May 11, 2018

7.0

I have been absent from the blog for a while.  Oh, you didn't notice?  I did.  I had a plethora of things that I wanted to write about.  I even started on several of them.  Their half-formed bodies litter my hard drive and blog dashboard.  Writing is hard.  For most people, it isn't physically exhausting.  It can be for me, since I have medical issues that affect me when I sit and type for long periods of time. But, overall, it isn't nearly as physically challenging as, say, logging or road paving or bear wrestling or excavating.  It is emotionally wearing, though.  Any artist will testify to this.  When you are creating something like music, writing, painting, sculpture, you are putting yourself into that effort.  The media you use may be clay or paper or virtual interweb bits.  But the true material is a piece of yourself.  You birth an idea in your head and decide you want to share it with others.  That idea gestates during the rumination and creation process.  Finally, it is birthed into the public eye.  Many of these ideas are miscarried, though.  Sometimes, the idea is just flawed and not worth completing.  Other times, the artist is afraid that it isn't worth putting out there.  So it gets hidden away with all of the other incomplete ideas to probably never be visited again.

My biggest challenge when writing is getting past that hurdle.  I will start off like gangbusters, typing like crazy and busting gangs.  Then I will hit a wall.  The words may not flow as easily. I may not have as much time to sit and type. Whatever the reason for the pause, immediately the doubt seeps in and squelches the project. I worry that my opinions don't matter, my view on life is pointless.  People don't care.  There is enough garbage flying around in virtual space already to distract the masses and my contribution is only another piece of trash on the heap. So I stop.  I have a couple of dozen blog posts sitting there unfinished. In my Dropbox account, I have an outline for an entire series of young adult novels. Sitting.  Hoping someday I will return.

I am fighting this and working hard to ignore this debilitating process of fear and doubt. So over the next week or so, I hope to actually finish some of the things that I have started and not seen through to completion.  It is important to me to do this; it may be helpful to someone else as well.  So I begin with a very personal post.

On Tuesday, I saw my doctor.  This is where the number in the title comes from. About three years ago I was diagnosed with Diabetes.  This was one of the most humiliating events in my entire life.  I've dealt with Rheumatoid Arthritis for well over a decade now, but that is something that I had no control over. My weight battle has been well documented over at the Darth Fatso blog, but even that I can sort-of justify as a product of bad genes.  But diabetes? That is straight up my stupid fault for eating like a foraging raccoon college student for my entire life. It isn't like I don't understand diabetes.  My father was diagnosed with it and didn't try to control it as well.  He got all the way up to insulin injections, thinking the medication would  make up for his undisciplined eating habits. I've seen friends and family dealing with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but none of them triggered any permanent changes for me. Even after my initial diagnosis, I never stuck with an intelligent approach to make dietary changes. I'm an American, dang it! I may make a few changes here and there and keep them up for weeks or months.  But soon enough, I would be back drinking Mountain Dew and sneaking cookies, like a whirling Tasmanian Devil of self destruction.

My physicians did a great job trying to control diabetes in a person who was not compliant.  I took my medicines religiously, hoping like my dad that they would fix the problem I wasn't willing to attack. One medicine, two medicines, three medicines. Each one would see a brief drop in my blood sugar numbers, but the number would creep right back up. Increase the dose, increase the other dose. Slight dip in the numbers. Bounce back up. Finally three months ago, my doctor had reached the end of options.  My a1c was 10.7.  For those of you who are not up to date on the diabetes lingo, 10.7 is awful.  A1C is not confused by having a bad breakfast or drinking one soda.  It is a measurement of three months worth of behavior and it is incontrovertible.  Normal A1C in a  person is between 4 and 6.  A person with diabetes needs to aim to get below 7.  Mine was 10.7.  So my doctor said the words that terrified me.  "I don't really have any more options, so you need to see an endocrinologist and start insulin." Crap.

To me, insulin was the ultimate disaster. In my family, when my dad was dealing with his diabetes, insulin was always dangled as the outcome that would occur if he didn't get his act together. He thought he could use it and be able to do whatever he wanted. But that wasn't correct.  If it ever got that far, then I knew I had failed miserably. I figured once I was on it, I would never get off of it. So that day, as disappointed and frustrated as I was, I made a choice.  I decided that before I had to start jabbing ANOTHER needle into my body, I was going to actually make one legitimate attempt at fixing things the right way - the way I should have been all along.

I went home and threw out all the cookies and ice cream; I poured the soda down the drain.  Next I went to Costco and bought things that would help me to make a legitimate effort.  Then I started actually taking my blood sugar every morning and on some evenings, to see where things were.  At first, they were bad.  Whooooo.  But I started to see numbers drop, and I got excited. I kept it up through Valentine's Day and Easter.  Even on my birthday! I had my normal breakfast, wings for lunch, steak for dinner.  My big splurge was having a baked potato with dinner and a cupcake sized cheesecake.  No leftovers floating around, so no temptations. And I've behaved the entire time - no cheating. For three months straight, I was as disciplined as I ever had been with food in my life.

I went to the doctor and she was asking me the usual questions, but remarked, "You seem much more relaxed today."  I told her I was excited to see my numbers.  I could tell she was a little hesitant, thinking that maybe I thought I was doing better than I was.  And also my morning number was often higher than she wanted, but the rest of the time everything was perfect.  She went out and got the results.  I heard her say, "WHAT? Really?" out in the hall.  Then she came back in with a little smirk and said, "I know you've been excited to see this.  It was a 7.0.  That's in range!" She was so happy for me (and I was happy for me too). "Just keep doing what you're doing."  I asked about the morning numbers being a little high some days.  "I would just keep doing what you're doing. It obviously is working."  It was the first time that I felt GREAT leaving a doctor's visit where my weight and diet were discussed.  Even when I lost a ton of weight back in Tallahassee, it always felt like a prison sentence.  And doctors still would say stuff like, "You still need to lose a little to get to your goal."  Uh, 100 pounds, dude.  Not good enough.  The crazy thing about this time is that I've only lost maybe 12 pounds.  I know I've lost weight - my clothes fit better, I can wear 3XT shirts, people I work with online have commented about it.  It just isn't a huge number.  And I'm okay with that.  My goal was to lower my sugar and I did that.  And I can maintain that.  Now I can start adding in more exercise and other things to help myself even more.  But I accomplished a goal finally in a way that worked for me.

So, what did I do? I know that somebody out there is struggling with this same issue.  And I want to help if I can.  I have been in those appointments with doctors and nutritionists where they give you a huge book and guidelines that seem absolutely ridiculous.  "Eat a piece of chicken the size of a deck of cards."  You're kidding, right?  I drop that much for the dogs when I'm cooking.  "Eat 7-10 servings of vegetables a day."  If I was open to eating that many vegetables, would I even BE HERE!?!?  This is what I did. It wasn't approved by a doctor or a food guru.  It was my attempt to do something I could handle long term to actually make changes.  Here is a list of steps that I took, that could work for you as well.

  1. Fight one battle at a time.  For me, I decided the blood sugar fight was the most important one. So I have not been measuring calories or portion sizes. I have focused strictly on eating in a way that will keep my sugars balanced, which I believe will ultimately help with everything else. You may have a different thing that is pressing for you.  Choose one.  My last serious attempt at losing weight was very successful for a whole year.  But then it completely unraveled because I had done everything at once, very strictly. And when one part started to fray, the whole thing came loose.
  2. Carb/Protein Balance.  This is the easiest food guide ever.  15 carb to 6 protein.  Match those up.  15 carbs is 1 carb serving; 6 protein is 1 protein serving.  If you are going to eat carbs, you need to eat protein too.  Then limit the carb servings you have - I usually won't do more than 3 at a meal.  How you generate those carb servings is up to you. But be careful! Unless you are actively looking at labels, you will GROSSLY underestimate how many carbs in are in things.  I've seen hamburger buns with 5 or 6 carb SERVINGS in one bun. There are some foods that are life savers, which I will detail in a little bit.  By just having those foods WITH your carb serving you help your sugars. This is still EXTREMELY restrictive based on our normal diets and will take some major upkeep.  I've gotten used to taking half of a bun off of a burger, dumping the contents of a taco out on the plate, asking for half rice servings places.  All of those things will help.
  3. LifeSaver Food.  Greek yogurt is my lifeboat.  You may not like yogurt, but I love it and always have.  My breakfast every morning is vanilla greek yogurt with peanut butter and banana mixed in.  For snacks, I'll grab a yogurt in the afternoon.  If I want a dessert, sometimes I'll grab a yogurt.  And there are so many kinds and flavors. My new favorite is Tillamook brand.  Their coffee flavor (only available at Target, as far as I know) is dynamite. READ those labels, though.  Not all Greek yogurts are created equal.  Some of them will have more carbs and less protein.  I try to pick one that gives me two protein servings in one cup and only one carb serving.  They are out there.  Other lifesaving foods.  Cheese.  This is a huge benefit, grabbing a cheese stick or a pack of mozzarella balls.  Add cheese to your sandwich or meal.  Meat sticks.  If you like jerky, knock yourself out.  I'm not a big fan, plus they have a surprising amount of sugar.  But I have discovered different kinds of dried sausages - Duke's is my favorite.  Three sticks have 9 protein and 1 carb.  That's my jam.  Nuts. Again, read those labels.  I like macadamia nuts, and Costco sells some good big containers of those.  I also like almonds.  And there are lots of new products catering to high protein, low carb diets.  I found a thing of Blue Diamond blueberry almonds the other day that is a 1 carb to 1 protein serving pouch.  Delicious.
  4. Don't Skimp on Products.  My big discovery on this came with peanut butter.  Go ahead and admit it; you've been judging my peanut butter for breakfast comment.  I put two big ole spoonfuls in there.  Sometimes I will just take a spoonful out and eat it in the middle of the day.  Shocked? Disappointed? Go read your peanut butter label.  I'll wait.  (Hey Katie.  How are you little doggie? You're so cute.) Back? Surprised? Yeah, I was too.  Peanut butter has a GREAT amount of protein and NOT a lot of carbs.  And it doesn't have to be that nasty natural stuff with a layer of grease on top or the low fat one nobody will eat.  In fact, there is hardly ANY difference between the different brands and variations.  There certainly is not enough for me to switch from Jif to all natural, crushed in the store, tastes gross stuff.  When you are picking your items, you may not want to go with the off brand.  I'll tell you what, HEB brand yogurt sucks.  It is truly awful.  Publix brand is amazing, as are all things created by Publix.  (Moment of silence for those separated by miles from Publix.)  Is it worth it to save 10 cents on a yogurt you won't eat? Find something you like and get it.  Same thing if you find a specialty protein product that costs a little bit.  Like, take Real Good Food enchiladas.  This company is brilliant.  They use chicken and parmesan cheese to replicate pizza crusts and tortillas. Their cheese enchiladas are wonderful, but they cost like 4 bucks a box.  "Oh my gosh! I don't want to spend 4 bucks on a frozen meal."  No, go spend 9 bucks at McDonalds.  If it keeps you on track, go with it.  Another great option is Stubbs frozen bbq meat.  The pulled pork version is soooo low on carbs, but it is probably the best pulled pork I've had in Houston.  Yeah, I know.  Not saying much, but whatever.  
  5. KICKSTART. Soda was going to be the hardest thing for me to give up. It isn't because of the caffeine because caffeine doesn't even affect me at all.  This is one hundred percent true.  I can drink an energy drink or coffee right before bed and just go right to sleep.  In fact, it seems at times to have an inverse affect on me where I get tired when I have too much.  Mountain Dew makes these Kickstart energy drinks and they just introduced a "Original Dew Flavor" version. And it tastes virtually like real Mountain Dew.  It is a little over 1 carb serving (80 calories), but I usually have it with a meal, so it cancels out with my usual abundance of protein. (There is a Ultra version of this with Aspartame and 0 calories.  But I can't drink Aspartame.  So I haven't tried it.) I've also found some coffee drinks that are 1 carb to 1 protein. HEB redeems itself with its 100 calorie mocha iced coffee on this.  You can even have Starbucks skinny drinks - again, don't skimp and demand skim milk unless that is how you like it.
  6. Be Kind to Yourself  This may be the hardest of all.  We all know how cruel our own heads can be, so don't be surprised when your brain starts berating you all the time about all the things you've done wrong -- or you're afraid you've done wrong.  For Easter, I had part of a dark chocolate bunny because it was a special occasion.  Then I gave the rest to my kids.  For my birthday I had a cupcake. The other day I wanted Reese's Cups, so I got a small two pack and ate them with dinner.  None of those things destroyed my efforts.  In fact, I will often purchase an ice cream novelty item to have at the house for days when I really need/want something like that.  I don't buy a bucket of ice cream because I'm not a total moron. But I will sometimes get Tillamook or Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches or Yasso yogurt pops. I know what the carb to protein ratio is in advance and know that I'm okay taking the hit. Sometimes we just need to do that. I still have pizza once in a while.  But it is once in a while, not as a regular menu item. And I have changed even how I order it or what I order to ramp up the protein on it to offset the crust. And I eat fewer slices as well.  I still eat burgers (with bun modifications) but don't eat the fries.  You still can have stuff you like - just be smart about it.
I am not even beginning to say that I have everything figured out.  Nope nope whole lotta nope.  But I have had some short term success with very sustainable changes.  So, maybe that will be something helpful to someone - well before they get the gut punch at the doctor's office. 



Dec 22, 2017

Majestically Natalie


Ain’t no thing like me except me
- Rocket Raccoon, Guardians of the Galaxy

For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
- Mike the Mouse, Sing (and Frank Sinatra)

I went back this morning and read the last birthday blog that I had written for Natalie. It was the Tomboy Princess, and I wrote it eight years ago. It was very interesting to see how much things haven’t changed with Natalie, and how things have changed very much. Since I have neglected writing about her for so long, today - her 14th birthday - seemed like a good time to rectify that situation.

Trying to describe Natalie is like trying to describe the taste of Butterbeer.  (Yes, the Harry Potter reference was intentional.) That wonderful drink that has been brought to life at Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter brings such complexities. There is shortbread, butterscotch, caramel, cream, cream soda. But even throwing all of that together doesn’t really paint the picture. Trust me.  Go try to make your own using one of those "Butterbeer just like Universal!" recipes and realize none of them work.  Where was I? Oh yeah.  Natalie is like that. Any attempts to describe her actually miss because they limit her. Pointing out a certain quality makes you think the opposite quality is not there. But that assumption would be false.

For example, Natalie claims to not like talking to people. She will often ask me to order for her because she doesn’t want to talk to the waiter. But, she gets upset when Gabe doesn’t say hello to the teachers in carline. And she will straight up respectfully disagree with a teacher in front of an entire class without a second thought. How can a person be so timid and so bold? Because she is Natalie.

From her arrival in this world, Natalie has done things her own way. Actually, from before she arrived. She was situated breach in her momma. The doctor tried to get her to flip, and it appeared like she had the day before her arrival. When we got to the delivery? She had rolled back around, just to be ornery. As a baby and toddler, she was fiercely stubborn and independent, and unbelievably clingy. This has been her M.O. for her entire life. She combines so many things that seemingly should never match. She is brilliant, but has trouble memorizing lists. She is highly opinionated, but also follows inexplicable popular trends. She is an artist in drawing and baking and singing and violin playing, but she will go long stretches not wanting to do any of them.

Natalie realizes all of this and doesn’t really care. She actually embraces it. She openly will say she is awkward and joke about her gaffes. She plans on doing color guard next year in high school, but then will describe how she sees it going. She will begin the performance, only to have it stopped a few minutes later. The director’s perch is on fire, kids are laying on the ground bleeding, people are impaled with flags, she is standing over by the dumpsters. The directors are yelling, “Natalie stop! You have run horribly amok!”

I have never really met someone who appears to be so comfortable in her own skin. Being her parent, I have heard those moments where she is doubting herself. But most of the time she is proud of who she is. She celebrates herself in her entirety. That is a lesson I have never learned.

This picture is something that fit my daughter perfectly: majestically awkward. Not everyone is the same. The world needs graceful swans and powerful eagles and awkward flamingos and shuffling penguins. I love how Natalie recognizes this need and even revels in whatever form she takes. It is little wonder she is drawn to exceptional creatures: unicorns and mermaids. She is Natalie - take it or leave it. Thankfully, more people want to take it. Those over the years who have left, they have missed out.

As my sweet girl has grown into a lovely lady, I am routinely taken by surprise by her beauty and poise. She will come out of her room for school, wearing a very fashionable outfit and wearing it well. Her new haircut only has served to enhance her natural beauty and accelerate her maturity. I will just smile at her and say, “You’re pretty.” Some people would demurely turn their heads. Others would try to refuse the compliment. And some others would soak it in. Natalie goes her own route. She pulled her head back so she creates a double chin, makes a dumb facial expression, and gives herself buck teeth. Then she squawks, “Thanks.”  That’s just like Nat. She takes a tender moment and turns it on its head.

Natalie also has developed a very strong view of the goings on in the world. She is a strong proponent of women’s rights - even getting into spats at school defending her position. She believes that everyone deserves to be treated well, regardless of beliefs or coolness factor. She doesn’t stand for mistreatment and injustice of herself or anyone. This has led her into conflicts with teachers and students, but I would rather her stand up for her convictions than go the easy path. I doubt most fourteen year olds have enough awareness of the world around them to even think about these issues, let alone have strong opinions on them.

I have strong dreams and desires for all of my kids. With Natalie, I’m so extremely curious as to where she will end up when she is grown. I would not be surprised at all if she ends up famous, changing people all over the world. I also wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up living on an island, running a little surfboard and coffee shop. She would fit either track well and would keep on being her unique and awesome self. I know one thing for sure: she will do it her way, like nobody else can.

Oct 17, 2017

A Sick Silence

No more games, I'm a change what you call rage
Tear this muthafudgy roof off like two dogs caged
-Eminem 

I admit it is ironic to begin this with an Eminem quote, but it accurately describes how I am feeling this morning. As we all are probably aware, the topic of sexual harassment has been at the forefront of our country’s attention recently. First, we saw the powerful Hollywood magnate Harvey Weinstein taken down by the sheer magnitude of his behavior towards women. Then we saw the rise of the “me too” awareness campaign - as women everywhere tried to show just how widespread this behavior has become.

There have been the expected responses. We have had media outlets seeing an opportunity for clicks, leading to them generating as many tie-in stories as possible. We have seen the contrarians seeing an opportunity or clicks, leading them to throw up their attempts to diminish the validity of the topic. I’m never surprised that some troglodytes emerge from the woodwork at these moments, just to prove there still are backward thinkers around. We also saw the usual mass of people freak out who, up until this particular news broke, were perfectly fine letting Weinstein continue to mow his way through the female population of Hollywood. That is always amusing and annoying - celebrities tripping over themselves to condemn a person that most of them knew was doing something wrong.

This whole song and dance is so common, and such an easy red herring. People love jumping all over the (mostly) liberal celebrities who now must express outrage at a big-time Democratic donor. We see posts and blogs and tweets shooting at how both sides handled it. The battle builds so much that it is easy to forget WHAT exactly the argument was about. You know, like the whole National Anthem kneeling fight. The saddest part of that whole kerfuffle is that the extremely important issue that started the protests (systematic racial discrimination and mistreatment) is completely ignored.

Well I am not going to let that happen. The issue is out there, so let’s deal with it. There have been some really thoughtful pieces out there on the topic of sexual harassment in the last few days, and I don’t pretend to bring anything revolutionary to the table. But I’ve been trying to be more consistent in voicing it when my righteous anger is stoked. This offering doesn’t get any clever allegories or poems. It is about as straightforward as can be.

The status quo in this country is that women are routinely marginalized, harassed, and demeaned. They make less money. They have more difficulty climbing the work ladder. They consistently have to deal with guys who believe it is in their rights, as men, to say and do whatever they want to women. These men are protected by their status in their company, church, community. Women have gotten to where they feel they have to just accept this as the way things are. And the only time something is done about it is when things are grievously out of proportion to “the norm.” I have no doubt that Harvey Weinstein would still hold his position if it were not for the sheer volume of accusers. Even still, the more extreme accusations are met with some doubt. Rose McGowen’s claim that Weinstein raped her was uncomfortably ignored or refuted in favor of more exciting names on lists.

This is WRONG. The “good old boys’ club” mentality is wrong. The “dirty old man” mindset is wrong. The “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” exchange is wrong. The “how far will you go to get the job” question is wrong. The “little bit of humor” excuse is wrong. The “she was asking for it” defense is wrong. It is all wrong. It was wrong back then; it is wrong now.

Of the Highest Value
It is wrong that my thirteen year old daughter had to sit in her health class last year as the teacher taught the girls what to do to avoid rape and never even mentioned to the boys to, you know, not rape people. It is wrong that she was ridiculed and attacked for speaking up about that unfair standard.

It is wrong for my brilliant wife to have to be talked down to by male doctors just because she is a woman. It is wrong that when she walks into a patient room she is assumed to be a nurse. It is wrong that patient’s father’s say how cute the female doctors are. It is wrong that she will make less money because of her gender.

It is wrong that my female coworkers have to consistently deal with high school and college boys hitting on them during classes and events online. It is wrong that these boys think they have to right to write sexual comments to them, just because they are women.

It is wrong that women are taken advantage of at car dealerships and repair shops. It is wrong that attractive women are treated differently than other women.

It is wrong that females in journalism - especially sports journalism - have to not only prove their skills and knowledge, but also show off their legs, cleavage, rear ends, and voluminous hair. It is wrong that still after all of that, they still have to hear how cute and funny it is to hear a woman talking about pass patterns.

It is wrong that a woman wanting to break into movies or music or the entertainment industry in general has to at some point take her clothes off to get a job or advance her career or be taken seriously.

It is wrong that women are not believed when they tell people about this harassment. It is wrong their character and clothing and choices come into question instead of the person who really did something wrong. It is wrong that women know that it is so difficult to actually get anything done on this front that they don’t even bother. It is wrong that this is so prevalent that I would be hard pressed to find a single woman who could say “not me” instead of “me too.”

I would hope that we all can agree that this is wrong. I would hope. People do not deserve to be treated this way. Women do not deserve to be treated this way. This is something that should be universally fought against - something we can all agree on for once. Which is what makes this next part so painful to me.

There has been one group that has been largely silent through this, one disgustingly and disturbingly quiet group. That would be Christians, especially men. I have seen only a smattering of Christian men standing up and joining in the chorus of those crying out, “This is WRONG!” There have not been a series of tweets from Christian leaders decrying this behavior. Did Franklin Graham echo the sentiments of how women should be treated better? No. But he did use his twitter account to again promote Donald Trump - another ADMITTED sexual harasser. What about the former reverend and governor Mike Huckabee? Did he use his status to stand up for women? No. But he did make a completely classless joke via Twitter about Harvey Weinstein piloting Flight 666 the other day. You don’t like the most traditional elements? What about Joel Osteen? Did he speak out? No. Steven Furtick? No. Matt Chandler? He talked about domestic violence, so he gets a half point. Tony Evans? David Jeremiah? Chuck Swindoll? Charles Stanley? Andy Stanley? Craig Groeschel?  No. Let that soak in for a minute.

I’m guessing some of you are pretty uncomfortable right now. Some of you are probably pissed off at me that I am pointing this out. Don’t give in to the temptation to attack the messenger. Think about it. Why is this the case? Why would all of these church leaders who have such a massive influence over the evangelical masses in America not take a stand on this? Why would so many Christians follow their example and stay conspicuously silent? These are very very uncomfortable questions and the answers are even worse. These are the answers I came up with. And none of them are pretty.

  1. They don’t believe this is actually happening. Sadly, I think there is a potential for this to be somewhat true. I used to go around to churches and talk to them about internet safety and purity and I’ve had church leaders tell me to my face that there isn’t a problem at their church - an hour after a different leader told me about multiple incidents that happened THAT week. The Church has been known to jam its head into the sand on issues. But I find it very difficult to believe that as a whole the Church doesn’t believe this is happening. And IF this is actually true, then things are much worse than anyone could imagine. 
  2. This is traditionally a liberal/Democratic issue and something they don’t want to align with. I think there is a lot of truth to this. Having spend as long in the Church as I have, I have seen many issues that were discarded because they were promoted by the wrong party. We live in such a divisive society right now that people feel they have to take stands based on party affiliation. The big problem, to me and a lot of other Christians, is that it isn’t so simple any more. There are issues that I care about on both sides of the aisle. And this is one of them. To reject an issue just because it is from a donkey instead of an elephant is unacceptable. 
  3. This strikes to close to home to the biblical patriarchy, male leadership, and biblical roles of manhood and womanhood. Personally, I think that this carries a lot of weight with a lot of people. They are concerned that taking too strong of a stand on the issues of female objectification and sexual harassment could lead to attacks on the entire issue. Ok. I can see that there would be concern there. But does that mean we continue to stay silent on a very disturbing issue? This has been a major issue for the Church for a long time - from Copernicus to slavery to tax reform. If Christians are truly supposed to be promoting the tenants of restoration and unconditional love and grace, how can they turn a blind eye to an entire GENDER being marginalized and debased? In addition, being a leader doesn’t mean being a pig. A man does not have the right to act in this manner regardless of his status. Isn’t that the very thing brought to light by the Weinstein incidents? A man in authority using his authority to demean others. There you go. If you want to be a leader, men, you should be the FIRST to lead the way on this attack. Show your sons the right way. Lead society away from this behavior. 
  4. They don’t want to pull on this string because they know it will be disastrous. I have a queasy feeling that this plays too much of a role in why there has not been a wider Churchwide response.  As we are already seeing, this snowball is turning into an avalanche in the entertainment community.  An Amazon Studios exec has been fired due to his sexual harassment issue.  More and more stars are coming out and talking about what happened to them by people not named “Weinstein.”  Heads are going to roll on this. You can’t take a stand on something like this and then not do a thorough examination of your own house as well.  What would that show? I am quite confident that there are a massive number of stories that could flood out from churches where this kind of behavior was the norm. But, I think this goes even further than just the fear of pastors losing their jobs.  I think it goes right to the very top. A very large number of evangelicals threw their lot in with a professed sexual harasser.  I don’t think you need me to remind you of the multiple quotes from President Trump over the years that indicated that he practiced this kind of behavior. What happens if the Church takes a stand against this? How can they say this behavior is unacceptable and then turn around and support someone who practices it?  Things can unravel quickly.
  5. They don’t think that there is anything wrong with what is going on. Of all of the reasons, this is the most stomach-churning, but the one I am the most confident actually contributes to at least some of the stonewalling going on. I would be willing to guarantee that in churches across the country, there are members who are sitting there saying, “Look at how sensitive people are. Back in the old days, this was just normal behavior. Women knew that this was just guys being guys. They didn’t get offended by it.” This guys may be deacons or prominent church members or even staff members. It is the same truth associated with why churches have been hesitant to speak out about racial equality, to speak out against white supremacy.  The ugly truth of the situation is that there are too many racists, too many misogynists sitting in church pews for the Church as a whole to take a stand against behavior like this. It is a horrible reason, but one that I know exists. I know because I have heard it in churches since I was small. I have seen it happen as long as I’ve been in church.  

I know that some people will be furious at what I am saying here. They will say that this is not the venue to air these grievances. They will say that I have no right to attack the Church like this. To that, I say that this is the perfect time to address this.  Let’s shine a white hot spotlight into the dark corners of the Church. I am not attacking the Church out of hate; it is out of love. I want this behavior eradicated. I want the people who claim to follow Christ to actually look like Him. What did Christ look like? How did He treat women? He was revolutionary in his treatment of women. In a culture where women were seen as property, He gave them value as a person. In a time when women were ordered around, He spoke gently and kindly. In a world where women had little hope, He gave them a vision of a place where they would stand tall. Don’t you DARE tell me that Jesus would look at the way women are treated in this world, by our churches, by our men, and nod in satisfaction.  “Yes. This is exactly what I envisioned.” That is not the message of Jesus Christ.  I am ashamed of the fact that the Church has turned a blind eye to people who need it the most. I am disgusted that the quietest group of all should be the ones leading the way. I am sick over the silence that shows that the Church is more of the problem than the answer.

Oct 2, 2017

A Fruitless Discussion

Can we sit down together and talk
About the thing that has us all in shock.
I think that something must be done
About the situation with the guns.
All this violence, all this death
All these innocents and their final breath.
I have to believe that this was not the intent,
This can't be what the founding fathers meant.
All this tragedy, this harm
Was what they meant to "bear arms?"
Oh here we go ahead, dear Lord
This argument makes me so bored.
Every time someone gets nicked
The whole issue gets politicked.
I'm an American, you Commie pink
I can't believe that you think
You'll ever take my guns away.
You will die that very day.
I need my guns to protect what's mine
And hunt the ducks and deer so fine.
I understand, I really do
I don't want to take them away from you.
I just want to ask, between you and me
When was the last time that you did see
A hundred deer storm from their den
So you needed bullets that never end?
Those founding fathers couldn't know
How damaging these guns could grow.
I don't care what you try to say
You're trying to take my guns away.
Guns don't kill people, people do
That's a maxim that is always true.
They also use poison and use knives
Do we ban those to save some lives?
If I really want someone to die
I don't need a gun to kill that guy.
That may be true, but let me be clear
We have a situation here.
There are too many shooting sprees
To even count, unless more than three
Lives are taken in the event.
Even you have to consent
Things have gotten quite out of hand
Some types of weapons must be banned.
I will not agree, you can't make me
Now go away, go hug a tree.
I've had enough of this dumb talk
Excuse me now, I'm going to walk.
Columbine!
Oh here we go...
I'll start with it; it's not the first
But it was certainly one of the worst.
Back in Nineteen Ninety Nine
It's kind of where we draw the line
When this type of thing became much more
When it could happen right next door
Sixty shootings in the three decades before
In the next two decades, almost three hundred more
Blame Marilyn Manson for those two
And the Matrix also added too.
See, these things have always been around.
They were just kept more underground.
They didn't have the internet
To get the people all upset.
We've done this one, don't waste my time
I won't discuss Columbine
If that was the one and only school
Where this happened, I'd accept your rule.
But there were more, and offices
And churches and even parties, yes.
They weren't all affected by movies
Or crazy music. Can't you see?
These were expected, in this land.
Not everyone has nice things planned.
You've got some people filled with hate
And others who got spurned on a date.
They stole the guns or found them hid
The guns didn't do it - the people did.
Virginia Tech in Two Thousand Seven
Youngstown State in Two Oh Eleven
And Illinois, and Arkansas
And Alabama - they all saw
College students on their campus
They shouldn't have to deal with this.
Universities? That's your plan?
The most liberal bastions in the land?
They are out of control at every rate
And have been - remember Kent State?
That was back in sixty six
Colleges can't be thrown in this mix.

Aurora's movie theatre
That guy was crazy, I'm quite sure
Arizona's congresswoman then?
That doesn't count - 'twas a politician.


In DC at the Navy Yard?
Within our own military guard?
And twice at the Army's Foot Hood.
You cannot tell me this is good.
The military is what you show?
You can't use them, don't you know.
They're trained to kill everyone
And you will NEVER get their guns.
Sandy Hook Elementary
Try to explain that one to me
Little kids.  That's just wrong
You can't keep your stance for long
Never happened, don't you see?
It was a media conspiracy.
There is no proof, go check online.
You must be out of your mind.

The Charleston church is another one
Some maniac who has a gun
Or what about in Ferguson? 
Minnesota? What can be done?
 I knew you'd try to throw in race.
Which is the answer in each place.
That part of our society
Speaks only violence, can't YOU see?
They live like thugs, they get lazy
Right and wrong gets quite hazy.
It is the culture that needs the flack.
It is expected - I mean, they're black.

How about San Bernandino?
Muslims.  You know how they go.
What about the one in Orlando?
Gay people.  If someone has to go...

What about Las Vegas then?
I doubt even you can begin
To justify what happened there.
I'm sure that by now you're aware.
The details still are coming in,
But what we've heard is very grim.
Over five hundred hurt as they tried to hide
Nearly sixty people have now died.
The guns were purchased legally
The plan was carried out easily.
How can you possibly try to say
That all of this is still okay?
It was so tragic, I agree
You won't find arguments from me.
The guy was evil, what can I say?
His dad a criminal back in the day.
But it was hidden deep inside
From even his family he could hide.
So how were we supposed to know
Just when this nutter was gonna blow?
Even with some stricter laws
Nothing about him gave us pause.
So, no, we shouldn't limit guns.
We'll talk again with the next one.




Data on history of mass shootings in America were obtained through
Stanford Mass Shootings in America, courtesy of the Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries

Sep 26, 2017

Top Ten List: Gabe's Tenth Birthday

In honor of our baby boy, Gabe, turning TEN years old today, here is the TOP TEN THINGS ABOUT GABE!!!  From our home office in Sioux City, Iowa.

1. HE IS SURPRISING
From when we first found out about his impending arrival, Gabe has been a surprise.  We thought we were done with our family. One boy, one girl. Everyone was potty trained.  It was time to get going on the next phase of life.  SURPRISE!  Here's Gabe! From that point, he has kept surprising us.  Kids one and two took after me: dark hair, dark eyes, tallish.  Gabe popped out with blond hair, green eyes, and a shorter stature.  SURPRISE! As he has gotten older, he hasn't ceased to surprise us.  The other day, he was playing Minecraft on his computer and wanted to install a texture pack. (I don't know what it is either; just follow me here) I was in the middle of something, so I told him he would have a to wait a few minutes.  "Oh I know how to do that."  SURPRISE! Sure enough, he came running back in a little later.  "It worked. Thanks." Yep. He downloaded and installed a texture pack into a folder that it took me a good half hour to locate when I was installing some stuff for him. The things he can do on an iPad would impress an Apple Store worker. He has a mechanical and technical mind.  Oh, and math? This kid has always just had a knack for math.  When he was SEVEN, he heard me talking to one of my Kaplan classes and said, "I've always wondered what X meant."  So I explained some rudimentary algebra.  He nods and says, "Ahh that makes sense." Then he punched out several examples. SURPRISE! It is like watching a flower bloom and then bloom again and again - creating something very surprising and intriguing.

2. HE HAS A SWEET TOOTH
Most kids love sweets. Gabe is not most kids.  Most kids are amateurs when it comes to competing with Gabe about sweets. He will weasel his way into a shake or a smoothie or slushie at any restaurant that has them. It used to be, "Well he probably won't even eat his dinner. So it is cheaper for him to just get a shake." Or, "Well he doesn't really like soda, so it should be okay." Now it is just that he wants the shake. He can consume a shocking amount of candy - and he always goes for the bag that has the most. There have been times when we are getting road trip candy where he will stand there for ten minutes, trying to decide what to get based on which bag is bigger. Then he will say, "I really want to get Skittles, but there is more in this Starburst bag. Dad, if I get the smaller Skittles, can I get two things?" Next thing I know, he has his own stash of candy in the car - which he WILL eat before we get where we are going.  AND then he will ask Josiah for some of his because "mine is all gone." Ice cream, popsicles, cookies, cake, pie, hot chocolate. Gabe loves all of them. It is a good thing he didn't get my metabolism, or he would be in bad shape. (A circle.  HAHA. Bad shape - circle? Get it? Never mind.) It is funny how different the kids are with their candy too. So Gabe will eat all of his Christmas/Easter/Halloween candy as fast as you'll let him. It may last a couple of days. Josiah is a candy hoarder. He eats a little of it, then figures he will stretch it out. The problem is that he forgets it is there and it ends up sitting around for months. Natalie will hide hers in her room like a squirrel and then it is just gone one day. I have no idea how long it takes her to eat it. So Gabe will wolf his down, and then go hunting for more. Where will he find it? In Josiah's stash. He isn't dumb, that Gabers.

3. HE HAS IMMENSE COMPASSION
Gabe is like every other ten year old. He still is understanding how he should relate to other people in this world and a lot of the time he has a very self-centric view of life. But, there are times when I am stunned at how much compassion he has for people. The flood here in Texas, the one in Florida, the one in Puerto Rico? They have been very hard on this little guy. He doesn't like the thought of people he knows (and doesn't know) suffering. He was extremely distraught when he thought his cousin Toby down in Florida was in danger from Hurricane Irma. This has been a characteristic of his from when he was young. When he sees someone on the side of the road asking for money, he wants us to help them. If he sees a dog outside that doesn't appear to have an owner, he is completely beside himself with worry that it will get hurt. If someone does get hurt or sick, he worries about them and wants to be near them. Perhaps this is even more apparent to me due to how he has handled my Rheumatoid Arthritis. When I am having a hard go of things, Gabe doesn't like it. He doesn't want me to have to do things that will "hurt" me. I've seen him crying when I'm in pain because he doesn't want me to be hurting. If I am disciplining one of the other kids (or the dogs), Gabe is very loudly interjecting himself into the situation trying to stop me. He gets angry when someone is perceived to have wronged Josiah or Natalie (or Heather and me). All of my kids have a strong sense of (what they interpret as) justice. It is truly one of Gabe's most noticeable qualities.

4. HE IS OUR AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR
Gabe has always liked to flip, run, and jump around. Back after I had first started staying home with the kids, Gabe was a finky not-quite-two-year-old. He would bounce on the couch, and I would tell him to stop. One time, he bounced too far and smashed his mouth on the end table, slamming his teeth into his lip. AAAAAAGH!!!!! I freaked out. He was screaming and I was terrified. Heather was in Med School and unreachable by phone. In his young life, he has had more eggs on his head, cuts, bruises, and bumps than the other two combined.  It isn't klutziness as much as just playing hard.  But he doesn't shy from it. Instead, he keeps on going and trying new things. For a year now, Gabe has been taking karate.  He loves it and is really good at it.  He's up to green belt and loves going to class. I love seeing him in this completely foreign element and succeed. His teacher loves him and uses him for examples a lot because Gabe is so serious about learning it. "Let's have Mr Gabe come up here to help me demonstrate this." Then the teacher punches Gabe in the face a few times with a new move the kids are learning.  Then Gabe doesn't let him keep punching him. He just laughs and starts blocking the punches. The parents will be out in the lobby grimacing and going "oooohhhhhh" on some of the pops. Gabe just grins, adjusts his mask, and takes his stance again. As a hopelessly unathletic and klutzy lummox, I appreciate his willingness to be so active time and again.

5. HE DOESN'T OPEN UP EASILY...
People have always wanted Gabe to talk to them; Gabe has not always wanted to talk to them. They have gotten frustrated with him and thought he was being rude or was shy. They'll say, "He's a quiet kid." Heather and I look at each other and roll our eyes. Gabe is NOT quiet. He has NO problem talking and talking and talking. But you have to earn that. I remember when my mom first understood this. She was frustrated that he didn't click with her like his brother and cousin had. One time she was listening to him play. He kept coming over to my mom and saying things about toys or books, but usually it was lost in the noise all around him. She bent down and heard him and looked at me. "He talks, but he wants you to listen." Yup! You got it. She earned it that day and it changed their relationship. Gabe was always tough to leave in nursery. The first few weeks of school in the younger were nightmares. And if doesn't trust a teacher or an adult, he will NOT interact with them. I always want people to realize that if Gabe is wanting to interact with you, you must be pretty special. When he and his Uncle Mike first connected it was over video games (naturally). Gabe realized that they could speak the same language and from that point on became Mike's buddy. I see this as a positive trait. He doesn't give himself away easily. Too many people do - I know I did all the time, desperate to find love. Gabe isn't going to be the person who has tons of ex-girlfriends. He is careful and guarded.  BUT....

6. ...BUT WHEN HE DOES, HE LOVES DEEPLY AND INTENSELY
Once Gabe decides that you are worth his love and attention, you will get as much as you can take and more. He loves very deeply and intensely. I am so lucky to know what that feels like. Gabe adores me and it is such a great feeling, to know that he sees me as a safe person. I remember growing up and not having that feeling with my dad at all. We weren't safe and I couldn't just completely deflate around him and relax. So I'm glad Gabe and I have a different relationship. Sometimes this love will overwhelm a person - "love you to death...literally." His brother Josiah is often the recipient of this love. Gabe thinks Josiah is absolutely incredible and wants to spend every possible moment with him. For a sixteen year old who has never been a huge fan of physical contact, this can definitely be too much. But that intense love for his brother is a beautiful thing to watch - until it crosses to fighting. I was surprised just how hard it was for Gabe when my mom died. He STILL will start crying about her, saying he misses her. He has been this way with his friends at school and his cousin Toby. When Gabe loves someone or something, he LOVES it with all the effort he can generate. I don't like imagining my kids growing up because I don't want them to, but sometimes I think about how lucky his wife will be when that day comes. She will have someone who loves fiercely, passionately, deeply. He may not say it, but there is no doubt about it.

7. HE IS VERY FUNNY
My kids are all funny. They kind of are forced to become that just to survive in our house. I'm kind of a smart aleck (#ShockedFace) and I have encouraged them to be most light-hearted and not take themselves so seriously. Gabe has learned this lesson very well. He tells a great story - again, when he wants to. He does some good imitations and has some witty comments. One of our favorite videos of little Gabe is when he impersonates a eight year old Josiah's faces. (Josiah hates this video - but it is pretty dead on accurate.) He picked up on this thing that Donald Trump would do where he points with his hand and says, "Bing." Every so often, when someone is making a point, Gabe will just do it and say "Bing." He makes silly faces, silly voices, and silly songs. And he also is quite a fan of potty humor, much to his mom's chagrin. He is quick to laugh, which lights up his whole face. Being funny is important to our clan, and Gabe both brings humor to the table and appreciates what other people offer.

8. HE IS SMART ... AND DOESN'T LET IT DEFINE HIM
It took me until I was in my late thirties to understand how badly I had let my intelligence BE who I was. I saw myself as the smartest person in every room. If I didn't see that as the case, I would either have to tear down the other people in my head or find a way out of that situation. I banked so much of my worth on my intelligence. Gabe is smarter than me - I have no doubt of this. He has always had this look about him, where he is analyzing and sizing up the situation. He already is well on his way to be a successful litigator - at least I hope that all of the arguing he does is actually a work-study program. I mentioned how his math and computer skills are way above average. But the crazy thing is this has never been something that he uses to build his identity. It is almost like he doesn't care. It is more like, "Oh, I'm in gifted. Cool. So these are my friends, we went to recess, I built this on Minecraft." I want him to appreciate his gifts, but I don't want him to believe that is all that brings him value. I have wanted that for all of my kids. I'm glad that they have good solid brains, but I want them to use them to do worthwhile things. I want them to be defined by the impact they leave, not their IQ.  Gabe, fortunately, already has more of a handle on this than I ever did.

9. HE LOVES TO CUDDLE
Sometimes we will eat dinner in the living room and watch Psych on DVD. Or we could be watching a movie, or all playing on our devices. You never need to look far to find Gabe. He is probably tucked in as close as possible to someone. It could be me or Heather ... or Josiah (more often than the rest of us). It isn't Natalie as much because she stays in her room a lot more. Gabe always wants to be right there, as close as he can. He will lean up against me and eventually I'll feel his legs worming their way under my legs until he's woven himself all up against me.  He has always been a cuddler. He loves sitting with people and sharing their space. If there is a couch or loveseat with two people on it, there is enough room for Gabe in the middle. He wants to sit in the middle whenever we go to a movie or game. He wants to have someone sit near him in the car. He wants someone to sit in his bed with him at night. These desires aren't out of fear or immaturity - he just really wants to be around his people. It has not been hard to identify Gabe's love language. The nice side benefit of this is it that it has allowed me and Heather to enjoy the feeling of having a little boy longer, since he still will allow us to snuggle him and hug him.  Even today at lunch at school, I didn't want to embarrass him when I was leaving, so I half hugged him and started to go. He looked up at me and said, "You can hug me dad. It's okay." So I did. Now, the dogs are not always to happy to be hugged and cuddled by Gabe's intense nature. But we like it just fine.

10. EVERYBODY LOVES GABE
Even though Gabe is slow to open up to others, other people are quick to want to be around Gabe. We've taken to mimicking Robert Barone with "Everybody loves Gabe." The kids all will play with him on the playground. The cousins all want to see what he is doing. One time at one of Natalie's performances at school, if you looked in the back of the cafetorium, you would see Gabe sitting there with his iPad, surrounded by a gaggle of kids who didn't even know him. He has a magnetism about him. People are drawn to Gabe. It makes for a strange combination. Gabe is hesitant to open up to most people, but he is quickly surrounded by people. When he does find someone, he invests deeply in them - often to the exclusion of the other people. Yes, it will be interesting to see how Gabe navigates the minefield of relationships and friendships over the years. For now, though, it is sweet to see how want to be around him. He has grown so much. Even if it is not his comfort zone, he isn't aloof with people. When I saw him at school today, once again he was surrounded by a bunch of boys from class - a new set from last year who barely know each other yet. Girls would walk by and say hi. Kids not even in his class told him happy birthday. The really neat thing (and it is something I hope he continues with as he gets older) is that Gabe doesn't seem fazed by it.  He isn't strutting around like he's all that because he is smart or popular or cute or funny. He is just Gabe. The world swirls around him and he just does his own thing. Sometimes I'm envious of how comfortable he is in his own skin. But I also thank God that Gabe is made that way. He is a very special, surprising, wonderful kid.  And now he is double digits. A perfect 10!