Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lessons Learned

     Today I am tired and sore.  My back aches, my shoulder is bruised and my neck is sunburned.  I feel blessed to have earned these minor discomforts.  I feel honored that I was able to give just a little to something bigger than myself.  Seeing what has happened to Joplin shakes a person to the core.  There is just no way to take it all in and even more impossible to put it into words.  I think it will take a long time for me to digest all that I have seen and experienced over the last weekend, but I have learned a few things through this tragedy.

     Digging through piles of rubble and seeing what can happen in an instant to the treasures we collect was an eye opening experience.  Our sense of value is so skewed.   I thought about the treasures I have collected, the money we have spent on adornments for our home.  For the first time, I think I really got a glimpse of what it was all really worth.  I saw people who lost everything thankful for a meal, praising God that they were alive.  We lie to ourselves and make ourselves believe that we are protected by our wealth.  I saw first hand how everything can be swept away in an instant.  I makes one stop and consider if there is not a better investment that can be made with our labor and wealth then filling our house with trinkets.  So many of the volunteers I worked with said the same thing, "This makes me want to go home and get rid of everything I don't need."  In the end whether a tornado destroys it all or we keep it all horded away, the saying remains true, we can't take it with us. I want to start focusing more on people and less on things.  I want to start laying up my treasure in heaven where moth and rust and tornadoes don't destroy.  Ask the people of Joplin about treasure.  They will tell you what really is important.

     I learned that there is truly something great in humanity.  Yes we are a fallen, messed up lot.  We can be selfish and stubborn and mean.  There will always be people trying to get ahead at the expense of another.  However bleak the human condition seems at times, I understand now that there is also a part that is selfless, giving, and beautiful.  It seems odd that it usually only against the backdrop of unimaginable tragedy that this part of humanity comes into focus.  It is comforting to me to know that while we are broken, we have not completely lost all of the good qualities that God built into us.  We are more than mere animals, each looking out only for his own survival.  We are tiny imperfect images of God.  Maybe that is why He has not completely washed his hands of us.  Maybe He continues to love us despite our many evils, because He can see us as he created us and longs to restore us to the what we were created to be.  It's not so different from my own children who often exacerbate me to no end, who lie, and fight and tend to destroy what we give them.  Still though, there is nothing more wonderful than holding them close in my lap after a good bath, knowing that they are a part of me and that they love me as much as I love them.

     I have learned a new appreciation for my wife.  It was her heart for the people of Joplin that made this weekend a reality.  I never would have gone if It had not been for her.  She came to me and said that she wanted to do something for the people who had been effected by the tornado.  I half-heartedly agreed to go with her.  She went all out getting supplies donated and contacting pastor Vogel of Grace Baptist Church so that we would have a place to get tied in.  She passionately urged others to go when she stood before our church on Sunday and I believe that she was responsible for stirring the hearts of 40 some people to go and serve on Memorial day.  I hate to admit that sometimes I need her to push me to do what I need to do, but don't necessarily want to do.  There's no telling what I've just opened myself up to once she reads this.  I mean it though.  It is often because of her that I am motivated to be a better person, sometimes sometimes gladly and sometimes less enthusiastically.  It is just one of the many reasons I need her in my life.

      I hope most of all that I have learned to be content with what I have and hold it with an open hand.  I have been blessed with so much in my life, but it could all disappear tomorrow.  I don't know how I would react if I woke to find that everything I owned was washed away.  I hope that, like so many people I have met this weekend, I could say that what really matters was still just as present and just as real as before.  We have God and our families, friends and neighbors, all else is just decoration. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A memorable Memorial Day

     For 4000 years, those of us who live our lives according to Judeo-Christian teachings have believed that the two greatest commandments are that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and that we should love our neighbor as our selves.  I don't know his motivation, but one day a man asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"  Jesus responded with a story. He told of a man that was attacked, beaten and robbed and left for dead.  As he lay dying, two religious and moral elites walked by on the other side of the road, unwilling to get involved.  A third man, himself a social outcast, saw the man and was moved by compassion to take him into town and dress his wounds, then put up his own money to cover the victim's medical costs.  Jesus then asked his own question, "Who do you think was this man's neighbor?"

     His point was clear, every man is our neighbor.  We aren't supposed to get caught up in definitions, but instead just act.  I don't pretend to understand why God allows tragedy and human suffering.  I do know that through tragedy, the human spirit is often distilled to it's purest form. We grow sedentary and selfish in the easy times of life.  It takes suffering to stir our hearts to action.  It is in our response to tragedy that it is most clearly seen that we are indeed created in the image of God.

     My heart has been stirred by the devastation that occurred one week ago in Joplin.  The easy thing to do would have been to sit back and pretend that because I live 3 hours away, these people are not my neighbors.  I thank God for a wife who was so moved by compassion for these people we don't even know that she pushed me out  of my comfort zone and made me go with her and do something instead of just thinking about it.  We went and did what was really a miniscule amount in the grand scheme of things, but it changed me.  Tomorrow if possible I plan to go back and do a tiny bit more.  This time we will be joined by a much larger group.  Compassion is contagious.

      I start to think that I am becoming a bit preachy in my urging of others to go and do what they can.  I don't mean to make anyone feel guilty for their inaction, but rather I want others to know the indescribable joy of serving someone in need.  I want people to experience humanity the way God created us to.  I want to knock folks out of the every day rut that they have sunken into and realize that this isn't a government problem, or a local problem, but that it is a human problem. John Donne once wrote that no man is an island, entire in itself, but that we are each a part of the main and if one small clod be washed away, then we are the less.  When our neighbors in Joplin, or Tuscaloosa, or Louisiana, or Japan suffer, we all are effected.  Human suffering happens every day and it is just a matter of time until the next great tragedy strikes.  My question to whoever reads this is are you capable of looking the other way and justifying not getting involved in a way that lets you sleep at night, or are you like the Samaritan who was willing to roll up his sleeves and get a stranger's blood on his hands in order to save his life.  I won't lie to you, it's hard work and exhausting, but the sleep you earn by your efforts will be so much more refreshing that that you get by easing your conscience through excuses no matter how logical they may seem.

      Tomorrow is Memorial day.  I don't have to work.  I want to sleep in, take it easy, eat too much and think about nothing important.  Despite what I want to do, I am planning at getting up ridiculously early and making another 3 hour drive so that I can work my butt off for people I don't know and will never meet again.  I expect it will be the most wonderful and memorable Memorial Day of my life.  Who want's to join me?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

There and back again

     What a day this has been.  I have never seen anything that approaches the devastation I witnessed in Joplin.  It truly makes ones heart ache for the people of that community.  Words do not suffice to begin to describe the she extent of wreckage the was inflicted on the town and its residents.   Picture can convey a glimpse but fail to show the size.  Thanks to Google's Street View, I was able to recreate some before and after pictures.

                               Such as this street:

                                Or this house:

    The woman who lived in the house above survived somehow by riding out the tornado in her bathtub which was located in the area that is still upright in the center of the above picture.

    I think what amazed me the most is that the death toll is currently at 142 and not magnitudes higher, because this amount of devastation went on unchecked for 6 miles through the heart of town in a path that was one half to a mile wide. 

     Seven of us set out from Tonganoxie on Saturday and arrived with 4 carloads of donated food, water, and personal items that were donated by friends, neighbors, and local businesses.  We had made contact with the pastor of Grace Baptist Church.  This one church has been feeding over 500 people a day.  After unloading what we brought, We spent an hour organizing all of the medical goods that had been dropped off at the church.

    Karlye and I and Natasha, a girl who works in my office,  then headed out to help sort through the rubble of a house, looking for any thing of value that might be salvaged.  We would spend the remainder of the day just sifting through the crumbled remains, digging up pictures and coin collections and the like.  It was so inspiring to be joined in this endeavor by some 15 others people all coming on their own in groups to see how they could help out.

     Throughout the day other people in cars and trucks would drive by offering us barbeque and sandwiches, water and snacks.  They also came on their own, helping in their own way.


    Still others came by in bands with chainsaws and heavy equipment, doing thousands of dollars worth of work for free, not even knowing for whom they were doing the work.

    We joined in clearing away the trees that has been strewn about another neighbors yard.  When we finally left, we could see that we had begun to make a dent in that one corner of the street, but looking back down the road, it seemed like no headway had been made at all.

     We had been told all week not to come yet, that they didn't need supplies, that the wok had not really started yet.  Fortunately about 9,000 people (according tot the local radio station) came anyway.
 As we spoke with people, they urged us to come again, to bring whatever we could, and to help out in whatever way possible.

    If you have been hesitant to go because you wonder if you are really needed, let me assure you, you are needed.  The people of Joplin told us they need you.

     If you are hesitant to come because you don't know what you could possibly do, then I would tell you that there are a million things you can do.  Just  lend your hands to sift through the debris.  Lend your back to haul brush, lend your skills to sharpen dulled saw blades.  If you cook, serve meals to people.  If you Have a backhoe, lend your time to clear out the millions of tons of debris.  If all you can do is sit, then sit and listen or pray with people.  The only people not needed are the ones who's hearts are not moved with compassion for those suffering, and I'd bet even they could be used id willing.

     It is amazing to see the goodness that man is capable.  It reaffirms in me that we are created in the image of God, even though it often takes such tragedy to see that part of us come to the surface.

    I'll leave you for now with a few pictures.  Say a prayer for the city of  Joplin and then keep praying.

     Don't wait for someone else to go in your place.  We will be going back soon.  Please join us.

The Home Depot


Saint John's Hospital 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ready to go

     Well, My truck is packed full of supplies that have been so generously donated for the people of Joplin.  Some wonderful people from church spent their Friday night helping us fit it it their with their amazing packing skills.  I am tired and ready to leave tomorrow to do I don't know what for people I do not know.  Best of all, tonight I feel a little better about humanity.
     Just when you think the world is falling apart, people have a way of amazing you.  My wife gets a crazy notion that we should help out a town of people we have no connection to, two hours away.  She launches a Facebook campaign the next morning and now, 4 days later we have at least 2 truck-loads of supplies and 4 more volunteers coming with us.  I don't even know most of the people who donated to our little effort, but God bless them for taking the time to collect and deliver the bundles of stuff to our door.

     It amazes me too how the times that we see the most selfless actions often follow great tragedy.  My heart was wrenched when I learned that one lady made a donation as selfless as any I have ever seen.  She lost her baby due to a miscarriage the same day that the city of Joplin was devastated.  Her nursery was already stocked with diapers and other baby supplies. I can't imagine the pain she is personally going through and yet she donated her son's supplies to help another mother who was suffering in a different way.  There are not words to describe that kind of character.  Please pray for her as you pray for the other families who have suffered so much this week.

     I hardly feel deserving of the honor of delivering these few items.  I just hope that tomorrow, we might help someone who needs help.  I just hope I can show the love of Christ to someone who needs it.  It has been an amazing few days already thanks to everyone's generosity. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

I'll update you all later.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Helping Joplin

     As someone who strongly believes that people depend far too much on the government to meet their needs, there are times when I have to quit sitting around and waiting for someone else to get out and take care of problems when they arise.  Yesterday's tornado in Joplin is just one example.  It would be easy to sit back and let FEMA come in and sort things out for those people.  It is a lot less convenient to go and get involved.  It is a lot less convenient to break away from my daily routine and take time to help those in need.  The problem with America today is that so many sit back and let the government do what we should be doing. 
     Karlye asked me tonight if it would be possible to drive down to Joplin to help out.  I'll be honest.  My first response was not one of great enthusiasm.  I don't have a clue what I could do, or how I could make a difference.  Then it struck me that if everyone excused themselves for those reasons, nothing would ever get done.
     So this Wednesday we are going to go to Joplin and offer what ever help we can.  If I can work as a doctor, I will.  We will take water, batteries, tarps and whatever else we can think of that people might need.  Mostly I just want to be there to offer my assistance to someone who might need it.  We may not be able to do much in the grand scheme of things, but we can do something. 
     As a Christian I am supposed to give to those in need, to show others a Christlike love.  Sometimes God calls us to go and serve.  If this isn't one of those times, then I don't know what is.
  If there is anyone who would like to join us, then contact me.  We can caravan down there.  If you want to get some water or food or some other supplies and can get them to me, I will deliver them. If we can just help one family ease their suffering through this ordeal, then we will have made a difference.  If you know of a specific family or a specific need, please let me know as well.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

For my brother on his wedding day

    It's a little strange, as a sophomore in college, to visit your mother in the hospital after she's just had a baby.  Not that I wasn't prepared.  I hardly had known a time when my mother wasn't either "with child" or with an infant.  For the most part it didn't effect me in any way.  Sure, as the oldest, I got stuck watching the rest of my siblings a lot.  I liked them though, and I was old enough that they still thought I was cool (at least the younger ones did).  There were the occasional moments of utter humiliation like the time the lady at the check-out counter assumed I was the father and told my mom and me that we had beautiful children.  For the most part though, I always liked being the oldest of 10 kids and especially enjoyeded the littlest ones.  The babies were kind of like my own children in a way.  I didn't have to raise or pay for them, I wasn't responsible for their well-being, but I had a special bond with them that was some sort of complex amalgamation of sibling and parental.  When the youngest, Mark, was born, I truly was old enough to be his dad.  That was a little strange for me.  I never really had much of a relationship with Mark, not like I did with my other siblings.  I was off away starting my own life, doing the whole teaching thing, then the med school and residency thing.  I watched my siblings grow for the next decade in through a strobe light.  There were momentary flashes of time I would spend with them and then they would disappear in darkness as I got lost in my own world of worries and care.  Over the years those flashes of their lives were somehow stitched together into a time-lapse film.  Just like those movies of seeds sprouting and growing into plants sped up a thousand times, my brothers and sisters grew up abnormally fast, or so it seemed to me.

     Time is a strange sort of magic that works on our minds in mysterious ways.  For me, my personality must have solidified in my early twenties because that is where time stopped moving in regard to how I view myself.  When I dream, I am still twenty.  I am sometimes shocked to look in the mirror, because I don't recognize the man staring back at me.  He is middle aged and overweight, with greying hair and beginning to wrinkle around the edges. I have a hard time believing that this is who I am now.  I certainly couldn't have changed that much in such a short span of years. In the same way, in my memory, my family was frozen forever in time when I left them to make my own way in the world.  They linger on that way to this day.  It's like when you stare too long at an image an then it lingers in negative when you look away or even close your eyes.  I still expect to pull up to my parents house and see them all come piling out climbing on me asking me to play with them.  But now they are grown, and it is my children running to me.   The shouts of "Bill's home!" have changed to "Daddy's home!" Sometimes I get lost in time and memories from 20 years ago merge with the here and now.  In those moments I get some kind of chronologic vertigo and it makes me feel like the time-space continuum is all off kilter.  Other times I am going about my daily routine, talking with my children, and find myself getting stared at because I have called them by the name of one of their uncles.

     I often feel like I'm raising my second family.  I've tried to explain this to Karlye, but she just can't grasp what I mean.  Everything about my family life is tinted a sense of deja vu.  It has gotten especially noticeable as my own children have reached the ages my memory tells me that my siblings are still supposed to be.  What scares me is how fast my "first family" turned from toddlers to adults.  My babies will be gone forever far sooner than seems possible from inside the noise and hustle and scurry that we are caught up in right now.  Part of me longs to see them grown and on their own, safe and secure without my having damaged them too much. Part of me wants to hold them tight and make them stop growing, because I can't think of anything that could ever replace the joy that they bring to my life.  Generally the part that wins out depends a lot on what we are having for dinner and how much of a fight it is to get them to eat it.

     I have a theory about perception of time.  The speed of time is relative to how much of it we have experienced.  When you are 4 it takes forever to get from one Christmas to the next.  That's because your talking a span that's 25% of the time you have lived and can comprehend.  Four years of high school seemed never ending for the same reason.  At 40 that same 25% is a decade.  How odd it seems to me that I no longer think in years but decades.  If the time from age 20 to 40 went so quickly, 40-60 can only seem faster.  I'm just hypothesizing, but if there is someone who is 60, or 70, or 80, could you let me know if I am correct in this line of thinking?

     My baby brother Mark is getting married this weekend.  That's what has me musing about this stuff in the first place.  It doesn't seem possible to me that he is old enough or that I am old enough to see him get married.  I wonder how my parents feel.  Are they sad to see their baby all grown up?  Are they relieved to be done?  Are they still haunted, as I am, of memories from 20 or 40 years ago that seem but a moment past?  I won't have to wonder long because as impossible as it seems my children will all too soon be leaving us to start their own lives.

     Perhaps because of my fairly unique perspective I am getting a premature dose of empty nest syndrome even though my nest is quite full at the moment.  I think that maybe I am a bit schizophrenic in that there are two versions of myself.  One resides in my mind as the ideal of what I was when I first stepped out into adulthood.  The other exists in reality and has been weathered a bit by the experiences of life.

     When I look at Mark I see myself as I was 20 years ago.  Young, confident, certain with an infinite number of possibilities before me.  I realize that I am no longer that person.  I chose a path and I am working my way down it.  I don't regret the path I chose.  My wife, my children, my career are wonderful blessings that God has given me along the journey.  There are certainly choices I have made along the way that I regret, but I never have doubted that I am on the road God intended for me.  Still, looking at my brother, there are twinges of nostalgia for that moment in life at the start of the journey, brimming with expectation.

     In light of the upcoming nuptials,  I have been thinking what I would tell my younger self, if I had the ability to travel back through time.  What advice would I give myself?  Not being able to do that, maybe I can instead give some insight to my youngest brother.

     So Mark, as you begin your new life with your bride, know that I will be praying for you.  Hold fast to your beliefs because they will be tested.  Sometimes your faith will be tested by trials and other times by the monotony of the daily grind.  Fix your eyes on God and never take them off of Him. Right now you see marriage as a culmination of your hopes and dreams and a completion of yourself as a person.  You will soon come to find that it is just the start of a long journey that will shape and mold you.  It takes hard work, more than you can even imagine.  Hang tight to your wife so that you ride out the storms of life together as a team instead of as two individuals.  Be a man of character, because character matters.  Life is humbling.  It teaches you just how little you know and how little control you have.  I don't doubt for a moment that you will succeed, but nothing in life comes easy.  Work hard but always enjoy life.  Learn to relax without compromising what you believe.  It is the trials that make you grow and harden your faith.  It is the quiet times of calm and peace that cause you to to let down your guard and become complacent.  Never be afraid to admit when you are wrong and stand resolute when you know you are right.  Listen more than you speak. Resolve to live each day in a manner that you have nothing to be ashamed of.  Live out Philippians 3. 
     Time changes everything, mostly for the better.  It is a tremendous equalizer.  Now more than ever we have an opportunity to get to know each other as we never have had before.  Each year that passes will give us more in common.  Twenty years from now I hope we will be more than brothers.  I hope we will have a true friendship such as never has been possible before.  I don't have much to offer you in the way of amazing advice, but I do have a twenty year head start on you and if you ever want to bounce an idea off someone, I'll always be available to listen and tell you what I've learned.
     Good luck.  I'm proud of the man you have become.  I look forward to seeing what God will do with your life.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


     Well, This has been a strange week.  I've had every intention of writing and have just not found the time.  I had planned on trying to honor my wife with a post on Mothers Day, but I'm fairly certain that she appreciates me participating with parenting more than just writing about it.  Some strange force is at work in my body as well.  I think it's called age.  Whatever it is, over the last few nights I have been totally exhausted by the time the kids get in bed.  Generally I avoid sleep as much as possible.  I know it's not the healthy thing to do.  I just feel like so much time is wasted lying in bed asleep.  I have a lot of more enjoyable ways than sleeping to waste 30% of my life.  I generally try and coast by on 5 hours or so of sleep a night and then every few weeks get 9 or 10 hours and that sort of resets everything.  The last few days I've been needing  8+ hours.  It really is frustrating, because I just can't function after about 9:30.  That is normally when I am just getting started.  Consequently, things like writing have been neglected.

     Now that I have a few moments, I wanted to reflect a little on Motherhood.  I don't often appreciate all that my wife deals with in her role as a mother.  I think I sometimes get jealous of the amount attention she gives the kids.  Sometimes I fear that we focus so much on the kids that we unintentionally neglect our relationship.  It's hard to keep things in balance.  I watched my parents walk the same tightrope.  I'm amazed that they came through as well as they did.

     I wanted to post on Mother's Day, because I truly believe it is an important day.  We celebrate Fathers Day, and that's nice, but most dad's really don't expect much from father's day.  It's nice for us, but we really don't get all that into it.  I'm sure it's partly due to the difference in the sexes.  I love being a dad.  I am close to my kids, but I will never have the sense of a bond with them that Karlye has.  They were a part of her once.  She felt them grow inside her.  She felt their first fluttering movements within her.  She carried them each for nine months and then went through an excruciating ordeal to bring them into this world.  That changes a woman.  As a man, I can't begin to understand the bond between a mother and her children.  Mothers have earned their day through physical and emotional sacrifice.

     Men are separated from the whole experience of pregnancy and birth.  It is a mystery that we can never fully grasp. Because of this, we are often confused and frustrated by what we see in the way our wives relate to our children.  I have had moments that have been truly precious in which I have a baby fall asleep in my arms.   I still don't really enjoy rocking a baby to sleep at night when I could be doing something else.  Karlye loves those moments.  I think she is most at peace with a a baby snuggled up to her breast.

     Even when the kids have pushed her to her limit, she still is their most ardent defender.  Many dads have probably experienced a situation in which they are totally baffled by their wife. It is the end of the day and mom is worn out.  She has been surrounded by crying and complaining children all day with no adult conversation.  She is frustrated and tired and pushed her to her limit.  Dad walks in, he has been at work.  He had forgotten that he even had children until he pulled in the driveway and found a collection of Big Wheels in his normal parking space.  He goes inside ready to wind down, relax, maybe, if everything goes well, spend some romantic quiet time with his wife.  That all changes as he steps across the threshold.
     "You need to deal with your son.  I've had about all I can take from him.  He has kicked a hole in the wall, clogged all 3 toilets, spilled a gallon of milk on the carpet, and told me that I am the meanest person that ever lived.  I'm done."
     Now a truly amazing dad and husband would probably tell his bride to go sit down and rest while he straightens up the kitchen and gets dinner finished and on the table.  He might then go down to his son's room and have a good long chat with the child about respecting mom and treating her the way she deserves.  He would do it firmly but with love and his son would then apologize and begin treating his mother with the respect she deserves.
     I typically don't live up to that ideal.  I most likely would pretend I didn't really hear her and hope somehow that I might still be allowed to go sit and relax for a while.  This never works and eventually I am persuaded to take action.  I now am mad at the child more for the inconvenience that he is causing me than for anything he may have done to his mother.  I  head back to teach the little creep a thing or two.
     At this point there will be an immediate change in a mother's position toward the child.  She moves from prosecuting attorney to public defender in a heart beat.  That child may have driven her to the edge of insanity, but at the slightest perceived threat she will become the mamma grizzly defending her cub. I have become the bad guy for coming down too harshly.  I am threatening her baby.
     It is a situation that frustrates and confuses me, unless I stop and look at it from her perspective.  This kid, no matter how horrible he has been acting, is a part of her.  She is right too.  I generally am not acting in love at this point.  God has given her a special insight that I don't have.  It is good to have that as a counterpoint to my sense of justice.  If only I could remember that at the time, instead of taking it personally.

     There is also a common bond between two mothers from the shared experience of giving birth.  Put two men in a room and they will try to talk about sports, or work or something that they can find as a common ground.  Most likely they will not discuss their children.  Moms start with motherhood and children and expound from there.

     We took the kids to a nature center last weekend.  I brought Elijah and Grace into a room set up for preschoolers.  There was a woman and her baby in the room with us.  I nodded at her in acknowledgement, and then proceeded to focus on my kids completely forgetting that she was there.  After a while Karlye came in and I left with the older kids to look around some. After 20 minutes or so, I wandered back into the room to see what the wife was up to.  I found her engaged in conversation with the other woman.  I sauntered up to see if she what she was discussing.  As I approached I heard, "..and he never experienced any nipple confusion."
      I did an about face and left the room as quickly as possible.  I don't know that I have ever been engaged in a conversation with a total stranger about nipple confusion and had no intention of doing so at that moment.  That is a conversation far outside of my comfort zone.  These to women were engaged in mom talk.  Two mothers can discuss personal anatomy, bodily fluids, excrement and a whole host of other uncomfortable topics without even a hint of social awkwardness. These two women were fully engaged and I knew that they would be there for quite a bit longer.  The other woman's husband was also hovering about, afraid of getting close enough to overhear their conversation.  We exchanged a knowing glance and then both wandered off.  I think our wives must have shared their life stories in their 45 minute chat.

     I'm glad my wife is the way she is.  She loves being a mom.  It is her life.  She lets her motherhood define her.  Too many women are afraid to do so these days.  Karlye is a wonderful and talented person.  She was great at being a nurse and I know she could accomplish anything she set her mind to.  She has chosen to focus on raising 5 children. Because of this, she has sacrificed the accolades that come with what the world considers a real profession.  She can't leave her job at the end of the day.  She spends hours doing laundry, cleaning, and cooking for people who not only take it for granted, but most of the time complain about the way she does it.  Unfortunately, I am far too often one of those people.

     I could never do what Karlye does.  She can keep track of all 5 kids and has an intuitive sense that tells her when something is not right.  She keeps them fed, knows what their homework is, knows when their ball practice is, works in their classrooms, knows where their clothes go and manages to not only dress them in a socially acceptable fashion, but most of the time has them all color coordinated.  She is an expert on safety and has all the guidelines for car seats committed to memory.  She alone keeps our house from descending into utter chaos. I don't know what we would do without her.

     I hope that I can learn to be a better support to her.  I try, but I let her down far too often.  I hope she knows that despite our squabbles and the monotony of our daily struggles, I really don't take her for granted.  Of course, it is easy to write about being a good husband and it is a whole different thing to be one.  I'm not a perfect husband, but she makes me want to keep trying. Karlye has said at times that I could be just as happy if I was alone.  While I do enjoy getting away from the craziness of our life when I can,  I would be nothing without her and our litter of urchins in my life.  Our life together is anything but perfect.  It's crazy flurry of madness most of the time.  It's a roller-coaster to be sure, but with her by my side and this brood of kids wrapped tight in our arms, it the most amazing and fun ride imaginable.  I would not have it any other way.

     So Karlye, I hope you had a great Mothers Day and may it continue every day of your life.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Obedience training

     Dogs are great in theory.  Man's best friend.  A faithful companion who will sleep curled up next to your children and scare the monsters away at night. A guardian that will keep bad guys at bay and door-to-door salesmen off your porch.  Someone who will sit faithfully by your side in the good times and bad and even go out and fetch the paper in the morning. I don't take the paper, but if I did, that would be cool.

     In reality I have found that cute fuzzy puppies are a headache.  They get bored.  They pee on the carpet, then they chew holes in the same carpet.  They use furniture as chew toys as well.  They tear open trash sacks and spread the contents all over the garage and yard.  They cost a fortune in medical bills and food.  Why do I need a dog?  I have 5 kids to do those things for me.

     Moose is the latest installment in out series of pets.  We had to have a puppy when our basset hound passed away at the ripe old age of 14.  After all, our golden retriever was also 14 and didn't have long for the world and he would be able to teach the new puppy everything there was to know about being a proper dog.  Unfortunately, Fletcher passed away and if he taught Moose anything before he shuffled off his mortal coil, I'd be hard pressed to tell you what it was.  So we had another very large, out of control puppy adding to the chaos of our home.  The children were terrified to be in his vicinity. I was sick and tired of cleaning up after him and having him destroy his weight in household items on a daily basis.

     That's when Karlye told me he was going to obedience training.  I objected on principle.  I had already wasted a small fortune on that mutt.  There was no way I was going to fork over another large sum of cash on the off chance that he had enough neurons sparking in his thick skull to learn anything.  As usually is the case, I was overruled and 6 weeks ago, Moose was shipped off to learn the finner art of canine civility.  I was immediately happy with the decision.  I didn't think for a moment that the training would do a bit of good, but at least the dog was gone.  I tried not to think about the money I was spending not to have a dog in the house.  It was worth the cost.  Maybe if I was lucky, the trainers would grow so fond of him, that they would not let us have him back.

     This weekend, I went out for the first time to see what Moose had learned.  I have to say, I was blown away.  I mean, don't be mistaken, this dog was not jumping through flaming hoops or riding a skateboard, but when I said "sit", he sat.  When I walked away, he still sat.  He sat and stared at me, his butt quivering a little, a sad expression on his dog face.  Then I said "Moose, here".  He ran to me and lined up perfectly against my left side.  No jumping, no running around with me chasing him.  He just obeyed.  It was amazing.  Sure, he only knows a few commands.  Sit.  Here. Heel. He had those down pretty darn well though.  We took him home for a trial, to see how he would do in his old environment, with kids and trash and chaos beckoning him to return to his nefarious ways.  The trainer sold us a crop to swat him with when he disobeyed.  We were assured that he would test us.  He would have to see that the new rules still applied in our house as well as the kennel.  I'm glad to admit that with a few hiccups, the weekend went very well.  Now instead of a wild brute, we actually have a dog that the kids were climbing on and playing with who can be trusted to come in the house and behave.  Maybe dogs aren't as bad as I have always thought.

     Elijah loves the new dog.  I honestly don't know if he ever realized we had a dog, because we never let Moose near him in his feral state.  He wouldn't let the poor hound alone all weekend.  Elijah also learned his first word.  It was "sit". Elijah carried the crop around in his hand, which was challenging as it is twice as long as he is.  He held that crop and followed Moose everywhere shouting, "Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit"  I think he was quite impressed with himself.  Moose played nice and never once acted annoyed.

     I was so impressed that I am now considering sending Will to stay with the trainer for a couple of months.  Oh how I wish that I could.  As much as Moose's demeanor has improved, Will's has degraded an equal amount. That boy is pushing us to the limit of sanity.  His siblings are not trailing far behind in the parental exacerbation rankings.  Will is a good kid.  I love him to death, but there are times I think he is channeling a hardened criminal.  I think, no I'm certain, that I get more frustrated with him than with the other children, because I see so much of myself in him.  Many of his most annoying qualities he inherited from me, and they are so much harder to live with when someone else is exhibiting them.  I also get frustrated at him, because he is different from me too.  It is a constant struggle to help him be himself, and be his best self, without trying to make him be a miniature version of myself.

     It seemed so simple when I was younger and much wiser, this concept of training children.  I would only need to lovingly and rationally face the child and reason with them, showing them the error of their ways.  I would be firm, but in control.  I would let them face the consequences of their actions graciously forgiving their mistakes, while helping them learn from those mistakes.  It all seemed so clean and clinical, before I had children.

     In reality I'm discovering that parenting is a dirty, messy business.  If you have been a parent, then I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.  Parents have emotions too and children know how to play those emotions like a finely tuned instrument.  You can approach the child calmly and thoughtfully with every intention of staying calm and in 5 minutes you are the one screaming and thrashing about.  Well, I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I have had a few isolated instances where I might have let my kids gain the upper hand by letting them whip me up into an emotional fury.  It's not pretty and it doesn't help the situation, let me tell you.

     Sunday, Will and Karlye and I shared a very important bonding time together.  It was one of those moments that will linger for many years in our minds.  There were many tears, lots of drama, some screeching, and some banging of heads together.  In the end, I think Karlye and I did pretty well.  We were a great team. We slept very well that night, mostly because we were physically and emotionally drained.  As hard as it was for all of us, I think it was worth it.

     Here's how it played out.  There sat Moose, the formerly out-of-control Golden Retriever, sitting ever so sedately in the kitchen whilst the 3 oldest boys ran tearing through the house.  Will let out an ear piercing war cry as he made an attempt to inflict bodily harm on Caleb as they raced around and over the top of the couch.

    "William!  Stop.  Settle down and stop running." There, just like with Moose, I issued a firm directive and thought that the matter was under control.  After a 2 second pause the air was split with another cacophonous shriek as sweet young William leaped over the couch, undaunted in his pursuit of his younger brother.

     Emboldened as I was with my success at getting the dog to respond to my command, I once again stated firmly in a serious but unemotional tone. "Will, come here right now."  Maybe Will didn't perceive my tone as being an unemotional as I intended.  Whatever his reasoning, he looked at me for a moment and then turned and ran away from me as fast as he could, ducked in his room, and tried to hide under the covers on the top mattress of the bunk bed.  I looked thoughtfully at Moose's fluorescent orange crop sitting against the wall, and I will confess that I gave serious consideration to seeing if it worked as well on 8-year-old boys as it did dogs.  I think Karlye read my mind, because she gave me a look that sent a chill up my spine.  What transpired next was 10 minutes of me trying not to lose control of my self and the situation as I managed to get him out of his room and into the kitchen where we could discuss his choice of action.  I heard many things from my son during the process.  He knew I just wanted to spank him. I didn't love him. I was just being mean. I was unfair. He didn't do anything wrong.

     That last statement was the one I wouldn't let stand unanswered.  No one wants to take responsibility for their actions any more.  I'm convinced that one of the biggest problems in the world today is that everyone tries to shift the blame, play the victim, deny that they have done anything wrong.  I want my kids to be the ones who stand up and admit that they've made a mistake and then rectify the situation.  I assured him that I had no intention of trying to spank him at that moment, but would instead find other ways of making him understand just where he had gone wrong in the decision making process.  For the moment I occupied him by having him empty and reload the dishwasher while we talked.  Apparently unloading dishwashers is a form of child abuse.  It also is apparently quite painful.  He did it anyway.  I asked him to explain to me why he was getting in trouble.  I was told it was because I liked to be mean to him.  Wrong answer.  I asked him again.  It was Caleb's fault.  I asked him again.  He didn't do anything.  I assured him he knew that the reason he was getting in trouble was because he twice looked and me and directly disobeyed.  After church I had a plan to help him learn that.

     By noon, things had calmed back down. I think Will thought we had forgotten about his promised punishment. He was mistaken.  After lunch, Karlye and I sat him down at the table with 5 sheets of paper.  We decided to go old school.  His assignment was to write 100 times, "I will obey my dad and mom immediately without arguing."  Oh the tears that flowed from his blue eyes.
     "That's not fair.You are mean."
     "Will, your mom and I want you to learn why you are getting punished.  Maybe if you write it down enough you will remember."
     Two sentences in he stopped.  "This is too long.  Can't I just write, 'I will obey'?"
     "Apparently the not arguing part is something you NEED to focus on."

     How long does it take for an 8 year old to write 100 sentences?  For Will, about 7 hours.  Well, we let him go to bed at that time with the promise that he would finish the next day.  We fought through paralyzing hand cramps that developed on sentence 5.  We discussed why he didn't need to change the word choice or order.  He beat his hands on the table.  At one point he stopped writing and refused to go on (around sentence 12).  Unfortunately his mother and I had to resort to giving him a spanking to get him started again. Poor Moose was shaking, apparently thinking he was somehow going be mistaken for Will's accomplice.  I think if he could have talked he would have given Will advice along the line of "Trust me, just do what they ask, it will work out much better for you in the end.  I know what I'm talking about."

     Eventually, despite that long hours of drama, he finished.  We reassured him that we loved him, that we want him to learn to take responsibility for his actions.  We told him in no uncertain terms that it was his choices that  brought the punishment on.  He certainly knows now our expectations as to how he should obey us.  Instead of resenting us, he actually seems to want to be around us. We are getting along much better since the incident. He's behavior seems to have improved quite a bit, at least for now.  As an added benefit, Karlye and I worked together as a team and grew stronger as a couple through the experience.

     Maybe after reading this you think I'm some horrible monster of a parent. So many people live in fear that they will damage their child or that if they punish their kid, someone will call SRS. (Karlye is cringing as she reads this.)  I know that my great-grandfather was a much harsher father than I even know how to be.  He sacrificed his relationship with his son trying to break my grandfather's stubborn will.  I know that there used to be much more respect and civility when parents weren't afraid to discipline firmly.  Today everyone is so concerned with hurting their baby's feelings that they raise irresponsible brats.  I'm just trying to find the balance.  I want to teach my kids with love, being firm when necessary and never jeopardizing my relationship with them.  I also know that this relationship is one of a father to his child and not one of coequals and friends.  Maybe someday if I do a good enough job now, I can have that kind of friendship with my kids. Then I can sit back with an inner smile as they relate to me the trials and tribulations that they are experiencing raising their own little herd of devil-children. Until then, I'm doing my best to carry out the responsibility that God has given me to care for and nurture these munchkins to the best of my ability.  I have a great partner to work with and I am so thankful to have her. Of course when  it get really crazy I like to remind her that SHE was the one that wanted this many children.  She loves it when I do that.

     If nothing else, we have a dog that listens and obeys now.  I never thought that would be possible.  I realize children are much more complex than Golden Retrievers, but at least that gives us some hope.  It's going to take a lot of work.  Lord give us strength.  Only 20 more years to go.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Death of a villain

     Certainly this has been an interesting day.  It has been an emotional day as well.  Osama bin Ladin, the most hated man in America if not the world is dead, we are told.  It is telling, the way information is disseminated theses days.  My wife was sitting next to me on Facebook when the word spread.  Cable news had not even picked up on the story by then.  I searched the internet immediately and was unable to get any specifics about the death.  On TV the usual rumor mill was spinning up with news anchors arriving one by one as they made there way back in to the studio having totally been caught off guard.
     I am not sure I can relate how I personally felt.  I had a sense of resolution.  I did not have any feeling of elation or feel the need to to celebrate.  I found it interesting but as with all things involving the news and government, I felt like a piece of information was being held back.
     As I watched the TV coverage the crowds began to form in front of the White House, in Times Square, and at ground zero.  Something about those crowds was unsettling to me.  I'm not sure I can put it into words exactly what it was, but let me try and explain what I mean.  Perhaps it's a sign that I have aged or matured a bit over the last decade or so, but I was more expecting to see a somber thoughtful vigil honoring the victims of that day. What I saw on television looked to me more what I would expect to see after an NCAA championship game.  There were flags and chanting and celebrations in the street.  I was watching and I was getting more uncomfortable.  Something about the scene bothered me.  Then I realized that what I saw appeared very similar to the celebrations I have seen on the news broadcast from the middle east.  Different flags, different chants in a different language, but still the jubilant almost frenzied exhilaration over the death of our collective Boogie Man.
     I noticed also that the vast majority of the crowds were young.  I didn't see many spouses or parents of the 9/11 victims out in the street chanting "USA! USA!".  I suspect they were home dealing with the news in their own way.  I would be surprised if they were in the mood to party.  Most of those in the street were probably around 10 years of age at the time of the 2001 attacks.  I wonder how much they remember from that day.  I think I was startled most of all because after 4 months of youth rising up in revolt around the middle east, I have been concerned about the danger of an uncontrolled mob stirred up by individuals with their own agenda.  What I saw last night was that, regardless if the motive was good or bad, the same thing was possible here in our country.  It is pure speculation on my part, but my guess is that most of the revelers out on the street in the middle of the night cared far less about justice being served that they did about being part of the wave of emotion and the energy of the mob.  I saw just how quickly a group of young people can be brought together and work themselves up into an emotional  surge of humanity, not over a sports team, but over the death of an enemy most of them probably know little more about than his name.  They didn't need any proof other than a Tweet and commentator on TV saying, "This just in..."
     This time, I was at least partly sympathetic to the cause.  Who cannot feel some emotional sigh of release that this monster who wreaked so much havoc on the world is now facing judgement in the next.  Mobs are fickle and dangerous though, especially so when stirred by the scent of blood and vengeance. Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe the nation needed such a release.  Maybe the pressure valve our our national psyche had to let off a little steam and life will run a little more smoothly for a bit.
     An alarm went off for me last night though.  We are still human, and humans are unpredictable en mass.  I have a t-shirt that reads, "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups."  Tell me what you think?  Am I wrong to fear what we might become given the proper variables?  Am I being too cautious?