Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It’s Not The Hilton...

Note: This post was begun a couple of weeks ago (up to the point I begin writing about Smith).

I succumbed to curiosity yesterday and learned all I could about Paris Hilton. I learned that the celbutante doesn’t appear to have any talent beyond hiring good people to represent her.

I don’t normally follow such stories, but there seemed to be so much noise about her lately I thought I would check her out.

If you are like me, then perhaps you need a little background info. She was on some sort of reality TV show which permitted the luxury hotel heiress to demonstrate her inability to function in blue collar settings across the nation. She has had the usual celebrity tabloid jucies about sex, drugs, and fame available for public consumption with the exception that apparently much of what was written about her was true. She is in the news lately because she has been tossed into jail, released by the local sheriff for medical reasons (with strong suspicions of preferential treatment), and then thrown back in jail because of the furor (in a special jail which some say once again provides further suspicions of preferential treatment).

Apparently she was dragged weeping and screaming for her mother from court. From what I gather this is the end (hopefully) result of several police stops she received while driving on a suspended license (for driving under the influence of alcohol).

She is distraught.

Things have been a little bumpy for us lately. Brenda has been having a difficult time coping with the challenges of caring for her mother and our sons. Her frustration level builds and builds and builds and she explodes. She feels guilt, and a little frustration over her behavior and then... the phone rings. It’s her mom wanting her to run to the store again for the fourth time in two days, her schedule and the kids and her husband place competing demands on her time, energy and sanity and her frustration level builds.

She is distraught.

It seems absurd to compare Brenda’s challenges to the self-caused anxiety of a spoiled pop tart.

It might also seem absurd to compare Brenda’s challenges to those who suffer greatly in the world. There is the woman vainly batting flies away from her dying child. The man seeking his family through the scattered debris of a tsunami or suicide bomber. Or the man who lost his employees, his business, and all his children... Job.

About 30 years ago I read a story about a man who had some difficult experiences. It is probably apocryphal, perhaps fictional, but it still makes an interesting point.

Jedediah Smith was a mountain man who traveled throughout the west, acting as a scout, trapper, and all around explorer.

A newspaper man was taking notes about one of his great adventures. Smith was permitted to run away from his captors by running through a gauntlet (two rows of men with clubs). He told the reporter how he managed to escape, naked, from the natives. He ran, and as his enemies caught up to him, he killed them, and crossed the Rocky Mountains. He told of how he killed a deer, fashioning boots and a cloak.

The reporter was amazed.

Smith paused. He began to talk about the trolleys he had heard about in New York. How a man might be dependent on catching the right trolley to get to work on time...

“Now, if that feller misses that there trolley thing, he might miss gettin’ to work on time. If that happens, then he could lose his job, lose his only way of feedin’ his family.

“I would guess that for a man who missed that trolley, he would be in a pretty bad fix.

“I’m not sayin’ that what happened to me weren’t hard... but I’d reckon that for that feller who missed his ride to work, it might feel just as bad.”

Brenda has been distraught for some time. I haven’t been feeling the same way. That does not diminish her feelings, her point of view.

Today’s news is about Paris’ relief in being let out of jail. Part of me sees her as a spoiled socialite, but I think I can understand her fears and tears. This must have been the most traumatic thing that has happened to her.

I really don’t care much about her life, it isn’t the sort of news I find all that interesting.

There was a picture in National Geographic some time back of a legless fisherman who was carried to and from his boat each day by his wife. They weren’t bemoaning their lot. It was simply life.

Some folks run the gauntlet, some carry their spouse, lose a child... others miss a bus, spend a month without a butler.

What matters with our struggles is who we seek for solace.

Now for the real hard part.

This isn’t God’s world. It isn't a nice place. It isn't the Hilton.

We have sullied it with our sin, our self-centeredness. With those choices comes the real prince of this world, The Prince of Darkness.

I tend to see things rosier than they are. But it is a mistake to ignore that we are opposed in seeking what is just, good, right. We are encouraged to seek strength in our Lord. It isn’t a guarantee that we will be rescued (none of the apostles were), but it is a guarantee we will be given the strength to endure.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


A few comments readers have left on this blog lately have given me a great deal to think about.

Am I wrong to consider that the best thing for Jeremiah is for us to find a group home situation for him?

Is this an abandonment of my child or the greatest chance he has for fulfillment and a richer life?

Are we looking at what is convenient for us, or are we truly giving him the chance to be happy in seeking his own path in life, as limited as that may be under the watchful eyes?

I’ve given much thought to the idea of family. Perhaps my view of it is screwed up.

I’ve reason to suspect my point of view. First, readers I respect have obviously different views than mine. Readers who seem to agree with me also share my American outlook. Is this a cultural bias? That people are happiest when they seek a life of their own... the whole biblical thing: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." Ephesians 5:31

Or am I rationalizing, using the Bible to justify a point of view?

Is this loving?

I think it is. At least it feels that way... For I love Jeremiah deeply, I’m willing to give him anything. And I think that being as independent as possible, being able to go to the movies when he wants, being able to choose what job he takes, learning to handle his own finances, being as much independent as possible, might make him happier than a life where his mother and I keep him in a bedroom and take him places we choose.

But I may be wrong. I often am. Perhaps my view on this is screwed up.

I am driving down to Southern California in a couple of weeks. My dad is doing something stupid and I told him I would come and watch. he has had a motorcycle built, a custom job, from the frame on up, and he is seeking to set a world record. The crazy old fart (70) is going to sit on a nitro fuel-guzzling 400 horsepower bike and streak across a dry lake bed.

I just paused in writing this to watch Jeremiah wipe a tear from his eye as the aged Rose in Titanic has dropped her diamond necklace, the Heart of the Ocean, into the North Atlantic in memory of Jack. I went over to him and gave him a hug.

Where was I? Yeah... my dad.

I’ve feared him all my life. I have difficulty respecting him because of the choices he has made, is making, and probably will always make. Frankly, the real reason I am driving a thousand miles to see him is because I think that he hates getting old so much that he would rather get killed attempting a world record than continue as a 70 year old man. so I am going down there to buy him a beer, have a conversation with him, let him know that I love him and I worry about his salvation.

He wasn’t much of a father to me. His taunts and ridicule as I grew up, his open mocking of my desire to learn, his explicit discouragement of going to college, even of finishing high school put me into a series of jobs that I was not suited for.

My two boys and I took our dog, Rocky on a walk this afternoon. There was an occasional bit of light rain, but beneath the canopy of the woods we hardly noticed. I told them that I wanted them to come with me to California. I explained the purpose of the trip, and a general idea of where we would be on each day of the week and a half trip.

Jeremiah is excited to go. Isaac has reservations.

I told them about how I feel about family. That it is important to keep in touch with family, to visit them when we can. That we can have a guys’ trip, eat junk food, stay up late, do all the stuff that Mommy usually wouldn’t let us do.

And throughout the conversation, as we walked through trillium and blackberries, past douglas fir and giant leaf maples, I kept thinking about what my kids mean to me and what is the right thing for me to be doing with them.

As I prayed with Isaac last night at his bed, he asked me to anoint him with oil. something that I do sporadically. So I did.

And it all confuses me. I do so many things with and for my children that I wish my father had done. I kiss them. I hug them. I pray for their future mates, wherever they may be, that they are godly women who will bless their lives.

And I feel a tightness in my chest when I think that my father is a selfish man who worries that people are after his wealth... all I want from him is a kind word.

I read once that during the Roman Empire a man could disown his natural son, but not an adopted child. The philosophy was that people have little choice about who is born into their family, unless they are adopted.

I chose my children and I pray, I truly pray, that I will make choices for my children that make them happy, healthy.

My dad’s dad was adopted. It’s a sad story. He was a good man. His step sons got drunk and beat him to death when I was in the third grade.

I’m adopted.

I followed after my birth parents, who did many selfish things, and I was headed for a life that was quite lost.

But I got adopted.

I was introduced into my adoptive family by Jesus. I was adopted into a heavenly family, God’s family, my adoption fees paid by my big brother, paid by His life.

So I’m feeling a little mixed up. My feelings for my children, my feelings for my father... Conflicting feelings over Jeremiah’s future, Isaac’s reluctance to go with me on this trip, even mixed feelings about this blog. Planning my parenting. Planning a trip. Planning my week.

But it’s my journey. It’s surprising I don’t get called to task for things more often than I do.

God bless all!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Milestone

Yesterday afternoon they called out Jeremiah’s name, he walked across the platform, shook the hand of the high school principal, received his diploma.

It was noisy enough amid the loud shouts and horns of well wishers that she and I could talk to each other privately in our own little cone of silence.

We looked at each other, and suddenly smiled. We gave each other a high five.

I hesitate to write further because this may be difficult for people to understand. But, this post is good for me to write, to get these ideas down, and so I’m treating this one as a private journal entry which happens to be posted in a public place.

Raising these children has been an awful lot of work. Brenda has been so frustrated, so tired, and this moment, this moment of watching our son, the one with an IQ of 46, walk across this stage is bitter sweet.

We love him. But it has been a task of mixed emotions all along.

Lately Brenda’s frustration has created a tension between us that was (is, always will be) hard for me to understand. But last night it became a little clearer.

Granted, I am a man, and that makes me intrinsically incapable of truly understanding the mind of a woman, any woman. But I try.

I know her longing to bear biological children has weighed heavily on her, and I somewhat understood that her not being able to conceive was somehow different than my not being able to have children because she was not able to conceive.

I knew that there was a resentment in her about all of that, and I knew it was somehow connected to the raising of these children. But, as I said, I’m a man, and thereby incapable of understanding the mind of a woman.

We leaned our heads together and shared about what we had just witnessed. We spoke about how high school had been good for him in providing experiences that will help him ride public transportation, stock shelves in a grocery, keep focussed on a task.

We spoke about how it hurt a little to see the parents around us who beamed their joy for all the world as their children strode confidently, shook hands with the future shining in their eyes, wore ribbons and medals of scholastic achievement, while our son shambled across the stage with a silly vacant smile trying to understand the meaning of what he was doing.

His graduation was more of a mark of passing time than of accomplishment, unless it was our accomplishment. Jeremiah just sort of floated along.

Somewhere out there on the other side of a glowing computer screen someone is thinking that these thoughts seem inappropriate for us, his parents. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t all that Christian either. But this has been such a hard task, raising this boy.

I think about Willy, our first child who died 15 years ago, and I wonder what he would have been like today. He would be a freshman. I think he would have been intelligent. I know I would have poured my love of reading and science and theology into him like a deep vessel and watched with such joy as he carried those parts of me with him into his future.


I am grateful for my children, but sometimes I look over the life I have and I wonder about what may have been...

But back to the point... last night. Brenda has been so angry... but that anger seemed to melt last night, and we spoke about Jeremiah’s future.

I told her how I have been preparing him emotionally for weeks about a life outside of our home. How I have been describing the life of being independent (as much as he can be in a group home), and the things he needs to learn next.

And Brenda melted a little.

And I saw a little of her that made things more understandable for this male brain of mine.

I saw how she feels tremendous guilt for her efforts to push Jeremiah onward. How she has felt that she simply couldn’t go on any further with the colossal task of taking care of him. The strain of watching him constantly, as we have worked so hard to do ever since he burned down our church two years ago last Thursday night.

And now that she sees that I agree that he should move from our home there has been a lightening of the tension between us.

I told her that I agreed he should move, but because of reasons that are good for him, not for us. I told her that someday she and I will die and he will be forced to live in a group home then, it is better he learn to do that sooner rather than later. I told her it is our responsibility to help him grasp as much of a normal life as he can handle, and we need to guide him through the steps it takes to set up financial, physical, and emotional security and independence.

I said we should not move him from our home out of anger or resentment of anxiety.

I do have reservations we are pushing this a little quickly, but I also know Brenda can simply not hang on much longer. The way she sees the world, and Jeremiah, is different than the way I do.

This may seem a little callous or hard, that we are looking for relief from raising our children. I don’t think it is. We do need relief. Raising two mentally handicapped children has been a tremendous amount of work. But they need independence, and we will work on tht transition as hard as we have worked raising them all these years.

I reminded her about what happened when I was 18. I had been living with my dad in Huntington Beach, California, attending Marina High School when he split up from his second wife. We moved to Silverado Canyon, about 40 miles away. My brothers and I would get up about 5:30 to ride in the back of a pickup truck of a friend of Dad’s all the way into HB forty miles away. He would drop us off at Beach Blvd. and Edinger Ave., about two miles from our school. We would walk the rest of the way. Then, in April, two months before school was out, I turned 18 and my dad told me to go find some other place to live.

We are moving Jeremiah along in a way that is much gentler, much healthier than how my father moved me.

Jeremiah is my son. I will always be his father. I would give him half of my IQ to make it normal if I could. I would give my life to protect his.

Some folks think that adoption is not the same as having a birth child, and they are right. I see a lot of parents as a teacher who have no business being around kids. My kids didn’t just happen to me. I chose them.

I chose them after years and years of prayer and wishing and hoping and planning. I love them.

Jeremiah may be with us for another year or two as we find him a place in the world. But seeking to move him on is not the action of desperation it might seem because of the exhaustion we feel. It is simply the deep breath of the marathoner who see the finish line in sight and takes the courage to continue the climb up Heartbreak Hill.

Does it sound like I am trying to persuade myself?

Perhaps I am.

It is just that today, after being able to speak gently with Brenda about a topic that seemed to be too prickly to handle, I think I see good in this direction we are taking.

I see Jeremiah learning to fit into society in his own unique way.

He spent some of his graduation money on a toy light saber. And he will make foolish choices when he is on his own. But so did I. I made mistakes and he will also. But they will be his mistakes. And I think it is a good thing if he can get into a place where he can make mistakes that are his own.

He may not be the kind of child who made the football team or was a little bit of a math nerd. And he may not get the highest paying jobs. But as he said when we spoke yesterday when I asked him what he would like to do for work: “there are lots of jobs.”

He wasn’t too concerned.

He will fit in somewhere.

I cannot see the world from Brenda’s perspective. And even in this moment of agreement we agree for different reasons.

But in the battlefield that a marriage can sometimes be, an armistice is a blessed event.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Little This, a little That

Mostly that.

I used to post at least twice a week, and now it is once a week... and truthfully I think I'd call this one skipping it.

I'm too busy to write.

There has been some fun stuff.
Isaac and I went to see some World War II bombers at a local airport, which was a good outing for just the two of us. I've been working in my garden. I've been getting a lot of good strokes at work (things have been rough privately, but it has been my best year professionally).

This is our last full week with students. They totter off for the summer a week after Wednesday. So there is a lot to wrap up (not sure if I can do it!).

I have several projects to finish this week (write a report for a Dept. of Ed. Learn and Serve Grant, do a survey and write a report for a Talented & Gifted Digital Storytelling project, create three videos, oversee the production of two other (or is it three?) videos done by students, pull together the elements of a last day of school assembly, serve on an interview committee (Tuesday), up load about twqenty student projects (videos, photos, essays, powerpoints) onto a Virtual Museum site I built, and write the Cultural and Arts Grant by the 22nd.

Jeremiah is graduating on Friday. Brenda is struggling emotionally, Isaac is going in for counseling and testing, and I'm having a bout with insomnia.

But, I'm not twitching and barking yet, so it's all good.

I have been jotting down ideas and writing some roughdrafts of posts... let's see, there's the Father's Day one I started, one about Bubbles, another about the cross, another about service and being a servant, one on the progress of our church rebuilding project (and how it is affecting my home), another one which could almost be considered political, and one about Mark 12 and the nature of God.

We'll see how it all pans out. If I could ask for prayers, I would ask for wisdom, blessings on my marriage, wisdom in the decisions we are making for Jeremiah, and peace in Isaac's heart.

Check in with y'all soon.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Got a Hammer? Want a Saw?

As the technology teacher at a middle school folks often assume I am eternally enthusiastic about all things technological.

True, I do have my iPod firmly plugged into my cranium, but I am not typing into my laptop. I’m sketching out my ideas in my Moleskine, a little blank book (but my pen does have a laser pointer!).

Hmmm... I suppose there is more to a pen than one might think. A ball point pen is a technological wonder. The flow of ink, carefully regulated by a precisely engineered ball bearing set in a precisely engineered reservoir is a boon to writers and artists the world over.

The “trick” in using technology is choosing the right tool for the task at hand.

That is a primary goal of my curriculum. I teach my students to think dispassionately about technology and choose the best tools to express themselves.

I tell them that if the only tool they have is a hammer, then every problem starts to look like a nail. They respond with blank stares. This sort of metaphor is a little beyond them.

“Pretend that all your life the only tool you have ever had is a hammer. You use it to pound nails. When the nails are bent you use it to pound them straight. When you need to move something a little bit you tap it with the hammer. When you want to move it a lot you hit it with the hammer, and when you get frustrated you smash it with the hammer.

“Now imagine you have a board you want to use, but it is way too long. You have the board, and you have your hammer. What are you probably going to do?”

Now they start to get it.


“Now pretend I show you a saw. I show you how to hold it, how to score the wood with it, how to make it cut efficiently. Which tool are you going to use to divide that board?”

“THE SAW!!!”

That is my job, showing them new tools, new skills, exhorting them to think of new ways to express themselves. Would a Keynote presentation be best, or a video? Would a web site be more interactive and informative, or a Macromedia Flash project?

Sometimes the best tool is the simpler one. Sometimes the best tool for a job is a pen or a pencil, not a computer.

A drawing can be done quickly, more efficiently with a pencil than a mouse and keyboard.

Technology can solve a lot of problems, help us, all of us, to escape the dangers which beset us. But it needs to be tempered with wisdom, with ethics. That is the catch. Nearly every advance in science has been accompanied with sorrows.

Technology cannot provide us with a moral compass. Without wisdom, without understanding, the technology we grasp hurts us.

It sounds noble to compare science to Prometheus snatching fire from the gods, but it is perhaps more accurate comparing it to early man setting his hair on fire from a lightning-struck tree.

For example, the internet has the power to democratize the world, but in the meantime it seduces, perverts, our children, our brothers and sisters.

This is true for every technological advantage we have grasped with our clumsy hands.

Humanity has, perhaps, the ethical maturity to handle the technology found within a bicycle, no more.

I think we are all born with a tiny moral compass, like the dime sized one I got in a Cracker Jack box when I was five.

It points north, telling us where we should be heading. But it is easy to make it point wherever we want. All we need do is wave the iron-filled objects of our desires closely to our hearts. The sliver of our personal moral compass will waver, and swing where we would have it, at the ferric baubles we crave.

How do we develop a better, stronger, moral compass?

Step one: Keep our shiny, steely, desires away from our hearts, put them out of reach, filter them away from our lives, lock them away.

Step two: Watch that compass closely. Let it grow large in our sight, lay it frequently on the maps within scripture and prayer that it may dominate our sight, fill our vision so we are not distracted by tchotckes and knick knacks.

We know where it points. Every compass on this spinning glob of dirt which is apart from metal distractions points at the fount of magnetic energy pumping out of the heart, the center, of this world.

The metaphorical, theological fount for our hearts, our souls, is the glorious, loving presence of the Lord God Almighty.

The titanic glory of Earth’s magnetic field is displayed most greatly when it reacts to the storms of space, lighting up the world with brilliant aurora.

So too does the truth of God’s power within our lives shine brilliantly when storms wash over us. Like everyone else in this world my heart aches at the buffeting of sorrows, from within and without.

We are pleased with our accomplishments, with the skills we develop, the tools we accumulate. It is good to have a hammer. It is good to have a saw. It is even better to have a guide for the use of the tools we have.

Mankind tends to glory in new tools, like a man with a $5,000 gift certificate to Home Depot. Unfortunately mankind does not have the wisdom to handle such shiny metallic toys close to its collective heart (I grew up in the age of duck and cover drills).

There is something beautiful within my heart, something that is lovely and serene and glorious which lifts my spirit and sustains me. Within my heart is a lodestone imprinted with the proof of an eternal God. It’s the most precious thing I own.