Marines.Together We Served

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!