not need to worry about her meeting some addle brained boy in high school and getting pregnant.  Maybe pets are easier than kids?

However, despite all these unexpected joys, it seems, huh, some of the kids actually wanted to stick to the original plan and write down names and vote even though Marcia was already well down the kitten naming path.  She had already had the star engraved on Hollywood boulevard and you know, we can’t change a name after that.  So this comes out and Marcia goes into full flip out mode.  It is a version or mountain and molehill but we’ve not discovered the final ones yet.

Somehow this naming issue caused Marcia such distress that she had trouble sleeping.  It was now Sunday morning and since she had stormed off to her room last night in protest of actually doing what we said we were going to do in the first place.  Are you missing the justification for her righteous indignation here too?  OK.  Whew! Thought it was just me….and my wife…. And all the other kids… and anyone else we’ve talked to.  Figuring she might be less volatile (you’d think we would have learned after years of living with the most unstable element in the universe, the American teenager) my wife engaged with her about how childish she had been about simply going with the original plan of voting.  After all her name could go on the list and if it got the most votes, it would be the name.  Mt. St. Marcia erupted again.  She was going to call the kitten the name she had selected no matter what.  We were stupid, she was not being childish.  In fact, she was so upset all night that she could not sleep and did not want to go to church.  I explained that was not an option as the house rule is simple.  We go to church on Sunday mornings.

We then entered the valley between molehill and mountain.  Very quickly this went from her being upset about a kitten name and our reaction to her reaction and became about how we do not accept her sexuality and make her go to church where she is not accepted and so forth.  She brought up all kinds of stuff from all directions over many years about how I had said something and she took it as a promise and how she hated me and my wife.  I stayed pretty calm through things trying to steer her to some rational sense but it never really worked.  At one point she had said when she was eighteen she was going to live with her mom.  This is not the first time this has come up but it had been quite some time since she had brought it out.  As usual I did not make any comment about it when she mentioned it but after another fifteen minutes of her irrational screaming at me, I went down and had a talk with my wife.  At this point Marcia is less than three months away from being eighteen.  Even though we have been very accepting of her lifestyle choices do far not hindering her seeing her girlfriend in any way etc.  she still felt she was not accepted.  I had had conversations with her before when she had brought up that “you don’t love me because I’m gay”, and explained how nonsensical that was.  Her being anything did not change the fact that I loved her.  I thought a conversation we had had a few months back was very good and at this point I was at a loss.  My wife and I agreed to let her know if she felt it was going to be so much better at mom’s and that is she was set on doing that anyway, since I was not able to have an effective conversation with her about anything lately that I could discuss with Nan about making the change now.

Again, even a bigger mountain appeared.  Marcia started going on about how now that it was clear that I wanted nothing to do with her that she could not come to me ever over the rest of her life for any discussion or advice or anything.  I explained that was not what I was saying just letting her know that if she feels it is not possible for her to comfortably live with us anymore and she wants to go to Nan’s instead that I am not going to stand in her way.  Certainly I have no issue with her here, but if she feels it is so terrible then it is her choice.  It was really amazing to me how we went from naming a cat to this in about 12 hours, much of which we were sleeping.

Instead of having me call she chose to call Nan herself and talk about it.  That led to several conversations with Nan and I about Marcia.  Nan took her normal stance that she was not going to tell Marcia no if she wanted to come.  I next talked to Nan on Tuesday and the main conversation she had was her concern about how her mom and her were concerned that this could be the end of any relationship between Marcia and myself.  Her suggestion was why could I not just do something small to show her I really accepted her, like drop my religion and beliefs.  Now for an unsaved person, that statement makes total sense.  I calmly explained that to her and said my God is a much who I am as Marcia believes her sexuality is and she would never ask me to suggest to Marcia that she simply give up being gay to show she accepted me.  This did seem to help her understand that irrationality of her request.  We had a good conversation about how God works everything for good and I basically ended up witnessing to her for about forty five minutes with Nan asking a lot of good questions and seeming engaged in the discussion.  My explanation really centered around the fact that if this somehow caused me to be estranged from Marcia, that I trusted that God would work some good from that, even though I may never know what that is.  That is what the Bible clearly tells us.  The right answer was not to deny my God and walk away from Him.  That would only lead to destruction and even more turmoil than I have now.  Nan seemed to understand, though I would not go so far as to say she agreed.

The biggest revelation of the discussion was that it appeared that the best solution was for Marcia to actually live with Nan’s mom.  She is in our town and closer to the school than Nan is and it seemed she would let Marcia use her car if needed while Nan had no vehicle to offer her during the school day.  Marcia and Nan’s mom have not exactly gotten along swimmingly so this did not seem like a great idea to Nan or I, but was the best option.  Nan was hoping that that reality would get Marcia to reconsider.

The kids were at Nan’s over the next weekend and other than a few texts clearing up what would happen to the school parking pass (it would go with Marcia if she had a vehicle to use), nothing else really transpired.  Marcia returned with the rest of the kids as per the schedule and basically proceeded to ignore us for the time she was here.  I had talked with Nan and found out that Marcia was portraying the environment here as one where I constantly pushed her to become straight, and so I asked Marcia why she said that to Nan when the only time her sexuality even comes up is when she chooses to use it to indicate that we are not accepting her even though she has no examples of what that means, it is just that she feels that way. Marcia said she never said that to Nan and that Nan was just fabricating the whole discussion.  I explained again that I loved her and was here if she needed me, the same message I had been sending for the last few years.  She did indicate that she still had not decided, but later Cindi indicated that was not at all the conversation at Nan’s, that it seemed very decided the whole weekend there.

As an aside, as all this was going on I continued to have conversations over the week and a half with my dad.  He was aware of the fighting and that Marcia wanted to leave.  What he had still not been made aware of was that Marcia was homosexual.  This had now become a big deal, because Marcia had made it a big deal.  She had made it the centerpiece of this entire explosion, indicating she could no longer live here because she did not feel accepted and that we made her go to church, a church she felt also did not accept her.  The problem was I could not have an open conversation with my dad about exactly what she did not feel accepting about, so my wife and I over several days decided that is Marcia was going to be making adult decisions, this was one she had to make as well.  I needed to let my parents know, even though I felt they would be infuriated and possibly never speak with her again, and that if she was making this such a core of her identity then we could not keep lying to my parents.  I wanted to give her the choice to tell them herself.  She did not want to and in fact just told me to tell them if I wanted to.  I calmly asked again that she wanted me to let them know and that she did not want to share this important news with her own grandparents.  She said no.

I told my dad and he was much more accepting than I had expected.  He was certainly disappointed but it helped him understand.  He had recently told me “something does not add up.  There has to be something more”, and that was the point when I knew that it was going to damage my wife’s and my relationship with my parents if we did not share this secret.  That is what was the final straw that made me decide now was the time to tell Marcia is had to be shared.

I took the high road and let Marcia have her space to decide, as I felt that influencing her in any way could only have the down side of making her angry at me if things did not work out as she wanted, which honestly I think will be the case regardless of whose home she lives in because she is a typical teenager and wants no rules and to do exactly what she wants with no questions or consequences.

The kids were over at Nan’s again for Thanksgiving, which is the first time since we have been divorced that Nan has taken them for the full Thanksgiving holiday.  It meant Marcia was back with us for only a couple days and Cindi had let us know that Marcia had told Nan she did not want to be back in my house after Thanksgiving.

For several days, I got hit with a very unexpected sadness.  I certainly knew all my kids will leave the proverbial nest, and was OK with that, but I think the way this was happening just felt wrong and my belief that this really could be the start of a very lengthy period of estrangement and that Marcia would most likely also have a falling out with Nan and her mom and then be left to make her own decisions just scared me to death.  The pure understanding that there was nothing I could do about it was huge.  All I could do was turn it over to God and if not for my belief in Him my sadness would have been very dark indeed.  It was still pretty bad.  I would find myself tearing up at random times for the next couple days at work, at home or driving.  I had to trust God knew what He was doing, but it was so hard.

I had also reached out to my pastors for some guidance.  I was able to meet with one of our Associate Pastors on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  I shared all the details above and more and in the end my pastor felt I was using great wisdom in handling everything and that my understanding of God’s will was all I could do.  He felt he has not really done much to help me, but I assured him that the reinforcement that I was not doing something wrong was very helpful.

I made sure I hugged Marcia and told her I loved her once again before I headed off to work the Tuesday before Thanksgiving as I knew they would most likely be gone before I got home.  It hindsight it may have been a bit self-serving to remove any guilt I might later have that I could have kept her from making a decision that really could backfire, but I also wanted her to know that no matter what she thought I loved her.

A few hours after they had gotten to Nan’s on Tuesday she texted letting me know they would drop the other kids off Sunday and pack up Marcia’s things to move to her mom’s.  I tried to keep the sadness at bay as the finality of everything hit home.  I had been looking at materials about how to handle the reality that a child of mine was homosexual and that I was a Christian.  I truly struggled with her not feeling accepted and wanted to get guidance as I knew this was not a process I should go through alone.  Neither our home nor our church was doing anything to actively encourage Marcia to change, but I know she knows what the Bible says about homosexuals.  One of the questions I asked our pastor was, “If she ever comes to know Jesus as her Savior but then wants to know how she can choose to be saved knowing that she will not be accepted in heaven, what do I say?”  The guidance was this is the same conversation we would have with anyone where spreading the gospel.  We are all sinners and we all need Jesus.  Nothing is unforgivable and he paid the prices for all our sins, past, present and future once and for all.  I understand that with my beliefs Marcia will always feel a distance between us but God is my center and I nor anyone gets to pick and choose what we feel is true of not.  God gave us His Word to very clearly indicate what truth is.  The world believes many unbiblical things about homosexuality and a friend I discussed this with at one point said, “your view is in the minority in society today”, be he also admitted that does not necessarily make it wrong.  Just because a majority believe something can simply mean that sadly a majority does not know the truth.

Returning to my narrative, Sunday arrived and Nan came over a little before the rest of us had returned home from church.  Marcia and her were already up in her room getting stuff together.  I gave Marcia a hug, said goodbye and let her know I was always here if she needed anything.  At that point she indicated she was still planning to return for the weekends when they would normally be here.  This certainly surprised me.  I went off to change and as I thought about it realized I needed to have a direct discussion with her as her returning would place what she said was at the core of her wanting to leave front and center again. I went back and started to explain to her that I was certainly happy to have her here for the weekends but was not sure what she was thinking about Sundays.  In mid-sentence she cut me off; “Oh I know I would have to go to church”.  I threw up my hands, “I don’t get it!” and spun around and started to walk out, but stopped myself.  Her stance was this way she was “choosing” to go versus being “made” to go.  I get it, yet I don’t.  It’s a teenager’s logic and I sadly had it once too and remember enough of it that I can see it for what it is.

With all this transpiring, Nan piped up and asked Marcia is she was sure she wanted to do this.  She started to tear up and indicated she did not know.  She then proceeded down a path that my wife and figured she’d hit later, that of not knowing how to mend fences and find her way back and thinking it was too much.  First she indicated that Nan and her mom had already bought her a mattress and there was too much that had happened.  Nan indicated not to worry about that, she just needed to make the decision that was right for her.  Marcia then indicated all the awful and mean things she had said about my wife and how she would have to walk on eggshells and such.  I quickly jumped in and said we would need to call her up to talk with Marcia to help her decide if this was going to be a problem.  Marcia did not want to talk.  Nan and I said she had to.  My wife came up and they spent several minutes together.  In the end Marcia still was undecided.  All three of us let her know that this was only a decision she could make but the only caveat was that it was serious.   This will be what she has to live with until the end of the school year.  We are not a revolving door and there is a lot of disruption with this change and when she gets mad over there in two weeks, it’s not “I’m going to go back and live with dad”.  We had shared this message for the entire two weeks this drama was going on, and all the adults were on the same page agreeing that was a requirement.  My wife and I left Marcia and Nan to themselves again.

What I learned was that Marcia is still the typical immature teenager even though she insists she knows everything there is to know about the world and how to live in it.  We were all there once.  I get it and I can appreciate it.  I also know that if we made that decision for her and something happens she has us to blame again.  Making her do that and her living with the consequences she creates are part of helping her mature.  I also learned that God is always in control.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that final set of conversations we had on Sunday when Marcia was unsure.  On one hand it was exciting that the door was not as shut as I imagined, but on the other it was also heartbreaking because it exposes her inner struggle.  She is not comfortable in her own skin and she does not know how to deal with it.  None of us do, until we realize that Jesus is the answer.  I also know and my church community knows that that realization can only be made between two people, Jesus and the person.  Just as making the call for Marcia about if she will stay as things are or make a change and move to Nan’s mom’s is Marcia’s, Marcia’s decision to accept Jesus as her Savior is Marcia’s.  If any of us try to cajole, force or manipulate the result in either case is a poor one.  Acceptance of our lives and the choices we make must be ours alone.  Having God along as your co-pilot is wonderfully calming and peaceful, but we never know that until after the fact.

Since I started with the end, you know Marcia still choose to make the change.  She understands that we can revisit this as early as this summer if she wants.  She’s 18 in about two months so she is now also legally in control of her own life very shortly and we also get to treat her like the adult she is asking to become.  My wife and I already discussed the fact that if she does choose to come over for a weekend and Mt. St. Marcia erupts again, the dynamic is now totally different.  Marcia is no longer a child living under our roof who would get disciplined and sent to her room, she is now an adult who is behaving inappropriately in our home and will be asked to leave.

Life is always full of surprises.  I knew my kids would leave the nest and Marcia being the oldest I know would probably be the first.  I just did not expect it to come together so violently and so quickly.  In the span of two weeks three households have been placed in an adjustment scenario none of us expected sitting there in early November waiting for Thanksgiving.  With God’s grace I have had the strength and wisdom to move through this.  My wife let me know a couple nights ago how proud she is of me on how I handled these last two weeks.  That was a huge blessing.  My wife is a wonderful woman and a very helpful and supportive partner and we both follow the Lord but having that affirmation was very sweet.

Only God knows what will happen next year, next month, next week or ever the next minute.  I will still pray every day that Marcia along with all my kids eventually has a personal relationship with Jesus.  That’s the best way I know to weather this world and all the surprises it throws our way.

I have shared in many posts the challenges with raising our children.  For any parent who tries to do the best they can, what I have shared is nothing new.  The fact that it is a daily struggle to find the right path is well known to the weary parental traveler.

My most recent challenge has been a good one, but what I want to share is my thoughts on it.  Praise God that for whatever reason, and I certainly do not even begin to claim is it because of my superior tactics, above average grasp of psychology or any other doing of mine, several of our kids have suddenly show signs of “getting it” when it comes to the life lessons my wife and I work so hard to impart to them.  It is my regular view into how God works that I am thankful for every time it happens.

But I also know that if I try to claim responsibility, if I take the moral high ground, take on airs or do anything to say, “I am Dad, hear me roar!” that it will most likely be the beginning of the end in this cool state of affairs I find myself in.  I have to keep reminding myself every time I want to pump my fist and shout, “Yes!”, that I need to swallow that down and continue to be humble.  I do that because I think that is a huge part of why this might be moving in the right direction.  God regularly provides examples of how the prideful fall, and I know my Bible well enough to remember that.  This guy is not going to get clubbed to death by that method if he can help it.

As with many things I talk about in this blog, I do not think this area of parenting is unique to divorced parents other than that we have a bigger cast of characters and possible antagonists than an intact family.  The blending process places those exes in the mix and when they are not working with you it spices the stew, that’s for sure.

What has been happening lately from both Bert and Nan’s camps is that the kids are coming back and being more open about that shortcomings they are starting to become more aware of.  Is it their increasing maturity, any things to watch out for in life that we have imparted that they are seeing their other parents do, so something else, I really do not care.  I am just enjoying the fact that it is happening and am not going to ruin it by shooting off fireworks.

Now don’t get me wrong, my wife and I may celebrate, sometimes quite raucously, when were are not in the vicinity of our offspring, but I have become very comfortable with just having a high five between God and I when something happens.

I had mentioned a conversation with Marcia recently about budgeting.  She wanted to know about credit scores and she had heard of them but did not understand them.  After several other money topics she said, “As long as you are alive, I’m just going to call you when I have a question about money.”  Rather than take the bait, I made sure to add, “I can just explain things to you when you want, it’s really just basic math in most cases.”  It really is pretty simple.  It’s only the folks who want to take advantage of the fear that money, or the lack of, creates, to make it seem like you need to buy their program or attend their seminar to have any hope of not totally blowing your finances up.  She explained that she knows her mom is a mess with money and so she never asks her anything.

Similarly, Bert’s oldest seem to be getting the absurdity of the life and lifestyle of their father.  He recently decided to bring in another woman with two children into his house.  The story is she is a truck driver and had now been gone for weeks while the two eleven and under children are left with Bert.  Bert has decided to pass the child care duties off to the two daughters rather than have the adult son who lives with him handle anything.  This is so Bert can nap it seems as when you have no job I guess it makes you tired.  Jan and Bobbi are not too thrilled with this latest development, with Cindy actually coming by to pick up her two siblings the last weekend and instead choosing to just hang out at our house because she had no desire to go back to Frick and Frack (I guess that’s what I’ll call these two additions to our story, though I do hope they really do not stay around long enough to warrant naming).  It was another high five moment my wife and I had in the security of our own company, but one that was tempered with the fact that it does sound like the situation is highly stressful to the kids but Bert is too big of a buffoon to see or care.

It is just really nice to see that doing the right thing is starting to pay dividends in the kids noticing that it is our house, in fact, that is doing the right thing while the other two provide comic relief.  Many times I felt like no matter what we did it would be overridden by Bert and Nan and the impact of their carefree lifestyles.  Nan has had some reality checks recently and since she is not so uncaring of consequences as Bert is it has just made her more angry.  After a blow up within an hour after they arrived at Nan’s on one of their last visits I had encouraged Cindy to let Nan know how her acting this way made her feel.  Cindy’s response was “Cause that’s totally worked in the past.  It’s really fine I’ve learned just to not talk.”   At least we can try to provide a more amenable experience when they are at our house.

I know that gloating or otherwise sharing with the kids how nice it is that they realize that our house it really not that bad and that our ways are not so horrid would just mess everything up.  Staying humble and not even getting to excited about it between my wife and I is just the right thing to do and I feel like God is rewarding us for our obedience.  We cannot do anything to lessen the problems at their other houses, we can just do our best in the spheres of our control.  We finally have some consistent fruit that that simple formula seems to be working.

The seeming monotony of life day to day makes it hard to see the forest for the trees.  As a child every day may be full of wonder as so many things are still new.  I had a conversation with Marcia driving back home the other day where she mentioned she had no idea how to even figure out “spending in life”.  When I asked what she meant, she just said, “you know like how do you live from day to day and know what things cost”.  It led to a conversation on budgeting, but it showed one of those glimpses into the fact that even as she approaches eighteen there are still a lot of things that will be firsts for Marcia.

One of the things that I have been dealing with and that has hung over our family for a while is a lawsuit about a house I sold many years back.  I was sued by the new owners in 2012 and after they appealed many times all the way up to our state’s Supreme Court we have finally come to the end here in 2015.  Asides from the gobs of money this process consumed to defend myself against something totally fabricated the emotional energy of having that hanging over me was immense.  I went to work, lived my life, and when I look back it seems like an extraordinary effort to move through it, but with God’s help to lean on it was not.  It is these types of things that when I pause to reflect show the extraordinary of the ordinary.

In my ordinary, I’ve gone through a divorce, moved states two times, had to dig out of tens of thousands in credit card debt my wife had amassed, lost a job and been told another is on the way out, and been accused of activities I did not commit.  It is usually only when I share my story with others that they stare at me in amazement and say something along the lines of “Wow, you’d have never known you had such and such in your life.  You seem like you have it all together.”  That I think is the extraordinary in the ordinary for every one of us.  We all have events, challenges and trials that very few know about and that we move through.  If we are not drowned by them, like some unfortunately are when they let a setback, or two or five, define their lives and never rise above, the world my never know, except for those times we choose to share.

The flipside are those many blessings that come of them and that only strengthen my faith in God as the one in control.  Some things I never see and even the ones I do I may tie together with coincidence that is not really there but that my frail human mind grasps for to show the good from the bad.  The biggest is how my divorce and everything leading up to it and after played out for a better result than I could have ever imagined.  A wonderful new wife and family that I could have never foresaw in the depths of years of trying, failing, and trying again to create a marriage out of a house of toothpicks.  It seems that at least in my case God gives me enough blessings to overshadow the struggles so that I have something to lean on and point me to Him when the next trial comes along.  The lawsuit and my current struggles trying to find out what my next act in my career will be after the current door has been closed are just the latest in my life, but when I am having a down day I just need to look back, and my wife is great at pointing it out to me, and see how other situations I felt were hopeless were worked out in ways I could have never imagined.  That faith that we live for an awesome God for who nothing is impossible and who is in control is a glorious thing.

The daily slog when we talk to all our kids and it seems like nothing is sticking in that weird mass of teenage brain only to suddenly have them say or do something that just baffles you is another regular bit of extraordinary that I have given up trying to predict or explain, at least for the most part.  My type A personality makes it almost impossible for me not to keep trying to figure it out, but I definitely have gotten better at just giving it to God.

 

So the struggles continue and I just keep praying that I will be granted to patience and wisdom to let them play out without meddling more than God wants me to.