Wednesday, June 24, 2015


     Tithing's tough for most. I served as a church accountant for awhile and counting tithes and preparing annual tithing statements were among my responsibilities so I had a pretty good idea who was and wasn't tithing their full ten percent. Perhaps ten to fifteen percent of congregants did. And we had a very generous church.
     About that time I attended a seminar on church finances and the instructor said that only about fifteen percent of clergy tithe their full ten percent. Incredible! Perhaps this is why so many clergy find tithing such a difficult topic to preach?
     The thing about tithing that makes it seem so difficult at times is that when we have little we choose to believe we can't afford it. And when we have a lot we wonder at having to give soooo much!
     Most Christians are aware that the only place in the bible where God allows man to test him is in tithing: “Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I throw open the floodgates of Heaven and pour out so much blessings that you will not have room enough for it.” Based on my observations, it seems that this passage is always taken as suggestive, meaning God is in essence saying, If you feel like it, try it.
     But no clergy I ever heard said that based on the nuances of the original Hebrew text that this is the proper interpretation. In fact all the Bible versions that I've ever read of this verse in Malachi seem to suggest that God may be commanding us to test him in this. Should we?
     To my great chagrin, I confess that for the first time ever, I (and my family by extension) are tithing our full ten percent. A pastor said that when you do this, something breaks. When he said it, his hand motions suggested the breaking of a chop stick, pencil, or bone. And he obviously meant it in a positive way: we at that moment break our stubborn self-reliance and trust in money and instead turn to God, who is worthy of our trust.
     I have no regrets.
     God has opened doors for us, assigning us more active roles in church, and most importantly to me, allowing us to serve as a family. Deanne and I got to serve as ushers for a month collecting tithes and attendance sign-in sheets. Our pastor gave me a bass guitar to play with the Keiki worship band, which my kids participant in. And we are all traveling to an outer island to serve mostly second-generation underprivileged immigrant youth as missionaries at a vacation bible school. Braden will stay the entire week, whereas the rest of us will stay for two days and two nights (at my request, because I doubted we'd hold up well as a family much longer). It'll be a first mission trip for each of us and we are excited and blessed to be part of it. We requested to be considered for inclusion, and through God's abundant provision, we got invited and our payment portion will be minuscule due to generous scholarships.
     I also got asked to give a five minute explanation to the congregation on why I come to church, which will be part of a lesson on stewardship. I have a script, and a plan, and though by nature I hesitate to do such things, I feel at peace about this one, as if it'll turn out right. Please pray for me.
     I think it's true that I had to break a certain resistance to tithe fully, but once the decision was made, I've felt stress-free and nice about it ever since. And these feelings have carried over to other areas of my life, too—amazing how that works!
     And I've seen blessings in other unexpected ways: our family feels tighter/closer. I found a book of quirky but sometimes profound facts (Conversation Sparks) that we take turns reading after dinner. It's been fun and constructive, giving everyone a chance to contribute.
     Braden for the first time ever got near straight A's (except for one bad grade in music caused by non-attendance at after-school events due to discipline reasons—see my prior Expectations essay, regarding).
     Braden's scoliosis (fifteen percent curvature) is stable, so he doesn't need intervention or treatment (such as wearing a brace at night), though he still slouches (as do I, unfortunately, at times).
     All is not perfect, however, Deanne was notified that she won't be returning as a teacher's aide next year, so she's hunting for a job now.
     Our sole car is giving hints of trouble, and taking cars in for repairs is a sore point for me (having suffered at the hands of numerous dishonest mechanics).
     And our immediate and extended family continues to suffer assorted maladies and travails in health, relationships, job dissatisfaction, and other areas too numerous to mention.
     No one said tithing will get us to heaven.
     But the bible does say in Matthew, “Where your treasures are, so too shall your heart be.” Indeed, giving the full tithe has drawn me closer to God, perhaps closer than ever, which certainly is the greatest blessing of all.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Portion Controls

     It's amazing how easily people can get accustomed to super-sized meal portions—remnant survival instincts from days of scarcity. But here in America, it's rare that anyone has to face malnutrition due to a lack of calories. To the contrary, American diets all too often have an excess of calories, and in the rare occasions when nutritional deficiencies do occur, it's usually due to poor food choice versus lack of healthy options.
     Our family eats well-balanced, nutritious meals, but for a while our portion controls were lacking. Every meal was an all-you-can-eat buffet with the refrigerator and cupboards open for the taking if the meal preparations ran low. Deanne and I still controlled what was eaten, but everyone decided how much to eat.
     This worked fine when the kids were younger as God has blessed our kids (and me) with tall, slim builds. They all averaged about fiftieth percentile in weight, seventy-fifth percentile in height, and they were physically active with P.E. at school and work-outs at home. Pene also had joined cross country, then track and Braden walked to and from his bus stops totaling about two-thirds mile each way.
     But as they aged and Braden's and Pene's growth spurts slowed, P.E. got replaced by Health, track season ended, Braden got resistant to exercising outside, and their appetites remained unchanged, then they started putting on extra weight on their butts, and around their faces, necks, and waists. First to experience this all-of-a-sudden change was Braden. Our former trim, large-boned boy (now size 10+ shoes) was filling out in not so muscle bound-looking ways. I once asked him if had jelly-butt.
     No, he said.
     I said, I'm going to test it with my foot. He was sitting sideways on the floor at the time and it looked like a rounded muffin. But was it solid muscle or padded fat? My foot, fortunately, did not sink in. He smiled and I said, “Not so bad,” but it still had an excess of insulation that needed losing.
     First to go were anything-goes afternoon snacks. I never allowed such indulgences other than finishing leftover dinner, or, air sandwiches. An air sandwich is one which we make and eat together. “Okay, what kind of bread do you want?” I ask. “Alright sourdough, yummy! Here's the bread...” I pretend to open a bag and pull out two slices. “You, too. Do the same.” We go through the motions, adding all the fixin's, and finally grab the smashed down bundle in our two hands, open wide, and pretend to shove it in, take a bite, chew, and swallow. Whenever, I say “air sandwich” or “eat your leftovers” now, they know they're not getting anything more. Deanne for awhile indulged them, but then she too got fed up with their eat-as-a-form-of-entertainment and just about quit allowing it too, thank God.
     Next to go were the seconds, thirds, and fourths at dinner. Braden was not pleased. “I'm hungry,” he'd say with—I don't know how he did it—sunken, desolate, I'm-on-the-verge-of-dying eyes. But having inspected his packed-full plate before dinner, I knew he was exaggerating, for whenever he went hiking with the scouts, he ate far less and never complained to them how hungry he still was. In short, he was testing our resolve. So, no problem, I held my ground, and explained how his stomach needed shrinking. And how some former high school athlete classmates of mine who quit working out after high school put on tons of weight fast because they didn't reduce their food consumptions to match. And that I didn't want that to happen to him.
     His deprivation act continued for a few meals until I told him, “I'll tell you what Grandma used to tell me—it's the nicest way I know how to put it: 'You've had enough.'” I said it with calm knowing and gave a nod as if that was that. Since then, he's seldom given me attitude about food insufficiency.
     Pene, when it was her turn to return to normal size portions, got teary a couple of times, but then she adjusted and has been fine since.
     I, too, used to stuff myself silly every delicious meal for awhile, but then realized how uncomfortable it made feel and look, that I didn't want to set the bad example, that it wasn't healthy, and that it made me feel sooo sleepy, so I adjusted and haven't felt the least bit deprived.
     So we're once again trim and stable and content with enough.  In meals as in many other things in life, sometimes less is more.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Choosing Wisely

     While reading to Pene the “fairy tale” described in my prior Rest essay, I edited out details of the couple's difficult childhoods—hers with an abusive, distant father who developed mental illness and a mother who enabled his psychotic delusions, and his with parents who dumped him without warning or explanation at an abusive English boarding school on the opposite side of India where he spent his later formative years.
     I explained to Pene how sometimes it happens this way that a pair's attraction is based largely on shared miseries.
     Or, sometimes the opposite occurs, I told her, whereby both guy and girl have happy childhoods and this draws them together such as for childhood sweethearts Uncle Thomas and Auntie Susan who met at a Buddhist convention during high school.
     I continued to explain that for my parents, Grandma had a happy childhood growing up with her dad and five sisters, Auntie Bea raising them all. Whereas Grandpa had a difficult childhood. When Grandma first met Grandpa, he was so shy she had to draw him out of his shell. It worked and in our family, Grandma often was strong when Grandpa was weak.
     Mom and I are similar, I said. Mom had a challenging childhood and yet, she was able to forgive and move on with optimism—just like Grandpa. I admired her for that, knowing it was courageous and warm-hearted of her, so opposite my ex-girlfriend that I was engaged to—thank God she broke it off—that also had a difficult childhood, but who never forgave the men in her life so that she was forever bitter deep inside and felt she always had to be in control and could never trust men again.
     I paused and gathered my thoughts before continuing. For awhile, I said, I wanted a wife who was this, this, this, this, and this—all these things that she'd bless me with. Then, it was as if God said, “Tim, rather than looking for someone who will bless you the most, you should be looking for someone whom you can bless the most.”
     After that, my whole perspective changed. Not that I suddenly sought the neediest person around—I'm not equipped for that so that wouldn't be such a blessing for her, but someone who wasn't perfect, either. After all, I'm far from perfect—no one is. So someone whom I could bless without regard to how much she would bless me. For the greatest blessings come not from receiving but from what? I asked.
     Giving, she said.
     And one day you'll have the choice to marry a guy with a happy childhood and bless each other and others. Or, you could marry someone with a less fortunate family background and bless him with yours. It'll be your choice.
     What we have is rare, Pene. We stay home, eat dinner together every night, go to church as a family, say bedtime prayers, go for walks, take family vacations, talk all the time—that's rare. It's the only life you know, so you probably think that everyone has it. I used to think that. All my childhood friends had close families, too, so I assumed it was normal. But it's not. I learned in the college dorms that the so-called prototypical happy family life is anything but. Guys told me, “I haven't seen my father in years,” or “I don't get along with my dad.” A girl I dated had no parents—she'd been orphaned young. “I have a brother,” she said, “that I haven't seen in years. He's the 'dark sheep' in the family.” And I've had countless friends with divorced parents—like Uncle Grant. It's tough, really tough.

     Several days later, after remembering something I'd forgotten to share with Braden when lecturing him about lying (see my prior Lying essay for more, regarding), I called him outside and said, “One thing more about the need to always tell the truth. This is something Grandma once told me: 'Honesty is the basis for all trust. Without trust, there can be no love.'
     “It's a truism and I agree with it. I had a girlfriend once who always lied. Everything out of her mouth was a lie. She lied so much that I knew that the truth was always opposite what she said. But with that loss of trust, the love went, too. After awhile you just can't love someone you can't trust because it'll hurt too much—disappointment after disappointment after disappointment after disappointment.
     “There are people who live this way all the time—at home, at work, with friends, spouses, children and at church—everywhere nothing but lies! They live empty, wasted lives because they don't have love.” I shook my head. “What's the point? Love is a big part of what makes life worth living. It's your choice. Choose wisely.” I nodded and walked away.

     It had been emotional, moving subjects for me. Braden's eyes shone bright while listening, not unlike Pene's. But how they turn out only God knows. I pray every night they become a man and woman of God.
     Raising children—it's one of the greatest acts of faith there is, somewhat akin to trusting God, I sometimes believe. I told my friend Norm once, “I have an analogy I know you're going to hate—.”
     “You're right I hate it,” he said.
     Then I shared with him the above, saying who knows what's going to happen to their kids? They may grow up to chop our heads off in our sleep. 
     What I didn't get to say was, If we can trust our imperfect kids, why can't we trust God?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Day To Remember

     About a couple weeks ago, I saw Auntie Susan in a dream (for background, see my prior essays In Memoriam: Aunt Susan and Memorial Services for Elders). She was vibrant and healthy again, with her pleasing raspy voice and encouraging and open words and eyes that showed concern only for others. The vision comforted and warmed me even as I wakened and couldn't recall anything more.
     I had been considering whether to take Jaren for his pre-Memorial Day scouting activity of laying leis at Punchbowl Memorial Cemetery (where active duty war veterans and their spouses are interred) and visiting our three relatives there: Auntie Susan, her Korean War veteran husband Uncle Thomas—who predeceased her by three years, and Korean War veteran Uncle Roland, who died in the 1980s in an overseas tragedy. 
     It had been over a year since Auntie Susan had died, and we hadn't yet visited either her or Uncle Thomas's markers, so I felt it was time.
     But there was a scheduling conflict with church on Sunday, so on the following slow Memorial Day morning, we all went and ended up parked a half-mile away (because it would be crowded at the cemetery), coincidentally beside another cemetery—this one upon a steep, ungraded slope covered with two-foot-tall weeds. Its numerous dilapidated head stones—some tottering at odd angles, some weathered and darkened with mold, most with Chinese lettering—had dates of the birth as far back as the 1800s. I noted a few of these to the kids but kept quiet about the sad paucity of flowers or other indications of recent visitors.
     Fifteen minutes later, we ascended the final approach to Punchbowl's entrance past a dozen three-foot-tall flags on seven-foot masts fluttering in the wind. One caught my face and Jaren said, “There's probably a lot of flags inside. 
     “Yup,” I said, “There'll be plenty.”
     “Maybe more than ten.”
     “You'll see,” I said, knowing each of the cemetery's thirty-four thousand markers would be adorned with flag and lei. 
     Bagpipes, one of the most maligned, mocked, and oft-ridiculed instruments around, especially as portrayed in numerous Monty Python sketches and the like, greeted us as we crested the hill and entered the cemetery proper. The instrument was held by a uniformed soldier standing roadside and as he commenced playing, the reedy, deep-pitched drone and high-pitched nasal squeals so unique to the instrument issued forth and I smiled ironically that this instrument had been the one selected to honor the dead on this most somber of occasions. We crossed the street opposite where he stood and I hummed along, picking out low bass and baritone notes, and shortly after we passed within a foot of him, he stopped playing, apparently because he had just been warming up or tuning/testing his instrument.
     At the nearby office we obtained maps to our relatives' sites and took a restroom break prior to walking the hundred yards to Uncle Roland's marker, which required some search even though we'd been there before and had a general idea of its vicinity because there were just so many identical markers! The locator numbers at the top lefts were often obscured by fallen leaves or overgrown grass, so we called out visible ones as we got nearer.  
     Now by saying that locator numbers were obscured, I'm not suggesting slovenliness or lack of maintenance. On the contrary, what Mom told us when we were kids still applies: “The best maintained parks (in Hawaii) are national parks. Next come state parks. The worst are county parks—especially the restrooms.” In addition to being national “park” clean, then, the Punchbowl Cemetery distinguishes itself with its peace and beauty; immaculate lawns, copious trees, and unmarred markers that are relaid level as necessary; and orderliness so apt for one of our state's most dignified final resting sites. Our extended family feels blessed to have our own buried there. 
     Prior to leaving our house, I had our kids choose and bring along a hand-made gift or toy they had lying around, so when we got to Uncle Roland's site Braden placed his beaded gecko toy in the lush grass alongside the lei and standing mini-flag. It was nice to see a vase of flowers there, probably left by Aunt Charlene, his wife, and I said a short prayer. 
     In the distance at the memorial's central plaza a band played a short piece before a small crowd seated beneath an open canopy, and two fighter jets thundered low and slow overhead.
     As we ascended the slope toward the mauka side of the cemetery where the columbarium was, the spot where Aunt Susan's final burial service had been came into view and it began to hit me—even as a cool breeze swept through on its course to the sea and the bagpiper, with quiet, slow dignified steps, belted out a sad, sweet tune—that I yearned to see Aunt Susan yet living. And it overwhelmed me—the gestures, place, time and remembrances that all came together in a sort of earthly perfection of loving heartache, causing me to feel both happy and sad at the same time. Tears blurred by vision and mucus dripped from my nose as I described the ceremony to our kids who hadn't been there due to school. 
     Upon completing our visit at Aunt Susan's and Uncle Thomas's combined marker, where Pene place her gold origami swan and Jaren placed his Lego motorcycle among vases of flowers, Deanne encircled an orchid lei about the plaque, and I said an awkward prayer, we headed back. Over to our left on a grassy slope the bagpiper—handsome and regal—played before a family seated on a tatami mat and upon completion gave a slow measured salute before marching on with slow solemn cadence. 
     I asked Braden if that was the way JROTC taught him to march?  
     He said, “Yeah, kind—of.”
     “Impressive huh?”
     “Yeah”, he said. 
     At our car, the contrast between the two cemeteries couldn't have been starker. I pointed out to the kids that the difference was attributable to Chinese immigrants being considered “less important” by land owners, so they were given junk land in which to bury their dead. But that no one in the eyes of God is less important than anyone else. Unfortunately, that's just the way our current system works. 
     Deanne mentioned that the same held true for my mom's relatives' cemetery in Honokaa (on the road out to Waipio Valley). I agreed and said that that was where Dad had first alerted us to such differences. She asked hadn't most of our closest relatives there been disinterred and re-interred either at Honokaa Hongwangi's or Honolulu Honpa Hongwangi's columbariums? to which I said yes.
     It had been a very meaningful (and for a me, moving) Memorial Day, an experience we won't soon forget.