The lights are on and somebody IS home

night clockI can’t recall the first time it happened but I do remember that it was so funny to me and my older brother when my sister came home late one night after spending some time with friends. It must not have been too late because my brother and I were still up which was rare in our home because mom and dad believed that a good night’s rest was essential to our growth and required for a parent’s sanity.

“Where have you been?” I can hear my dad asking, his rich baritone voice asking my sister down the hallway and through the echoes of time.

“With my friends,” I imagine her responding as she did many times over the years.

“Do you know what time it is?”

“Ten o’clock.”

“I’ll ask again, do you know what time it is?”

“It’s after ten dad.”

“No, it’s past the time I asked you to be home.”

“Okay, it’s ten-of-five.”

“We were worried.”

“I’m late by five minutes dad, geez.”

“It may seem like five minutes to you, but to me and your mom it is an eternity. Please don’t worry us like that again.”

I am sure that throughout that conversation my brother and I were snickering; evil little imps who found pleasure in the anguish of the older sister who was the apple of our fathers’ eyes. Until that is, it was our turn to be chastised for being late.

You would think that being boys my parents would have cut us a bit of slack. On the contrary, it seemed as if mom and dad were particularly worried when we were out because they worried about that age old notion that when boys are being boys, nothing was sacred and nothing good could come of boys running amok.

The same conversation was repeated, over and over and over again through the years – even into adulthood. Dad would stay up, sometimes with the light on, sometimes with the lights out but he always waited up for us to come home. As a kid I thought it was to make sure that he could torture us to death and make us loathe living in their home for all the annoying rules.

“You know we love you, right?” Dad would say at the end of each lecture about being prompt, being trustworthy, being considerate because making rules and keeping them were important. But every time I was late, I came to despise the oppressive nature of that late night conversation. If you’re so concerned about me getting enough rest, why are you keeping me up for another hour past midnight to lecture me about being late? I would ask myself. Clearly I had made it home, I did not have wild and crazy friends and I almost never got into any trouble that required intervention by the local authorities. Why the hassle?

Then one night, my brother and I pulled up to our home in Samoa. The light was out but the door was unlocked – it was always unlocked because my parents had another rule that sometimes drove us crazy: our door was always open to anyone who needed rest, food or an ear to bend. We were a haven for weary souls in need of comfort.

We didn’t hear dad’s voice asking that same, tired and tiresome question this time as we slipped into the door. We thought we had dodged the conversation altogether and crept as softly as big, teenage feet could carry us toward our room. The place was intensely silent and we did not want to disturb our slumbering household when out of the darkness we heard the sound that still haunts me to this day – a single, solitary sniffle.

Dad flipped on the light and without saying a word, directed us to sit down in front of our mother. In the past I would have been flippant but my eyes did not need to adjust to the light to know that we had done the one thing that we never wanted to do – make our mother cry.

Unfortunately, we found out that night through our father that this was not the first time mom had shed tears over our absence in the home. Mom cried every single time we were delayed. Mom would beg my dad the moment we didn’t come home on time to, ‘go out and look for them,’ because something might have happened to us and she would continue to worry, cry and agonize until we finally, casually strolled in like we did that night.

We would also find out from dad that night that mom made dad stay up until everyone in our home was accounted for, safe and tucked away. Mom was a very light sleeper so any time there was a ‘bump in the night’ she would jump out of bed and make sure that everyone was okay and still in bed before getting back into bed herself.

That night, we made a pact with our parents – that if we were going to be late, we would call to give mom regular updates until we were safely home. The pattern continued until mom passed in 1993. If there is one thing I hated more than anything, it was seeing my mother cry unless they were tears of joy. I never understood her constant concern and anxiety until I had kids of my own and found myself repeating the same behavior my parents did so many years ago.

As parents there is nothing that makes us more uneasy than the thought of our children not coming home. We agonize and we stress until we are certain, until we have visual confirmation that our child is okay. Our children may hate it, just as I did when I was a kid but I hope that they understand how much we care for them and worry for them every moment they are away. When that feeling is reciprocated by a child, there is no greater joy for a parent.

So don’t worry about them being angry, upset or annoyed when you’re giving them that late night lecture about being home on time because it is a reminder to them that someone is concerned and loves them more than anything else in life.

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Driving Life

My wife says that I’m a terrible driver.

I hear all the ways and reasons why I am a bad driver the moment we pull out of the driveway.

I drive too fast.

I drive too slow.

I drive to close.

I’m too aggressive.

I’m not paying attention.

I’m impatient.

You’re going to kill us.

crazy-driver-ladyIt’s that last reason on the list that always puts me in my lowly place. No one should ever feel like their life is in jeopardy and no father or husband should ever make their loved ones feel unsafe. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that if my wife and sons feel like they are not safe in a car, than maybe I shouldn’t be driving them at all. On the other side of the spectrum, even if I am alone in a car and I’m driving recklessly, I’m still putting other lives at risk – the lives of unsuspecting motorists that we share the road with.

Even a hasty analysis of my driving skills draws succinct parallels to life – every thought or action I take affects myself and everyone around me.

Consider this – are there other situations in your life where you are putting others including your loved ones at risk? Is the way that you live your life driving others around you to feel unsafe, uncomfortable, restricted, burdened or loathe being around you?

My inability to give my loved ones a sense of security when we’re driving the highways led me to a miserable and lonely conclusion – I am selfish.

If I were unselfish I would have heeded the countless warnings of my backseat drivers. If I were considerate of their feelings I would have set aside my foolish pride for the sake of my family and their wellbeing. But my pride, my arrogance and my ego are such that nothing else matters when I get behind the wheel. I know best and because I know best I will do what I want to do.

Narcissist!

Not all aspects of my life are this way but there is little doubt in my mind that there should be no exceptions and no excuses for putting myself ahead of others. I need to drive all facets of my life as carefully as I should be driving my family.

Follow the rules of the road
No one is exempt. Sure, we can get away with driving a few miles over the speed limit or running through a stop sign but no one is exempt to prosecution and the just punishment that is delivered by the law when we are caught.

The same can be said of our lives. We can skimp and cheat our way through our relationships and we can be dishonest here and there with our neighbors, employers and friends but we must also be willing to accept the repercussions of our actions. If I live by the truths I subscribe to, chances are good that others will follow.

Be courteous
I struggle with my behavior on the road which leads to a sobering phrase that I have to confront when my thoughts and actions contradict the person I really want to be – what if that was someone you love? The answer to the question is simple – If it was someone I love I would not treat them with contempt, wish them ill or do them harm but rather treat them with kindness and respect even if that kindness is not reciprocated.

The first question leads to another solemn question that leads to a somber truth – even if it’s not my loved one, it’s someone’s loved one. I will do better if I can be more courteous in every life situation.

Signal your intent
When someone flips on their blinker to go left or right I’m expecting that person to follow through on their intent. If in fact they don’t follow through or they do the opposite of what they’re telling me there may be imminent and severe danger ahead.

The same can be said of us: if I say one thing but I do the exact opposite, others will lose faith and their trust in my ability to lead. We should live in such a way that our intentions are always transparent. By doing so our character can never be questioned or at the very least, everyone will know who and what we are.

My road skills, particularly my etiquette is a work in progress and my life is an ongoing struggle to improve. I can’t say that I will ever be perfect behind the wheel of a car, but I can say that I am trying. The same can be said of how I am driving my life – I am not flawless but I’m doing my best to follow the rules, be kind and be transparent.

How is your driving and where is it leading you in life?

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Gratitude: Third world edition

I spent my teenage years in a third world country.

Running water was a luxury.

Hot water was an extravagance.

Shoes were optional for some but far too expensive for many. Flip-flops were considered shoes. New flip-flops were considered pricey on a tight budget.

Hot loaves of bread? Yes, comfort food and in high demand. But in most parts of the country, the only bread you saw regularly on your table was breadfruit – definitely not the same.

I can go on and on about the things that we all take for granted and to be fair, Samoa is now matching modernity stride for stride in this technologically advanced age. But living in that faraway place all those years ago, a place that I now tenderly still refer to as my home, I was able to cultivate a heightened sense of awareness for things that I had once taken for granted. It was my education in the importance of gratitude.

When asked what the single most important thing they were grateful for in life, a group of youths almost unanimously stated that it was their family and friends that they treasured most. When asked why, they could not pinpoint a specific reason only that they were grateful for everything that their family and friends did for them. One can hardly fault teenagers for a canned response because in truth, I’ve asked a group of adults the same question and the answer was again unanimously, family and friends.

To what can we attribute the lack of introspection in a word that conjures up raw emotions? Could it be that asking such a personal question in such an open and public forum makes people squeamish? I find that answer hard to believe given the types of things the average person posts on Social Media websites. But it can be argued, given the nature of our society to praise strength and independence, that things which portray us as “weak” sends the wrong message to the world about us as individuals.

Which brings me back to this point – Why is it that a boy living in a third world country can articulate gratitude for the most rudimentary and modest things but we can hardly communicate why our family and friends mean so much to us? Because we are so concerned about the daily pressures and strains of life that we forget to take a daily inventory of the things that we should be grateful for and in part, this attitude makes us jaded to the things that give us a true sense of focus and understanding when dealing with gratitude.

How do I know? Because I’m living proof! On the days when, through my inattention and carelessness, I forget to be grateful for the simple things that helped me survive the day, I realize that I emphasize the negative things in my life rather than underscore the blessings I’ve enjoyed throughout the day. Gratitude elevates our joy; ingratitude profoundly diminishes our quality of life and highlights our sorrows.

A typical Samoan spread: Fish, fa'alifu fa'i and coconut milk.

A typical Samoan spread: Fish, fa’alifu fa’i and coconut milk.

As a young man sitting in a rural village on the island of Savaii I recall sitting down to dinner in a humble little Samoan hut. As the plates of fish soup were passed around to all in the house, one of the young kids groaned under his breath, “Fish again? I’m so sick of fish!” Without missing a beat his father replied, “I would make you starve without food tonight but that would be disrespectful to the fish. He lost his life so that you could be ungrateful for eating him.” Sadly we can be a lot like this boy who discarded the sacrifices his father made to brave the ocean in search of fish and the time that his father spent growing crops to make sure that his family did not go hungry. We diminish the minor blessings while waiting for something truly monumental in order to be grateful and content.

Do we need to live in a third world country to fully appreciate our blessings and show gratitude? Absolutely not; we only need to take a deeper look at the basis for our gratitude. If you say that you are grateful for your family, count the ways you are grateful. Each day that you spend taking a personal inventory of the things that you are thankful for, no matter how trivial, will increase your happiness and your capacity to love and show love towards others.

What are you grateful for today?

Today I’m grateful for these new cleats my wife bought me. I used them Thanksgiving morning and they helped prevent serious injuries, which would have meant medical bills and time off of work.

Today I’m grateful for rugby, because it gives me something that me and my boys have in common besides blood and our family tree.

Today I’m grateful for our friends Rebecca and Canton who regularly share their table and good laughs.

Today I’m grateful for my employer. Being employed is a blessing and work is a blessing. It also helps to have a super intelligent and understanding boss.

Today I’m grateful for each of my sons. Today I love #1 for his determination, #2 for his cheerful disposition, #3 for his humor, #4 for his honesty and #5 for his loyalty. Each day they are my teachers.

I’m especially grateful today for my wife’s humility, her wisdom and her beauty. I’m undeserving.

Today, and every day, I will cultivate my attitude of gratitude. Will you?

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For Mama’s Boys everywhere

My mom has been gone now for 21 years. She’s in the heavens somewhere. A personal guardian angel for me, my siblings and now our children. I miss her dearly, and songs like these remind me how special the bond between a mother and her child are – it is truly a match made in heaven.

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Your life and a leaking roof

leaky roofI drew comparisons to life from a leaky roof yesterday when I asked one of the young men at church what he’s up to, now that he’s graduated from high school and living what would appear to be an ‘adult life’.

“I work for a roofing company,” he said through gritted teeth, his weary eyes trying to focus on mine.

“Do you like it?”

“It’s tough work and I’m always tired but I got money now,” was his tired response.

My attention was drawn away to another subject being discussed in our Sunday School class of twenty or so young men and women ranging from ages 14 to 18-years but my mind kept coming back to roofing. My attention wasn’t rapt by the process and materials of putting a roof on a house, but rather by the necessity of a roof on a structure.

I was transported back to my days as a youth in Samoa and the simplicity of village life where simple Samoan huts were and are still constructed with native materials to protect its inhabitants from the elements. In Samoa there are only two seasons – rainy season and really rainy season, otherwise known as the monsoon season which begins around November and extends through March. Though the sun beats down on most days it’s not abnormal to get a downpour in the middle of what is traditionally known as the summer months in Samoa where the humidity often makes locals and visitors long for a much needed respite and a tropical downpour.

Samoan ingenuity allows the residents there to stay relatively dry when it starts to rain. I say relatively because oftentimes, families who neglect their roof will find that their lack of preparation and forethought will be in for a long, miserable rainy season when water begins to leak and drip down on their belongings. Even those who have transitioned to the more popular corrugated tin or the increasingly popular asphalt shingles in Samoa know that if you do not stay on top of the repairs, the damage that can be done by a faulty or a shoddy and neglected roof is substantial and troublesome.

My fascination with roofs led me to this life comparison – how often do we neglect a spiritual leak in our lives knowing the damage that it may cause us in the long run? What are we allowing into our lives that have lasting consequences on our minds and souls as well as those we love? What destructive forces are we permitting to have access to our lives, our families?

Sometimes we are better prepared for the major events, the cataclysmic things that could happen because those are a more obvious threat that we and the rest of the world are advised to prepare for. But what about the things that seem less invasive; things that at first seem harmless but grow steadily over time until our only recourse is to completely carve it out, tear it down and rebuild in order to stave off its destruction?

My wife and I were discussing this in relation to television programming. We took shows that we had watched just ten years ago and compared them to chart topping shows that are popular today and realized that what we considered provocative back then hardly compares to the obscene and immoral things that are now available on network television channels. Some of the images and language that is now used in today’s television shows are downright pornographic and salacious. We chalk it up to free speech and freedom of expression but I have to ask myself, ‘Am I paying money to provide my sons with pornography and messages that I do not support?’

Talk shows, sitcoms, reality television even live sports beam images, conversation, language and ideas that are in direct opposition and conflict to the values that I try to teach my boys.

In my younger days I had this notion that in order to battle the depravity that plagues our world I should know what it is in order to object to it and speak intelligently and with experience when forming an opposing opinion. But though I agree it is important to do your research, I’m not going to go on an alcohol binge to know that it can destroy my health and my life. I don’t have to have an affair to know that it can destroy my marriage. I don’t have to sleep with the devil to know that he has bad intentions. But if I allow these things to seep into my life, slowly and certainly it will destroy me and my family, bit by bit until we inevitably find ourselves in a far more difficult situation that requires a major overhaul in thought and action, in order to make things right.

A roof can be repaired. Things can be replaced. But if you allow your emotional, spiritual and mental state to be subverted by deliberate, damaging external forces, some things, such as relationships and your conscious, are much harder to repair and replace.

Is your life leaking?

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You hate, I love

i hate youDo you ever get that feeling that someone really hates you?

Have you ever had the impression that when you look a person square in the eyes and there is an undeniable feeling of contempt and revulsion towards you?

Have you ever been with a person who is completely oblivious to the fact that a third party is giving off the ‘You are scum under my shoe,’ vibe but they don’t know it?

I consider myself a fairly likeable guy. I rarely ever get the vibe that people hate me. I may be naïve and I may be misinterpreting non-verbal cues to the fact that someone dislikes me but I think I’ve developed a pretty good idea of when someone hates me.

I don’t get it often (at least not at the level I felt at that moment when I felt it so intensely the other day) but when I see that much animosity towards me there are a few things that pop into my mind. Some of them are introspective but a lot of them are inciting.

Do these sound familiar?

  • Uh, what the hell did I do to you? This perplexes me most when I rarely speak to someone or they hardly know me and yet they find that the only emotion that they feel towards me is hate. If I don’t know what I did to offend you then chances are I didn’t mean to offend you in the first place.
  • Do I care? I’d like to say that I don’t but the reality is I do care because I don’t like it when people are hostile towards me or my family. I suppose the real question should be, ‘Do I care enough to make you a priority?’ to which I would answer, ‘Hello no!’ I have other things to worry about and the fact that I care doesn’t mean that I care enough to figure out why you hate me.
  • If you hate me, than tell me you hate me and why. I’m old and I’m impatient with frivolous things so the sooner you tell me that you hate me the sooner and the easier it will be for me to ignore you and spend my time on relationships that are worth the effort. Don’t shake my hand if you don’t want to. Let’s just agree that we won’t inhabit the same breathing space and call it good.
  • Why are you wasting so much energy on an emotion that makes you look like an @$$40l3 when you can expend the same energy on something more positive? In the grand scheme of things, your hatred towards me only hurts one person – you. You can key my car, I’ll paint over it. You can spread chicken blood and guts on my doorway, I’ll pressure wash it. I’ll still be getting a good workout cleaning up your messes but you’re still the one whose insides are being ravaged by your hate, not me.
  • Get over yourself. You’re not that important to me. Something inside you makes you think that you’re more important than you think you are and that’s your problem. Spend your time thinking about others, not about yourself and you’ll feel a lot better.
  • I will never hate you and you will never make me hate you. Your hatred will never win.

“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” ― Malachy McCourt

  • Curiosity may have killed the cat but your animosity will kill you. If I offended you, forgive me. I will and am truly sorry if offense was taken.

I don’t know how to deal with people who hate me other than to take the sage advice of one who was perfect and above the ills of humankind:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matthew 5:43-44)

I’ll take that advice willingly and with an open heart and mind. And to that guy who hates me for no obvious reason – I don’t hate you, because that’s not how I was raised.

 

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Being human…and other things to overcome

Headache of being humanWe humans are flawed.

We possess the capacity to be better than human. I truly believe that. But do we want it?

For all the evil that we see in the world there is good in us, it just isn’t extolled in the public eye as often as immorality, depravity and corruption. For every good story that casts a warm patina over our hearts and compels us to seek the good in people; infuses in us a desire to be better, there are three or four atrocious stories that destroys our faith in humanity and supplants any good that we struggled to find in the world. That’s the refuse that sells. Some of us, not all, find joy in the degradation and public humiliation of others.

We have forgotten.

We have forgotten common decency. When someone falls we step on them. Better them than me, right? We have forgotten our responsibility to one another as neighbors in a global neighborhood – because fences, tinted windows, keyboards and computer screens have all taken the place of face-to-face interactions, a handshake and a genuine concern for what ails you.

We have forgotten what it’s like to say something and truly mean it because our status, our Likes and our selfies hold more weight and sway than the honest, heartfelt words spoken through human lips. But I can’t fault you there because there are so many people now who love to contend and to be controversial and say shocking things that make a small number applaud us for being radical and scandalous and outrageous, secretly hoping that it makes the masses cringe.

We loathe opposing opinions because the only opinion that matters is our own. We say we’re grassroots but we’re out of touch with our community. We refuse to conform but we insist that others adapt to us. We hiss in the face of regulation and government but we want to tell others how to live their lives and stand over their shoulders to make sure they’re doing it right. No one can concede that another person’s point of view can be right or at the very least worthy of respect.

We have forgotten what human life means to us. Parents are killing kids; kids are killing kids; wives are killing husbands before they can be killed and husbands are killing wives because they need another wife and a new life – all of them pleading insanity which in itself seems altogether insane.

There is no justice and there certainly is no peace because we are humans and humans are not satisfied with heaven and a dream unless it comes with a slice of hell, a budget for a renovation and a pre-nuptial agreement.

We do our best.

It’s about all we can do. Despite all the hate, negativity, suspicions, dishonesty, exploitation, perversion and every uncouth, vulgar, disrespectful and crude thing we do as humans I have to believe that there is still good in the darkest of human hearts because we can be good if we truly want to be.

There is proof.

We can be good. It’s in our DNA.

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