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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Psalm 30:5b – Weeping may last for a night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.

I once heard it said that as you get older, you obtain more wisdom and a lot of that wisdom helps you to understand that the wisdom you had when you were younger was not actually real wisdom at all but our own human arrogance pretending to be wisdom when we really are not so wise.

Many of those lessons, or opportunities to learn wisdom, come at times when we realize we are not in control.  Earlier this month I had one of those lessons in the form of a physical problem that took me by surprise.  I ended up having what I later learned was a gallbladder attack a couple times this month.  The first time it hit me I thought I had strained my back from using our snowblower and thought my abdominal pain was just a reaction to some cream sauce we had for dinner.  It hit me around bed time and as the night wore on and I could not sleep or even sit still, I began to panic.  Thoughts started going through my head about if I could continue to endure the excoriating pain or if I’d go crazy.  There were moments when I seriously thought that I understood why some people with chronic pain must get to the point when they just want to die and have it stop.  This was my first growth of wisdom.  Sure I had this pain for going on two hours at this point, but it certainly was not days, weeks or months of pain.  It was amazing to me how quickly, I, someone who I felt handled stress and challenges well was able to be turned into a whimpering ball of goo nearly at the point of wishing for anything to happen as long as the pain went away.  It literally got to the point where I was rocking back and forth on the floor in tears praying that something, anything would make it stop.

The next day as I explained my ordeal through the night to my wife and later my father, both of them urged me to go to the doctor.  As the strong masculine type I of course made up every reason in the world not to go.  I have no idea how to tell them what was happening.  It never happened before and it might never happen again so I will just wait and see.  This was my human arrogance showing through the wisdom that I had that what had occurred to me was not normal and therefore should be examined closer.  I had gone through agony in the night, only to jump for joy in the morning and feel it was handled.

Three days later, God gave me another chance as the same agony hit me right after midnight and woke me up.  In the conversations I had the other day it was suggested it might be gallbladder related to I turned to the source of all knowledge.  No not the Bible.  Wikipedia and WebMD.  Once again, human arrogance but to be fair I do not recall any verses in the Bible that tell you how to diagnose gallbladder pain.  Once again after two hours or so I was at my wits end.  This time the pain was not really worse, but I was getting nauseous along with it and it was only two in the morning.  I called our nurse help line to see if they thought I should head in to the ER or just stick it out until morning.  I had no notion of not having it checked out, I just wanted to know if my doctor or urgent care would be good enough rather than heading out to a hospital in the middle of the night.  As I talked on the phone the nice nurse eventually used her womanly wisdom to push through my manly hard-headedness and told me to wake up my wife and let her know I was heading to the ER.  Once there they went through the processes needed to find that in fact I had a gall stone blocking the duct and that would account for my pain.  By 7 AM my pain subsided but I was now admitted to the hospital.

For me this was its own brand of horror.  Up to this point I had survived on this Earth without even a personal visit to the ER, let alone being admitted and facing the prospect of surgery. My blood pressure was through the roof as we waited for the surgeon to arrive and talk with us.  I played along pretty well and even had myself fooled that I was doing OK, but every time the nurse came in and took my blood pressure the truth was right there in digital red numbers.  The surgeon eventually arrived and while I pushed back a bit on if the surgery was really necessary, he convinced me (my wife helped just a little) to get this done before it really got worse.  I had the doctor’s wisdom, my wife’s wisdom and my lack of wisdom in this regard.  I also had the benefit of more wisdom from one of my friends who works in the medical field, who put it very simply.  “There are only two things you need to know to make this decision,” he said.  “First, you do not need a gallbladder to live.  Second, yours is not working right.”  I’m a logical guy, so this straight line logic made a lot of sense to me.  It took the emotion right out of it.  Never mind the fear I was feeling, the thoughts of never waking up from the anesthesia or having the doctor leave a bedpan in my abdomen during surgery, my friend just laid it right out.  Isn’t it wonderful how if you follow God’s wisdom of surrounding yourself with godly counsel that He will make sure you hear what you need?  We decided to go ahead and the surgery was scheduled for the next afternoon.

My wife sat with me through the evening and eventually left to be home with the kids around nine.  It was then that I became aware of my reality and it really brought me to my knees.  I was going to be in a hospital overnight for the first time in my life and it scared me to death and there was nothing I could do about it.  Sure I could say I wanted to wait for the surgery.  The surgeon had said that he could discharge me and we could do it a few days later when it was more convenient, even gave me the option to do that right until the last minute.  He had also made clear that these stones were not going anywhere so doing that would just postpone the inevitable.  That little sucker had to come out sooner or later and God would leave it up to me.  There in that hospital bed in the dark after my wife had left I had never felt so alone in my life.  I had moved away from family and friends to a strange city and not felt this alone. I had moved again to another strange city leaving the friends I had made again and then gotten divorced and had not felt this alone.  In each of those situations at the time I had turned to God to help provide me strength and I felt He had taken me to the breaking point, but here in this hospital room He had taken me to the depths of despair again and shown me that no, it could be lower.  His timing had brought me here that night and even so I could have made a choice to delay but I trusted God and knew if this was what was to happen that He would work it for good.  Even if something terrible happened I had faith that this was part of His plan.  As I sat there weeping in the night I turned to God and said your will be done.

Now I am several weeks out and His glory continues to be revealed in ways seen and unseen.  We learned from the surgeon after the fact that it was worse than he thought when he had given us the option to wait and he informed us it was good we went in when we did.  It may have escalated to something much more serious in a few days had I waited.   I was given an opportunity to share my faith just before heading into surgery with the nurse’s taking care of me and it may have moved someone in God’s direction.  The first part of that verse talks about God’s anger and favor.  Do I feel that I had an issue with my gallbladder because God was angry with me?  No.  But the wisdom I gained that helps me understand that verse more clearly is that if we trust in God we are always in a good place.  His anger lasts for a moment, the verse says, but His favor is for a lifetime.  Those three nights this month had me weeping, but the rest of the days were filled with God’s opportunity and blessing.  I found wonderful support in my church family, something I have never had in any church I have ever attended.  I was shown that I can go through surgery, have an unexpected outcome and make it through, which will give me wisdom to face the bigger health challenges I sadly will most likely have as I age.  I was worried about the medical bills from this event and was surprised to find I have received the largest bonus of my career.  All I could do at that time was look inside in shame and weep. My doubt was answered by the wisdom I had neglected to recall.  God provides.  Once again He shows that ours is not to worry, just as he sustained Israel in the desert after their escape from Egypt when they thought they would surely die, He takes care of His children now.  There are still other challenges hanging over us that have not resolved but in passing through my ordeal with a tiny “useless” organ known as the gallbladder God has given me another lesson to grow my wisdom.  When I am in doubt I need to trust in Him for in everything that happens, “this is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Ps. 118:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: You look upset.  What’s wrong?

Marcia: Mom did not show up…. AGAIN!

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

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

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

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

Me: I’m sorry to hear that.

Marcia: It’s OK.  I’m used to it.

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

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

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

Marcia Sadness: What did I do to deserve this?

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

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

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

Marcia:  Does Jan know we are taking the bus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcia: Yeah, I did.  No idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me (calmly):  You’ll figure it out.

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

Me: Then go to bed earlier.

Jan: I went to bed at 9!

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

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

Me: You’ll figure it out.

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

Me Sadness: Oh the joys of teenagers……

So now we circle back to patience.

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