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.

Monday, August 15, 2016


     I'm concerned about Pene mainly because she's been sooo easy for us—a quick, attentive learner and a wonderful self-starter who is diligent, bright, obedient, and non-demanding. She takes the initiative to fold common laundry, put away dishes form the dish rack, and wipe counters without being told. She earns straight-As, possesses neat hand-writing, and got her first B (in History) last winter but brought it up to A the following semester, earning A for the year. I told her, Grades at this stage don't really matter—no one looks at them for college admissions, main thing is what's in your head. But a fellow student last year made her cry (only after she got home) when he teased her in class that “Pene's going to get her first B” over some minor mistake she made in class. I've told her more than once that she needs to toughen up about such things. Who cares what other people say as long as they don't physically assault or threaten you. Teasing's a part of growing up.
     She's emotional—cried when reading Marley and Me, Sadako and the Thousand Cranes, The Book Thief, and numerous others. Got weepy at my Aunt Bea's funeral (so Deanne claimed) even before it started and even though she barely knew her. I suppose it was just the somber mood, seeing everyone together, and anticipating what was coming that overwhelmed her. Tender or sharp words from Deanne or me makes her cry. She cried when Deanne shared the facts of life and also when she shared our values of saving oneself for marriage. She cried when I explained to her about family dysfunctions among relatives and compared those to happy family relations and laid out her choices for herself in the future. She cried when I told her to Keep your mouth shut when Mom and I are arguing/disagreeing about something; it's not your place to act as family referee.
     I'm glad Deanne and I brought her along to our anniversary dinner to a fancy-ish restaurant and left the boys, who'd been acting up way too often, at home. (At the anniversary dinner she was considerate and ordered the least expensive item on the menu.) She's had the least about of alone-time with us, especially at going-out meals, because she's the middle child. Braden had us to himself before Pene came along and Jaren the same when he was too young to have Braden babysit along with Pene. Jaren also got special outings when the two older ones had gone out to church activities together. It may not have been fair for Pene, though we've tried to make her feel special, too.

     She asked me to cut her hair (we donated eleven inches of it to Locks of Love) and layer it in back. I did so, but her hair stuck up in a duck's tail half way up her head, ear-level. I thought it was due to her wearing a ponytail or braid for so long, but even after showering and drying, it still stuck out ridiculous. She didn't cry or say it looked awful. “I'm fine,” she said, though she looked stormy-day glum.
     I knew it looked awful but realized we can't add hair back. Her hair had changed since six years ago when I'd last cut it. It'd become stiffer since. When the length was long, the weight held it down. Now that it was short, it stood up. I couldn't have known that. If we took her to a hair dresser to fix it, all they could do is cut more. I said, I'm not content, can I cut that smallish patch that is sticking out? It's same as Mom's was when I cut hers way shorter and she screamed at me to cut this off and I did and it came out one of the best cuts she's ever had.
     Pene said okay so I cut it out and it looked just fine. She even got compliments from classmates.
     Here's my concern: She's thirteen. She still hasn't received Christ as her Lord as far as we can tell. She's still not quite comfortable in her own skin. When it's time for her to start separating from us in a few short years. What will happen then?
     It's been said that boys are far easier than girls during the separation process. When she starts questioning and revolting from all that we are and she's been—that's what I'm concerned about. How far astray will she go and will she ever return?
     But I entrust to God that all be well.

     Confession: Pene is growing more and more into her womanhood and as she takes after Deanne, is growing ever more beautiful and sexy. I've told Deanne to speak with her of modesty around the house and Pene's been more or less discrete. Nonetheless, her blossoming is tough for me to behold—sweet, yet fraught with fears. Mainly, I fear for her safety from outsiders, but also from myself. I pray that if the Devil ever tempts me to do anything that will harm or ruin her to indulge some sick lustful desire in me unknown, that God would kill me first. I even prayed this decades ago before I got married, the notion repulses me so. This doesn't make me holy, it makes me human and in desperate need of God's help to prevent any such tragedy from ever happening. I think most guys, truth be told, feel this same way.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Church Visitations

     Over the past month we've been visiting nearby churches because I felt called to and not because we're looking for a new church. I've always known wherever you live, there are wonderful churches nearby and this was confirmed—a real comfort.
     We hadn't been able to travel much this past year so these visitations were like mini-trips/vacations for us, for when we travel I mainly like to see how other people live. Seeing how other people worship reveals a part of that...
     It's been a refreshing (and sometimes stressful) eye-opener. For the first times ever, I've attended Baptist, Episcopal, and Catholic Sunday, and a Jewish Shabbat services. They were all very modern (rockin' music with drums, ukulele, guitars, and choir in Catholic masswho knew?) and welcoming. The Jewish service was difficult to follow because so much of what was sung was in Hebrew with unfamiliar lyrics and melodies and because it had no preached or explanatory messages at all. It even had a communion-like partaking of bread and wine, which we passed on because we had no idea what it meant. (Per Internet research, wine represents “joy” and bread “abundance/provision.” If we'd known that then, we probably would have participated.) I found the Catholic mass stressful because of the church's huge laden history (good and bad) but nothing weirded me out because everything seemed somewhat familiar. With the exception a Baptist church full of seniors (average age 72?), attendance at all the churches and synagogue had sadly fallen from their heydays judging by the largely empty pews and vast campuses.  Next to the Baptist church, the Catholic church was the most filled of all, mostly with young adults. I wondered if the popularity of Pope Francis had anything to do with that or his openness to change with its contemporary/informal style. (Deanne attended a Catholic school for awhile and said mass there was a lot more traditional and formal.)
     There is at least one more church we'd like to visit which has ties to our church. Another church with ties that we visited had a beautiful pipe organ and a guest musician that played with four mallets one of the biggest marimbas I've ever seen (about 8' long?).  Jaren loved the Sunday school and asked even before we left, “Can we come back again?” The people there were so welcoming and we felt so comfortable, blessed, and secure. Braden was on a church trip at the time, so he and Pene didn't get to meet youth their ages (Pene sat with us through service—she didn't feel comfortable venturing out to Sunday school, which was broken out by age groups, without Braden—she'll learn.)
     The institutions' websites were good in providing general backgrounds and a feel for what the church/synagogue might be like, but none prepared us for the big-hearted welcomes, generous and real, that we felt when we walked in through the doors and I said, “We're visiting, is it alright if we sit in?” At the sister church in particular, they treated us like family and even tried to lure us in by describing a youth mission trip next year to the U.S. Mainland (to either the East Coast or Midwest) that they hope to raise enough funds for to make it free for all participants.
     So if you're not a regular church-goer, I highly recommend visiting the half-dozen or so nearby religious institutions to sit-in their services—just to see. It's our first times ever and am I ever glad we did!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Photogenic Kids

     When I was a kid, not many of my classmates looked great in our low-tech middle school year book with card stock cover. Our awkward, uncomfortable, and insecure personalities somehow showed even in the low-definition photocopier-quality likenesses printed on plain paper pages secured with staples down the center spine.
     How times have changed!
     The most salient feature in my daughter's expensive, glossy, hard-cover year book overstuffed with too many pages of teeny-tiny color photos galore are the number of photogenic kids with bright eyes and smiles, and tons of confident show-case personalities—this despite their being not especially handsome or pretty by objective standards, even looking less mature than many of my peers looked at their ages, probably in part because we got a lot more sun than kids these days do.
     I marveled as I leafed through that there were dozens of great photos that featured a cute smile, laughing eyes, a suggestive smirk, a mysteriously averted gaze, or other flattering aspect. The camera must love these kids, I thought.
     Whereas our yearbook from the 1970s contained perhaps only five or so “nice” shots that featured a pasted-on smile, hair coiffed perfectly, an attractive and complementary shirt or blouse. Technology aside, why the huge change in the photographic subjects? I eventually realized that back in my time, the ones who looked great were either the outcasts or misfits or the overly self-absorbed who probably spent way too much time in front of a mirror, primping and experimenting with different poses and smiles. My mom made me do it one year in elementary school before picture-taking because she'd gotten fed-up with my awful likenesses from years past. After forty minutes of back-and-forth between her coaching and bathroom mirror practice with different smiles, I finally got one that satisfied her and she said, “Perfect. Memorize that and use it tomorrow.” It was slightly open-mouthed with raised brows, stretched back lips, upright posture, and slightly raised chin. Mom was so super-pleased with the school photo that year, I use the same basic smile to this day.
     Too many kids these days are armed with smart phones, so it stands to reason that many such kids would get way too much practice taking selfies, posting them on social media, and forwarding them to friends. No wonder they're so photogenic, they're practicing all the time with instant feedback technology. (Whereas back in my time, film cameras took days, weeks, or months to see how things turned out. Mirrors obviously gave instant feedback but weren't the same. Smiling before a camera could be daunting as film was expensive and you only had one shot, so it had to be good. The main thing was don't blink—even though you knew the flash was going to sting your eyes and you'd see sparkles on hazy black for the next minute or two. Today's super light-sensitive digital cameras by contrast require hardly a flash at all. No wonder we had such wooden smiles.)
     By the way, our family does not possess a smart phone and my kids and I aren't especially photogenic. They do alright, though, similar to most of their peers and we're satisfied. I feel I take way better photos of them than the school does and have never purchased school formal photos. We have purchased group class photos on occasion (mostly the younger years when they were soo cute.)