Marines.Together We Served

Friday, May 26, 2006

Marriage Maintenance

Isaura and I were discussing topics for my next article this morning. “What should I write about?” I asked. She thought for a moment and then said, “Why not write about marriage and the things to do to keep it healthy?” Sounded good to me.

This coming weekend Isaura and I will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on marriage, but I have learned a few things over the years. Allow me to address some of these in the remainder of this article. Admittedly, this is from a man’s perspective. So gentlemen, listen up.

First: Whatever you did when you were dating, keep doing it. These are the little things that act as cement in your relationship. These are the acts of kindness and consideration that caught her eye. It may be such things as: Opening the car door for your wife; Seating her at the dinner table; Helping clean up the dinner dishes; Smiling at her when she walks into the room; Sending her a card, flowers or candy just because; Remembering special days and times together; Washing her car; Splashing on a little after shave occasionally; Calling her just to say “hi.”

Second: Treat her with honor and respect. In many marriages, once the ring goes on the finger, the woman often feels like hired help, only without the pay. When this happens, your marriage is in trouble. The Bible says she is your “helpmeet.” This means she completes you as the man. She is there to help you, and you her, on the road of life. Focus on the word “help.” Never, ever speak poorly of her to anyone. If you do, you disrespect /dishonor her and yourself. “How do I disrespect/dishonor myself?” you may ask. Simple. You are the one who chose to marry her, and possibly have children with her. To speak ill of her is to point the finger back at yourself. This is why God says in Genesis, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” “One flesh” carries with it the idea that you are no longer two separate people. You join forces to forge a family. This can only happen when there is a commitment to one another.

Third: Your commitment to her must be absolute. For any relationship to survive, it must be built on trust. This begins with assuring her that though there are countless numbers of other women in the world, she alone is the one for you. So when you are out in public, keep your eyes on your wife. Allowing your eyes to roam is hurtful to your wife. She feels demeaned and insecure in the relationship. These are what I call termites in the marriage. If you allow them to live on, they will eventually bring the house down – in this case, the destruction of your marriage. Do not allow yourself to engage in any sort of pornography. Slick, professional looking magazines with innocent looking centerfolds, are an insult to your wife. Most likely your wife never looked that good in the first place. Even if she did, after a couple of kids and working to maintain a home, and possibly a career, she’s probably struggling to simply lose a few pounds, let alone compete with twenty-year-old pin-ups. Avoid movies that titillate your sexual interests. Despite what pop psychologists say, this is not healthy for a marriage relationship. And guys, stay off the porn on the internet. Period. It will diminish your interest in your wife. She deserves better.

Fourth: Love your wife completely. Paul’s words on love in I Corinthians 13 says it better than anyone else. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

When I counsel couples who want to get married, I’ll ask them how much they’re planning to spend on their wedding. Nowadays, that can be anywhere from $5000-$20,000 and more. So I say to them, “You’re going to spend X number of dollars on your wedding – a one day event. Fine! Now, take an equal amount of money and put it into a ‘Marriage Maintenance Account.’” My rational is this: You’re willing to spend a significant amount of money to launch your marriage. It seems reasonable to spend an equal amount on that marriage over the next fifteen to twenty years and beyond by attending marriage workshops and retreats, weekends together (just the two of you!), books and tapes on ways to build and improve your marriage, and so forth. Plan for the long haul!

So, let me ask you: How are you maintaining your marriage? I know you perform regular maintenance on your car to be sure it works as it should. Do the same with your marriage. If you follow these suggestions you will enjoy a healthy relationship. And remember this – God is the author and creator of marriage. Make sure you place him in the middle of your marriage.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I Pledge

We’re in trouble.

I was listening to the Sean Hannity radio program the other day when he was doing his man-on-the-street interviews. The way this works is one of his assistants goes out on the street with microphone in hand where she invites young people to speak to Hannity live on the radio. He then asks them questions about our nation; questions any sixth grader should know. This particular day, several folks in their early twenties were interviewed.

To say that I was appalled and dismayed would be an understatement. The interview would go something like this: Sean: “Hey, howya doing?” Guy: “Great! How are you?” Sean: “Great, thanks. How old are you?” Guy: “Twenty-two.” Sean: “So what are you doing with your life?” Guy: “I don’t know. Just hangin’ out.” Sean: “Let me ask you a couple of questions. Do you know who the president of the United States is?” Guy: “Sure!” Sean: “So who’s the president?” Guy: “George Bush.” Sean: “Excellent! Who’s the vice-president?” Guy: “The vice-president?” Sean: “Yeah. The vice-president. You know who that is don’t you?” Guy: “Ummm. I’m not sure.” Sean: “You don’t know who the vice-president of the United States is?” Guy: “Not really.” Sean: “Do you know who the Secretary of State is?” Guy: “Uh, the Secretary of State?” Sean: “Yeah. The Secretary of State.” Guy: “Ummm. No.”

It’s about at this point that I can’t take it any more. That’s when Hannity shifts gears. Sean: “Can you recite the Pledge of Allegiance?” Guy: “The Pledge of Allegiance? I don’t think so.” Sean: “Oh sure you do! You know, ‘I pledge allegiance (pause) . . . to the flag (pause) . . .” Guy: “I don’t think I know it.” Sean: “Okay. Let’s try the National Anthem. You can sing the National Anthem can’t you?” Guy: “Yeah. I know that.” Sean: “Great! Give it to me.” Guy: “I don’t want to sing.” Sean: “Okay. No problem. Just tell me the words.” Guy: “Okay. Ummm. ‘America, the beautiful . . .’” Sean: “That’s not the National Anthem!” Guy: “It isn’t?” Sean: “No! The National Anthem starts like this – ‘O say can you see . . .’ Got it?” Guy: “Not really.” Sean: “Oh sure you do! Give it a try.” Guy: “Well, okay, ‘O say can you see . . . by the dawns light . . . over walls we watch . . .’” Sean: “Stop! You’re killing me here!” This, my friends, was merely one of many such interviews that revealed a paucity of knowledge about our country.

Allow me to reflect back on my childhood. Every morning in school we stood erect beside our desks, placed our hand over our heart and, in unison, recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The National Anthem was sung at every major event in town and ball games on TV. The community actually came out in force on Veterans Day, Memorial Day and the 4th of July. We had parades, ceremonies, speakers, and always solemn remembrances for those who died in the defense of our country. The town made a big deal out of Lincoln’s Birthday, and Washington ’s Birthday, by painting their images on store windows to remind folks of these two great leaders who will ever remain larger than life. Today we have President’s Day, a very politically correct change so as not to snub lesser presidents. Too bad. You see, not all presidents are equal. And Washington and Lincoln are clearly the greatest leaders our country ever had. We also used to celebrate Flag Day. Remember Flag Day? We still have it on the calendar. And that’s about all the recognition it gets anymore. It’s still held on June 14th.

When I joined the Marine Corps in 1969, every Marine recruit was required to learn the names of all the leaders in his chain of command. These names were drilled into our heads day after day and God help you if you messed up. At any moment a drill instructor might pounce on a hapless recruit, pressing his reddened face scant inches from his face, eyes bulging, barking a question: “Tell me maggot, who is the president of the United States?” The frightened recruit would immediately respond: “Sir! The President of the United States is the Honorable Mr. Richard Nixon, Sir!” “And who is the Secretary of State?” “Sir! The Secretary of State is the Honorable Mr. Henry Kissinger, Sir!” And so it would go.

When did we lose the sense of personal responsibility for knowing the basics upon which our nation is founded? The National Anthem has 81 words. The Pledge of Allegiance has 31 words. How hard can this be? Yet the generations coming up behind us don’t have a clue. And, what’s worse, they don’t seem to care.

Here’s a suggestion: Those of you who are older need to get involved in the lives of your children and grandchildren. Teach them to recite these wonderful expressions about our country. Show them a reverence for the sacred honor of our fallen men and women of the military on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Stop at a cemetery and place an American flag on the grave of a veteran this Memorial Day, Monday, May 29.

Someone needs to teach the children. Will you pledge to do your part?

Someone to Listen

I wish you could have been there.

Last Friday night the Stockton Ports baseball team hosted Agape Villages Foster Family Agency for May’s National Foster Care Awareness Month. Foster parents and their foster kids enjoyed a wonderful evening at the old ball game. The weather was perfect, and everyone had a great time.

Players from the team had a autograph session just for the foster kids and families before the game started. The team mascot was available to have his picture taken with the kids, helping make the whole experience one these young people will not soon forget.

My favorite part was watching one foster kid (I’ll call him Tim) interacting with his foster family. My wife, Isaura, had told me about this particular situation, so I was curious to see who these folks were. As the story goes, Tim, now eleven years old, just could not get along with anybody. He was previously with several foster families before winding up with his currently family. Something in this relationship has helped turn him around. You see, this couple was older. One spouse was still gainfully employed, while the other is retired. Because they have time to spend with the Tim, he has really opened up to them. They patiently sit and listen to him pour out his heart. For the first time in his young life, Tim has found someone who takes a genuine interest in him. Somebody actually sits and listens to what he has to say.

It is equally interesting to see that ethnic and racial differences do not matter. Tim is black, while his foster family is white. When I first saw Tim he was pushing a wheelchair around inside the stadium. Seated in the wheelchair was the adult daughter of the couple who has taken Tim into their hearts and home. She had recently had trouble with a leg requiring she be off her feet for a time. There she was chatting away with Tim as they wheeled around the concourse. The two of them acted as though they were the only ones in the place, having a marvelous time together.

The transformation in Tim has been so successful that I’m told he has become quite the evangelist in the neighborhood, exhorting his neighborhood friends to give their lives to Jesus. Quite a change for a young man who was going nowhere in a hurry.

You may be wondering just how many boys and girls are in foster care in the United States? The answer: Just over a half million. There are many more who should be in foster care, but for various reasons they are not in the system. These kids range from newborns to seventeen. The ones that seem to fall through the cracks are the older kids. Tim is fortunate. Many his age are considered “too old” by many families who prefer to take in a younger child – which also means a child who is more pliable and doesn’t have the baggage a pre-teen or teenager might have. These adolescents acutely feel the rejection, finding it difficult to fit into our society because they have come to believe they are not wanted.

One story recently drove home the problems associated with trying to care for these foster kids. A foster family took a newborn right from the hospital into their home. They loved this child like she was their own. Unfortunately due to the laws giving any family member rights to the child, an aunt showed up when the child was eighteen months old and demanded she be given custody. It broke the foster family’s heart. But that’s the law.

Foster kids are not inherently bad, as many might think. They’ve just had a rougher start on life than most. It’s not their fault, for instance, that their parents were druggies, irresponsible, and in every sense, unfit for parenting. Because these kids are often in such deplorable living conditions before the state finally steps in, they are frequently considered “damaged goods.” But as evidenced in Tim’s story, when people give of themselves sacrificially, even kids others have given up on can be redeemed. It takes courage and commitment. Is it worth it? Ask Tim and his foster family.

So let me ask you: What are you investing your life in? What will be your legacy?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Nobody's Child

In today’s world, children seem to be the easiest of victims.

Consider with me the following: “Families in which there is substance abuse are more likely to experience abuse or are at a higher risk of abuse” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services web site). Studies show that young children are more likely to be physically abused, whereas the older they get the greater the likelihood they will be sexually abused in homes where drug abuse takes place. Not a pretty picture.

My wife, Isaura, has been working with children in this category for the past ten years. She was a stay-at-home mom until our two daughters were finished with high school. Reentering the market place after such a long hiatus was challenging. But she has always wanted to be involved in social work, so when the opportunity came along for her to be a “house mom” for adolescent boys, she took it. This was a group home run by Excell, a non-profit organization. These boys, mostly in their teens, a few younger, would be in prison for their crimes if they were adults. Now, like most guys, I’m protective of my family. Watching Isaura leave every weekday morning for the group home to make sure these boys were out of bed, fed and off to school, gave me pause for concern. I wanted to protect her from whatever she might have to deal with each day. I had to leave such matters in God’s hands.

After I was assigned as pastor to the Ripon Free Methodist Church, Isaura found a job with Agape Villages Foster Family Agency in a neighboring town. This non-profit organization has been around for more than forty years taking care of discarded children. My wife does several things within the organization, but mostly she interviews prospective foster parents, and then she teaches the training course designed to prepare these new foster parents with the realities of bringing a new and often troublesome child into their home.

The major problem agencies such as Excell and Agape face is the vast majority of the children placed into their care have been either physically or sexually abused. Often both. The damage this does to the child is not only criminal, it’s heartbreaking, not to mention it scars these kids in ways that are virtually irreparable. Agape is a Christian organization, so they believe in the power of God to transform and heal these precious lives, even these children that many people do not want.

Why do we have foster care agencies in the first place? For two very solid reasons: First, decades earlier children would be left alone in the world because their parents died from a plague or other disastrous event. They would then be taken to an orphanage where they would live until they were old enough to be on their own. Second, extended family (aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc) would take children in to keep them in the family. However, with the fragmentation of the family unit today, and the abolition of orphanages, more and more children are being cast aside. The integrity of the family unit has been shattered. Divorce, abuse, drugs, and a general disregard for life have all contributed to this growing problem.

Is foster care the answer? Yes and no. Yes, because it does work. No, because nothing replaces the original family plan. We need to get creative in our thinking so we can best care for these displaced children. Foster family agencies, both private and governmental, screen would-be foster parents which requires an extensive (and costly) background check on all applicants. It’s true, foster parents are paid to take care of the child. But most of the adults who sign up to be foster parents are not particularly interested in the money. They simply want to love a hurt and rejected child.

I will continue this in next week’s article. In the meantime, if you live in the Central Valley of California and are interested in this topic, please go to the following web site: http://www.agapevillages.org/default.asp. Otherwise, contact a foster care agency where you live.

Make a positive difference in a child’s life! Perhaps “nobody’s child” could become your child.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A House Divided

There is a foreboding divisiveness that I see across the land.

Yesterday my wife and I were driving to visit her parents who are packing there household goods in preparation of moving into a new home. Not easily done when you’re 80 and in poor health!

So we stopped to fill the tank on our Toyota Camry. Price: $3.16 per gallon. Ouch! We live in the Central Valley of California, the breadbasket of the nation. Everything grows here. Thus we have a significant number of immigrant workers. Not all are illegal, of course, but there are far too many who are. Needing to use the facilities at the gas station, I noticed some graffiti on the door that said, “Go back home, Mexicans, or there will be war!” I thought, “What an idiot!” Then I began to see a pattern in all of this. There are those who are intent on dividing our country.

What is troubling is that we see an intentional attempt to foster an “us against them” mentality. I was listening to a radio talk show program this morning. The host turned over the microphone to a Hispanic host who then conducted the remainder of the hour in Spanish. One knucklehead called in and said, “Now I’m definitely in favor of ethnic cleansing!” My wife and I looked at each other with a look that said, “Did you just hear what I heard?”

There is a concerted effort to bring about a distrust and animosity for anybody different from themselves. People can’t have simple disagreements today without turning it into a personal attack. I have written previously about a lack of decency and civility in our country. Religious differences drive people apart. Social differences drive people apart. Political differences drive people apart. Ethnic differences drive people apart. Racial differences drive people apart. The tone in the nation today is focused on what we don’t agree on, and not on what unites us. Tensions and emotions are running high.

As I write this, the organized protest to apparently show America that the country can’t function efficiently without illegal immigrants is underway. How successful this will be will depend upon where you stand on the argument. Regardless of the outcome, it is dividing the country. Some in the Hispanic community are realizing that the protest could create a backlash which could alienate many who are otherwise sympathetic to the problem of illegal immigration.

My wife has a definite interest in how this plays out. She and her family immigrated to the United States from Portugal forty years ago. To enter the United States, they had to go through a two year waiting period; have proof of at least $5000 in the bank so they wouldn’t be a drain on our society; have sponsors in the United States who would vouch for them; and have a clean bill of health with updated shot records and recent physicals so as not to bring any unwanted diseases into the U.S. Once they settled in California, my father-in-law had a job waiting for him; my wife and her siblings were enrolled in school and learned to speak English. She had studied English in Portugal, but quickly realized she was woefully deficient in communicating in this new language. So, she decided the best solution was to learn English.

My family moved to France in 1960 where we expected to spend many years. I attended a bilingual school – which meant all the teachers spoke English, but all the classes were taught in French. Let me tell you, I was confronted with the immediate need to learn to communicate in French fast. Was it difficult? Yes! I spent all day in school, and then another couple of hours with a tutor at home. I survived the school year.

As I said in last week’s article, my concern is with the rule of law. If we do not enforce the law, we open ourselves to greater problems – notably, a growing disregard for the law, and a reinforcement of sectionalism, which is the development of prejudice and hegemony.

Please understand – there’s no problem with anyone coming to the U.S. through the legal immigration measures already in place. On the other hand, those who are here illegally need to make it right. How? The methods by which this could be done are the stuff for another article.

But make no mistake – there are those who want to see the United States become the divided States. How will it all end? We don’t know. But if history is any indicator, nations that have allowed the laws of the land to be thwarted, and the language to be subverted, ended up on the ash heap of nations that used-to-be great.

Jesus said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” You and I must pull together to keep our nation united. Don’t allow the agents of hate and division to sway you from being a uniter.

This is the United States of America. Long may it stand.

Psalm for the Day