Archive for the ‘Lessons’ 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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So, we’ve got high school graduation coming up for Jan and Cindy.  It’s a rite of passage that most people are familiar with and really until the last few weeks have shown us differently, I figured was a pretty exciting and desired time for the graduate and their family.  That’s how it was looked at by my wife’s cousin’s husband.  He was diagnosed with terminal cancer several months back and just wanted to make it to his son’s graduation and share in the milestone and support his son before he was gone.  One last big thing and he looked toward that goal through all his treatments and all the feelings and life in between.  A week ago, he lost that battle and will not make it to see his son walk across the stage.  It’s a perspective I clearly understand and so I can empathize with what the family must be going through without dad or a husband there for that milestone.  I have no idea how his son felt about graduation, but I have heard nothing to make me think it did not align with my perspective of expectation, excitement and a little fear of what the next chapter in my life had in store for me.

Then we have Jan and Cindy.  Jan, last we got a chance to talk with her, could have cared less about graduation.  It was just another day in her book, and at this point under the influence of Bert, we’re not even sure she’ll show up.  We’re pretty sure she will actually graduate, just likely will choose not to attend the ceremony.  Cindy is not quite as cynical about it, but if not for my wife and I pushing our perspective, I am pretty sure she’d not be far from the shrug of the shoulders and the “Eh, what’s the big deal” that Jan has.  She’s having a party even though she really does not want one.  We’ve explained to her that it is a chance for family and friends to celebrate with her.  She gets it, but yet seems not to.  My wife and I look at this perspective and just shake our heads in confusion.  It’s a big deal to us, but not the same level of bigness to her.  It’s all about the perspective, I guess.

Finally, we have Nan.  In a long conversation with Cindy about everything that had gone poorly at Nan’s the last weekend they were there (a future post), she included the fact that Nan has forgotten about her graduation.  Yes, you read that right.  Cindy’s mom forgot she was graduating high school and scheduled a trip out of state instead.  That she can’t move.  Or it would cost her lots of money.  Cindy claimed it was no big deal, but we talked a lot about if that was really true or not.

So same event, three (or four) different perspectives.  My wife and I have the “normal” (don’t we all think our perspective is the right one?) perspective of it is a big deal, you should be proud and it should be celebrated.  My wife’s cousin’s husband had much the same perspective but with the added gravitas of knowing this would have been the last big event he got to see before he died so the bigness was probably even larger than our perspective.  The girls actually graduating could kind of not care less and Nan felt it was so important that she forgot about it.  One parent was hoping to live long enough to see it and will not, while another parent had the opportunity to see it and decided a trip to the beach was better.  It’s all about your perspective, I guess.

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.

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.