Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overpower it. – John 1:5

The longer I live the more I realize our lives are cyclical.  Hills and valleys are the norm, most of us do not live on the plains.  My entire life has been spent living in places between Illinois, Tennessee and Ohio that had rolling hills.  I’ve visited places like Kearney, Nebraska, right in the center of the state and very close to the center of the USA, and seen the vast difference.  You can see for mile in Kearney, not simply because of the totally flat land but also because of the lack of a significant amount of trees.  It takes the contrast of understanding the alternative to truly appreciate the difference.  I recall being told the story when visiting a plant in Kearney of how the facility had been closed one January day because no one could get in the building because of the one inch snowfall they had had overnight.  You see because of that lack of trees or contour in the land, the wind had blown the one inch of snow from miles around and it had hit the one obstacle it could find on that prairie, the building, and covered the building to fifteen feet deep in snow, licking up over the roof.  I’ve seen much smaller versions of that when I lived in Illinois, but it was counteracted by snow fences erected along farm fields to keep the snow from blowing too far before it hit something.  The hills and valleys may add more difficulty in movement or other things but they also provide protection, which allows more trees to grow, which adds to the protection from billowing snow, for example.  I was talking to someone at a whitewater rafting company this week and asking about the scattered thunderstorms forecast for the week of our upcoming vacation and how that would impact our ability to get on the river.  She said that we’re going to be wet anyway, so they raft rain or shine, but if it does get severe enough, they pull out for fifteen minutes as the storms come over the mountains and then break up pretty fast, yet another example of the barrier providing some protection.

In another contract we have light and dark.  Have you ever been outside the city, say in someplace like Kearney, Nebraska, and been able to see the difference it makes in the night sky?   You can see so much more.  It is not the darkness that is the barrier in the big city, it is the light.  The light near us overtakes the light coming at us from out in space.  Get in a dark space however, and the light of the stars blast through.  Moving from physical light, to spiritual light, we see that God has designed the same process.  This is where more life experience and more cycles gives you a greater perspective.  Someone younger may not have much opportunity to travel and so may never see the difference from where they live.  Similarly, having been around for many decades, I’ve had some pretty dark times in my life.  It seems the darker the time the more glorious the light.  When we are downtrodden and feeling hopeless, it is then we can truly begin to understand God’s power to breakthrough and aid us.  That aid may be comfort, it may be peace, it may be new, unexpected circumstances.

Regardless of the level of darkness, it is never strong enough to stop the light.  Have you ever been in a cave?  There is no deeper physical darkness you will ever experience on earth than in a cave.  Most cave tours have you experience this at some point when they turn out all the light.   One of the best experiences I’ve ever had of this was in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  While the tour group is in the darkness, one of the guides has circled back and turns on a small light, which pierces the blackness.  As the guide with you continues to talk about the lack of light and that impact, the other guide spends those minutes walking to you.  The light never really gets bigger or any brighter, but you can see it jiggling ever so slightly as the guide walks and when they finally arrive in about five minutes the guide shares with you that that guide just walked half a mile to get to us.  That pin prick of light from a tiny handheld penlight broke through the utter darkness for half a mile and was visible by us. The darkness could not overpower it.

I have been through divorce, death of friends and family members, loss of jobs, alienation from family members, struggles with children.  Without the hope of light, I am certain the outcome would have been terrible.  I’ve seen people struggle with depression and fear.  Going back to the cave, every time I experience some flavor of the example I shared above, my thoughts go back to the early explorers, those who only had candles or oil lamps and did not have things like cell phones or battery powered flashlights that can provide a steadier, more reliable source of light.  When they got lost in the cave and their light source gave out, how would they feel?  After the initial fear, what would they do?  The longing for the light in all of us is strong.  Even for those few minutes, even though we know this is temporary and controlled, either in the cave or when they lock you in a solitary cell in Alcatraz, you still feel a bit of panic: What if something goes wrong and the light does not return?  When the storms of life surround us, and we know we are not in control, that darkness can be overbearing.

This is the brilliance of the interplay of light and dark that God has designed into the universe He created.  Whether it be physical or spiritual, even a tiny amount of light will not be overpowered by darkness.  If you find yourself in a dark place, look for the light.  Pray for God to show you the light.  God’s grace will always shine through for those who believe.  Keep that truth in your heart and no matter your circumstances, whether it be illness, deprivation, injustice or some other dark time in your life, you will find your way to the peace and comfort that God has in store for all of us.

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It’s finally spring time up here in the Upper Midwest, with this weekend having a prediction of 70 degree weather this Sunday.  As I sat this morning in the front room I could hear bird outside in the sunshine and see the last vestiges of the snow that had fallen last Sunday night melting away, hopefully for good until next winter.  Soon plants will be growing and I’ll have to get outside to clean up the yard and mow for the first time.  While I hope for a bit of a reprieve, for as I get older I find I have less desire for the manual labor required to do this work, yet I know it is necessary.  Growing up my mother used to spend hours in the yard each weekend working on the flowers or the garden.  She had many rose bushes,  I remember another chore I used to hate in the fall; bringing out the giant stack of Styrofoam rose cones that were in the shed and helping Mom cover the rose bushes.  We’d carefully tuck everything in and then I placed bricks on the corners of the cones to keep the winter winds from blowing them away.  We have a large rose bush on the side of our house now, much too big to cover.

When spring came my Mom would uncover the rose bush, or my wife now goes out and the first thing that is done it to prune the rose bush.  I’ve also seen my wife do this with flower arrangements I bring home from time to time.  I just bought the thing and it is bright and shiny and new, and the first thing she does is take scissors to them to prune.  I thought, “Why?”, but was always amazed at how much better it looked afterwards.   The rose blooms were now arrayed in full splendor instead of hiding like Easter Eggs in the grass.  Some time she had also taken the one arrangement and made several out it, taking a flower or two in a vase in the window by the kitchen sink, a few more on the kitchen table and the rest on the island where I had set them originally. The effort of pruning had turned something that was already wonderful into something glorious.

I should not be surprised.  After all Jesus uses many times to explain how pruning not only takes away the dead growth, the vines that bear no fruit, but that he will even prune the vines that are bearing fruit so that they will bear even more fruit.  My Mom and my wife do this with plants all the time, but on this early spring day, my thoughts have turned more to Jesus’ example and what I can do with my life and what I see others doing as well.  What can I prune?

I think back to the many, many times I feel I know what will be said, and from my impatience, I jump in and finish a sentence.  I have justified the action in my head as showing I am listening, or I am in tune with the speaker and I am just showing them I get it.  But what if I’m not?  What if they were going to say something totally unexpected?  How many times has this action cost me something?  A better relationship?  A new view on a staid, old happening?  A chance to see a rose that was buried until someone pruned away the greenery that was hiding it?  If I prune away jumping in with my own opinions, I might hear something amazing.  More importantly I will make sure that whoever I am spending time with feels heard.  I see the reaction far too often.  The nod and statement of agreement, “Yeah, that’s right”, after I jump in, coupled with the look in the eyes that there was something else, but they’ve chosen to move on.  I vow to do better next time, but then fall into the old habit.  I have made it a goal for me to sit on my hands and keep my mouth shut more often, keep the thought in my head, and let others speak and see if they match.  In the short time I’ve been actively doing this for the last few weeks, I have been wrong more than I’ve been right, on where I thought the person was going.  How much have I missed for years because I failed to prune this behavior from me?  While I’ve had great relationships with people and had great conversations (fruit), how much more fruit could have been gained by pruning this away?  I hope to find out going forward.

I am also keeping an eye on where else I can prune over the years.  While I think my self-focus is reasonable, what if I cut back on that some more?  Would it open me to seeing how I can help others?  I’ve done a bit of that when I helped with divorce support, but with that gone now, I find I have a desire to do something else, which may turn into financial coaching, but that is still something I’ve determined by looking inward into how I think I can help.  Am I missing other gifts I have that could help others because I am looking only at what I can think of and not listening for clues people are giving, but I am missing, perhaps for the behavior above?  I want to be open to better results there.

I have been in a new job for a month now.  I no longer have a role where anyone reports to me, something that I have had for over fifteen years.  I have found that I had to prune away methods and actions in the last four weeks that I have been doing for over a decade.  I have to avoid jumping into other people’s areas of responsibility and being OK with handing the problem over to another, my part being done.  I have to let reciprocal relationships build where in the past I could have relied on positional authority to force the issue if I needed.  I’ve also exercised a lot of what I just spoke about, waiting for the other person to finish before I jump in.  I’ve not been perfect on that, as it is hard for decades of habit to get cut away in a few days, but just as my wife can quickly prune away the unneeded parts of the rose in a few seconds and uncover something great, I’m working on that too.  I consciously decided to prune away high level management responsibilities because I did not like the type of person they would drive me to be.  The stress and pressure to do the impossible was wearing on my family, my friends and my co-workers.  It was also wearing on me.  Just as unfruitful growth still saps the strength of the vine until they are removed because they still take energy to sustain, those things were sapping joy and peace away, so I decided to remove them, and it has been very pleasant.

My wife is also pursuing some pruning on her job front for some of the same reasons.  She’s returning to working with students individually through private practice rather than going to a school and having to deal with all the politics and blocking that goes on that are sapping her happiness and fulfillment.  She started out this way but without as many connections and reputational bridges as she has now, it was difficult to find enough students to help.  Now she feels that is different and she’d like to prune away the job that bore this fruit, to allow even more fruit to spring forth.  I look forward to seeing what will blossom, and I think my wife does as well.

I think I understand what this means to her, but I’m going to use my newly pruned “shut up and listen” self to hear what it really means to her, rather than making assumptions that her journey is the same as mine was.  I believe that pruning will lead to more growth in our love and respect for each other which will grow into other areas of our life and the world.  It is what we are meant to do, prune away even those things we feel may be of some good, to realize the greater good they have been hindering from springing forth.  It is also important to prune constantly, not just at set times.  I have avoided New Year’s resolutions for exactly this reason.  Why wait to prune until the turn of a year, or the turning of a season?  I happen to have been a bit more self reflective today and it tied a bit to all the changes I am going through in my job and the season happened to align, but I embraced the change rather than put it on a list to hit in nine months.  I’d encourage everyone to do the same, to strive to be a healthy vine and encourage the vines around us to do the same.

When you get to the point of having kids, one of the impacts is that you likely get to see how much things change between your experience and theirs.  There are countless things written about how the pace of change is higher than it has ever been and how it is growing faster and faster. Even with regards to written information I saw something that said what was produced (mainly on the internet) in the last two years exceeds everything created in the prior two hundred.  I used to have an expectation when I was very young and had just learned about the library that by the time I died I could read everything. I realized how wrong that was pretty quickly and this pace of creation has sealed the deal. Asides from not wanting to read everything any longer (there are far more topics I really have no desire to explore in any way either fictionally or non-fictionally) even in the areas I am intrigued about there is far more material than I could ever consume in a lifetime.  

This is just one area where the pace of change is incredible, but the things that drive me loopy as a parent and make me wonder how different it is from my parent’s experience with me as a child continue to increase all the time.  I am a pretty simple guy at heart and I’ve settled in to a belief that I can keep myself quite content and busy for decades with access to my library and a streaming service or two when I want some video entertainment. Even some of these things, that are normal now, are still a recent novelty and that was more of what I have been thinking about for the last few weeks.

As I study history it is fascinating how even within someone’s lifetime and certainly just a little beyond that, nearly everything has changed incredibly.  Just 100 years ago (which can be in a few centenarian’s lifetimes even now) WWI was still going on. Weapons that caused ghastly amounts of damage and suffering were being used such as the machine gun and the various forms of gas on the battlefield.  Gone were the “gentlemanly” days of battle when things happened mostly one on one. Many of the people who were living then could have remembered back to the Civil War and carnage they entailed and been amazed and how much more killing could be done just a few decades later.

Depression era family

People now in their late 70s and older would have been alive for at least part of the Great Depression.  The lack of ability to get even the most basic or resources was everywhere and is a stark contrast to the “worry” we have today with the vast social safety nets put in place by most developed nations.  Food pantries, unemployment and other social welfare programs and other safety measures exist to at least provide some cushion in times of hardship. Life in the US at that time was already far ahead of most other nations, in part because we had escaped the devastation of lives and infrastructure that most of the rest of the developed world had gone through.  The progression through WWII and the decades after was ever increasing and as technology started having a daily impact lives were transformed.

The home became full of gadgets and appliances.  Washing was no longer done in a tub with a washboard and elbow grease and clothes left to dry on the line but instead was able to be done in a machine that did a lot of the work.  Initially you still had to run the clothes through rollers to press the water out, but quickly faster spinning machines were able to suck the water out using the power of centrifugal force and clothes dryers appeared.  One could say progress slowed on the clothes washing front but even recently we have seen HE devices that use less water and cleaning products and keep driving innovation forward. Every other aspect of home life was transformed in similar ways.  Brooms and dust pans gave way to vacuums and Roombas. Outhouses turned into indoor plumbing.

TI-99/4A, the catalyst for my life’s work

As I move through middle age, I am amazed even over my relatively short lifespan so far how things have changed.  I still recall black and white TVs in our and my relatives homes. I recall when I had to watch what was on when it was on on a small set of channels I could count on my hands.  I remember cars that were gigantic and having a difficult time getting information about topics. I remember encyclopedia salesman, and vacuum cleaner salesman and other salesman visiting our house.   I recall being fascinated with typewriters that could “erase” mistakes with a white ribbon and then typewriters with tiny displays, that then led to spell checking before it went to the page and then led to my kids saying “what’s a typewriter?”  The horse and buggy lasted for hundreds, even thousands of years, but we’ve seen entire product life cycles comes and go in a span of a few years or decades, being made obsolete by something else, that was repalced by something else. In the short time I have been on this earth, we went from live TV only, to VCRs, to laserdiscs, to DVDs, to Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, to streaming on demand.  Similar changes have taken place with written formats, where books and newspapers and magazines are not electronic on Kindles and websites. I used to have to go to the library to look something up and now I can see it in seconds. We used to laugh that the processing power in our calculators when I was in high school was more than that in the lunar module that had landed on the moon barely twenty years before that and now we look at those calculators like the more arcane relics ever.  They might as well be abacuses for all the computing power they had compared to the smart phone I have now, which dwarfs my TI-99/4A computer I got for Christmas when I was 12. It came with a speech synthesizer, as TI was a pioneer in that technology, that plugged in on the right side and is larger than that smart speakers you can buy now that connect to the internet and are computers in their own right. Now my smartphone or car will talk to me and I can talk to it. All the speech synthesizer could do was talk to me.  The shame.

The change my parents will see over their lifetime will be dwarfed by the change my wife and I will see and it will likely be dwarfed by the change our kids will see, but I’m at the point now where I wonder if this is a good thing and how to stay grounded in that, how to manage that change so it does not overwhelm us and make us irrelevant, or worse, do us harm.  I recently came across a study that shows that brain scans of kids who engage with screen a lot show an thinning of the outer membrane of the cortex that is used to engage with the physical world. No one knows what that means yet, just that it is there, and it is beginning to be shown to be tied in a causal way to changes in the environment around us that we have embraced.  Could similar things have happened with earlier generations as we moved from walking everywhere to riding in carts to motorized transportation in our musculature and ability to support our own bodies over a lifetime? Highly likely, but these changes did not occur multiple times over one lifetime as they do now. When I got that TI-99/4A I knew that is was the start of something amazing but I in now way predicted anything close to where we are now and I still likely have decades to go before I die so I have no clue what will be the landscape in various areas of life compared to now.  When I watched the Jetsons as a kid, I could not wait for my flying car before I was 30. That did not happen, but I have a phone in my hand that is thousands if not millions of times more capable than that TI computer was in about the same time period. So while I cannot predict what the change will be, I now it will happen, and I have to determine how to handle it.

My concern now returns, as it does often as a parent, to my kids.  I think I am seeing a lack of capability in dealing with change in a healthy way.  I’ve talked about this in other posts about attention spans and inability to focus, have patience or do other things.  My concern is that just like I cannot foresee the change itself I believe our kids are doing things that they have no idea what it will cause them years down the road.  Are their brains developing in ways that will cause problems? I recently heard about the latest popular thing among kids, Mukbang, which is watching videos of people eating.  When I was a kid I has a hard enough time watching the real people around me eating, let alone searching for and then watching other people I do not know eating on a screen. I struggle with simply thinking that this behavior is not an indicator of something else.  But what? Is it good or bad? Does it indicate that we are not going to head to more extreme version of entertainment or is it the opposite, the shutting down of ambition leading to finding that watching someone eat a bowl of noodles is “strangely satisfying” as one kids described why they watch Mukbang videos.  Are we transitioning further into a state, as happened with texting years ago, where people would rather do something virtually than do it in person? What does that mean for our development as a social species? Does this help us drive more division and hatred because we no longer need to be civil to each other, because we can just sit around and watch other people eat and be strangely satisfied?  You can likely continue this butterfly effect for quite a long time, if not forever.

Is that fact that we struggle to find jobs that satisfy us a cause of dissatisfaction with work or is a symptom?  Work used to involve getting together with people and talking and working on things in the physical world together.  Now we e-mail and Skype and play with virtual models. We analyze things and microsegment and divide things into smaller and smaller pools because we can make simple ad clicks on a website turn into thousands of dollars if we just get enough interest in whatever we are saying or doing (some of the top Mukbang producers are making over $10,000 a month, making the “job” of eating and filming yourself doing it far more lucrative than the average income of a US household).  What does that mean? What behavior does it drive?

Overall I see the struggles in anxiety and depression just with our own kids and I begin to wonder if it is not a form of inability to deal with change.  In a world where change is constant and we are supposedly so good at it, are we reaching a point of overload, and are our kids the canary in the coal mine telling us enough is enough through the mental health issues that are becoming more prevalent?  I am concerned that the rate of change makes it impossible to study the impacts of change on us and we move on to the next topic to study because we do not have the time to figure out the impact of one change before we change again. I have memories of living in a time that was very different to fall back on.  I enjoy sitting and reading for hours because I learned I could do that. As I begin to think more and more about what I will do after I stop needing to work, I see a life more and more about basic things like reading, walking, talking with people and sharing time with them. As I watch my kids I see them mainly engaged with screens and I get more and more unsure if they would even be capable of that.   And maybe that’s OK, but maybe it’s not. And what is they determine it’s not but they’ve damaged their neurology enough that there is no going back? Where if they are not plugged into the matrix that they will have a mental breakdown and go into some new form of psychosis? My wife and I increasingly are having discussions about things we are amazed to see our kids are not capable of dealing with as we did at their age, almost as if they lack resiliency, sticktoitiveness and passion.  I see younger employees unable to focus and devote the diligent and sustained work needed to solve big problems. Will that ultimately be what slows down the pace of change? Wouldn’t it be ironic if the rate of change breaks the mechanisms in the human brain that allowed us to impart the effort to get here in the first place and causes us to stagnate as a species?


I’ve shared in earlier posts about Nan deciding to take a trip to the beach instead of being here for Cindy’s graduation.  The kids were at Nan’s this weekend for the normal visitation.  Based on past history, this being the week before Mother’s Day I assumed I’d be getting some communication from Nan or perhaps from Cindy or Greg about this Sunday given that this year Mother’s Day weekend falls on our visitation.  I was speaking with my wife about this a couple times over the weekend and the time came and went without a peep on the topic.  The kids came home Tuesday night as always and with busyness and all everyone was in bed before the thought “It’s odd that nothing has been mentioned about Mother’s Day” crossed my mind.  Last night talking with Cindy she asked if she could have friends come over after prom this Saturday and spend the night.  That was fine and it led naturally into the question of if they were heading over to Nan’s for Mother’s Day.  Cindy informed me Nan said she did not want them to come over.  Bam.

We moved on from that statement and just continued the conversation, but inside me their was a sadness along with a rage of the callousness of Nan.  This is not a new feeling for me, and sadly whatever feelings Cindy, Greg and Marcia have are also not knew, but it never ceases to amaze me how Nan can find ways to one up herself in the emptiness inside.  For you to fully appreciate the agony that must be occurring for Cindy, I need to fill you in on a development related to the graduation fiasco.

The weekend before this Cindy has come home and through general conversation she raised the point of the mess that Nan is creating with grandma, for clarity Nan’s mom.  I asked what that meant and out poured the most sadly amazing story I have heard.   It seems that that weekend while Nan and Cindy had gone shopping with her grandmother she continued to have mobility issues that have been part of her life for a while and had difficulty making it from the handicapped space into the store, due to her COPD breathing issues.  Nan then decided that her mom was in no way capable of attending Cindy’s graduation but she decided that her mom is so depressed about all she can no longer do that she needed to come up with some other way to get her to not go.  So she concocted a yarn that was that we have now decided to take all the kids to visit my parents down in Florida and the Cindy will not be attending her graduation.  Cindy then proceeded to explain how a couple occasions had come up where she almost gave away the lie because at one point she almost walked downstairs in her cap and gown and another time almost made a mistake and said something that would have given up the lie.  It was evident in her telling me this whole story that it was stressful to her.  I was furious.  Because Nan already made the decision to not be present for Cindy’s graduation now she was making Cindy partake in a lie about it, not be able to share the event with her grandmother, and further stressing out a kid who is on medication for anxiety?!!

After explained the unfairness to place her in that spot and how sorry I was she had to deal with this, we arrived at the point that she would rather I speak with Nan about clearing this up.  After a long discussion with my wife, I decided to contact Nan.  I made a few mistakes in the heat of the moment with including my own personal indignation about being included as the basis for the lie and how I would not be a party to that, but in the end I cut everything out but the heart of the matter.  Cindy should not be made to carry around a lie for the remainder of her grandmother’s life about her graduation.  I also wanted to make sure this was not Cindy’s burden to resolve, because that would just be more stress, so I let Nan know that we would be sending the announcement for the open house we were having the day after the graduation to celebrate to her Mom but would wait a couple weeks.  Nan ended up calling me up and claiming that her mom was suicidal and to please not put Nan in the spot of having to tell her mom something else she could not do.  I asked for counsel from several people to make sure my clouded perspective with being furious with Nan was not making me make a poor decision on how to handle it, but everyone agreed this burden needs to be removed from Cindy and Nan needs to have an adult conversation with her mom.  After several days Nan decided to talk to her mom and it turned out to make no big deal according to what she said.  Cindy was at least free from the burden of Nan’s lie.

So when I add up the graduation skip, the stress of these several days of fabricating a lie about it and keeping her own mother from being allowed to make her own decision about her granddaughter’s graduation, now we throw in the latest slap; don’t come over on Mother’s Day because we’re too busy packing for our trip that we are leaving for in a few days.  Does my ex just have a hole in her chest where her heart should be?  What can I do as a parent on the other side of this train wreck to protect my children’s hearts?  As I have been operating for some time the answers are yes, and I wish I knew.  I am sure I am not alone in feeling that I am always amazed that my ex can somehow find a way to do something more appalling than ever before.  I’m sure she feels that way about me on things, though I am not sure what (and I’m sure she’s amazed I find her behavior so poor).  In the end I keep reminding myself that my focus needs to be on supporting the kids and I offer someone to listen, to offer advice when wanted and in general just to help them as they want.  My concern, however, is that are they becoming unable to understand what is normal?  In much the same way that we worry about Bert’s effect on Jan, Bobbi and Peter’s ability to process certain things normally, I worry about what having a mom who “loves” in such a strange and bizarre way does to their expectations, how they will develop as people and parents themselves.  Will their romantic relationships be dysfunctional?  How will they view their own kids?  As disposable and easily ignored as Nan views them, or will this drive them to do better, or go too far the other way and be smothering and too attached to compensate for what they felt they were deprived of?  I already have discussions with Cindy where she says all these things are OK.  I suggest they are not OK and that I am sorry, but still try to respect the boundary of not bad-mouthing Nan, but the longer this goes on the more difficult that becomes.  When they were younger I always felt that when they got older they would find their own voice, and perhaps they still will, but I get more and more concerned that they are stunted forever in these spaces and did I miss opportunities to have changed that?  I have no idea where, but that does not make the voices in my head any less vocal.

I’m also not the most empathetic person in the world, so I tend to press too hard into the realm of “suck it up buttercup”.  My wife calls me on it from time to time, and I and so grateful for that, because it certainly helps to avoid further unintended damage from my directness.  This topic is an area that haunts me.  Just as I could not love enough and want to stay together hard enough for both of us with their mom, I can also not do anything to replace the emptiness that must come from knowing that your mom only kind of loves you or however they perceive it.  A child should never have to feel that their parent views them as nothing more than another person.  I get that there are many parents like that, for which sacrificing for their children is not in their worldview, I just feel guilty that that is who I provided my children with on the other side.  I understand the pointlessness and the incorrectness in that viewpoint and I work hard to not get sucked into it too often, and it certainly happens less and less as the years go on, but when one of my kids is in the midst of another vortex of uncaring from Nan, it still surfaces.

We’ve both got exes that cause some form of this feeling of failure in us.  Bert is a terrible role model in many areas of his children’s lives and to some degree I believe my wife has those same feelings that I do about how her choice to have kids with that particular individual will cause them harm and pain for the rest of their lives.  It’s a burden I know not every divorced parent has, but it is certainly one that we have and on days like this it’s really, really heavy.  Writing this blog helps me air those thoughts out in the open and maybe get some comments to help me process, it’s cathartic.  As I try to be open I believe I keep these bad thoughts far enough away to not drag me into a depression of some sort, but does it make me somehow callous as well, as what I am worried my kids are experiencing?  Does having to figure out how to parent kids with a mom who is not a prototypical mom in any way effect me as much or more than it does them?  Is that healthy?  Is there anything I can do about it?  Lots of questions with no right answers.  They can all be seen from two sides of the same coin.  I do the best I can every day, and that’s all we can do as divorced parents.  One day at a time.

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.

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.

No, I have not suddenly decided to move my site to Chinese, and no you are still at Blendeddad.com.  But yes, the title of this post is a Chinese character.

What you see above is the Chinese character for “busy”.  You will see many references to the fact that this is made up of the following two characters.  心 traditionally means “heart” and 亡 is “death” or “killing”.   I am not jumping on the bandwagon that many references do that say this was done purposely and I believe it is just a phonetic reference but it is ironic that the result of being too busy in our lives can feel as if our heart is being killed and that is the focus on my post today.

As we pass our three year anniversary of being an official blended family and the children progress out of elementary school (only Peter remains in that pleasant nirvana lacking any semblance of the word busy) it seems that each year has ratched up the busyness scale.  Some of it certainly is a confluence of our work lives with our personal lives as new jobs have come into play and more involving projects.  In addition our volunteering activities have risen.  I have noticed more and more that my wife and I, rather than looking forward to the upcoming kidless weekends as an opportunity to partake in some couple activities, that we use a day or two to just veg.  This is the monster I am pushing against, the one that made me return to this focus on the Chinese make up of busy.

You see one of the other things I have learned in my Christian walk is that a family is only as strong as the parents that make it up.  We teach and have read many variations on the theme that not focusing on our spouse and taking those important times to reconnect and show each other that we are most important to each other can lead to problems.  It is in this manner that the busy in our lives can become the means to kill our heart, our heart to each other.  I am certainly trying to be careful not to over think this and move to the tendency of many to over react and create a bigger issue, but I want to not stick my head in the sand either.  I understand what is causing our move to just be, and we are still with each other, but I want to also not let it slide so far that it becomes the new normal, because I do believe that would begin to cause problems.  It would be a variation of those parents who place the kids at the center of their lives and do not nurture their love for each other and share experiences that bring them closer together and make them fall in love again every day.  I just do not want our lives to turn into two times; kids are here time, and kids are not here time and all we do is rest for kids are here time.  This is the insidiousness of busy, the evil that lurks within.

This is why it is crucial, especially I think in a blended family with all the added stresses I’ve shared here in this blog, to keep control over how busy, how heart killing, our lives have the potential to become.  We’ve all heard the phrase “no one ever said on their death bed that they wish they’d spent more time at the office”, but these days “the office” is getting replaced by so many other things like social media, smartphones, e-mail and volunteering for the myriad causes that we are pulled to.  I recently began volunteering for Learning Ally, a non-profit that provides access to audio learning materials for learning challenged students and adults.  I love the work, but like any love, if I let it get out of balance it can consume everything I give it.  This is where we need to keep God’s way in mind and use that to set our priorities.  I need to be careful with this new activity pulling on my time that I do not let it take away from time with my wife and create a tiredness in me from the busy, that my heart no longer focuses on what the Lord demands of me.  Everything we do is a balance of focus and I think the biggest sucking sound these days are our smartphones.  I push back against it all the time and it has caused an argument or two and I’m sure will cause a few more between my wife and I.  When is it OK to sit and watch TV or read together without putting the smartphone down and ignoring its addictive purr?  Research has shown that people can become addicted to that rush of seeing who contacted them, what message came over.  It has the same effect as doing drugs.  My wife and I do not agree on the speed in which we need to respond to this electronic leash.  I believe I much more easily ignore my device if we are in the middle of something and will not even refer to my work phone unless I know a pressing project is happening over the weekend.  Will this disconnect grow and create larger problems over time?  I hope not and I will work to try to lovingly make sure that anything I am involved in does not become the same, be it my volunteer activity or other leisure activities.  I regularly tell my wife to come let me know if she would like me to stop what I am doing and be with her, but she rarely does so.  I try to keep my time to a minimum in these individual pursuits.  Some might think that silly, but I have seen too many people drift apart because they all just did “their thing” and were busy.  What I do not want to do is become my parents in this area.

The situation with my parents is that they have never really had those shared experiences, those times to get away from the busy and reconnect.  They are now in retirement and struggling mightily on how to work with each other.  They also have been taking care of my 90+ year old grandmother with dementia for several years and are only recently discussing the option of long term care for her.  They argue and fight and my father retreats to his phone or computer and my mother goes shopping.  They have allowed the busy to kill their hearts.  They have never learned how to connect and communicate and in the circle of life it has now come to the point where my brother and I feel like we have at times become our parent’s parents, telling them to stop acting like children, to learn to play nice and to stop taking their ball and going home.  My brother recently had to tell my dad to stop being a baby.  I’d never think it would have come to that, but this is what I see that busy has done to their lives.  It has literally killed their hearts.  My brother and I have both gone through the pain of divorce and to hear our parents making comments and discussing things in that vein is something I do not think either of us ever thought we’d hear from them.  After forty five years of marriage they can almost literally not stand to be around each other and it is looking grim.  I hear my mother yelling at my father to put his phone down and listen to me on the phone or pay attention to what she is saying.

Could it ever become me having a similar argument with my wife?  I’d like to think not, but this is what busy can do.  We have gotten so used to always “doing” something that the pleasure of just communicating with our spouse seems like a waste. This is why I push back against always poking at the phone, or having to have the TV on when we sit down, or not being able to sit down because there is a napkin on the table or a cup on the counter.  All these things can be enjoyed or need to be taken care of.  I’m not saying let your house become a pig sty, leave the laundry to stink and never enjoy a TV show to check your phone; just be aware of what your focus is on and for how long or you might end up like my parents are at this point, only focused on what they are not able to do because of the demands of the other versus what they could do if they took time for each other.  If the focus on each other is there, it is easier to deal with the busy that must happen.  They need to focus on my grandmother, but right now they are focusing individually rather than collectively.  I’ve been there with my ex, getting to the point where I could truly care less what she did, I was just going to do what I needed to do.  I truly feel it was a tipping point, where the effort to come back would have been so gargantuan that it was not possible.  Maybe that’s why I am more sensitive to those things in my life now where I feel something can be too distracting, too busy.  Family, friends, gadgets, entertainment, work can all be the sources of damage to our heart, to our focus on our strong marriage, that bond with our spouse.  I hear a woman come to DivorceCare and discuss how her husband wanted a divorce because he felt she was too focused on the kids.  I hear a man come in and talk about how he spent time with his band and porn and it led him to poor choices that drove him to such guilt that he left his wife and is torn up about it now.  I hear how a woman cannot remove her focus from the relationship her ex has with their kids enough to move on with her life.  I hear how people spend more time at work, or at school, with an ailing parent or with friends and then wonder what happened with their relationship with their spouse and blame the other for not understanding.  While all these busies might be legitimate, taken too far, they became destructive, they killed the heart.  They killed the heart of their marriage.

We need to learn to let go, to put down the smartphone, move the ailing parent into long term care when it is too much, tell the kids we’ll be back in an hour once in a while, tell that friend who wants us to help with the fundraiser not this year, tell the group we volunteer with that we can no longer be the ‘go to’ person that picks up the slack for all the other volunteers.  The Lord made marriage for two to become one flesh to be the center of the family, which in turn is the center of His world.  The core of the family are those two people who joined themselves to each other and to God.  Every time busy pulls that center off balance, it is crucial that both partners talk openly about how to get back to center before too long, otherwise you end up so far off balance that you are like my parents or like all the people who do not know what hit them in divorce.  It is OK to say no for the sake of your heart.

Do not become too 忙.