Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Talk

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
Proverbs 22:3

Religion and institutions of authority are separate entities.  Both bring order and a semblance of peace to the practitioner but if in an unbalanced or abusive relationship with either occurs then the offenses that happen can lead to horrible and scarring experiences.  Some individuals end up at a church because it is a last hope to try on the path of a broken life; others see the military as a proper authority and place that corrective action can be obtained to straighten out the wrinkles of a few bad choices from youth.

Trust builds up in the system, faith builds in leadership and a mentality that a religion or an outside authority is a safe harbor for family, friends and a person is given.  Most of the time, it proves true.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  

Sometimes that trust is violated or betrayed.

When the latter occurs, the response that follows after the failure is almost always more important to the person than what benefit was obtained before it.  

Eight years ago while doing my IT job, I met “Angie”.  She placed a call to me to try and sell hardware, software and consulting services.  Most of the times when these people call you, they want to take you to lunch and buy your loyalty and a few minutes of your time.  Sometimes it works, depending on the restaurants they offer to take you to.  And that’s awesome.

We went out to lunch and she handed me the folder of her company’s services and as any good salesman does, they talk about everything but the folder first to establish a rapport before you buy anything.  Because you aren’t buying a product, you are cultivating a relationship that then gets you to buy a product.  This is sales. 

Everyone has a story, be willing to listen.

As we talked further, we chatted about family, kids, moving around, experiences and church.

Church.  It seems I had my own stories and so did Angie.  Both Christians at the time, I was still in church but she wasn’t.  I started going as an adult at 21, she left around that same time period.  We talked for a bit longer and we hit a spot where she told me why.

Someone at the church, in authority, violated trust.  They abused their position and took hold of an opportunity in a basement and robbed a young woman of her innocence and inevitably her practice in that faith.  

I had to reach out to Angie tonight; I haven’t talked to her in years.  But I wanted to get her permission to tell her story, because recently I had to share it with my daughter, and it wasn’t my story to tell. 

She told me to blog it, so that others would know too.

Angie’s dad went to the Pastor of the church to expose it, but the leadership there wanted to cover it up, deal with it internally.  This is where a good father steps up and overrides stupidity and heads straight to the police.  You don’t ever cover this up.  You drag this into the light and you expose people like this for who they are, because as I found out from Angie tonight, these people do it again until someone stands up and makes them stop. 

Recently, I sat my daughter Katie down and had this talk.  Sometimes, the wrong people are in charge.  Sometimes things happen that aren’t your fault.  Sometimes adults still act like they are in High School and make stupid decisions.  Sometimes adults around these people are so oblivious to the environment they have allowed themselves to perpetuate these events, it’s abhorrent.  And everyone must own up to the part they played in it.

Some men in charge prey upon a certain personality type that has been wounded already and are fine with manipulating these people again.

Sometimes, people are just evil.

And my just turned teenaged daughter had to hear about the stupidity of some people she looked up to.  Where this pattern could start, how she could be affected and most importantly if something like this ever happens to her, it’s not her fault.  And if it does happen to her then tell someone.  Don’t bury this, don’t hide it and don’t agree with leadership in a closed door meeting that we are just going to cover this up amongst ourselves so we can carry on with the same environment that allowed this to happen to begin with.  That’s as evil as the offense. 

Shame on us and Heaven forgive us.

My friend taught me something 8 years ago.  Something I never thought I would have to revisit and that I had to start teaching my 13 year old daughter those lessons now. 

If her story could keep it from happening to one more “Angie”, then it was worth it to tell.

Thank you, my friend.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thus Endeth the Lesson...

Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you. -Aldous Huxley

Vacation Bible School, hereunto and afterwards addressed lovingly as VBS has come and gone again this year.   A few years ago, I was a teacher of young spiritual seekers who sang songs loudly, held my hand and said they wish they could live with me and smiled as they took what was left of my sleep deprived sanity out the door.  Working all day and then rushing to finish another 3 hours of blessed rewards left me with one thought when it was all over…

Never again.

This year I was taking a course in downtown Chicago on how to have some shiny new hacking skillz.  Because I took the train timing just wouldn’t allow me to get to VBS in time to teach and guide young minds in the spiritual sarcasm that children do love me for.   

Especially my children.   

But many people pulled together and successfully created a plethora of enjoyable 5 nights of puppets, a live action show and a real toy store with its own monetary system.

Yes, our VBS had a “store” that children, who accomplished tasks, would earn fictitious money to spend in the store.  Oddly enough in these economic times, this play money had more worth than our current dollar.  The store was populated by the good people of the church who bought or made donations of actual American dollars for the purchasing of toys for ages 7 and below and 7 and above.  I’m not sure why the store was divided in age appropriate toys, I just know it was and therefore my youngest Collin who is 7 would be the one to break that rule.

"The wise know too well their weakness to assume infallibility; and he who knows most knows best how little he knows." ~ Thomas Jefferson

Working for a toy company I have acquired a small collection of toys for mainly babies and boys that are currently housed in totes around the house.  Most of it has been given away, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to help out the VBS store.  Some collector die cast cars were given for the 7+ older section of the store because it was made known to everyone that is where a need was.  I had a large number of these.  The boys use to love them until they spent more time crashing them than playing with them.

"It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf." ~ Walter Lippman

A few nights into VBS and I am home, and about 9:30PM the kids arrive with presents in tow from the VBS toy store.  Collin has candy and a sling shot.  Sure, why not?  That seems like a great idea. 

Brandon has one of the die cast cars that we gave away.

One of the die cast cars that were sitting in the garage for possibly years.  Sitting in the house.  And it was now back in the house.  I was confused.


“Yeah Dad?”

“Isn’t that the car we gave to the toy store?”

Of course it was the car.  What else was it going to be?  Sometimes I find myself asking inane questions because I am dumbfounded by what I am seeing going on in front of me.  I must have brought dozens of these cars home for the boy.  Different sizes, makes, models and some that were limited runs of production.  He never showed an interest in them except to play with them for a little bit, then crash 'em.  I stopped giving them to him because he didn’t have an interest in them anymore.  That’s why they were being stored, to give away.

“Yeah, it is Dad”

“Why?  How?  Why did you buy that?  Did it cost a lot of your VBS money?”

“I spent it all, and I had to borrow 8 VBS dollars from Jordan.”

My thought was WHAT?!  Why on earth would you borrow money to buy something I could have given you for free?!  But it came out differently than in my head when it made it to my mouth.

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!  Why on earth would you borrow money to buy something I could have given you for free?!”

I could tell my inquiry and the tone of my voice I delivered it in caught him off guard.  

“I dunno”

“No, buddy, you need to explain why you would buy something, and borrow money from a friend, for something that I could have gotten out of the garage for you for nothing.”
His eyes got shaky here.  “The Car, It doesn’t mean anything.”


I slowed down.  Something was different in his answer that wasn’t meshing with what he was TRYING to tell me.

“What do you mean by that, Brandon?”
“If you gave it to me, I didn’t earn it.  I didn’t do anything to get it.  I worked for this, I wanted to earn it.”

Quickly time stopped.  I scanned all the conversations I had with Brandon, all the lessons I stress test him on, all the Brandon/Dad time looking for this one.

Nada.  There was never a lesson about appreciating something you earned and having a feeling of accomplishment.  I figured he was a few years out from that.

I was wrong.

At ten years old Brandon picked up and learned that you appreciate something more that you worked hard to invest in.  Seems like a simple concept, but we blow it as adults.

We stop appreciating friendships and relationships that use to come so easy, we stop the hard work to invest in them.  We expect reciprocation of a greater amount than we have actually put in.  We take things for granted.  We take PEOPLE for granted.

There he was, looking at his earned item.  He left it in the box, since he didn’t want it ruined. 

It’s my job as his Dad to take this moment that he made himself and help him build on it.  So that he understands that in the future the investment he makes in his spouse, his job, and his friends and in his children will help him realize how important they are to him.

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Teaching Them To Fight

I remember being at a Kenpo Karate Seminar and the Instructor said to the class “The most likely scenario in which you would ever use one of these upward blocks I am teaching you is when you open the closet door and the Christmas presents you forgot on the top shelf start to fall down and you protect yourself.”  Thinking to myself quietly I realized Jews, Muslims and atheists would have nothing to worry about, their closets would never attack them.  But I would continue to train for the day those presents decided to attack.  Another instructor made the comment during a break where he felt that if the only thing a student studying martial arts ever learned was “Not to Freak Out” during an altercation of a stressful situation then his training did its job.

And I thought, “I’m paying $100 a month to learn not to freak out?  I thought I was learning cool ninja stuff and how to beat others up, in glorious choreographed fight scenes.  Why was I learning how to breath, how to stretch and how to use torque and fulcrums?”  Yes, I was a disappointed student in the art of not freaking out.  I studied it for 6 years and I got so good at “Not freaking out” I was apathetic.  

That was then.

Now, I have children.  And they freak out, A LOT.  Honestly, I am not sure how they are wired to go from Zero to Crazy in small events like broken crayons or the ever horrible “He’s in my ROOM!” but they do.  And they do it well; they are masters of the freak out.  And to be honest I sit back and think to myself, “DUDE!  WHAT’S YOUR DEAL?!”  But I never say it, because I don’t freak out.

I have a sometimes stressful job.  Sometimes things break, and they break hard.  So, while networks are down and email isn’t working and we need those contracts in .pdf form, or the web is down and people can’t buy stuff or whatever, you can’t freak out.  You shut up, no matter what Exec is yelling in your ear and you figure out the problem and you fix it.  It’s not time to be angry over why it broke, scared that you can’t fix it or have anxiety that it might break again after you fix it.  You push that aside and you focus.  Most people do it; some do it better than others.  With family, friends or acquaintances though, we tend to be less forgiving and more apt to let our emotions get the better of us.  This happens especially when we feel we have been wronged personally and we want the other person to know it.  

Earlier this week, Brandon had enough of his little brother Collin.  Collin can cause the best of us to freak out.  Why?  No idea, it’s a gift.  Whatever is annoying in me appears to operate in this kid at such high levels it’s detectable from space.  Any who, Collin had duped and/or frustrated Brandon for the last time, and Brandon was pushed to the point of tears.  You know, those angry tears where it’s either cry or grind your teeth and stab because of what happened.  So I pulled Brandon’s hyper tensed body over to me where I didn’t ask him what was wrong.  That doesn’t matter.

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.

What mattered is his anger was getting the better of him, causing him to lose his sense of self and manifest itself physically.  I started quietly talking to him, telling him to not allow his anger to control him.  When people get angry they say things they don’t mean, they can’t control themselves physically and nothing; NOTHING should have that power over you.  I helped him breathe slower, and walked him back from whatever path he decided to let himself walk down.

When he calmed down enough, his frustration left and I hugged him, told him I loved him and that things will happen that can make you angry and cause you to flip out, but you don’t have to allow yourself to surrender control to those feelings.

I don’t want my kids to grow up and be submissive to their emotions.  

       Proverbs 14:17 A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, And a man of evil devices is hated.

During Brandon’s episode I explained to him when someone gets upset they lose control, in anger they can make mistakes.  In fear they can react with unfortunate consequences.  All things can be forgiven, but you are responsible for the repercussions of your actions during those moments. 

More important than teaching my kids how to fight in self-defense will be to teach them how to win the fight over their own emotions, how not to Freak Out.  Anything that I can do to show them not to allow anxiety, anger, depression, ignorance, fear or pride to have the primary place in their minds must be my primary goal as their father.  I need to change their perception on how they think when these moments come so they can remain calm.  Historically, the Apostle Paul had a lot of unfortunate and stressful things happen to him including having his head cut off.  Now I am sure the last one was only stressful for a moment, but still leading up to it he had some pretty hardcore circumstances that if anyone was allowed to freak out it could have been this guy.  But he wrote this instead…

         “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these thing”

            Paul made a conscious decision to focus on the positive that was around him, and to let his belief system and relationship with Christ to lead in this area.  That governed his emotions.  Was he perfect?  No, he even said he never arrived at the final fruition of his Christian life, but that’s not the goal.  The goal is to be something better than an emotional hurricane, to be led spiritually and not emotionally.

Martial Arts taught me the enormous amount of damage the human body can take and still function.  The desire to push yourself beyond a normal breaking point physically can give you a sense of security when faced with an altercation where normally when threatened the adrenaline kicks in and mistakes can be made if not channeled properly.  I didn’t realize until later that the greater victory came in the battle that was already won in my mind to stay focused and not to listen to a chemical or emotional reaction that overpowered proper thinking.

Proverbs 14:29  He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.