Professor Media Matters

I am a media professional with 6 years as a TV producer and reporter, and college professor in the field of Communications. I am also a Conservative with a passion for pop culture. This will be my attempt to put the "me" in media. It will be my take on movies, TV, books, magazines, newspapers, the Internet and all that is the worldwide media.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I AM CURRENTLY UNEQUALLY YOKED

"We surveyed 100 people. The top 5 answers to this question are on the board. Name something that a husband and wife should have the same taste in?"

That was one of the questions host Steve Harvey asked today on Family Feud. Some of the winning answers included food, fashion and sex. One contestant said that a husband and wife should have the same taste in church. It wasn't on the board but I thought it was an excellent answer.

I should know. I am married to a spouse who does not hold the same view on church as I do. It wasn't always that way. When we got married 8 years ago my wife had made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. She was active with me in a couples Bible study and was growing into her understanding of her spiritual giftedness of service.

But something happened and she withdrew from her church and her faith. Now at times she can be quite hostile toward God. I don't completely comprehend her decision. As best I can relate she simply says she tried church and God for a season and it isn't for her.

That is really foreign territory for me. I grew up in the church. I accepted Christ at age 7 at church camp. All of my life I have sung hymns and given my tithe and participated in communion. And now the person that I have decided to share the rest of my life with, including all of these wonderful church things, has decided they are not for her.

In some ways I think my head is still spinning. But greater than the confusion I feel is the disappointment. In Genesis chapter 2 God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman.
He designed it. So He wants to be a part of it. For now at least, only I am interested in his partnership in our marriage.

But I don't think God has abandoned her or us. And let me make perfectly clear that I love my wife and have no desire or intention to abandon my marriage.  The Bible, I believe, tells us not to marry unbelievers in 2 Corinthians 6:14a: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers."

So then did we sin when we got married? I don't think so. When we married we were both Christians practicing our faith. My wife's decision to walk away from God came later on. I didn't see it coming. I don't think she did either.

 So the Bible's first piece of advice was not to marry an unbeliever. If, though, you are like me and find yourself in that position anyway, God has a second piece of advice.

1 Corinthians 7:12-14: “…If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband…”

That pretty much sums up where we are today. My son and I are active at church and in our Christian faith. We try to be a good example to my wife in hopes that she may one day return to a life of faith in Christ. Every night at bedtime my son prays "please help mommy to come to church." That's what we both want. That's what Christ wants as well. Maybe someday my wife will feel the same.




Monday, July 30, 2012

GENESIS 18:2b-8

I've been lamenting over a tough decision the last few days. After much thought and prayer I still don't really feel like I know what the right thing to do is. I was reminded by my recent readings in Genesis that God, in the Old Testament, often appeared to His people. Earlier in chapter 18 it says "The Lord appeared to Abraham..." He doesn't seem to do that anymore. As best I know he has never appeared to me. Or to my friends. Or even to the modern leaders of the church. But in the Old Testament it was a frequent occurrence. Maybe it is because the New Testament church has the Holy Spirit and so God doesn't feel He needs to make a physical appearance. Or maybe it is because if He did appear to us today we wouldn't treat Him like Abraham did in this chapter:

"Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground" (Genesis 18:2).

When Abraham saw God and his angels appear, he worshipped Him. His worship was quick (he hurried) and humble (he bowed low to the ground). Maybe if God appeared before us we would have to finish our cell phone call first. And then after we hung up we would recognize it was God and get around to worshipping Him.

After Abraham worshipped God, he also served Him:

"He said, 'If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way -- now that you have come to your servant'.

 'Very well,' they answered, 'do as you say.'" (Genesis 18:3-5).

Maybe if God appeared to me I would get around to serving Him after Wheel of Fortune was over.

Not only did Abraham serve God, but he got his whole household involved and invested, too:

"So Abraham hurried {there is that quickness again} into the tent to Sarah. 'Quick,' he said, 'get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.' Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree."

Abraham enlisted Sarah and his servant in the worship of his God. He was so willing and eager he hurried and his attitude was contagious. Sarah picked the finest flour. Abraham ran to the herd. His servant quickly prepared it. They gave it their best effort. This was a gold medal winning service performance.

I am frustrated by my indecision and wonder why God doesn't appear to me as He did to Abraham. Maybe when my worship and my service of God Almighty look more like Abraham's then I'll take the metal stand and be blessed with a personal pep talk from the Coach.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

ENCOUNTERS WITH THE HOMELESS

I've had 4 encounters with homeless people in the last 2 weeks. Two of those encounters happened in my front yard. Four interactions is more than I have had in an entire year in the past. Let me breakdown the 4 times:

1) I already posted about this encounter on my Facebook page. I brought my son home from therapy to find a homeless couple and their belongings on my front lawn. I argued with the homeless women about her smoking in my front yard and asked the couple to depart.

2 ) A homeless and intoxicated man approached me at a public park. I had gone there mid afternoon to read my Bible and do my devotions in the shade trees. He was very polite. I declined to give him money but he stayed and talked with me for 30 minutes. We talked about God and our wives and going through pain. He seemed like a decent enough man. But he obviously had an alcohol problem. We probably would have talked longer but I had to leave to pick my son up from therapy.

3 ) After church today another homeless couple approached me in my driveway. The woman, who acknowledged her missing teeth when she asked me for money, wanted me to pay her husband or boyfriend to mow the lawn. I had mowed the lawn that morning before church. I politely excused myself from her request and took my son inside the house.

4) About 15 minutes after encounter number 3 my son and I left for lunch at McDonald's. While leaving the McDonald's parking lot we were approached by a homeless woman. She was hot and sunburned and carrying a lot of belongings. She asked for a ride. I told her that since she was a stranger and I had my 6 year old son with me I did not feel safe giving her a ride. She said she understood and then asked me for money. I told her that I would not give her money.

For a long time my wife and I have had a policy of not giving money to homeless individuals. When you do you just have no control over how or what they will spend it on. The length of the encounter is usually so short that you have no sense of the character or integrity of the person asking or begging. I used to carry extra food in my car so that when I got approached by homeless people in downtown Sacramento I could decline their request for money but offer them food instead. Only one time did the person take the food (a granola bar) I offered.

As the economy continues to collapse these interactions with homelessness are only going to increase. Heck, I am currently unemployed. There's no guarantee me and my family won't be joining their ranks in the near future. Stranger things have happened. In the meantime I have to be prepared for these more frequent and more aggressive and more invasive (2 in my driveway!) encounters. I don't know what the safe and gracious thing to do is. But I do know that God is giving me many opportunities to work on crafting a compassionate response.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

LOOKING BACK AT LUKE AND LAURA

(This post was revised from an original column featured in a different format. It has been added to extensively and posted here.)
I was 14 when Luke originally married Laura on General Hospital. Because I went to school, I didn't see that pop culture event as it happened. I was not amongst the 30 million Americans who tuned in that day in November 1981. So, decades later, thanks to the magic of Tivo and cable TV (SoapNet), I got to view this soap opera phenomenon. And for that reason, it was fun. My pop culture is very important to me. I'm glad I saw it. But I also felt like I was missing something. Years later, I guess it is hard to live up to the hype. Tony Geary, the Emmy Award winning actor, is a charismatic Luke, but he is far from TV handsome. Plus, Genie Francis as Laura is attractive, but she wasn't soap opera sexy. Still, I enjoyed the Liz Taylor cameo, the fight scene between Luke and Scotty, and all of the pomp and circumstance. Today, though, soap operas are more expensively produced and they're all about the hot young actors and actresses. Tony Geary would never be a heartthrob today. And the sets back in 1981 were very minimalistic, with fake backdrops and limited furnishings. Soaps have come a long way in these last 30 years. But no one has yet to surpass the lunacy wrought by Luke and Laura.
I wonder why that is. The soap opera format has been dying in daytime TV so there are fewer opportunities. That is certainly part of the reason. And with cable TV providing so many other viewing options it is difficult to get 31 million people tuned into the same program, daytime or primetime.
Still the soap opera genre has been on my mind a lot lately. It is partly because I have been reading in the Old Testament for my daily devotionals. Each day as I read it just keeps occurring to me that these events are just like a soap opera. Though I have been reading soap opera like stuff I am still resisting the urge to watch the daytime dramas. I have seen about 1.5 episodes since I got laid off. One program bored me. The other, a General Hospital episode featuring Anthony Geary playing a much older Luke, was more interesting but I can’t shake the feeling that God thinks there are better uses of my time.
I will admit I used to watch them. Growing up under the care of my Grandma I watched them daily with her. She loved the ABC lineup of All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital. As I grew up, whenever I visited her I would ask her what was going on with her "stories" as she called them. When she died I had the chance to speak at her funeral and reminisce about how we would often talk about what that famous Erica Kane character had been up to on All My Children over the years.
But that was 20 years ago. So why do I keep coming back to thinking about them? Now that I am unemployed I have been writing more. The idea of writing a soap opera intrigues me. The twists and turns would be fun to create. I think the dialogue would be more challenging, but doable. My conscience would have difficulty with writing the sleazier sections of a soap opera. As a Christian man I am keenly aware of how soap opera images can fuel a sexual and lustful appetite that can lead your audience astray. It isn’t necessarily that I am a prude. I think a certain amount of sinfulness is necessary to create drama, so soap opera characters are going to have to misbehave. That is human nature. But when that misbehavior has no consequences, or there are no characters who exemplify a cleaner, more moral lifestyle then that lack of balance does your audience a disfavor. I’d like to think I could do a better, healthier job of writing drama that does a better job of striking that balance: showing the rebellion but also the opportunities for redemption. Maybe that is why it has been on my mind so much lately. I am longing to write the next Luke and Laura on their way to finding the Lord.

Friday, July 27, 2012

GRIEF IS THE WORD, IS THE WORD THAT YOU HEARD

I am still trying to get used to the idea of blogging every day. I am learning that I should stop and write as soon as I am aware I am passionate about something. Or in the case of today, feeling something acutely. It has been a melancholy day, reminding me of that verse in Ecclesiastes:  ...(there is a)" time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance" (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

This morning it was all grief -- just an overwhelming sense of sadness over the loss of my job. I have been dreaming a lot about my former workplace. Sometimes it is a stressful dream, sometimes more pleasant. It just continues to be on my mind and subconscious mind. Maybe because there has been little closure.

The hardest parts for me have been the ending of relationships. When people get laid off I think everyone chooses sides. Partly for reasons of self-preservation some employees side with the boss because they want their own jobs to be more secure, feel more secure. So friendships end abruptly. And I miss that day to day contact with those coworkers. We were a part of one another's lives for 8 years.

Plus I think there is the very human response of wanting to know that you are missed. That your productivity and contributions are missed. But you don't see those people anymore so it proves difficult to access that information. And then there is the fear of what if you are not missed?

Thankfully I don't relive the ending over and over. The grief isn't tied up in remorse or wishing I had done things differently. I'm not second guessing myself. But I probably am still second guessing the decisions of the boss and others.

I have always heard that for adults losing a job is one of the most stressful things you can go through. Right up there with having your spouse die and being forced to speak in public. (I love public speaking so that one doesn't stress me out). So I get that the grief is normal, even healthy. But for how long? And at what intensity? I would imagine you would move on from grief over a job much more quickly than grief over the death of a loved one. Still I am stuck in the grief and ready for the others parts of that Ecclesiastic verse -- the laughing and the dancing.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

THE CHICK FLICK CHALLENGE

When Harry Met Sally.
While You Were Sleeping.
Terms of Endearment.
The Help.

If I told you that these films were favorites in our household would you guess that they were some of my favorites or those of my wife?  Most of you would probably assume they were my wife's favorite films. And you would be...wrong.

Yes, I will be secure enough in my masculinity to admit that I like a good chick flick. In fact my wife says I am a bigger fan of them than she is. For whatever reason my DNA is wired to enjoy pretty much every movie that Sandra Bullock has ever made. In our household DVD collection of 400+ movies, only about 10 of them are mine. The rest belong to my better half. But of my 10 many of them are classic chick flicks: The Blind Side, 13 Going on 30 and Steel Magnolias to name a few.

A new one I may want to add to my collection is the Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones film Hope Springs. I have seen the commercial for it a few times now and I am trying to convince my wife it looks entertaining. Chances are I won't get her to go see it with me and I will wait until it comes out on DVD.

I try to justify my love for chick flicks by saying that these films tend to have better writing and character development. Plus they often have strong dramatic performances. And I think these things are true. But it may also just be that I need a good cry every now and then.

My guess is there are more men like me out there. Men who love Mel Gibson in Braveheart but also found him hilarious in What Women Want.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

THE GAME SHOW GUY

"Rich Seiber, Come on down. You're the next contestant on The Price Is Right."

Oh how I long to hear those words. Especially lately.  Since I have been unemployed for the last 2.5 months, I have reinvigorated my fondness for game shows. My six year old son and I have been enjoying game show reruns on GSN. One of his favorite phrases to say around the house is "I'd like to buy a vowel please, Pat."

In that way, he is definitely his father's son. I have vivid memories of me at the age of 4. My Grandma would place me in my crib for nap time. But I didn't nap. Instead I would invent and host game shows in my head. My favorite one was where you had to find words inside of another word. For example if your word was "Grandma" you would get a point for "grand" and a point for "ma" and a point for "and" and so on.

My love for game shows didn't end there. When I was a senior in high school I was interviewed by our local  metropolitan newspaper and asked what I wanted to be when I finished college. "He wants to become a television game show host" is a direct line from the article.

Well, that goal I haven't met...yet. But with all this free time on my hands I have returned lovingly to my longing for programs hosted by Regis Philbin and Alex Trebek. More than just the free time, though, I think when you are unemployed you tend to focus on the need for money. That is what game shows are all about. That quick fix and emotional high that money can provide.
Shortly after I lost my job my family won $250 in a Little League raffle. At the time I viewed it as an answer to prayer, a method that God was using to provide for my family. Since then I have been wondering and hoping that God will continue to use a form of winning as His way of provision -- hence the increased interest in game shows.

But "survey says" that's not likely to be the way it is done. The book of Proverbs is full of reminders to work hard and rely on your diligence to provide for you and your family.

Proverbs 14:23 says "All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty." One chapter earlier it says "The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied" (Proverbs 13:4).

So I can use a lifeline and phone all the friends I want to but my final answer of provision is going to have to come from a job not Jeopardy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

GENESIS 27

I got a tremendous sense of frustration as I read this passage this morning. These Old Testament characters are REPEATEDLY deceptive. Specifically in today's chapter it is Rebekah and her son Jacob who deceive Isaac and sabotage Esau.

The relationship between Rebekah and Jacob strikes me as highly dysfunctional. There may always be a danger when a mother plays favorites. Although there is no indication in the Bible that Jacob struggled with this issue, I think mothers who smother and dominate their sons are opening them up to the possibility of same sex attraction.

Jacob seems very willing to take direction from his mother. In fact, he doesn't seem bothered at all by the fact that they plan to lie to his father. He only seems bothered by the possibility that they might get caught. "What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing," he says in verse 12.

Rebekah helps Jacob carry out the deception and Isaac blesses the younger son, not Esau his firstborn. Reading this chapter, I feel sorry for Esau. He seems like a decent enough fellow. Rugged. Hairy. Harworkng. The kind of man John Eldredge praises in "Wild at Heart." True, he is a bit impulsive earlier in Genesis when he sells his birthright to Jacob. But in this chapter he doesn't do anything wrong. He just gets to serve as an example of how sometimes life is beyond our control. Circumstances or people can rob it from us.

Ultimately my frustration is not going to get resolved in this chapter. While I detest their deceit, as does God, He still chooses to use them and honor them. Because of Abraham they are his chosen people and his plan of righteousness and redemption will prevail through, and in spite of, them.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

CALLING ALL SOLDIERS

(This post was adapted and appeared previously in a different venue.)

A while back, a caller on the Sean Hannity Show said her son was leaving soon for basic training. She described his decision to join the military as a "calling", as if it was something he was born to do. She said she was very proud of her son and his decision, and indeed we all should be.

For those like me who grew up in Christianity, we're familiar with the idea of a "calling." It seems it is most closely identified with religion, as if God has "called" you into the ministry, spoke to you directly and told you to become a pastor or a missionary. But I believe it can be applied to other fields as well, outside of religion. After all, this young man felt "called" to be a soldier. And in these dangerous times that we live in, we should all be thankful he did.
I read an interesting book that talks about this drive in men and boys. "Wild at Heart" by John Eldredge talks about how God creates boys to be rambunctious, rowdy, to play with toy guns and pretend to be cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers. My six year old son likes to pretend to play "Wipeout" and jumps from chair to chair imitating the obstacles on the hit ABC show. I used to try to stop him, fearing he would get hurt. But now I realize it is just the way he is wired. We need boys to play like this. Our society needs to let boys be boys. Sure, they need to follow the rules at school and obey the law, but don't try to feminize them and take away their toy guns or their rowdiness. Let them be and act like boys. After all, we may one day need them to harness that rowdiness, that energy to become soldiers. Thank God there are so many men who are willing to do just that. Men like my nephew Kyle (Air Force), my nephew Micah (Army), my son-in-law Michael (Army) and my cousin Bryan (Air Force). They epitomize John 15:13 -- "Greater love hath no man than he who lays down his life for his friend."


Saturday, July 21, 2012

ROMANTIC RESCUE

Yesterday's "how we met" blog was well received so I will continue the tale of my love story with my wife in today's post.

After a fun and frantic week of daily phone and email contact, Stephanie and I decided to meet for the first time. Honestly, I wasn't that nervous because we had connected so well in the last week that I felt like I already knew her. So it didn't have that blind date nervousness to it. That is one of the advantages of online dating: you get to know the person electronically before meeting them in person.

We decided to meet after work on a Wednesday night. As a smart, single girl Stephanie of course drove her own car so she had a way to escape if necessary. And she insisted we meet in public. That was fine because that is what I had in mind as well. We settled on an ice cream date at a Baskin-Robbins near her home.

I ordered my all time favorite, a chocolate peanut butter milkshake. She made a good impression on me by ordering the same thing. We had a good time drinking our shakes, talking and walking around the outdoor shopping complex. She told me about a horrendous date experience she had previously.

The guy turned out to be a real jerk. After agreeing to meet her at the movie theater he excused himself to use the restroom and then bailed on her. I felt really bad for her. Though we had not planned on going to the movies on our first date, I knew this was my chance to make a romantic impression. I already knew I liked her based on our online and phone interactions. So I offered to take her to the same movie that Wednesday night. I told her I would never be the kind of guy who would leave her stranded. What I really wanted to do for her was take a bad memory and give it a happy ending.

Well, it worked. I talked her into going to the movies with me. We saw the same movie she had planned to see with the jerk, LXG: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It was a fun, action-adventure flick and we had a nice time. Plus I got a kiss on the end of our first date for my romantic rescue of a miserable memory.

I was hooked. And so was she. And that was 9 happy years ago this weekend.

Friday, July 20, 2012

MY WIFE FELL IN LOVE WITH MY ADS, NOT MY ABS

On a day when the nation is mourning the loss of many in the Batman movie massacre in Colorado, I thought I might share a true story of love to lift our spirits. This weekend my wife and I are celebrating the 9th anniversary of our first date. But this story begins before that.

It was 2002. I was starring in a local TV commercial. In the ad I shave my head to look like NBA star Mike Bibby. At the time Bibby played for the Sacramento Kings. It proved to be a humorous and popular spot and it aired during every televised Kings game.  My wife Stephanie, who was a big Kings fan, watched most of the games. The first time she saw the ad she thought it was hilarious. She called her best friend on the phone and said "I could marry that guy" about me.  Mind you, we had never met.

Jump ahead one year to 2003. My best friends bought me a subscription to Yahoo personals. This was my first venture into online dating. Low and behold who is one of the first women to write to my profile? You guessed it, Stephanie. But at the time she didn't recognize me from the TV commercial because by then all my hair had thankfully grown back. We hit it off immediately and after exchanging about 3 emails we began to talk on the phone. In our first phone conversation I told her that I was in the Sacramento Kings TV commercial. She seriously dropped the phone when I told her that. Stephanie then told me the story of the conversation she had with her best friend back in 2002 when she first saw the commercial: "I could marry that guy." Later her best friend confirmed that the story was true.

So we were meant to be together. And a TV commercial and online dating brought us together. Nine years ago this weekend we met in person and had our first date. We were married 8 months later in 2004. And we are celebrating our 8th year of marriage and we have a wonderful son who is the icing on the cake. Stephanie and I and our love life is proof that God works in mysterious (and miraculous) ways His wonders to perform.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

HEARTBEAT...MUSIC TO MY EARS

(Full disclosure - This blog post I wrote originally appeared in a different venue. I added to it and have re-posted it here.)

Do you remember that corny Don Johnson song from the 80s? (Yes, Don Johnson once thought he could sing, like Eddy Murphy and Bruce Willis). The chorus was catchy: "Heartbeat. I'm looking for a heartbeat." Well the first time my wife and I HEARD our baby's heartbeat inside her tummy it was very emotional. My wife teared up. I teared up a few weeks earlier when the original ultrasound allowed us to SEE our baby's heartbeat for the first time. A previous miscarriage had resulted in an ultrasound where there was no heartbeat to see or hear. So hearing and seeing the baby's heartbeat on that occasion were moments of relief and excitement for us. Modern technology is marvelous. It allows fathers a glimpse into the life of their unborn baby. The child doesn't grow inside us, kick us, or get our attention in any way besides noticing the growth in the size of our spouse's belly. But now we get to see inside and I think that helps us feel less detached from the process, and more emotional about it. At least it did for me. They have been saying for a few years that technology would make it more difficult for the pro-choice movement. And now I understand why. When expectant mothers and fathers can hear and see their baby's heartbeat and development on a monitor, it becomes more difficult to terminate the pregnancy.  If more men came to ultrasound appointments and saw and heard the baby alive in their partner's womb, there would be fewer abortions. It is no longer an abstract idea, one you can distance yourself from. The child becomes a living, breathing entity growing inside. And for me at least, that moment was a bonding experience.The baby doesn't live inside me, but from that moment I saw the heartbeat it began to live inside my heart. And so hearing (and seeing) my child's heartbeat was music to my ears.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ANXIETY VS. AMBITION

"Hi, I'm Rich."

"Hi Rich," answers the crowd circled around me.

"And I am unemployed."

The crowd breaks into applause. You can hear a lot of murmured agreement, as if the crowd was supporting their inner-city pastor with a chorus of "Amens." In this economy the jobless seem like the fastest growing self help support system in the nation. Our families are too close to the situation. They have too many expectations that get in the way.It is easier for the jobless to find support and solace amongst one another.

Even with all that support, you don't realize how much being without a job will rob you of your confidence. Or in my case you don't remember.  I was unemployed once before about 8 years ago. It took me 9 months to find work. But back then I was single and I didn't have any debt. Now I am married with a family and I have a mortgage to pay.

Today the anxiety arrived. And I took my meds. I've had panic and anxiety issues my entire adult life so it shouldn't catch me by surprise. But it kicked my butt this morning. I couldn't focus. I couldn't breathe.  I have found myself cycling through the stages of grief: anger, denial, sadness, fear.Today is just the anxiety day I guess. It's not like there is any big bill due today.

Instead, there is a project. A small free-lance project a friend offered to throw my way. Instead of being happy I got overcome with hysteria. My mind raced with fear: What if I can't do the job?  What if I do it wrong? And questions of confidence and competence lead to questions of character. What if there is something wrong with me? What happened to my ability and ambition?

All of those questions are real. But before I get overtaken by the anxiety train I am trying to remind myself to focus on a few key things:

1. Find things to be grateful to God for on a regular basis. (See my Twitter account where this has been a long term project.)
2. Continue to faithfully tithe on whatever resources God decides to bring my way.
3. Avoid becoming more self-involved, reach into other people’s lives and be a blessing daily.
4. Remember I am not going through this alone and it is OK to ask for help and prayer.
5. Take care of myself physically, mentally and emotionally so my panic/anxiety issues don’t overwhelm me.

Or maybe my list is best summed up by Philippians 4:6 -- "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

TRIPPING OUT

At 44 years old I can still vividly remember the way my older brothers and sister and I used to tease, tickle and torment one another. Maybe that is why I enjoy the new Lifetime reality TV show, Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp. In the weekly series Bristol and her younger sister Willow fight constantly and I find it quite entertaining. Granted, their bickering is less physical than the pushing and sitting on one another until you can't breathe type of fighting of our household. Still it is comforting to know that we weren't the only ones who behave like that and the nostalgia takes me back to those sibling rivalry days.

An even bigger draw for the program though is that it shows off Bristol's home state of Alaska. After watching back to back episodes I ache. It took me a few weeks to realize that ache was a longing to be one of the outdoorsy men that populate the Palin family and entourage. The snow and the landscape and the outdoor activity are reminders that I am a city boy who needs to experience the wilderness. Bristol and her family are completely at home in that Alaskan frontier.

Her family is exactly why I knew I would enjoy the program from the get go. As a conservative Republican I fell in love with Governor Palin's politics when she was introduced on the national stage in 2008 as Sen. McCain's running mate. It has been refreshing to see that the younger Palin women admire their mom and her political courage. The Governor is not the focus of this reality program though she has made a couple of appearances. And as the parent of a special needs child I get a kick out of seeing her youngest son Trig on the show occasionally, too. He and his nephew, Bristol's son, the "Tripp" in the show's title, are both adorable.

I applaud Bristol's decision to keep her baby when she discovered she was going to be a teen mom. It's not been an easy road, but you can tell from the show it has been a rewarding one. As a pro-lifer who is actively involved in saving babies I think we must celebrate when the media gives us a role model. And with Bristol and her family, bickering included, there is much to celebrate!

Monday, July 16, 2012

MY SOAP OPERA LIFE

"We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah."

These are the lyrics to "Better than a Hallelujah," a song by my favorite singer Amy Grant. They speak to me of the soap opera that is life -- beautiful people full of heartache.

I have been drawn a lot to soap operas lately. Trying to figure out why. It may be that I am unemployed and am looking for things to occupy my time. I was unemployed for 9 months 8 years ago and I dabbled with watching "All My Children" during that hiatus.

With all this free time on my hands I have been trying to write more. (Thus this blog post.) A couple of the writing projects I have in the works are stories with soap opera-like twists and turns. So that may also be why they keep coming to the forefront of my brain.

Twice in the last month I have sat down to actually watch a soap opera episode. After about 40 minutes of "The Young and the Restless" I just felt depressed. There was one extremely violent scene that disturbed me. And my heart felt heavy. I turned the TV off figuring there was a better use of my time.

An episode of "General Hospital" held my attention better. It was faster-paced. And the hour I watched had a decent cliff-hanger, making me want to tune in the next day to find out what happened. I didn't though because it also oozed a lot of sexual tension and images, and as a married man with time on his hands, I don't need something triggering my mind to lust or fantasy or something worse.

So even though the elements of a soap opera have  been on my mind frequently, I continue to avoid them like the plague. But I have been getting my soap opera fix from somewhere else. The Old Testament.

Seriously, it is like "Days of Our Lives" in ancient times. It is full of drunkeness, incest and murder. And that is just in Genesis chapter 19! The Old Testament is full of stories with great tragedies and triumphs. Plus lots of strong characters who will lie, cheat and steal just to get ahead -- even some of the godly ones. Moses was a murderer. Abraham and Sarah repeatedly lied to others about their marriage. Noah got drunk and naked in public.

The Old Testament writers show God's people as they were -- warts and all. God still used them. Still blessed them. The same is true today. We all have sordid stories to tell about others...and ourselves. When we tell them to our Creator, "pour out our miseries" as Amy's song says, "God just hears a melody." He knows we are a broken people. Our sin and soap operas don't catch him by surprise. And while we shouldn't celebrate them, we should acknowledge them before God. "The honest cries of breaking hearts are better than a hallelujah." 1 John 1:9 says "If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and purify us from all unrighteousness."

You don't need to watch a soap opera. Chances are you and the people around you are already living one. Take your soap opera to God.




Sunday, July 15, 2012

GENESIS 7:10

(This first paragraph was originally posted on my Facebook page. I have expanded on it with new content for the blog.)

Genesis 7:10 - "And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth." In a recent morning devotional this verse jumped out at me. In the story of Noah's ark, God waits 7 days before he starts the rain. The animals have already been gathered 2 by 2 and stored in the ark. The doors have been closed. (It is unclear to me if Noah and his family are in the ark yet or not. They may get in just before the rains come.) Nevertheless, the ark is ready, everything is ready. And yet God decides to wait 7 days. Seven more days for people to mock Noah. Why does God do this? I have no idea. But what struck me is that He did it. Maybe for no other reason than to remind us that He is in control. His timing is not our timing. His timing is perfect. And if we have to wait 7 days or 7 years, then we have to wait. We may not know why. But we should trust God and wait. Noah did and it saved his whole family.

Two weeks have passed since I made this initial observation. After all of this time, what sticks with me about this Bible reading and post is the sentence "Seven more days for people to mock Noah." The Bible doesn't tell us in this chapter that people mocked Noah for building this huge boat for no apparent reason. At least no reason they could see. But knowing human nature, you can bet they were talking smack to him and behind his back.

As the parent of a special needs child I worry about my son being mocked. He already is he just is naive and doesn't realize it. Yet. As he gets older he will eventually figure out that the other kids are making fun of him for things he cannot control: his flailing hands (a common occurrence for autistic children), or his tendency to attempt to socialize by quoting obscure lines from movies and commercials. Now there is a new behavior to be concerned about. I spoke with the doctor about it last week. My son shakes his head uncontrollably. His therapist thinks it is a self-stimulating behavior. He is trying to meet a need in the only way he knows how. It is odd looking, if you don't know he has autism. I told the doctor that the head shaking behavior was not disruptive and if my son needed to do it to help soothe himself than I think we should let it continue. But we both acknowledged there may come a time in the near future when his classmates mock him for it at recess or in the library. And in another year it will dawn on him that they are laughing and pointing at him. When that happens it will break his heart, and mine too.

But Noah will be our model. He endured the mocking and persevered. Noah and his family did what God asked of them and were rewarded for it. If and when my son gets mocked for his autism I will remind him that Noah was also mocked. My son is not the only one who has faced this cruelty. My prayer is that it will help him to know that in this way he is not alone.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

MY VACATION NIRVANA

On vacation last month I had a nirvana-like experience. And despite what the world or the travel industry might tell you, it had nothing to do with a rock band, a sexual escapade or a luxurious resort.

Instead it happened at my dad's house in Sweet Home, Oregon. Yes there are really towns named Sweet Home. We make an annual trip to Oregon to see my family. My six year old son loves his Grandpa. So for a week he wears Grandpa ragged riding with him on his lawn mower, which my son calls his tractor.

On one of those vacation days when we had no agenda -- no family to visit, no sights to see, we just hung around the house. It ended up being the best day of our trip. But we don't really have any great photos to prove it. I guess you had to be there. Luckily, I was.

My son, who is autistic, loves repetition. He will do the same thing over and over and over. And over. He dragged me out to the garage and we pretended to drive every car on the property. First there was Grandpa's truck, parked in the garage. Then there was momma's van, our family car we had used for the drive to Oregon, sitting in the driveway. Plus there was Aunt Robin's car nestled on the side of the house. For about two hours we ran from car door to car door. My son would hop in the driver's seat and do the driving. He would push the buttons on the radio, turn the steering wheel and turn on the hazard lights. There would be a particularly broad smile of accomplishment on his face when he conquered the Cerebral Palsy in his hands and managed to buckle his own seat belt. My job was to sit on the passenger side and buckle my seat belt. He would occasionally ask me where we were going and I would make up something like "take me to my doctor's appointment" or "I need sunglasses from Walmart." After a few turns of the wheel we had magically arrived. He would bolt out of the car we were in and run toward the next ones saying "Come on Dad. We're driving."

He was having so much fun. And of course like most 6 year olds he has boundless energy so it just kept going on and on. And on. But I didn't mind. In fact, about 90 minutes in I got my nirvana experience. My whole body got warm and fuzzy from head to toe. I felt relaxed and content. It was one of those moments where you know mentally, emotionally and physically that you are exactly where you need to be when you need to be there. My son was happy and having fun and I was helping him do it. That could be the peace that passes understanding.

Unless we are at Disneyland for the day, or watching one of his baseball games, I don't often get 120 minutes of consecutive time to devote to my son. Life is full of interruptions. This phone call or that pressing deadline. And honestly there are days where I don't have the patience for 2 hours of straight repetitive play. But not this day. It was all "Come on Dad. We're driving."

Next time he asks me where we are going I am going to say "drive me back to nirvana, Son."



"Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him." Psalm 127:3

Friday, July 13, 2012

THE TITHING TEST...(REVISITED)

(Full Disclosure--The first portion of this post was written 6 years ago. A new portion is added below).

The biggest fear in my life right now has to do with impending fatherhood. Don't get me wrong. I am thrilled to be having a baby. As is my beautiful bride. It is an honor and a privilege that I/we look forward to. Especially since the fertility doctor told us it would be difficult for us to get pregnant. The fact that my wife is expecting is even more of a miracle. But I must admit to being overwhelmed by the financial responsibilities of being a father. It is still several months away, but I am already worried about paying for diapers and daycare. Recently my pastor gave a sermon on the importance of tithing, dedicating 10% of your income to your local church for the purposes of supporting the body of believers. When my faith has been a vital part of my life, this has always been an easy commandment for me to follow. Now as I approach fatherhood and the financial woes have increased, the temptation or desire not to have to tithe has crept in. So far, God is still winning. And that is a good thing. But I struggle with believing that God will faithfully provide all of our needs. I know that I shouldn't. A promise from God is as good as it gets. Honestly, though, I do. I just keep going over and over in my head "where is all the money going to come from?" and "how are we going to cut expenses?" I don't know, at least not now. When the baby arrives it will be a blessed thing and I can switch over some of my worry to whether or not I will be a good father in other areas. The arrival of our child may actually take some of the burden off the financial picture by bringing other concerns to the forefront. Until that happens, though, my record seems stuck on the financial picture. This is probably common. Nevertheless, it is also uncomfortable. Just putting my thoughts down on paper before I go off to church...to tithe.

As I look back on this post now 6 years later, because my son is autistic and not yet potty trained, I am still concerned about paying for diapers and daycare. Yet I believe God's promise is still true. Here is that promise.

"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it." (Malachi 3:10). (God adds more to the promise in verse 11 but I will save that for a future blog post.)

There is a lot of opposition to tithing in my life and in our world right now. Millions of Americans, including me, currently face unemployment in this dismal 2012 economy. Yet I believe God still wants me to tithe.

As the parent of a special needs child, I know there can be the burden of unpaid medical bills or a future health crisis looming in the lives of our disabled children. Yet I believe God still asks that I tithe.

Maybe like me you also face opposition within your own family. My wife is not at all thrilled that I tithe. Yet I believe God still requires it of me.

But his requirement does not come without a promise. "Test me in this," He boldly proclaims. Test and see if I do not pour out from heaven my blessings upon you if you are faithful. In reality, we are both being tested. I am being tested by God to see if I will continue to tithe. And He is allowing me to test Him to see if He will continue to faithfully provide. It has been six years and my family is still financially afloat, paying for those diapers and daycare.

So even though at this time the financial headwinds are against me, my goal is to continue to be faithful. I will hopefully be able to let you know if both God and I pass the tithing test.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

GENESIS 18:2a -- GOD'S BODYGUARDS?

The first thing that caught my attention about this verse is how God appeared to Abraham. Yesterday I wrote  about the where: that God appeared to him in the wilderness. Today, verse 2 notes the how: that the appearance came in the form of three men.

"Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby." (Genesis 18:2a).

Why does God appear as 3 men? Why travel in threes? Honestly, I have no idea. I wanted to read some respected Bible commentaries and see what they had to say about it. And I will do that. But first I wanted to get my own thoughts down so I don't just regurgitate what they think. So for now it will just have to remain for me one of those great Bible mysteries.

If you jump ahead to verse 22 it says that 2 of the men left and Abraham remained standing before God. So God chose to travel in threes but it appears only one of the men was actually God. That makes sense. Still it is fascinating to try and figure out why He needed 2 other men to come along with him. I don't think of God as someone who needs bodyguards. When the 2 men leave they go on to do some dirty work, that bodyguards might do, in Sodom which happens in chapter 19 and there they are referred to as angels.

Okay, now that I have joked about God needing bodyguards (clearly He does not), I did do some reading of Bible commentaries on this section of Genesis. Most of those who have written about it don't seem as interested in the threesome as I do. And that may simply be because it is further elaborated upon in later verses. It is not that it troubles me. If the Bible says God appeared to Abraham than I believe He did. And if the Bible says three men appeared to Abraham, then I believe they did. It is more of a fascination about why there were 3. Some speculate they are a reference to the trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Maybe. Ultimately I am not sure it matters. And when we get to heaven some day we can ask God (or Abraham) about it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

GENESIS 18: 1

Here are some of my thoughts on my devotional Bible reading this morning.

I blogged earlier in the week about John Eldredge's book Wild at Heart. In that book he tells us that men especially need to venture into the wilderness to find their hearts, and ultimately to find God. He reminded us that Jesus had to spend 40 days in the wilderness. And here in chapter 18 of Genesis, verse 1 we see that "The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day." (emphasis mine) Again God meets us in the wilderness, or outdoors among the trees. In fact, except for the Holy of Holies in the Temple, I can't remember God making many appearances inside. He spoke to Moses via a mountain bush. He (or his angel) wrestled with Jacob outdoors. A good reminder to me to keep going to the park for my morning Bible reading and journaling. Seems like God is a lot more likely to meet me in the grass than in the grocery store.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Disabled Descendants

In my morning devotional I read about Abram, later to become Abraham, the father of many nations.
Genesis records the genesis of that fatherhood and his burgeoning relationship with his God.

"When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, 'I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.'" (Genesis 17:1-2)

Earlier in the book of Genesis, God also speaks to Abram about his offspring.

"He (God) took him outside and said, 'Look up at the heavens and  count the stars -- if indeed you can count them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.'" (Genesis 15:5)

With Abram, and even Adam and Eve before him, God's commandment was to be fruitful and multiply. They did, and we still do today. And while God promised Abraham numerous descendants, he did not promise him perfectly healthy descendants. Some of Abraham's descendants were stillborn. Some were born with Down Syndrome. Some were born with a cleft palate or deafness or blindness.

The fall into sin in the garden of Eden guaranteed imperfection. And that imperfection can show up in the health and abilities of our children. I know firsthand. My son has autism, Cerebral Palsy, developmental delay and a cyst on his brain. We were commanded to have children. We were not commanded to have healthy children.

Some things are out of our control. And if Abraham and his descendants weren't spared that reality, why do we think we will be or should be?

As soon to be parents we may tend to naively assume that everything about our unborn child will be perfect, "normal." That was never part of the promise. And if it happens to you-- if your child (like my child, like some of Abraham's children's children) has health or disability issues take comfort in knowing that others before you have walked this road. You didn't do anything to cause it to happen. It just happened. It's out of your control. But God is in control.

Monday, July 09, 2012

BIBLICAL SPEED BUMPS

My six-year-old autistic son has developed a new fascination on our morning commute to therapy. At first it was city busses. He would count them with excitement as they passed us by. Then he moved on to orange cars. Any orange vehicle produced applause from his car seat. Next it was cement mixers that caught his attention. Now, it is speed bumps.
Drive him over a speed bump and you will have a friend for life. As we approach the speed bump he screams “BUMPERS” gleefully from the backseat. Our church parking lot is full of speed bumps. So now he was one more reason to look forward to going to church. You gotta love that.
On the other hand, once you hit the open road, there aren’t a lot of speed bumps. At least not the constructed ones found in parking lots. That just forces you to get creative. He will gladly point them out to me whenever he sees one. And I have to keep my eyes peeled for them, too. Occasionally we will venture off the main street to seek them out because I know that when we do, I have made his day.
My son’s excitement for speed bumps got me to thinking. It’s a very biblical concept. James 1:2-3 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
Speed bumps are like trials. They get our attention. They force us to slow down. They may even take us off our preferred path. And when those things happen, James tells us we are supposed to rejoice. My son has got that part down. He doesn’t just get excited, he seeks them out!
The next time you face a speed bump in life, whether it be the constructed kind or the “many trials” kind, think of my autistic son and James 1:2-3. Do your best to get excited and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Write Stuff (Revised)

I've probably written more than 11,000 thank you notes in my life. People say that in the age of cell phones and email, handwritten notes are becoming a thing of the past. I hope not. It's odd enough to some people when they get a personal, handwritten note from me, a man. Men don't write thank you notes, they say. Well, this one does. Always have. It wasn't so much the way I was raised, just something I always enjoyed doing. And not just thank you notes, but notes of encouragement or praise as well. On the average, I craft at least one handwritten note per day. I find it helps me relax, take the focus off myself and think about others. I would highly recommend it, especially if you are male. Write a thank you note to someone and shock them. In the Bible we are admonished to "encourage one another." A written note is one of the easiest and more personal ways to do just that.
Lately I have added a new twist to my note writing. I don’t just write a quick note of encouragement or birthday wishes. After the original purpose of the note is accomplished, I continue to write. About our family, about our lives: What my son is doing in school, what is changing at work, what trips we have planned. This way the note becomes more like a full length letter. And it becomes more personal. It is my way of attempting to invest more time in the process and in the person receiving the note.
Proverbs 16:24 says “Kind words are like honey -- sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”  This verse inspires me and hopefully my encouragement notes accomplish that task.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Wild at Park

"There is something else I am after out here in the wild. I am searching for an even more elusive prey...something that can only be fund through the help of wilderness.

I am looking for my heart."

John Eldredge writes that on page three of his enormous bestseller "Wild at Heart." Though I love the book and have re-read it multiple times, I never fully understood that search. In the margins of my copy I wrote "I am not drawn to wilderness." Until today.

I caught a glimpse of it in a Sacramento County public park. Crosswoods Park. Not much of a park actually but just enough wilderness in the midst of the metro area. Tucked behind a public library is a little grassy area leading back into an undeveloped clump of forest. (Of course there was a sign saying a development plan was in progress but that complaint will have to wait for another blog post.) The park had birds flying and wild bunnies hopping. My son had some serious fun chasing wild bunnies until they escaped down their rabbit holes. I saw actual rabbit holes, not the fake ones of Alice's Wonderland and amusement parks.

Mind you, we were still clearly in the city. We could see and hear the cars whirring by on their way to Costco as we chased the rabbits. Yet I could also hear the birds chirping. And I could hear the peacefulness (or not hear it). It felt like something I could hear. It was that tangible. My body became lighter. My mind was more engaged. My soul felt more alive. In that moment, in that location, this park seemed like a place where I could indeed find my heart. I thought "this is a place where I could write." "This is a place where I could connect with God."

Eldredge reminds us that Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit. Why?

Deep in a man's heart are some fundamental questions that simply cannot be answered at the kitchen table. Who am I? What am I made of? What am I destined for? It is fear that keeps a man at home where things are neat and orderly and under his control. But the answers to his deepest questions are not to be found on television or in the refrigerator." (page 5)

Maybe, for us city boys, they are to be found at the park.