Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Relationship Maintenance

February 18, 2013 1 comment

It has been almost 10 years since my wife Jennifer and I began building our house in 2003. In the years since, the HVAC has been repaired a couple of times, a toilet had to be replaced, holes patched, repainting done and the carpet in the living room has been stretched twice because it was not installed properly. Outside, the natural areas have been re-needled and re-planted several times, plants and trees moved and fence posts concreted. All of this has been in addition to the normal maintenance that any house requires both indoors and out. The cleaning, mowing, washing, scrubbing and vacuuming. The filter changing, light-bulb changing, organizing, de-cluttering and purging that goes on all of the time.

This got me to thinking about how marriage and other relationships are like the care you put into a house.

Many people see marriage as a relationship that you form, flip a switch, and everything goes smoothly. However, this would be similar to buying a house and never expecting to clean or maintain it. It will degrade faster than you think, and before you know it, it will not be worth living in. Marriage requires work. It requires that you do the everyday maintenance, such as saying kind things to your loved one, helping with chores, and generally doing things that show that you recognize their needs and desires and will strive to help them meet them. I think most married couples get this but this is not the hard part.

It gets hard is when the AC goes out in the middle of the summer.

What I mean by this is that couples that love each other often struggle when it comes to large obstacles. They may be great at helping each other out when things are going well, but when one loses their job and it’s hard to make the bills, or when a spouse makes a bad choice that leads to injured feelings or worse,  the relationship frequently starts to suffer. This is where relationships can fail, or they can be made stronger.

When your AC goes out, or a water pipe breaks, you know it’s going to cost you,  but you also know that what is put in is likely better than what it replaced. How many people think of just getting rid of the house when these things happen? Some I am sure, but not many. Our investment in the house is much greater than the cost of overcoming a temporary issue. It is the same way with our relationships. When we have invested in each other, caring for one another, we should not be ready to let it all go when rocky times are encountered. It is through hard work and love that these temporary struggles can forge trust and strength that just cannot be found on smooth waters.

When things get difficult, it can be very tempting to remove ourselves and follow the path of least resistance to an easier place. But to do that is to give up on what can and should be one of the most rewarding things a human can do. Marriage is work, but it takes work to accomplish truly great things. Don’t give up on it.

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What I Learned on Summer Vacation

July 27, 2010 1 comment

My family and I went to Daytona Beach last week. It was my wife and I, our three children, and my mom, step-dad and two of my step-dads grandchildren. So in the 3 bedroom, 3 bath condo we rented, we had 4 adults and 5 boys between the ages of 2 and 7. (Wow that’s a lot of numbers)Whenever I told anyone about our upcoming vacation they would look at me with horror in their eyes, so I hoped I wasn’t being too naïve when I would respond with, “It’ll be fun!”

There were several times on the trip, when my wife Jennifer would say “You should write about this in your blog.” And I would nod. Inwardly though, I was shaking my head. For whatever reason I have the issue, or neuroses, that I don’t want anyone to read or even know what I am going to write about, until I have finished it. I haven’t even let my wife read any of my posts so far prior to publishing them. I suppose inwardly I am afraid that I will expose myself to outside influence, and it will change or dilute what I really want to say. I am also concerned that I will chicken-out in posting entries on somewhat controversial topics, if I get any criticism prior to publishing. Regardless of the reason, I wasn’t crazy about an entry of “what I did on summer vacation”.

So maybe I will go about this in a different way. I always hope to learn something from my experiences, whether exciting or mundane, so let me expound of some of the things I learned in the last week.

  • Denny’s (At least in Daytona Beach) has a “kids eat free” policy all of the time. This was especially fortuitous when the kids outnumbered the adults. Because of this promotion, we ate at Denny’s three different nights. Two of these nights we sat at the same table and had the same waiter who was very good and took great care of this large and rowdy group.  The third night, the waitress accidently dumped a full glass of Diet Coke directly on Jonathan’s (one of the 2 year old twins) head. It was a mess, to say the least.
  • Restaurants that have free appetizers, such as tortilla chips or bread, are much more kid-friendly. When our twins, or the rest of the boys for that matter sit down to the table, they expect to start eating. We have Goldfish for when we need them, but one evening, at Red Lobster, we realized that we had left the Goldfish container at Denny’s the night before. Oops. Thank goodness for Cheddar Bay biscuits. While at Red Lobster, Jonathan also had some tummy issues and threw up all over Jennifer. Luckily, she was already done eating and just took him to the van to try and clean them both up.
  •  DVD players in vehicles are one of the greatest parent-helping inventions EVER. I don’t like the idea of letting the TV babysit your children, but the 8 ½ hour drive to and from Daytona Beach was much more pleasant than it could have been without it. A long car ride is just one of those times when you need your kids to be distracted. We actually do not let our children watch movies in the car most of the time. We try to save it for long trips so is it more of a novelty and seems special.
  • Once you have kids, vacations are not about relaxation and rest. One of the things I used to love about vacation was that we could do what we want, when we want and do nothing if we wanted to. With the children however, there was no sleeping late (at least one of them was up by 8:00 every morning and one morning as early as 6:15), and not much relaxing. On almost every day, we visited the beach for a couple of hours and the pool for a couple more, but even then, it was swimming, chasing kids, playing and having fun, but no rest. We ate out for supper every night, and made breakfast and lunch for everyone in the condo everyday but one. We even played miniature golf one day. I think this was the first time ever that I came home from vacation weighing less than when I left. We were that busy.
  • I love spending time with my family, but I have to have alone-time too. I told Jennifer that I think our week-long vacation was about a day and a half too long. Our final night eating out (at Outback) stressed me out to the point that I was just ready to be home. I don’t think it was specifically the events of that evening although they contributed. (We were there for an hour and forty five minutes, the food got there about 70 minutes after we did, the twins were impatient and screaming and Alex, our 5-year-old, decided he needed to go ‘poopy’ 2 minutes after the food arrived). I think mostly, it was that I am used to having time to myself during the week, and on this particular week, the only time that occurred was when I was in the bathroom. The accumulation of all of the children playing, screaming, fighting, arguing, throwing up, running, throwing things against the walls, etc. had finally exhausted all of the calmness and serenity I had stored and I finally broke. When I got back from taking Alex to the bathroom (20 minutes later), I took Patrick (who was screaming while Jennifer held him and also tended to Jonathan who was unhappy as well) and headed to the van. My mom asked if I was going to eat (I had only had 3 bites of my steak before I had to take Alex to the bathroom). I answered simply ‘No.’ and walked out with Patrick to the van to wait. I stayed in a bad mood the rest of the evening and finally began to get over it the next day on the drive home. It wasn’t until Monday, when I was working from home, not alone because Alex was there but at least alone in my office for several hours, that I really began to decompress.

When people ask how vacation was, I tell them it was ‘chaotic, but fun’ and it really was. But I can’t help thinking maybe Jennifer had a great idea when she said “Next vacation, let’s just take the time off, but stay home.”

She Walked Away

July 16, 2010 2 comments

There is a song by Barlow Girl called “She Walked Away” that Sound of Faith has started covering occasionally when we play live. It’s a very emotional song that is basically a modern-day version of the parable of the Prodigal Son. At Sound of Faith’s last gig at the Kickin’ Bean, Jennifer sat alone on the stage, just her and the piano and sang a simple but powerful version of this song. What made it powerful to me was the memory, one that I haven’t thought of in a long time, which came to mind while she sang. It’s my own memory of when “She Walked Away”.

I don’t remember exactly what the year was, but I would have been about 9 years old, give or take a year, so it was the mid-80’s. My sister, who is 8 years my elder so about 17 at the time, had been doing some pretty odd things that day. I don’t remember why I was home instead of in school but I would guess it was probably spring break. My sister was supposed to be home watching after me while my parents were at work, but she obviously had other things on her mind. At one point, she carried her Casio keyboard and a stereo out to her car and left for a while before coming back. Late that afternoon she left again. She did not return home before my parents got home from work. I remember thinking she was going to be in big trouble, but I didn’t really grasp what was going on.

When my mom and dad got home, I knew something was really wrong. I don’t know if my sister had called them, or if it was just the letter she had left behind, but she had basically decided that she had had enough of following my parent’s rules and had decided to strike it out on her own. She had left a letter for our parents as I said, but it is one I never read. I don’t recall if I tried and wasn’t allowed to, or if I just didn’t realize its importance.  I do remember it was more than one page though, because the memory that came to mind as Jennifer sang was of my mom and dad, sitting at the dining room table, each of them holding a page of the letter she had left, and crying. I knew at the time that they were pretty angry but I wasn’t mature enough to understand all of the emotions that must have really been attacking them at that moment. As a parent now, I can only imagine the worst.

You see, my sister didn’t just run away to a friend’s house or out into the woods or anything like that. No, she had pawned the keyboard and stereo in order to buy a one-way bus ticket from Charlotte, North Carolina to Anaheim, California where a friend of hers had recently moved (a friend that my parents were not very fond of for various reasons).  I don’t believe that my sister had actually told my parents where she was going, but from calling various friends’ parents they were able to figure it out that evening.

The next few days were a blur. I can recall my dad talking to my sister on the phone and arguing. I remember my sister saying it was a 3-day bus trip to California and that she had seen snow on the cactuses on the side of the road. I had thought that was really cool, especially since it was spring. I remember that for whatever reason, my sister’s friend’s family would not let her stay there and that she had agreed to come home. My dad had wired her the money for the bus ticket back, which hurt a lot since our family had pretty much always lived from paycheck to paycheck.

About a week after the ordeal had started, my sister was to arrive back home. That is one of the only times I intentionally skipped school in my life. I told my parent’s that I didn’t feel well and they let me stay home, even though my dad later told me he knew I wasn’t sick. Even as a 9 year old, I remember the love and relief that I felt when my sister walked back through the door. Even though I was the little bother and my sister and I had not always gotten along well, I had truly missed her and was glad she was home.

So as a parent of three children now, it makes me very emotional to think about going through that same situation as a father instead of as a brother. On top of the anger that I knew my parents had for their rebellious child, I am certain that there was a great deal of fear and hurt that was also there. As a parent, you want to do whatever is right and good for your kids. You want to keep them safe and teach them all of the correct ways to do things. To have that ripped out of your hands by the one you care so much about, to have your guardianship stripped away and your loved one forcing themselves upon a world that they are probably not ready for… Well, it would scare this father to death.

I cried while listening to Jennifer’s rendition of the song, because I was imagining what my father must have felt, pure and simple, and at the end of the song, I said a little prayer that I will never have to go through the same thing.

Barlow Girl
She Walked Away

She couldn’t take one more day
Home was more her prison now
Independence called out
She had to get it

A fight was all she needed
To give her reason
She slammed the door with no goodbye
And knew that it was time

Now she’s driving too fast
She didn’t care to glance behind
And through her tears she laughed
It’s time to kiss the past goodbye

I’m finally on my own
Don’t try to tell me no
There’s so much more for me
Just watch what I will be

She walked away
Couldn’t say why she was leaving
She walked away
She left all she had believed in
She walked away

Not a day goes by
For the one she’s left behind
They’re always asking why
And thoughts of her consume their mind

God please let her know
The love we tried to show
We’d promise anything
If you’d just bring her home

She walked away
Couldn’t say why she was leaving
She walked away
She left all she had believed in
She walked away

Tell her we love her
Tell her she’s wanted
One more thing God
Tell her please come home
Please come home

She walked away
Couldn’t say why she was leaving
She walked away
She left all she had believed in
She walked away

She walked away
Couldn’t say why she was leaving
She walked away
She left all she had believed in

The choice is yours alone now
Tell me how this story ends

Luke 15:20-24

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

Harry Potter is not Evil

July 12, 2010 4 comments

So… I have now missed my first self-imposed deadline… Oh well… I had intended for this to go up on Friday, but my band had a gig and I got involved with my church’s web site and well, it didn’t. We can live with it just this once right?

I was speaking to a fellow parishioner at my church a couple of years ago, when one of the Harry Potter movies (I think it was Order of the Phoenix) was being released, about whether they were going to take their children to go see it.  Their children at the time were pre-teen and perhaps unsurprisingly, they said “no” because they felt it was inappropriate. Well, the movie is rated PG-13, and has some violence and can been pretty intense, so I didn’t think a lot about it until I spoke about it to someone else, also a pretty close friend. Their response: “Harry Potter performs sorcery and you know where that kind of power comes from.”  Their concern was not about the things that made the film PG-13, it was because the main character, the good-guy used magic.

So, here we are on the brink of a new Harry Potter movie, Deathly Hallows which comes out this fall. So I suppose the question still remains: As a Christian is it wrong to see the movie, or let my children see it? Well, I am not much for suspense, so I will say right away: “No, I don’t think so”. By saying so, I am sure that it will trouble those who feel like my friend above, but keep reading, because you might learn something.

I must make one disclaimer right up front. My oldest child is five, so no; my children will not be watching Harry Potter for a little while at least. We’ll stick to Pixar and Veggietales for now.  Not because of any perceived evil or stain to their Christian beliefs, but because I just don’t think it is appropriate for children that age. But, this question is not just about Harry Potter, right? If you take the argument to its logical extent, any main character that uses magic of some sort would not be appropriate for a Christian child. The list of banned TV shows and movies would include, but not be limited to: Witches of Waverly Place, Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Lord of the Rings, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Pokemon, Fantasia and even The Smurfs (Papa Smurf was a wizard). So, we can certainly find from that list age-appropriate material to discuss.  And no, I do not feel like Mickey Mouse or Papa Smurf are inappropriate for my five-year old. In fact, I cannot remember ever speaking to someone who did. So why the inconsistency?

I get questions from my oldest son all the time such as “Are there bad guys in real life?” or “Are there really such things as aliens?” and I always do my best to answer him in a way that is truthful and makes sense to a 5-year-old without being too frightening. I don’t lie (Except maybe about Santa and the Easter Bunny) and I don’t say I don’t know when I do. So I am very prepared to discuss things like Papa Smurf or Harry Potter with my son and help him to understand the differences between truth and fiction and what is acceptable behavior verses what he sees on TV. I have no problem with him seeing a TV show with someone who performs magic, but I don’t want him to go and try it himself. (I feel the same way about high-explosives) I’m not talking about card tricks and disappearing hankies; he loves that kind of stuff. I just don’t want him thinking he is “casting spells” and the like. I know that he can distinguish TV from reality. How do I know? Because we talk about it and I do my job as a father to help him understand.

It seems that many people are not willing to have these types of discussions with their children. It is certainly much easier for them to block out an entire section of popular TV and film and then they don’t have to talk about it. Except… their kids will see it eventually anyway, and since the parents banned it, it will not be under their supervision. It will have been made into a forbidden fruit, and the kids will bite. The parents will not be there to discuss it with them, and since they didn’t take the opportunity to discuss it before, the children will not have the foundational beliefs that could have been provided.

It’s not the easy way, but communication and honest discussion with your children is the best way to instill in them your belief system. Sheltering them from things like magic in a movie will not help them make good decisions when confronted with decisions in real life. But if you can discuss and help them understand what they see, they will be much better prepared when they have to make choices on their own.

I think somewhere along the way , someone decided that Harry Potter was a good example to make and said to their friend “I won’t take my kids to see Harry Potter because he does magic… and that’s bad.”  And their friend had kids and suddenly felt guilty because they had planned to see it, so they said “Oh yeah, of course not.” and cancelled their plans. Before you knew it families in churches everywhere were saying “No” to Harry Potter and instead taking their kids to see movies with talking animals and vegetables and… wait, now where does that power come from?

Newsflash – I Love My Wife

July 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I am constantly surprised when people don’t see things the same way I do. That sounds a bit egotistical, and maybe it is, but frequently I hear my friends and coworkers say things that seem perfectly reasonable to them and blow me away with what it says about them. One friend holds a months-long grudge against his in-laws and takes it out on his wife with verbal abuse. Another has started ignoring his wife’s concerns because he says it never changes no matter what he does. A third wants to “get-back” at her spouse because he did something she didn’t want him to do, but never actually told him. The more I hear these types of things, the more I begin to wonder if my way of going about my marriage is actually in a minority.

When my wife Jennifer and I began dating in 2001, we both had some baggage from previous marriages. As it began getting serious, we decided to set a few ground rules. The first of which was complete honesty. A few years into Jennifer’s first marriage, her husband had given her a line which included “I didn’t tell you that before we got married because I was afraid you wouldn’t marry me”. In my own first round, I had been known to lie or hide things in order to prevent conflict or because I was not comfortable sharing bad news. So we decided that there would be none of that is this relationship. I made it my goal to tell Jennifer about every skeleton in my closet. I wasn’t trying to frighten her away, but I didn’t want her to get surprised by something later. Needless to say, (why is it that we use the phrase “Needless to say” and then always say it anyway?) I didn’t scare her off.  Even today, when something unpleasant happens, my brain’s initial reaction is to start forming a “story” but then I remember our agreement and immediately try to find the best way to break the truth instead.

The second rule we live our relationship by is that we allow no “game-playing”. When I say game-playing, I mean those little score keeping games that so many couples do, even subconsciously. It goes from the minor issue (I’m not cooking supper tonight because he didn’t mow the yard) to the extreme (She cheated so I will too and get back at her). So often I hear these sorts of things going on in others lives and the people involved don’t usually understand how destructive those behaviors are. When you enter marriage, it is not the whistle starting the game or green flag for a race. Marriage should not leave you feeling like you are ahead or behind. It is a zero-sum cooperative relationship, or at least it should be, not a competition. If you are feeling behind, you should be able to ask for help, or forgiveness or whatever it takes because you trust and love your spouse and want to make the relationship stronger. And what if you are feeling ahead? Well, then instead of feeling superior, you need to slow down and help the one behind catch up, for the same reason, because you love and respect them and want to make the marriage better.  The goal in marriage is not to score the most points, but instead to throw to scorecard out the window and treat yourselves as two parts of a single whole. Then it makes no sense to complete.

The final one of our ground rules, and one which may be the most important to Jennifer and I, is that we do not expect each other to read minds. It is not fair to a spouse when the excuse “You should have known” is used, especially if you have an opportunity to make sure they do know. If Jennifer wants me to wash the dishes, she asks me to. If I want her to stop by the store on the way home, I bring it up. Sounds easy huh? Obviously, there are certain things you don’t need a reminder for. Don’t cheat on your wife; don’t leave the house naked; those sorts of things. The crazy thing is that fights start all of the time over the mundane things like the dishes. I have heard ladies tell their girlfriends about how they didn’t want their husband to play golf on a certain day, and then not speak to him afterwards and leave him completely dumbfounded as to why. I know a fellow who will not give his wife compliments, because he is too “manly” for that sort of thing, but assumes she knows he thinks it. C’mon folks, it is really not that hard. Just assume your spouse doesn’t know unless you tell them. It solves so many issues that you wouldn’t believe!

The reason that these ground rules work for Jennifer and I is that we see our relationship as a 50/50 partnership. We love and respect each other and we realize than anything that tears one of us down tears us both down, and anything that builds one of us up, does the same for the other. So, newsflash! I love my wife. I’m not too macho to say it honestly. I don’t play games or love conditionally, and I don’t expect her to read my mind and use that as a measuring stick to see how much she loves me. What a concept!