Looking Back and Moving Forward

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As we end the 2013, it is often a time of reflection on what the year has brought to us.  We remember the good times and the bad, those who have come into our lives and those who have left us.  For my family it has once again been a trying year.

In January, I finished my masters degree in Special education but that was one of the few highlights of the year.  Most people who know me would chime in that I’m pretty special too.

In February we lost our nephews dad.  This left a 13 year old boy without any parents.  Through heartache, pain, worthless social workers and much more, he ended up in foster care.  For months we have tried to communicate with him and right before Christmas he sent us an e-mail.  We had waited and struggled through nearly 10 months for him just to say hi.

This past summer I left my position at a church that I had been with for seven years over disagreements about how people should be treated and just plain exhaustion over what had transpired the previous year.  Recovery was really what I needed to find.   At that point I was done with church.  I still loved God, but I didn’t care if I ever entered a church again.  My wife made me go to a couple churches as we looked for some place that we felt comfortable at.  I remember at one Bible study we went to the leader asked everyone why we had come.  I responded, “My wife made me.”  We didn’t stay at that church.  They didn’t seem to be friendly.  We have been attending a church since July that we feel more comfortable.  Yet I still feel like a hammer is going to drop at some point.  Maybe it’s because I have been hurt too many times by those that I trusted or thought were my friends.

I didn’t get my teaching job like I was hoping, but that may have been a blessing in disguise.  Because of the car accident in November, I missed a lot of work, but I had sick days so I was still getting paid.  I only worked one full week from the first of November until now.  Partly due to the accident, Dr.’s appointments, strep and some weird body rash that I passed to all my family members.  This past week was my (hopefully) last therapy session to strengthen my back.

My wife was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, an auto immune system problem that has often left her sick, hurting and often unable to do much of anything.  The stress of this year sure hasn’t helped that situation at all.  That combined with the fact that often people just don’t get how someone so young could have so many problems led to people thinking she was for some reason faking it all.  She was also diagnosed with Aspersers syndrome, which is high functioning Autism.  Most people think of Autism as those that I work with in school that do not have high IQ’s.  So again people jumped to conclusions that we were making up stories for some reason.

So yes, it has been a tough year, but it has also been a growing year.  My family has stood together, struggling as we might.  We had a year where we grew as a family.  Not only by one cat, (our nephew’s cat) but also spiritually, and love for one another.  We learned to be strong through tough times and to lean on each other and God.  I don’t know what I would have done this past year without my wonderful wife and my faith in God.  They are what have kept me going.  Well, I need to go do my exercises so that I don’t have to get back to therapy.

I hope your year has been better.  We look forward to a new year and new beginnings.  After all it can’t get much worse than the last couple of years.  Can it?  Grace and peace to all of you and Happy New Year!

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Christmas Just isn’t the Same

christmas present

“Christmas just isn’t the same.” That’s what my mom told me Christmas Eve when I talked to her.  I remember growing up in upstate NY.  We always seemed to have snow for Christmas.  Every Christmas Eve my family would get together with all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents from my mom’s side of the family.  We’d have food and drinks and open presents and just have so much fun.  Afterwards my family would go home and we would do the same.  I never grew up believing in Santa Clause.  We opened all our gifts on Christmas Eve so there really wasn’t any reason to believe in him.

Between 1986 and 1989 my mom’s parents passed away.  No longer did we get together with the rest of the family.  It was just us.  Still we had good times.  We would be singing silly to my parents, having that special family time and always goodies to eat.

I moved away for good in 1999 and have spent my Christmas’ in Indiana and Ohio since then.  People tried to help me fit in by inviting me to their family parties, but I felt that I was simply an outsider, trying to fit in with their traditions which were not mine.  I do appreciate those families reaching out to me, but it was never the same.

Since being married, we have tried to include my wife’s family into Christmas.  Maybe not on Christmas day but we would at least try to meet them somewhere for dinner to exchange gifts.  In the past couple years those have all died and my wife’s one nephew is in foster care, with little contact with us so far.  The past two years we have not even put up decorations.  Last year because we moved two days after Christmas and didn’t want to take everything down and pack it up and this year because since our car accident on November 1st my wife has had Bronchitis, MRSA, and now some rash caused by some virus.  My back was injured in the car accident, so I couldn’t lift anything for a while.  When I started getting better I got strep along with that rash that my wife now has.  We just have not had the energy or desire to be in the Christmas mood this year.

Even when I do go home, it’s just not the same.  The area has changed, people have changed, and I have changed.  That should be expected; after all it’s been 15-20 years since I have lived there.  Life moves on with or without me.   In some ways I feel like an outsider there too.  Longing for the days when we were all together and life didn’t seem so hard.   I also think that goes both ways and that sometimes even my family expects me to be the same as I was when I lived there, but I’m not and never will be.  Equally they will never be the same.

The Gospel of Luke according to the traditional view portrays Mary and Joseph as outsiders.  Luke says they were from Nazareth and that they could not find any room to stay in so tradition tells us they had to settle for a barn or cave.  The story brings shepherds to the manger.  People who were often poor and certainly not ranking high in society’s idea of important people.

I wonder sometimes if they felt alone.  Did their family and friends talk about them?  Did they wonder how they could be so different?  After all they had a baby out-of-wedlock.  According to the Torah it was a sin that could have killed them both.  I wonder what the priests in their hometown said about that?  However once that baby was born, nothing was ever going to be the same.   They followed the path that God had given them even though others may not have understood it.  This often puts people by themselves.  Maybe that’s why Jesus grew up challenging authority and reaching out to those in need.  If he had been the cause of rumors and the ostracizing of his parents and probably himself, he would have been well aware of how that feels.  He would have known the hurt that his parents felt.  He would have wanted to help those that society did not think was important because they were like his mom and dad.   He would have also challenged those who thought otherwise because they were the ones who hurt his mom and dad.

I feel Jesus was about accepting others, because he was not accepted.  I also feel that Jesus had little patience for those who thought that was ok.  My wish for this Christmas is that people will accept that people change.  That it is not that they have developed some skewed view of the world; but that life has taught those lessons that they don’t feel they can go back on.  These lessons were meant for them and not you, because either you didn’t need it or quite possibly you’re not ready.   If they are not harming people, simply let them walk their path and accept that God has given you a different path.  May God bring you peace and joy this Christmas.

Ducking the issues?

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(Some) “believe that it is only great power that holds evil in check, but that is not what I have found.  I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of love and kindness.”  Gandolf the Gray from “The Hobbit”

Recently there has been a lot of hubbub surrounding what Phil Robertson said in a GQ article regarding homosexuality and racial issues.  I’m not really going to talk about that since I think it is just to get some more viewers to the show.  The new season starts mid-January and I believe he’ll be reinstated by then.  At that point many Christians will be praising God for the victory over the liberal left and Satan.  (Sigh)

For the last several years, I’ve noticed that Christians seem to get up in arms over what I see as insignificant things.  This past week was one of those moments.  Please understand that when I say Christians in this case, I really mean those on the right side branch of Christianity.  The farther right the madder they seem to get.  For them, Christmas time is normally set aside to fight the “war on Christmas”, whatever that is.  They seem to think that Fox News gives them the true news of God.  They have considered the likes of Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson and others to be their prophets.  These Christians believe in boycotting events or groups solely on whether or not those groups live up to their ideas of biblical values.  In other words they have certain rules and if a company doesn’t live within those rules they are a sinner on their way to Hell. I understand this because I was once a part of that idealism, but during my college years I began to find it unfulfilling and really unchristlike.

Remember a couple years ago when Chick-fil-A had their big whoop di doo with the homosexual community?  All the Christians yelled for a support Chick-fill-A for being pro biblical marriage.  I so wanted to go “eat with the sinners” as Jesus would do, but was a little afraid of what people would have thought of me.  Today I would go.  I’ve gotten over that petty pride.

I don’t see Jesus as one who boycotted or protested things in life that were wrong or anti God.  He was often called a “friend of sinners”.  In other words, he went out of his way to love those who the Pharisees and Sadducees (the church) said were unclean and out of the will of God.  Today that is homosexuals, liberals, atheists, and others who don’t fit in with the accepted rules.

The Christian right likes to spout off all their scriptures about how this or that is wrong, just like the Sadducees and Pharisees often told Jesus what the laws and prophets said, and yet Jesus always seemed to teach them how to love and forgive.  If we truly want to follow the biblical laws then we need to find a bunch of stones, because those who curse their parents, to adulterers, are to be put to death. Lev. 20:9 & 10). How many adulterers are on church boards?  Remember any divorce and remarriage is adultery. (Matt. 5:32)

I really wonder though if there isn’t more to the problem than whether some things are sins or not.  The outrage over some things just seems so unbalanced.  I have begun thinking that it is more about the loss of power and influence that the right once had that is more the issue.  I feel like the right acts more like a wounded or cornered animal that is lashing out to protect itself or what it has left.  30 years ago it had a lot of influence and was able to get Ronald Reagan elected president over what I see as a very devout Christian in Jimmy Carter.  Pat Robertson had a good following when he tried to get the nomination several years later.  But since the 80’s it’s influence has steadily gone downhill and the right has tried hard to hold on to it with little success.  It rose again when it barely got G. W. Bush elected president.  But is this working in the right direction?  I think the movement of Jesus was from the bottom (least) to the top, not from the top (Washington) to the bottom.    If Christianity wants to influence America again we must start with the bottom.  That would be those that the church or society mistreats and love them.  Get rid of our rules and keep God’s grace.  “Love God with all your heart soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matt. 22:37-40)  For those who want to follow rules, every law hangs on love.  That is exactly what Jesus said.    I know a lot of people come out and say that we love them but hate the sin, but that is not how they actually come across.  I believe that we need to put our words aside and let the world see some action.  We need to show true love, not bound with rules, but love given without expecting anything in return.  We need lives of sacrifice for anyone who is not us.  Only then will Christianity ever regain any influence.  Why?  It is because it will not be about our rules or even us.  It will be about loving God and loving others and isn’t that really more important?

The Best Present is Forgiveness

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The most important thing that I learned in growing up is that forgiveness is something that, when you do it, you free yourself to move on.
Tyler Perry

I learned that too, Tyler.  Let me explain.  My family influenced me very much because of our problems.  We don’t generally like to talk about our problems.  That’s the problem.  Several members of my family have gotten mad at others and instead of working it out they just cut them out of their life.  Sometimes it is forever.  One example of this was a grandparent got mad at my aunt because of the person my aunt wanted to marry.  My grandparent died never working that out.  Never seeing their grandchildren.   At my grandparents deaths we sneaked our aunt in to see the bodies because everyone was afraid of being cut off from the family.  Eventually after this grandparent died my aunt and uncles and all of us cousins were able to see each other again.  I was in my twenties.  We missed so much time, family gatherings, sleep-overs, birthdays etc… Simply because of one person’s grudge.

This seems to be the way that my family wants to deal with issues.  I have had 3 siblings follow this line of thinking and cut other family members out of their lives, without seemingly any effort to fix or heal the situations.  Some of these I know on a personal basis.  I also have cousins with similar problems.  It is sad when this may be a legacy that we leave to the next generations.

Because of these problems, I was determined to not be like that. There was no way I was going to cause that kind of pain to others.   I started accepting everyone no matter what they were like because I know what it is like to be shunned by people I dearly love.  Any time that there is a disagreement I work hard to make whatever it is right.  I learned to love people unconditionally at all costs, no matter what issues that person had.  I am not perfect in my love for others, but I dearly try.

The hateful grudges my family seems to hold on to dearly will not find a place in my life.  Nor do I believe that it should hold a place in anyone’s life.  Coming from a Christian home I hold on to the numerous and unending verses about loving one another and ask, why can’t we truly love?  I don’t have the answer.  All I can do is love and hope that one day those that I love will love me back.

I know that I am not the only one that has these kinds of families.  No matter what we do to mend the wounds it doesn’t seem to do any good.  We get frustrated and depressed.  We have sleepless nights, we cry, no matter how long it has been.  We wonder if the other party even cares.  Do they even think about us?  What will it take to bring us back together?  Is there anything?  For my family it took my grandparents death, but it still didn’t stop us from continuing the same actions.  Will we ever learn?

If you are one that has been cut out of someone’s life, keep trying, there is always hope that things will change.  If we stop then grudge, division and hate have won.  If you are the one holding the grudge, ask yourself if it is really worth it, because it probably isn’t.  Life is too short to hold on to the anger that seems to be running your life.  It’s okay to disagree.  It isn’t okay to mistreat.  There are people out there that love you and want you in their life.  They want forgiveness and reconciliation.  Hopefully, as much as you want it.

It’s the holiday season.  Hanukkah is about miracles, Kwanzaa is about family and community unity (among other things) and Christmas is about love.  What part does a grudge have in any of those?  The best present someone can get or give is forgiveness.  Let go of those things that hurt one another and hold on to Love.

How a Dog makes a Man

Crying doesn’t indicate you are weak.  Since birth it has always been a sign that you are, in fact, ALIVE! Unknown

I’m sure that my six cats would not like that title.  However this story isn’t about them.  It’s about the dog my family had when I was in my teens.  His name was Patches and he was a fat little beagle.  Fat may not be the correct or politically correct word.  Maybe huge better describes his belly.  He waddled around just as happy as could be.  Sometimes I used to just watch him waddle around the yard and run into things.  He’d shake his head sniff whatever he’d hit and move on.  He was blind, you see.  Not sure how long he had been blind in his life.  Seemed like most of it.  Anytime we rearranged things outside he’d spend weeks running into things and relearning where the new things were.

Patches had had a hard life.  I remember him getting hit by a UPS truck and walking or better yet waddling away.  Obviously, he was not hit too hard.  Although I believe not too much later he went blind.  Sometime later we went hunting and my brother shot him thinking that waddling through the grass was a rabbit.  Hmmm still can’t figure that one out.  Patches still lived and was happy as could be.

He always greeted me when I got home from school.  Loved to lick my face and just slobber over me.  I let him do it because I thought that meant he loved me, although I never licked him back.  I just rubbed his belly and held him.

Sometime later we had an enormous amount of rain and the creek next to the house flooded.  When the rains stopped my brother and I walked along the creek to see what it was like.  We thought Patches had stayed home but he had followed us.  We didn’t know that until we got home and then we went looking for him.  We followed his tracks yelling for him and followed the tracks straight to the edge of the water and then they stopped.  We screamed and yelled for him walking our way back along the creek towards home but found nothing.  He was nowhere to be found.  Depressed we sat on the manmade dike between our home and the creek just watching the water race by.

Then we heard something.  Don’t know who heard it first by it was a faint beagle howl.  You know the sound.  We looked up creek and there in the middle of the fast moving waters was Patches paddling for his life.  We screamed his name and raced to the edge of the water and he kept paddling toward us.  When he got to us we pulled him out of the water and hugged him over and over.  We didn’t care how wet or muddy he was.  We just cared he was alive.

As life happens, dogs do not have nine lives.  I remember coming home from a church rocker-thon on a cold February morning and being told that Patches had been hit by a car.  This time he had not made it.  One of my brothers had buried him in the yard and erected a cross over his grave.  I cried for days, but because I was a man I tried to hide it.  You know that stupid idea that men aren’t supposed to have feelings.  Yeah, I believed it.

I hated going to chick flicks, not because they are chick flicks but because they are emotional and I would cry and I didn’t want people to see me cry in public.  I cried at my sister’s wedding and people asked if I had allergies.  Sure, that’s what it was.  Others did know better and some made fun of me for it.

Some people still pick on me for crying at sensitive moments.  It doesn’t bother me like it did.  Yes, I cry more than my wife at the movies, even if I’ve seen the movie 100 times.  I can’t help it.  I’m a sensitive guy.  Recently a friend posted a moving video on facebook and I simply said that it made me cry and that I was a softy.  The response was, “That’s not a bad thing, my friend.”  And that is right, because I’m being me.

Children, people, and especially men need to know that emotions are good and to let them out.  Crying does not make me weak.  It makes me a real man.  I used to not let out my feelings because men aren’t supposed to but also because if I let myself show that I care I could also get hurt.  However that is the risk in anything you do.  The important part is to be you.  For me it is to be a sensitive crier.    I hope that you will take today and do that which you’ve been hiding.  Open yourself up to the world and don’t hold back.  You may get hurt because not everyone understands, but it will be worth it for you.  And maybe, just maybe others will see what they can do because of your example.

Are we different yet?

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana

December 7th 1941, a day that shall live in infamy. This attack was a start of Americans being scared of Americans. Because the Japanese attacked the U.S., Americans assumed all Japanese must somehow be evil and placed them into internment camps for the length of the war. What if today a small group of individuals did something horribly wrong and we blamed the entire race or group? We took their property and rights away and jailed them for simply being themselves. They couldn’t help being that way.  It was nothing they could change and no matter how long they had lived in America they were treated as if they were the enemy.   If something like that happened today, would we stand up for those oppressed, agree with the oppressors or keep silent?

History is full of people being oppressed because of a few people doing something wrong.  In the past decade Americans have learned to hate all Muslims because of 9-11.  Americans throw out hate towards those on welfare because of a few that abuse it.  We spew out hated words against illegal aliens because they don’t come here legally but the government sure doesn’t make it easy to come here.  By the way our ancestors may not have been invited either.  If you are like me and your ancestors came from Europe then it is quite possible that your ancestors and mine conquered the land, driving the Native Americans away and killing many in the process.  I bet if you were to talk to many illegal aliens they would tell you they are here to find a better life.

Americans are not always the nicest in the world.  We had to have a war to end slavery; we rounded up all the Cherokees and marched them off their land because white people wanted it.  We haven’t given equal rights to African-Americans and women until the last 100 years.  And I still think we have a long way to go with that.  We ignore atrocities in some countries because they have no oil, global positioning, or usefulness to us but invade others to “protect our interests.”

I believe that this bigotry or prejudice comes because of fear.  Fear of people who are different.  And we all know that “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Yoda)  We look different, act different, worship different, have different customs etc…  Abraham Lincoln once said “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”  What if we took that approach instead of the hate/fear approach?  It is easier to sit back and condemn others.  It is much harder to get to know people and to learn where they come from so that you understand why they believe what they do.

I grew up in upstate New York.  If I had continued to live there I would not have learned this because I would not have had to learn a lot.  From my birth I was taught what people living in my area believed.  There was no big culture difference from family to family.  But then I moved to Indiana and then to Ohio. I moved from the country to the suburbs.  To different cultures to people who were different.  Not because one was better than another, but simply different.

Today I have friends that are white, black, Jewish, Christian, agnostic, Atheist, homosexual, heterosexual, young and old.  Some have money and some do not.  I also have many female friends but that may be because I teach and there are certainly more females in that profession.   Wherever I have gone I have been able to make friends.  I think mostly because I have learned to listen to them.  In college, people I barely knew would ask to talk to me about their problems and I always took time to listen to them.  Most of the time I felt like I had no idea how to help them, but they always thanked me for listening.  Think about what kind of difference we could make in this world by taking time out of our day to get to know those who are different from us.  What if we were to listen to their problems, not to fix them but just to be there for that person?  I bet we would find that no matter what religion we followed, what race we were, what areas we grew up in that we would not be that much different.  Try it, you might actually like it.  And others.

In his own words

Nelson

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Typically I write about things in my life, but today I want to pay tribute to one of my heroes.  Nelson Mandela has truly been a one of the greatest individuals that has lived in my lifetime.  I’m guessing that many people have looked up to him and we should.  He brought such great change to the world, not simply South Africa.

How easily it would have been for him to get angry while he was in prison.  He could have wanted vengeance on those who put him in there.  Most of us would have wanted to get back at those people.  We could have easily learned to hate.  Many of us would have plotted to do the same things to anyone and everyone in our path when or if we ever got out.  While I am guessing Mr. Mandela did have some of those thoughts, he did not act on them. That is what makes a difference in the world.

While, I could say one thing after another about this great man, I simply want to leave you with some of my favorite quotes of his.  If I left out one of your favorites, please leave it in the comments.  Mr. Mandela will never die as long as we remember what he stood for.

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

“Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.”

“Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.”

“I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people.”

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

“When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort.”

I got my quotes from the following sites, please visit and enjoy his wisdom.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/7-nelson-mandela-quotes-you-probably-wont-see-in-the-us-medi

http://www.buzzfeed.com/jtes/15-of-nelson-mandelas-most-inspiring-quotes

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/n/nelson_mandela.html