18 December 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: K is for Kudzu


I know, it’s strange to list one of the greatest scourges of the southern landscape as a “favorite” thing, but it’s an iconic reminder of home. In October 2011, I traveled to Atlanta, GA to take a professional seminar. It was the first time I’d been back in the South since 2008. The conference center was nestled next to some woods along the campus of Emory University, and had a balcony just outside the classroom we were in. Stepping out onto the balcony during a morning break, smelling the crisp, just-starting-to-chill fall air, the still-green deciduous trees, the rich, organic earth, I was caught off guard by how forcefully I was transported home! Don’t get me wrong: I love the Pacific Northwest. I love the life I’ve made here and the native-Oregonian love of my life I found last spring, and wouldn’t trade a thing; but I’m a southern boy, and the temperate, relatively dry South will always be “home” over the Pacific North Wet.

Anyone who has traveled the highways and byways of the south has seen areas, sometimes whole fields and forests, overgrown with a thick layer of green, broad-leafed vines. Frequently, familiar shapes can be seen lurking beneath the mat of vegetation: an old tractor; an outhouse; the outline of a small, slow moving animal. It grows upwards of a foot a day. Its planting instructions are “drop it and run.” Its runners can regrow as long as any part of the “root crown” remains intact, and its hard coated seeds can remain dormant for years. It considers trimming a form of propagation, sneers at most herbicides, weathers most burnings, and will probably provide shelter for the cockroaches after the nuclear apocalypse.

So how did this aggressive, noxious, some would say useless plant ever get a foothold in the non-native US? It was introduced from Japan at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia as an erosion control measure, and boy, does it take control!

Not everyone thinks it’s useless, however. It has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2,000 years. It is said to be useful for treating migraines and cluster headaches, tinnitus, and vertigo. It was once touted as a hangover remedy, but a 2007 study largely discredited that notion. It’s a legume (bean), and contains food starch, which may make it useful as a substitute for cornstarch.

It’s considered an invasive weed and a master at competitive interference, choking the life out of native flowers, shrubs, and even large trees. But it’s not completely evil. It has a deep taproot which draws minerals into the topsoil, and increases nitrogen levels. It can be used for forage, particularly for goats, as it has a 15-18% crude protein content and 60% digestible nutrient value. It may also be useful in the production of cellulose ethanol. Its hemp-like fibers can be used to make paper, baskets, and clothing.


So here’s to you, Kudzu! May you… wait, hang on, something’s tuggin at my ankle…

13 December 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: J is for Justice Part III

GUN CONTROL

I’m a firm believer in the rights of sane, law abiding individuals. Making me responsible for someone else’s foolish or criminal behavior is like putting me on a diet because you’re fat.  I have passed at least four background checks.  I have invested over 30 hours and hundreds of dollars in firearms safety and legal training.  Taking a gun out of my trained, screened, reasonable hands makes no one safer except the armed criminal trying to harm me and my family.

At the same time, rights come with corresponding responsibilities. Individual situations call for common sense. I’ve owned firearms for my entire adult life. I believe it is safe and prudent to be at least as well prepared for a confrontation with a criminal as the criminal is. He has no qualms about taking my stuff and/or doing harm to me and my family. The mere presence of an inanimate object, be it a firearm, knife, sword, poleax, hammer or a pencil, does nothing to alleviate or exacerbate a dangerous situation. Tools are in the hand of the wielder. Like a scalpel, it can take a life or save it. Common sense goes a long way. In my case, I have a situation that makes readily available firearms a risk greater than the potential reward. It would endanger more than protect, therefore, I don’t have them in my possession. I readily admit I feel more vulnerable in a confrontation, in the thankfully unlikely but not implausible possibility of a home invasion. That doesn’t mean I’m unprepared; come into my home with nefarious intent and you’ll find out how well prepared I am. But an inaccessible firearm is irrelevant, so for now, they’re not present in my home.  Might such a viewpoint have stopped Adam Lanza?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But we'll never know, will we?

I support certain common sense restrictions on firearms ownership; steps that can be taken to try to keep them out of the hands of people who cannot, or simply will not, handle them in a safe responsible manner. No firearm ever “accidentally” injured anyone without the careless or criminal intervention or lack thereof of a human intermediary. One such tragic situation close to home unfolded a year or so ago. A handgun owner discharged his weapon, firing through a wall and killing his own child. He claimed the gun fired while “practicing” with a holster. I’m no expert on the care and maintenance of firearms, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to unload a gun. There is absolutely NO excuse for carelessly handling a loaded gun. None. Whatsoever. It’s simply too easy to unload one. Even when unloaded, the most basic rule of gun safety is to treat every gun like it’s loaded. Not long after this event, I saw a post on Facebook comparing this incident to an automobile crash, insisting that gun manufacturers be held accountable the same way we hold car manufacturers liable in auto accidents. The problem with that reasoning is that we DON’T. The car company is only held liable if the car malfunctioned, and the gun in this incident didn’t. It did what it was designed to do. A release mechanism (trigger) was activated by pressure, causing a hammer to strike a pin, which struck a priming device that triggered a controlled explosion that propelled a projectile in a straight line where the barrel of the gun was pointed. Just like a car that drove where it was steered at the speed dictated by the accelerator, the fault lies with the careless operator, not the machine. No one sues Toyota if someone runs a red light.

I support two specific gun control measures that put me on the outs with many of my conservative brethren: expanded background checks and mandatory firearms safety training. NOT universal background checks, which would place an unreasonable regulatory burden on ordinary people doing ordinary things on rare occasions, but expanded use, and improvements to the current system. A background check is only as good as its database(s), and ours, frankly, aren’t very good at the moment. Information is inconsistent and not always shared among law enforcement agencies. The kind of red flags that might have kept Jared Loughner from legally purchasing a gun to use in a crime did not appear in his record, for a variety of reasons that brevity prevents me from exploring here. But the principal is simple: For a background check to be useful, it has to contain all relevant data necessary to making a sound decision.  Gun control (read: "elimination") fanatics like to use the "gun show loophole" to push draconian restrictions on firearms sales, and I agree.  The problem, again, in Oregon at least, is that there IS NO gun show loophole.  Background checks are ALREADY required for all handgun purchases at gun shows in Oregon.  I was with a friend once who bought an old, historic revolver at a gun show and he had to fill out a background check (he passed, shocker).  I do not, however, believe a private individual should be required to perform a background check on his son in order to do nothing more than hand him a gun to use at the firing range, which much recently proposed legislation would, by strict application of the language, require by defining this exchange as a “transfer.”


I have taken at least 30 hours of basic firearms training for the two state concealed weapons permits I have or have had in the past. I considered it fun and interesting, and although I possess a reasonable degree of common sense and consider myself safety conscious, I wouldn’t have a problem with making such courses mandatory in order to own a handgun. We make you take a test to drive a car because doing so without knowing what you’re doing can hurt people. Make the course useful, affordable, and relatively convenient, then make it mandatory.

28 November 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: J is for Justice Part II

The most obvious “J” word would have been, of course, “Jesus,” but I’m saving Him for another letter of the alphabet. So I’ll talk briefly about my views on three issues where I will generate disagreement with some of my conservative brethren. For brevity of posting, I’ll divide this into three separate posts.

Discrimination

Jeff Merkley is a Demostablishment puppet. He parrots the party line and does little to distinguish himself or Oregon. Ron Wyden at least bucked the party on Rand Paul’s filibuster.  But Merkley has found his bill and it fits enough of his constituents to (probably) make him reelectable, which is all I think any of them on either side of the aisle truly care about. As to the merits of the bill, I think a person has the right to decide for themselves who they want to be. I think “discrimination” is wrong, but good judgment and respect for the beliefs of others isn’t. The bill makes exceptions for religious beliefs, although it’s still too ambiguous for my tastes, and it fails to address “bonafide occupational requirements,” which every other federal non-discrimination statute except race does.  Fix those two issues, and I'll support your bill.

Public Prayer

I recently saw a sign in a photo of a protest outside the Supreme Court while they were debating Greece v. Galloway, the most recent suit dealing with the issue of prayer at public meetings. It said “Keep your theocracy off my democracy.” Ironic that the sign holder doesn’t acknowledge that a democracy means that people that disagree with her get to vote, too. Fortunately, we don’t live in a democracy. We live in a constitutional republic, meaning the majority doesn’t always rule and the minority doesn’t always get to stop the majority. I think it works pretty good most of the time.
What doesn’t work is everyone getting offended so easily. In the case in question, I have no problem with a public entity opening its proceedings with an invocation. As a believer, I welcome it! But I also realize not everyone believes like I do, and I fully expect people that DON’T agree with me to get to participate in a public forum in the manner of their choosing. That means we might have a Hindu prayer, or a (gasp) Muslim prayer, or an atheist politely addressing the participants directly and asking them to do their jobs faithfully, wisely, and well. What will I do if someone is voicing a prayer I disagree with? I’ll do what I expect them to do when I’m the one praying: stand there quietly and respectfully, silently voice my own prayer if I feel it necessary, but to show common courtesy for the rights and opinions of others. Allowing others to participate in public proceedings doesn’t force me to do so. I don’t get my feelings hurt if someone says something I don’t like or I disagree with. It is, after all, a “free” country. It just seems we’re a lot more free to prevent other people from doing things we don’t like than we are free to do as we please.

25 November 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: J is for #Justice

The most obvious “J” word would have been, of course, “Jesus,” but I’m saving Him for another letter of the alphabet. So I’ll talk briefly about my views on three issues where I will generate disagreement with some of my conservative brethren. For brevity of posting, I’ll divide this into three separate posts.
Let me say at the outset, I don’t have a wide enough readership to be “controversial,” but if you disagree with me, don’t get personal. I’m more interested in finding what I believe to be the “right” position than a popular or unpopular one. But we should be able to disagree agreeably. In the end, I don’t censor comments on my blog except for spam. If you are spiteful, belittling, vindictive, and hateful, your words say more about you than they do about me.

IMMIGRATION

In general, I support the so-called “Gangof Eight” Immigration reform act. Liberals hate it because it places what they consider unreasonable requirements on people who traditionally vote with them. The irony of catering to an electorate that’s not supposed to exist is amusing. Conservatives call it “amnesty,” a “get-out-of-jail-free” card for illegals, almost none of which vote with them.

One of the main conservative sticking points is the “path to citizenship.” America has a reasonable process for LEGAL immigration, albeit one that would be backlogged to the merry old land of Oz if it had to deal with the influx that’s actually coming in. But they (the illegals) are here now, it’s a moot point to say what they should have done, and telling 20 million people to “get out and come back in the right way” is not a workable solution. And getting me to vote for something with Chuck Schumer, with whom I disagree about everything but the spelling of his name, ought to count for something.

06 November 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: I is for #IndoorPlumbing


No, seriously. Have you any idea how much for granted we take this most basic of “modern” conveniences? As recently as the early 20th century, pit toilets (a hole in the ground) located away from the living quarters due to their foul odor, were still the most common form of waste management in large rural swathes of the United States, and are still the most common form of self-contained toilets at campgrounds. The “indoor” toilet, however, is not a modern invention at all.

The most common form of waste removal in the modern American home is the flush toilet. This involves a gravity tank storing a measured amount of water from a household water supply in a tank above the business end of the (usually) porcelain receptacle. Water is released on command, either manually or automatically, to flow over the waste to be removed, pushing it by force of gravity down a pipe that removes it from the dwelling, either into a system of drainage pipes or into a “septic tank.” In America, these contraptions are filled from the same water supply you drink from. That’s right, if not for the germs associated with the bowl itself, the water in your toilet is just as potable as the water that comes out of your kitchen faucet. The World Health Organization estimates three quarters of a billion people do not have access to clean drinking water, while we in America have so much we… er… “do our business” in it.

Incidentally, ever wonder what that little “squiggle” behind the bowl is there for? It’s to cause water to collect in the bottom of the “s” shape, preventing sewage gases (most notably flammable methane, but also foul smelling hydrogen sulphide and ammonia) from backing up into the bathroom.

But “indoor” plumbing is much, much older than the modern flush toilet. The Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished in what is now northern Pakistan, India and Afghanistan around 3,000 BC, shows evidence of the systematic distribution of water, including sewage removal. Medieval castles had rooms called “garderobes,” essentially a toilet seat built out over the edge of a wall where waste dropped into a cesspit or the castle moat, or directly into a river or stream running beside or beneath the castle.

Improved sanitation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanitation is a major factor in the average life span in America rising from 31 in the early 20th century to 78 in 2011. In areas without access to clean water and good sanitation, such as central Africa, life expectance plummets to the upper 40s. One of the most notorious (but certainly not the only, north or south) examples of the devastating effect of poor sanitation during the Civil War is Andersonville prison, the site of a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp, which relied on a pitiful little stream to supply both drinking water and hygiene to an estimated 45,000 Union prisoners, of which almost a third would die, mainly due to disease and starvation. In places, the mud and raw sewage was said to run knee deep.


So thank God for modern plumbing, still a luxury for over half the world’s population. Think about that next time you have to get up and 3 AM, and imagine what it would be like to have to traipse a hundred yards or so in the dark to an outhouse, which would still put you in the “upper crust” in many parts of the world

30 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: H is for #History

I love history! Almost anything historic will pique my curiosity, and a historical marker will almost always interrupt my trip if I see it in time. Back when I was geocaching regularly, historic locations were always my favorite.

Military history is especially fascinating to me! Being from the South, I have a particular interest in all things War, Civil. As a kid, I made several trips to Shiloh National Military Park, walking among (not “amongst,” wink to my lovely wife) the old trees and dirt pathways, reconstructed rail fences and spiked cannon. I’ve walked the hills of Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield where Confederate General Joseph. E. Johnston defeated Union Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in June 1864; hiked the lonely railroad cut at Allatoona where CSA Major General Samuel G. French failed to dislodge the railroad defenders under command of Union Brig. Gen. John M. Corse in October of that same year; climbed the rudimentary fortifications of Fort Pillow, and viewed the site of Parker’s Crossroads, where CSA Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, finding himself pinned between two Union Forces under the command of Union Cols. Cyrus L. Dunham and John W. Fuller, supposedly commanded his troops to “split in two and charge ‘em both ways.”

Moving out west, I don’t encounter much War Between the States material, though there is a former Confederate Colonel named Leonidas Willis, who rode with Forrest, buried in Pioneer Cemetery in Salem, and an apochryphal story of a small group of (six?) Confederate raiders who attempted to steal some Yankee gold and were chased into the Willamette River.  Exploration and Native American lore are the common bill of fare out here. Lewis and Clark are mentioned more often than Lee and Grant, and the remnants of mills, camps, and small forts dot the landscape that would be marked by Napoleons and timbers. Sometimes looking across the ranging hills I can imagine what it was like for the Corps of Discovery, who had the firm belief that they would cross one mountain peak and find a gentle slope to the Pacific Ocean a couple of miles away, to have topped a hill to find… another freakin hill. -_-

Salem itself was founded along “Mill Creek” (so named for the sawmills and grist mills established upstream to the southeast in the 1830s) in the 1840s by Methodist missionary Jason Lee, in an area traditionally inhabited by the Kalapuya tribe, who called the are “Chemeketa,” or “meeting (resting) place.” European fur traders venturing out from Astoria were first noted in the area around 1812, the year, you may recognize, of some momentous events back east. Lee established the “Oregon Mission” about 10 miles north of present day Salem, near the Wheatland Ferry crossing of the Willamette. The enthusiastic but unskilled missionaries struggled to erect sheltering cabins, prompting Lee to remark that “Men never worked harder or performed less.”

 By 1840, Lee had returned from a stint in New England with a group of 50 recruits, many of whom were the skilled craftsmen and tradesmen needed to get the struggling mission off the ground. Like many white settlements, unwittingly transmitted diseases decimated the helpless immune systems of the local population, and extensive flooding in 1841 forced the operation to move south, into what is now Salem, where the first plats were filed in 1850-51, and the town became the capital of the Oregon Territory. The city was incorporated in 1857, and became the state capital upon Oregon’s admission to the Union as the 33rd state on Valentine’s Day, 1859. By far the largest employer in town is the State government, employing over 21,000 people; four times as many as the next highest entity (Salem-Keizer School District, roughly 4,000). Salem became my home (although West Tennessee will always be “home”) in 2007 when I moved here to take a job with a local bank. Salem is okay, but I much prefer living in Dallas, the small town where I now live with my new wife and stepchildren. The proximity of the beach (an hour west) and the mountains (two hours east) make the geography unbeatable! I’m happy here. I wish my kids were closer, but I have found love and peace in a place where I can make my own little contribution to history.

But someday, I’d still like to walk the fields of West Tennessee again. And venture back into the mountains of north Georgia, or up into the virgin (to me) battlefields of Virginia. Maybe into Revolutionary War territory in New England. Perhaps one day I’ll even see Blenheim Palace, the white cliffs of Dover, the beaches of Normandy, the forests of Bastogne, the Carpathian Mountains and the Borgo Pass, the Steppes of Asia, and the Holy Land.

What’s your favorite period of mankind’s story? Got some favorite historical sites near and dear to your heart?  What do you think of the following quotes?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

“You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”

26 October 2013

New Life, New Name

We interrupt this "Favorite Things" theme to bring you a special bulletin: I am in the process of changing my name everywhere it appears online from "Spencersb" to "SteveSpencer824."  Having not had to foresight to snatch up "SteveSpencer" eons ago, my new name nevertheless reflects the new me, as I married my wonderful wife on 8/24/13.  I haven't been "Spencersb" since the "B" left five years ago.  I just never had a reason before to make the change.  My dream spouse has litterally turned my life around, and the new name reflects that.  I'll be phasing out the use of "Spencersb" everywhere it's found and dropping my ownership of Spencersb (dot) com when it's set to renew.  Gmail's good enough, so I won't waste the money on "SteveSpencer824."  The "contact me" button now reflects my Gmail address and I'm now "SteveSpencer824" on Twitter, the two most common places to find me.

We now return you to your usually scheduled life, already in progress.

21 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: G is for #God

I am a Christian. I believe in the existence of an eternal, preexistent, transcendent God as described in the Bible. I believe in the message of the Gospel found therein, and believe He has, according to His Word, paid for the sins that separated me from Him. I have accepted His free offer of Salvation in the Person of Jesus Christ, a gift I do not deserve, cannot earn, and sometimes don’t act like I appreciate. I trust that, because I have believed (or perhaps I have believed because…), I am saved and will spend eternity in a perfected, bodily form in a place described in the Bible as Heaven, living eternally in the presence of and fellowship with this same, real, personal God. I believe His existence is the explanation and consummation of existence, the essence of reality, and that this reality exists completely independent of my thoughts or beliefs. I am redeemed.

That’s not to say I’m perfect. In fact, it’s the foremost expression that I’m not. And anyone who knows me (most notably my wife, who knows more of the real me than any person ever has) can vouch for that.

Our pastor recently preached on the subject of authenticity; taking off the mask; living life authentically, warts, struggles and all, in the context of the church fellowship. It’s so common it’s funny, or would be, if it wasn’t so true.

You’re late getting out of the house to go to church Saturday night because you have to frantically microwave something for the kids to eat in the car because they’re suddenly starving when you’ve been nagging them to eat something since 2 o’clock. Or Sunday morning, they’re not dressed despite the fact you started trying to get them out of bed an hour and a half ago.

“Honey, where’s my belt?”

“Right where you left it, darling.”

“Have you seen my red shoes?”

“Which red shoes? You have four pair.”

“I do not, I have one pair. The others are crimson, rose, and blush.”

“Has anyone walked the dog?”

“No, you cannot take that frog to church! No, he doesn’t need to hear the Gospel, frog’s don’t go to heaven. Yes, I know I told you Fluffy is there, just put the frog back in the flower bed.”

“Stop tailgating that car!”

“He’s doing 35 in a 45!”

Pulling into the parking lot, you have to wait for a family of 14 to walk down the middle of the traffic lane, and park a mile away. You’re secretly convinced that there were only 4 cars in the parking lot thirty seconds ago, and that you wouldn’t be hiking in from the South 40 if (insert one or more family members here) hadn’t made you late. Thirty feet from the front door, you pass into The Neutral Zone; the place where you have to drop the scowl and put on your “church face” for the door greeter.

“Welcome to church, how are you?” extending a glad-hand. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/glad-hand

“Fine! Fine! How are you?”

“Great, thank you!” sun igniting a starburst from their Pepsodent smile.

Guess what? You’re not fine. And they’re probably not great, either. In fact, you may be literally dying inside.

(Clarification: I’m not talking about me, here. I’m a very happy newlywed, very much in love with my wife and totally into being a stepdad. I’m going for cliché, here, not exposé).

You never have enough hours in the day at work. You’re responsible for everything but have authority over nothing.

You have an offering check in your pocket, but you’re debating whether or not to drop it in the bucket. “If they deposit it before Tuesday…”

You glance sideways at your spouse, haunted by something he or she said during a “discussion” last night, or wondering if he/she is the one that’s haunted by something you wish you hadn’t said, wanting to apologize, but either feeling stubbornly justified or too ashamed to bring it up, hoping they’ll just forget about it.

You’re grateful that the music is still going, the lights are down, but hoping they’ve already passed the “greeting.”

You’re smiling.

But you feel like screaming.
Plastic Jesus
It's really easy to fake it. We put on emotional costumes and masks. We wear them to hide our true self. We masquerade by putting our best foot forward and letting people see only our best side.” – John Fehlen


Pastor John spoke about wanting church to be a place where we can be “real,” the fourth of our core values.

Now I am talking about me.

What if this is the real me?

What if I struggle with contradictory emotions?

What if I really do find it hard to express myself spontaneously?

What if I’m introverted & slow to speak, not because I’m disengaged or uncaring, but because I really can’t slow my brain down enough to form coherent sentences without great effort and a little time? What if I the first thing that pops into my head would be the exact wrong thing to say?

What if, when I ask an acquaintance or a stranger, “How are you?” I really don’t want an authentic answer? I want to hear, “Fine, how are you?” So I can say, “Fine,” and we can both move on?

What if I’m afraid to be me because I think you won’t accept me, because I wouldn’t, either?

What if this is just... who I am?

I know God accepts me. I know my wife accepts me. I know my kids accept me. I know I have many friends who accept me. But I sometimes don’t even want to ask myself “How are you?” Because I just want to say “fine” and move on, and I know I can’t.

”You may find that the first person you must be the most critical with, as being the greatest fraud you have ever known, is yourself.” – J. I. Packer, Knowing God


14 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: F is for #Football

I’ve been a football fan since I was about 8 or 9, throwing a fake pigskin with the dad across the street, pretending to be Roger Staubach  or Golden Richards. His family (what few went to college) had gone to Ole Miss and at the time, Archie Manning was quarterback of the hapless New Orleans Saints, running for his life behind a make-shift offensive line while receivers, who couldn’t get open if the defense left the field, would sometimes just stand and watch after running their routes. Manning had starred at Ole Miss and was one of the best quarterbacks in the league… on absolutely the worst team. So it came to be that yours truly became an Ole Miss fan, and a Saints fan and carried that love/shame relationship into adulthood. Football has always been my favorite sport, although I enjoy hockey, and to a lesser extent baseball, too. I don’t watch much TV at all, but the only thing I ask of my lovely wife in return for watching America's Next Top Model or Project Runway with her is that I be allowed to watch the Saints for the four measly games they’re on TV on the west coast each year (and hopefully a few post-season games, too).

I even tried out for the football team in 7th grade.  Our school was so small, I would have "made the team," but I only made it through one grueling, mid-July-in-Memphis practice and couldn't walk the next day.  I still feel like if I had exercised a little discipline and done what I should have (got my butt out of bed and worked through the soreness), I would be a person with more drive and determination.

When I was younger and less responsible (poor), we used to go to New Orleans at least once a year for a home game in the Louisiana (now “Mercedes-Benz”) Superdome. This was many years pre-Katrina, mind you, and the place was showing its age. But once, I actually got to venture out onto the “Mardi-Grass,” the actual playing surface (which looked hard as a rock) due to locker room renovations. The Saints have never lost a home game with me in the ‘Dome, and that included a couple of years when they only won one or two games that year! I offered Tom Benson a deal once; for, say, $50K a year and season tickets, I’d attend all the home games and guarantee 8 wins a year. I never heard from him, but he seems to have taken the longer, more expensive route to building a winner, and that’s just fine with me! I remember well a few years ago, watching Garrett Hartley nail a game-winner against Minnesota to advance the team to their first Super Bowl.

And a couple of weeks later seeing Tracy Porter pick-off Peyton Manning to seal the only Super Bowl win in Saints history (so far)!

 This year looks good, though, and I hope to be reaping Model/Runway dividends deep into February!

Got a football story to share? Who’s your favorite team and why?

07 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: E is for Education

Education

I’m blessed to have gotten a lot of, and reasonably good quality, education. I went to public school for first & second grade, then was caught up in the forced desegregation and busing of the early 1970s in third grade. In September, my dad decided to move us to West Palm Beach, Florida, where I attended the first half of third grade. Our stint as Floridians didn’t last, and by January we were back in Memphis and I was enrolled at Thrifthaven Baptist Academy. I absolutely hated it. The strict, legalistic Independent Baptist philosophy was harder to recognize as a kids, but I knew I didn’t like the myriad rules, and the work was harder. My handwriting sucks to this day because those kids had been writing in cursive for a year and I’d never even seen it, so I had to learn hard and fast and didn’t learn to do it correctly. Later in life, I would recognize the value of the solid foundational education I received there, and they did give me a basic conception of the existence and nature of God, albeit a rigid, retributional one.

In 1979, I again made a mid-year move to Immokalee (a Seminole word meaning “my home”), Florida (Dad always had a bit of wanderlust and a love/hate relationship with the State of Florida), attending Immokalee Middle School for the second half of eighth grade, and Immokalee High School for the first half of ninth grade. Yep, you guessed it: another mid-year move back to Memphis. Returning to private school (such as it was), I attended First Christian Assembly Academy for the remainder of ninth grade. In the summer of 1980, one of the hottest on record in Memphis, we moved to Raleigh and I attended RaleighEgypt High School until I graduated in May, 1983.

I never liked school up to that point, but I didn’t really hate it until third grade. Once I graduated, I had no plans to go to college, content at that time to work for Kroger (supermarket, same parent company as Fred Meyer) for a while, but in the summer of 1984 I decided I wasn’t going very far without college, so I began what would eventually become a 24 year college career at then-MemphisState University with an 8:00 English class. I had in mind to be a computer systems analyst, just because it sounded cool and had money-making potential, but got interested in politics and changed my major to political science. That lasted all of a semester when college started to look expensive (seems funny saying that when at the time I was paying about $200 a class) and a four-year degree looked a long way away, so I transferred to the-State Tech (now Southwest Tennessee Community College). I augmented my major to fit their programs, graduating with an Associate’s Degree in December, 1987.

By then, I was working at a bank and making more money than I could have made starting over as a bookkeeper, and hard work led to a series of unfocused but progressively more lucrative (relatively speaking) advancements. I took a couple of classes at UofM, but not seriously pursuing a degree with any sort of timeline in mind. Over the next few years, I dropped college altogether, just working and spending money. In the mid-90s, I took a few online courses at Trinity College of the Bible and spent a couple of semesters (two classes) commuting to Blue Mountain College in northwest Mississippi one night a week. By the late 90s, I realized that if I would just stick with it, I could graduate UofM with a bachelor’s degree eventually, and in May 2008, I finally did just that, a mere 24 years after that first 8AM English class.

Over the years, I went to school with a lot of different people, I dare say more than your typical college student because my unfocused goals led to taking a lot more classes than might have strictly speaking been necessary. I saw a lot of stupid people buying degrees without (I was convinced) sense enough to succeed in life or business. I’m sure some of them said the same about me, but I’ve managed to cobble together a pretty fair career out of bits and pieces of education, hard work, and a little luck. I still regret that I didn’t take a straighter path and get a degree when I was younger with fewer family responsibilities. I carry a hefty student loan debt I wouldn’t have incurred if I had finished up when it was so much cheaper. I missed a lot of opportunities over the years because my resume lacked a college degree. Still, I’m happy where I am and with the wife and children I have now, and I don’t think I’d jeopardize that for any amount of “what-ifs.” Along the way, I took classes I hated (statistics, any sort of math), classes I loved (physics, astronomy, and history), and a lot of classes I considered virtually worthless (philosophy, sociology, and a “health and wellness” class, the instructor of which was convinced I was dead due to my poor diet/exercise habits). There’s no utility to getting a master’s degree at this point in my career, but if I could do it just for fun, I’d love to take some history courses. One of my favorite courses in all my years of school was a history class. For the whole semester, I never saw the professor (a stereotypical long-haired, spor-tcoated type) bring so much as a piece of paper to class. If we studied the book, I can’t recall it (though I’m sure I shelled out over $100 for it). He just came in and told us stories for an hour and a half. He just <i>knew</i> that stuff! It was fun! It was interesting! Although about all I recall (this was 20 years ago, mind you) was that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand precipitated World War I. That class was also to occasion of my most memorable bit of schoolwork; a paper exploring the interelational asepcts of the alliances of World War II among Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, written as a running commentary of a professional wrestling match between Churchill & Roosevelt and Hitler & Stalin (highlights include Douglas MacArthur, completely uninvolved in the match, leaving ringside vowing to return; Lady Nancy Astor heckling Churchill from the front row; Hitler turning on Stalin but being “snowed in” by crumbling ceiling tiles in the even-at-that-time decrepit Mid-South Coliseum. I don’t recall my grade, but I got an “A” in the class, so it must not have been too abysmal.

How important do you think a college education is? Is it worth the exorbitant and ever-increasing cost? This graphic from Time Magazine doesn’t indicate that it is.

03 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: D is for Dad

Being a Dad

My highest calling, I’m privileged to be the father of five great kids! They are as different as night and day and I love each of them in their uniqueness.

My oldest son, Tim, as a few longtime readers will recall, has Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Delay. Having a special needs child brings a unique set of challenges and joys to parenthood. On the one hand, Tim being my first, I didn’t know what to expect and thus didn’t spot his unique difficulties right away. But over the years, he’s taught me so much about the essential simplicity of life.

Arriving a couple of years later, I became that most blessed of fathers; the dad of a daughter. Elizabeth is almost grown up now at age 18, but she is and always will be my little girl. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her, or to anyone that hurts her.

Chronologically, that brings us to my son Toby, whom I consider as much mine as Tim & Elizabeth, although I’m not his biological dad. I count it among my highest honors to be able to fill that role in the lives of my wife’s two children. I can’t go back in time and be their father genetically (how I wish I’d met my wife twenty years ago!), but I can nevertheless be a “dad” to Toby, and I’m gonna do my best to do just that

Switching branches on the family oak again, we arrive at my son William; age 10. My little buddy, he’s my video game partner, canoeing buddy (though we didn’t get to go this year), and my hope for carrying on my branch of the Spencer name.

I am blessed by my daughter Staci through my marriage to Suzi, and she adds the rainbows and unicorns to my world! She’s cinnamon raisin toast and sequined sweaters and little jars of water in the freezer.

Being a father is great, but being Dad is awesome! Tell me about your little one(s)! What makes them unique? What’s your favorite “dad” thing to do? 

30 September 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: C is for Church

Church

I’m grateful to live in a country where I can attend church without fear, and for a good church conveniently located near enough to not be an ordeal to get to every week. I’ve been blessed to attend several good churches, both back home and after moving to Oregon.

I “grew up” at Leawood Baptist Church in Memphis right at the time when the pastor of 32+ years, Jerry Glisson, was retiring and his successor, Tommy Vinson, was arriving. To this day, I credit Bro. Tommy with laying most of the foundation of my faith. From there, I went to BellevueBaptist Church in Cordova, a little country church that seats about 8,500 and runs in the low teen-thousands on Sundays. After moving to Oregon, I found Morning Star Community Church and was blessed to call it “home” for about 5 years. When my wife and I started dating, I visited her church, West Salem Foursquare, and after we got married we chose to continue attending there. I enjoy the church, though I’m a tad reserved for the charismatic atmosphere. Doctrinally, they’re not that far off from my core beliefs, though Foursquares in general sometimes over-emphasize speaking in tongues (a controversial subject I’ll not get into today). I look forward to getting more comfortable and plugged in at WS4S!

Do you attend church regularly? Where and why?

26 September 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: B is for Books

Books
I love to read, although I read kinda slow and don’t have a lot of time to do it. I read an eclectic variety of fiction and non-fiction and have a large bookcase at home filled with pages and pages of things I’ve read, reread, want to read, need to read, and hope to read. I can’t imagine living in a time when books were not available, and count Gutenberg’s press as one of the most important inventions of all time (although moveable type was invented in China at least 400 years earlier). Even with the rise of the computer age and technology and all its attendant convenience, I just haven’t been able to talk myself into buying a Kindle. Okay, not being able to afford a really nice one like I want doesn’t help, but there really is something special about holding a book in your hands. Feeling the crispness of the pages, the smell of the paper, the permanence of a hardcover, the casual familiarity of a paperback. I read a lot of histories and biographies, and of course, the Bible, which I’ve read through at least once (meaning I’ve read it all at least once, parts of it many more times). I’m currently on at least my 5th tour of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, having paused at page 48 of volume VII to go back and pick up The Wind Through the Keyhole (not my favorite of the series, and a bit of a disappointment for a long awaited addition to Sai King’s magnum opus). However, I don’t have a paper copy of it yet, only the Kindle version on an app on my phone, which makes me grateful for books even more. Hard to read on that tiny little screen. I’m also reading a lot of material for a Hillsdale College course I’m taking on economics.

A few of my favorite books over the years include:


Oncean Eagle by Anton Myrer


Band of Brothers
by Stephen E Ambrose

Knowing God by J. I. Packer


Churchill: A Life by MartinGilbert
 

It Doesn’t Take a Hero by H.Norman Schwarkopf



Reading is like being able to look out your bedroom window and change the view.

What’s your favorite book?
”The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.” – Mark Twain
 

24 September 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: A is for Anniversary

Today is my one month anniversary with my new wife (I love you, Honey!), so what better way to start a list of my favorite things? My wife is the love of my life, my friend, my partner, my lover, helper to me, parent to our children, co-bread-winner and bacon-bringer, compass, anchor, my sails and the wind that fills them. She is everything I could ever ask for in a wife. She’s my cheerleader, coach, load-lightener, burden-bearer, and my biggest fan. She fills my life with color and wonder. So today, I’m grateful for this month of marriage and the anticipation of a long road of togetherness in front of us. I couldn’t be happier being your husband, and if I had a hundred lifetimes, I’d marry you in every one!

Have a marriage success story you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below!

17 September 2013

Family Ties

recent post on a blog I follow concerned a now-viral obituary alleging years of emotional, physical and psychological abuse by the deceased, perpetrated upon her children, their friends, and … well, according to the obit, pretty much every human being the deceased came into contact with.  As the obit grew famous, the writers came forward, reiterating the claims and proudly unrepentant (I’m not saying they should be repentant, I’m just saying they aren’t).  The obit in question was co-written two of six, making Mom a unifying factor in this sibling relationship.

In my business (which I will generically say often involves inter-generational wealth transfer), I encounter more than a fair share of familial squabbles.  Sometimes, in my disinterested opinion, it’s justified on the part of some family members, as the obit writer claims, but that’s not my business to decide.  Often, Mom’s money (or junk) is only the catalyst setting off a conflagration that has nothing to do with her.  I often hear, especially if we’re down a generation or two and dealing with multiple branches of the family willow, something to the effect that “everyone is a crook except me.”  It most often involves generational peers, be that siblings or cousins, but aside from the tax advantages of trusts, the equitable (or otherwise controlled) distribution of family wealth among competing interests is often the testator/trustor’s primary concern.  I usually can’t make everyone happy, but I can sometimes make everyone equally unhappy.

This got me to thinkin’ about sibling relationships, which can be the most complex relationships we encounter in life.  Like our own birth, these relationships (usually) come into being completely through no thought or choice of our own.  We do not choose our siblings, or often even choose whether or not we have siblings, and sometimes we gain them over our direct objections.  Yet we are forced to live, eat, work and play with these intruders as though they are our very best friends for much of our formative years.

I should pause here and say that I do not, indeed cannot, speak from experience in this area.  Although I have two half-siblings, both older than me, I was adopted and not raised with them.  I was raised as an only child, and thus did not experience all the joys and pains that come with siblinghood.  My sweet wife is the youngest of five siblings and has shared the insights thus gained with me on multiple occasions.  What follows is not a reflection upon her or her siblings (one of which I haven’t even met yet), merely what I hope will be interesting blog fodder.  Any resemblance to actual persons, alive or dead, is purely coincidental.

Siblings can be our strongest allies; the one always standing beside us when we’re attacked, always with an arm around our slumped shoulders, or reaching down with a helping right hand.  They can also be our most vexing bullies.  Older siblings may resent the presence of the later arrivals and the parental time and attention that is routed away from them as a result of this interloper.  Younger siblings may find delight in torturing an older sib under the umbrella of Mom & Dad’s protection, getting away with things for which an unrelated third party would murder them in cold blood.   Sibling rivalry is so cliché that it’s, well, cliché.  But clichés don’t get to be clichés by being wrong.
"Historically [sibling bullying] has been accepted as something that's normal, as something that's benign. Oftentimes it's just dismissed," study author Corrina Jenkins Tucker, an associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire, told The Huffington Post. "Some people actually view it as a good thing, thinking it teaches kids how to fight and develop conflict resolution skills."
But a recent study in the journal Pediatrics says sibling bullying can be just as damaging as peer bullying.  The article claims: “Children who experienced even just one, relatively mild act of sibling aggression in the past year reported greater mental health distress than those who had not. Kids aged 9 and under were more distressed after experiencing physical aggression than their teenage counterparts, but all age groups were equally affected by other forms of bullying.”


The Center for Disease Control (CDC) cites bullying as a major health concern:
…nearly 30 percent of adolescents in the U.S. have either been a bully, been the victim of bullying, or both. Children who are bullied are at greater risk for depression and anxiety that may last into adulthood, as well as lower academic scores and broader health complaints. Being a bully also carries health risks: Children who are the aggressors are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs as they get older, engage in early sexual activity and abuse their partners or children.

These childhood distresses often come out in the lawyer’s office after Mom or Dad has passed.  Contrary to what you see on TV, families rarely gather together in one place for a “reading of the will,” but meetings do often take place, especially in cases where the lawyer and I didn’t know the descendants prior to probating the will.  Countless times I’ve had to have separate meetings because the co-beneficiaries can’t tolerate being in the same room together.  Lifelong perceptions of favoritism become accusations of impropriety and demands for me to make things right. 


From my perspective, I’m bound by the document the decedent left in writing, and I’m usually very thankful.  Sometimes I can see the undercurrent, sometimes I can’t, but whether the deferential treatment is memorialized or not, my job is to carry out the written instructions of the testator/trustor.  This sometimes makes me the common element that finally unites the beneficiaries; the common enemy they can focus on, and I’m fine with that.  I’ve never had anyone get particularly nasty about it, though I’ve had a few that let their distaste be known in no uncertain terms.  I’m often what stands between them and “their” money, which Grandpa always intended they should have… that’s why he left it in a trust with more strings than Geppetto’s workshop.  I’ve had to tell in-round pool installation guys to recall the backhoe and car dealers to retrieve the keys because trust beneficiaries went in and ordered something and told them to send the bill to me, while Grandpa left a piece of paper that said they pretty much only get money for medical expenses if they’re destitute… because he knew they would order in-ground pools and Ferraris before the memorial service was over.


Do you have any stories of sibling rivalry (no names, please)?  How did/does it affect your life?

31 August 2013

Day 31: The Bucket List

I've never made a bucket list.  I've never seen the movie "The Bucket List."  Oh, I know I'll eventually kick one, everyone does, but nothing in particular seemed like a "must do."  But there's a few things I can share (and a few I can't):

Find the love of my life: Oh, wait, I already did that one! :^)  Happily married seven days now, HAPPY ONE WEEK ANNIVERSARY, SWEETHEART!  I love you!

Travel: I really want to go to Europe.  Great Britain, Ireland, Normandy, Germany, Austria, see the Carpathian Mountains, lots of different places would do.  I wouldn't mind going back to Hawaii or taking an Alaskan cruise.  Maybe a New England cruise in the fall, see the coast in fall colors!

Drive a race car:  Just once.  I've driven my street car around a 2 mile road course, but couldn't push it because, well, I couldn't afford to wreck it and it wasn't designed for that.  SO that didn't really count.  I'd love to take one of the two or three day driving courses, but they're outta my price range.  Maybe after I win the lottery.  I suspect my chances would improve slightly if I actually bought a ticket.  But only slightly.

Read a book: No, a hundred books.  I have a big bookshelf full of books I've never read.  Unfortunately, real life intrudes on my reading time and I read painfully slowly.  My attention span has shortened significantly in the last 5 or 6 years, too, and I'm easily distracted.

Finish writing my book: I started it a few years ago as a short story for my daughter, and it's mostly written, it just needs a major edit and a partial rewrite to resolve a conflict in the plot where I changed horses in mid-stream.  It's about a nerdy kid who invents a time-manipulation machine and loses control of it.  I lost a decent size section in the middle where I printed but didn't save a couple of chapters, but thankfully I found the printout while I was moving, so I hope I can get back to it soon.

Be a good husband and dad: This is the one I can't let slide.  I love my wife and kids with all my heart, and if I fail at these, it doesn't matter much where else I succeed.

What's on YOUR bucket list?

30 August 2013

Day 30. A letter to yourself, tell yourself EVERYTHING you love about yourself.

I don’t like this one. I’d much rather tell someone else everything I love about them.

I’d love to tell me oldest son how I love the simplicity of his life. How the same movie can keep him entertained all day. How he finds so much fun in introducing everyone to his shirt, how he finds it so easy to hug almost anyone, how completely unselfconscious he is.

I’d love to tell my daughter how much I love what a strong, level-headed young woman she is. How I love her love for God and His people. How I love that she cares about people no one else cares about, how she resists, even scorns, peer pressure, and how she still finds joy in the kids’ movies she grew up on; quoting Shrek, Spirit, Little Mermaid, The Incredibles, Bugs Bunny, the Smurfs, and Land Before Time.

I’d love to tell my youngest son how much I love watching him play video games and make up both sides of the imaginary conversations of the people in the game, going on canoe trips, watching him catch a football, safely and properly handling firearms like a responsible adult (better than many), and showing me his awesome karate moves.

How I’d love to tell my stepson how much I love the way his mind works, how he thinks and reasons and plans, how he can memorize and categorize volumes of information and explain it in minute detail. I love the logic I see clicking in his head, how nothing gets past him! I love that he takes time to explain his obsessions to me, even when I clearly don’t get it.

How I’d love to tell my bubbly, vivacious little stepdaughter how much I love her smile, her laugh, the little notes she writes me, and how she lights up rooms. How easily she wraps me around her little finger, and watching her crawl up into her mom’s lap when she’s sleepy, and how she shows me how her doll stuff works when I’m too much of a guy to figure it out.

I’d love to tell my wife how much I love the sound of her name, how beautiful she is, how she makes me see so much more of the world than sad, serious Steve ever did. How much I love and admire her as a person, a Jesus-follower, a mom & stepmom, a professor, a writer, a friend, a wife, and a lover.

But the challenge is to write what I love about me, and that’s far harder. I love my life, but it’s harder to love me. In the end, I’d rather be loved by others than by myself. I don’t believe that “you have to love yourself, first” stuff. I believe the love other people freely give is far, far more important than some narcissistic, delusion, self-aggrandizement.

My kids love me.

My stepkids love me.

My wife loves me.

And Jesus loves me.

I’ll settle for that.

29 August 2013

Day 29. Something you hope to change about yourself. And why.

To be more patient and easy-going. Because my kids deserve a calmer, less reactive dad. My wife and step-kids are helping. I’m not one that believes some dude can walk in off the streets and start barking orders, so I’m somewhat laissez faire with my wife’s children. I think I have to earn the right to be an authority figure to them, so I let her handle most of the discipline.

But my three are 10, 18, and 20. If I tend to be too reticent with her kids, I tend to be too harsh with my own. I don’t yell and scream at them, but I get bent out of shape, worked up over things that don’t amount to anything; failed logistics, mostly. So we’re a couple of minutes late, so what? So the leftovers, which didn’t amount to much anyway, got ruined, so what? So my child’s most frequent memories of me are when I’m mad, so…

Yeah. That’s what I said. I’m learning to treat those closest to me, the ones who are stuck with me, like I treat those I want to get closer to. Learning to give everyone the care and attention I use when trying to win someone’s heart.

28 August 2013

Day 28. What if you were pregnant or got someone pregnant, what would you do?

Rejoice!

No, seriously! It’s pretty unlikely, though.

When I met my wife, I was 47 years old, and convinced that my baby days were over! My youngest child was 10, and most women in their mid-forties aren’t looking to carry a baby, either!

But my wife was only 39 when we met, and we both love the idea of creating a little life together. But after some serious discussion, we opted to take that possibility off the table. Pregnancy, for both parents, is tough after 40, and the chances of some sort of complications increase exponentially. I have mixed feelings about it. I’d love to create a mini version of my lovely wife! But I have a son to carry on the Spencer name, and having a baby would alter life as we know it in ways that are legion. God has blessed me with five wonderful kids, and I’m content with the quiver I’ve been given! Psalm 127:5

27 August 2013

Day 27. What’s the best thing going for you right now?

I love my kids.

I love my wife.

I love my job.

But the best thing in my life is, as it has to be, my relationship with Jesus.

Without Jesus, I would have people in my life, but no life to have them in.

Without Jesus, I would have no hope that bad things would eventually be made right, that injustice would ever be righted. I would be groping blindly to figure out how to love the people I love most.

I would have to believe that a billion random miracles, all improbable and some flatly impossible, had to link up in an unbroken chain of events, completely at random, for me to even be here. Or worse, some nonsense such as reality not actually being real; that we’re all an illusion. How we’re all having the same illusion, I’m not sure. I should not send in my truck payment this month and tell them it’s their fault for having the wrong illusion.

I don’t have enough faith to belief in a billion critical miracles occurring completely at random in a precise, unbroken chain, the absence of any one of which could have prevented us from being here to have this conversation.

The question to ask is not “what do I believe,” but rather “is what I believe…real?”

“Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?” - Del Tackett, The Truth Project

26 August 2013

Day 26. Have you ever thought about giving up on life? If so, when and why?

Of course. Who hasn’t? I know I haven’t experienced the level of depression and misery that a lot of people have, but there have been times I felt like giving up, if not on life in general, then just on certain aspects of it.

The most recent was just this past spring. After taking a couple of years out of the limelight, so to speak, I had been actively seeking a dating relationship for a few months. I had a six month membership on Match.com, and it was about to expire. I’d been on one date. It seemed God just didn’t have that planned for me, and I was okay with that. As I said yesterday, just being a dad is honor enough.

I spotted a beautiful young woman in one of the daily emails they sent me. On paper, she was ideal. But she was younger, prettier, and smarter than I considered myself worthy of (still do, although she does an amazing job of convincing me otherwise). I’m an introvert. No, I’m (or was) a hermit. I considered it “taking a chance” to even click “I’m interested” on her profile. I was happy, but quite surprised, to receive and email that said “Hi, wanna chat?”

“Boy, do I!”

Okay, that’s not what I said, but I emailed her back and we exchanged a few “tell me about yourself” emails. I gave her my real-life email address… and didn’t hear from her again. I figured I’d said something to scare her away, and although I was disappointed, I wasn’t terribly surprised. Being conditioned for rejection is a terrible, life-sucking thing. I never realized that before.

I can’t describe the feeling I had when, out of the blue a couple of weeks later, I get a message on Facebook. “Hey, just wondering if you’re getting my emails, haven’t heard from you.” Long story short, an aggressive spam filter was blocking ALL her emails before I even saw them. I fixed that and we agreed to meet for coffee.

She was even prettier than her pictures! Tall, with beautiful long, dark hair, intelligent, and very confident. Everything I wasn’t. I liked her immediately, but didn’t think I stood much of a chance with her. But she gave me a shot and we agreed to meet a second time; Mexican for lunch and bowling. By the time we had our third date; Subway in the park after work one day, I was hooked! It took some time for me to believe she could possibly be interested in me. But she’s been very patient with me and allowed me to grow out of my shell some, and she appreciates me. She makes me see life from a whole different perspective. She makes me laugh. She got me to take a salsa dancing class, and stops short of falling out of her chair laughing at my extremely cracker hip work. She makes me feel loved.

25 August 2013

Day 25. The reason you believe you’re still alive today.

My kids. My highest calling is to be Dad. It’s the greatest honor I could ever receive. And if I fail at that, it doesn’t matter much where I succeed.

I have three kids from my first marriage and two more now that I’m married to their mom (HAPPY ONE DAY ANNIVERSARY, HONEY!). I consider them all “mine.” Being adopted, I’ve always considered it a matter of fact that you don’t have to contribute DNA to a child to be their “dad.”

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12

“He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” Ephesians 1:5


We (mankind) are not “all God’s children.” We are all God’s creation, but He is “Father” only to those who are adopted by salvation. My great privilege is that I don’t have to legally adopt my two stepchildren to be a “dad” to them. I simply have to do all the things a “dad” does: love them, support them, seek to understand them, nurture them, be there for them, empathize with them, be patient with them (my own say I need to work on that one), .

I’ll do my best to do those things and more, and hopefully with a home more conducive to routine occupation by school age children, I’ll get to spend more time with my own younger ones, as well.

24 August 2013

Day 24: Special Report!

I married my best friend today!

I always heard that your spouse is supposed to be your best friend, but I never thought that was possible. How could a best friend be someone of the opposite sex? Men & Women are just too different!

Then I met my lovely new bride. It’s scary how much alike we are! Good in some ways, not so good in others. We share some of the same weaknesses that will make life challenging at times, but we make each other better people. We make each other better parents. And we’re not completely identical! She challenges me in some areas and I challenge her in others. I have a hard time being silly and she sometimes has a hard time being serious. I can truly say she completes me, and I’m happier than I ever dreamed I’d be!

“Paulie: [talking about Adrian] “You like her?

Rocky: “Sure, I like her.

Paulie: “What's the attraction?

Rocky: “I dunno... she fills gaps.

Paulie: “What's 'gaps'?

Rocky: “I dunno, she got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.”

Day 24: Make a Playlist to Someone

I did this one in real life, sort of. From April 29 to May 29, I tweeted my fiancée a song every morning. Some of the more important songs were: God Gave Me You – Blake Shelton (“our” song)

What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life – Ronnie Milsap

I Love the Way You Love Me – John Michael Montgomery

Wanted – Hunter Hayes

Like Jesus Does - Eric Church

23 August 2013

Day 23: Something You Wish Had Done In Your Life.

I have two. I wish I had finished my college degree when I was young, unmarried, and working part time instead of cramming 4 years into 24. That’s right; 24 years separated my first college course (an 8am English class in the fall of 1984) from my last (a senior project in May 2008). By the time I finished, I was paying more for a textbook than I started out paying for a class. I’m glad I finished (my fiancée likely would never have even spoken to me if I hadn’t had a degree), but I finished with a load of student loans I wouldn’t have had if I had done it the right way. And my career might have advanced farther faster if my resume had gotten put in the stack to be interviewed instead of rejected without examination because I didn’t have a degree.

Second, I wish I had done at least one tour of some sort of military service. It would have been the perfect time. It was after Vietnam but before Desert Storm. The biggest thing we invaded was the island of Grenada, which I think required a bass boat, four riflemen and a squad of cooks. But alas, I had already discovered the allure of making just enough money to spend it all, and the military don’t pay SQUAT (a fact I will rectify one day when I’m President).

22 August 2013

Day 22. Something you wish you hadn’t done in your life.

Gotten a credit card.

My parents were very fiscally responsible, or at least my mother was. My dad had (maybe) a third grade education, and had to work harder than I can imagine to make a living for me and my stay-at-home mom. She managed the money, and although I didn’t have a lot of things I wanted, nothing I needed was ever an issue. As far as I know, she never juggled a bill. We never had to wait until payday to go to the grocery store. I went to four years of private school from 3rd – 7th grade.

They say if you can’t be a good example, be a dire warning. I hope my kids will see the stress it puts on a family to try to spend their way to prosperity and be more like my Depression-era parents.

21 August 2013

Day 21. Your best friend is in a car accident and you two got into a fight an hour before. What do you do?

Whaddaya mean, “What do I do?” I do the same thing I would have done if we hadn’t had a fight.

My best friend is my fiancée, something I never considered before I met her. I’d heard all about how your girlfriend/spouse is supposed to be your best friend, but that had never been my experience. I didn’t even really believe it was possible. But she is, I love being with her no matter what we’re doing! It doesn’t have to be something romantic, she may be washing dishes while I’m cleaning the shower, and there’s still no place I’d rather be (except to have my kids with us, too).

So I’m assuming you mean that she’s been injured and in the hospital, which, of course, means I’m there, too. I’m the sentimental one, so yes, I’m probably apologizing profusely and berating myself for fighting over something so stupid, but I’m doing the same thing I would be doing even if we hadn’t had an argument: I’m there with her, going through whatever she’s going through, supporting her, doing everything I can for her, and considering it a high privilege.

20 August 2013

Day 20: My Views on Alcohol & Drugs

“Thou shalt not consume fermented or distilled beverages.”

Nope. Not in there. Anywhere.

There is abundant admonition against drunkenness (Eph 5:18, Prov 23:31), just as with many other excesses, but no outright prohibition. And even some approval (John 2:10) and recommendation (1 Tim 5:23).

I don’t do drugs. I don’t brag about this, but I smoked pot twice, 25 or 30 years ago. I didn’t like it. Everything was funny, which meant everything was just stupid.

I don’t drink enough to say I drink. I don’t particularly like beer or wine, just never developed a taste for it. An occasional shot of bourbon in a Coke or a shot of butterscotch schnapps in a holiday egg nog or hot chocolate is the extent of my drinking adventures.

I grew up in denomination known for its anti-alcohol teachings. Total abstinence and a reverence for the Eighteenth Amendment. Even a cold beer at the back yard cookout was unthinkable.

Then, like many folks, I did my stint (roughly a summer) on the bar tour; shooting pool, beer and pizza, mixed drinks if it happened to be a bar or other liquor-serving establishment. I rarely drank enough to get drunk, but there were a few occasions I’m not proud of. The last time I got drunk was approximately 1989-90. I was sitting at the end of the pool table, waiting for my shot. Completely without warning, the half a pizza and pitcher of beer I’d consumed minutes earlier decided to evacuate, and I was nothing but the egress tunnel. Riding to a friend’s house, in the back seat of my own nearly-brand-new Camaro, praying I didn’t throw up in it, cured my desire to drink for effect.

Budweiser used to run a series of commercials (maybe they still do, I don’t watch much TV) using the slogan “Know When to Say When.” The biggest problem with that philosophy is that every drink impairs your ability to know when “when” is, and lowers your inhibitions to doing things you may regret, albeit not remember. And with everyone having a smartphone these days, it’s good advice not to do anything you don’t want posted on Youtube.

19 August 2013

Day 19. What do you think of religion

I am a Christian.

I believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant word of God, revealing the character of God and His plan for His creation, and the only source of divine authority on Earth. I believe it gives us everything we need to determine how to be saved, which we all surely need to be, and how to live in this life and the eternity to come.

Of “religion,” I think poorly, if at all. The human concept of religion is generally nothing more than a way to define, categorize, and communicate whatever one’s personal worldview demands of him/herself, and therefore what he/she likely demands, or at least expects, of others. I’m not interested in your religion, I’m interested in what you believe, and whether that belief has any basis in reality. I am a Christian because I am convinced, utterly convinced, that the claims of the Bible are true, that historical and archaeological evidence has time and again proven the biblical record accurate in every meaningful particular, that not one major doctrine is affected by so-called “errors,” that tens of thousands of pieces of manuscript evidence point to a nearly completely accurate modern survival of the original texts, and that if God exists at all, He is who He said He is in the Bible. If He had meant something different, He’d have said something different, and if He’s not who He said He is, He’s not God at all.

But in the end, if God does not exist, my faith won’t conjure Him up. But if He does, all the accumulated doubt of the ages cannot harm Him.

18 August 2013

Day 18. Your views on gay marriage.

Touchy subject. I addressed this a few months ago when the Supreme Court case regarding DOMA and Prop 8 were being argued. I know it’s a little lazy to simply reprint that post here, but likely there’s a few of you who hadn’t seen it before, and my views remain unchanged. Here’s a summertime rerun:
My only comments on the matters currently before the Supreme Court:

I believe right and justice belong to Mr. Pelkey. But I'm afraid the law may lie with Dan’s City Used Cars, Inc.

Seriously, look it up.

Okay, okay, on the matters on everyone's minds and tongues:

Many, if not most, Western civilizations have acknowledged the existence of committed, monogamous relationships between members of the same gender. I'm aware of none that has equated these relationships with "marriage." If there is, I'd appreciate a link.

That said, with due apologies to my conservative friends, I think we've lost this battle. In fact, I think we lost it a long time ago, and we'd be better off settling for "civil unions," which I personally consider little different from marriages performed by non-ministers, or even unbelieving ministers. Or any marriage among unbelievers. America lost all semblance of Christianity years ago, and the government has neither the inclination nor the ability to bless or curse anyone (except Christians, of course... and Israel, for which we risk a very clear warning).

As for the matter of homosexuality in general, I have, and hopefully still have, gay friends. I pass no judgement on the deeds of any man (or woman).

But the Bible clearly does. In no uncertain terms. Not on the people any more than others, on their deeds, just the same as many, many other deeds the Bible speaks of, including others of a sexual nature.

Don't look at me, I didn't write it. But Moses and Paul, at a minimum, did. To argue otherwise, one must necessarily take a low view of Scripture. Or of God's willingness, or worse, ability, to preserve His Word over the long passage of time. And of the "cultural" argument, I would say only that we are about as far removed from the writings of the New Testament as Paul was from the writings of the Old, and the "culture" of desert-wandering Hebrews was a far cry from 1st Century Roman. And yet Paul held no such "cultural" view of the writings of Moses.

As always, just my two cents. Keep the change.

17 August 2013

Day 17. A book you’ve read that changed your views on something.

Besides The Bible, of course. And I've read the whole thing at least once. But for casual reading, I never read a book that would disagree with me.

No, seriously, I don’t avoid things that disagree with me, but I tend to read a lot of historical non-fiction, so a simple retelling of the past is hard to dispute. Something I have read lately changed my views on an important historical issue, however: Abraham Lincoln, the Abolitionist.

The papers I was reading were assigned as part of a free, online history course in American Heritage, offered by Hillsdale College online.hillsdale.edu in Michigan. During the course of the readings, I studied Lincoln’s campaign speeches, inaugural addresses, and personal writings. I found that he was much more stridently abolitionist than I had previously believed. His wartime speeches and correspondence give the impression of a man who simply wants to preserve the Union, at whatever cost to all things but the most basic of American values. One of those values is freedom, which, of course, at that time, did not include complete freedom for much of anyone except white landowners. As late as 1865 (the war ended in April 1865), there were still many, many people in the North opposed to emancipation and abolition. Many Northern states still tolerated slavery, and many Northern officers were as vehemently opposed to the “rights” of “colored” people as in the South, just as parts of the South (most notably western Virginia and eastern Tennessee) remained staunchly Unionist throughout the war. Any discussion of Lincoln’s view of slavery inevitably includes the quote from a letter to abolitionist newspaperman Horace Greeley:
“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”
But the quote in question does not reflect the predominance of Lincoln’s opinion on the issue. Rather, it reflects the practical expediency of a man sending young men to their deaths by the tens of thousands, and who desires only to end the bloodshed without presiding over the destruction of the nation he governs. Lincoln argues forcefully and persuasively for an end to slavery, while recognizing that his is not the only viewpoint. It was a new perspective on Lincoln’s slavery views that all of my wide reading on the subject had not brought to light.