Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guest Blog: Wasteband of Brothers

We’ve all been there. We’ve seen it played out in a movie, bore witness during the glory that was middle-school gym class, or we may have been the unfortunate recipient of one ourselves (raises hand).
courtesy of Fox
That’s right: I’m talking about the bane of the existence of every prepubescent boy who was a band geek, A/V club member, or who ever played or talked about Magic: The Gathering while at school.
The wedgie.

For the rest of the story, click here to head on over to KC's website. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

What's a [Blank] Worth?

Twitter has introduced me to many cool people, but none perhaps as cool as Tamara. Through the too few, too brief exchanges we have had, we've discovered we're quite a bit alike. So much so that were we ever to sit down in real life over a few drinks, we'd bug the snot out of anyone who was within a ninety-mile radius of us because we'd be utterly, annoyingly, brilliantly, obnoxiously loud. And we'd love it. 

Recently, she wrote an amazing, gut-wrenching piece over at Deeper Story, which set afire the heats and keyboards of a number of readers. I encourage you to go read her story first, then come back for my feeble response. 

What’s a girl [or woman] worth? and Have you ever struggled to believe what you’re worth when God and the world disagree? 

The answer to the second question is obscenely easy: only every stinking day of my life. The answer to the first question is a therapy session. 

Coming from a home where more often then not my parents dragged me kicking, screaming, and wearing uncomfortable shoes to church, it was hammered into my skull that we are all children of God. We all have worth and value. Yes, we're all foul sinners who deserve damnation and hell (a great lesson for any ten-year-old) but Jesus still loves all the children of the world. We won't debate here if that was in fact lived out in how people acted, but it makes for a nice idea.

We later learned in youth group that Jesus wants boys to be sexually repressed nigh-androgynous men who should celebrate our manhood but not in a way that reflects we have "those" urges. We were told to respect women, to honor them...but that was it. Hold them at arm's and heart's length, else we fall into temptation to, like, touch their boobs. Guard your heart, your mind, and your junk.

We were taught your worth wasn't worth the risk of opening our hearts for fear of opening our pants in the process.

This was just GREAT for me, since I already was the perennial "big brother;" you know - the guy that girls invited over to play Nintendo with in high school, in your room, with the door closed, while you talked about your boy problems. While you talked about why you couldn't find any good guys. Why all they were interested in was your body and not the sum of who you were, why you kept going back to the jerks, the jocks, the same old same old when all you wanted was to meet someone nice - "You know, someone like you, only someone I'd date." - for a change.

And so I was taught your worth was greater than mine, because I could never be worthy of you.

This mentality carried with me into college, where I suddenly, inexplicably (to me), became desirable. I was "cute." I was interesting. I was fun to be around. I was also suddenly thrown neck and groin deep into situations I was unprepared for emotionally, physically and sure as hell wasn't spiritually prepared for. You anticipated and expected way more than my zero-experienced self did. And when we began to cross expressed regret. Remorse. I went from being the guy you wanted to be with to the guy you felt the need to repent of. With me. And so the guilt of me not honoring you in the way I thought I was supposed to was compounded with the questioning of was I still not good enough, like all those other guys...?

And so I was led to believe that your worth was variable, contingent upon the lesser value of me.

I held this belief through my young adulthood. It made me subservient, compromising myself, acquiescing to requests, demands, and conditions placed upon our relationships...because I was afraid. I was afraid that since I had never seen you as a gender express that I held worth to you, I would lose you. And when I wasn't enough, simply at times because I questioned myself or the "us" that we were, I was seen as weak. Unstable. And fit only for discarding because a stronger, more stable man was around the corner.

And because I had devalued myself, I began to devalue you as well.

But the boy in me - that scared dreamer who still held faith - would not let me fall far. He held out hope. He screamed for justice. And eventually he stood outside of a wedding chapel on May 26, 2007 and felt years of shame, regret, remorse, and pain wash away as he wept openly in the presence of his friend who was about to perform his wedding ceremony, joining him with Ashley. Because he had lived for so long under the crushing fear of thinking he could never or would ever deserve to be happy in his life. That he had no right to ever be happy. That he could never or would never find anyone who loved him, or who thought his worth was more than simply what they could bring to her.

What's a girl [or woman] worth?


Second chances.


Everything. Every risk.

At least mine is.

And so, so, so much more.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dream of Fields

I'm either an idiot, or I have more faith that I ever thought possible. Right now, I'm caught between being too nervous and too nauseous to be able to discern the two. 

A movie came out years ago which contains themes and motifs that resonate with me to this day, decades after the first time I watched it. Field of Dreams. Now, I do need to state I am not a sports person. I like college football, and I have learned to enjoy ice hockey, but I'm not an athlete. Outside of playing soccer when was in elementary school, my sports skills are non-existent. So why would this particular movie stay with my non-athletic self? 

Aside from the ending making me cry every time I watch it ("Why don't you introduce him to his granddaughter?"), the film speaks to the power of dreams, the power of faith in pursuing them even when the world says you're crazy, and what it takes to have the courage to go after these dreams in the first place. So, when I decided to quit my job to become a stay-at-home dad, I felt very much like I was plowing down some of the corn in my life to build a metaphorical baseball field. To butcher one of the catch-phrases from the film, I was building a home for Kai to come to. 

My mistake was in getting cocky and not remembering the rest of this film. In the movie, Ray Kinsella had to step out in faith at least once more. 

After a weighty, gut-wrenching, no-sleep-allowed period of days this past week wherein which I debated to put Kai in daycare so that I could accept a full-time paying position outside of the home, I have decided to remain as a stay-at-home dad. Yes. In the midst of a recession where the unemployment rate is as high as it is - I was offered a job and turned it down. Trust me: this was NOT an easy decision. We went back-and-forth about possible ways to make it happen, but they all ultimately led back to the same conclusion: I would be away from Kai when he might need me the most.

The reasons for my decision to stay gainfully unemployed are both simple and complex. Part of it is due to the fact that Kai has had numerous recurring health issues, all stemming from his being diagnosed a yea and a half ago with chronic benign neutropenia. I have to admit: if this is the BENIGN portion of this disease, I can't imagine how it could be worse. From breathing issues which have resulted in three trips to the ER with him in one year, to having to monitor where he goes, what he eats, and how clean he keeps his hands (no easy task for a toddler), taking care of him outside of what would be routine for taking care of any toddler has been intense. Add on to the fact that now he has to be put through a full battery of allergy tests to help determine what has triggered an early on-set of asthma at age two-and-a-half.... To think that I would willingly place him in an environment - which, while probably not designed as an intentional germ-filled cesspool, it would be for someone with a lowered white blood cell count - all so that I could get a paycheck? 

Any parent who elects to be a full-time caregiver can tell you that the siren song of going back to an office is very alluring. Being able to advance in your career, being able to be in a position where you not only professionally thrive but are successful, being able to carry on a conversation with ADULTS...these are all very tempting and - for some - exactly what they are supposed to do. Not every parent is cut out to stay home with their kid(s), just like - sadly - not every person who has a kid is cut out to be a parent. 

I couldn't sign the papers selling the farm. I couldn't look at Kai and knowingly, willingly ask that he be taken care of by strangers who - yes - would look after him and care for him, but in the probable event that he would have another episode and have breathing issues? Or develop a high-grade fever incredibly fast? Or that some kid ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would then hug him, causing him to go into anaphylactic shock? 

He'd be confused and scared enough as it is. To not have mommy or daddy there to comfort him might be worse on him than the actual incident. 

I'm a father. Not a sperm donor. I take this responsibility a bit seriously. 

And then, there was the job itself. Was it a (not "the") right job? Maybe. I think so. Was it the right time for this job? That's where the waters get a little murky. 

For as much as I have loved taking care of Kai, I know there is an expiration date attached to the days I will spend with him at home. Sooner rather than later, he'll be headed to Pre-K, and this will mean I will lose the rationale for me being a stay-at-home dad. After that point, I think the best descriptor of me might be "leech" or "bum." So I know that in the near future, I'll be back to dress pants, ties, and setting up meetings on Outlook. 

One of the greatest benefits for me that staying home has yielded is my writing. I mean, YOU'RE reading this right now, aren't you? After years of shutting down and shutting up my muse, I feel much more comfortable in front of my keyboard - so much so that I am willing to quantify my writings as "mediocre" instead of "total suckage" like I used to think of them. I have made connections - friends, even - on various social media platforms, many of which have resulted in me being able to guest-post at websites. To speak on occasion. To act as a consultant on some items and issues. While most of these pay only in experience and exposure, they have been invaluable. This does not mean that I in any way think that "people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come" to my website, to read anything I write, or that I will even get a hug let alone payment for anything I do. 

Taking a job, one that I know I would be good at, but on that ultimately would require me to cease actively pursuing a passion that I feel enriched by, would feel - to me - like I was giving up on faith. Like I was not willing to accept a byproduct and blessing for me of the faith I had stepped out in. I was staying home for Kai, for my family, and God was honoring this by giving me a gift that even if no one else understood it, I knew the symbolism behind. I knew the importance and significance in it. The passage of Joel 2:25 is not just words written on a page, but a promise. 

While I'd not like to spend my retirement years sleeping in a cardboard box due to me not having a steady income for what could wind up being the better part of half a decade, this is my calling right now. This is my job. This is my season. This is my building it, easing his pain, and going the distance. 

Being a husband. A dad. A writer of stuff. A receiver of grace. A drinker of coffee. 

I'm willing to accept the fact that my writings may come to naught. I'm willing to accept that God asked me to plunge a knife into my career, sacrifice it, and no angel showed to stop me. I'm willing to accept that I may have to start all over again professionally. 

Because sometimes, you just have to play catch and pray for the best.

Monday, September 05, 2011

One Word 2011.8

PEANUTS © 2011 PEANUTS Worldwide LLC

So, it's been a while since I actually wrote about - okay, even thought about - this word shalam that God gave me as my One Word for this year. Part of that has been due to the fact that, like I wrote about earlier, I was trying to fit this word into my life without actually seeing where God said it was to be put into or was already there. This just goes to show that I am not so much holy as I am thick.

Among the various definitions of the word, the one that has been speaking the loudest to me recently is "safe." Now, a normal, logical person would say that this is because God wants me to find rest, to find comfort, to find security in Him. This, of course, means that my iteration of "safe" is about as whacked out and ironically unsafe as humanly possible.

When I think of something being "safe," I envision - naturally - a safe. Something which hold items in it securely. Then there's then notion of taking this "safety" a step further, and personalizing it into the form of a security blanket. Within this safety comes comfort and security.

I've been feeling such discomfort in my life lately that you might think that I lack for safety or security. I've been feeling discomfort in my spiritual walk (in true Paula Abdul fashion, it goes one step forward then two time zones back), in my writings (if rejections are good for the soul, then my soul is awesome), and discomfort in my dreams and passions. So much so discomfort that I typically have one of those "well, should I just give up and take on a gig as a barista or something?" moments somewhere around nine or ten times a day.

The problem we (collectively) have with being safe is that we unintentionally equate being safe with being sound. And unfortunately, a life of faith oftentimes leaves little room for being "sound." We are called to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10), but not to be still, barricade ourselves into a gated community of the heart and not interact with the world. God will provide (something about birds of the air comes to mind), and we will be dropped head-first into situations that we have the ability to resist and get out of, but nothing about those situations makes them feel like they belong in any known definition of "safe."

Is it safe to walk into that room where you know you will be tempted? Is it safe to speak to and try to show love to that person you have wronged? Is it safe to once again wake up and try to lay claim to the day by laying it before God and praying for protection? I mean, the answer lies within the question: if we are to be safe, what exactly do we need protection from?

And before you answer "from yourself," just save that answer for the bonus round of questions, m'kay?

We tend to view the idea of being safe as solely being on the other side of danger, never realizing that to be safe is to exist on a continuum that shifts time and again. Is it safe to walk into that room where you will be tempted? No, but it can be. What at one point may have been more dangerous than skinny dipping in a pool of piranhas may become something you easily can resist. With work. And time. Is it safe to speak to and try to show love to that person you have wronged? No, but it can be. What at one point may have been the epitome of an awkward turtle moment can become a redeemed relationship. With work. And time.

I'm trying to take this notion of being safe and letting God define it, not me. What He calls safe, I may refer to as another four-letter word - but I'm trying to work on that trust fall with Him. And I'm trying to redefine the areas that I would call filled with land mines, that valley of the shadow of death, that He is asking me to walk through - with Him - as an area where I can be safe.

Shalam indeed.