Sunday, April 29, 2007


One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." --Job 1:6&7

I think of myself as a realist. Most people, optimists and pessimists, do. But if I’m honest with myself, judge myself with fairness, I’d have to say I’m an optimist. I tend to look at the positives, to expect things will work out, to see positive outcomes when the end is uncertain.

In the challenges which face us, my wife and I, we often see things quite differently.

Her emotions swing to and fro. I try not to grab that pendulum; rather, I listen to the rhythms of my own heart.

That can be a tricky.

Brenda’s faith has been badly shaken.

“How can a good God let all these bad things happen all the time? How can a good God do the things He has done to us? Either He’s a cruel God or there isn’t any God at all.”

It pains me to hear such things. It is difficult not to leap to His defense, to point out with heartfelt logic the blessings, the realities of God. But, as I did say to her, I think the reality of God is not based on the evidence of the world around us as much as the evidence we find in our hearts. Faith is based on an internal, not an external, reality.

The last few weeks have been filled with highs and lows, a strange potpourri of juxtaposed moments, events, and circumstances.

Getting my kids legal: The first steps have been done. The papers the lawyer needed to begin the work are turned in to him. There are the passport photos and birth certificates and certified FBI criminal background checks and school records and all sorts of arcane legal proofs of our citizenship.

There was the thorough physicals by the extremely rude, perhaps slightly psychotic doctor with the reputation of producing careful documentations which please the discerning agents of Homeland Security.

There was the disconcerting tuberculosis tests. We were to watch the spot on the arms of our boys where they had administered the tests. A hard oval about an inch long would indicate a positive reaction if it did not dissipate after 10 days. Jeremiah had such a spot within hours of the visit. It lasted 9 days. Apparently he carries the antibodies for TB but hasn’t the disease. He was probably exposed to it at some point but didn't get it.

Brenda says I am a good man. But the truth is something else. I am a man. One who is filled with flaws. One who fails often, andthough I do not seem to swing to wide with the pendulum of life, I still make my share of errors. I love my Lord. But there are things about me that aren’t so noble.

I tried once to explain to Brenda that the world is evil because there is evil in the world, not because God makes it so.

On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." --Job 2:1-2

I erred the other day. I heard a whisper. I entered our bedroom, Brenda was hanging up the phone.

“Didn’t she hang up that phone just a little too quickly?”

She told me she wanted to meet up with a friend who is having a difficult time. She left.

“She is going to meet another man... she doesn’t love you anymore... Things have been too hard for her, she feels old and unlovely and some man has convinced her to come to him.”

I hit redial on the phone. A man answered. I asked for the woman Brenda said she was meeting. He said there wasn’t anyone there by that name.

I jumped in the car. I raced toward Oregon City. I sped. Seven miles out I spotted a car that looked like hers. I caught up. It wasn’t her. I turned around. I drove nearly all the way back. Then I thought I saw her headed the other way. I turned around again. I raced up to it. It wasn’t her. I turned around. I went home. She was there. I told her my suspicions.

She was sweet. Kind. Understanding. I allowed my fears to settle, to quiet. I believed her.

“Well, it all sounds plausible... but who knows?”

I’m not that good a man. There is a force of evil in the world. I have listened to his voice.

They swinging pendulum has brought me some cool things. A week ago last Friday we had the Battle of the Bands, a fund raiser for our PTA. It was so much fun! I was the lead “singer” of the staff band. The dozen or so bands ended up raising approximately $8,400 for our school!

This seemed appropriate attire for our rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song"

This past Friday we had a visitor from India at our school. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, still carrying on his grandfather’s work in promoting peace. We dedicated a peace pole in the Peace Garden (we have a piece of the World Trade Center on display there).

His accent reminded me of the nearly two years I lived in an ashram. The group of us, following the tenets of a traditional Indian monastery. What makes the memory unpleasant is the knowledge of the history of the leadership there. The guru, Anandaji, was the disciple of Sri Shuruth, who was a disciple of Ramakrishna, head priest of India’s main Kali temple. I am so sorry I was ever associated with any of that.

Had a little fender bender in a parking lot the other day. Minor damage. The other fellow put a much better spin on his story. I was tempted to do the same.

In a moment of frustration Brenda said she wanted to just leave, run away. I told to go ahead. For a moment I fantasized about it. I'm not that good a man.

The pendulum continued to swing.

I was nominated for an excellence in teaching award.

My back has gone out, my skin is splitting, I have a cold.

My lessons have been clicking so well lately, students are really making great leaps which warms me. I even had a teacher come and observe my class room last week from over a hundred miles away.

Brenda and I have been under a lot of stress. Generally we have been kind to each other. Sometimes not so much.

Poor Isaac has had too much on his mind. It is becoming clearer he may not be equipped to handle the rigors of regular class work. He got himself transferred to a regular reading class. I quietly had the school look in on him and they transferred him back to the lower level class. We have spoken about testing him later this month, to see if he would be better served in special education classes.

A week ago he cut the back of his hand with a knife. It bled for quite a while.

His confusion, his struggles, my responsibility. I haven’t helped him enough.

The weather lately has been gorgeous.

I look around me at people I love. People I know who struggle with all sorts of problems. Problems with addictions. Problems with finances. Problems with their children. Problems of every sort.

The Oregon skies have cleared and green is sprouting from every spot of open soil. Himalayan blackberries are growing several inches a day. Cumulus clouds drift lazily across God’s blue canvas, framing northbound geese.

Such beauty can seem an irony to the troubles people are carrying within their breasts.

It can seem that this beautiful world is an irony to the suffering that goes on. The sludge of filth spreading disease in third world cities... the carbon building up in our atmosphere at a rate that is unbalancing our weather... the vanishing species of this world we were given to protect... and the trillium is pushing up beneath the douglas firs.

I’m not that good a man. I have weaknesses, failures. I listen to whispers when I should be listening to Him.

Things have gotten pretty screwed up, that doesn’t mean God is doing us harm. It simply means that free will is in play, that we are on a journey through a world that is dark, ruled by a prince of darkness. But all of us have a lamp we can carry. We don’t have to carry it. It is our choice.

Things have been pretty rough.

But I’m optimistic.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Elephant’s Nightmare

Ever get that feeling? The feeling you are in the wrong place, attempting the wrong things, living the wrong life?

I’m not talking about teaching. I seem suited for that task. I enjoy kids, I am creative enough to make my content interesting, to demonstrate connections between my content and kids’ lives.

I mean the bigger picture. Life. Living. The whole bit of walking around in a body, one prone to wants and desires, and carrying a soul, the real me, meant for flight through time and space, meant for communing with my creator.

Life gets so messy. The troubles and drama of family and marriage and kids and interpersonal politics (cue violin section) and bills and cranky vehicles and taxes (begin soft oboe) and body functions and impossible choices (cello) and the whole treadmill of living a mortal life (cue bluesy saxophone).

It is sort of like sitting in a pool of light before a hushed crowd, looking at the keys of a piano... and realizing I haven’t fingers for the keys, realizing I really have the heart of a flutist (forgetting this body hasn’t fingers for that either).

Lately, when I have been at my church during worship, I have struggled to get my heart into the right place. My family sits beside me and I am overly conscious of their struggles, their moods, their perspectives. I shut my eyes and concentrate on the words of the songs... and slowly, from deep within my heart, drifts up the spirit that tells me I have the heart of the flutist.

I’m not really equipped to play the flute (metaphorically or in reality), but when I shut my eyes and think about Him, then the connection between who I am, where I am, and who I think I may truly be joins me to eternity.

I started this blog with the thought I would be examining, analyzing, critiquing and discussing the Book of Job. Somehow it became a place for me to ponder my life, share my journey. But there is one clear connection between my life and the biblical morality tale. Job did not abandon playing the flute, or trying to... No matter the circumstances.

Praise God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Thank you Lord for this spirit within me, and for this soul, that lets me hear the flute within, even if I can’t play it properly.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Whereas the party of the first part, also known as "Lawyer", and the party of the second part, also known as "Light Bulb", do hereby and forthwith agree to a transaction wherein the party of the second part (Light Bulb) shall be removed from the current position as a result of failure to perform previously agreed upon duties, i.e., the lighting, elucidation, and otherwise illumination of the area ranging from the front (north) door, through the entryway, terminating at an area just inside the primary living area, demarcated by the beginning of the carpet, any spill over illumination being at the option of the party of the second part (Light Bulb) and not required by the aforementioned agreement between the parties.

There are worse ones, and I would share them, except I don’t want to offend anyone... especially anyone who knows their way around torts, writs, motions, briefs, or appeals.

We have retained a lawyer. A gentleman who seems knowledgeable, thorough, concise, and is providing a set fee. He seems nice enough, probably makes a very good living, and has a face that instantly produces the urge to yawn.

He explained enough about the intricacies of adoption, visas, green cards and citizenship to convince me he knows what he is doing and that I definitely do not wish to go this on my own. We are trying to gain citizenship for our children of thirteen years, an oversight of the adoption process.

It is a complex process. Full of details I would never have been able to do on my own. For example, he handed us a stack of papers approximately the thickness one needs to purchase a home and had us filling them out, answering questions as we went.

“This part here says that we fill in the petitioner’s name, but is that us or Jeremiah?”

“Oh, do not worry over that. Our secretary can fill that out, but be certain you fill in the space marked 3.a-4... as it corresponds to the PW-400R form that needs to be sent to Homeland Security...”

On and on it went for two hours, after which we fled to a local Thai restaurant (relieved of a $1,000 retainer of course).

I can’t imagine he finds such work satisfying, but that is me. I’m glad I’m a teacher.

He is giving us a break on the whole deal. Instead of $1,600 for each boy he is going to do it for a flat fee of $2,000 (plus the $1,600 for misc., fees, and an estimated $400 for our own expenses in certified copies of FBI records, doctor physicals [not covered by ins.], passport photos, and other small items). We will then be getting green cards for our two sons and they will have legal parolee status to be in the United States of America.

Once that is done we can start over by applying for citizenship for Isaac after 6 months and for Jeremiah after five years (good thing he isn’t 21 or it would be ten!).

Brenda is about to tear her auburn hair out.

(Well, it’s really brown, but auburn sounds so much more poetic.)

Fortunately Jeremiah will start getting $500 a month from Social Security as a disabled adult which we can use to pay for all of this. Yup, that’s right. You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to get Social Security benefits. (On the one hand I’m relieved about that, but on the other, the citizen-taxpayer part of me is saying: “What?!?!?”)

Brenda’s stress level is still pretty rocky, which makes my life rocky as well.

Little stresses add up. Especially for her. She gets cranky and falls into a manic wave of house and yard work, a five and a half foot tornado that I stay clear of.

And the reminders of Jeremiah’s actions of two years ago, the building going up, the talk of raising funds, the legal matters which still crop up. irritate her. A few days ago I was backing out of a parking space and a guy in a space across from me pulled forward out of his space at the same time. His slight exaggeration of the events implies I was totally at fault, but that will eventually work itself out. My back is aching and threatening, but that too will eventually unknot itself.

I am concentrating on staying steady. I’ve been thinking about simple truths.

Complex truths are fun, such as quantum mechanics and the mechanisms of galactic clusters (the largest gravity-bound objects in the universe!), but I think simple truths are far more important.

Here are some I have been contemplating:

God is good.

There is a creator.

God took the form of a man and lived a life just as I am doing.

God loves me.

Such truths act as anchors. They give me clarity and focus.

I rush through my day, writing lessons, building web sites, making videos, disciplining unruly children, explaining my program to parents, working with grants and administrators and the PTA and all sorts of things.

But when I think about simple truths...

God is good. There is a creator. God took the form of a man and lived a life just as I am doing. God loves me.

It is like I am lying on a hillside, watching clouds drifting through cerulean blue, and my heart steadies, slows...

I am not mentally, educationally, or temperamentally equipped to handle the intricacies of tansforming my children into legal U.S. citizens, that is why I have hired a lawyer. But I have been equipped to handle the simple things.

I need to support Brenda with focus and determination, help her in her struggles with the challenges which frustrate her. I need to hold steady to my roles of husband, father, and servant of the One True God... guiding my actions and thoughts in all those roles with the simple reminder that my life is guided by faith, hope, and love... most importantly, love.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


I’ve been avoiding you.

I’m tired of the emotional roller coaster life has been. I prefer a mellow drama to a melodrama.

It is Easter Sunday. It's an important day in my religious calendar, one which always gives me much to reflect on, consider, contemplate.

The struggles which face my family are still here, still urgent, though Brenda has had a couple of good days here and there, testimony to the power of prayer.

Life is messy. Sometimes it is beyond messy, it is dirty, filthy, hurtful.

It isn’t supposed to be like this. It’s a beautiful world. We were created to be caretakers of it. We were to live peaceful lives among the wonders of creation, communing each evening with The Lord. But we mucked that up, that relationship. We mucked up the rest of it as well.

It seems to me I am wading calf deep in the messiness of life... skin problems, marital problems, legal challenges to my children. Challenges large, and irritations small. And just like when I wade too quickly in physical muck, these recent challenges threaten to trip me up.

But I remain steady. I just keep at what I know is true, my Lord, my shepherd.

In Oregon we have a lot of rivers. I am deeply involved in a project studying one of our local rivers, the Molalla. When crossing a river it is easy to get tripped up when the water reaches one’s thigh. The currents tug and push and swirl unexpectedly. When I cross such rivers I have found it easier to avoid stumbling by watching something steady on the bank ahead of me. I feel my way forward with my feet, and move slowly, methodically, toward a tree or a large rock. But if I let my eyes focus on the swirling waters tugging at my legs, then I can lose my sense of balance, I slip, fall.

It’s the same with life. If I focus too closely on the currents pushing against me I know I can slip.

I think that is what Brenda does. She becomes so focused on our challenges her faith waivers. I understand that.

Life is messy. And human beings have dirtied the waters of our lives just as much as we have dirtied the waters of the Willamette, the Mississippi, the Hudson.

I started studying the book of Job when our first child died. I thought it might give me insight into suffering. It did. Not so much about why we suffer, or how we might avoid it, but rather on how the faithful are to handle the difficulties of life.

The answer is: stay true.

I know God is good, I have faith, and I will hold to that.

I despise what humans have done to this world, the nasty chemicals in our rivers, the pavement covering living soil, the melting glaciers. I despise the causes behind the drowning polar bears and the invasive species which choke the life along the banks of our lovely local river.

But it isn’t much different than all the nastiness which cover our lives, the suffering that comes from having freewill and the opportunities which spring from being free to take more than one’s share, to take control over that which should be free.

I am probably a much greater lover of science than most Christ followers, but the love of learning how the universe works does not blind me to the greatest truth of all. There is a creator who loves me. He took part in His creation by becoming a man and lived a life not so unlike my own. I know Him to be real because He lives within me.

So... I wade on, through the churning muck. Brenda’s emotions swing this way and that. I do not try to control where she goes, what she feels. I will continue to be supportive of her, love her. While I keep my eyes on the steady sight of my Lord on the far shore.

We have walked together for a long time. Or nearly together. We have traveled in the same direction, though perhaps it has been too often parallel paths. Perhaps we have even gotten out of sight of each other. I hope to keep our paths together, but I can not make her choices. We shall see.