Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Vacation Bible School, Part II

     Braden this year served as a missionary at an outer-island vacation bible school. (Last year we went as a family; he stayed the entire week, the rest of us stayed two nights.) And boy did the experience mature him!
     Last year, he acted up prior to the trip—probably due to repressed anxiety.  This year, he was calm and prepared and it was mostly Deanne that got antsy over whether he had packed everything. (I love leaving him to do it all—that's how he'll learn, by forgetting something important. It's how I learned the importance of a toothbrush when I forgot mine for a Boy Scouts summer camp and got my first cavity as a result.)
     And upon returning, he spoke with calm clarity—very unusual for him! (I've for years mimicked his mumbling, hurried indecipherable gibberish in countless attempts to get him to slow down and speak clearly in sentences that make sense. He had the rushed habit of speaking before thinking—with garbled thoughts, ungrammatical sentences, and lazy pidgin (“gonna” for “going to”, “dah” for “the”, “dey” for “they”, “gotta” for “got to”, etc.) I emphasized the need to be able to switch pidgin on and off, that I don't care how he speaks with friends, but with us, he must speak coherently so that we don't have to strain to understand or constantly ask for clarification.
     Upon the group's return, our pastor told Braden to prepare a short speech for Sunday service describing his missionary experience. The speech's script—less than 600 words—was to be submitted for her perusal first. I didn't ask to examine his draft, which he finished the morning following his return. But I did advise to make it personal, not “I enjoyed myself with the kids”, but rather, “I got close to Jeremy, a shy boy or a naughty or active boy. He was having trouble fitting in...or whatever.” Or don't say, “I matured a lot” but rather, “I normally don't feel comfortable speaking in public, but during blah blah blah, I blah blah blah and realized...whatever. In other words, specific names and specific examples—those will make it real and alive.”
     He nodded and said, Yes, Dad.
     I didn't see him do any rewrites, so he either got it right or didn't care enough to change it, I concluded.
     On Sunday he shared first (of three missionaries), speaking slowly, clearly (enough), and confidently—even injecting some humor (about our pastor) that elicited spontaneous laughter—even as he laughed while joking. He also had three concrete examples of learning and growing experiences. Projected images (arranged by our Associate Pastor) of a child Braden played with appeared on the back wall as he spoke, enhancing his presentation. I was pleasantly surprised by Braden's performance, gratified for his opportunity, and hopeful for his future. (So often I've wondered, Will he ever get there? Will it be in time? Now, he seems on track. Physically, he's matured rapidly while his emotions and intellect slowly catch up in sudden spurts—same as me when I was a kid. In fact, he's probably ahead of where I was at his age in many respects, though expectations are far higher these days.)
     I later asked Braden if our pastor changed anything of his draft and he said, No. His writing, then, also improved. A lot! I chock it all up to the expanding experience and doing God's work for a needy population—mostly second generation Hawaii residents, kids whose parents are from the South Pacific, many of whom struggle to get by.
     Our pastor shared that in coming years, our church hopes to train the local older kids to conduct the vacation bible school themselves. (At which point, perhaps, our church could then start another vacation bible school elsewhere.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

God's Blessings

     God's blessings in all our lives are profound, untold. On a recent workout run, I noticed an open house sign, stopped by on my way home, and asked the realtor for a fact sheet that showed asking price, year built, square footage, etc. She mentioned that the downstairs unit had a tenant that paid XX hundred dollars per month. The asking price was a bit less than a million dollars.
     I was familiar with the house and had been in the downstairs unit before during a yard sale. The tenant's children have been highly visible in our neighborhood so I knew them too.
     Now the downstairs unit is nothing special, and neither is the house or lot. The interior of the unit couldn't be much larger than ours and the amenities are comparable (though our unit comes with a two-car carport and nice, level driveway; theirs has a single stall in a shared carport that opens street-side. Plus our unit is over twenty years younger than theirs.) What shocked me was the monthly rental figure she gave me which was over double ours!
     Our landlord has raised rent on us a bit over the past few years, well within our affordability range. If he doubled our rent, I told Deanne, we'd have to look for another place to stay. He does appreciate our stability and reliability (we are good, tidy, quiet tenants who help to keep the grounds clean) and doesn't want to lose us. More important, he's got more than enough money and knows we can use it far more (and better) than he can, since he receives a generous pension and has other rental properties that he draws rent from and all his adult kids are well set. I suspect our comparatively simple, humble lifestyle inspired him to downsize his, which must have given him more joy and satisfaction with the ample abundance that he already enjoyed. So our tenancy has been win-win, I suppose.

     I've been having health trials again, recently, though they now seem to be improving, so I'm hopeful and try to remain positive. I live day-to-day with good days and tougher days. One of the better days it dawned on me again (as it does every so often) the greatest blessing of all: existencewhy there should even be anything at all. God created it all, obviously (to me), and for that we can and should be eternally grateful. Nothing can compare to the profound magnificence of existence, so reveling it it's mysterious glory, we can all take heart that what we at times stress most about—health, job, finances, kids, or relationships—are all blessings just for existing. For if none of these existed, would we?
     Only God knows all and can answer all the whats, whys, hows, and whos and regardless of the answers, he can be trusted for his generosity and goodness as Creator of all. Compared to all he gives us, then, what we give him and what he asks of us are small potatoes. For his yoke is easy to bear and his burden is light.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ignorant Parenting

     When I was kid, I told myself I'd never make my kids do all the stupid things my parents made us do.
     For the most part, I think we've kind-of succeeded. And by “stupid stuff”, I'm not talking about doing chores, receiving discipline, studying hard, or using good table manners—which are all excellent things (even as a kid I recognized that)—I'm talking about nonsensical things that don't hold water: things not scientifically supported.
     My parents were enlightened and progressive, so they didn't have too many of these. The worst for me was “standing up straight”, mainly to look good. Braden and I stoop/slouch when we stand or walk. I let it go; Deanne gets on him to no noticeable lasting benefit. Perhaps it's genetic. It probably is healthier for posture and certainly looks better to stand erect, but it just feels so unnatural, so it's tough. Unless I consciously think “stand up straight”, it never happens. And even when I try, it's still far from back-against-the-wall erect.
     Another was my mom telling me how to walk because my locked-knees style caused my buttocks to “bounce around too much.” I did change this so to this day I never fully straighten my knees when walking. It's given me muscular thighs since the muscles thus carry so much of the load. But as an adult, when hiking, it tires me out too fast, causing twisted ankles far too often. So I have to consciously think “straight legs” when hiking downhill especially, so the bones carry more of the weight.
     The one area Deanne and I perhaps fail worst is in their reading: getting enough light and sitting up straight with book on lap. We are constantly reminding all three kids about this (as our parents did us). But most ophthalmologists insist it won't “ruin their eyes” to read in dim light or lying down. Rather, it may just give them temporary tension headache, eye strain, or other discomfort.
     Yet Pene's ophthalmologist recently recommended she read with her old pair of glasses and hold the book about 16” distant to help slow her worsening myopia (which has since stabilized over the past year), implying there's possibly some health benefit to appropriate reading posture.
     One of the dumbest things my mom tried on me was hyotan—using pieces of eggplant to get rid of a stubborn wart on my finger joint. I let her do it just to prove its stupidity: rub my wart with each piece, which I then hid in various places outside. Upon my forgetting one of the hiding places, the wart would supposedly disappear. I had an excellent memory back then. Regardless, it didn't work and she took me to a surgeon to have the wart burned off, which worked far better than hyotan.
     Here's one that some doctors still believe: gargle with salt water for a sore throat or excess phlegm caused by a cold virus. I suffered this foul treatment for decades until I saw a doctor explain on TV that phlegm is packed full of antibodies—the “good stuff” that helps kill off viruses. The last thing you want to do is spit or gargle it out or aggravate the throat unnecessarily. Following his advice, colds have healed far faster and less painfully. So I never tell my kids to use that treatment (unlike my mom who insisted I use it).  (Note:  A quick google search just confirmed that gargling does help, so maybe that doctor and I are both wrong...)
     But we have forced our kids to do tons of stuff our parents never made us do—mostly church-related, which they like fine—but which they may one day renounce as “dumb stuff” they were forced to do. I suppose all kids have such lists. As long as ours grow up to become decent people doing their best, I have no cause for complaint or much regret.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Sensitive Jaren, Part II

     After the kids' last day of school, I'm lying in bed exhausted and hear Jaren in the living room crying. It's not an angry or complaining cry—I don't hear Braden's or Pene's voice or movements accompanying his—he's just upset about something.
     “Jaren? Why are you crying?” I call.
     “I don't want to leave third grade,” he says.
     This is a surprise. He's never mentioned it before. “Come here.” He comes in, still crying more than a whimper, less than a bawl. “Stand here where I can see you.” His eyes aren't flooded with tears but he is upset. “Why don't you want to move on to fourth grade?”
     “I don't know. It's hard to explain.”
     “Did you look at your report card?” I saw the packet on the table, but hadn't yet examined its contents.
     “And you did all right?”
     “Did your teacher say anything?”
     “Are you afraid of fourth grade or the teachers for some reason?”
     No, he says. We talk a bit about the fourth grade teachers, both of whom had been at the school for years with steady-if-not-spectacular reputations. Our two older kids had liked them fine.
     “I just want to stay in third grade,” he says.
     I explain that last year, we tried to have him held back (because he's a late born and will always be the youngest in his school relative to his classmates and he could have benefited from the extra year to mature) but the principal wouldn't have it. “I know he won't allow it again this year and I don't want that for you anyway,” I say. “I'll discuss it with Mom, but you're ready to move on. You'll do fine in fourth grade.” I think a bit more and ask, “Is it because you like your teacher?”
     “All the teachers,” he says, which triggers more crying.
     So we talk about his teachers. “Do you want a hug?” He nods, climbs up, and puts his arm around me and head beside mine. I cradle him and stroke his head and back. He feels better and so do I. “Mom's home,” I say in response to loud knocks and he runs to open the door for her.
     He cries while explaining to Deanne, then plays his plastic recorder, stopping often in the middle of “Supercalifrajalisticexpialadotious” to cry. It's his way of coping—distraction.
     During dinner, when it's Jaren's turn to share, I ask him how his day went and he says he attended the fifth grade graduation and awards ceremony. I ask, “Is that where you earned your certificate" (that's taped to the living room wall)? He affirms and says it's for his involvement with a club at school. He describes the rest of his day and ends by saying, I noticed most of the boys cried, but not many girls.
     “The fifth grade boys or third grade boys?” I ask.
     “Third grade.”
     “When? At graduation?”
     “No, in class.”
     “When did they start crying?”
     “One of the boys started from the morning.”
     “Because he didn't want to leave third grade.” Thus it became apparent that Jaren's crying was sympathetic—in response to the other(s) crying in his class. It didn't seem likely to me that he'd cry simply for the reason he stated had it not been imprinted in his head by someone else's example. He's quick on the uptake, and quick to imitate, sometimes for bad (inappropriate language or attitudes), sometimes for good. His ability to empathize is a good thing, I guess, at least for now. (Would that more people had such ability the world would be a better place. Jesus cried over Lazarus' death even though he knew he was going to raise him back to life. I'm not comparing Jaren to Jesus, but sympathetic crying sometimes indicates strength, not fault or weakness. And empathy is a virtue in too short supply these days.)