Thursday, May 29, 2014


     A good night's sleep is priceless. There was a time when I would have loved to move back to Hilo (it's slow, calm, easy pace soothes my soul like nowhere else), but no more due to the coquis: noisy non-native frogs recently introduced that chirp all night long—annoying and disruptive—and that don't have a single natural predator in Hawaii, thus, everywhere they've populated—virtually the entire east side of the Big Island—they've overrun. Some claim their chirps register near a hundred decibels. Try sleeping through that in peace (sort of like sleeping through boo whistles over bad calls at a French Open tennis match for ten straight hours).
     Michael Jackson died over want of a good night's rest and so have countless others—asleep at the wheel, overdosed on licit or illicit drugs, or done in by cardiovascular disease or stroke brought on by chronic over-exhaustion. Along with obesity and insufficient exercise, America's youth now suffer all too often from inadequate sleep. The way our family ensures sufficient sleep is by eating healthy, getting plenty of exercise, following our consciences (albeit we're far from perfect), and adhering to strict early-to-bed, early-to-rise routines. The last is easy, sleep coming natural, if the first three are practiced and there is a no-TV (see my prior TV-less Bliss essay), no computer, no electronic devices, and everybody has to do something quiet before bedtime policy that's enforced.
     Here's our crazy-beautiful weekday evening schedule starting from after school:

2:00 – 5:00 Kids come home, do homework, exercise outside, read and bathe.

4:00 – 5:00 I come home, wind down, and do some exercises, Deanne makes dinner.

5:00 – 6:30 We all eat dinner, clean up. Deanne goes for a walk with one or more of our kids, I bathe and brush my teeth.

6:30 – 7:00 Everyone reads or does a quiet hobby/activity.

7:00 – 8:00 I read on my bed to each child in turn.

     Children's bedtime are as follows: Jaren 7:30 pm; Penelope 8:15pm; Braden 8:40pm. My bedtime ranges from 8:15 to 8:40pm., Deanne's ranges from 9:30 to 10:00pm.
     I awaken at around 3:30 and read the bible until 4:15 to 4:30 (I read it because it works; everything in my life and our household runs smoother as a result and we all just feel better too, and the alone-time I get to spend with God is humbling, instructive and peaceful).
     Here's the remainder of our early morning schedule:

4:30 – 6:00 I eat and get ready for work, spending a few minutes with Deanne in bed before leaving, giving and receiving quiet well-wishes for the day.

6:00 – 6:10 I walk to the bus stop.

6:00 – 7:10 Deanne and the kids get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, clean up, brush teeth, and head off for school.

     Deanne was volunteering at a hospice twice a week during the kids' school hours. Now, she's employed twice a week as a teacher's assistant at Jaren and Penelope's school. The rest of her weekday hours are spent keeping our household running—cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and ironing my work shirts; doing craft projects; and reading.
     I read in a book In Search of Silence about how the journalist writer went to one of the most austere monasteries in the U.S. and when he inquired about their sleep schedules (similar to mine, I was amused to note), a monk said, "...the darkness is a very safe space.  It's about birth...  The quiet, dark places are where the treasure is buried...  We have six free hours before our workday begins.  how many rich people can say that?  We call it 'holy leisure.'  Having that time does something to your humanity."
     For me, the early sleep and rise schedule started when Jaren was an infant: sleep when the infant sleeps or you won't get much sleep—so we discovered early on. Because Deanne nursed Jaren (who never had much formula), she had to wake up for middle-of-the night feedings. By 4:30am Jaren, after being fed, was ready to start his day and so was I (I suppose), so I took him out for walks around the neighborhood. It was quality father-son time that allowed gave Deanne time to catch up on her Zs.  
     The schedule stuck. It's been years since I've set an alarm; I wake up when I do and check the time and ask myself did I get enough sleep? I feel fine with six—and—a half hours of sleep each week night. Weekends I get a bit more with an occasional after-breakfast or after-lunch nap.
     Sleep as a parent is so precious, we savor every minute of it, yet do our best not to overindulge, which is easy enough when three kids are waiting outside wanting to be fed or something to do. They're good about waiting patiently, and Braden and Penelope have been instructed to feed themselves if they're hungry, but we start feeling bad about making them wait too long. They get enough sleep, and so do we, so getting up-and-at-'em is rarely a problem for any of us.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Self Talk

     Everyone self talks, maybe not aloud, but at least in their minds. I can't even imagine life without it. Such talk may include (as it often enough does for me) what day it is or things to be done, past or future conversations, or exclaimed thoughts that would never be said aloud. Besides such everyday matters, they sometimes encompass our most private, guarded thoughts that if divulged would probably alienate many others from us.
     I can imagine how self-righteously indignant we'd feel if we could read the thoughts of others. ”What?” I can't believe it! You just said... Liar!” Of course, if others could read our thoughts we'd fare no better. “That's what you think of me? The heck with you! I thought I could trust you.”
     I bet even dogs, chimps, dolphins and other higher animals also do it on their own levels. “Food! Rover. That's me, Rover!” (wag, wag, wag) “Get off, mine! Oh yeah, take that!” (shove) “Mate! Mate! Mate! Now, she's ready!” (swim, swim swim)
     So I find it odd when someone calls someone “weird” for vocalizing his self talk while unloading his stress or as a means to concentrate. We've all heard it before: “You're talking to yourself? Weird!”
     What's wrong with it, I wonder? That someone engaged in a most human activity? Or that it's not considered socially acceptable while others are present—sort of like walking around the house in one's underclothes. Yet when people hum, sing, or whistle to themselves, they seldom get branded “weird” so vehemently—perhaps because they're more aware of what they're doing at the time. And I'm not talking about people with chronic mental illnesses who walk down the street muttering obscenities, scolding, or expounding on who knows what. I'm talking about college students who, lost in thought (and muddled from sleep deprivation and mental and physical exhaustion), mutter, “What day is it? Wednesday. Chem exam—gotta study after lunch.”
     I used to say such things in college, in the safety of my own room or that of my sister. I think now in hindsight I did it to ingrain certain thoughts, sort of like repeating a phone number or name to better remember it—nothing clinically abnormal about that, I'm sure. Or perhaps I did it to refocus my attention to more positive or productive thoughts.
     Everyday self talk is one of the few areas in our lives over which we have supreme control, yet few seem to apply such power to best advantage. Although visualization is not a form of self-talk, I think that what we say to ourselves goes hand-in-hand with what we see in our mind's eye. It's hard to think positive thoughts—“Praise you, God, for blessing us with a wonderful place to live, for healing my illnesses, and watching over Braden as he walks home from the bus stops everyday,” or “Wow, homemade spaghetti for dinner, made with whole grain pasta and meat balls, I can't believe how blessed I am to get to eat all I want—tasty and nutritious—all in the comfort of my own home. Or that I have unlimited clean running water, lots or hot bath water every night, a large bed to sleep in, a car to drive, a wardrobe full or clothes, a safe neighborhood to live in...” and at the same time visualize a jerk boss, bad traffic, disobedient kids, or an unsupportive wife. The two just don't coincide. And there is ample evidence that suggests that thinking and saying positive or negative thoughts can become self fulfilling.
     We have a choice then via self talk (and visualization) to shape our general dispositions: positive or negative, and our futures: hopeful and productive or fearful and withdrawn. This is especially true in human interactions where attitude, intentions, and non-verbal communication can have profound effects on outcomes. See positive attributes in another—“He means well, he has a good heart, he's been though a lot,” and positive interactions are more probable. Assign negative attributes—“What a jerk, he's out to get me, I'll never trust him again,” and it'll be that much tougher to deal with.
     One thing that I recommend avoiding, though, is self delusional or destructive self talk. “I'm the best. I'm gonna make him eat his words and look like a fool. I'll be a millionaire in no time”—just sets the braggart up for disappointment and failure. I much prefer humble and hopeful self talk. “I'm okay, I've got so much to be thankful for, just do my best—things are fine and always turn out for the best in the end. I've got everything I could ever need or want to survive and more. There's always hope. Just do the right thing and leave the results to God.”
     Although a person's actions usually count for more (and rightfully so), I think a person's thoughts—especially his self talk—defines to a large degree who he is—kind and gentle, or rude and judgmental—and shows in his actions. While unthinking kind or callous acts can lead to corresponding thoughts, how much more so can conscious thought lead to revealing acts. For people don't hide well who they truly are; it all comes out in time—through a frown, grin, smirk, giggle, hug, kiss, letter, or fist. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


     Believe it or not, prayer is an essential act of human nature. It, like art, is one of the few attributes that separates man from the beasts (see also my prior Art—Creating and Acquiring essay). My friend Norm once lectured me forty-five minutes about The Purposes of Organized Religion (to placate the masses, explain unknown phenomena, redistribute wealth, etc.—nothing I hadn't heard before) at the end of which I said, “...Well, what does any of this have to do with belief in God?” (which was what our conversation had been about). He said, ”Well, religions require something that followers believe in, that they can worship and make offerings and sacrifices to, and that justifies their harsh existences. Deity or deities fit the bill nicely.”
     I said, “I don't think that's the way it went at all. I don't think some people in the past decided, 'Let's create legends and religions to manipulate the masses.'  I think people are born with an innate belief in God or gods...”
     He said, “I don't think it's innate.”
     I said, “Oh, I think it is. No matter where you look through the annals of time, anywhere in the world with enduring civilizations—.”
     “There are no enduring civilizations,” he said, interrupting.
     “I define 'enduring' as those lasting more than say, two hundred years... They all have had rituals and practices suggesting widespread belief in God or gods. I can't recall a single exception. It's fundamental to man's nature, I believe.”
     “The so-called God gene?” he said, voice thick with disdain.
     “I don't know what it is, but from birth everyone, pretty much, has this a prior i knowledge of spirituality.”
     He took in a deep, distressed breath and said, “Well, anyway, food for thought.” (When he feels depressed, he ends our conversation abruptly. What's ironic is that he's neither atheistic nor agnostic: he's said he knows God exists because so many people believe in Him. He fancies himself a polytheist who's anti-organized religion. When I asked him what beliefs in disorganized religion he espouses, he said, “People who believe in disorganized religions are f__-ups. I'm not that. I believe in certain aspects of unorganized religions...” I laughed with good humor and said, “I didn't mean it that way.” He's chided me a great deal in the past about my religious beliefs, to which I always laughed, so there was no real offense taken in this verbal exchange.)
     Contrary to Norm's implied thesis, I don't believe people pray because of (organized) religion, but because of their belief in God or gods and because it works. Even modern medicine recognizes the value of faith (and prayer) for patient recovery and health, citing the psychological benefits of placebos, positive thinking, reduced stress, intestinal fortitude, and social support structures. I've experienced prayerful healing countless times including twice from very serious ailments—both times, prayer brought me peace in the midst of turmoil, when my body was going berserk, including times when hospital staff argued with doctors over treatment options, and times when things could have gotten far worse. Both times God brought me through, not fully healed even to this day (one doctor said I already have two strikes against me), yet recovered enough to continue my more or less normal life, able to do just about whatever I want, and that much more appreciative of everything (even the smallest things) and just a little bit wiser—He'd blessed me with healing and then some.
     Deanne and I rarely prayed alone together when we first got married, even though we attended church together—I suppose because of pride and because it felt awkward though we'd do it if asked to do so in small Christian groups settings. The love was always there so that was never the issue. It only became regular after I got really sick two-and-a-half years ago, and the year leading up to it when I experienced disconcerting health symptoms. Then the time spent with her in prayer became almost daily necessity. So today, besides saying grace before meals and bedtime prayers with the children, which we had been doing since Braden was three, we pray together nightly, lifting up all our concerns, asking His blessings and guidance, acknowledging His sovereignty, asking His forgiveness, thanking Him for blessing us throughout the day, and asking His comfort, peace, and protection the coming day. It may seem like a lot, but it never takes more than a few minutes. We pray as we feel called to, to unburden our life's worries, concerns, and hurts; to give thanks; to worship; and to seek His Holy presence and guidance. We pray holding hands, then hug, then drift off to sleep. It's a nice way to end each day.
     In addition, Deanne prays for me as we hug before I leave for work. Because of my health issues I have drawn strength from her during such times, even while praying God's blessings upon her, as she has drawn strength from me in the past during her times of weakness.
     Prayer, then is a good thing. However, there is a right and wrong way to pray: we must pray with submissive hearts. God isn't some genie in a bottle come down from Heaven to do our bidding. We must obey Him and pray as He would have us pray. He knows our thoughts before we speak or think them, so prayer's main purpose is to spend time with Him, conversing with Him, He mostly speaking through silent prompts, or heartfelt convictions, affirmations, insights, and/or mercies.
     As a final caveat, there's a saying, “Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.” My mom, who is not very religious other than by holding onto vestiges of her parents' strong Buddhist faiths (more evident of late than when I was a child), once said something that surprised me. She had been describing wealthy distant relatives who had everything they could possibly want as far as material, creature comfort went, but little else, for excepting their finances, their lives were in shambles, full of anger, strife, withdrawal, betrayal, grief, bitterness, and resentment; mental, physical, and emotional problems; and serial misfortunes. I asked her how did they get so wealthy? She said, “They pray all the time—pray, pray, pray to get rich.” Her palms came together and bobbed up and down in imitation. “I want money, lots and lots of money, I want to be sooooo rich, rich beyond compare,” she said.
     “Why were they so desperate?” I asked.
     “Because they grew up poor like us.”
     “But you didn't pray like that, did you?”
     “No. Wealth was never the issue. Just enough. Family always came first. And all of our healths of course.”
     “Why didn't they pray for those, too?”
     “I'm sure they did. But all they got in the end was money. So after awhile they prayed all the more for it. Too bad—they're basically good, honest people, just too obsessed. It's money-this, money-that, everything is money, money, money. I guess they have nothing much else worth talking about—that and their dogs.”
     “How do you know that's how they pray?”
     “Oh, they told us. They'll tell anyone who'll listen that's how they got rich, by praying.”
     It was one of the most valuable life lessons I ever learned. And I never prayed for money.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Patience—Part II

     In my earlier Patience Part I essay, I said patience is a virtue. I meant it in a general sense in dealing with life's vagaries, seeming injustices, and minor inconveniences over which we have little control. Getting upset over slow traffic is merely self-destructive as it doesn't get it going any faster. Neither will fuming over high food and gas prices lower them. Nor will bitterness over a suboptimal job or unpublished writings cause the job to improve or writings to get published. We're better off accepting certain things with calm equanimity. (I've made peace a long time ago with my job situation—I love my job, the pay is more than ample, and the benefits are super—but it's still not optimal. As far as my writings go, I'm published in this blog; though I haven't made any money off my writings and my readership numbers are suboptimal, I'm okay with it for now—this blog's been up for only a half-year and I've enjoyed it.)
     One realm in which an overabundance of patience is not desirable is that of child rearing, particularly when kids act up, or get sloppy or lazy. We've all seen unruly, disruptive, whiny kids in the mall, airport, or restaurant with patient (lazy/neglectful/ineffectual) parents nearby ignoring them as if they were perfect angels, or asking them to stop it, but not really meaning it, as if such meager efforts suffice. It's obvious these kids always have their way, they lead unhappy and unstructured lives, and they never learned self-control or manners. It's too bad—it's not their faults, it's their parents.' (These kids will learn self control in time but such learning will probably happen only much later and at much steeper costs, and perhaps only at the hand of non-family outsiders.)
     In short, then, parents must discipline and teach their children on a strict and regular basis and not suffer their failings mildly. It's not enough to do it once in awhile or only for the most egregious transgressions, either, it must be done all the time for all transgressions. (The last is a joke as any reasonable parent knows, for it's impossible to correct and discipline all the time for every transgression for such attempts will soon turn counterproductive. But as an overall goal, and when a child is primed and ready, “consistency is the key,” as our friends of four well-behaved boys put it. Through experience we have learned that each child will eventually “get it” and behave well in general without prompting after he or she knows Mom and Dad mean business and won't budge.)
     We have thusly raised our kids with discipline and structure—quite strict by most standards. Their behavior—usually self-contained and disciplined—reflects this (Jaren being the notable exception at times—we're still working on it.) Structure, like consistent discipline, creates predictability and stability, which create security, which reduces misbehavior to reaffirm the boundaries, which reduces the need for discipline—all desirable in orderly households.
     So it may seem ironic that though we say grace before all our meals and prayers before each of their bedtimes, we have granted them great freedom in their Christian walks, meaning we never “forced” them to become Christian, to say they believe in God, to choose Jesus as their Lord and Savior, or to be baptized. The kids, on their own, have to make their own such decisions, we feel, perhaps the most personal of decisions, ones that can't and shouldn't be forced, faked, or made just to please others. It would have been easy for us to have gotten impatient and forced Braden, now fourteen, to get baptized, and he would have gone through the motions, but had he not felt changed inside, it would have been just for show and of little benefit to him, potentially harmful if it caused him to rebel against us and/or Christianity. On rare occasion we stated our hopes for him but made clear that the only thing that really mattered was what he felt, believed, and wanted for himself inside.
     Four months ago, our pastor offered a baptism and church membership class series to him and two other fourteen-year-old boys. Braden seemed so noncommittal that as the deadline neared, I felt certain he'd say, “I'm not interested,” but to my surprise and delight he said he'd be interested in going.
     The baptism and membership classes took place on Sundays after church throughout the two months leading up to Easter. During the last class, the boys were asked to decide by Wednesday whether they'd like to be baptized and/or become church members. Again, Braden seemed so noncommittal up to Tuesday evening that I felt certain he'd say, “I'm not ready yet.” But when we told him after dinner that Pastor M. needs an answer by tomorrow, call and leave a message on the church office's answering machine, what have you decided?, he said I'd like to do both.
     On Good Friday, Braden participated in two services by reading scripture verses.
     Saturday evening, he stayed overnight at the church with church staff and the two other boys being baptized. And Easter morning, he accompanied a group to sunrise service at Makapuu Blow Hole.
     Easter service proper at our church started like any other, but soon got into the lead-up to the boys' baptisms. The boys each recited in turn their Christian Creeds that they (and the leaders) had developed—beautiful statement of faith.
     We have had a longish history with the two other boys—they were both in scouting with Braden ever since we moved into the area and over a year before we started attending this particular church, which they had been attending all along (unknown to us) with their moms. All three boys had been to varying degrees immature, bratty, shy, and lacking in confidence, with chips on their shoulders. So watching them over the past three-and-a-half years mature into voice-changed adolescents and tall and able men-to-be, and hearing them now speak their Christian faiths so unabashed and committed, I felt as if they had reached a culmination of sorts in the eyes of God and man, a crossing of a boundary into a new life in Christ, proof positive to all present that God was and is faithful and everyone's toils and prayers through the years had not been in vain but worth it, yet nothing compared to God's love for the boys.
     Braden had come perhaps the farthest—a difficult strong-willed child that we, naive and slow to learn, struggled, strived, and railed against. I felt not so much pride during the ceremony as overwhelming relief that no matter what happened, he was God's and He would take care of him. Our job was done as far as his first, great step/leap of faith went. I wept, mouth aquiver, throughout the ceremony. It's such a lovely and accepting church that I felt no shame or inhibition whatsoever—only profound gratitude.
     Up to then, I knew that Braden had all the head knowledge necessary to comprehend Christianity's tenets, but I never felt certain that he felt its reality—close and warm-or had chosen to believe. I had numerous doubts whether he'd ever believe. I hadn't reaffirmed my Christian faith until I was twenty-seven (my parents had brought us to church for one year which was when I first believed as an eight-year-old; I had been praying off and on on my own since then) and I was fully prepared for him to take his time to decide, too. So it all came as a blessed surprise when he told us of his intentions even though I inwardly questioned his sincerity. It was only after he got up with the boys and stood there waiting to recite his lines that it hit me that it really was going to happen and he really did believe. It was the most I cried over him since forty minutes leading up to his birth when he attained zero-station (the narrowest gap in the birthing process) and I knew then, too, that it really was going to happen—God was going to bless us with a child.