What we leave behind.

I am often reminded of the wake of our lives and how our actions impact others. I have this bad habit of replaying whole conversations, or sometimes days in my head after the fact to think about how that conversation sounds from a third person’s viewpoint. I replay it in my head as I sit in judgment on all that has been said by others and myself, work through what was going on and the undercurrents I might have missed. This allows me to consider others and make corrections for my sometimes caustic behavior. Often my family is the topic of this replay as I am always more concerned about what I say and do with them. How are my actions today impacting my kids? It’s very hard to see the long-term, but most certainly my actions do impact them.

I am reminded of a poem that I once heard my grandma recite to my father. It addresses sons, but in my mind it applies just as much to my daughter…a-little-fellow-follows-me-wooden

The other side of the world I now see as my father slips from the best years of life into twilight. As he gets closer to the end of his time on earth I see his actions in my own more and more. He isn’t perfect, but neither am I. That is the realization that is too long in coming, but may be part of middle age. We become like our fathers, but I continue to work to keep the good and overcome my irritation and frustration with that little chap and my little princess and focus on the good. We still discipline the same, but they are kids…and they are watching and learning how to be adults by my actions everyday. My actions will not only make him the young man he will be, but may lead him one day to realize that I’m not perfect, but neither is he…maybe its those imperfections that make us family. Loving each other unconditionally through the good, the bad and the ugly.

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Time flies when you focus on all the wrong things.

Sometimes it’s easier to see the negative than the positive. Exhaustion ensues when you bite off more than you can chew. The other option is not being as busy, but likely taking it just as hard as if you were truly underwater. 

Sometimes I think God forgets his promise to never give us more than we can handle. As I write this I notice I haven’t posted in 218 days, I have being away from family in my mind, a paper to proof on my lap and about 75 statistics problems to finish in my bag. This is coupled with a tough job that has beaten many folks in my shoes, bad news on the front page and my wife being just as swamped. I seem to focus on these things. I want a weekend at home without work. But this is a non-stop cycle. You work all year to get the class in August and full on travel starts in September. There is no rest. I focus on these things.

What I sometimes fail to focus on are the lessons that this job teaches. I work really hard to leave work at work now. I’m always thinking, but after working. Non-stop for the day, weekends and nights there has to be some relief. I try to focus totally on my family in the evening. I don’t want to travel so I work hard to be out and back as quickly as possible. Even now I’m drifting off as I write.

Family has to come first. If a job requires more than you can give, give your best, but remember that you are the only parent to your kids. You are the only partner for your spouse. You are the only son or daughter to your parents. 

I welcomed some students to campus yesterday and I talked to them about the three pillars. Duty, Honor and Achievement. What strikes me today is that we strive to do the best we can for our jobs, our organizations, others…but we can often lose sight of the forest for the trees. Our first duty is to God, but family is second to no one else. It’s our duty to be a good parent, good son or daughter and overall a good person. We have to focus on honor, doing everything the right way and not being too proud to say ‘I’m sorry’. You see we can’t achieve long term success without our family being taken care of. Constant work causes constant worry and beats down each of us.

I don’t know the answer, but if you’re in a position that doesn’t mesh with your life, make a change. Don’t repeat the same shortcomings over and over. Focus on what IS TRULY important and let the little stuff take care of itself!

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Camo Kitty

I pulled out of the drive in a rush to get somewhere. Who knows where…I am a father of two with a new job completing a Doctoral program…we’re always doing something. Wake up, school bus, work, home, swim team or scouts. Constant motion until the kids go to bed and my wife and I try to stay awake for class work or grading. Monday through Friday, then whatever the weekend holds. I rarely stop to smell the roses, but others are watching…

I sometimes wonder who sees our zaniness as we come in long enough to change and grab a bite then we’re gone again. When we do have a weekend at home and we spend time outside…we’re not quiet people.

A few weeks ago I pulled out of the drive and something wasn’t right. There were eyes in the mailbox! At first I knew that Big Brother had finally caught up with me! Then on closer inspection I saw Sadie, our black cat peering back at me. Her calm demeanor punctuated by her ability to blend in flawlessly with a mailbox was impressive. Her mom sat patiently under the mailbox with similar poise. The calm reminded me that sometimes we must slow down and watch the show. When we’re in the heat of battle, we rarely take a moment to laugh at our kids and ourselves. Sadie saw the whole picture…and all I could hear was Crosby Sills and Nash singing:

Our house is a very, very fine house

With two cats in the yard

Life used to be so hard

Now everything is easy

‘Cause of you 

  

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While You Were Sleeping

The branches of the crab apple tree away gently in the breeze as I sit with my sleeping grandmother. She rests silently and I think back to my children and the peace after the storm of sitting with them while they sleep. All the battles, joys and disappointments left behind in a moment of peaceful slumber. 

Life is too hectic, too busy and the opportunities to sit and listen to the sounds of nature come less and less. But in a day away from the routine I think back to all the days my grandmother held me in silence while I slept. Saw the smiles or grimaces of passing dreams and was there with me in that moment. The time melting away as wax down a candle. 

Did she hold me a little longer because in her dreams she saw what life could have been for her son Roddy? Did she retreat to her memories after her mother passed when she was 7. When she lost a son and her husband to cancer, did she find comfort in her dreams? Life’s trials are almost over and she rests quietly I the chair beside me.

These days are drawing to a close, the flame from her candle flickers as the wick is running short. Soon she will move to the land eternal. 

In this moment I see the beauty in old age and take a time to pay a long forgotten debt.

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The State of our Union.

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.

Abraham Lincoln

Our nation struggles to find itself from time to time. During the 1800s we decided that we would no longer legitimize holding others in bondage. In the 1900s we decided that women and people of all races should have the same rights as men. In this generation, we are deciding that the state has no right to know the inner workings of your bedroom.

The real issue through all of these freedoms has been a strong economy to drive the changes forward and provide a strong foundation to build upon. Today, the fundamentals of our economy are no longer sound. We spend more than we bring in and as anyone with basic budgeting skills can tell you that can’t last forever. In 2009,for the first time in American history, more than half of American households paid zero income tax. While the reasons are debatable, that 51% of American households paid no income tax in 2009 is a fact (Marr & Che-Ching, 2012). The question becomes are we all willing to give up services or pay more taxes to make the budget balance. This includes those who paid no taxes and those who received an earned income credit even though they paid no taxes as well as those multi-billionaires who pay some of the lowest overall rates. One more thing, there are 235 companies that use overseas tax havens to avoid paying their share of doing  business in the US. According to the Huffington Post, “…there are 235 other companies that told the SEC that they’re holding profits overseas but didn’t disclose their hypothetical U.S. tax rate, according to the CTJ report. In total, these non-disclosing companies hold almost $1.3 trillion in non-repatriated profits abroad, CTJ found. Are we willing to stop buying these products?

Additionally, we must make drastic spending cuts in all areas of government. No ones pet projects aside, we must cut ALL AREAS OF GOVERNMENT.

In the end, I feel like Lincoln’s quote is completely accurate, but it must be coupled with a quote from Lewis Mumford:

The liberal’s lack of a sense of history carries a special disability: it makes him identify all his values with the present. Should the present be a shabby one, he quickly comes to the conclusion that the country which exhibits the practical vices and mischiefs he deplores is unworthy of his allegiance.  But a country is more than the people and institutions tht exist in a single generation. The America we must save today, for example, is not just the America of shifty politicians and go-getting advertisers and slimy industrialists who would like to “make a deal” with  the fascists. nor is it the America of Hearst, Ford and Father Coughlin. No self-respecting person would lift a finger to save that.

But our America is the America of Adams and Jefferson, the America of Joseph Henry and Audubon and William James, the America of Whitman and Melville and Olmsted and Richardson, the America that may therefore still be realized in time to come by reason of all the ideas and forces and impulses that have come down to us from the past and are pushing into the future. Our country cannot be identified with “capitalism,” because many of the most precious parts of our heritage long antedated capitalism and will long survive it.

Lewis Mumford, 1940

America is worth saving. Are we all willing to do what it takes to make America work again?

Berman, J. (n.d.). 18 Of America’s Biggest Companies Using Tax Havens To Skirt $92 Billion In U.S. Taxes: CTJ. Retrieved April 19, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/apple-tax-havens_n_3378935.html

Marr, C., & Chye-Ching, H. (2012, September 17). Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved April 19, 2015, from http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3505

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Learning the Chicken Dance at 88.

I remember learning the chicken dance as an adult at the first German wedding I attended. As I thought, “How ridiculous!, You want me to do WHAT!?!” Then you begin the dance with the hand beaks comes a smirk, the chicken wings bring on a smile and by the time you are shaking your bottom, you are beginning a laugh. By the third rendition, it is raucous frivolity. EVERYONE has fun…even if you don’t want to.

My grandmother is on her way to 90 years old and when you get a call that ‘the Sarge’ has slept until 2:00 PM, you pay attention. This is the Baptist Sunday School teacher who doesn’t dance, drink, curse or any of the other vices. In the strange way the Universe delivers what you need when you need it. We went to visit and my son had a ipod touch. He happened upon a copy of the Chicken Dance song and I taught my four year old son and my 88 year old grandmother the chicken dance on the same day. To be fair, my son has the body of a four year old, but sometimes struggles with what moves comes next and Grandmother could get the moves if only she could stand without her walker.

What started out as a trip to see my Grandmother and make sure my mom was okay, didn’t end as I expected. It ended with the Chicken Dance and laughter all around. RIDICULOUS! Some things cross ages and races and points to the ridiculousness of taking life too seriously.

I’m glad I lived in the Midwest and attended some great weddings with chicken dancing extraordinaires. But the greatest gift I could give to an old lady on a beautiful Sunday afternoon was a couple of nuts doing the chicken dance. It makes me remember Whitman’s words on  life, that each of us should heed while we can.

By Walt Whitman 1819–1892

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
                                       Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Source: Leaves of Grass (1892)
Today, my verse was the Chicken Dance in all its glory…
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A Voice from Heaven and a Doubting Thomas.

It amazes me that we can’t live and let live. The recent story of a baby stranded in a car for 14 hours within inches of a freezing river is an incredible story of either luck and survival (if you are an atheist) or of faith and miracles (if you believe in a higher power). One group can’t imagine why you would need the story to be more than it is by implying that the baby’s mom or another voice from heaven helped rescuers find the baby…the other side can’t imagine how you could not believe the five rescuers who clearly heard a voice of  an adult asking for help, even replied to it though there was no adult alive in the car.

Read about the incredible rescue here. Instead of live and let live, some are vocally opposed to the opinion that there is something more to the story and that it is possible that another dimension exists. To me, it seems simple minded to believe that all we can see in the world at this point is reality. To say I can see and understand all that exists in the world puts me in the place of the religious leaders who believed that the world was flat and the earth revolved around the sun. Just suggest anything else and they would gladly burn you at the stake. My, my how times have changed! The religious are willing to acknowledge there are many things we can’t understand at this point in our species development and in this phase of our existence and the atheists believe that we can understand everything and that this is the ultimate phase of our existence.

To add to the hilarity a bit, a devoutly atheist Communist Party in China is afraid that the Dalai Lama may not choose to re-incarnate immediately. Thus, these atheists have demanded that he reincarnate on their terms once he dies. Read the story here. WOW! Atheists who want those of us who share a belief in something more want to control that too. Amazing!!

Lets all help each other on our faith (or lack thereof) walks. Those who don’t believe have nothing to lose in this life by letting the spiritual believe and the spiritual have nothing to gain by trying to prove something that by its very essence must be taken on faith.

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed;blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20: 24-29

No, my faith is not blind. Sometimes I am a Doubting Thomas, but that is my right…it is my faith walk. So, whether you believe it was a voice from a realm we can’t fathom that five guys heard and it guided them to save a baby,or you believe that it was a bird copying the mom’s last words…or mass hysteria that five veteran rescuers shared. Its your path and your destiny.

In the words of one of my favorite authors, ““So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist 

For me, there is more to the world that what I know and what I can see. The entire universe conspired to help save her. To whatever forces helped the fishermen find the car and drew the rescuers her, thank you!

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