Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Roots West Christmas 2012


Roots West Christmas 2012
 Merry Christmas!

Once again this year Isaura and I are truly blessed with the joy of family and friends seasoning our lives.

The year started out great with the arrival of Josh and Jenny’s second little one. Colson Charles Sousa was born January 8th, and what a delight he has been. He’s a very “easy” baby in that as long as his basic needs are met (food, sleep and diaper changes), he’s perfectly content. Even though big sister, Brookie, was not at all happy that her mother was having a boy, as opposed to a girl, she has fallen totally in love with her little brother. She and cousin Alyssa are constantly kissing and squeezing the little guy. I suspect at some point he’s going to let them know he’s tired of it. Alyssa and Brookie have several endearing names for Colson, but the one that seems to be most used is “Colsee.”

Jenny continues to work at 234 Bistro, an upscale restaurant in Turlock where she is the day manager. Jenny has added another wrinkle to her entrepreneurship. She has opened a small shop where she is selling furniture pieces and is having a ball. The income is proving to be quite rewarding. So much so that she has her Aunt Joy (my sister), a retired school teacher, doing the same thing where she lives in Fresno. Josh continues to work with Clark Pest Control.  He is also making progress on completing his bachelor’s degree. And he’s having a lot of fun with little Colson.

Ken continues to work for Adtek, a sheet metal company. Laura thoroughly enjoyed working in the office of California Assemblyman, Bill Berryhill and was hopeful that his bid for the newly formed State Senate Seat #5 would come through in November. But, alas! It was not to be. Bill lost his race in a squeaker to his Democratic opponent. It was almost two weeks after the polls closed before the final ballots determined the outcome. Laura has so enjoyed the energy she experienced working in a political office that she is offering her services to other politicians in our area.  Grandson, Daniel Spence, graduated from high school in June. Congratulations!

My mother, Christine, turned 97 in June and continues to purr right along. Just last month my brother, John, purchased a special recorder so we could have mom tell about her life experiences which are fascinating to say the least. Not only does this device record her spoken words, but it connects to a computer and prints out her words, thus providing us with a written record as well. Very cool! One story she told me recently was the highlight of the week for the whole family when she was a little girl. Her mother, father, older brother and she would get dressed up on Saturday afternoon and walk to the train station to watch the train come in. Once it left they would walk back home. I love it!

Isaura takes a great deal of pleasure in her work with foster children. Her agency is called, Parents By Choice, and is located in Stockton. She is on a part-time schedule so she can spend a couple of days each week taking care of the needs of my mother and her mother, as well as babysitting Alyssa, Brookie and Colson two days a week.

I’m in my 14th year as the senior pastor of the Ripon Free Methodist Church. What a wonderful congregation I am blessed with! Also, I got my first hole-in-one last spring. Yahoo! But what made it particularly special was my brother John had come out from Virginia for a few days of golf. During those several days the Central Valley was hit with one of the worst storms we’ve ever had: hail, thunder & lightening, and lots of rain, plus cold, blustery weather that was a challenge even to the most tenacious of golfers.

Several years ago when Alyssa was two she saw a TV ad for Disney’s, The Magic Kingdom, and immediately made it quite clear that she wanted to go there. We promised her that when she was 5 we would take her. So early in December we made good on our promise. Josh & Jenny, Laura & Ken, Alyssa & DeziRay, Brookie & Colson, and Isaura & I drove in three cars to the Holiday Inn next to Disneyland in Anaheim and spent three days enjoying Disneyland and the California Adventure. It has been twenty-two years since we were last there. What an amazing operation! We had a lot of fun. But the best part was seeing our grandkids faces in Disneyland.

As we look forward to 2013, it is our prayer for you that the Lord Jesus will be the desire of your heart.

Have a Wonderful Christmas, and remember to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus! (Hebrews 12:2)
 
 DeziRay with Mickey & Minnie
 Brookie & Alyssa by the Enchanted Castle
 Chuck & Isaura
 Alyssa & Rapunzel
 Alyssa - 5 years old and at Disneyland!
 Colson at Disneyland
Chuck's Hole-in-One April 12 at Saddle Creek

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why Christmas?

           Why Christmas?

Because there is evil in the world.

Connecticut governor, Dannel Malloy, said, “Evil visited Newtown today. . . .” “This is a problem of evil,” said syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer. “It is unimaginable the level of evil that rolled through this town today . . . These are five year old kids who are 10 days away from Christmas, believing Santa is coming to their home. Today, the devil came to this town,” said Bill Hemmer of FOX News. “In law enforcement you confront evil all the time,” spoken by a retired police officer on the news. “Unspeakable evil on display,” opined Bill O’Reilly of FOX News.

I’m sitting in my home watching the news as the reports of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut are played out in all of its ugly, devastating detail. In a phone conversation with a friend today discussing this tragedy, he commented that as a nation we refuse to accept the possibility of the existence of evil in our world. That caught my attention mostly because that is exactly what happens to us when we fail to remember that God took decisive action on behalf of the human race in addressing the presence of evil.

Christmas is a wonderful time when we sing carols, give gifts, and spend precious moments with family and friends. But the reason for Christmas? Christmas is God’s answer to the problem of evil in our world. “For God so loved the world (you and me) that he gave his one and only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is because of the rampantness of evil that we look forward to celebrating Christmas. Why? Because Jesus, the Son of God, willingly came to die, thus paying the price for evil – what in the human condition is called sin.

As I watched the news I would hear different comments about this dastardly act. Expressions such as people are “trying to come to grips with what happened today.” Or this comment that really is foolish when you think about it: “We’re all trying to make sense out of this tragedy.” There is no coming to grips with this evil act. There is no way to make sense out of a senseless evil such as this. There simply is no understanding this wickedness.

Good and evil are rather loosely defined in our world today. Good is a nebulous term in its daily usage, often carrying a meaning of satisfaction with life, such as, “I’m having a good day.” Evil, on the other hand, is used only when the most heinous of crimes is committed, such as a Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now, Newtown.

Someone will say, “But we’ve always had these problems, you just didn’t hear about them.” Well, that’s simply not true. Such an evil action would have been the biggest story in all the newspapers in the country as far back as the 1700s. And with the advent of the radio and the telephone, such news would have quickly spread across the nation and the world. On top of that, it would not have been tolerated, because people were in fear of both the laws of God and the laws of man. At that time the laws of man reflected the laws of God. In the United States up through the latter part of last century you simply did not mess with children. And if you did, punishment was swift and sure.

In the days and weeks ahead there will emerge from the news a litany of reasons and excuses for this man’s devilish behavior in wantonly killing so many innocents. Already the groundwork for this is being set: “He’s autistic. He’s a sociopath. There was no father-figure in his life. He was on meds. He hated his mother.” All of this may be true, but what he did was evil nonetheless. Plus there are plenty of people who can say the same things about themselves, but they’re not out killing people because of it.

Any who had a perfect childhood, raise your hand. Okay, there are a few of you, perhaps. But the rest of us can point to plenty of unpleasant things that happened during childhood. This does not mean you become warped and demented, acting like a cold, heartless killer.

Here’s my point in saying that we do not want to admit there is evil in our world. It requires us to look into our own hearts and take inventory. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?”

Bill O’Reilly stated that there is evil in the world and there’s nothing we can do about it. Well, that just isn’t so. God did do something about evil. By sending Jesus into the world to be our Savior, he was sending Jesus into our hearts if we are willing to allow him in. Evil wants to lure us into worse and worse thoughts and behavior. Whereas God’s intent is to change us and conform us into the image of his Son, Jesus.

That’s the hope of Christmas: A heart and life changed by Jesus. It makes all the difference in the world!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Break from Reality


This past week was special!

         My wife and I had the joy of going to Disneyland with our grandkids where we spent three fun-filled days. It has been twenty-two years since we had last been to this magical place. At that time our daughters were nine and twelve.

         This trip to Southern California actually began a few years ago as a result of our then two-year-old granddaughter, Alyssa Grace, seeing a TV ad for Disney’s, “The Magic Kingdom,” declaring, “I wanna go there!” Her parents together with Isaura and me, promised to take her when she turned five. Patiently she has waited for her fifth birthday, which was just after Thanksgiving last month. True to our promise, we have been preparing this trip for months.

         Isaura and I drove down to Anaheim last Sunday after church, enjoying the uninterrupted time being together. Our two daughters and their families each drove down arriving at the Holiday Inn at Disneyland in the evening. The accommodations were quite nice, with comfortable beds and virtually sound-proof rooms.

         During the planning of this trip I was not convinced that we needed three days at Disneyland. I had been there a number of times in the mid-to-late 60s after my parents and I moved to Los Angeles from Massachusetts. That’s when you could buy a book of tickets for $17.00, if my memory serves me correctly. You remember those tickets, right? They were broken down into specific letter denominations depending on the ride or event, ranked from A to E. An E ticket was the best because you could use that on the Matterhorn bobsled ride. Yet with the addition of the California Adventure park, I was able to see the wisdom in staying for three days.

         Today it’s all different. You buy your ticket into the park and you can go to whatever attraction you desire. The lines are still long, but they seem to move folks through quicker these days. Visiting Disneyland in December is a good idea because the crowds are nothing like the summer months, and the decorations, parades and musical programs are focused on Christmas. The downside is the weather which at this time of year is always a gamble.

         Isaura and I could not get over the precision with which the whole Disneyland experience is handled. The park is amazingly clean, for starters. After each parade or street performance there is a small army of workers to pick up litter. I spoke with a number of employees during my three days and every time I asked a question, from, “Where’s the nearest bathroom?” to “What, where, and when is the Wonder of Color?” I was always greeted with a smile and an offer to be of help. Then add to that the very real statistic that there are on average 40,000 people who visit there in the course of one day! Disneyland employs 8,000 people which means there is a lot of training going on all the time. Whoever is in charge of this is doing a bang-up job!

         Because we had our eleven-month-old grandson Colson with us, I found myself tasked with finding a place to warm up his bottle of milk. I approached the first employee I saw and asked them where I might complete my assigned task. They told me to go to the Baby Care Center, even walking me to the location, insuring that I arrived at the correct spot. I entered amid a half-dozen moms with babies waiting to change diapers or tend to their little ones in some fashion. Several matronly attendants were there to assist, notifying the next mom of an open room for her and her baby. Holding the bottle I explained my need to warm the milk. I was directed into a small kitchen and advised to use the micro-wave, even instructing me as to how long I might want to set the timer. Thirty seconds later I was walking out with warm milk for my little buddy, Colson. As I passed one of the ladies working there, I asked, “How many babies do you get in here in a day?” Her answer, “On average, 1600.” I did some quick math. The park opens at 9:00 AM and closes at 9:00 PM except on weekends when it is open until 10:00 PM. Figuring a twelve-hour day, that would be roughly 130 babies an hour, or just over two babies coming in each minute. I smiled at her in admiration and then baby bottle in hand, made my way back to my family.

         I rode lots of the rides with Alyssa and Brookie, and of course, DeziRay, who at thirteen is ready to climb into most any of the more nerve-rattling rides with whichever one of the adults is willing to venture forth. The Matterhorn is a perennial favorite, but I do enjoy the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, too. There’re some serious G-forces at play as the train makes numerous sharp turns and banking movements. What a kick! It’s just long enough of a ride that my regurgitation factor does not have time to spring a surprise on me.

         Our last evening we positioned ourselves so we could both see and hear the Candlelight Procession and Ceremony which is an annual event retelling the story of “The First Christmas” through song and Scripture. It is performed twice each evening, both times after dark which enhances the effect. A choir of 3500 voices sings while walking down Main Street to the Town Square where they join with the orchestra. The narrator and Scripture reader this night was actor Kurt Russell. The sound of the musicians and the voices of the choir were magnificent. The whole of the Town Square was packed, and yet you could hear a pin drop during the hour-long program. Isaura said it would be worth coming each year just to experience again the beauty of this musical presentation of the birth of Jesus.

         Yes, we were all ready to come home after three days, but what a time we had! Before heading north to the Central Valley and home, we had a birthday lunch for Isaura at the Rainforest CafĂ© in Downtown Disney. Great place!

         Maybe we’ll do it again next year! It sure was nice to have a break from reality.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Slip-n-Slide


It is quite apparent to me that there is a concerted effort to remove all semblances of religion, and specifically the Christian faith, from not only the so-called “public square,” but from our lives as individuals. My wife and I were watching the news this evening, disturbed by a report that the governor of Rhode Island would not call a Christmas tree by its rightful name. Instead, in order to be politically correct, the tree is now referred to as a “holiday tree.”

I suppose there is an argument that such things are trivial, unimportant and not worthy of discussion. But I would disagree. There are so many attempts to eliminate religious symbols, references, and images from our daily lives that it makes my head spin, wondering when the next assault is coming.

The danger is in allowing these attempts to be successful. Incrementally we lose freedoms that were purchased for us by the blood of patriots who fought to defend our “Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.” We are slipping into a gradual loss of these freedoms, as well as the marginalization of the Constitution to the point where some of our government leaders are declaring it irrelevant. Already there are those who have labeled this most splendid of transcripts as a “living document,” which sounds pretty enough, but it is what underlies it that is troubling. The concept of a “living document,” to those who are Progressives, implies it can be changed to suit the times. That type of thinking is disastrous and will lead our nation to socialism in a hurry. Even a cursory study of the history of European nations during the 20th Century will quickly reveal their slip-n-slide into financial oblivion. This has led them to the economic crises they are all experiencing, and none of these nations seems to have a clue how to find their way out of the mess.

But I digress.

What made the United States a great nation is the blessings of God. Yet today we are steadily rejecting his involvement in our lives as a people. Certainly there are individual Americans who are honoring God with their lives, but as a nation we are disconnecting from the divine.

There is a movement at work in our nation where people are attempting to shed the responsibility of being responsible. Let me explain.

If America is to continue to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” we must uphold the laws and principles that are the foundation of our nation. When as a people we push back against those laws and principles we are intentionally fracturing that foundation.

God has certain laws in place which we cannot violate without harming ourselves both as individuals and as a nation. One of the vilest principles we have been seduced into accepting is the wanton destruction of human life through the legalization of abortion. There is no possible way to justify taking the lives of unborn babies without violating God’s basic laws of life. He made us in his image and likeness and it is not for us to destroy his creation regardless of our theological leanings or philosophical persuasions. The numbers of babies “legally” murdered in the United States since Roe v Wade in 1973 is in excess of fifty million. All the wars of America combined with the loss of American lives, including the losses in the Civil War of both Union and Confederate forces may reach nearly 1.5 million. That’s about the same number as the number of abortions performed annually.

Man’s nature being such that he does not want to be told what to do by anyone, including and especially God, there is a natural tendency to rebel against the authority of God. I remember hearing the phrase as a kid, “Laws are made to be broken.” That always seemed a strange phrase to me. To push back against laws which are in place to protect us from each other, is to invite anarchy and the ultimate loss of the very freedoms people thought they were enjoying. To liberalize our laws opens us to no end of trouble. My generation opened a veritable Pandora’s Box with the whole Hippie/Free Love philosophy that literally tore down the moral fabric that once held our nation together. We became immoral, slipping down that slope to debauchery and decadence. What seemed fun, and even the right thing to do, has proven to be a moral disaster.

On the news this week the city council of San Francisco was debating the public nudity laws, replete with protestors stripping off their clothes down to their birthday suits in the council chambers. Do we actually believe we can blatantly disregard the spiritual and moral laws of God and not suffer the consequences of our own actions? It’s a wonder that we engage in debating these immoral activities in the first place. And the list of such behavior goes on.

So, for all of man’s attempts to remove God and his influence from our lives, you can be sure that God is not going anywhere. The question that remains is: What will you do with Him?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Problem With Complaining


Complaining is a common human failing.

Some people believe they have a “right” to complain. Conditions and situations are so bad that they have earned the right to complain to whomever they choose. This attitude has become pervasive in the church to the point that the unchurched simply do not see any difference between us and them.

So let me speak directly to this issue. Here’s my challenge: Name one major Bible character who did not complain. Abraham? No. Moses? Definitely not. David? I don’t think so. Well then, how about some of the prophets – Samuel? Uh, no. Isaiah? No, again. Okay then, let’s look at the Disciples. Ummm, then again, let’s not.

Do you see a pattern here? Over and over again throughout the Bible we see people complaining about all sorts of things which strikes at the root of faith, calling into question God’s effective handling of our personal affairs, and to the point where we wonder whether he even cares about us on an individual basis.

Actually, I can think of only two natural born people where no complaint is ever recorded as coming from their mouths. That would be Joseph whose life is written in significant detail in Genesis 37-50. The other would be Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her story is provided mostly by the Apostle Luke in chapters 1 & 2.

What was it that stood out in Joseph’s life? He was a man who was the favored son of Jacob; was treacherously sold into slavery by his brothers; falsely accused of molesting an Egyptian official’s wife; and ended up in an Egyptian prison. At that point, being that he was a Jewish man in an Egyptian prison, he was likely to never be seen or heard from again. Look all you want – I challenge you to find one utterance of complaint from Joseph.

It’s not surprising then that we see this singular phrase repeated throughout Joseph’s story: “The Lord was with Joseph.” Ah! There it is! Joseph had learned to hold his tongue and not complain, even though most of us would have felt more than justified in doing so. No other character in the Scriptures ever had this phrase attributed to them.

As it turned out, Joseph was used by God in a very critical manner. Because of his exemplary character, and his work ethic, God caused him to find favor with Egypt’s pharaoh. Because of this, the Jewish people were saved from the likelihood of starvation. On top of that, Joseph even extended the hand of forgiveness to his brothers for having sold him into slavery.

Your personal situation may not end quite so dramatically as did Joseph’s, but any time you choose to honor God, particularly through your attitude, God will in turn bless you.

Let me offer this thought for your consideration, especially during this season of Thanksgiving and Christmas: Does a complaining attitude benefit anyone? Does it honor God? You already know the answer. Actually, the very opposite is true. Complaining is evidence of a lack of faith. In reality, faith declares that God is in control of our lives, especially when we’re in the depths of an Egyptian prison!

I believe Paul had Joseph in mind when he admonishes us in Philippians 4:4-8. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

Joseph would say “Amen” to that, don’t you think?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanks for the Memories

 
Bob Hope used “Thanks for the Memories” as his theme song. But as you spend time with family and friends on Thanksgiving, consider providing your loved ones a gift that they will thank you for long after you are gone. Develop a plan for the eventuality of your death so that you do not leave a mess for those who mean the most to you.

Let me suggest you make a list of what you will want to put together. If you haven’t already done something like this, it will take some time, but your family will love you for it. This article, and the two previous articles for the Ripon Record, is an abbreviated version of recent articles I wrote for my denomination’s magazine and web site, Light & Life Magazine .

The following is a guideline taken from my book, “The Sandwich Generation: Adult Children Caring for Aging Parents.” This information is important for any adult. Take time to work this out by personalizing it.

·       Personal Notes

·       Important Records

o   Marriage Records

o   Birth/Citizenship Papers

o   Education

o   Military Service

o   Veterans Organization(s)

o   Estate Plan

o   Wills/Trusts

o   Power-of-Attorney

·       Finances

o   Bank Accounts

o   Safe Deposit Box

o   Outstanding Loans and Debts

o   Accounts Receivable

o   Credit Cards

o   Tax Information

o   Investments

o   Retirement Plans

·       Insurance

o   Life Insurance

o   Medical Insurance

o   Other Insurance

·       Property and Valuables

o   Real Estate Owned

o   Vehicles

o   Personal Property and Valuables

o   Private Information

·       Funeral Arrangements

o   Funeral Cost Information

o   Inform Your Pastor

o   Plan the Service

o   Burial Plot (Purchased?)

o   Military Veteran

§  DD214 (Discharge papers)

§  Contact the VA (Veteran’s Administration)

§  Entitled to Military Honors

o   Additional Considerations

·       Contact in Emergencies

·       Survivor’s Guide

o   What to Expect

o   What to do First

o   Things to be done by the Family

·       Trustee/Executor

o   Designate the person through legal means

o   Spell out your specific wishes

I have been checking with a very good friend who deals in trusts and annuities. He reminded me that we all need to have 1) trusts, so our possessions may pass probate-free and possibly tax-free to the next generation (a will guarantees a pricey and dragged-out probate), 2) insurance for survivors (at the very least, a burial policy), 3) retirement accounts, property titles, advance directives for medical decisions, and a well-organized system of all relevant papers, documents, policies, and important people to contact when life-changing events happen, 4) a fireproof home safe, not a bank box. A bank box can be closed off to the important people in your life at the worst possible time. Anyone who is to be your trustee, executor, etc. needs to know from you in person and in writing that they are your choice to serve in these roles well in advance of your incapacitation or death. More importantly, they must be willing to function in this role.

In today’s ever increasing high cost of living, and even higher cost of adequate medical care, a sound plan and investment into a medical insurance policy is no longer a luxury – it’s essential! Some today would even say it is a right. Life savings quickly disappear in today’s hospitals loaded with the latest high-tech equipment and experts in all areas of medical practice. In fact, financial ruin for the individual and the extended family is not uncommon. Many today are calling on our government to implement socialized medicine in order to make prevention and treatment both affordable and available for all our citizens. The development of the Affordable Care Act by the current administration is an attempt by Congress to gain control over an out of control problem.

I highly recommend doing some research of your own so you are familiar with what is available. I would also take the time to sit down with your loved ones, particularly elderly parents or grandparents, and chart a course of action which will remove excessive fear and anxiety. It also gives an opportunity for the individual to state their wishes, allowing the rest of the family to come to grips with those wishes. This prevents the overly emotional responses that tend to occur in the midst of a crisis which always seems to bring about the possibility of conflict in the family – sometimes going unresolved for years.

Taking a proactive approach in the eventual care of your elderly parents is a wonderful gift to your family. They’ll thank you for it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Honoring Parents

 
In 1958 my step father’s mother came to live with us. I was ten years old and quickly became best buddies with “Bambi.” That’s what we called her! Not sure why. She had older grandchildren from her eldest son, and they began calling her Bambi. At least that’s the story I heard. The Disney movie, “Bambi,” came out in 1942 when they were kids, so they nick-named her Bambi.

She was seventy years old at the time she moved in with us. She lived with my parents for the next 23 years, making all the moves with us from New York, to Paris, to Oslo, to Boston, to Los Angeles, to Alameda, to Saipan, and finally Fresno.

I miss Bambi every day of my life. I knew I could always talk to her, and she would listen, offering loving counsel as needed. So when she had lapsed into Alzheimer’s at age ninety, it broke my heart. Then when my step father needed a pacemaker, requiring the full attention of my mother, my wife and I didn’t hesitate to take Bambi in to live with us and our three-and-a-half year old and six month old daughters.

Over the years I had learned from watching my mother and step father that you take care of your family. Though we were not church-going people in those days, this family principle was engrained. I’m grateful for that early example.

Now my wife and I find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the Sandwich of the Sandwich Generation. My mother moved in with us when she was eighty-five. After eight years she realized she was still getting along pretty well and wanted her own place again. A local retirement home had periodically sent her invitations to move into their facility. She took them up on it and is still going strong at age ninety-seven!

As I write this article my mother-in-law, who is eighty next March, has been dealing with a succession of illnesses. She still lives in her house about seventy miles from us. However, she may need to move in with us. So, my ground floor “man cave” has just this week been transformed into my mother-in-law’s room, in the event that she comes for a visit, or decides to move in.

My wife, the oldest of six from Portugal, feels the burden to take care of her mother, as well as my mother. She is meticulous in doing those little shopping trips for my mother who can no longer move much beyond the confines of her apartment. And she drives down to her mother’s home frequently to take her to the doctor, or just stay the night.

We believe this is how the Lord would have us honor our parents. Because we both have elderly parents we love and respect, it makes caring for them much more manageable. However, it is quite common for Christians to become confused when attempting to understand honor and the part it plays in their lives when taking care of the elderly. A closer look at the meaning of this word will serve to clear up the misunderstanding, and therefore the perpetuation of illogical and abusive relationships between adult children and their parents. In his book, Family Ties Don’t Have to Bind, James Osterhaus presents valuable insight into the often stormy relations between generations. He lists four presuppositions for developing a framework in balancing honor of parents while keeping your own dignity and self-worth.

1.   You may have had a painful childhood, but that was not your responsibility. You are responsible for building a healthy life right now. There are connections between your childhood and your adult life, but these connections don’t have to run – or ruin – your life in the present.

2.   You are a separate person from your parents. You are entitled to think your own thoughts and feel your own feelings. You are an adult, and you are responsible for becoming your own person. Accepting that responsibility can be uncomfortable, but it is the key to overcoming the painful emotions, memories, and habits of the past.

3.   You are committed to looking honestly at your relationship with your parents. You are committed to uncovering and defusing the explosive secrets of the past. You refuse to let those secrets hurt you or control you any longer. You are committed to opening the lines of communication and reexamining the unspoken rules (such as “We don’t talk about that,” or “We don’t acknowledge feelings”), you are committed to changing those rules and replacing denial with truth. As Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

4.   You are committed to confronting and dismantling any unhealthy control and power your parents may have held over your behavior or your feelings, whether they are living or dead. You can honor your parents even as you remove yourself from under their domination. You can honor your parents even as you confidently and fully assume the role of a self-reliant adult. (James Osterhaus, Family Ties Don’t Have to Bind, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994, 26-27).

When you honor your parents, you honor God.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Where's the Brake?

 
Those who have visited San Francisco always want to ride the famous iconic cable cars. Admittedly, they are cute as they clang along their rails up and down the hilly streets of the “City by the Bay.” During the height of tourist season these horseless carriages are packed to overflowing. But I often wonder if the people riding the cable cars are aware of the braking system? It’s a 2 x 4 piece of wood pressed down on the track.

It’s the smell of burning wood that always gets me.

In a similar vein, my wife and I found ourselves grabbing for life’s braking system not so many years ago. Our children were growing up much too quickly. Our parents were growing needier by the day. And then grandchildren came into the picture, consuming large amounts of our time, which is no hardship, believe me! But so many issues began to confront us that we felt wholly inadequate in trying to deal with any one of them, let alone all of them. We were smack dab in the middle of the Sandwich Generation!

It is a startling reality to discover that your parents are old. When did this happen? How did we miss it? Are we getting old, too? I heard my wife laughing the other morning while she was fixing her hair for work. Curious, I looked to see what she found so amusing. There she stood with hands on hips smiling at me from the bathroom mirror. I said, “What’s so funny?” She replied with another burst of laughter, “I look just like my grandmother!” She was right. Ouch!

Into our sixties now, we recognize that most of the years allotted to us are behind us. Like it or not, the decisions I make today have more to do with what I leave behind when I’m gone. All the “stuff” I’ve acquired throughout my life will eventually be disposed of, either by me, or my family when I’m gone.

For nearly thirty years my wife and I have been caring for kids, grandparents, parents, and grandkids. We are both in relatively good health, but one stroke, or severe illness can change that picture very quickly. Will we be able to care for each other? Or will we have to become dependent on our daughters and their husbands? Will there be enough money to live on should we happen to live twenty or thirty more years? What sort of medical plan will we be able to use in the future? And will it be affordable?

So let me ask you – Who takes care of Whom?

Studies have shown that those who retire at age 65 have less than $250 in the bank. Add to that the fact that that same person is likely to live an additional 17 years or more, and you have major problems brewing. None of us wants to be a burden to our family for any reason. So what do you do?

I would advise you to look very carefully at your financial situation. How many years will your finances carry you into retirement? Do you still need to live in the big house? It may hold all the memories from children, and grandchildren, and the many good times shared, but is it still practical? Or would downsizing to an apartment or duplex with well-maintained lawn service be more the ticket? Moving in with one of your children and their family may sound fun and exciting, but is it realistic? Unless you have an exceptionally close relationship with all of them, you may quickly find yourself an unwelcome guest.

Finding yourself in one of the layers of the Sandwich Generation can be very humbling. My wife and I have been the middle part of the sandwich for so long now, caring for everyone else that I’m not sure we know how to function in a receiving role.

“Just when the Sandwich Generation begins to feel the pressure of helping an elderly parent(s), there is evidence to show that the elderly are the ones just as often assisting the adult child(ren) financially. In a 1975 Louis Harris poll, the findings showed that 45 percent of the public aged sixty-five and older help their children and grandchildren with money, recognizing that aging parents generally do not wish to draw on their children’s financial resources. Though the government is being pressured to provide more and more for the elderly, studies show that families prefer to take care of their own.” (“The Sandwich Generation: Adult Children Caring for Aging Parents,” Charles R. Roots, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York/London, 1998.)

Here’s a sobering statistic. For every 100 people at age 65:

·       34 are dead

·       54 are dead broke

·       5 are still working

·       4 are financially independent

·       1 is wealthy

I will leave you with these questions for personal and family consideration.

1.   Have you developed a financial plan for your senior years?

2.   What sort of medical insurance do you have?

3.   Are you involved in a routine of physical exercise?

Let me conclude by suggesting you sit down with your family and share with them the manner in which you would like to see things handled as you live out your remaining years. This will be a great blessing to your loved ones!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Electoral College

 
Eight years ago I wrote an article attempting to explain the form and function of the Electoral College. During every presidential election the question is raised as to why we still need the Electoral College, followed by a call for its removal. Here’s where it’s important to know U.S. History. The reason for the Electoral College when it was first instituted was to make as certain as humanly possible that every vote counted.

“The Electoral College is a process, not a place. The founding fathers established it in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens. The Electoral College process consists of the selection of the electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for President and Vice President, and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.” <http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html>

First, let’s ask the most important question. Is it the popular vote, or the Electoral College vote that elects the president? Answer: Both. Each state has an Electoral vote for each senator (every state has two senators). Then there’s an Electoral vote for every U.S. Representative (based upon state population census –There are currently 435 Representatives). Each major political party at its convention selects electors to match the number of senators and representatives. Whichever party garners the simple majority of the popular vote wins all of the Electoral votes for that state. (There are two exceptions: Maine and Nebraska). This is why, mathematically, a candidate could conceivably win the Electoral College vote, and lose the popular vote. Largely populated states, such as California and New York, could easily swing the number of popular votes in one candidate’s favor so that when you combine all the popular votes throughout the nation, the winner of the popular vote could lose the election – case in point – George W. Bush in 2000. In truth, the candidate for the Democrat Party, then Vice-President Al Gore, won the popular vote, and lost the election. The Republican candidate, then Governor George W. Bush, won the Electoral vote, and thus he won the election.

The Founding Fathers of this great nation understood the problems associated with a straight popular vote. The first danger is like what we experienced in high school class elections – popularity. The most popular kids were elected to be president of the class; class secretary, etc. A truly charismatic personality could come along and sway the vote, winning overwhelmingly through popularity. This is even more telling today with the use of television. If a candidate is not photogenic, it will be an uphill battle. The first televised presidential debates were the Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960. Nixon, on black and white TV, appeared tired, and unshaven, giving him a somewhat sinister look. Kennedy, on the other hand, looked youthful, and energetic. It made a difference in the minds of Americans.

The second danger is centered on sheer numbers. The most populated areas of the country could easily determine who would be elected if it were left up to a popular vote. Though not a perfect system, the Electoral College does manage to even the playing field so that less populated states (Wyoming, for example, which is the least populated state) would still have their voice heard. This is why you see candidates traveling to these states that only have 3 or 4 electoral votes. In the overall scheme, the goal of the presidential candidates is to reach the magic electoral vote count of 270. This wins the election. As of this writing, the incumbent, President Barack Obama, has a fairly solid 201 electoral votes, and the challenger, Governor Mitt Romney, has 191 electoral votes. This leaves 146 electoral votes remaining to be determined. Eleven states are in the classification known as “Swing States,” meaning the polling among the voters in that state is so close that the state could go either way – Republican or Democrat. Those eleven states are: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.

For a fair election to take place, the Founding Fathers showed the good sense to build in safeguards so that popularity would not be the sole determining factor. The Electoral College must be maintained if Americans are going to be properly represented.

So, make sure you vote, neighbor. The system works!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

To Vote or Not

 
Over the years I have heard folks say they weren’t going to vote because of this or that reason, most of the time it had to do with their disappointment in the choices between the two parties. I’m sure each believes they have very good reasons not to vote. But please allow me to offer a few thoughts on this.

First, to vote for our representatives, whether local, state, of national, is a hard-fought right which has been given to us as a gift. Our Founding Fathers knew this was a unique concept in the world. Virtually every country in the 1780s was ruled by a monarch (King or Queen), a despot, a dictator, an emperor, or a tsar. Within each of these governmental structures existed a policy of iron fisted control over the masses. It may seem an oversimplification, but these rulers did not trust the people to rule themselves. In many ways this was a correct evaluation because part of the means of control was to keep the masses ignorant and uneducated.

The United States, on the other hand, became an experiment in what could only be consider a shocking change. “We the People” were given authority through the implementation of the Constitution to select our leaders, and then to hold them accountable through an open election process. In fact, this was so unique that it became known as “The Grand Experiment.”

The following four quotations highlight the significance associated with the foundation of American Exceptionalism. These are also warnings, should “We the People” ever forget that we decide the form of government we are to have.

"The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty . . . is finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American People."
- George Washington (1732-1799)

"Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?"
- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

"No free government can stand without virtue in the people, and a lofty spirit of patriotism . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
- John Adams (1735-1826)

"Our nation was founded as an experiment in human liberty. Its institutions reflect the belief of our founders that men had their origin and destiny in God"
- John Foster Dulles (1888-1959)

The Constitution was not handed down to us on stone tablets in the manner in which Moses received the Ten Commandments. Instead, men who were intent on establishing and preserving the freedoms we enjoy today knuckled down and hammered out the greatest man-made document in the history of the world. “All through the summer [of 1787], in closed sessions, the delegates debated, and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. Among the chief points at issue were how much power to allow the central government, how many representatives in Congress to allow each state, and how these representatives should be elected--directly by the people or by the state legislators. The work of many minds, the Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.” (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html)

Second, voting is a privilege in that it gives us a voice in the way we choose to be governed. By not voting, the individual surrenders the decision of rule to those who do vote. When I vote, my candidate does not always win, but I’m involved in the process. Someone may argue that their vote doesn’t count anyway. This is categorically untrue. There have been countless elections at all levels of government decided by a few votes. The closest election in history was in 2000 when George Bush won the state of Florida over Al Gore by 537 popular votes!

And third, there are times when I am discouraged by the whole political process. It’s at those times that I remember the men and women who laid down their lives defending our freedoms. What excuse would I make to these patriots if I did not vote? What complaint of mine would sound acceptable to those who willingly forfeited their lives so I could have a future? My candidate won’t win anyway? I’m too busy to take ten minutes out of my day and vote? I don’t like either of the candidates?

Exercise your right to vote on Tuesday, November 6. It’s the right thing to do.

Psalm for the Day