Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Signs of Maturity

     When Braden was yet in diapers, too young to talk, I once prepared for him his usual breakfast of cut fruit, Cheerios, and milk. Braden always ate with healthy enthusiasm and this morning was no different, but after ingesting a few spoonsfull, he looked in his bowl, reached in with a hand to explore the contents beneath, said, “Humph!” with down-turned lips, opened his mouth wide—enabling me to see the cave-like ridges on the roof of his mouth—and let out a long, agonized wail.
      I realized in an instant what had happened: for perhaps the first time ever, there was no cut bananas—we had run out. I said with a bemused smile, “What? It's okay, I gave you plenty to eat.  You don't need bananas every day.”
      He kept on eating through his tears and sudden gulps that caught his throat like hiccups and within a couple minutes settled to his usual placid state. Obviously he was just upset 'cause he didn't get what he expected.
      I smiled at it then as I smile at it now 'cause it was so characteristic of him to react with such strong, sudden, hot, demonstrative forcefulness over such a small, unpleasant stimulus. He could be an emotional bugger like me.
      This past school quarter, one of his class electives—positive in most ways—was a distraction to him, demanding lots of time and effort that should more appropriately have been spent on academics, not on the fun but rigorous and otherwise demanding elective. As mentioned in my prior Choices essay, Braden's academics have been a serious struggle for him this past quarter mostly because he was not exerting the time and effort on them necessary to thrive. He was instead cruising (slacking) in these honors History, Math, Science, and English classes and floundering with all too frequent C's, D's, and F's.
      By quarter end, his academics had improved to marginally acceptable, but only just. His attitude, though, still had a ways to go. So based on these and other factors, I had him cancel his eighth period (non school-hours) elective that was becoming burdensome for him and us due in part to inconvenient scheduling. We had warned him that this day might come and he took the disappointment with humble maturity so I gave him back his laptop computer that we had confiscated about a month earlier for inappropriate use, lying, and bad attitudes.
      But then the school counselor advocated for Braden by telling Deanne that the teacher said Braden could rearrange his class schedule to enable him to keep the elective by attending class during study halls and twice a week after school.
      I said this was unacceptable because he needs his study halls for academics, not this one non-essential elective. Because he'd gotten so excited and hopeful about keeping the class, though, this came as a new bitter disappointment to him.
      Braden doesn't cry with open-mouthed wails anymore. But he did cry with hot huffs and tears. And he later fed Deanne some bull about, “It's going to be embarrassing to take next year since I dropped out,” which she ate and regurgitated for me. And he fed her other bull, too.
      But his tantruming didn't last long 'cause he's matured some and realized that it's only temporary—next year he gets three electives and can fit it into his normal class schedule.
      For want of bananas and want of an elective Braden reacted quite consistently, I later realized.
      I told him that life is full of disappointments. I've had many throughout the years. I shook my head and chuckled. It helps to have a sense of humor about it. Life is also full of no's—far more than yes's. No, you can't go to the moon. Or Africa. Or Antarctica. No, you can't heal the world of all its ills. Or end hunger or disease. Or get what you want all the time. Adults take such no's with calm maturity. Or work hard to change things for the better. If you don't like it, get it together and maybe we can add the class back later this year.
     I think he got it. But with youth, as with life, a lot of it is wait and see.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Prayer--Part II

     Prayer works! 
     Which is why I do it so often, not that my prayers always get answered just the way I hope or imagine.
     But virtually always they do get answered, one way or another. (Yes! No! Not now...maybe later. You're not ready, yet.) These answers are never audible, but often manifest themselves by doors opening and closing, silent prompts, and/or confirmations.
     Often, my prayers get answered with a seeming question such as, “What are your motives?” Or “Is this God's best for you?” For God our Savior is sovereign, whom we must obey to live life at its fullest, not a genie in a bottle who does our bidding on command. I find it all too easy to get caught up with asking, asking, asking for what I want, and often forget to bother asking what God wants of me.
     I tend to want self-centered, temporal things, too: health, security, happiness, prosperity, success, improved relationships—nothing wrong with these, but all based on my own selfish wants and desires and not God's, for God, possessed of all-knowing wisdom, perfect in every way, eternal and with everyone's best interests at heart, and imbued with perfect meaning, purpose, fulfillment, peace, contentment, patience, and love has ways that are far beyond my meager comprehension and understanding (thank God for that!)
     And when I do get what I want, I'm often not very happy long-term, either, because whatever I've gotten is essentially temporal—something that comes and goes. Life itself is temporal as no one lives forever, so no one can be happy forever (except perhaps in Heaven).
     Whereas God always gives us what we need: air, water, food, clothing, and shelter, plus more: abundant life that leads to peace and contentment, which is far better than anything the world has to offer. 
     It's telling that the Lord's Prayer, in which Jesus tells us how to pray, doesn't contain a single selfish “want.” The closest is “...give us this day our daily bread.” I usually think of this as food, air, water, clothes, and shelter—necessities for survival. Yet Jesus calls Himself the Bread of Life. Bread also can be interpreted to mean God's word—scripture. The other apparently self-focused prayer items include “forgive us our trespasses...and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” I'd hardly call these requests selfish, though. I consider them humble and suppliant, acknowledging the need for God's divine forgiveness and help and guidance 'cause we can't do it on our own.
     The rest of the prayer acknowledges God's sovereignty and holiness and glory and power and superior ability to choose what's best for everyone (“Thy will be done on Earth...”) And, in essence, it requires us to forgive others even before we pray (“...as we have forgiven those who have trespassed against us.”)
     Although I pray in specifics (travel mercies, healing, help in times of trouble or doubt, etc.), I also pray in general terms. ("Make him a man of God you would have him be."  "Guide me in all your ways."  "Bless her mightily."   I love you, Lord, draw me closer to you...") I've even come to the point where I've largely stopped wanting what I want anymore, meaning God's provision is more than sufficient, it's abundant and full, so if I can content myself with that, why want more?
     In short, I'd much prefer my prayers being answered “No” with God's peace and contentment, than having all my prayers answered “Yes” and suffering unhappy consequences as a result. So getting “No” answers from God may be the best blessings yet (especially when we don't pray according to His will).

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


     I've been feeling more stress recently—I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's residual from our church's family camp and outer island mission awhile ago. Maybe it's from striving with Braden to improve his attitude—mostly regarding academics. Maybe it's Norm's (my friend's) and Grant's (my brother's) divorces. Or my father-in-law passing away. Or the difficulties faced by mother—in—law and unemployed and unmarried brother-in-law who lives at home. Or my aging parents. Or sister's family that seems to be distancing itself from my family along with some of the others listed above. Or my unpleasant work relationship with my boss and boss's boss. Or the good-stress joy of playing bass with our church's praise band. Or my disappointment in much in the world today. Or maybe a little of all of the above.
     I'm not depressed—I've got too much to be thankful for to feel that.
     My mom read me a book in my first year in college (my last year living with my parents) when I was stressed that said that most human emotions—fear, anger, joy, stress, etc.—are biologically indistinguishable. The only thing that's different is our perceptions of them—positive, negative, pleasant, unpleasant, etc. I still wonder over that one. Surely fear and passion would light up different brain patches in an MRI? Or are MRIs capable of sensing our different perceptions? (I doubt it.) I have, however, noticed that positive intense emotions tend to go hand-in-hand with intense negative emotions: a person who cries tears of joy one day often enough may scream hot and angry the next, for example.
     Or how even-keeled people neither tend to get too high up nor too low down.
     I'm emotional by nature so I admire the even-keeled types that are so good to be around in stressful situations—calm and soothing. Not that I'd want to trade positions with them.
     Because for me, a lot of what make my life worth living are those moments of peak intensity: joy, passion, relief, and even sadness, productive anger, forgiveness, and regret that helps me grow. It's all a part of what makes me human and that reminds me that no one has it good all the time and no one has it bad all the time, except in Heaven and Hell. So while life lasts, we may as well learn to appreciate or grow from whatever comes our way, positive or negative.
     I need to write more, I've discovered this very moment. For prior to writing this essay, I was feeling stressed. Putting pen to paper is such a wonderful all consuming task for me.  All the stress just seems to float away leaving a calm, clear air of contentment.
     A few years ago, I experienced some of the most intense negative stress in my life—largely due to medical issues. At the time, I had given up writing for over a year due to horrible experiences dealing with my writing at a prior church we attended. In an effort to release that overabundant negative energy, I took pencil to paper and wrote a novella—a children's story with adult themes. Writing it was one of the single best things at the time to release stress and find calm and peace amidst scary moments.
     When I started typing in the story a couple years later, my stress by then largely abated, I was astounded by how relaxing it was to read. I had expected the stress to transfer to the writing yet it hadn't, and in fact it was some of my most soothing writing ever (without being boring.) I read it to Pene and she enjoyed it. (In essence, I wrote it to her—or at least with her in mind as the primary audience, a “trick” employed by John Steinbeck and other writers.)
     I told Deanne that I believe God wanted me to write and knew I wouldn't do it unless I had to, so he allowed that unpleasant period to enter my life.
     I still believe it.
     So I write not only because I enjoy it, but also because I have to to deal with everyday stressors that can accumulate and grow so big. And because I believe God wants me to.
     Would that everyone had something to rely on for such soothing release, and knew God's love, direction, and purpose in their lives.  (I may not know the last two, but I try to, which helps just as well.)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

In Their Words--PartII

     I felt like I needed a break from posting to this blog (or more accurately, felt too lazy to follow-through by writing something worthwhile, which takes tons of effort—like father like son, I guess given my last post about Braden...  Anyway this week they're at home on vacation for Fall break, whereas I'm at work with No break, so “Put them to work” seemed appropriate as misery loves company—Joke! I love my job and they love writing—at least as much as they love cleaning clogged toilets), so here for the second time in almost a year are all my kids' writings. (No joke—they really did write the following of which I didn't change a thing.) The only ground rules were word counts of a 100-130 for Jaren, 400-450 for Penelope, and 500-550 for Braden. And they had to be works they'd feel proud of and wouldn't later regret for bad spelling, grammar, or punctuation. 

(Jaren's essay)

Star Wars

     Have you seen the Star wars movies 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6? Apparently the movies 4, 5 and 6 were made first an 1, 2 and 3 were made after 4, 5 and 6. The episode 7 “The force awakens” is coming out December 2015! Also, episode 3 explains amolst every thing for episodes 4, 5, and 6. Did you see the trailer for episode 7? (If you didn't, this is going to spoil the trailer.) Did you see the guy with the three bladed lightsaber? (In case you didn't know, a lightsaber is the weapon used by Jedi and Sith made of pure energy.) Truthfully, I like the regular single bladed lightsabers. Last, I would like to trash talk the produscers that I don't know if Obi-wan, Yoda and Anakin can die since they are king of invisible.

(Penelope's essay)
Broken Computer

     I have a computer in my room. In my former room, really. Anyway, before you attempt to track me down in an attempt to steal it, let me save your time with a few simple words. Any guesses? Don't waste your time.
     There's nothing special about that particular computer. Well, nothing special that will make you want to take it. Unless you're an antiques collector, considering how old the computer is. But I don't think that it's that priceless. The entire computer (let's call it Fred) is heavy, clunky and must be plugged in for it to turn on. Then with an added bonus of it working less than 50% of the time, I could possibly attempt to sell it on eBay and see how many buyers I get. Maybe I'll get more for it since I named it.
     Fred has been with my family for quite some time. A really long time. Maybe since I was five. Fred is an old computer and sometimes I feel as if it's trying to tell us to just retire him. Let it live out it's final days in quiet retirement. 
     A description of Fred. Fred is composed of two major parts: a monitor and a big other part containing all of the hardware or whatever you call it. The screen looks almost exactly like our TV, a large boxy shape that narrows down on the back and is set upon a platform that's about the size of the screen. That part is very heavy in itself. The other part of Fred resembles a cereal box enlarged a little, with buttons and wires and all sorts of things that you need for your computer to be useful. Fred also has a black and white printer, nothing fancy. At least the printer can be used and works 100% of the time that you attempt to use it.
     Now let's say that today's your day and you manage to make Fred cooperate with you. Remember how I said that Fred resembles out TV? It does, except that my family doesn't have Internet, so we can't watch TV on it. (Not that we could watch TV on our TV set anyway). In our house, Fred has two major uses: schoolwork that needs to be typed out and work that my parents need to do. An extremely useful computer. *cough, cough*
     The programming of Fred thankfully works perfectly fine (except for Word processing), so my main problem with Fred is that it doesn't always work for me.
     I have a suspicion that Fred favors my dad or has a grudge against everyone except for him, since Fred usually works fine for dad but not us. Or maybe it's just me.

(Braden's essay)

Broken Computer

     We need to get a new computer. The one that is in my room is a Windows XP computer that was used by the cavemen. You know that this is true because like all old computers it has two parts. The first part is a monitor. You can compare it to a those box shaped old televisions with out those pointy things sticking out from the top. Also, unlike a regular television you can not watch Comedy Central on it. All in all the monitor is pretty much like a TV but all you can do with it is use it as a computer screen. The other part of the computer is shaped like a giant cereal box (unfortunately it does not have any cereal in it). This part has all the hardware and stuff that makes the computer work. As you can imagine the combined weight of the monitor and the computer weighs a lot. P.S. To keep things simple I will call the computer and the monitor combined Mr. Computer to keep things simple to prevent confusion.
      Recently the power strip that Mr. Computer is plugged into broke so whenever you want to use him you have to move him to the nearest outlet. Now Mr. Computer weighs a TON. Trying to move him is like trying to push an overweight elephant around. It takes a lot of work if it is even possible. Unfortunately unlike an overweight elephant Mr. Computer can not go on a diet or get exercise, so he can not loose weight. Moving him is not going to get any easier.
     Oh, did I mention that Mr. Computer is broken as well? I guess doing all that work for people since the cavemen days shorted put his brains (or whatever computers use to think). Whenever someone would power him up he would scream at you. Pressing his power button results in a annoying high pitched scream as his internal parts try to get moving. To get a good idea of how he sounds when you turn him on think of the sounds that a broken disk would make when playing a recording of R2-D2. 
     After hearing about our wonderful Mr. Computer you would think that we would be shopping for a new computer by now. After all most people would probably drive down to whatever computer store the usually buy from, and buy a new computer. For the better of for the worse my dad is not like most people. He says that once you can power it on it would work fine, you just have to keep trying to power it on. Well I would say that there is about a trillion to one chance of successfully powering on Mr. Computer. I probably will win the lottery before I can successfully turn on Mr. Computer. If there are any lottery winners out there then will you mind coming by and trying to turn on my computer because the odds are in your favor.
     We really need a new computer. One that works and does not scream at you. A computer that is not from the cavemen days. Oh and a computer that does not weigh as much as an elephant does.

     It's I again. 
     Here are my impressions of my kids' foregoing writing. First of all, note to self: Next year consider forgoing this exercise—mainly for the readers' or reader's (if any exists) benefit. My kids' above writings, though not good—in fact, they still repulse me same as last time, though perhaps a little less—are fair and indicative samples of their psyches at their ages. 
     My inside observations: All three went about the assignment with so-so enthusiasm at best this time, perhaps Jaren showing more than the others.
     Jaren and Pene wrote age-appropriately. What can I expect from a twelve and seven year old?
     I enjoyed Braden's a lot. Showed tons of improvement, humor, and unintentional humor with still too numerous spelling and grammatical errors that I think add to the humor (it's funny when the person criticizing you says unintentionally humorous things like ungrammatical sentences, misused words, etc. There's a higher-up where I work that loves to say “irregardless” in all seriousness. It's hard to take him serious when he says stuff like that. No one tells him of his error, because, well, I do not care to speculate.)
     By the way, Braden and Pene claim they did not discuss their essays at all, they just coincidentally turned out with identical titles, themes, and techniques—naming the computer and referring to it as “he” and a “cereal box.” I believe them. It's scary to think that they think so much alike though, they're as different to me as two people could be, but perhaps that's just my impression. Makes me wonder, though... seems so strange.