Friday, February 24, 2017

Big Blessing in a Small Package

     One Sunday afternoon I was feeling restless and took Jaren for a walk down the street in the opposite direction from usual to see the house advertised for rent on a telephone pole notice.
     Can we see Nala?” he asked about a neighborhood cat.  
     “The owners moved out and took all the cats with them,” I said. “We walked by there a couple of times since and Nala wasn't there. We can check, though.”
     After seeing the large but rather worn down and gloomy rental house and speculating on its rate ($4,500 per month?), we continued on to see two houses being constructed further down. At what used to be Nala's house, we saw a gray striped tabby—large, clean, and well groomed—standing out front. (Nala was a slender blue-eyed Siamese.) I said, Meow. Jaren said, Meow. And the cat ran toward us crying, Meow.
     “Bend down and he'll come,” I said.
     Jaren squatted and the cat approached, rubbed against him, walked past me, accepted our pets, and laid down on the sidewalk, exposing its underside. “That mean he really trusts us. That's a very vulnerable position,” I said.
     Ten minutes into our time with the cat, Jaren began looking toward the house.
     “Hi, Jaren,” a female voice called from within.
     “Hi Miss Talbot,” said Jaren.
     It turned out the occupant was an elementary school substitute teacher who'd filled in at Jaren's class a couple times. Her family moved into the house about a year ago. Her son Alfred was Jaren's classmate and he came out to play for awhile with Jaren. But then he had to go back in, so we continued down the street and the cat followed us at a trot. Miss Talbot had told us she didn't know the cat's name; the cat adopted them; the cat started coming around right after they moved in. I told Jaren it was probably the previous owner's since they had more than twenty rescued cats, and they probably couldn't find him when they left. The cat was male, so he wandered around versus a female that would stay home.
     On our way back from seeing the houses being built, we pet the cat by the Talbot's house again. Alfred came out to play and another neighborhood kid—a bit older—dropped by to hang out. This large boy said his mother named the cat Midnight and hated it because it left footprints on their car. After he left and Alfred went back in, we headed home.
     A couple weeks later, we went to visit Midnight and Alfred came out to play with Jaren. Since we couldn't stay long I suggested Jaren exchange phone numbers to arrange a play date. It took awhile, but Alfred finally ran out with a phone number and Jaren gave him ours the next day at school.
     Two weeks went by and Alfred twice wasn't home when Jaren called. Finally Miss Talbot dropped him off for a couple hours of play on a weekend and they had a nice time together.
     At first I felt so blessed that we had a loving, friendly neighborhood cat to play with, knowing how rare it is for a cat to be so friendly with strangers. I still feel that way. But I also feel so blessed that Jaren finally has a neighborhood friend to play with—just as I had several when growing up.
     From a simple walk expecting nothing much (it was mere curiosity and restlessness and a gentle prompting that led me to go) such great blessings. Praise God! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Driver's Ed

     Braden was second on the wait list for his school's winter driver's education classes—free and assigned based on lottery draw due to the limited slots in the popular twice per year classes. But then he moved up and got in, hallelujah!
     Amazing to me, he and his cousin Julie aren't all that keen on learning to drive—both because they've gotten used to catching The Bus, while Julie also catches rides with friends. But I felt that for Braden, if he is to live the adventuresome, independent life that I suspect he'll one day crave, driving will be a very worthwhile skill to have. Now's as good a time as any to learn as it's free, he's pretty responsible, and he has the time.
     At an introductory overview meeting that mandated a parent's attendance, Deanne learned that fifty hours of driving outside class (ten hours night time) was “required.” The course would consist of a first half of lectures and a second half of behind-the-wheel driving. I'd decided that I wouldn't take him driving because it (the stress) would kill me, so that he'd have to take private lessons (since Deanne wasn't up to the task, either). Turns out lessons cost (per Braden's research) sixty dollars an hour! I'd earlier told him he'd have to pay for these lessons so that he'd have “skin in the game” and would therefore take them more seriously. But the total cost of $60 x 50 = $3,000 was Yikes! expensive for a little over a week of driving. (Turns out the hourly rate translates to $120,000 per year! For driving?)
     But after I thought some, it occurred to me that it might be alright to teach him some. I might not overstress. It could be a good one-of-the-last-things-we-do-together while he's still at home. Just give him a wide open parking lot and let him go. That's how I'd learned best, alone in the school's band parking lot with a friend's stick shift Dodge Colt. Just going slow, turning, reversing, seeing what would happened if I did this or that and noting the car's reaction until it became an extension of me. I'd just be there to give occasional tips and guidance and let him go.
     So we went. Well, first we did a five minute start-the-car, learn the controls, adjust the seats and mirrors, shift gears, release the handbrake (not in that order) drill in our garage. Then we went to our former church's parking lot where he reversed, drove around in circles, parked, pressed the accelerator and brakes, got the RPMs to hit 750, etc. for an hour. Then the following week we did another hour—same place—where he looped around in both directions to get closer to road-ready since his on-road driving is approaching quick.
     He's slowly (literally) getting the feel and coordination as we crawl along the lot, oversteering less, not pulsing the accelerator so much, holding a steadier pace even on slopes. I taught Deanne to drive (awful strain, stress, and pain) and he's progressing a lot better because of greater instinctive feel. To my surprise (and relief) he hasn't been giddy-excited (like Deanne had initially been), maintaining a sober, thoughtful state throughout. He won't be D.E.'s fastest learner, for sure, but he won't be its slowest, either. My guess is he's about average.
     That suits me fine as I trust he's more responsible than the average D.E. teen. He's just not into showing off, being one of the (reckless) boys, or hopefully, using the car to vent his teen angst. In that regard, he may do a heck of a lot better than his old man did at his age. (I didn't wreck any cars, but I was far from the safest driver.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Molokai Blessings

     Just got back from a four-day trip to the most beautiful of the Hawaiian islands. About four years ago, we'd gone, and the people were super friendly—the most friendly group of locals I'd ever met and Molokai really lived up to its Friendly Isle nickname. Not as much this time, though the island itself was perhaps even more warm and inviting.
     For the first time ever as a parent, I went without an itinerary.  I'm a detailed planner so each day is usually laid out on paper with nearly every waking hour accounted for—the where's, when's, and what's to hit, drives to take, things to see and do, etc. But I wanted to take it easy this go around with no stress, no rush, no set schedules, and so settled for skeletal plans for each day. Can't get lost on Molokai. Just go with the flow and enjoy, was the plan.  Perhaps by my being more open than usual, God blessed our Molokai trip with wonderful surprises:
     Day one: We rented a fishing rod and reel and purchased a seven-foot bamboo pole and went fishing on the state's longest wharf. Last time round there were plenty of small fish, but none bit. This time the fish were plentiful and biting—mostly manini and everyone (except me) caught two or three. Time went by, fun and exciting, and we had nice chats with friendly locals and tourists. Then Jaren said, “I see an eel!” pointing below his feet at a huge head of an emerging moray that was attracted by stray pieces of bait shrimp submerged near the entrance to its lair. “Do you want to catch it?” I asked. “Yes!” he said.
     I'd brought along heavy tackle (20 lb. test line and large sturdy hooks) and had him fetch a thick piece of drift wood nearby—something easy to hold onto while tugging out the muscular eel that can wedge tight in crevices.
     With the hook baited and line secured to the middle of an eighteen inch long stick, he lowered the bait to the hole's opening while crouched on the rock above.
     Almost immediately, out came the eel, jaws agape, which seized the bait, and retracted back quick as a turtle's head into its shell.
     “Hold tight!” I said.
     Jaren fought the tug with steady pressure and out popped the hook, sans eel and bait.
     “I felt him! I had him!” he cried.
     Because there was nary a fight, I knew the eel had taken only the bait, and not the hook.
     I let Braden try next.
     This time the puhi (eel) did not emerge. There were numerous crevices nearby, so Braden laid the bait down near one further out. He got a hit!
     “Hold tight!” I shouted.
     He giggled as with one hand he fought the tug and tried to get a better footing on the downward sloping, uneven rocks.
     Splash! His foot lost hold and his left side slipped down. He caught his balance but the line went slack. Deanne fussed over scrapes on his shin, foot, and hand while he said, “I'm fine,” with don't-baby-me impatience.
     Jaren and the others later tried, each getting two strikes each—one resulting in a bent hook (that eel was tough!) When they ran out of bait shrimp, they used as bait the manini they'd caught. And Jaren discovered two smaller zebra eels in holes nearby. The kids were all so excited that we had to pull them away for lunch with promises that we could return to try again later.
     Day two: After spending time at Mauna Loa Kite Factory gift shop where I finally solved a pyramid puzzle after ten minutes (that “Duh!” people can solve in three—so said the label) and shopping for knick-knacks, we followed the public access road to Kepuhi Beach and had lunch while watching the surfers on the consistently excellent waves. There was a bluff at the beach's far end with a trail that led toward its wind swept and grassy point. Nearer, pebbles framed the sandy shore where a monk seal basked on its belly.
     We'd seen a seal during our prior Molokai trip at Dixie Maru beach, so this was nothing new, but nice nonetheless. We later took a a wide berth around it (as required by law) and made for the bluff which gave a beautiful vantage toward the sandy coast to the south. Northward were worn lava rock shores with a tide pool table and in the distance, a steep, high outcropping—remnants of an ancient lava flow terminus. Most striking of all, mid-distance was a sandy cove set back from the rough Kaiwi channel waters' incessant pounding surf—sheltered at its highest reaches by stands of drought-resistant Keawe—green, rough, and airy. The weather was hot, dry, breezy, and clear. I explained to the kids that this is as beautiful a beach as any on Earth. People spend thousands of dollars to travel to Greece to see a beach that is no more beautiful than this. And what makes it so special is its isolation. There's no paved road here. You have to walk or catch a boat. I'm glad. Too many people will spoil it. (I later researched this hidden gem and learned its Pohakumauliuli Beach name.)
     We spent a few hours on the sand, exploring, and hanging wih the locals. And was I ever glad I'd brought my DSLR camera instead of relying solely on Braden's point-and-shoot.
     Day three: After visiting a couple of old churches (Father Damien's Saint Joseph and Our Mother of Seven Sorrows) and taking peeks inside, we dropped by Murphy's Beach. A friendly, well behaved dog paid us a visit, which the kids loved since we have no pets. After lunch, Jaren in mask and snorkel, and supervising Braden, went to the far end of the beach where it was safest while I stood and watched from a distance. A high school-looking Caucasian girl told me that straight out from where we were were lots of fish by the rocks protruding above the surface—about twenty-five yards out. Her mother with her was friendly, too, and the dog that had visited us now lounged at home beside them.
     When the boys got back soon because of “nothing to see”—I told Braden, who looked bored, to go talk to the two who'd talked to me. “They're friendly. Ask them, What's the dog's name?”
     He hesitated, but went. And stayed talking with them (mostly listening) for the next twenty minutes. Pene, who'd been playing in the sand, joined him after awhile. They discovered the dog didn't belong to them. This socializing with strangers was big for Braden who's chronically shy.
     Then at Halawa Beach—another of the most beautiful beaches in the world, we had both sides all to ourselves. The right side, just off the parking lot at the foot of the steep nearside pali (cliffs) had huge natural boulder breakers worn smooth by the surf and a sandy crescent shore that waves pounded incessant. It was raw, wild, natural, and peaceful.
     To its left, a shallow stream fed from a ribbon falls about a mile up-valley. Across was the second beach lined with coconut trees and salt-resistant thick-leaved foliage. We forded the knee-deep stream and hung out at the flour-soft gray sand beach (all to ourselves) where I lay back, hat over face, to relax, praise God, and enjoy it—the warmth, beauty, isolation, wonderful weather, restored health, natural quiet, kids playing. I had felt apprehensive about going this far, but it had gone very well.
     Jaren picked up various pieces of driftwood to thump a hole in the sand, then tried to knock a fresh coconut down out of a tree (futile). Braded, to my surprise, was able to husk a dried coconut by pounding its end with a stick and peeling. We later brought it back to Oahu to consume and its liquid and flesh were tasty and fresh. He even succeeded, again to my surprise, in knocking down a fresh green coconut using Jaren's long drift wood on his first try.
     On our way back to our car, there was a mermaid-like lady lounging in the stream upon a low wall of slippery rocks. She looked so content, legs dangling beneath the surface, dark workout suit wet like a seal's coat. She later stripped to a bikini, submerged to her neck, and paddled about, reminding me of an otter.
     Day four: With not much planned except a Macadamia Nut Farm tour after lunch (Braden's idea), we followed a sign to a store with furniture and knick-knacks. Outside, a friendly dog greeted us. The store owner explained that it was Angel the school dog. While browsing the interesting merchandise, Jaren asked if we could give money to a cat sanctuary advertised on a donation box. I suggested maybe we could visit it? The owner said it was across the gravel parking lot and that the owner was in the back and could give us a tour.
     We looked from outside the chain link fence into the enclosure that housed over a score of beautiful, healthy, and clean cats of multiple varieties, sizes, and colors walking freely among low wooden box-like apartment shelters, the entire area covered by a low wire mesh ceiling. We asked to enter and were ushering in and told that the cats were previously owned, none were former strays, and thus, very friendly. One named Bat Man was blind, but friendly (until he got tired, in which case he batted a claw at you), and one named Mr. Black jumped into our laps and couldn't get enough thouch and affection. He reminded me of my two childhood cats that like him, were black except for a single spot of white. His and Inky's were on their throats, Tomo's was on his thigh. We all loved the cats and Jaren requested to stay another hour as he tantalized his favorites with a chase toy. We left a small donation but felt bad about its minuteness when the owner mentioned veterinary bills were their number one cost. His example was Mr. Black's who had cost $2,500 to chaperone to Maui, pay for surgery and several night's observation at the clinic, and chaperone back. When I was kid my parents made clear that pets were pets and not humans and we weren't rich enough to pay for exorbitant pet bills. I explained this to our kids and that every family is different; I was happy that they saved Mr. Black, but that we would not have likely paid such big bills for a pet—not when college bills, retirement, and other expenses were looming so near and large.

     It'd been a wonderful experience to go traveling sans schedule. Deanne appreciated not having to rush to prepare our lunches each morning before departure and that we could sleep in, relax, or do nothing. The kids were even super-excited to visit the rather small public library.  Just our sort of vacation—slow, casual, and easy. We even returned to Honolulu better refreshed than when we'd left!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Work Therapy

     Ample studies suggest that going back to work as soon as possible after certain illnesses and injuries speeds recovery—opposite conventional wisdom that total bed rest cures fastest. About five years ago, after a serious illness, while I was still underweight and feeling weak and insecure about my health, I got asked again and again by my doctor, “When are you going back to work?”—I guess because he knew of the curative powers of work.

     This past year, work has sometimes been a downer—largely because of my health issues and extra low office morale due to passed-down stress from above and temporary office moves into storage warehouse-type settings that kept getting extended, missed deadlines, more problems with infrastructure, an insecure boss, etc. I prayed, “Please restore my joy for work,” because I've nearly always enjoyed my job, the same that I've held with the state these past 26 years.
     My friend Norm, a burnt-out civil engineer now starting afresh as a nurse after draining his 401K for nursing school, finds his new job stressful and demanding, but rewarding—yet still views it as “just a job.” His son David, fresh out of college and working his first job tells Norm how he hates his work, to which Norm replies, “That's why it's called work. If it was something you enjoyed, you'd have to pay them to do it.” Norm disagrees with me that perhaps David just hasn't yet found his passion. He thinks passion has nothing to do with it as a job is still a job.
     Perhaps I've been fortunate. Or perhaps my home life is sufficiently pedestrian that I often look forward to work after weekends. I've found myself “losing myself” in my work, so immersed in the intricate job details do I get, trying to puzzle out the big picture while yet being very meticulous and precise with every word, number, phrase, tone, and impression, since I do a fair amount of report composition—of a very creative nature—while sticking to the facts, and offering opinions, suggestions, and recommendations to improve the organization in a management consultant-type capacity. I find it fun, worthwhile, and very challenging.
     Except this past year when there was a drought of this fun work and only occasional piddling rote work with low meaning (i.e. chances to improve the organization). We even landed a sucker job that we went through the motions to prepare for and complete. Then, something happened. A novel approach came to mind. We got the approvals to proceed without problem and went for it. Work became fun again.
     But a dead end resulted by following that lead. Nothing of what we'd expected surfaced. So back we went to same ol' same ol.'
     But then a different way of looking at the same dead end info. came to mind, and sure enough, major implications surfaced requiring follow-up, further reviews and analyses, discussions, and so forth—fun, fun, fun! Writing up the report and backing it up with iron clad facts was even funner and more exciting (well, in a challenging, must-think-very-deeply-and-clearly sort of way).
     So my job has always suited my personality. People who see what we do sometimes say, “I don't know how you can stare at those numbers all day. I'd go crazy!” to which I nod, smile, or laugh, knowing I'd never be able to do what they do all day long—dealing with the public, going to endless unproductive meetings, giving lectures, or whatever.

     Oh yeah, my health has been steadily improving especially since I've started enjoying my job again—another answered prayer. Praise God for all his blessings big and small!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Braden's continued Growth Pains

     Has your child ever told you F.U.? Mine has. I'm not proud of it. It wasn't to my face, but shouted outside our rental unit so that the whole neighborhood could here. I chuckled, bemused.
     Deanne wondered at my reaction.
     I said, “What am I supposed to do? Slug him in the face? This is the way he vents. He doesn't have friends to discuss things with so this is how he releases the pressure when he can't take it anymore—he acts up or blows up at us. It's normal for a kid his age. Beats doing drugs or getting someone pregnant.”
     I'd sent him outside to walk up and down the street because he'd already lost it when I berated him for his socks on the floor that had been there for three days and then again for not picking them up after I told him to. True, I lost it myself first thing he got home from school and I scolded him about his sloppy room for the thousandth time, but his belligerent sassy talk—“Why are you in such a bad mood today?”—was rude, disrespectful, and uncalled for, thus, I wanted him out of the house for an extended blow-off-steam time out.
     But I didn't let his shouting Fuck you to me stand as if nothing had happened because then he'd do it again and again. So as he walked by the house on his loop around, I stopped him and said, “I'm this close to pulling you from your job” (work pressures were a big part of his blow out—he's excited and terrified about his growing independence), my thumb and forefinger held an inch apart. “When you get back, you tell me how you're going to rectify what just happened. Work is nothing. Nothing! It's a privilege, not a right. Everything starts at home. You know that.”
     He got home an hour-and-a-half later and snuck into his room. I, already in bed by my usual early bedtime, called him and asked, “Well?”
     “Sorry Dad,” he said and sounded sincere enough.
     “That's it? What did I ask you to do?”
     “I don't know what you expect me to say! He snapped, aggressive and snappy.
     “Alright, no job. I'll call your boss and let him know tomorrow. You can work as much as you want after you leave home—for the rest of your life. It's too much for you now with school. Maybe by next year things will change and we'll let you reapply. Go to bed.”
     He muttered under his breath, slammed things about, and settled down awhile later.
     Deanne and I hashed it out whether it was the best thing to do or not. I said let's pray about it and discuss it tomorrow because I'm too tired.
     By morning, I had a possible word from God. Braden had messed up his application form by miswriting his social security number. (Duh!) I'd checked and signed his initial permission form, which was fine, but while rewriting the info. on his official application, he wrote a “3” instead of a “2.” When Human Resources filed his withholding info. with Social Security, etc., his application got kicked back by Homeland Security, so he had to go in person to the employer's head office to get it fixed within nine days. I thought he should fix his mess up regardless of whether he'd continue to work or not, else, where'd be the lesson? Also, God possibly planted in me the notion of mercy. Braden doesn't deserve another chance. But neither do I for all the sins I've committed and recommitted against God. If I'm merciful with Braden, perhaps God will be merciful with me? (Does that make me selfish? I also like Braden out of the house being productive on weekends. We're also thinking there might possibly be a future career connected with this employer since Braden loves cooking and is fairly good at it...)
    So I told Braden, “Though you don't deserve it, I feel God might be calling me to be merciful. Do you still want your job?”
     “Yes,” he said.
     “Then go get your stuff fixed tomorrow and if you show a change of heart—no more blow outs—there's a chance we'll let you work—no promises—on a day-to-day basis. Any more blow-outs, and you're out.”
     “Yes, Dad.”
     Anything else?”
     Thank you for letting me keep my job.”
     “By the way,” I told him a little later, “since you didn't come up with anything like I asked, you get to do all chores until further notice.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Appreciative Attitude

     I don't have many prophesies, but I did have one the other day. Jaren had two events coming up, a Thursday scout meeting (with a rare fun/educational activity) and a Saturday afternoon birthday party. We'd already planned that I'd take him to the latter, so I asked Deanne to take him to the former.
     She groaned and went into a huff.
     I said, We've been putting him off for awhile. I think he deserves it (meaning we had skipped scout camps and meetings because we were too tired or busy or didn't feel up to it.)
     She pursed her lips.
     “Will you take him?”
     She didn't answer.
     “How's about I take him and you can go to the picnic so I don't have to?  (We'd planned for her to go shopping while Jaren and I were at the picnic since she enjoys shopping with the kids and Braden needed new clothes for his upcoming job.)
     “I'll take him,” she said, not pleased.
     Shortly after, while brushing my teeth, it came to me so I told her when I'd finished, “I'm not sure if this is a prophesy or not. Maybe it's just me. But it might be from God. One day you're going to look back at all this and realize these were the best years of your life—these past fifteen or twenty years or so. You'll think, That was great, taking Jaren and Pene around. Seeing them grow. Doing those things. Why didn't I enjoy it more then? That can change—your attitude. It's your choice.
     “Same's true with me. Whether at work, with family, or at church. Everything's the same. They're all blessings. I don't always feel that way, though. But I do want to try to enjoy them more while they last. Sighing and groaning's not going to help.”

     About Branden's new job—it's a temporary job at an established eatery. He'll have a probationary period with potential option to renew. They'll train him in most front-end (customer service) assignments with possible back-end kitchen training if he continues. He can choose to work only on weekends and the location is close enough to bus to and from school and home. His grades will have to hold or we'll pull him out, I told him. But because he's not much into academics and struggles to make As and Bs in mid-level difficulty classes, the traditional four-year college plan may not be his best option. He loves cooking, so who knows?—maybe he'll become a cook or restaurant manager one day in, say, ten to fifteen years? (The current manager appears to be in his late fifties to early sixties.) We feel it's a great opportunity for him to learn responsibility and gain confidence from holding and earning pay in a real job.
     Or he could learn that he hates manual work, customer service, or the food industry and that white-collar jobs are the way to go and thus begin giving his all in academics for the first time ever.
     Either way, we're hopeful he'll learn something (high quality standards, diligence, taking initiative, etc.) from the job. Oh yeah, best of all, he sought the job on his own initiative. (I did tell him months earlier we'd be open to him getting a job with weekend hours that didn't interfere with his studies.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Perspective—Part II

     The people at a church we've been visiting for the past month or so have been so warm and welcoming—it's been such a blessing.
     Pene has virtually no social activity outside of family, church, and school (where she's a member of the cross-country team and orchestra), so I asked her during summer vacation if she wanted to invite friends over for dinner and a sleep-over and she said, Yes. She has good, close friends at school that she hangs out with but neither of the two she invited seemed interested or came over. Bummer!
     So when a female doctor at the church we're attending asked if Braden and Pene could join the youth group (including her daughter) ice skating, sharing dinner at a restaurant, and sleeping over at her house, we were thrilled and honored as we aren't really part of the church yet, especially since everything would be gratis—the church would cover the costs. Braden couldn't go due to a prior JROTC commitment, but it was perfect because Pene loves skating, is still getting to know the youth (four girls for this event), and needs these types of stretching experiences outside her comfort zone as most everything social she's done in recent years has been with long-time friends or at least with Braden at her side, which is a switch from her early years as a toddler/kid when she made friends readily, even at parks just playing on the same playground set (and I'd like to see more of that outgoing friendliness in her again).
     We were a bit concerned that she might not feel comfortable with the sleep over at a strange house with almost-strangers, but by the time the group finished dinner and skating and we called to see if she wished to stay or come home, she asked Deanne, “Can I spend the night?—this during the drive over to the house. The doctor reported to us at church the next morning that the girls had gotten along fine and her daughter said, “Pene's not at all quiet,” meaning once she felt comfortable, her shyness melted and she talked plenty.
     Compare all these wonderful, real, and personal blessings to the presidential politics saturating the news.  In all probability, Donald or Hillary will be the next president. Are these really the best two candidates our vast, diverse country has to offer? No doubt they're well known celebrities, but does that make them the best qualified? And resumes' aside, what about the all-important intangibles? I think Americans want and deserve a forthright and trustworthy president. Perhaps I'm being idealistic, but I could name a dozen people (as I bet you could) who'd better fit the bill because of truly honest, decent, and irreproachable characters, with unimpeachable integrities, who would always put the good of the populace first and set aside personal feelings or gain, politics, big money donors, and powerful lobbyists.
     Alas, our country's ruling class continues to devalue the populace, it seems to me. What has it done to end gun violence, end ceaseless wars, fix Social Security and Medicaid, rebalance income inequality and the budget, enact meaningful campaign finance reform, eliminate poverty and homelessness (come on, we're the wealthiest country in the world's history), ensure affordable health care and housing for all, and restrengthen and expand the middle class? Not much it seems, not in decades. What has it been doing all these years? That's why I have zero hope for this world.
     But I do have complete hope and trust in God and his kingdom, for he has always come through for me without fail. The next president may enact changes that have slight, occasional effects on my life, good or bad, while God always has touched my life in huge, over-sized positive ways, day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute, saving my life (I have serious health conditions), granting me peace through trials, teaching me patience and perseverance, and bestowing countless blessings on me. For that and all things of His world, I am eternally grateful and hopeful.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hit and Run

     Recently, work sends me out of town. After dropping Deanne off at the bus stop, I fill gas, then head for the arterial that connects to H1 Freeway. We'd left early at 5:40m, my usual time, so it is still dark.
     A red light. Trying to make a right turn. Traffic already heavy—though not bumper to bumper—and no way to safely enter the steady flow. After the briefest of pauses, oncoming cars begin making left turns onto the street I desire to enter; they must have a left-turn green arrow that gives them the right of way. A short pause, then Thunk!—my car jiggles, having been struck from behind by a vehicle—a white pick-up, a quick look in my rear-view mirror reveals. I swear and a moment later the light turns green so I ease forward while checking to see if the truck will follow so we can investigate damages and exchange information. It does. An immediate right onto the street—truck still following—and another right into a convenience store parking lot, and Zoom!—the truck whizzes off down the road. I peer out the window to catch its license plate but it's too dim and distant—just a blur blending into darkness.
     I put the car's gear into Park and get out, expecting to see a bashed-in trunk or dented in bumper. Around the back fender there's...nothing, no damages, not even a scratch. (Well there are lots of pre-existing scratches, but no new ones). Inside the trunk beneath the carpet liner, there's only virgin metal; no creases or crinkles. No muffler damage or leaking fluids outside underneath, either. Good enough. On to work.
     Upon arrival, it's well lighted. Only then do I notice upon closer inspection that the passenger side rear fender, just beneath the natural seam, is distended for half its length by a quarter inch. Above the seam is metal, below is rubberized plastic. Has the lower portion just been knocked out of place? It appears so. Gentle kicks and nudges don't drop it into place, so I leave it for later.
     After I get home, two long screw drivers inserted behind, lift the flange up and ease it back into its slot. Praise God!—as good as new! (Or, at least it's the same as before.)
     I later share with Deanne and the kids that I suspect the driver doesn't have long for this world. My car was motionless. Why did he hit me? Then, rather than do the right thing and check for damages, he digs out and in essence says, “The heck with you—catch me if you can!”
     “Did he have a license? Was that his car? Was it stolen?” I ask rhetorically. “To have such a lack of concern or respect for fellow man—what does that say about him?” Everyone's quiet and attentive. I don't think his future looks too bright.”
     Then I share with them what they should do if they ever bump into anyone: stop somewhere safe, inspect for damages, and follow the instructions on the back of the insurance card. It says, “Don't admit fault,” but if it's clearly your fault, you should apologize,” I say.
     “As things turned out, I probably would have let things go. But I would have certainly asked, 'What happened? How'd you hit me?'”
     I tell Deanne during our evening walk, “In Hilo, this would never have happened. You'd probably recognize the truck. Or someone would stop and say, 'I know that guy, he lives at so and so.' That's the thing about small towns—everyone knows everyone.”
     Honolulu is getting to be ever bigger, ever more cosmopolitan, and ever more mainland-like. There are still lots of considerate people with plenty of aloha—at the job site, in stores, and at the librarybut more and more we're seeing that every-man-for-himself attitude and behavior. It's sad and disturbing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

More Travails

     Braden has shown some real improvements of late. After finally earning his first Boy Scout merit badge (Citizenship in the Community—see my prior Braden essay, regarding), which I had to exert tremendous force of will, persuasion, and persistence to get him to do for his own good, he's now well on his way, through mainly his own exertions, to earning his second (Citizenship in the Nation) merit badge. Good for him! He wrote a letter to a congressman, is reading a daily on-line newspaper front page, and just visited our state capitol, which covers all the hands-on requirements, praise God.
     Also the other day, Deanne called me at work to say the water main servicing Jaren's school broke, so she would be picking him up. When I got home and prepared for my workout run, she fretted, “What if Braden and Pene panic when they see the empty school?”
     “They won't panic!” I said. But I ran by the school to make sure Pene wasn't waiting there alone for Braden, which would be less than safe. She wasn't there, and just as I got home, she arrived and said, “Braden went to get Jaren. He told me to go home first.” It was pouring that day so it was thoughtful of him to let Pene come home first, since she still suffered a sore throat from the day before. Not long after, Braden appeared and said, “Hi, Dad.”
     You came straight home when you saw the empty school?” I asked.
     “Good,” I said, and explained about Mom picking up Jaren due to the water main break (they would all have seen the blocked off road, Department of Water Supply service trucks and workers, and gushing water along the street). “Good job letting Pene come home first,” I added.
     But toward the end of dinner that night, he asked about joining a technology-related JROTC workshop/class to be held twice a week from 5:00 – 8:00 Tuesdays and Thursdays and I immediately said No, you need to focus on academics. He started breathing fast and heavy, stiff in his seat, ready to explode.
     I don't tolerate blow-outs at the dinner table (food and eating should be pleasant and not associated with angry shouting) so I dismissed him to another room.
     Yet while doing the dishes minutes later, he barked and groused at Deanne, snapped at Jaren, then later bitched at me, so I said, “Get your umbrella and walk up and down the street. Don't come back in until after eight,” meaning after his walk, he could sit in the garage, similar to past disciplines.
     He went to his room for who knows what?, barked more at Deanne, then left the house in a huff.
     After my bath, Deanne, exasperated, said, “What about his homework?”
     I said, “Whatever! I don't care...”, then, after reconsidering, said, “Tell him to do it in the garage if you like...”
     She disappeared for awhile, came back, and said, “He's not on the street; he took his bus pass with him.”
     “I don't care,” I said.
     “How can you say that?”
     “Because I don't.” An hour and a half passed while I read to Jaren and Pene. I knew Braden was too chicken or timid to do anything scary-ass foolish and I wasn't about to let Deanne go drive around looking for him. The worst he'd do, I reasoned, was get on a circle-island bus route and come back late. Or go to the police and grouse to them about us. “He'll learn,” I figured and prayed that God would convict him.
     Deanne, still upset, suggested we give him more leeway with activities.
     I explained, “This is another of his dumb, sounds-like-fun activities that has no bearing on anything, just like rifle squad and Rangers—it's not his thing. What he needs is friends to hang out with on weekends. I'd let him stay out to ten at night or later.” (I'd reviewed a parental advice book after reading to the kids and it said by age thirteen, the author's son was allowed to stay out that late on weekends with friends, which sounded reasonable for sixteen-year-old Braden to me.) “Or if he showed me a course syllabus that stated, '80% of graduates of this class enter the military at a higher level classification...' Or said, 'There's this girl I like; I want to spend more time with her...' Or, 'My buddies are going, can I hang out with them?; I want to invite one over to the house...' I'd be more inclined to reconsider, but as things stand, no, he's got to man-up to his responsibilities and learn to take disappointment like a man, not a six-year old. His reaction was way disproportionate. In two years, I want him out of here if he continues this way. I'm preparing him for that day. That's my goal. And he's running out of time fast.”
     “But don't you think-.”
     “No! I'm not going to argue with you about it—that's not going to help. Pray for God's peace. That's all we can do right now.” And I told her as I prepared for bed at 8:00 not to shout at him when he got home.
     The knocks on the door came at 8:30. I opened the door and he looked calm and restored.
     “Where were you?” I asked.
     “Walking up and down the street.”
     “No,” mumbled Deanne from the living room.
     “Which street?”
     He named streets nearby, but not ours.
     “Okay,” I said in rising pitch to signal disgust, and let him in.
     I later told Deanne I was going to give him a pass on this one and next morning told him, “Next time I tell you walk up and down the street I mean our street. If you want to go anywhere else, you have to tell us. We have to know your whereabouts at all times.”
     “Yes, Dad,” he said.
     I realize that occasional fits from teens are normal and healthy. Mostly I thank God for keeping me fairly calm through the whole ordeal even as a part of me was edging toward panic, which would have been dumb and unproductive.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Date with Penelope

     A pastor once remarked that Dad has the important job of making his teen daughter feel attractive, loved, and special, which can help prevent promiscuity. Penelope, now age thirteen, has shown zero signs of boy interest, nonetheless, I do believe that my relationship with her will bear greatly on her future romances, and I do want her to know that I find her beautiful (she is, breathtakingly so), and that I love and cherish her. She's good company (when she tries, otherwise she can be quiet and withdrawn—just her personality), and has been a fine, cooperative, obedient, self-motivated, and helpful child (without being told), so when I felt called to take her out on a dinner date, just her and me, it was with eager, unclouded joy.
     I had her choose the restaurant (“Something you want, not what you think I want”) and she chose Korean food, so we went to Manoa Marketplace where two quiet, comfortable, and affordable places are available, the fancier one of which turned out to be closed.
     I told her after we ordered, "Mom and I see and appreciate your good behavior and helpfulness and this is our thank you for that. We notice, too, how when we ask you to do something, you does it without complaint. We appreciate that a lot.
     She laughed and nodded.
     “Why are you laughing?” I asked, smiling.
     “No reason,” she said.
     “I know there's a reason. I think we both know why...”
     We both laughed deep, which got our date off to a fine start. (FYI: The boys had been at it again that afternoon, for the umpteenth time, bickering, grumping, and disobeying over the simplest “Go outside and get some exercise” request, while she hadn't.)
     Even minutes before our dinner date departure, I was struggling with a health trial so I prayed for God to heal me well enough to go, if that was his will. He did. Yet I wasn't sure how my health would hold out, even as we sat waiting for the food, but half-way through the meal I felt fine. “I'm glad we came,” I said.
     She nodded. “Me, too.”
     She ordered a meat jun (regular size with four side dishes selected from an array of choices) and I ordered the barbecue chicken/kal bi combo, and upon receiving our meals we divvied up the contents—entrees and sides—so we each got a bit of everything. “Mom and I always do this,” I told her.

     “On a date, you wipe your mouth like this,” I said, demonstrating with my napkin.
     She did so, then licked some remaining dipping sauce she'd missed.
     “Don't lick your lips on a date,” I said. “The guy will get the wrong idea.”
     She laughed. “Yes Dad.”
     At the end of the meal as we prepared to leave, I said, “Let's rest a little before going. After all, we're paying for the atmosphere, too.”
     She nodded.
About now,” I said after a breather, “I'd take off my shoes, put my feet in Mom's lap, and she'd give me a foot massage. Want to try?”
     She smiled. “I don't know.”
     “I'm just kidding, we don't do that. I can dream, too, right?” I'd asked her to tell me a dream.
     “Literal or figurative?” she asked.
     She said she'd like to move to the Mainland for college, buy a house, and raise some sheep. And it would be somewhere that snowed.
     “Sheep may have to be brought indoors in snow. Do you know?”
     “No,” she said.
     “Would you want your place to get snow? Or be in a state that gets snow in the mountains but not in the suburbs?”
     “I hadn't thought of it.”
     After we got home, she thanked me for taking her out to dinner, then headed in. I got my shoes off, opened the door, and went in and said, “Pene, on a date, you're not supposed to dig out and leave the guy behind like dirty laundry. You're supposed to wait and walk together. What's going to happen if you do that on a date?”
     “He'll feel hurt?” She was giggling.
     “Yeah. And don't expect him to call you again.”
     We exchanged hugs and next day I left her a note thanking her for her fine company, wondering if it was a bit overboard. But no, I felt the Lord's hand in it all.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Serving God Willingly—Finally!

     I love serving God when it's doing stuff I enjoy—attending church, visiting relatives or friends at care homes, spending time with family, mailing thoughtful gifts or letters to loved ones, etc.
     But I've hated serving God in a way that I didn't even realize was serving him: by confronting and/or convicting (in a heart-felt sense) unscrupulous auto mechanics.
     Unpleasant experiences with unscrupulous auto mechanics have happened too many times for me to want to recall—it really stresses me out. Why would anyone want to do that? They should just quit if they feel ripping off customers is the only way they can make a reasonable profit. (Same's true for any profession.) Twice this occurred at the hands of fellow Christians from the same church, too! Talk about disappointing. No wonder the profession is in such low repute among the public.
     But the thing God showed me in the midst of another botched simple repair (worn brake pads) is that by confronting a mechanic and insisting on a proper repair, I am effectively serving God, for not everyone is knowledgeable enough about cars to recognize a botched repair. And not everyone who recognizes “something's wrong” has the strength to confront a perpetrator. Poor repair service or out-and-out sabotage—it happens, I saw one mechanic loosen the bolts on my car's valve cover that caused oil to leak out—this for a simple oil change; another knocked out my car's wheel alignment, causing the car to drift leftward; another shaved the insulation off sections of spark plug wires (causing sparks to arc to the engine block), covered them with plastic tape and locking plastic ties, and blamed it on rats; another added bubbles in the brake lines causing highly deficient braking even as the brake pedal traveled flush to the floor—could cause expensive damages or even injury or death in an accident. And if I don't speak up about such things, the perpetrator will have no incentive to change and thus other innocent victims who can ill afford it will suffer or perhaps even worse.
     Speaking up about wrong doing or confronting a wrong doer is never easy. I can be like Moses or Job when it comes to that—a very reluctant servant. But if I don't speak up who will? I've only newly discovered that God knows that I have the strength to confront or convict (in the Godly sense) such individuals and that he places me in such positions for his good purposes. And that I should be joyful about it. Which I only recently tried.
     This last time was with an older mechanic in his 60's. After he corrected the deficiency, he thrice apologized and everything about the car seemed to function well. Perhaps more significantly, when I first brought my car in, it was the only one at the shop—a slow day. I picked it up late that day (still the only car), noticed the deficiency immediately, brought it back, told the mechanic about it, showed him the problem during a test drive, and left the car for him to correct overnight. He called early the next morning and said it was done. When I picked it up late that afternoon, the shop had multiple cars and customers—a busy day. God may have blessed him for having done right (in the end) by me. I choose to believe so.
     And I was able to handle the whole unpleasant episode with a lot less heart-thumping stress than in the past, knowing I was doing the right thing and serving God and others, perhaps the mechanic most of all.
     Historically, I never went back to unscrupulous mechanics—best to avoid further trouble. And by avoiding, I felt I was convicting them that I knew what they'd done. (They returned to me a clearly botched repair, I went elsewhere to have it fixed.)
     But this last one? Perhaps I'll give him another chance. We'll see how God leads...

Monday, August 29, 2016

Strength in Weakness

     For fun, I rented the Sean Connery James Bond movie Thunderball. I always thought of him as the best Bond—looks, accent, demeanor (grabs and eats a grape in the midst of a tense cat-and-mouse scene), playfulness (fools with dangerous gadgets and gets chided by Q; flirts with the secretary), and droll delivery of lines (“She's just dead”—as if from over-dancing instead of a gun shot wound).
     Over dinner that night I said: “One scene in this movie they'd never, ever do in a current Bond film is have him cry for help. Remember that scene?”
     “On the stretching machine?” Pene said, excited.
     “Yeah, he's calling, 'Help! Help!' They'd never do that now. Why?”
     “He'd have a gadget to get him out,” said Braden.
     “Maybe, but why?”
     They made some guesses and eventually Deanne said it makes him look weak.
     “Yeah, that's the thing,” I said. “Today, producers give short-shrift to audiences. They think if they see the hero calling for help that'll signify weakness. But is calling for help really weak?”
     “No,” the kids said, reading my mind.
     “Why?” I asked.
     There was a long pause. “Because he needs help?” Pene suggested.
     “Yes. So what is calling for help when you need help a sign of?”
     “That he's in trouble,” said Deanne.
     “But what does that say about his character?”
     “That he doesn't want to die?” said Jaren.
     “So calling for help when you could die—what does that say about him?”
     “That he's willing to ask for help to save his own life.”
     “Does it take a strong or weak person to do that?”
     “Right! It's a sign of strength, not weakness to ask for help when you need it. If you're feeling bad like you're going to pass out or something, it's strength to tell someone or go see a doctor. Same's true if you're feeling lonely or depressed. Everyone needs help once in awhile. What happens when someone needs help but doesn't ask for help?”
     “He could die.”
     “Is that strength? No, it's dumb and weak because nothing is weaker than death.”
     I mulled it over for awhile and came up with something else.  “Apostle Paul said, 'When I'm weak, I'm strong.' What did he mean?”
     “He asked for help?” said Pene.
     “Yes, but why?”
     There was a pause. “Because he was dying,” said Braden.
     “Yes, but why did almost dying make him strong?” There was no answer so I continued. “When I'm strong, I think, 'I'm tough. I can do anything. I can handle this. I don't need God.' But when I'm weak, I depend on God totally. And we all depend on God all the time. Sometimes it's only when we're weak that we realize it.
     “If we go to God with a humble heart, we can defeat anything. I think that's what Paul meant, that when he's weak, he gets all his strength from God. And nothing is stronger than God.”
     Pene seemed the least convinced of all so before bedtime I asked her, “Who are the three strongest people in the Bible?”
     A long pause ensued. “Jesus, David, and...Esther?” she said.
     I nodded after the first two but said, “I would have picked Samson, but I love Esther too. She's very strong. Now, did they ever ask for help?”
     “Who did they ask for help?”
     “Because he's strong.”
     “Yes, but why would he help them just because he's strong?”
     “Because he loves them,” she said, voice catching in her throat.
     “That's right.”
     Later, I remembered that Esther asked others for help, too, namely, Mordecai and her husband-king. I couldn't remember all the details so I reread the relevant passages with Pene to rediscover that Esther had asked her Uncle Mordecai and the Jews to fast and pray for her when she went in unsummoned to king Xerxes and asked King Xerxes to save the Jews from Evil Haman's plot to have them exterminated. Pene even remembered that the Jewish festival Purim commemorates these events.
     It was an important lesson that I wanted my kids to always remember—there's no shame in asking for help—that came from an improbable James Bond source.

Monday, August 22, 2016


     Braden just got back from a one-week trip to the East Coast with our church's youth group to attend an international conference. He showed great maturity leading up to it, not acting up as he used to before big exciting events. And after returning home mid-afternoon, jet lagged by six hours and sleep-deprived, he didn't just eat, bathe, and sleep as I'd expected, but restfully unpacked and stuffed his laundry in the laundry machine without being told and spent time talking with us, catching us up with all the people, activities, impressions, food, and day-to-day happenings at the conference. Since we'd had zero contact with him during the week, this was a big deal for us. Had it been worth it? Had he learned anything or grown? What had been interesting or new? He then worked on finishing his five-minute presentation to be given at church the following morning.
     A week later he was up to his usual albeit occasional antics by acting demanding, belligerent, and petulant when we said, No, You can't join rifle squad, you have to focus on academics (always a struggle for him). If you can get straight As for two quarters, then we may reconsider. Of course he acted like we were unreasonable tyrants and of course we acted like he was an unappreciative, entitled spoiled brat.
     Yet in the month leading up to his trip, he thrice volunteered at the Humane Society and caught the bus to and fro—this in part as a requirement for his first merit badge ever. I had to force him to get to it though—see my prior Breaking Strongholds essay posted on 2/29/16 regarding (I'd been a boy scout myself—it's easy, you go through the pamphlet and do each requirement step-by-step) because he's had a mental block against it and couldn't explain why. He'd said everyone treats him well and there's no abuse, and he's “Just not interested,” which I know is a lie because he is completely vested with every ounce of his being to defy, delay, deny, and make lame excuses to not start, do, or complete each requirement and then talk with an adult leader to review and sign off that he's finished and this has been going on for years and I won't bail him out now by talking to a leader for him because it's very important that he learn to fight for or at least ask for or insist on what he wants or needs or deserves to get ahead in Boy Scouts and in life and that good things don't come easy or fall in one's lap “just because” and that his “I don't care; it's not important” attitude won't serve him well in the future—not in college, the military, or the real world once he leaves home, possibly at age eighteen if he doesn't get his act together by showing respect, appreciation, obedience to all our reasonable requests and diligence with his school, home, scouting, and other responsibilities.
     More recently, I noticed on my pay stub a recruitment notice for election precinct officials. I called the contact number listed and Hallelujah, Braden qualified. Training consisted of a mass lecture in a crowded school cafeteria. Then primary election day, he walked over to the polling station at his former elementary school at 5:20 a.m. and worked the sign-in book, cross-checking registered voters listed to ID's and passing out ballots, and he got home before 7:00 p.m.
     It'd been an excellent experience since he loves politics (and controversy, in general, same as me as a young adult) and will get mailed an $85 check in a few weeks.

     We have recently instituted a No Politics at the Dinner Table rule to curb spoiled meals due to hot, angry, unending debates—not good for family felicity or digestion. Yet the other night when it was his turn to share, Braden said, “I heard that Trump-.”
     “No politics at the dinner table,” I said in stern warning.
     “It's not, he owns a hotel in Hawaii.”
     “Okay, one week of doing all chores!” I said for his rank defiance.
     He gave me belligerent lip and attitude and earned himself another week. He knows that anything to do with Trump is political and we both know that he just wanted to rile things up inappropriately, as he has all too often in the past.
     I've told him, “Talk politics with friends. They love to,” but I doubt he has, because as far as we can tell, he doesn't have any, hasn't pursued any, or doesn't especially want any. And this has been true for years. I'd clued him in on how to spot potential friends (sitting alone at lunch, looking bored, etc.) or how to approach, and what to say, but he apparently hasn't tried as if he's, “Just not interested.” I'm very concerned about this and have prayed for a Godly friend in his life. Sometimes I think he's just too picky, as if no one is loyal, bright, intellectual, Godly, mature, or accepting enough for him (not that he scores high points on any of these marks) or perhaps he feels he has insufficient to contribute? In short, social interactions on a friendship level has not been his strong suit, a point he needs to work on. Yet try as I might to create opportunities for him, I don't see how I could possibly force it or help it any further. He's fine with his siblings so I don't think it's a matter of social skills set or technique. I can only conclude that for now he'd rather be alone. Even when people approach him, I'd bet he must eventually give them cold shoulders. Please help pray for him if you will and for me, too, as to what I should do. Mahalo.