Saturday, March 31, 2007

My...Mission Statement

It has been said that the sins of the father shall be revisited on his children. One man’s sins can have a ripple effect that can expand to at least four generations. This is why I have chosen to make a constant conscious decision to “break the cycle”. (Dave Simmons seminar and books).

This is not easy. It requires a daily commitment to not repeat the mistakes made by my father. I have chosen to follow the example of my heavenly Father (through His Word).

In my own family, I have chosen to follow God’s example by being

1) Slow to anger,
2) Gracious,
3) Compassionate and
4) Abounding in Love.

As a husband, I have chosen to honor my wife and lift her up daily, to God, clean and unblemished. To love her unconditionally, and completely and to remain faithful to her only. To be a “One Woman Man”. I have burned my ships, and continue to burn my ships daily. Semper Fidelis.

As a father, I have chosen to love my children and to raise them up in the teachings of the Lord “that they may never part from it”. One of the greatest gifts I received from God when I was very young was the earthly example in my stepfather. I will consider myself a success as a Dad if, as the song says, I can be “half the man he didn’t have to be”.

As a servant of the Most High God, as a man of God, I would like to be remembered, like David, as a man who sought after God’s own heart. I desire to serve only Him and to live my life in a manner that would bring glory to Him on a daily basis. What I do for a living doesn’t matter. How much money I make doesn’t matter. The size of my house doesn’t matter. It all takes a back seat to Christ.

I desire to be, like James and John, a Son of Thunder. I have decided to make as much noise as I can for the cause of Christ. That everyone I meet will be exposed to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. I desire that when people meet me, they will have met Christ. Because I am a child of the King, made in His image, when people meet me, I want them to recognize Him, before they recognize me.

By divine appointment, I am the spiritual leader of my household. I am, scripturally, the example of God’s teachings to my wife and my children.

Yet I was born a sinner. I have been redeemed by the cleansing blood of Jesus and have my name written in the Book of Life. But because of my sinful nature, I often, daily, stumble and fall. Desires, intentions, wants and best laid plans are not enough. Please, pray for me to continue making that constant conscious daily decision to follow my Savior and pattern my life after Him.

God is good. Life is good. The rest is just details.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

About Kids....mostly

Y’all have kids? Kids are great, aren’t they?

They can provide so much entertainment, just by being themselves.
One day, several years ago, after all the Saturday morning chores were done, I sat down on the couch near an open window, to read the morning paper. I could hear my 7 year old little girl out on the back patio playing with one of her friends. Well, they weren’t actually playing as much as they were just talking. From the conversation I overheard, I assume they were playing “pretend”.

The reason I assumed they were playing “pretend” is because that’s all they talked about! “Pretend I am a beautiful princess and pretend you are a mean old witch and pretend you poisoned me and pretend I died and pretend I came back to life and pretend you didn’t know it and pretend I……”

This went on for what seemed like all morning!

I remember thinking to myself “Holy Crap! Play already!” I mean, when we were kids, we all played “pretend”. Right? But no one ever actually used the word “Pretend”. We played Cowboys and Indians, or Cops and Robbers or some other type of thing. But we just did it!
“I’m the good guy!”
“You’re the bad guy!”
“Bang! Bang!”
“I shot you!”
“No you didn’t. You missed me by a mile!”
(He was lying. I really did get him).
You found a stick and it became your gun, or your sword or whatever. And we played.

But these two girls? They never actually got around to “playing”. They just sat there talking about it! Good grief, if I had recorded the entire ordeal, we would have a script for a daytime soap to last at least a week! I just don’t understand where that stuff comes from.

Certainly not from me!

That same year, my daughter’s mother and I had been married for 16 years. So, on our anniversary I took her out to a nice romantic dinner, real table cloths, cloth napkins, the waiter wore a tie, we went dancing and had a wonderful romantic evening.

We had arranged for the kids to stay at the grandparents house, so when we got home that night, we got ready for bed, she slid in under the sheets, snuggled up real close, and with a soft sweet voice, said,
“Oh Honey. This evening was wonderful. Dinner was perfect and you danced divinely.

And now…
And now....
pretend that we were just intimate and pretend it was really great and pretend you’re really tired and pretend that…..”
(Have I mentioned that this woman is now my ex-wife?)

Kids really make you think, don’t they? Things change over time but I guess we dads just don’t notice it. For instance, when your kids are small, you are their hero. No matter what, those kids love spending time with “Daddy”.

Up until about the age of 10, you are Daddy.
During those junior high years, you somehow become just “Dad”.
Halfway through high school you hear them tell their friends “Hey, gotta go. There’s my ride.”
(So now I’m just their ride?)
When they get into college its “Dude, do you mind? My friends are here!”

I suppose the next time I get a name change, she’ll be calling me “Gramps”, or something.

One of the greatest sounds I know of is when I hear my children say, “I love you, Daddy.”

I sure do miss those days of being called “Daddy”.

You know what I’ve noticed?

You just can’t say the word “Daddy” without the sound of love in your voice. Maybe that’s why the Bible refers to God, our Heavenly Father, as “Abba”. Abba means “Daddy”. And that’s how God wants us to be when we speak to Him. Even Jesus referred to God as “Daddy”.
The Bible says we are to be child-like in our faith, so when we talk to God, it is okay to call Him “Daddy”.
After all, who else can you trust more than Daddy? Daddy is there to protect you, comfort you and take care of you. In your greatest time of need, you can always count on Daddy.

I enjoy spending time with my “Abba, Daddy”.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Whooda Thunk It?

That Chick Over There from Jason. For the Love of God surprised me with this today..
That is so cool! Thanks Chick!
Here’s what she had to say about me on her blog…..

Alpha Dude at The World Observed by Me. I have no idea how this Dude found my website, but I'm very glad he did. Probably he was searching for the word God, because he loves God and Jesus and stuff. But anyway, I'm very glad he did find me because I love to read his website. He's lived a really amazing life and he and I are a lot alike in a lot of ways. The good ways, not the freaky psycho ways that I tend to bring to the party.

Does she Rock the Party, or what? I’m not sure how I found her site either, but I’m sure glad I did. She has a way of telling things that really make you think as well as laugh until it hurts. A visit to Chick’s site is always worth the trip.

In accepting this award, I get to choose 5 blogs that I would also like to present this award to. Choosing the 5 isn’t easy since all of the amazing people on my blogroll (I think that’s what you call those friends listed on my sidebar) are folks who make me think. Each one in a different way, but they’re all awesome, which is why they are there. So, after much thought, my 5 five nominees are listed below, in no particular order. If you don’t see your name there, please do not be offended, this hasn’t been easy (it required way too much thought).

1) Dr. John Linna of Dr. John’s Fortress. This guy is a good man who is always trying to help people out. He has a great sense of humor and has a thought provoking saying to share every day. I enjoy each visit to Pigeon Falls.

2) Gerbil at There’s a Penguin on the Telly. This gal can take normal every day happenings and present it in such a way that leaves you laughing, feeling her feelings or just sitting there saying, “Huh?”. Always a pleasant visit.

3) Terri at My4Kids. Terri and her husband Kelly are raising four kids in the Pacific Northwest and are getting ready to move to Alaska! She tells it like it is and seems to me to be a lot of fun. They have a son named Joshua, as do I, and I think that makes them pretty cool people.

4) Real Life in South Carolina. I don’t know her real name, but her husband has the coolest name! This amazing lady is raising 5 children and lives to tell us about it almost every day. She is a great mom even if some days she doesn’t think so. She learns things on her daily adventures and I appreciate her for letting us in on the lesson learned. She and her husband Scott (see, I told you he has a cool name) also have a son named Joshua. Awesome.

5) Katrina A. from Transplanted and Growing. She is the real deal and isn’t afraid to admit that she is human. She is truly blessed by God and takes the time to share with us what she has learned, even when the lesson isn’t easy admit or share.

These are also people that I think would make for awesome neighbors. Can you imagine if we all (Chick and Jason, too) lived near the end of the same cul-de-sac? What an awesome neighborhood that would be!

Congratulations, you’ve won a

Should you choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging.

The participation rules are simple:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of this prestigious award,

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.

Thank you all for being a part of my life.

Blessings to you.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Why Do People Cheat?

My grandfather told me that the smart guy learns from watching others. So here's some of what I've learned from the men's ministries I've been involved in through the years...........

Why is it, that, when someone is married to someone who is very good-looking, and nice, do they still find themselves with the urge to explore a relationship with someone else?

Sometimes this just doesn’t make sense. I mean, a guy who is successful, has a gorgeous, loving wife at home who takes good care of him and the kids and the home, still searches the internet for someone else willing for meaningless sex? Why would he do that? (another question is why would some woman subject herself to a man like that. But that’s something we’ll explore later).

The answer, I believe, is quite simple. Most times, when people stray, the person(s) they stray with are somewhat less appealing than their spouses. You see, people who stray aren’t looking for something better, they’re just looking for “something”. Anything, actually. There is something missing at home that they are not getting.

We get busy with our lives, fall into a rut with our day to day activities, and we tend to forget those little things that used to be so incredibly important to us. Intimacy. Now, I’m not talking about sex here, although that does contribute heavily at times. Remember when you used to go for walks together? Spend time together doing nothing, just talking? Or maybe even just hanging out together, whatever it took to just be near each other, with those occasional loving glances you used to give each other, then smile and blush and you just knew there was someone nearby that loves you more than anything.

What happened? Where did that go? Those romantic times become fewer and fewer, and those moments seem to happen less often until one day, you realize that you are now only living with someone you just feel “comfortable” with. You drift further and further apart.

Well, guess what? People still need that intimacy! We all still need that closeness, that “oneness”, that loving feeling we get when your mate gives you that special look, or just takes the time to talk to you. Why do people stop talking to each other? For whatever reason, stop it. Get back to where you once were. Rekindle that flame. Re-ignite that spark. Fall in love all over again. Remember, it isn’t just about sex, although that does play a big part. If your spouse isn’t getting what they need from you, they just may start looking elsewhere. We all have needs, and those needs need to be filled.

The long and short of it is this: People get comfortable, fall into a rut, get bored. But these same people have needs and wants and desires. If you won’t fulfill their needs, they’ll find someone else who can, or is just willing to. The Bible tells to fulfill each other’s needs, so that when you are apart, you will not be tempted. There, you see? God already knew about this!

I know it is difficult for most guys to open up and share their feelings, but come on guys! This is your wife we’re talking about! She’s a part of you! Share yourself with her!

Ladies, take care of your husbands, so they never want for anything or anyone else! Yes, it may be difficult for some of you. So guys, give her good reason to WANT to take care of your needs. Treat her well, and give her good reasons to respect you. (Just try being NICE to each other).

Here’s an idea……try having an affair………with your spouse! Re-kindle that excitement.
Spend some time together, talk. I mean really talk. Not just about your day and daily issues, but about your feelings you had that day. When you got married you became one with your spouse, right?

So start acting like it.

Just 15 minutes a day, every day. That’s all you need to get started. Just 15 minutes a day. Make a little time for each other and just….talk.

The rest is up to you.

******Added for Clarification*******

As usual, this article is aimed at trying to get the reader to think. Not what to think or how to think, but to think. How does this subject apply to your own life? This article can be read or taken in different ways, and apparently it has been.

I did not mean in any way to imply that it is okay to blame someone else for your own foolish choices. What I've shared here are things I've learned from listening to people who were actually involved in such activities. What I didn't say was that these individuals learned from their mistakes and realized that they had made their own foolish choices. Each one understands now that they should have openly told their spouse how they felt at the time. Some spouses forgave, reconciled the marriage and moved forward. Some didn't. But that wasn't the point. The point was to try to get people to see themselves and stop any potentially damaging activity before it has a chance to develop.

But you see, the enemy (devil) likes to work his way in very slowly so we usually don't recognize that it is him trying to influence our lives. Once a person is involved in some kind of sin (porn, chat rooms, etc...) their first reaction is to try to hide it. Things get progressively worse as we delve deeper into the sin.

The Bible tells us that a husband no longer belongs to himself, but to his wife. And the wife, in the same way, now belongs to her husband. It also says we are not to neglect our spouse (in any way) so that when you're apart, you will not be tempted. (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)

But in the end, as Tracey pointed out, we are all responsible for our own actions.
So take some time to just stop and think. The rest is still up to you.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blessed are the Little Dudes (and Dudettes)

Hi, I’m Alpha Dude, but you can just call me ….. uh, well actually, you can call me anything you want. With the people from our church, and there’s a lot of them, I hear the name “Alpha Dude” quite a lot.

“Look Mom, there’s Alpha Dude!”
“Hey, Alpha Dude!”
“…AAAlphaaaaa Duuuuuude!”

Sometimes this is kind of cool, but you see, Alpha Dude isn’t a real person. He’s just a character I play. I “become” Alpha Dude every Monday night at 7:30. There’s a big round area at the end of the corridor of our children’s wing. The kids (Alpha Sprouts) all gather there, and once everyone is settled in, they begin chanting “Alpha Dude! Alpha Dude! Alpha Dude!.......” until Alpha Dude comes bounding in, greets all the Sprouts and launches into today’s lesson.

Well, last night, the lesson for me, just as much as, if not more than, for the kids. Last night’s lesson was “How does God Guide Us?”

I had made the mistake recently of taking my “job” for granted. I show up, read over the script/lesson plan, do the lesson with the kids, a few high fives and I’m outta there. The last couple of lessons hadn’t gone too well. At least that’s how it felt to me. The kids seemed distracted and I was left wondering if they were getting anything out of it. The director thought that maybe we just have a difficult group of kids this time. I wasn’t too sure about that.

In reading through the lesson plan for last night’s bit, I discovered (or did the Holy Spirit reveal to me?) that I had been forgetting the most important part of what I do.

I forgot to pray.


I had been doing this all by myself and was not allowing God to do His thing, through me. I allowed "me" to get in God's way.

I immediately hit my knees, and asked God to forgive me. I thanked Him for allowing me the opportunity and privilege to touch these children’s lives for Him. I asked Him that the kids would not recognize me so much as they would clearly see Him. Because God is what this is all about. Not some goofy guy in a Hawaiian shirt acting weird and making them laugh. I just asked God to use me and to have the Holy Spirit speak to those children through me.

Wanna know what happened? We had the BEST lesson time I think we’ve ever had! Those kids were so into it. I didn’t forget any part of the lesson plan and we all had a blast! And it was quite clear that each of those kids learned something also.

But see, that’s why I do this in the first place. For those kids. Jesus told His disciples “Let these children come to me, and don’t you forbid them. For the Kingdom of God is made up of such as these.” I love being a part of watching them learn about God and who Jesus is and watching them grow into fine young Christian people. These kids are at that age that we adults can really screw them up if we’re not careful. So I try my best to learn from them as much as they try to learn from me.

And sometimes, these kids can really pull at your heart strings. Last night, one little boy, I’ll call him “dude”, asked if we could pray for his mom who is sick with the flu, and for his dog who has cancer and for his dad who is mean to the dog. So, during our closing prayer, I let “dude” pray (out loud – he asked if he could), and he prayed for his mom to get well “in a couple of weeks” (I interceded silently and asked God to make it more like a day or two) and for his dog and his dad. He hugged me afterwards and said “Thanks Alpha Dude.”

Would you like to see miracles and God’s Grace in your life? Teach your children how to pray and then listen to them when they do it. You will be truly amazed by what you hear.

Before I went home, I approached the Throne of Grace one more time.

This time to say thanks.

Dear Lord, Thank you for speaking to me through this lesson and reminding me why I am here. Please forgive me for the times when I get in Your way by thinking of me first instead of You. Father, I pray that as these children grow up and think back on their days with the Alpha Dude, that what they remember most is not of the silly man, but rather those things he tried so hard to teach them and that their focus turns to You and Your Precious Son.
In Jesus’ Most Awesome Name, Amen.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Is It Worth It?

Before you read this, please understand that statements and thoughts made pertaining to particular situations are my own. Everyone has their own reasons for what they do and why they do it. I am not condemning anyone for believing differently. I mean no offense to anyone.
It was a long time ago. In the early Fall of 2004, actually, but it seems much longer than that.
It was a Friday afternoon, and no one else was at home. My work schedule was such that, every Friday, most of us went home at noon. So I was the only one home. The kids were at school, and I have no idea where my wife was. Gone, somewhere, as usual. She managed to keep herself quite busy. At least, she didn’t have time for me, that’s for sure. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for what I was feeling that day.

Despair. Depressed. Unloved. Unwanted. Unappreciated. Lonely.

So, I just sat there, on the edge of my bed in my bedroom. Holding that .380 in my hand. The clip held 5 rounds, and it was full. I knew I’d only need one, and would only be able to use just the one. But the clip was full anyway. It just seemed like the thing to do.

I held it in my hand, and while resting my elbows on my knees, pressed the barrel just under my chin. One shot, that’s all it would take. I thought how convenient it was that all I had to use was that .380. Just enough to do the job, without the messiness of a larger caliber.

The .380 was given to me by my older brother several years ago, right after our house had been broken into. He thought we could use the protection. I’d never owned a firearm before. Didn’t need one. With my extensive martial arts training, I didn’t have much use for one. Until now.

As I sat there, holding the gun, playing with it and pressing it to my skin, I thought how easy it would be, to just be rid of all the feelings, pains and heartaches, and the crap of the world. Just one little “pop”, and I’d be face to face with Jesus. That thought appealed to me.

Then I started thinking about the people I knew of who had dealt with their own problems this very same way. I reminded myself how I felt about what they did. My feelings had always been that suicide was the coward’s way out. It meant you are weak, not strong enough to see things through and work it out. Well, you know something? That just isn’t me.

I also thought about my family. Is this how I want my children to find me? Is this how I want them to remember me? No, I don’t. I decided I wanted to see my son grow into a man, and step out into the world as an adult, and to be there to assist him when, or if, he needs help. I had been singing with the church choir for several years, sang on the worship teams, too. I had often thought about how much I would love to sing at my daughter’s wedding someday. “Butterfly Kisses” was our song. I would love to sing that for her on her special day. How could I possibly miss that? There was so much to look forward to, but so much to run from. And I was running.

My marriage was ending. I knew that. I had seen it coming for several years. I just didn’t know exactly when it would happen. I had done all I could think of to make it work. I tried everything. I read every book I could find on marriage and fatherhood, books by Gary Smalley, Tim LaHaye, Josh McDowell, Dave Simmons, Bill Hybels, Steve Farrar, etc. I went to seminars, meetings, bible studies, anything to learn how to become a better husband and father. I actually applied all that I had learned. I learned and I grew, and I changed, I felt, for the better. My desire was to be the man God wanted me to be. For my kids and for my wife. I felt no love for my wife. I hadn’t for a long time. I tried, but it was getting harder and harder to do all the time. She had done enough over the years to squelch any feelings for her I may have had years ago. But that’s another story. The bible doesn’t say I have to be in love with my wife, just that I am to treat her in a loving way. I did that. I tried as hard as I could to love her, but it is difficult when the one you are trying so hard to love, refuses to receive it from you (by the way – that last statement has nothing to do with sex). I used to bring her flowers for no reason, and hide notes and cards for her all around the house. It wasn’t enough for her, nothing worked. It was somewhat disheartening to come home and find those flowers and cards in the trash can, on the same day I gave them to her.

She refused to acknowledge me or my accomplishments, or my efforts. She refused to offer me even the slightest bit of affirmation. She had no respect for me what-so-ever. (She actually told me that). She continuously talked me down to family and friends, whether I was around, or not. There was no pleasing her. Her actions and words told me that I couldn’t do anything well enough for her, that I did not matter to her and that I didn’t make enough money for her. She basically just didn’t like me at all. True or not – that’s how she made me feel. So, I was wanting out. Way out.

Then I also realized – I am none of those things she was making me out to be. I’m better than that. Besides, she isn’t worth killing myself over. In any sense of the word.

Like I said, I knew the marriage would end soon. I just didn’t yet know the details. My own wife refused to talk to me or spend any time with me. She had actually told me that she and the kids would be better off if I wasn’t around at all. So I started spending more time playing golf, working out at the gym, and nurturing friendships from work and church. I had survived a gun-shot wound to the face back in 1982, and my pastor had told me that God must have a major plan for my life.

Still sitting there, gun in hand, I thought about what that pastor had said. Did God have something special in store for me? If so, I’d never find out what it is if I pull that trigger. Besides, I had worked way too hard on myself to just throw it all away now. So I put the gun back in a box and hid it in the garage. I put it in a place where no one (especially the kids) could find it or reach it.

My wife finally divorced me. She said she thought it would be a good idea if we lived apart for awhile and asked me to move out. So I did, and she had me served on that very day. Remember – she had said she refused to get an attorney, and refused to be the one to file for a divorce. I guess I was just slow learner when it comes to her.

Close friends that knew her well told me she had been planning it for a long time. She just needed an excuse. She accused me of having an affair, threw me out of the house, and filed for divorce. There was no room for discussion. Her mind was already made up. There was no affair. I started eating right, working out, losing weight, trying to make myself more appealing to my wife. I changed my outlook on life and trusted God more and decided to have a positive attitude about things. As a result, I became a much happier person. Losing 40 pounds in 4 months helped too. But none of that mattered. Because I lost so much weight in such a short period of time and seemed happy all the time, I was accused of doing drugs and running around. None of which was true. My ex-wife just needed an excuse and she now had all she needed. She even concocted some rather horrendous stories to back up her claims. People (who should know better) actually believed her outrageous lies.

Throughout the entire marriage my family, my parents mostly, couldn’t understand why I stayed married to such a person for so long. The answer is simply that the Bible gives us strict guidelines for marriage and divorce. So for “better or for worse”, I was sticking to it. My mother often told of how she could have handled raising 10 more kids like me, saying I was the good kid and was so easy to raise (I can only imagine how this made my brother and sister feel). Both of my parents had even said that I was the only one of us kids that could be fully trusted. It was always like that (if you want the truth about anything, just ask Alpha Dude). They had even gone so far as to let it be known that they did not trust my children’s mother at all. “She’s sneaky and dishonest”, my mother would say. But all that was about to change.

In her trial brief presented at the divorce hearing, I finally learned what my now ex-wife had been telling everyone. This woman had, by this time, run up a debt in excess of $125,000 (using credit she acquired in my name without me knowing about it), sold my horse and kept the money (they used to hang people for that, didn’t they?), emptied our savings account (and accused me of stealing it) and told scores of other untruths and fabrications. Her trial brief was 9 pages long and each page contained stories of things that she herself had actually done, but was now blaming me for each one. The really weird part? The courts and my own family believed her! They bought into all of it! I had presented the judge with a stack of documented proof of the truth. The court wouldn’t even look at it. Apparently, in California, they believe the mother/wife and turn against the father/husband. If you’re the guy, you are automatically considered guilty. All I could do was just sit there, wide-eyed and dumbfounded. I just couldn't believe this was happening.

Later, I found a scripture in my daily morning devotional. It sure makes sense, but it doesn’t make things easier to swallow.

Ecclesiastes 8:14-15
14And this is not all that is meaningless in our world. In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless!15So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people to do in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them.

Wow. Solomon really knew what he was talking about!

Eventually, work opportunities took me to the mid-west. I accepted the job since my parents had turned against me by this time. I could not speak to them about anything without some sort of jab from them and they’ve said some rather horrible and hurtful things to me about things they really don’t know about. Remember all those years of building such an awesome relationship with my step-dad? Gone. The relationships and trust I had with my entire family had been completely destroyed. I also wasn’t allowed the visitation the courts gave me. My children’s mother ignored the court order and the authorities didn’t seem to care. I figured I could fly out to see them every month or two, since that’s all their mother would allow anyway. Yeah, I was wrong about that too. Now she’s moved to a different house with my daughter, never told me about the move, and refuses to tell me where they now live. She also interferes and prevents phone calls with my daughter as much as possible. There is no reason for this!

Some may say that I still lost everything. My ex-wife took it all. The house, the furniture, the money (she emptied our savings and ran up credit debt in excess of $125,000), and the kids (that is the hardest part). I was lucky to escape wearing my own skin. My credit score went to crap!

And you know something?  God is still on the throne.  He is the One who is in control of my life.  The perfect woman is out there somewhere (perfect for me, anyway), and God knows who she is, and He knows where she is.  So I believe the smart thing for me to do is to get as close to God as I can, and when He is ready He will reveal to me who she is.  Until then, I will wait on His perfect timing.

So – is it worth killing yourself (committing suicide) to escape your problems?
No, it isn’t. It is just a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And, it is selfish.

Is it worth it to have everything stripped away, to be punished and condemned for something you didn’t do?
Yes, it is. Because God’s blessing is waiting for you at the end. (If you have trouble believing that, just look what Jesus did for us at the cross).

I still miss my kids terribly. I look at their pictures and ache for them every day.
Maybe someday their mother will stop interfering with the visitations and allow me to actually spend some time with them.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Think Before You Leap

In case you are wondering, this is where we left off in Progressing through the Fog.
Another excerpt from my book "Nice Guys Finish Last - and that's okay".

While I was living in Oregon, I lived rather cheaply and made decent money. A good job, the great outdoors, and most of my family was nearby. I courted a young lady in New Mexico, via letters and long distance phone calls. My phone bill was outrageous. But I didn’t mind, I was “in love”. My head was stuck in the clouds and nothing else mattered. I was tired of being alone, ready to get married and that’s all I could think of. Other things, like dating and getting to know someone and her family first didn’t seem to matter. Honestly, I didn’t even think about it. I had spent the last couple of years reading books and studying about what the Bible had to say about being a good husband, and I was ready to try it all out. So when that young lady came to Oregon for a visit, I popped the question and she said “okay”. (She didn’t get excited, she didn’t yell, or jump up and down, she didn’t even say “yes”, she just said “Okay”).

There were plenty of red flags after that day warning me not to marry this girl, but I ignored them. My mind was made up. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, pointing fingers or making excuses, I’m just telling it like it is (or was).

The wedding was somewhat disappointing. During the planning stages for the wedding, we discussed exactly how everything would be, we made planning decisions together. However, when the day arrived, not one thing we had agreed upon was done. She had changed her mind and had done things the way she wanted and didn’t give a thought what anyone else desired. I guess that should be okay, since, after all, it was her day. The rest of the marriage went pretty much the same way though. She did what she wanted and never considered my feelings or needs. None of that mattered to her, she was going to have her way and that’s all there was to it. This isn’t merely the way I saw it, she actually told me this herself. Why I never saw any of that before, I just don’t know. She either didn’t behave that way, or I was simply too blind to see it. I was still a little bit foggy.

It didn’t take her long to locate my “hot” buttons. You know, those things you can say or do to someone that really gets under their skin and gets them all riled up. Well, she found them and kept on pushing them. She actually seemed to enjoy doing that. One day got really bad and I finally turned to her and, loudly, asked her why she continued to do this? She calmly replied, with a slight sneer in her eyes, that she wanted to see what it would take for me to hit her.

“Are you kidding me?”

That sort of thinking has never made much sense to me.

After our son was born the following year, things got even worse. All of a sudden I couldn’t do anything to please her. According to her, everything I did was wrong, or stupid, or both. She said she no longer had time to be a wife, she was a mother now. My first thought was “Gee, when were you ever a wife?”
I tried everything I could think of: counseling, books, bible studies, men’s retreats, Promise Keepers, etc., to learn how to be a better husband and father - nothing helped. Oh, it helped me alright, but it did little to help her view of me. One of the things I learned was that you cannot make someone love you, no matter how hard you try. I realized that I couldn’t change her, but I could change ME! So I did.

Nothing I did made any difference to her. She did notice the change in me though, but it only made her suspicious as to why I had become so much nicer to her. The answer was simple – I was growing and learning to become the man God wanted me to be. But she refused to see that. Now, I’m not saying I was perfect, or that I did everything right. On the contrary, I made more than my fair share of mistakes along the way and, at times, allowed my temper to get the better of me. But she refused to forgive me for any of those shortcomings, she just would not give me a chance. I stayed with her and loved her and did all that I could for her, because that’s what the Bible said I should do. I did everything the Bible said that a husband is supposed to do for his wife. Nothing was appreciated and I received no affirmation from her - ever. Not even once. I gave her all that I had within me to give and she gave nothing in return, perhaps because she had nothing to give, or maybe she just didn’t know how. It is difficult to tell since she refused to talk about it.

She used to call my parents to complain about me on a regular basis. My parents visited us once (flew clear across the country) with the agenda of “straightening me out”. But after spending one day with us, they realized that the problem was not with me, it was her. My Dad even told me he believed me to be a better man than he was, because he would have thrown her out long ago. If you’ve been following my story, you know how huge an impact that statement had on me.

I had returned to school to get my degree in order to build a better life for her. But instead of appreciating my efforts, she made it the most difficult four years of my life. Sometimes it seemed she would go out of her way to torment me. I did everything she ever asked me to do. I gave her everything. Yet she still seemed to delight in finding something else to gripe about. I just couldn’t win for losing. She even confessed once that she only married me to get away from her father.

I met with my pastor on a regular basis, to hold me accountable and give me the encouragement I needed to stick it out and keep trying to make the marriage work. One important thing I learned from him was that, according to the Bible, whether or not you believe she was the one God had intended for you, once you married her, she is now! So I hung in there and kept on trying.

While enrolled in the Top Gun Ministries men’s Bible Study course, I finally found a book by Gary Smalley (If He Only Knew)
that I thought would finally unlock the door that would make this marriage work. I didn’t just do things I read about or learned in order to get a desired result, I actually became that man that those studies and counselors and books suggested I be. I didn’t just practice that stuff, I lived it! But it still didn’t work. After about the third time through Smalley’s book (well after the marriage ended), I finally discovered why it hadn’t worked for me. He said that all these efforts, as admirable as they may be, will be to no avail if the wife refuses to recognize her husband’s efforts. If either spouse refuses to be a willing participant in the relationship, then it won’t work. Basically, if she won’t give him a chance, he’s just wasting his energy.
Ephesians, chapter 5 tells the husband all the things he is to do for his wife. It also only asks the wife to do one thing: Respect her husband. My wife refused – adamantly! When she read that, she actually said the words, “Hell No!”

We tried counseling. Three times. Each time, she saw the counselors first before I was invited to join in. Each time, I sat there and listened while she spun some amazing stories that were total and complete fabrications. Anytime I heard her lying to the counselor and spoke up about it, I was attacked. Those counselors actually believed everything she told them. Each one, I believe, was a Christian Counselor. Each one told me that I needed to be more loving, more nurturing and more understanding of her needs. As far as I could tell, the only way marriage counseling will work for you is if you are both totally honest with your counselor. I was, she wasn’t, but they chose to believe her. It just didn’t make any sense to me. Sometimes I think that if the counselor can keep you fighting, they can keep making money off you. I figured it was cheaper to fight at home, since the results seemed to be about the same anyway, so I stopped going.

Several years after moving to California, she started seeing a Christian counselor to deal with issues pertaining to her relationship with her father. When I finally found out about it, I was relieved. The counselor she was seeing this time often worked side by side with her husband, who is a retired pastor from a prophetic church. Apparently these people are so in tune with the Holy Spirit that you just cannot lie to them.
The day finally came when they asked that I attend a counseling session with them. They had come to realize that her issues with her father were the cause of her failing marriage and we need to continue this journey together. Given our past experience with “so-called” Christian Counselors, I wasn’t holding my breath. We’d been down this road before.

Only this time was different. These people never charged for the sessions. They did this all for free. Their goal was to help people save their marriage, get their life back on track and resolve their differences. I went with an open mind but my faith was still lacking. And sure enough, sitting there in their living room, she began spinning yards and yards of crapola all over the place. How she is the “victim”, how she is so mistreated and myriads of other nonsense. This time I just sat there and kept my mouth shut. For fear of being attacked again, I just let it go and did not say a word. And then the most amazing thing happened. About halfway through, the woman counselor stopped her and ask her to tell those stories again, “Only this time honey, please, tell me the truth. You’re lying to me and I don’t like that.”

I could not believe what I was hearing! My soon-to-be ex-wife changed her story and for the first time I can remember, started telling the truth. Her eyes welled up and her face turned red, not because of the truth, but because she had been caught lying. She was rather furious about that.
During this session I finally learned that her father’s brother had sexually abused her as a child (between the ages of 9 to 11). When she told her father about it, he blamed her and told her it was her fault and that this was God’s way of punishing her for not being a good girl (the rest of the family said she was always a good little girl). Her father still made her return to that house even after she begged him not to make her go. Now, what kind of father would do that to his daughter? The counselors told her the only way to be free from this is to confront it, deal with it and move on. She adamantly refused.

She also admitted to running up over $93,000 in debt (so far) without me knowing about it. We’d already been through the Crown Ministries course, but she said she just couldn’t help herself. And she still refused to get a job to help pay it off, saying it was my responsibility to pay for everything.
After much discussion, the husband turned to me to get my side of the story and also stated that he could not believe I had put up with so much for so long. He said he would not have done that and his wife agreed. She said that you just don’t treat people like that. Especially your spouse! That type of behavior is disrespectful to your husband. For the first time, the counselors were actually on the side of the truth. Their words of comfort and affirmation towards me were so overwhelming that I almost wet myself.

They gave us each a scripture verse to read, and asked us to do only one thing (none of the other counselors gave us anything to do). They asked us to read that verse and take 5 minutes each night before going to bed to just talk. Nothing more than “Hi. How was your day?” “Oh fine, thanks.” That’s it. That’s all they asked us to do.

Every night after that, once the kids were in bed, I told her it was time for our 5 minutes. The first night she said she had too much to do and couldn’t do it. So every night, once the kids were in bed, I did the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, helped with laundry and housework and whatever else need to be done so she’d have no excuses. (I had been helping out all along anyway, but now even more so). Then I‘d sit on the couch and tell her I was ready for our 5 minutes. She was still too busy. She did not work outside the home (she refused to help with the debt she had created) so there really was no excuse. But she always found a reason why she did not have the time to talk to me. I kept up this routine every night for over three months. She still refused. She also refused to ever meet with those counselors ever again. You just can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

After more than 17 years of marriage, I finally quit. No, I didn’t leave. I just stopped trying. I stopped going out of my way to please her. I stopped bending over backwards for her. I just plain stopped. I had thrown my hands in the air and stepped back. If this marriage was going to continue, then it was her turn to do something. I had nothing left to give. I was empty. I was hurting. I was literally dying inside. I didn’t turn mean or hateful or treat her badly, I just stopped placing her needs ahead my own. I stopped putting her first. She was no longer at the top of my list of priorities. The kids still were though. I continued to do all I could for them, but not for her. I finally found some time to go play golf, and work out at the gym.

Well, she certainly noticed that! That really burned her up. She no longer had that hold over me and it really seemed to bother her. Close friends told me much later that she had been trying to figure out a way to divorce me for over a year, but needed to find a way to make it look like it was my fault. I had focused all my energy on pleasing God, not her. My self-esteem improved, I felt better and I was getting my body back in shape – losing weight and firming up. I had lost 40 pounds in four months. She never said a word. She never even noticed, at least she never said anything to me about it. I found out later that she had been telling everyone we knew that I had lost all that weight because I was doing drugs. Actually, I simply stopped drinking sodas, stopped having that big bowl of ice-cream every night, cut down on the carbs, and got off my butt and started moving my body. I wasn’t obese, just heavier than I would have liked and I wanted to get rid of my S.E.M.B.’s*. Mind, Body, Spirit. Mine were all lining up and getting in tune with my creator.

But, true to form, just as I began feeling better about myself and re-building my self confidence (she spent years trying to tear it down), she’d turn up the heat. It amazes me how such a petite little gal can totally emasculate a guy just by the way she treats him and how she speaks to him, and about him. She became more mean-spirited and vindictive than ever.
On the Fourth of July weekend that year, she had arranged for my entire family to come to our house for a bar-b-que and fun. We had plenty of room on our ranch. We had a pool, a horseshoe pit, 4 horses, 23 chickens, 2 dogs, 1 rabbit and a goat. What more could anyone ask for? There was plenty for everyone to do. She decided to go horseback riding out of town with her friends, but promised she’d be back before anyone showed up. She completely blew us off for the entire day! When I finally reached her on her cell phone late in the afternoon, after the food had been eaten, kitchen cleaned up and everyone was ready to leave to go see the fireworks, she said, “So? They’re your family – YOU deal with them!”

I guess, deep down, I still cared because I allowed her actions to really get to me. The marriage was ending and I knew it. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t make the decision that the marriage was over, I could just see it coming. What I didn’t know was “when”. She had dropped the “D” word and said if I wanted a divorce, then I would have to be the one to file because SHE refused to do that! Well, I figured I was serving a life sentence because for me, divorce was not an option. I was just trying to hold on for another 10 years, until my daughter turned 18. I didn’t know if I could last that long, with things as they were. I was actually hoping that things would take a turn for the better by then. (Remember what I said earlier about being wrong when it came to her?)

So, what was I to do now?

My self-esteem and self-worth were on an emotional roller-coaster ride, and depression was setting in fast!

* = Sagging European Man Breasts

Thursday, March 15, 2007

My "Real" Dad....

Carl came from a modest family. Really nice people, hard-working, honest – good down-to-earth type folks. Carl is a civil engineer and his dad (Papa Art) is a civil engineer, as is his two younger brothers. I guess the old fart had more of an influence on me than I realized.

When I was younger, I was involved in Scouts. I earned every badge and award you could possibly get in Cub Scouts and Webelos. After Carl’s job moved us to Colorado, I tried Boy Scouts for a while, I was doing well, but the Scoutmaster moved away and the new guy seemed boring and I lost interest. Carl took it upon himself to teach me the things I normally would have learned in the Boy Scouts. He earned his Eagle Scout rank at the age of 14, so he knew what he was doing. Carl would take me hiking and camping and tried to teach me about nature and plants and all he knew about surviving in the great outdoors. We’d go backpacking in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, camp out under the stars (or in the snow) and climb mountains. He tried to get me interested in climbing mountains, but I’d usually wimp out or get sick (that altitude really got to me). Sometimes I felt like I was letting him down, after all, once my brother left, I was the only “son” he had. That first year or two that I went along to climb mountains with him, I never did make it all the way to the top of one. I felt I was just slowing him down and ruining the trip for him. He didn’t seem to mind too much, and you’d think he would give up on me after a while, but he never did. He kept right on trying. It wasn’t all wasted time for him I suppose. Now that I look back on it, I think it meant more to him that someone was willing to go with him and spend the time with him, than actually make it to the top of the mountain.

(There’s a huge message there. Read that last part again in case you missed it).

I did learn to clean a fish, cook breakfast over a campfire, pitch a tent and tie a variety of knots. He taught me how build a good campfire too. He also taught me how make fire using only two sticks of wood. Of course, at least one of those two sticks was a match!

By this time I was calling Carl “Dad”. It just seemed natural. I didn’t forget my father, I just didn’t think about him as much as I used to. Sometimes I would wonder how he was doing or what he was up to, or if I ever crossed his mind, but for the most part, I didn’t give it much thought. Alaska is a long way from Colorado.

By the time I was 15, I actually made it to the top of a mountain. We climbed Chimney Rock in Colorado along with my friend Johnny and a guy Carl worked with named Taylor. Taylor was an electrical engineer, kind of weird but fun. Taylor liked to fish and believed that grass-hoppers make the best bait. One year Taylor said he’d give me 10 cents for every grass-hopper I could catch for him. Well, we had a vegetable garden in our back yard and I filled a large trash bag with big, fat grass-hoppers. There had to be more than a hundred of them in there. Taylor paid up but that was the last time he paid 10 cents a piece for grass-hoppers. Johnny was my age and just about my size. We were best buddies through junior high and most of high school. We were on the wrestling team together, went to church together and got into trouble together. Johnny’s family was ranchers and farmers. Good, clean, honest, hard-working people with strong Christian values. Sometimes I thought they looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. We were quite a pair, Johnny and me. He was a real Colorado Cowboy, and I was a “hippie” from southern California. (I had long hair and wore bell-bottom jeans and Johnny looked like the all American cowboy).

Carl also taught me how to drive. The car was a 1969 Datsun 510 station wagon, the ugliest green color you could imagine. Not the coolest car around, but it’s all we had at the time. I learned to drive a stick shift, in the Colorado mountains, in the snow! That was a lot of fun. Okay, so it wasn’t all that much fun in the beginning. Driving a car for the first time on a one lane mountain road through the mud and snow and muck while dad is asking you to describe the scenery to him can really wear on your nerves.
“How many sheep are in that field?”
“What color are the cows in this field?”
“What’s on that sign over there?”
“How much gas do you have?”
“What’s your speed?”
“What do you see in the rear-view mirror?”
He wasn’t trying to freak me out, he was teaching me to be aware of my surroundings.

“Always know where you are and what’s around you. Keep an eye out for the other guy”. See Dad? I remembered! When it was my turn, my son thought I was a nag, too!

Carl even tried to teach me how to play golf. That was a really fun day. Carl is a pretty decent golfer (he should be, he played every Sunday while the rest of us went to church). However, on this particular day, he didn’t play so well. Maybe it was the pressure of trying to look good in front of your kid. He had previously paid for golf lessons, so I had learned how to hold the club and swing properly and hit the ball, but this was our first outing to actually “play”.
On one particular shot, he was going to “show me how it’s done”. The ball was in the fairway and there was a tree in front of us off to the right, and a water hazard (pond) off to our left. He hit that ball hard and it zipped along the top of the grass, ricocheted off the tree and flew through the air into the pond.
“Nice splash”.
“Oh shut up”.

One thing worth noting – Carl never referred to me as his step-son. He always introduced me as his son. Period.
Looking back, I believe that was a rather decent thing for him to do.

Carl taught me a lot about life. How to be kind to animals, treat others with respect, and how to admit it when you make a mistake (take responsibility for your actions).
“The smart guy learns by watching others”.
“Clean up after yourself”.
“Don’t eat yellow snow”.
“Get a hair-cut”. (I heard this one a lot!)
“Work hard. There is no task above you or beneath you. Do what it takes to get the job done”.
“Always do your best”.

Yep, this is the man who took the time to teach me about life. He tried his best and I think, for the most part, that everything turned out okay. He worked long, hard hours to climb the ladder of success and advance himself throughout the industry. It would have been nice to have him around more, and not have had to work so much, but he did what he had to do, and what he felt was the proper thing to do at the time. He was advancing in his career and building a better quality of life for his family (us). I didn’t understand it at the time, so I did not appreciate what he was doing, but I understand now and greatly appreciate all that he did for us, and for me. Thanks, Dad.

Tough GuyYeah, that old fart was always there for me. Even though he worked too much, he was always there for the times that meant the most. Carl (my Dad) was at every wrestling match to watch me, win or lose, he was still proud. Every cross-country meet I ran in, Dad was there. He was at every check-point, every turn. Each time I looked up, he was there, cheering me on and encouraging me, and provided information regarding where I was and who was behind me or in front of me. The cross-country course was three miles, but there were times I thought that old man worked harder than I did around those courses. My Dad taught me how to properly spit and clear your nose while running (it’s gross so I won’t describe it to you).

Dad even found the time to help me with my homework. Math and science and physics homework usually. (After reading and spelling and cross-word puzzles, Mom gave up and sent me to Dad). Dad was really patient with me, even though I could see him getting frustrated and angry at the times I just wouldn’t “get it”. It was easy for him, he’s an engineer who made it through four years at the University of Washington on an academic scholarship, and then got his Master’s degree from Stanford, on academic scholarship! Me? I sometimes had trouble remembering my own name!

(Once, when I was a little kid, I came home from school and told my mother “Gee mom, it sure is a good thing you named me Alpha Dude.” “Oh really? And why is that?” “Because that’s what everyone calls me!”)

One of the things I admired most about my Dad was that he did not try to teach me to think like him. He just encouraged me to think! Not HOW to think, or WHAT to think, but to just THINK! “Think for yourself”. “Figure it out”. “Use your head for something other than a hat rack”. And here’s the big one – “You can do it, you just don’t know it yet”.

Dad is one tough guy. I had never seen him cry or get emotional about anything. Even at my wedding, he offered congratulations and encouraging words, but he was steadfast and solid. When I finished college, the only one of the kids to get a college degree, and the only one to actually try it, Dad was proud, but remained strong. But I did get to see him shed a tear, and get choked up with pride for the first time – the day my son, his grandson (the first grandchild in the family), was born. That little boy turned that hard old man into mush. Dad loved playing with his grandson, and showing him things and talking to him. You see, Dad didn’t get this time with me, so he was living this time through his grandson. Those two had a great time together. He got to teach my son how to climb trees, pet bumble bees without getting stung, which plants to stay away from and how to pee in the woods (or at least outside, behind a tree).

My Dad, hard, sturdy, concrete, no emotions – had a soft spot and it took his first grandchild to find it. That old man has never been the same since. Now, I’m not saying that Dad wasn’t loving and kind and nurturing, but now he began to show it more than he ever used to.

I found out my Dad is human, and our relationship continued to grow.

Something worth noting: Often times you'll see me write about the Power of Dad. Every Dad has it, whether he realizes it or not. Some dads are aware of it but most are not. This Power of Dad has an amazing effect on your children, and it does not matter if you're a good dad or a bad dad. The Power of Dad can be used in a good way or a bad way. It is up to the Dad.

Carl didn't come by this power naturally. He had to earn it. The one thing so awesome and so overwhelming and amazing that most father's take for granted, Carl took great care to make sure he did it right in case it ever became his.
I could go on all day about the awesome Power of Dad, so I'll stop now and write more on that at another time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I Believe

It took me about four hours to get home from work tonight. No, it wasn’t snowing and there was no traffic. I left my office tonight and made the block long walk to our parking lot so I could get in my pick-up truck and go home. I got in my truck, put the key in, turned it, and the truck wouldn’t start. This didn’t make any sense. In all of 8 years I've had this truck (original owner) it has never given me any problems. I take good care of my truck, so much in fact, that it still looks and runs like new. Except right now.

I tried it again. The battery has power, the engine turned over, but it would not catch. The engine just wouldn’t start. I tried a couple more times to make sure it isn’t the battery, it isn’t the starter, the spark plugs and wires are fairly new. Why won’t my truck start? I got out to check under the hood. A fellow who said he was a mechanic offered to help and he couldn’t find anything wrong. After a while we determined it had to be the fuel pump. It just wasn’t powering on. If gas won’t pump to the engine, the engine just won’t run. Great. Now what do I do? It is after 7PM and it’s a good guess most all the repair shops are closed by now.

First, I called my wife to ask her to come pick me up. She didn’t answer her phone. It turns out that something was going on with the cell signal and she never got the call. I kept getting her voice mail. Where is she?, I thought. Just when I need her, she doesn’t answer. I was starting to get annoyed, to say the least. I tried the house phone and got no answer there either. While I was talking to the answering machine, my wife picked up. Okay, now she’s on the way to come get me. She seemed somewhat calm about everything, thinking of this as a chance to have dinner downtown. I also wasn’t very nice to her. I was allowing myself to become annoyed by my situation and I did not speak to my wife in a loving or kind manner. (Shame on me)

I called some friends to see if they would know who I could call to get my truck fixed. I’ve lived here only 2 ½ years and hadn’t had any problems like this before, so I was totally unprepared. The only thing helpful I found out was where NOT to take it, which, by the way, is the same place that Clueless (see below) suggested I take it. The minister friend who married my wife and me has a son who is a mechanic. A good one. I called him and made arrangements to take my truck to him. Now I just had to get it there. So I called AAA.

“Hello, this is Clueless. How may I help you?”

“My truck won’t start. I need some help”

“Okay, may I have your AAA membership number?”

“Sure, it’s……..” and I gave it to her. It turned out that the membership had expired. Boy, this day just keeps getting better all the time. So I renewed my membership over the phone. She had trouble spelling my name, even after I told her how to spell it. She did the same thing with my wife’s name when I added her to the account. “…and how do you spell her last name? Oh wait, I have that…”

Why is it that they get these people that feel the need to put you on hold every couple of minutes for no apparent reason?

“Now what seems to be wrong with your vehicle?”

“It won’t start”

“Have you tried to start it?”

“Yes, ma’am. Why do you think I’m calling you?”

“Oh. Would you please hold? I’ll be right back.”

I don’t understand why she went away. Maybe she just wanted to help me use up my cell phone minutes. At this point I was still being nice and trying my best to maintain a pleasant tone of voice.

“Okay now. So the cost for your new membership is $XX, and to upgrade to Plus Membership is $YY, and to add your wife to the account is another $ZZ. And also, since you need assistance tonight, there is an additional highway robbery fee of $XY. “

“Could you please just give me the grand total? The bottom line of what this whole thing will cost?”

“Well, it’s $XX for the membership, $YY for the upgrade. So the total is $Z-X”

“Wait, that is less than what you told me before. You mean by adding stuff, the cost went down?”

“Oh no, that’s in addition to the basic membership cost”

“So, the bottom line is a total of all that added up which is $XYZ.”

“Well, yes. I suppose you could say that”

"That is what I asked you for”

“Oh. And when will you be needing service?”

“Right now would be good”

“Oh, yeah, right. Is there anything else I can do for you this evening?”

“Yes, you can tell me when the tow truck will get here”

“He should be there in under two hours”

“Two hours? Are you telling me I need to wait out here for another two hours?”

“Sir, they’re busy and under two hours is all I can tell you. Would you hold please?”

“Why? You have my card number. You have all my information. You have the location where I am. You have all that you need. Why do you need to put me on hold again?”

“Oh, you’re right. I do have all I need. I guess we’re done then”

“I certainly hope so”

“Well, my name is Clueless. Thank you for calling AAA”

Not long after that, my wife showed up with the two oldest kids. We went and found a place to eat. It was after 8:30 and were all rather hungry. We decided on a place about two blocks from the truck so we’d be close by when the tow truck driver called to say he was getting close. A guy named John called a few times to update me on the location of the driver, so we figured we had time to actually sit down and eat. The driver was about 35 minutes away, but once we ordered dinner, it took a good 30 minutes to get the food. And no, I am NOT exaggerating! It really took that long! There was maybe two other people in the entire place! They were not busy! The service was amazingly slow, and the food was most definitely NOT worth the wait, or the price. I was getting annoyed. Normally, I am a generous tipper. Not today.

Note to self: If you find an eatery that is almost empty while all the other places nearby are packed – keep walking!

Luckily, we had just finished eating when John called to say the driver was just a few minutes away. I paid the check and hurried off to meet the driver.

I got to the parking lot to find a shiny new AAA tow truck waiting for me. The driver was a clean cut, smiling young man named Josh (same name as my son). Once we spoke and made sure I was the guy he was there to help, Josh asked me to sign the work order stating that he had found the right person. I pointed out which vehicle was mine. We discussed where we were going to tow the truck and he said he knew the place. As Josh set his clipboard back onto the seat of his truck, he looked at me, in the eyes, and asked “Would you rather just drive your truck home?”

“Why, yes, of course I would”

“Well, let’s go see what we can do”

Josh picked up a three pound hammer, got out of his truck and we headed for my pick-up. I was thinking to myself “What is he going to do with that hammer?” I couldn’t imagine.
We got to the truck and Josh asked what the problem was. “It won’t start. I think it may be the fuel pump”
He said we should check and asked me to try to start it. Geeze, I’d tried this before. I already knew it would turn, but it won’t catch. I turned the key halfway and asked if he could hear the fuel pump kick on. He said “No”, and asked me to turn the key all the way. I turned the key all the way. I knew what would happen. Just like before it just........

My truck started right up.

Josh just stood there smiling. He said this was the third time tonight that this had happened. He just shows up, and the people’s vehicle would just start working normally.
I shook his hand (hoping some of that would rub off on me) and thanked him. I even asked him if he would lay hands on my truck and bless it. Josh just laughed a little and told me to have a safe drive home.

As Josh walked back to his tow truck, I walked over to where my wife was now parked. Through the open car window I asked her and the kids to take a good look at the tow truck driver. I told them what had just happened and that “His name is Josh, and that is what an Angel looks like”

I apologized to my wife for the way I spoke to her earlier. Her response? “Hey, I got to come downtown and have dinner with you. We’ll follow you home”

I was given a test tonight. I tried my best to keep my cool, deal with difficult people without getting annoyed, and to make the best of a difficult situation. I think I could have done a lot better than I did. But God showed up and showed He loved me anyway. Thank You God for a praying wife.

Was Josh really an Angel? Well, I don’t know about you, but

I Believe.

Monday, March 12, 2007

You Are Never Alone

No man is an island. Or some crap like that. (I must have been reading “That Chick Over There” to be writing like that!)

A very dear friend phoned me up the other night. It was one of those times where a guy just needed someone to talk to, someone who would just listen and not try to solve the problem. Just Listen. We were on the phone for about an hour and a half, and he told me lots of things in confidence, so I won’t go into any details (sorry, but I don’t do gossip). The questions he kept asking over and over were, “Why am I here?” “What is God’s plan for me?” “What am I supposed to be doing?” “Why has God abandoned me?” “Why do I feel so alone?”

He already knew the answer to each question and I knew that, so I stayed silent and just listened. He didn’t need someone to tell him anything really insightful, quote scripture to him, say something spiritual or clever. He just needed a friend. God certainly does work in mysterious ways. The most recurring questions, “Why has God abandoned me?” “Why do I feel so alone?” made me think of a dream I once had. For some reason, this dream has been coming to mind quite a bit these last couple of weeks. Maybe this is why.

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you can remember everything in vivid detail? One of those dreams that really speaks to you and you remember it for years to come? Yeah, I had one of those dreams. I shared it with my friend before we hung up, and I’d like to share it with you. I experienced this dream during a very trying period in my life where I too, felt alone and abandoned by God. I had just about lost all hope.

The Dream
It was dark. I mean really dark. There was no sky, no landscape, no ground, nothing. I was standing there in the middle of complete “nothingness”. As I was standing there, I saw some images beginning to form and move towards me. As they came into view, I observed the most horrible looking pointy-eared creatures I’ve ever seen, before or since. These beings were quite large and had black leathery skin, all sinewy and greasy and slimy. Their eyes were shaped like that of a snake and were bright yellow with dark pupils. Their nostrils were round and snorted puffs of yellowish sulfur-like smoke. Their teeth were long and pointed and their brows were furrowed, showing just how angry and menacing these creatures were and are. They had bat-like wings, partially unfurled as they steadily moved towards me. Their hands and feet were claw-like and their fingers were long with long, pointed nails making those hands and feet appear more like talons you may find on a vulture. These things were demons from the pits of hell and they were coming after me.

I was standing in the middle of nothing. I wanted to run but had no direction in which to turn. All I could think of to do was to pray. I asked God what I should do. Just then I realized I was holding my wooden practice sword, called a boken. A boken is a Japanese practice sword. It is made from hard wood and is the same size, shape and weight of an actual samurai sword. Standing there, holding that boken, I heard a voice. This wasn’t that booming, thunderous voice of God you read about in the Bible. It was a reassuring sounding male voice, full of compassion and love, yet at the same time, it spoke with authority.

“You have all that you need.”

Now, I have had extensive martial arts training and even a wooden practice sword in the hands of someone like me can prove quite deadly. But about this time I noticed those demons draw their own swords. Shhhhinnnggggg! The mere sound of those swords being pulled from their belts was frightening! Their swords looked like blackened steel and appeared to be on fire! As they drew closer, they seemed to grow in number. I can’t begin to say how many there were. They seemed to be everywhere! Snorting yellow sulfurous smoke and spewing venomous foul language at me and cursing the name of my Savior. These guys were really angry, to say the least!

“Uh, excuse me, God? Those guys have real steel swords and I’m standing here…

....all alone..........................….with a stick!”

“My Son conquered Death and the Grave…..with a stick.”

I muttered “okay” under my breath and I raised my sword as I took my most defensive stance. As the demons approached my “stick” became alive with a brilliant light like you’d see from a white hot fire. As the enemy attacked, I defended myself. I blocked, parried, twirled my sword, jabbed, spun, sliced……the fight was on. Sparks flew as our swords collided. Each time my sword struck one of those demons, that ugly creature vanished in a “poof” of smoke. It didn’t take long before I realized – I was holding my own for now, but I was overwhelmingly outnumbered. I used every ounce of strength, training and skill I had. The battle was spectacular. But how long could I hold out? There were so many of them!

I cried out, “God, please help me!”

Soon, I noticed that the number of demons was dwindling. There just wasn’t as many as there had been before. I looked around me and I was absolutely amazed at what I saw. I was surrounded by the biggest, most beautiful heavenly warriors you could imagine. These guys were GQ handsome with large muscles, bronzed skin, golden hair, fiery eyes and were wearing white robes with gold sashes around their waists. Their strong sturdy hands held swords that shone as bright as the sun. They had joined in the fight and the demons were clearly no match for the angel’s strength and skill and power. As the battle neared it’s end, the voice spoke to me again.

“You are Never Alone. I Am with you…….always.”

The battle has already been won.

All we have left to do is call on the name of Jesus.

You are Never Alone.

Walk in Love.

(That “stick” is leaning against the wall next to my bed. Just in case)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Progressing through the Fog.....

In December of 1982, I took a bullet to the face just outside Washington DC. You can read how it happened in my previous post. For some strange reason, I never felt any pain until the doctor shoved that needle down between the bone to knumb me up before wiring my jaw shut for two months. By the way, Liquid Codine is Awesome!

And now, the saga continues......
Something happened as a result of that incident. I began to forget things. I had been accepted to attend the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. I lived in the dorm there. It was an interesting experience and I met some decent folks, but I had a lot of trouble with my classes. I had to take a pre-calculus class since the credit from the junior college did not transfer. It was the same class though, and I looked forward to getting an “A” since I had gotten an “A” in this class less than a year ago, easily. However, I had the most difficult time in that class – I tried as hard as I could to do the work, but I just couldn’t do it. It was as if I’d forgotten how to do the math. The same thing happened in my Chemistry class. I finished the semester with a “D” average. I was really getting frustrated. I even got lost driving home a few times. I used to enjoy taking the back roads through Potomac, Maryland. A rather scenic and beautiful drive, but I could no longer find my way and had to resort to the main roads in order to find my way home. And even then I had a tough time finding my way.

Parts of my life were missing. That bullet must have hit me harder than I thought, because some of my life from my time growing up in Colorado was gone. I had no more memory of certain events and some close friends. Portions of my senior year of high school in Maryland were gone too. That bowling championship? Gone. I still have the trophies and awards and some photos, but the memory of that time and those friends are gone.
I spent the next six years or so in a fog. I had trouble focusing and it was difficult to concentrate on anything for very long.
I worked that next summer in Virginia, inside a mountain, pulling electric cables through the powerhouse for a massive hydro-electric project. In the fall of that year I went to Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the University of New Mexico. I spent about two and a half years there. I took math and science classes, but didn’t even get close to finishing. While at UNM, I served on the staff of the Baptist Student Union as the Fellowship Chairman. This means I organized parties and fun events for the students. I also worked some odd jobs, sold kitchen cutlery, sold tires at Pep Boys, and delivered materials for a local jewelry supply company. Although I didn’t get much learning from being at UNM, I certainly had a good time.

Time to Go to Work
I had dated a young lady for quite some time and everyone we knew thought we’d get married. Then one year, right after Christmas, she broke it off. She never did tell me why. All I can figure is that she often talked about being a pastor’s wife someday. I felt God calling me either into the ministry or into engineering. Since I am now a licensed Civil Engineer, you can see which direction I felt led to go. (I didn’t want to push it.)
Around that same time, my Dad offered me the chance to move to Oregon and work on the same project as he in the mountains. A roller-compacted-concrete (RCC) dam. I wouldn’t be working for him, just for the same company. I had put off making a decision about the job until then. Now, with no reason to stay in Albuquerque, I accepted the job. I was tired of school and I was out of money, so it seemed like the right thing to do. Just before I left, another young lady, a friend, came to me to express her love for me. She said she’d felt this way for a long time, but had been afraid to tell me. We had a long-distance relationship, and later that same year, I returned to Albuquerque, married her, and moved her to Oregon to be with me. My head was still foggy and I had trouble thinking straight. There was still some swelling in the side of my face from the accident, but over time the swelling would continue to get smaller. Now, almost 25 years later, you can barely see the scar. The mountain air in Oregon must have done me some good, because I moved up in that construction company rather quickly. I had started out as a laborer and soon became an instrument man on a survey crew. I was on my way to becoming a Civil Engineer and I was starting at the ground level, literally.
I began working my way up through the construction industry, and moving across the country (following the work). I went from laborer to surveyor to Field Engineer to Senior Field Construction Engineer to Assistant Project Engineer to General Superintendent, all within a three year time frame. By this time we were living in Virginia, just south of Washington, D.C. (coast to coast, and back again). The construction industry was slowing down and finding more work became difficult. I was working but I felt as though I had reached a ceiling.

Back to School - Again
I couldn’t go any higher or progress any further without a college degree, despite my years of experience. So, with a little prompting from family, I decided to give school another try and moved my family to Texas. I attended the University of Texas in San Antonio and entered the Civil Engineering program. My son was born in Oregon so I was a husband and a father when I went back to school. The big difference this time was that now I finally knew what I wanted to do and the “fog” was lifting. I went to school full time and worked 2 or 3 part time jobs, which was somewhat frustrating since my wife and I had agreed, prior to me returning to school, that she would go to work so I could focus full-time on school. Her insatiable appetite for spending (keeping up with Joneses) made that particular arrangement impossible. What made it even more stressful was finding out just how much she was spending. Something I used to enjoy with my son while he was growing up was to empty all the spare change from my pockets and leave it on the edge of the dresser so my son could come by, scoop it all up, and deposit it into his little piggy bank. Once his piggy bank was full, he and I would go to the bank together and make his deposit into his savings account. The tellers at the bank would let him go into the vault and watch the huge sorting machine count all the coins. One day after the coins were counted and his deposit was made, the teller handed my four year old son his statement showing how much money he had. What was supposed to add up to over four hundred dollars was now only a few bucks. I had the teller check where the money had gone and she verified that the boy’s mother had all but wiped out his account. Now, what kind of mother would do that to her child? Did she really think no one would find out? When I confronted her that evening, her attitude was “So?” She said she would pay it back later, but she never did. She never even tried. That was the first time I took a part time job while in school so I could put all that money back in my son’s savings account. I paid it all back, with interest. I also set it up so I was the only one who could access that account to make sure this could not happen again. We continued our practice of depositing those coins and watching the machine. My son is almost 19 now, and to the best of my knowledge he still doesn’t know about what his mother had done. My son’s mother showed no remorse for any of it. In the twenty some odd years I’ve known her, I have not once heard her say “I’m sorry”.
On top of a full time course load, I took classes at night and during the summer, and was able to finish in four years. It had been a long time since I had been in school and most of my credits didn’t transfer, so there were a lot of classes I had to re-take. It wasn’t easy, but this time I was determined and I stayed with it. My son was always a blessing during those times. While studying at the kitchen table, he would join me, sometimes with a coloring book or paper and crayons, and we would do “homework” together.

I treated school this time like a full time job. Once classes were over for the day, I would go to the library or to the engineering lab and study until dinner time. Then I’d go home to spend time with the wife and kid. Well, at least I got spend time with my son. His mother was steadily becoming more and more hateful and mean-spirited as time went on. Even with school and working part-time, I still tried my best to do things for her and give her as much time as I could. But she didn’t want any of my time at all. In fact, she rarely wanted anything to do with me. I wasn’t sure why. (I found out later she a had another guy on the side, but that's another story for another time). I remember one day in our Sunday school class, the teacher (who was also the pastor of the church) asked each of us to say one good positive thing about our spouses. I had the hardest time with that. After only being married for five years, I could think of one good thing to say about her. Baseboards! That’s it, baseboards! She’s the only person I know who will get on her hands and knees with a bucket and a sponge and clean the baseboards. Apparently, this was very important to her. Thank God for clean baseboards!
I know I am not perfect and certainly not the easiest person to live with, but I did all I could to be the kind of husband that she and God desired for me to be. She almost seemed to delight in making my life a living hell for those four years I was in school. Regardless, I was determined to finish school this time no matter what.
All that hard work and perseverance paid off. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering in May of 1995. It wasn’t easy. It was most likely the most difficult four years of my life.

One More Child
As graduation approached, I had decided to find a job as far away from that hateful woman as I could. I landed a nice job with large construction firm on a big tunnel project in California. I planned to take my son and start over. Just the two of us. However, God must have had other plans. On graduation day, while celebrating with friends and family, my wife presented me with a slip of paper. It was a lab report from her doctor. It was then that I found out that our wonderful little girl was on the way. I know what you must be thinking: “If things were so bad, then how did she get pregnant?” I was surprised too, but, it only takes once. And once is all there had been in the last four years. While studying for mid-terms one night, she walked in and behaved like we were an actual married couple. I really thought things were changing for the better that night. But the next morning proved just how wrong I was. She acted as though nothing had happened and went right back to treating me as she always had – poorly. But that one night was all it took. My son’s little sister was on the way.

Well, so much for MY plans. I couldn’t leave that new little one without a father, so we made our plans and moved to the L.A. area to start our new life. I had really hoped this new baby would make a big difference in our lives and bring us closer together. It seems as though I have a habit of being wrong about things pertaining to her.

Our little girl was born in late December. She was, and still is, the most adorable and precious thing I have ever laid eyes on. She's my little "Squeaker". I call her that because when she was born, and for years after that, while she sleeps, her breathing sounds like a little squeaky toy. She’s still tiny, but there exists a sweetness in her unmatched by any other child I know of. She is what God’s unconditional love is all about. She’s never been taught that, she just lives it. I thank God that she is nothing at all like her mother.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Faster than a Speeding Bullet.....NOT!

Rockville, Maryland is a little town just outside Washington, D.C.
I had taken a semester off from school to go to work in an effort to try to determine what I wanted to do with my life. I worked for a small electronics company in Rockville.

On the morning of December 9, 1982, around 6:50 AM, I was just getting to work and pulled into the parking lot just across the street from the office. About halfway across the parking lot, I heard an explosion and before I could turn to see where it came from, some unseen force slammed my head into the driver’s side window.
For some reason, I had stepped on the clutch and the brake and stopped the car. There were no seat belt laws at this time and I certainly wasn’t wearing mine. I pulled myself off of the door and looked out the passenger side window. Most of it was gone. A huge hole had been blown out of it and I was covered in glass particles from that window. I was also covered in blood. Mine!

I had just been shot! In the face!

It was about that time I noticed I could not feel my lower jaw. With all the blood and debris inside the car, my first thought was that my jaw had been blown off. I slowly reached my hand up to my face, not sure of what I would find, and felt my jaw. It was still there. There was, however, a good sized hole in the right side of my face. I was still bleeding pretty badly so I put pressure on the wound with my right hand. Thoughts were spinning through my head. I had just been shot – in the face. I was still in one piece, as far as I could tell, so I got out of the car to see if I could find who had done this.
About as quickly as I got out of the car, I jumped back in because it began rolling backwards. I had forgotten to put it in gear or set the brake. I went ahead and parked the car and headed across the street to where I worked. I figured I needed to get to a hospital and I couldn’t drive a stick (the same car in which my Dad taught me how to drive) and keep my hand on my face, so I went looking for someone to drive me there.

Prior to being shot, the street was busy with activity, lots of cars whizzing by, but now, the area was dark and deserted. I recognized a Vietnamese woman from one of the assembly lines from work and I asked her if she could help me. As I stepped under the street light, where she could see me, a look of terror came over her face and she ran off muttering something I didn’t understand. Wow, I knew I probably looked bad, but I didn’t think I looked THAT bad! Even the secretary freaked out and ran off when she saw me enter the building. It turned out she ran to get help and find a towel for my face. The pressure from just my hand wasn’t doing much to stop the bleeding. One of the guys from work volunteered to drive me to the only hospital he knew in the area – clear on the opposite side of the beltway on the other side of Washington D.C. – instead of the one just a few miles down the road (nearby).

When we arrived at the hospital, I walked into the ER and the admitting nurse, upon seeing me, got up from behind the counter, and left! Boy, this really wasn't my day! It turned out that she had just gone to get some help. After filling out the forms and before the doctor arrived, I got a chance to go into the men's room and try to clean up a little bit. I finally got a look at myself in the large mirror in there. I looked like I had been through a war. I was soaked to the skin in my own blood, through my down vest, flannel shirt and t-shirt. Even my white tennis-shoes were now bright red. I was a sight. No wonder that lady ran off!
While waiting for the doctor, a male nurse came in and started taking my blood pressure and all that stuff they do when you go to the ER. We sat at a small table with him directly across from me. He pulled out a thermometer and tried to take my temperature. I told him I wasn't sick, that I had just been shot and needed to see the doctor. He said it was standard procedure and that I couldn't see the doctor until we finished up here. I stood up and informed him, in no uncertain terms, that I had just been shot in the head and that I was still kicking and to get me a doctor...NOW! (I was getting a little impatient by this time). He got up and left and the doctor came in almost right away.
The secretary from work, bless her heart, called my mother to tell her what happened, but had no idea which hospital I went to. I didn’t know either. After several phone calls, she finally tracked me down and drove out there. By the time she arrived, the doctor was stitching up the hole in my face, while a police officer stood on the other side of me asking questions. It was then that I learned that at least three other people were shot at in the same area around that same time that morning. I was the only one that got hit. (Lucky me). The doctor had also told me the bullet had come really close to the nerve in my face, which explained why I couldn’t feel my jaw right away. I had also lost a lot of blood. They took some x-rays of my jaw, told me I was fine and sent me home. My mother drove me back to work where I got in my car and drove it home.

The embarrassing part? After going through all that, after having a bullet blow a hole in my face, all I got were three stitches covered with a single, normal sized band-aid. I guess I expected a large bandage with lots of tape or something. Instead, I looked as though I had merely cut myself shaving! I know that sounds silly, but I had lost a lot of blood by this time.

A few days later, I went to see my oral surgeon to get the x-rays taken in preparation for getting my wisdom teeth out in a couple of weeks. After looking at the x-rays, he walked in and asked me if I knew that my jaw was broken. I had no idea! I knew it hurt like crazy whenever I tried to eat, but I didn’t know it was broken! The people at the hospital said I was okay!
I ended up having my jaw wired shut for the next two months! Needless to say I was on a liquid diet for a while. So much for Friday night pizza with the guys.

My mother put just about everything you could imagine in the blender. I know she loves me and she meant well, but pizza through a straw is just plain gross!

I got the wires off and had my wisdom teeth pulled on my 21st birthday. Not necessarily the way I had originally intended to spend the day upon turning 21.

Through it all, I never once found myself angry with whoever did this to me. I only wanted them found so I could ask them why they did it. The person(s) responsible were never found. Nevertheless, I forgave them, and tried my best to put that day behind me. I forgave them. I didn’t even know who it was I forgave, but the Bible said to do that, so I did.

Even though I spent the six to eight years in a fog, I never once felt any anger towards whoever did that to me. (I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t remember things, old friends now seemed like strangers to me. Part of my life was missing).

But I'll save that part of the story for later.

So, how did you spend your 21st birthday?