Too Big to Fail?

Today was report card day.

I’ve got a kid in kindergarten and 1st grade, and I can’t make any sense of their report cards whatsoever. Their report cards say things like “on target” and stuff like that, but as long as they are not eating glue and are being decent citizens, I’m not too worried about them. I’m not apathetic, but I do know Beth is checking up on them, and she’s pretty good about letting me know if there’s a problem.

My two 3rd graders are doing well too. For the most part, they bring home A’s and high B’s. One is pretty darn smart, and the other is a really driven worker, so they tend to be neck and neck. I do always ask, “Did you do your best?” To me, this is an equally important component since our grades indicate how much we learned and our level of effort indicates our integrity and self-discipline.

However, my 4th grader is a different story. For the past two years, he has consistently been getting C’s in Math and English. There are a lot of reasons why I think this is.

  1. He has only been speaking English for about 18 months. While we have been in the US now for three years, we only began making English the official family language about the middle of last year.
  2. Three years ago, he could barely count. With so many transitions before coming to the US, he didn’t have a solid educational foundation poured, and he is playing catch-up in a lot of areas.
  3. He’s now going to an all-English school and doesn’t have the bilingual program that we had before. We’ve made Alabama a lot more diverse by being here. Before our family descended on our new Elementary school, they only had 3 Latin children, and all of them came from one family. Needless to say, they don’t have the need to put programs in place to help children with a Spanish background.
  4. School is just not his thing. He just doesn’t enjoy learning that much unless it is about dinosaurs or Indians.

However, at the end of the day, that’s just a string of excuses. He may have it harder than some, but we do not give ourselves permission to under-perform because of it. That sets us on a path of lying to ourselves and denying the reality.

For this reason, every report card he has gotten, we do the same routine. We see the C, we ask the teacher what we can do differently, and we keep working hard each and every day to make things better. It’s felt (even for me) like that part in “Rudy” where he keeps getting rejected to attend Notre Dame, but every time, he’s gone back and tried again. I’ve also been honest with him that if he slips further, failure was a very real option, and he could be repeating a grade with his brother and sister if that happens.

(As an aside, I’m tiptoeing that delicate line of always encouraging him to do better at school but making sure he understands that I love him no matter what grades he gets. It’s hard, but I think we’ve struck a good balance. Also, I’m saying some things in here that might be blasphemous for most adoptive blogs… If I wasn’t 100% sure he felt connected and loved, I would definitely be emphasizing that even more than I am now. I don’t want others (or him) to confuse my attitude about hard work and good grades as conditional love.)

I do believe he is trying his best, even though his best has been a C. A month or so ago, when we first came to a new school in Alabama (a month ahead of our old school), he redid his homework about three times, staying up until 11:00 pm to do it. He didn’t enjoy it, and there were a few tears shed, but he didn’t complain, and he worked his tail off. I’ve never been prouder of him, and I made sure he knew. Let me say, all too often we concern ourselves with moving strife out of a kid’s life when, if in a controlled environment, it could be good for them… I hated having to watch him suffer through it, but he not only learned the school material that night, but he also learned about grit, tenacity, and follow-through.

Though he hates it, I believe he is starting to value his education and understands why it is important. Case in point: his late-nighter was a significantly better outcome than last year when he told us his bad grades were Beth’s fault because she didn’t help him enough with his homework. Oooo! That little comment led to a 30-minute talk on personal responsibility. By the end of that conversation, he knew learning was his job, not his mom’s or his teacher’s.

All of that leads me to today. I came home to the happiest 4th grader in America… All A’s and B’s, finally! Rudy made the football team! Bear in mind, one was an 80.6%, but it still counts, and he was more excited about that B- than some kids are about making A’s.

Thank you to the two schools that had the courage to tell my son that his work was sub-par when it really was. Thank you to all the teachers that honestly assessed his work and gave him those C’s. You didn’t do him a disservice by lying to him and making him think his effort was great. You didn’t cheapen his education or coddle his emotions in the process by eliminating poor grades. You were and honest broker, and you helped him assess where he needed to focus efforts. You didn’t do it to make him feel bad. You did it because it was the right thing to do.

That string of C’s, those long nights at the dinner table, and the extra work at home and school have made this victory taste that much sweeter. His failures have amplified the success he has just had. We are not out of the woods yet, and he knows we have to keep up the effort to at least maintain what he has, but he knows that great feeling of working seriously hard for something and finally getting the result. I’m hoping this gives him even more resolve in the future.

A few years back, we, as a country, decided that there were certain companies that were “too big to fail.” Even though the free market was cleansing itself of poor performing businesses, a natural mechanism of this economy, the government stepped in and put those businesses on life support.

That’s a conversation for a different blog, but I will say, when we take away our ability to fail, we inherently take away our ability to succeed. We are never too big to fail, and if we can pass that lesson on to the future generation (always couched in encouragement and detached from acceptance), they will be better for it. For this reason, during Thanksgiving and the holiday season, I have been thankful for C’s and F’s, losing games, bench warming, and last chair in band.

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

Change…

Hello…

It’s been over a month since we last talked to the interwebs, and a lot has happened. This is partially not our fault. Up until a couple of days ago, we had spotty internet service or no internet service at all. Now we’re thumping along well enough to get a few thoughts down on paper.

Since the last time we talked, we have moved to Alabama, purchased a house, and started a new job and a new school.

One thing I have learned is, I’m not a flexible person. I try to be, but I hate it when my plans change. I make my plans based upon what I assumed would be. However, what would be, even for the most thoughtful, forward-thinking individuals is sometimes not what they had in mind.

  1. I thought my company (the same one I worked for in Texas) would have issued me a new laptop when I started working here… “Sure, Beth. Go ahead and pack up the home computer. I’ll take the backup hard-drive and update our records when we get to Alabama.” Whoops! Not so much (my company takes good care of us, so I’m not upset about this, it just wasn’t what I expected). This lead to a lot of phone calls to the bank, tracking every receipt we had, and using the courtesy computer in the hotel lobby late at night (so other people don’t see my financials as they are walking to the ice machine).
  2. I thought the hotel that we stayed at for three weeks would get us two rooms right next to each other. Nope. Rooms 106 and 132 were definitely at opposite ends. This led to a boys’ room and a girls’ room and a severe lack of communication with Beth. Usually we debrief a day after the kids go down, but when the kids were out, we were stuck in our rooms about 200 ft away from each other. I missed Beth a lot those three weeks! We did primarily use one room for storage, and the other was for living.
  3. I thought we would buy a house on the west end of town with an acre of land. The week before our house-hunting trip, we told the real estate agent helping us that we wanted to look at a bunch of houses, but we were about 75% sure there was one in particular that we wanted. She told us she would let the listing agent know that they would have serious buyers at the end of the week and not to make any decisions until then. That’s when we discovered it was a short sale, possibly going into foreclosure, and that property would be tied up for months and months. We expanded our search a little and wound up in a house on the east side of town on the side of a hill/baby-mountain with 1/2 acre. I think we are happier here than we would have been at the other place, but this house wasn’t on our radar until we found out that the other house was unavailable.
  4. I thought up-state Alabama would have less traffic than the DFW area. Our new town of Madison has a red-light at every intersection and tons of people driving all over it. On Thursday of last week, I kid you not, I drove into the middle of a parade. My 30 minute trip to the hardware store for some light bulbs turned into 2 hours of inching our way along the main street of our town. The favorite thing our GPS likes to say is, “Make a U-turn whenever possible”. We thought that should be Alabama’s state motto (Don’t – It really is nice here). Having said all that, we are starting to find the back way to get to things, and can navigate pretty well. One of the blessings about the house we picked was that it is 6.5 miles from work. Now that I know the best route, I can be there in 10 minutes… I’m estimating we will be saving about $300 in gas every month.
  5. I thought that I would get every other Friday off like I did at my old job (again, I thought it was the same company with the same practices). When I asked my boss if the current week or the following week was the off-Friday, I got a stern, “We work five days a week, every week” answer. Oooo! That was definitely going to ruin my plans for this Friday, and every other Friday for the next 30 years. However, it didn’t take me long before I adjusted from 9-hour days to 8-hour days, and most everybody at work works a few hours extra each week and take off early on Friday. That’s been really nice.
  6. I thought our house, being bigger than it was in Texas, would make it quieter, spreading out the people over a larger area. That doesn’t pan out so well when the house is pier-and-beam (not a slab foundation like we were used to). It is amazing how I know where every child in the house is by how the house is rattling. It also gives me an edge for playing hide-and-go-seek. I’m amazed at how a heavy-footed 60-lb Colombian can make four times as much noise as a 200-lb man.
  7. I thought my wife was wasting money ($40) when she bought a super-market end-cap when I asked her to find something to put the TV on. I got home at the thing was in 12 pieces in my driveway with the comment “it needs a little work” coming from her. I, with a very bad attitude, put it together, cleaned it up, mounted some feet to it so it wouldn’t ruin the carpet, and started putting our electronics on it. My thought was, I can always use it in the garage if this is a stupid idea, but half-way though, I caught the vision. It fits perfectly in the space we have, it’s querky and fun, and the little diamond-shaped holes and groves built into it are prefect for zip-tying chords for electronics (organizing wires is a passion of mine… a couple of notches down from God, Beth, children, and Mt. Dew… it may be tied with Mt. Dew.)
  8. I thought our sectional would go in the fun room with the crazy super-market shelf entertainment center. I measured it, and it was 1.5 inches more narrow than the hallway… It got jammed. Then two adults got jammed. Then a wall sconce (however you say that… light on the wall and not on the ceiling) got messed up. Then I got angry. Then, we bought a couple of cheap futons that seem to fit the space even better, and we used the sectional in another part of the house that quite frankly, we didn’t have plans for. That reminds me, yesterday, one of my kids asked me, “Who is ‘Quite Frankly?'”
  9. I thought, after six weeks, we would be close to finding a church home. We are not. Lots of visiting, lots of red-flags, and lots of “when in Rome” moments. We know our old church didn’t have a monopoly on how to do church, but it’s amazing how conditioned we get in doing things a particular way. We’re trying to be open-minded and not Pharisee-ical (It’s a new word, trust me), but at the same time, not water down our convictions. In a lot of ways, it’s been good to re-evaluate where we stand on a lot of issues and talk through the things that we believe and why we believe them as a family. We found a church last week that we really like, but we still need to talk to a pastor, and find out more before we make a hasty decision. We are still probably a month at minimum from joining a new congregation… We should probably write a blog about how much we will miss our old church. To be continued…
  10. I thought that the dogs would be a minor detail that we would have to be mindful of during our move. No. Our company-paid flight to Alabama to move the family down was a no-go because one of our dogs was a particular breed that isn’t allowed to fly due to notorious respiratory issues. That really made the rest of the family sad, and resulted in a two-car caravan across three states with seven people and three dogs over 12 hours. I also had to “negotiate” with the hotel when we showed up with three 40-lb dogs when their policy was no more than two 25-lb dogs in the hotel. The new house has no fence, and our basset hound has issues with doing stairs which every entrance to our place (on the side of the hill) has. This has resulted in a lot of dog walks, patience, and care. We are a lot more mindful of the dogs and their needs than we have been in years at our old home with a fence and dog-door. When we adopted kids, they definitely took a back seat, but we’re a lot more involved with them now than a month ago.

It’s interesting how we always think we are the captains of our own destiny. We plan, we envision how we want things to turn out, we busy ourselves working to that end, and there is no doubt that God allows us the free will to act on these things. However, in this move to Alabama, He has reminded me of all the subtle directions He has steered my life. Almost all of these things, though frustrating, had a silver lining.

I hate it when it feels like the wheels are spinning off and my great plans are falling apart, but I’m finding that’s when God does His best work. That’s also, when we do the best at depending on Him. I’m not quite to the point of “counting it joy” when I have various trials, but I can at least see why James says so.

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

Called to be a Layman…

When I was about 17 years old, several of my friends in the youth department felt called by God to go into the ministry. I was happy for them, and I was proud of the decision that they made. They were good guys and gals, and I knew God was going to do big things with them. I prayed, listened intently to God, studied His word, and did everything I knew to be right… but I was never called.

As a young and dumb kid, I wondered what was wrong with me. All of my really strong committed Christian friends were being called to the ministry. Why wasn’t I? Was God not hearing me? I definitely prayed and gave God lots of opportunities to tell me “Yes” to a life of full-time service, but He never chose to capitalize on those opportunities. So, while waiting on God, I decided even Paul had to make a few tents from time to time, so I went out into the real world, did a lot of college, and got a non-ministerial job.

That was 18 years ago (Time flies!). I am currently a youth Sunday School teacher and my family is in church almost every time the door is open. We work hard in church, and we do as much as we can, but when Monday rolls around, I roll out of bed, head to my cubical, and get ready for a 40-50 hour a week job that has nothing to do with God (aside from the fact that He blessed me with the job and the ability to do it).

Last week, I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Cochabamba, Bolivia and work with a missionary that used to go to the same church I did about 30 years ago… one of the ones that God told could serve Him full-time. He has been in Bolivia for 8 years now and has made an incredible impact in the lives of so many there.

Our team of 10 ran a clinic where the local Bolivian people were able to get free heath care, dental care, and hear about the gospel. About 20 people accepted Christ! We then worked to do some construction on an unfinished church in the area. We made a sidewalk for the church, and we built a little apartment off to the side of the main building where a family of five will be living to take care of the building. We also had a mini-VBS where we shared the gospel with about 300 kids between the ages of 4 and 13. It was an amazing time, and God taught me so much, but inevitably, I had to fly home, and go back to that cubical today.

Our team in Bolivia.

Our team in Bolivia with Missionary Joe and his family.

I know a lot of people will say, “You are always on the mission field, wherever you go”, and yes, they are right, but I all I want to do is serve God as my full-time job and leave the desk-flying and engineering to someone else.

I am so glad that God has given me a heart to serve. If he didn’t, this would be a very different blog, but it results in a very conflicted life. When I was 17, I thought something was wrong with me. I thought I just wasn’t in tune with God’s will or listening to Him hard enough, because surely I would be called to full-time ministry. I was just as good as my friends that were called (and humble too)!

Now, I live with the duality of wanting to serve God at every opportunity I get, but having to live with the fact that my direct service is something akin to a hobby… something I only get to do for free on nights, weekends, and vacations (again, I know my job is a mission field too, so please don’t think I’m overlooking the obvious when I say that).

However, as an older and slightly wiser adult, I have begun to understand that I am called to be a layman. I believe my calling is every bit as strong as those that go into full-time ministry, and it is the path God wants me walking. I didn’t mishear God. His non-answer to that prayer was an answer.

Yes, I want to serve more and more. Yes, I dream about how I can share God’s love with the world while I’m at my job every day. Yes, I have to work an entire year so I can give just a week. However, I have to be the pillar on which the church rests.

While it feels like people in the ministry are the tip of the spear and I get the shaft (meant to be funny in a witty, non-Dangerfield way), I remind myself that the spear is nothing without the shaft. Gladys Knight is nothing without her Pips. Kirk is nothing without Scotty “givin’ it all she’s got.”

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

I Corinthians 12:12-26

My job is to raise the next generation to be Christ-loving humble followers of God.

My job is to be a light in the private sector and share God with those around me (see – I told you I wouldn’t overlook the obvious).

My job is to bring tithes and offerings so that the ones called to full-time ministry can do their job without distraction or pause.

My job is to serve in the church, teach a Sunday School class, invest in students, and give hands and feet to the vision that God has given our pastors.

My job is to be the silent force on the other side of the ocean interceding for my brothers on the front lines.

My job is to be a layman.

It is my calling. It is hard, but I know now that it is exactly what God wants me to do. We need ministers and missionaries without a doubt, but we need laymen too. I hope God gives others the confidence to see it as a calling. I didn’t have that as a teenager, but I do now.

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

PS – Please pray for our friends in Bolivia and all of South America. God is doing some amazing things, and we are blessed to be a part of it!

I stand with Israel…

Usually I don’t get too political on our blog, but after debating for a few days, I thought it was important to share.

Three days ago, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, addressed our Congress (what he called the most important legislative body in the world) about his concern over a nuclear Iran.

Israel is in a bad neighborhood, where everyone, on all sides, seems to want them wiped off the planet. We, on the other hand are in a great neighborhood. Greg Gutfeld expressed a similar sentiment in that we, as Americans, suffer from “ocean privilege.” I’m not minimizing the attacks of September 11th, the Fort Hood shootings, or any other act of terror that has reached our shores, but in relative to our ally, it doesn’t compare. As the Prime Minister put it, America fights for security, but Israel fights for survival.

Some in Congress listened to the Prime Minister, his concerns, and his plans of action. Some boycotted the speech, dismissing it as political theater. This grieved me deeply.

First, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Martin Niemoller about his time in Nazi Germany:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Israel is arguably one of our greatest allies. If we don’t help them and defend them, we cannot expect anyone to do the same for us.

My second concern, is far greater. I was reminded of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3:

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

If we believe the word of God is true, perfect, and applies today just as much as it applied then, I shudder at the thought that, as a country, I see America turn it’s back on Israel, and, by extension, God’s blessing. It seems that we would rather be sympathetic to those that God would curse than to rally around our greatest friend in the world and enjoy the blessings of God for doing so.

Also, make no mistake – If you consider yourself a Christian, Israel’s enemies are your enemies. You can bury your head in the sand and enjoy your “ocean privilege” for now, but this fight will be at our doorstep soon enough… and I don’t believe claiming ignorance and wanting to stay out of it is going to matter when it gets here.

To me there are a lot of issues that Christians can argue both sides pretty effectively. This is not one. There is no ambiguity here. As Christians, we need to stand with Israel.

I cannot speak for our country. All I can do is speak for myself. I believe the Bible, and I would rather be blessed by God standing with Israel then to live on our knees placating Israel’s enemies. If saying this puts a target on my back, then so be it, but the times of half-measures is over. I’ve picked my side, and I stand with Israel.

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

Boys to Men…

Before we started our adoption, I wanted a girl. I thought it would be so cool to have a daughter. The reason could be due to growing up in an all-boy house and wanting something different. I really can’t explain it. I was ultimately cool with God’s sovereign will in deciding what I got, but secretly, I was routing for the fairer sex.

I remember talking to one of the people at our adoption agency during the process, and she told me that statistically, most people want to adopt newborns (no surprise there) and most people want girls. I would not have guessed the second part. I would have thought that was unique to me or, at the very least, not something that was so clearly skewed in one direction.

When we decided on our five Colombianos, I got the two girls that I wanted, and fathering them is everything that I hoped it would be. I also got three boys. If I can say something without sounding like a terrible person, I was not super excited about the idea of having boys. I would love and care for them, without question, but my heart wasn’t into chasing these three hyper little disgusting monsters around my house for the next 14 years. During the first few weeks in Colombia when we got them, my non-excitement only got worst. I almost loathed having these boys (terrible to say, but honest). It could have been that I only chose to see the things that reinforced my point-of-view, but I was reminded of why I wanted girls in the first place:

The girls would sit and color or play with dolls. The boys would run around and turn anything into a projectile or a weapon.

The girls could focus on one thing. The boys would lose interest within minutes of starting.

The girls were constructive players. The boys were destructive players.

The girls could play in a group and encourage each other to do the right thing. They boys would drag each other down when they played together.

I have to tell the girls something a few times before they followed my directions. I have to tell my boys the same thing ten times as much to get the same results.

It didn’t help much that my oldest son was a bit defiant learning how to fit into the new family dynamic, and we came to blows (literally for him, figuratively for me) several times before he understood that we were in charge, and we were disciplining him because we loved him. A lot of people will say, “I love you, but I don’t like you right now.” That’s where I was with my boys for months. I loved them, but I didn’t like them at all.

That was twenty-nine months in the rear-view mirror now. Looking at my boys today, I can say we have made amazing progress. The same chasm between the sexes is there, but it’s more of a ditch than the Grand Canyon we had before. Case in point – my boys all worked, un-disturbed for nearly seven hours two days after Christmas putting their Lego sets together (constructive, focused, calm, group play). I’m also glad to say that God (and my boys) have changed my heart over that time. The boys are no longer the thing that I put up with to have my girls.

Quite the opposite. If I were in a foxhole at the edge of no-man’s land, and I could pick any three people in the world to be by my side, my boys would be my band of brothers.

Now, I see them in a different light. They are not violent. They are courageous. They are not ridiculous. They dream big. They are not hyper. They are adventurous. They are not foolish, stubborn, or irresponsible. They are tenacious, undaunted, and unyielding when the others give up or give in. They are not heathens. They are leaders and vision-casters.

Beth told me a few weeks ago that God has put boys on her heart, and she was glad we got our boys. She even went so far as to say that if we ever adopt again, she is leaning toward boys in general. I asked her why, and she said, “There are not enough good men in the world, and these boys are going to grow up, whether they are adopted and shown how to be men or not.”

It’s true, and it is almost becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. At our church, men can not change diapers if we work in the nursery. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally fine with not doing this job, but the simple fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of sex offenders and pedophiles are male, and it is a liability issue for the church. Men commit more crimes then women. Approximately 4 out of 10 children in the US are born to unwed mothers, and these children do not understand what a man/father is or have it modeled for them in any way. Even in a two-parent house, the man is marginalized more each day. Watch any commercial that has a married couple in it, and almost without exception, the husband is portrayed as the lazy, thoughtless, backwards, stubborn, bumbling fool that the wife must lead in the right direction. It has gotten to a point in which a man is guilty until proven innocent. Just ask the 2006 Duke lacrosse team. Maybe this is why most people want to adopt girls in the first place…

Boys will be boys, but they need our help to be men. They need our help to know how to be leaders. Otherwise we continue the cycle by declaring them unfit heathens or a lost cause and give up on them before they’ve even got a shot. I was definitely marching down that path myself, but now I see how wrong I was. Boys are hard to raise (I am not by any means saying girls are easy… I’m still wondering how the teenage years will be with them!), but it is worth the sweat equity.

Da boyz.

Da boyz. We made the assumption that the Ninja Turtles traded weapons every once in a while to keep things interesting.

I just want the world to know, there are good men out there. We are not all disgusting animals. We are not all stupid, irrational, gross, and sex-driven at all times. There are good men out there, and with a little prayer and luck, there will be at least three more soon!

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

Plaque buildup…

Everything I say here, I say out of love. Please read as such…

We live in Midlothian, TX, and even though it’s a sleepy little town, we find ourselves at the epicenter of a national debate.

Two of our elementary schools, Mountain Peak and Longbranch (neither our kids go to), have dedication plaques in front of them that say the following thing:

“Dedicated in the year of our Lord, 1997, to the education of God’s children and to their faithful teachers in the name of the Holy Christian Church. Soli Deo Gloria.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation does not like them because it specifically promotes the “Holy Christian Church”. So to avoid further controversy and negative press, the school district is removing the plaques and replacing them with less offensive, more politically correct plaques.

First let me say, I’m amazed that, as late as 1997, some people here in our town had the guts to put such a religious message on the side of a public building. Now we think twice before we mention the name of the football team that plays in our nation’s capital, so I would have thought that the offendables were already out in full force just 17 years ago.

Second, I applaud the efforts by our local Christians for lobbying to keep the plaques up. They will probably lose, but I am glad they stand behind these public displays of faith. When Madison, Jefferson, and others wrote the Bill of Rights, I personally think their mindset on the First Amendment was less of a concern over church interfering with state and more over the state interfering with the church. They probably remembered when Henry VIII set up a new church with himself as the head so he could divorce women that didn’t bear him male heirs or when the Puritans came to this country because they didn’t agree with the official faith of the state. I will always vote for men who share my Christian views because I want them to influence this country in a positive direction. I’m assuming others are doing this too. For this reason, the fingerprints of faith should be all over government, federal, state, and local. Can you imagine UT taking down every image of a longhorn because it offends the “faithful” Texas A&M people and vice versa (bear in mind, these are public schools too)?

Now, let me share something that may hurt feelings:

The plaques are symbols. They represent something, and the removal of them represents something else. It represents where we were and where we are.

Whenever one of the symbols of our faith is attacked, we have a tangible asset to defend and a handy battle-cry to rally our Christian soldiers. I see the Christians standing firm and fighting with so much passion, and I am inspired. However the symbol itself is nothing, whether it be a twisted cross that happenstance gave after the 9-11 bombings or a plaque on a school. We should fight to keep these things, BUT we need to recognize that the removal of the plaques is a symptom, not the problem.

The plaques are being removed because the people that want them down are more vocal and/or more numerous than the people that want them up. Why is that?

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

While we protest over these plaques, I would ask where are the protests when a kid from a broken home grows up making the same mistakes? Where are the desperate phone calls urging a man and wife to work on their marriage instead of giving up? Where are the rallies when we see less than 20% of a city’s population in church on Sunday? Where are the MEN of faith when a single mom needs her car fixed or her yard mowed? Where are the cry’s of desperation to the Father when someone walks out of church for the last time?

What scares me is, there are so many people out there that need Jesus, and we don’t even care! As long as we are entertained inside our big comfortable houses, we’re perfectly OK with a lost and dying world going to hell. Yes. I said it. I know we will never say that out loud, but we say it every day with our actions, and the apathy is deafening! The battle that matters is not being fought! Further, that same lost and dying world is questioning why they should consider our point-of-view when our level of commitment to it is only commensurate with out level of guilt.

May I also say, woe is me, for among sinners, I am chief!

We live in a culture where more and more people are turning their back on Christ every day, and we do nothing. We go to church, hear about the masses that need Christ’s love, wring our hands in pious concern, wear our catchy Christian T-shirt, but we don’t do anything for them. As a matter of fact, we try to isolate ourselves, as much as we can. “If I can just keep my family safe and sheltered…” We go out of our way to not engage.

To quote Michael Savage, “Wake up SHEEPLE!”

They will know us by our plaque?

They will know us by our clever T-shirt?

They will know us by the fish on our car?

THEY WILL KNOW US BY OUR LOVE.

Why would we rather fight for all the other things? My guess is because it is so much easier to do the other things. We can’t go out naked, so we might as well put on a Christian T-shirt. That way, we can check the box of “be a witness” for the day without having to get involved in anyone’s life. Same with the fish. We can stand in solidarity in front of a school one time with a poster, and feel good about “defending our faith” until the next crisis comes along. Please know, that none of these things are bad, and I would encourage all (I have done all!). However, if we are being honest with ourselves, they are easy and yield about as much as we put into them. They should echo our love and faith that we practice daily, not be the only representation of it.

On the other hand, true unconditional love is hard. It takes effort AND commitment. We can’t just jump into someone’s life one afternoon and expect it to be good by that evening. Love takes years. Love isn’t formulaic. Love means things may get messy. Love means you might get hurt (maybe even physically). Love takes courage. Love means your comfort, your time, your money, and your priorities take a back seat to someone else’s needs. Love means you act on faith and let God take control of your life. Love means telling someone what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Love is genuine. Love means you mean it!

2,000 years ago, a handful of disciples were so serious about their faith and their love for others that they changed the world. I have no doubt that we can change the world again if we have the courage to not be apathetic and to sell our lives for something far more important than our own self-indulgence.

I promise, if we got serious about lost people (problem), the plaque thing (symptom) will take care of itself.

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

America the Beautiful…

This is a “muy tarde” blog… We’ve been pretty busy living and not very good at documenting the past few days. Sorry!

The last week in June and the first week in July, our family took part in one of the grand traditions of my childhood – the great American road-trip vacation. 9 people, 1 car, 7 states, 4 capitals (including DC), 15 smashed souvenir pennies, 3,825 miles in 12 days… no problem! We’ve been blessed with the fact that most of our family lives within 60 miles of our house. However, there are three families (two of Beth’s aunt’s and my Uncle’s) that live out of state. The kids needed to meet them, and we needed to attend a memorial service in Pennsylvania for Beth’s paternal grandparents… hence the whirlwind trip. Beth’s mom and dad also joined us as we headed East. Here’s our top ten list:

1. Making good time vs. dry seats… After about two hours of driving, I would hear the thing I knew was coming… “I have to go to the bathroom,” or, in their native tongue, “Tengo chi chi.” Then I was faced with a decision. How far am I willing to push a four-year old bladder. Fortunately, Beth had the bright idea to take our youngest back down to diapers for this trip, so the ten minutes I had went from a hard deadline to a soft one (no pun intended). We drove through the night too, and, with everyone asleep and me taking a sip of Mt. Dew at 15-minute intervals, I’m able to knock out six hours between stops. I did have to stop for the father-in-law twice, but he’s fine with, in his words, a “wide spot in the road.”

Nothing invigorates like a blast of hot air after you've been in the car for 12 hours.

Nothing invigorates like a blast of hot air after you’ve been in the car for 12 hours.

2. Cracker Barrel… like four or five times. Cracker Barrel is like a Beth magnet. They are neat to me, but I don’t have to stop, or push our breakfast out to 10:45 so we can have it at one of these fine establishments. I guess there is something about ladies dressed like pioneer women bringing our biscuits and sawmill gravy that just appeals to the masses, but there was nowhere on our trip that these places were not… truly an American mainstay. Our kids got good at the golf-tee game and checkers.

We haven't killed each other yet!

We haven’t killed each other yet!

It's not exactly the world's largest ball of yarn, but it's an impressive train set and a great roadside stop.

It’s not exactly the world’s largest ball of yarn, but it’s an impressive train set and a great roadside stop.

3. Amish and Mennonite people think Spanish-speakers are weird. Spanish-speakers think Amish and Mennonite people are weird. Between the cosmopolitan sides Pennsylvania with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia lies rural Pennsylvania, home to many Amish and Mennonite communities. I learned that the Amish don’t use machines. I also learned that Mennonites are like, what I will call, Amish-lite. They are OK with machines but definitely like a slower non-flashy life. I think I would make a great Mennonite (I got teased about getting another flip-phone last month from the AT&T guy trying to sell me a phablet). Nonetheless, our children didn’t know how to process these guys using horses and buggies. Also we got some funny looks from them as we started speaking Spanish. Darth, did see a Mennonite woman wearing a long, purple flower-print dress, and got to within two feet of it before we stopped her from petting a lady’s bum with her favorite color. To be fair, this would be awkward, even if she wasn’t Mennonite.

Echo Indian Caverns. Look at all the "minors"... Sorry. That's the best I can do.

Echo Indian Caverns. Look at all the “minors”… Sorry. That’s the best I can do.

The beach, the happiest place on earth for them. One of the scariest for me... The Titanic, Andrea Doria, Bismark, and countless U-Boats are somewhere out there... creepy!

The beach- the happiest place on earth for them, and one of the scariest for me… The Titanic, Andrea Doria, Bismark, and countless U-Boats are somewhere out there… creepy!

4. We went to Philadelphia to see a cool new city, and have some time just as a family. We went to the Franklin Institute and had a great time. We then went to a local restaurant ordered cheese-steaks, and then decided we would walk to the Philadelphia Museum of Art… you know… the place that Rocky ran up the steps in his training montage. It didn’t look that far away when we started, but it was definitely about half a mile away in about 90-degree heat. That’s not a big deal for a Texas family, but those darn interactive exhibits at the museum took it all out of us that morning (i.e. Can you power this light bulb by pedaling this bike hooked up to a generator?). With that and a cheese-steak in your stomach a day after a 31-hour drive, it was a perfect storm. By the time we got back to the car, I was carrying two.

This was our Rocky picture. Our lack of enthusiasm might be showing a little.

This was our Rocky picture. Our lack of enthusiasm might be showing a little.

5. Firearms and Fireworks – Our journey was over the Fourth of July, so naturally the family that we stayed with helped us celebrate our nation’s birth by blowing up a small part of it. In Pennsylvania, Uncle George made a nice little show for us in his front parking lot that we enjoyed. In Maryland, Uncle Mark let the kids be a lot more hands-on. He had smoke bombs, bottle rockets, and sparklers, all for the kids to enjoy. He also painstakingly pulled apart a string of Blackcats so that the kids could each enjoy the thrill of setting off a stick of “baby dynamite.” They loved it. I’ve heard of drug addicts always looking for a new high, and it wasn’t long before my little pyros were doing the same- blowing empty cans of tuna into the air or seeing if they could shoot-off two together at the same time. Excitement overtook us, and we had to shut the group down before we lost total control. With great explosives comes great responsibility. I banned my children the next two day from dangerous things. My father-in-law and Uncle Mark bought the kids a BB gun the day before, and were planning to show the kids how to use it. I couldn’t tell who was more upset (the kids or the adults) when I told them it fell under the umbrella term, “dangerous things”.

A four-year old with fire. Note the random explosion going on in the background. This was moments before we had to shut it down.

A four-year old with fire. Note the random explosion going on in the background. This was moments before we had to shut it down.

6. Washington DC – the place they always blow up in movies… Driving out of Maryland and back into Virginia, we decided to pass through Washington DC, and see our nation’s capital, since we probably won’t be that close to it for quite a while. As we drove I would point out famous landmarks. I would say something like “Kids! Look! It’s the Pentagon.” “What?” “It’s the Pentagon, where our armed forces are headquartered.” “What?” “The Pentagon….” “We have no idea what you are talking about, Papi” “Ummmm…. (in a reluctant voice) the place where they kept Magneto in ‘X-Men'” “Oooooo! So cool Papi! Drive slower, please!” Other landmarks included where Captain America jogs every day (AKA the Reflecting Pool), the place where they built the flying aircraft carriers (AKA the Patomic River), and the statue that helps Ben Stiller beat the Egyptian king (AKA the Lincoln Monument).

This is funny. If you don't know why, watch the movie, "Along Came Polly".

This is funny. If you don’t know why, watch the movie, “Along Came Polly”.

The greatest movie theater in America. The leg-rests were motorized!

The greatest movie theater in America. The leg-rests were motorized!

7. While staying with Aunt Suzy in Pennsylvania, she was kind enough to keep a few toys out in the front yard for our kids to play with when we were between visiting friends and family and seeing sights. One of the toys was one of those giant air-filled balls (the kind that you used to see in big PVC towers at Walmart). The kids loved to play with that because even Darth could kick it half a mile before it touched the ground. I reminded them time after time to make sure the ball didn’t hit the house. I was worried we would knock over some garden gnome that had been in the family for centuries or something… If I saw it hit the house, it was worth about 10 minutes in time out. After two or three days, the kids understood this rule and would do their best to avoid the house during outside play time with the ball. I however joined in and, after getting a bad bouncy before my kick, put one right on the railing of the front porch. There was about 10 seconds of silence as all children looked at me wondering what I would do after I just broke my own rule. I thought for a second, and then did the only sensible thing I could think to do… I calmly put myself in time out for 10 minutes. The kids all laughed, and enjoyed heckling me in the time-out chair, but it was the only thing I could do to have consistency with my words and actions.

Feeding lamas.

Feeding lamas.

 

Imitating lamas on the car-ride the next day.

Imitating lamas on the car-ride the next day.

Our cool new T-Shirts!

Our cool new T-Shirts!

8. We visited two other churches where our out-of-state families attend while on our two week trip. While there, we met a number of people that have heard about us from our family’s stories. One older lady that I met at the Moravian church in Pennsylvania told me that she heard all about us, and prays for us all the time. I am still amazed at the body of Christ and how it works. Here is a lady that I have never met that has been praying for us the past three years that lives over 1,350 miles away. How blessed have I been for this unknown lady to intercede on behalf of me and my family before the Lord, day in and day out? Only God knows.

Why does the newest fighter in our Navy's arsenal look so old and tired?

Why does the newest fighter in our Navy look so old and tired? Can we get some 409 and Armor-All over here?

9. Rolling out of Pennsylvania, we hugged Aunt Suzy and Uncle George, and told them goodbye before we settled in for long drive to Maryland. After about five to ten minutes after pulling out of the driveway, my oldest daughter begins to sob. Beth, riding in the back with her asked what was wrong. She told her that she missed her family and was sad to leave them. This is a child that didn’t have a family two years ago. This happened two more times as we pulled away out of Maryland and Tennessee. Again, I’m so blessed to see how our family (mine and Beth’s) have accepted our kids unconditionally and to see how our kids truly love our family. It isn’t the fun they had, the games they played, the food they ate, or the toys they got. It’s the love.

My grandfather's truck lives in Tennessee, enjoying retirement.

My grandfather’s truck lives in Tennessee, enjoying retirement.

The Science Center in Nashville. It's like a PBS show, a playground at McDonalds, and museum all rolled into one.

The Science Center in Nashville. It’s like a PBS show, a playground at McDonalds, and museum all rolled into one.

10. Uncle Mark is a pilot, and he was kind enough to take the boys for an airplane ride one day while we were staying in Maryland. They loved it! They talked about it the rest of the trip. Since the little Cessna was a four-seater, a few of us had to wait on the ground for the next ride. While waiting, we met a Ukrainian lady who became an American citizen legally about 13 years ago. She was at the airport while her daughter was taking flying lessons. She made the comment that she was an American with an accent, and I jokingly replied that my kids were too. After a little small talk, I definitely asked her how she felt about the current crisis going on in her home country. I could have guessed her response before I asked, but she was outraged that their neighbor to the East could feel justified in taking huge chunks of land from them. Then she said that we as Americans need to treasure what we have, value our liberty, and protect it at all costs. She said, “You have not lived through communism, so you don’t know what it’s like…” While I don’t think we are at the doorsteps of despotism just yet, I do think we need to protect this fragile liberty we have. Her words rang true just a few days before 4th of July.

Her comments reminded me of Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech that he gave in 1964. If you have the time, read the whole thing. It’s amazing, but here’s just a little piece:

Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, “We don’t know how lucky we are.” And the Cuban stopped and said, “How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to.” And in that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth. And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

Liberty is what this country stands for. Liberty is why so many people are trying to come here. Liberty is the fragile principle that so many have fought to protect. Liberty is what makes America the beautiful.

So, after we pulled back into our driveway after a fun and safe trip, one of the boys says, “I’m so glad to be back in the United States!” Yes, indeed. Even though we never left, there is no place like home… USA.

At the dinnermesa,

Ty