Tag Archives: love

I Am Not Omran

In the aftermath of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie became a unifying rallying cry for those who wanted to say something against the attack. “I am Charlie,” it meant. In other words, I am with them, and an attack on them is an attack not only on freedom in general, but on me personally.

While I mourn the 12 people slain that day, there have reportedly been 250,000 killed in Syria over the last five years of civil war. Quick math in my head works that out to about 135 people killed on average daily every day for the last five years straight. 

I don’t recall seeing many hashtags. And I don’t want to. 

In the midst of the most ridiculous (read: horrifying and frustrating) Presidential election in my experience and to my historical knowledge,  we’re treated to horror stories of how ISIS might send attackers to pose as refugees, and how “swarms” of people in need are flooding into countries that permit them entry. Fear is the message, personal safety is paramount, and people in need are rationalized away as a risk or at best a sad reality we can’t do much about.

Well, a picture of this Syrian boy named Omran has been making the social media rounds… and in an emotionally gripping video, CNN reported on his situation. 

I watch this and it strikes me that “Je ne suis pas Omran.” I am not him. I don’t know his world, his life, his circumstances, or his pain. I can’t relate. I can’t claim “This is me too.”

I’m living in comfort, abundance, and security. It may not always feel that way, when the budget is tight or the news is frightening. But it’s a good bet no one who can see this post is experiencing a crisis or situation anything like his (and the millions of people displaced and affected by this ongoing humanitarian disaster).

When I look at Omran, what I see is a striking similarity to my five year old son. He’s the “baby” of the family, the darling, the youngest of four children. He entertains us all with hilarious antics and endearing, heartfelt expressions of innocence and love. He is free to do so because #JeNeSuisPasOmran. 

No, I am not Omran. And that means I likely have the power to help. 

Yes, I understand the fears people have about national security. And in my brain–fueled as it is by seasons of 24 and the like–I can see how easy it might be to slip a threat into the country posing as a refugee. 

But maybe just maybe a lot of refugees are actually people in deep, desperate need. And a lot of organizations are helping them where they are, or in neighboring countries. So fear about our safety in the US is no reason to ignore the plight of others. 

Please consider what you can do. Here are some organizations I found that appear to be helping. 

Hand in Hand for Syria

Helping Agencies

Save the Children

In the Shadows – Blog Battle

This is my last Blog Battle entry (probably) until December, since NaNoWriMo beckons and will demand my attention. The genre is sci-fi.

 Clouds blanketed the sky, but the third moon’s violet glow pierced the veil with dim but unwavering light.
Dressed in clothing like dingy, tattered rags, a mother and her son huddled in the shadow of volcanic stone jutting from a nearby vent. Thick ash fluttered through air corrupted by sulfur’s stench.
 “I may not always be here to guide you to a new refuge.” She choked on the words, and not from the fumes. No one traveled at night, when the creatures swarmed across the barren landscape. But her last refuge lay in ruins. Her love most likely lay among the slain. Scattered and pursued, the survivors fled in every direction. 
 The sense of loss hounded her, hammered at her wavering strength, screamed in her ears to give up and die. Her son’s wide, innocent eyes kept her anchored, kept her from wailing and running into the night toward certain death.

 Squatting in the darkness, she looked her son in the eye. “You must be most cautious at night,” she said in a terse whisper.

 “Because Stoneskins hide in the shadows?” he asked, barely audible. He’d learned well.

 “No, because they’re nocturnal. Do you know what that word means?”

 The boy looked around, struggling for an answer. His eyes lit up with insight. “The knocking noise they make when they talk to each other?”

 She chuckled and kissed his soot-stained head. “No, sweetie. It means they only move around after sunset. But the good news is they stay out of the shadows. I don’t think they like the darkness either.”

 A gout of steam released from the vent behind them, and the ground shook. 

 The boy clapped his hand over his nose. “Ew,” he said with a giggle. “It stinks like Dad after dinner.”

 His mother shushed him and tried to keep composure, but the boy’s infectious delight could not be stopped. 

 Laughter felt foreign, alien, after so many years on the run since the colony ship landed on Beta Kaali Two. Sensors set for organic life offered no warning that the very stones of the planet might be alive. 

 A thought struck home and swept her joy away. “We might not see Dad again.” She patted the youngster, and put a finger to her lips.

 But the crack-crack of stones slamming together on the other side of the vent silenced them both at once. A Stoneskin drew near.

 She charged her nano-pistol and checked its settings. The gun’s nanites could disassemble the creatures on a molecular level. The devices proved the colonists’ only defense against the aliens. But supplies had long since dwindled. 

 If any of the Stoneskins attacked, she’d have three shots–maybe four.

 With one arm, she clutched her son to her chest and they became still as the rocky ground. No matter what, she thought, I will protect you. With my life, if I must.

 She closed her eyes and focused on the only sound that brought her peace, the too-fast beating of his heart.

 The rhythmic knocking of his brood mother soothed Ko-Kakrik and he clawed across the ground eager to follow her voice.

 “Do not wander into the shadows, little gravel-shell,” she said with fondness. 

 Ko-Kakrik sensed the vibrations around him and felt nothing apart from his mother’s movements and voice. He clacked his mandible stones together and asked, “Does the darkness deafen us to the sounds of the earth?” 

 “No, my spawnling,” she replied, with a stuttering clack that indicated amusement. 

 The mirth vanished and she cracked out a warning. “That is where the humans often hide. If they see you, they will spit venom from their claws to eat you alive.”

 Ko-Kakrik paused and listened again. For a moment he thought he felt another sound, a pair of thumping drumbeats nearby. 

 His stones beat together in a panic. “Mother?” 

 His mother’s claw rested upon his back and she guided him away. “Come along, and fear not. I will protect you. Even with my life, if I must.”

A Lifetime of Aftershocks

  

It’s Mother’s Day, and today I find myself considering the suffering that entails. It’s not an original thought, certainly. But it is one that touches me personally.

Childbirth seems to be the physical earthquake that leaves a lifetime of emotional aftershocks. Motherhood and sacrifice appear inextricably linked–so much so that it becomes all too easy to take for granted.

Our plans for my wife’s special day fit into a crowded schedule at work. Sunday turned out to be the one day she’d have me all to herself, the one day I could get the kids out of her hair for some length of time. I worked a full week and then some. And Saturday’s duty came with bad news.

My wife was about to find out Saturday night that I would have to depart first thing in the morning on Mother’s Day for a few days’ trip off island to avoid an inbound typhoon so that my unit can still perform our missions for the United States even if our home station is socked in with weather.

There’s no doubt in my mind that–though undeniably and appropriately frustrated–she would give me a hug and kiss, tell me she loves me, make sure the kids did the same, and settle in for a few days alone with four kids in the house awaiting the storm’s arrival and departure. Four kids–three of them battling a bit of cough, congestion, and fever. Four kids who get a lot of their, let’s say, “charm, creativity, and character” from me, much to my wife’s chagrin (and occasional delight). 

That I don’t have to worry or question her commitment astounds me, and makes me all the more grateful to this wonderful mother of my children. 

We luck out, and discover that we won’t have to leave quite so soon. Mother’s Day is back on.

It strikes me that I’ve spent more of my life in the military than out of it, a threshold I crossed a couple years ago, in fact. The pressures of sudden schedule changes and cancelled plans are nothing new. And I’ve had it incredibly good over the years compared to so many of my peers in the service. So I am not complaining or seeking pity here. That said, the life we’ve chosen sure comes with its share of challenges. 

My own mother spent hours listening to me play piano. We shared interests in music and creative expressions. I gained her laid-back “Type B” personality and sensitivity where my older brother and my father both loved history books, strategy games, and argumentative debates. Mom feared my soft-spoken personality would get crushed by the bullies and jocks of high school. She often wondered how I was doing and worried whether I’d be safe and out of trouble in my first few years away from home.

Being a parent now, I can see how there’s always a level of care and maybe even fear about your precious little ones. It’s a program running in the background of a parent’s mental computer, a constant blip on the radar. When I think of how mothers bond with their babies even before they’re born, I know my experience only scratches the surface of that attachment and concern.

Over the years, my mother (and father) bore the near-constant separation of military life with the bittersweet mixture of pride and longing one might expect. My family and I have been stationed in Japan for the majority of my 20-plus years of service. Through it all, Mom dealt with the painful distance between her and her grandkids on my side with what grace she could muster. Modern tech comforts like Skype and MagicJack make things a little easier.

Tomorrow I’ll wake up at 0-dark-thirty to get ready for a few days away from home. And I’ll make a phone call back to the States to thank my awesome Mom and wish her a happy day. Then, while the kids are still (hopefully) asleep, I’ll thank my wife for her own awesome mothering and slip out the door.

The Air Force has been focused on “resiliency” over the last few years, trying to educate and help its Airmen find ways to bounce back from stressful situations and potentially overwhelming experiences in their lives. I wonder if they’ve considered everything moms go through, and what makes a mother get back up and press on each time life brings another wave of hurt or weariness. 

Seems to me there’s a lot we could learn.

To my mother and my wife, who have made so many sacrifices that I’ve seen and probably many more that I’ve overlooked, thank you. To them both, and to the many women out there who do the same for their loved ones, their biological children, or those they’ve adopted literally or figuratively as their own:

You are awesome and the world is a better place due to your part in it. Your sacrifices matter, and your profound love is appreciated. 

Thank you.  

Big Brother Turns 40

No, not the Big Brother of George Orwell’s classic 1984, although that work does get referenced below. Nope, I’m talking about my big brother, Pete.

Pete is on the left, hating the camera as always.
Pete is on the left, hating the camera as always.

I wrote a poem for my parents’ 40th Anniversary some time ago, and it was well received.

My sister-in-law called a couple months ago and reminded me that my big brother’s 40th birthday was coming up. “If you want to write something for his birthday, I know he’ll love it,” she said.

“Uh… sure,” I replied. “I can write something.” But what?

For two months, this project has nagged at the back of my mind, with no clear direction of where to go.

Then, a few days before his birthday, I remembered time spent with my brother and my mom, writing various haiku.

We followed the 5-7-5 syllable format for our haiku. My mom and brother would try to write poignant and powerful things about summer, love, the future, spirituality.

I think I wrote about really important stuff: ramen, video games, and my favorite toys.

In the spirit of those fond memories, I started jotting down some haiku about my brother and my relationship with him.

40 of them would have been too many, but 14 seemed a good number.

Big Brother, forty?
I don’t know what I should say
Past “Happy birthday”

You only enjoyed
Two and a half years without
A little brother

My entire life I’ve
Had a big brother, and I
Wouldn’t change a thing

We’d play karate
My villain, you the hero
I’d want to be like

You put up with me
Chasing you and all your friends
You included me

You introduced me
To the wonder and magic
Hidden in pages

Kingdoms like Gondor
Worlds like Narnia, Bespin
Past and future times.

Sentient robots,
Dragons and dwarves and Wookiees
Doctors and hobbits

We spent hours and nights
Combing nuclear Wasteland
Swapping floppy disks

You challenged my faith
Encouraged me to stand firm
When others gave up

You opened the door
Of my first comic book store
And I was drawn in

To art and legend,
Heroes in tales of virtue,
Overcoming flaws

I unlike Winston
Need no O’Brien to make
Me love Big Brother

So much of my life
Was shaped to imitate you.
For that, I’ll say “Thanks.”

H Words

On Thursday, I sat in the presence of an apparent hate-monger. Worse, I listened to her advice on illustrating, collaborating with writers, and marketing.

I might never have known, without the intervention of the Huffington Post on my google search. The day has been saved, if “saved” is not a word too charged with religious meaning.

The local Christian writers’ group I joined two years ago, the Omaha WordSowers meet on the 2nd Thursday of each month. They have a guest speaker who provides information or personal experience about some aspect of the writer’s journey from creative idea to published work.

Yesterday’s guest speakers were Lori Schulz and Hannah Segura, who talked about the process of publishing Papa’s Plan for Buddy Bee, which Lori wrote and Hannah illustrated.

Papa's Plan for Buddy Bee
A 100% Hate-Free Children’s Book

Lori gave her blog site link, but Hannah only mentioned an online following where she posts some of her art. I searched in hopes of finding her blog or site, since I hope to stay connected with the friends and fellow writers I’ve made here.

Hannah is one of many home-schooled young people I’ve met that challenge old stereotypes of that method of education. She is (like they are) full of vigor and joy, polite, socially at ease, well-spoken, and most of all just plain nice to everyone.

So the first few sites I found surprised me, because Hannah was equated with hate. Some time ago, she illustrated another book written by a different Christian author, on the subject of God’s design for families. A Bible-believing author wrote a kids’ book about marriage being one man and one woman for life, and a Bible-believing illustrator drew pictures to match the story. This came as no surprise to me. It should come as no surprise to anyone else.

That word choice, hate, really bothers me.

Maybe it’s because I am a linguist by profession and a writer by passion, so words and their definitions matter.

Maybe it’s because I know Hannah as an acquaintance, and as trite as it may sound, she doesn’t appear to have a hate-filled cell in her body.

Maybe it’s because I’ve heard the same term used to accuse me of feeling a way I’ve never felt about someone else.

And maybe it’s because I’m sick of rhetorical guerilla tactics, using evocative words to provoke a reaction and “win” a cultural battle without any reasonable discussion.

People throw hate and homophobe (among other terms) around at anyone who bucks current public opinion, regardless of motivation, regardless of personality. It’s equivalent to creating a minefield around the discussion table. Anyone who tries to say something gets blown up before they can speak their mind. Nobody wants to be affiliated with hate. No one wants to be associated with a homophobe.

The target changes from discussing a cultural, political, or religious position to attacking an individual person.

Worse yet, if one’s intended purpose is to convince the opposition to reconsider their view, attacking them as individuals shuts them down.

“You’re full of hate.” If I don’t feel hatred toward anyone, this makes me defensive, eager to absolve myself of crimes I don’t think I’ve committed. It doesn’t help me hear opposing views.

“You’re a homophobe.” If I am not afraid of homosexuals, if I’m not one of those who says, “Eww they’re icky” and acts all disgusted, then once again I will feel the need to object instead of open up to a different point of view.

“You’re too close-minded,” I’ve heard people say when confronting so-called “hate.” Yes, I think, because you’re closing them down by attacking instead of opening them up by connecting.

That sword definitely cuts both sides of this cultural debate. I hope we all want to be above that sort of thing, whichever side we’re on.

Nobody gains anything from a discussion that never happens.

I’m a fan of understanding, of seeing from the perspective of the other. I have said and done many things out of ignorance, and my responses over the years on the subject of homosexuality are no exception. Thankfully, I’ve had the benefit of friends and even rational opponents who take the time to open my eyes to their point of view while demonstrating willingness to listen to mine.

So what helps that take place?

First, avoid assumptions.

Some hate and fear is obvious, but not all. Jumping to conclusions about what motivates an individual gets us nowhere but angry at each other. If I can’t know that someone hates another person, then ‘hate’ isn’t the right word. If I don’t know that someone actually fears another, then ‘homophobe’ is a poor choice. Build bridges, not walls.

Second, use accurate terms.

Maybe “ignorant” or “unfamiliar” is more appropriate. It’s hard to walk in the shoes of another, and we all pretty much suck at it. So instead of declaring “I know what your kind is like,” how about “Can I tell you what it’s like from my point of view?” Speak to flesh-and-blood people, not emotionless positions.

Let’s trade some hate for harmony.

Frozen: Love Worth Dying For

Yesterday I posted (link) this blog about the hidden message some religious people see in Disney’s blockbuster movie Frozen. When we see culture changing all around us, it can be scary. And when we’re scared, we start looking for what we fear, and see it around every corner. Like I said yesterday, I don’t think “homophobia” is the right word. We don’t fear homosexuals. We fear change.

At the end, I promised to share my take on the positive message of the movie. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet (and why haven’t you?) then you can expect some spoilers ahead.

Quick recap if you haven’t seen it:

The gist of the story is that Princess Elsa was born with a magic ability to manipulate ice. As a child she uses this to bring joy to her little sister, Princess Anna. (pronounced ‘Ah-na,’ mind you. My kids correct me all the time.)

Elsa accidentally injures Anna, and everyone decides it would be best to hide these powers away until Elsa can control them. So she grows up repeating a mantra of “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.” Her powers grow stronger, and her fears rise accordingly. To protect others, she keeps everyone away, including young Anna, who doesn’t understand why “we used to be best buddies, and now we’re not.”

At Queen Elsa’s coronation, her powers are revealed and she flees. When everything goes wrong, the whole kingdom falls under a bitter winter, buried in snow and ice. Villains attempt to kill Elsa to end the crisis. And Elsa once again injures Anna by accident, putting a shard of ice into Anna’s heart that will eventually freeze her solid.

Only an act of true love can thaw the ice and save Anna, so she chases after the man she loves, hoping a kiss from him will save the day.

This leads to a climax, where Anna is stumbling through a storm to reach Kristof (her beau) and Elsa is being stalked by the villain who stands ready to kill her. Suddenly Anna sees Elsa in danger, and jumps in the way of the villain’s blade, freezing solid in the process. Everyone is sad, until Anna’s heart thaws out. “An act of true love will thaw the frozen heart,” they recall.

The kingdom is saved, the sisters bond, everyone’s happy except the villains, and credits roll.

A lot of people note that this movie is not the typical Disney “Prince Charming saves the Princess” story. No princes save the day here. Even Kristof, Anna’s love interest, is not a pivotal hero but more her faithful companion and support. In other words, the whole movie seems to say to young girls, “You don’t need a man to complete you.” I think that’s a wholesome message in a culture that loves to emphasize the need for romantic and sexual relationships.

Elsa has powers and puts them to use for good. Anna has the power of determination and love, and she overcomes adversity in pursuit of her goals. Both characters are depicted as strong, resourceful women who face their difficulties and imperfections with fierce devotion and integrity. That’s also a great message for our young women (and men).

There’s also the “Let It Go” theme of not hiding away our creativity or passion. Someone (see yesterday’s blog post) might think it’s “the homosexual agenda” encouraging people to come out of the closet, and I suppose that’s a valid application. But it’s only one of many. I have writer friends who have hidden away their work, afraid of critique or even being open enough to share it with another. I know artists who draw amazing things you’d never see because they’ll never show you. Musicians and vocalists with skills to blow me away often hide their talents in the ground. Young people sometimes conceal their hobbies, interests, and exceptional abilities, because their passion is something their peers might deride. Frozen is a film that says “We need you to let that go and let everyone see it, because we need your talents in the world.”

And that’s not even the main thrust of the movie. Let’s look for a moment at the conflict at the climax.

The first thing I see is sacrificial love. Anna leaps in front of the villain’s sword, an action that will almost certainly result in great injury if not death. Anna does this without hesitation. The only thing that protects her is that she freezes solid at that very moment, something she couldn’t anticipate.

Second, Anna’s actions reveal selfless love. At this point, Anna and Olaf are convinced she needs a kiss from Kristof, the guy that truly loves her, to cure the freezing condition Elsa’s ice shard caused. Anna is mere steps away from Kristof when she sees Elsa in danger. Anna gives up her kiss to come to her sister’s defense.

Third, this is arguably an expression of undeserved love. Elsa is an icy witch to Anna throughout the majority of the movie, and Anna doesn’t know why. Their bond is broken. The sisterly love seems one-sided. On top of that, Elsa’s the one who accidentally shot Anna in the heart. Anna has every reason to be distant, but instead hurls herself into the path of the sword.

Olaf, unlikely Christ figure.
Olaf, unlikely Christ figure.

Oddly enough, it’s Olaf the Snowman who speaks this theme aloud. When Anna is shivering in the castle, Olaf starts the fire in the fireplace to warm Anna and keep her alive, even though it means he might melt. Anna sees this and panics for her friend, who responds, “Some people are worth melting for.”

That’s my take on Frozen. It’s a message of sacrificial, selfless love to the undeserving. Reminds me of a story about Someone else I hold dear.

Tomorrow, I have some thoughts about the supposed need for a romantic relationship in a story, and why the non-troversy about Elsa is so frustrating to me.

Say Something

From the first time I heard A Great Big World’s song, Say Something on the radio (yes… I still listen to the radio), I had a driving question: What happened?

In case you haven’t heard it, here’s the video, and here are the lyrics:

Say something, I’m giving up on you
I’ll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I am feeling so small
It was over my head
I know nothing at all

And I will stumble and fall
I’m still learning to love
Just starting to crawl

Say something, I’m giving up on you
I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I will swallow my pride
You’re the one that I love
And I’m saying goodbye

Say something, I’m giving up on you
And I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you
And anywhere, I would have followed you
Oh-oh-oh-oh say something, I’m giving up on you

Say something, I’m giving up on you
Say something

This song, these lyrics… This is storytelling. This is jumping into a life-changing moment in a character’s story, trying to figure out how we got there and where we’re headed.

Is it a toxic or abusive relationship? Is the singer the one person who still stood up for the person being addressed in the song, and now finally even “the one that I love” is just too far gone or too far over the line to hang onto?

Is this a case of “You can’t receive love if you don’t love yourself” and the person in question is locked in a spiral of self-destruction? Are we dealing with an alcoholic or drug addict who can’t stay away from their addiction? Or something less obvious but equally painful, like self-loathing or inability to cope with the demands of life?

Is this the last time the lover reaches out to try to help? What is the backstory to this?! I need to know, because my mind demands an answer, and every time I hear the song, it starts writing a story to figure this out.

Which may not be a bad thing. Creativity sometimes needs a spark of motivation. A song like this does that well.

The writers explain their motivations in this interview, and tell a touching story from a comment where someone had a brother in a coma, who they kept hoping would “say something.”

But hey, maybe you don’t want to know. Maybe it can just mean whatever you want.

And that’s the power of the song. Without any doubt, it says something.

The Cons

“We’ll probably never come back,” I told my wife as we left Okinawa, our home for a total of 14 years. We were headed to Offutt Air Force Base, a place I knew I never wanted to be stationed based on what I heard from my friends overseas.

Never say never, so goes the logic, especially where the military is concerned.

On the first day of our four-day Labor Day weekend, I got an assignment notification from the military. We are headed back to Japan at the start of the year.

I started thinking of the positives and negatives about this decision. If I say no, I lose the ability to retire. So although I say “pros and cons” like it matters, there really isn’t a choice involved.

Okinawa is beautiful, the additional money for living overseas is a useful financial blessing, and after so long overseas, Okinawa feels a lot like home. I know what to expect from my job there, and my family is eager to visit our favorite places. “The beach!” my teenage daughter exclaims. There are some fantastic pros to going.

Then the thought of actually leaving hits home, and I’m surprised by how bittersweet this news is. There’s the initial shock and the dread of moving, with all the hassle of outprocessing and air travel as a family. But the list of cons goes far deeper.

Even though we never thought we’d want to be in Omaha, Nebraska, this base and this town have captured a place in our hearts. Part of me doesn’t want to leave, and it’s because of people here:

The coworkers I encounter every day – I work at the school house, the initial training squadron for my career field. I train sharp students and have the privilege of collaborating every day with the very best of my career field. There is so much knowledge and experience in our building, I often feel like I’m learning as much as the students we train.

The true leaders – There are plenty of Air Force managers out to run programs and score great bullets for performance reports. But I’ve been lucky enough to work for several officers and enlisted leaders who go further, who are willing to take a hit in order to take care of their people. When I’ve succeeded, they’ve recognized it. When I’ve failed, they’ve corrected it with grace. And while I feel privileged to work for them, they’ve expressed confidence in me and gratitude for my contributions. I have rarely felt as valued in the workplace.

The sincere friends – There are many who know enough about me to look down on my faults, to point and laugh at my mistakes. Yet I’ve had friends come alongside to strengthen my weaknesses instead of exploiting them. When I didn’t perform in my job duties in one area as well as I should have, I found support and restoration to get me back on track. When I struggled with fitness, I had coworkers who cheered me on to success and stopped me from beating myself up.

The surrogate family – There are few things that touch my heart as much as when someone touches the heart of my children. When you take time to meet my kid’s needs and put a smile on their face, you’ve won me over. I think of the worship pastor who looked out at a mens’ meeting, saw my oldest son standing alone, and then left the platform to go put an arm around him when I was stuck at the piano. I think of the leaders and pastors that have connected my daughter to a passionate group of peers, so that she comes home each week bursting with joy. I picture the BX vendor who takes time to let my son share his rock collection and trade with her for the polished stones she uses to make jewelry. There’s the surrogate grandmother who stepped in to create a special birthday for each of my children – especially for the middle child who often gets left out by his older siblings. And there are the writers who not only push me on, but encourage my wife to share her experiences as a source of help for those enduring painful situations. I often get the spotlight, but some light shined on Jami when she least expected it, and more than anywhere in our past, she has been blessed here. So I have been likewise blessed.

My actual family – My brother and my sister-in-law offered to fly our oldest children to my hometown to visit with their grandparents. They traveled with their two small children to visit us when we weren’t able to come to them. My mother-in-law arrives in a couple weeks to do the same. My parents, along with them, have borne the frustration and the pain of separation from family with patience and endurance. The thought of travelling far from home again is unsettling, because I want so much to be closer to loved ones.

So, as I consider what lies ahead, imagine my surprise at the tug on my heart. I am not a Husker fan, so perhaps I am not a true Nebraskan. But I am grateful nonetheless that I have so many reasons to want to stay in the place that I never wanted to go.

You all are the cons, the reasons we will miss Offutt.

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.

20130917-174206.jpg

Happy Bird Day

I call this blog Literary Karaoke because I realized that my writing – like many other things I do – is good enough for people to enjoy it for free, but not necessarily good enough to make a living.

I play piano really well, but I fall into that same category. And I also draw a decent picture… decent enough that people like my artwork, but not so much that I can hang up my military hat and draw a paycheck. (See what I did there?)

Let’s add another thing to the list: Cakes!

Good enough for the price I paid.
Good enough for the price I paid.

Good enough to please our 8 year old birthday boy… and that’s what counts.

He’s the middle child. Technically he’s one of two middle children, but our oldest boy (12 now) and teenage daughter (14 last week) are usually teamed up. So the Angry Bird lover is the one who most often gets excluded, and exhibits the “middle child” symptoms the most.

We aimed to make today special – he got to have one of his friends over for cake, ice cream, and a movie. He got a present from a friend of our oldest boy. He opened gifts from his grandparents, and I surprised him with a Lego set my wife and I had hidden away.

We ate a cheap decoy cake while the cake I made was cooling in the fridge.

But then his friend gets a knock on the door in the middle of the movie. Other neighborhood kids want the friend to come out and bike around the housing area or whatever. And this friend’s logic is, “Well, I have already seen this movie, so…” and he walks out.

Pretty crappy, if you ask me.

At the same time, it’s a hard life lesson. Sadly, all too often, people don’t care about you except for how you benefit them. “I’ll come over for the cake and the ice cream until something more interesting comes along.”

My son didn’t seem to mind, but I still brought him over and let him curl up on my lap to watch the rest of the movie. He snuggled up and fell asleep. It was a rare moment, especially considering how he keeps getting older. (Why don’t they just stay at that perfect cute age of…well, not growing up so fast?)

After the movie, he got up, built his Lego set (which was promptly destroyed by the 2 year old), and played on his scooter outside for a bit. And I decorated the cake with his favorite bird, his favorite color, his favorite frosting, and some surprise treats in the form of Angry Birds gummies around the edges.

Because I want him to know that no matter what the world says or does, no matter how often they’re content to take what they want from him and then set him aside, there’s one thing he can count on.

Mom and Dad think he’s amazing, and there’s always a special place for him here.

And sometimes there’s cake.

Non-Traditional Family

“We’re fighting for the traditional family, the mainstream marriage, the moral foundation of our society. We can’t permit marriage to be redefined by anyone’s agenda, so we’ve got to fight to protect the fundamental building blocks of society.”  — any randomly selected opponent of gay marriage

This is the "For People Like Me" liferaft. Find your own.
This is the “For People Like Me” liferaft. Find your own.

Our church is going through a series called “Healthy” as we try to discover how the Bible applies to a holistic, holy and whole life. Sunday’s sermon was about conflict, and healthy ways of dealing with it in order to maintain and strengthen our relationships with those around us.

Relationships are messy, difficult, and absolutely necessary. Community is hard work, but it’s essential. And in the context of building community and developing a sense of “family” in the church, the pastor spoke about the current status of families in America.

Consider these numbers:

1 in 2 children live in a single-parent family at some point.

1 in 3 are born to unmarried parents.

1 in 4 kids live with only one parent.

1 in 8 were born to a teenage mother.

1 in 25 children have neither parent in their lives.

68% of children in America live in non-traditional families.

These stats got me thinking…

How “traditional” are so-called traditional families?

What exactly are we working to defend when we protest gay marriage? What point are Christians making when they gloat over a homosexual dying of AIDS as “the due reward for their sin”? What good is being done for society as the church-in-general fights against this one issue?

The usual justification is that we must stand for traditional marriage and traditional families. I’ll refer you back to those stats. Traditional marriage is pretty well gone in America, just like Leave It To Beaver and black-and-white TV. This isn’t what “the gays” are doing to marriage. This is what all of us traditional heterosexuals have done to it.

Men who are little more than sperm donors skip out on their responsibilities, leaving the child-bearing and child-rearing to the single mom or teenage mother. In our rabid defense of traditional marriage, are we chasing down single mothers and telling them that their exhaustion and sacrifices are the “due penalty of sin” they committed? God forbid! I don’t think even Westboro stoops that low.

Selfishness drives spouses apart, and lust disguised as love excuses divorce and remarriage. But we don’t hold up signs and chant slogans at the woman on her third husband, or the man with a new “younger model” spouse who leaves behind an ex-wife and some children. Sure, we probably judge them like good religious folk are supposed to… can’t let them get away thinking they’re ok, after all. Gotta heap on the condemnation with dirty looks and cold distance in church.

But we’re not picketing them or campaigning for laws banning remarriage. We’re not railing about the destruction of our moral fabric at the hands of every non-traditional heterosexual couple.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: maybe we’re past the point where “traditional” really matters.

I mean, it’s nice to think about, of course, in the same way that it’s great my kids like to watch Beaver and I Love Lucy. We think fondly of tradition for good reason. But tradition isn’t what we see in the world around us, and we need to stop fighting to make it so.

When the Titanic hits the iceberg and starts taking on water, when the design flaws are exposed and the ship is going down, it’s a bit late to go to the shipwright and tell him how wrong all his plans were. There’s no point drawing up new blueprints or editing the old ones to fix what went wrong. Really, after a certain point, baling water is no longer an issue either. The problem is past that point.

The ship is sinking. Stop laying blame and start handing out life-jackets.

When we practice water survival for the military aircraft I fly on, latching on to the other survivors is one of the first steps we take once we’re in the water. Then we work together to get to a life raft.

What if the Church-at-large stopped picketing the design flaws in our society and stopped pointing at those floating and flailing in the water? What if we made it our mission to latch on to people in need, to cling to them with arms of love instead of looks of judgment?

What if we admit the ship has taken too much water and just focus on handing out the life-jackets, grabbing hold of the reaching hands that want help? Maybe we can start working together to find and build places of refuge where we can minister to people’s needs. Maybe we can show love and acceptance as the very first and ideally the very best non-traditional family out there – without changing our morals, but without using them as weapons, either.

There’s no room on a life raft for a picket sign.