CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the tag “United States”

Final Thoughts for the Presidential Election

It’s Election Day.

 

Election season is finally past,

And Election Day is here at last.

 

I know everyone will mourn with me that we can’t extend the season a few months. Perfect would be about a year of what we’ve had the past few months, with temperatures in the 20’s, and about three feet of snow. Right? Well, SOME people will agree with me. Alright, a few. Maybe a couple? Ok, ok, I’m pretty sure SOMEONE will. I hope.

 

Anyhow, I wanted to offer some final thoughts. First of all, remember I am an unabashed Conservative. What that means is that I “lean” Republican, but I am not joined to the hip with the Republican Party.  But generally speaking, the Republicans are closer to what I believe than Liberals and the Democrat Party. Further, I am a Christ-Follower; a Bible believing adopted Son of the King. So, I speak from that foundation.

 

And I start with this: God is STILL on His throne. Regardless of who wins. And I need to be content with that. I am called to pray for the President, and to seek God above all. My Bud, Dan Sheldon, read the absolute correct scripture this morning on WCTL radio;

Psalm 20: 7-8. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.  They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright ….”

 

Our hope is NOT in our country, our hope is NOT in a political party, or even a political movement. Our hope, our promise, is in He who rules the Universe.

 

But that does not mean that we just sit back and placidly watch the world spin around us. It is not incorrect to become politically involved, to follow the process, to formulate opinions and to voice them. But. As a follower of Jesus, I must remember that whomever inhabits the White House is not nearly as important as is keeping my eyes on Him who sits on the Throne of Heaven. And anyone who knows me knows how involved I have been throughout this election season. I enjoy the dialogue and the back and forth. And today we vote.

 

On the Candidates:

 

First, Hillary.

 

I am really, really frustrated with people that would still vote for this person. There is absolutely no doubt that in the course of her career she has committed election fraud (i.e. the primary as regards Sanders), bribery (minimum the same, possibly the FBI director as well), blackmail, destruction of evidence, money laundering, and lying under oath. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

 

What frustrates me is how people either ignore what she has done, the crimes she has committed, or they simply don’t care. In either case, it appears that rule of law, as well as morality, take a back seat to ideology and world view. If a candidate believes the “correct philosophy,” they are permitted to literally any action whatsoever. Adultery? No problem. Rape? He’s just “hot blooded.” Lying under oath? No issue there. It’s a conspiracy against them. Drug use? Psssshhh. Everyone does that. Misuse of Classified material? Their maid printed out and handled Classified material? But look at how much good they have done. Sold Uranium to countries that will either use it against us or distribute it to those that do? Blah, Blah, Blah, don’t hear nothin’. And these are just the known and proven accusations against Hillary (and her husband). I haven’t even touched on the nearly certain issues that have followed Hillary over the years, but the evidence isn’t as “conclusive.” For those on the left, the ends justify the means. As long as one is working for the “correct” conclusion, one’s behavior is excusable. And that I find abhorrent. A Republican candidate, with the same baggage, wouldn’t even be considered. Further, if it were a Republican with any of these strikes, the loudest shrieks against them would be from the left, which would moralize against the candidate, and regard the issue(s) as proof that the Republican candidate is “not fit” for office, that they are “out of touch” with ordinary people, that they think they are “above the law.” While their own current candidate is all of those things.

 

So, my issues with liberalism in general are ideology over morality, a lack of morality, and hypocrisy. And Hillary Clinton is the poster child for all of these. In my view, she has absolutely no redeeming qualities, either as a person or as a politician, and she certainly has no qualifications to run for or hold, the highest office in the United States. At least I can look at Obama and see a relatively decent individual, one who appears to love his family, even if I vehemently disagree with every single policy, position, and action he has taken over the past eight years. With Hillary, there is not one single thing that would fit in this category.

 

Now Trump.

 

Am I excited about Donald Trump as an individual running for president? No, not really. Trump is crass, egotistical, over the top. But there are a number of things that I do like about him. He has helped folks when he didn’t have to, when no one was watching, and he wasn’t trying to score political points. So he is genuinely generous. He is clearly a political outsider. I find it interesting that on that note, people howl for “an outsider,” but when they get someone that is actually outside the political realm, then that person is suddenly “not qualified.”

 

Trump is ambitious. He wants to succeed. He is preaching a conservative agenda. He has beaten seventeen of the toughest Republicans to ever seek the presidency. He has waged an awesome campaign against Hillary, and has held his own in slanted debates with biased “moderators,” some of whom have been found to have given the questions to the Clinton camp, or have even gotten the questions FROM the Clinton camp. I find it interesting that Julian Assange of Wikileaks, when questioned as to why he hasn’t released incriminating stuff on Trump as he has with Clinton, said that there simply wasn’t anything to release. And remember, Assange was a darling of the left up until now. Has Trump had controversy? Oh, you bet. But not one of the scandals has shown much substance. Accusations of groping or sexual assault, withdrawn or the accusers shown to lack credibility. Crude language, yeah, he said lewd, crude stuff. Stuff of which I don’t approve. But stuff I have heard in the high school locker room, and from just about any group of guys I have ever been around.  I am far more concerned with what Hillary has done than I am with what Trump has said.

 

I have absolutely no illusions about Trump. If he gets elected, we will have to see how he will turn out. He could be a poor president. But, he could be good, even great. Hillary, on the other hand, will undoubtedly be a disaster. Illegal aliens will be welcomed with open arms. Unvetted refugees, a number of which will undoubtedly be terrorists, will come into the country in record numbers. America will slide further down the slide into socialism, even though socialism is a discredited governmental system with no successful implementation in the history of the world. Supreme Court appointees will further erode American freedoms and constitutional rights, and things that are not constitutional rights will be further elevated to the status of rights.  Government will be increased in size and seen as the answer to America’s problems.  A leftist worldview will be further implemented and entrenched.

 

Even after the Presidential disaster of the past eight years, I think America can recover. But not if we have another four to eight years of wimpy Republican leadership and overt leftist engineering of a socialist agenda. So I will vote for Trump. Honestly, I have hopes for him. With Romney, with McCain, I had to “hold my nose” and vote for them, because they were the lesser of two evils. I think Trump is a far, far better candidate than either of them, and I have hope that he will be a much better president than we could have expected from them.

 

We will see what the day brings. And God is still on His throne.

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I used to LIKE roller coasters.

As usual, life has been difficult. I suppose I should understand that to be the norm, but somehow it often seems to catch me by surprise.

Part of the problem is that ever since I was a little boy, I have recognized fairness as a desired quality. My mother used to tell me that I would come home from school upset when someone suffered some unfairness. And though I tried to train my daughters to not expect life to be fair I didn’t, in the core of me, believe it. I still expect life to be fair, even though I know intellectually that it just ain’t so. Can you spell “conflict?”

I should probably make it clear that I am not complaining here. This is just a list of observations and my experiences.

We have a new President at Edinboro University. And any time there is a change like that, be it a new CEO at a corporation, a new pastor at church, or a new president at an institution of higher education, there are changes made and change should be expected. New priorities, new directions, new expectations both written and just understood. That is not to say that the process is easy. There will always be a state of flux until the water stops sloshing and reaches equilibrium (I have no idea how I could have mixed any more metaphors in this sentence). And easy it has not been.

Although my position is rather large and rather important, I am still middle management. And middle management is always getting pounded. Again, not a complaint. I recognized this fact coming in, and it is just a reality.

So work has been difficult. In addition to my normal (rather hefty plate of) responsibilities, I have had a shift in priorities and expectations. This is never easy for me. I like routine. I am comfortable with having the same tasks and expectations. Example: every morning my wife fixes me a breakfast burrito to eat in the car on the way to work. Variations on that are fine, but I am perfectly content to have the same thing every day.

I went on vacation this year from April 6 through April 15. Beth and I scheduled with our local scuba store to go to Little Cayman for a week of Caribbean diving, sun, and relaxation. Didn’t work out quite like that. Well, I need to clarify that. The diving and the sun were fantastic. Healthy reefs, coral, plenty of beautiful fish. We saw a lot of “old friends,” and a lot of “new friends,” too. I only saw one drum fish, and not one secretary blenny or flamingo tongue slug. However, we saw at least one queen triggerfish on every dive we did! Very cool. The weather was nearly perfect; hot and sunny, every single day. The resort, amazing. Great accommodations. Each of us had our own rooms, so there was no sharing of a suite. Nice. And the food! As I understand it, they have a gourmet chef, so breakfast, lunch and dinner were unbelievable. Two free drinks per day were included as well. Considering that is about my max, and Beth doesn’t drink, they didn’t lose a lot of money on us with that, but it was a great perk. And the company was fantastic. Great people to dive with and hang out with. If you ever want to go to Little Cayman, you could not do better than Little Cayman Beach Resort.

Normally, and this year was no different, I kind of depend on my vacation time to decompress and fill my tank so to speak. However, as great as all of the above was, the vacation did not help. I developed bronchitis just before we left, and was on z-pack until April 9. By evening of the 9th, I had a nasty sinus infection that I just had to push through until we got home. The dive boat we were originally on had a bad leak in the exhaust, and seven of us got violently sick on The first dive of the week on Sunday morning. On the plus side, we set a resort record for number of sick on one trip. Woo! NOT.

After I came down with the sinus infection on Tuesday, I looked at our dive itinerary.  We had signed up to dive the Capt. Keith Tibbetts on Cayman Brac on Thursday. Not wanting to miss that, I opted out of diving all day Wednesday. It was a good decision, as I was able to dive Thursday and Friday, but missing three Caribbean dives was not what I had gone there for.

The return home also proved difficult. On Little Cayman, there was a mix up with our bags that I had to work to fix. The lines at the airport on Grand Cayman were overly and unnecessarily long, and Beth and I barely got through security in time for our flight to Philadelphia. However we got to Philly, and waited a few hours for our connector to Erie. The plane was on time, and boarded on schedule. Unfortunately, Beth and I, along with four of our dive compadres, were refused boarding and had to stay the night in Philly. I have, by the way, sent this on to US Airways as a complaint, and have yet to hear from them. We will see if they are honorable about this or not. Stay tuned.

Because of the issues during vacation, I returned nearly as stressed as when I left. And last week was the “welcome back” from hell. There was an issue at work that happened while I was on vacation, and although I couldn’t have effected a change or a different outcome, I was expected to have taken care of it; I got into a shouting match on the phone with my boss (never a good career enhancer); and a couple other incidents occurred at work that I was expected to handle differently than I did (remember that “flux” I talked about?). There were seriously two or three days last week that I just wasn’t sure I would be employed at the end of the day.

And although work has been hard before throughout my various careers, I have usually had things to fall back on, things to divert me. But now my normal crutches have been taken away.

I love cigars no secret there. However, after my neck surgery (fusion of C5 to C6 and C6 to C7), my surgeon, uh, “disallowed” cigars until the fusion is complete, hopefully by the end of May. Some silliness about carbon dioxide and nicotine inhibiting oxygen absorption and bone growth or something. So cigars are out, and that is difficult. For me, there is something deeply relaxing in enjoying a quality cigar for an hour; relaxing, contemplative, nearly zen. Seriously.

In just the past few years I have discovered microbrew beer. Not the normal nasty American macros, but fine, flavorful micros. Now that is a fine topic for a future blog! For now, suffice it to say that I recognize that I need to be cautious with my new hobby. It would be easy to get lost in the beer, but that is, I am afraid, far too close to the edge for me. So, although relaxing, I have to put well-defined boundaries and limits on my beer consumption. Not always the easiest for me, but necessary.

Further, we have a small group of friends from church that we meet with almost weekly. We call this small group “Small Group.” Pretty clever, huh? And although I will deny it if you tell them, I love this group of people. We have seen each other through some pretty devastating situations, and they could not be more like family to me if we were blood. For various reasons, the past couple of months have been difficult for all of us in that group. No solace there.

Finally, I enjoy the computer game Civilization V. A couple of years ago I purchased a pretty upscale laptop specifically for Civ V, and I can get lost for hours. Beth says I am addicted, but I can quit any time I want. Really. I just choose to play as much as I do. Well, maybe I do kind of like to play it a lot. In any event, my laptop is down, and has been at the computer shop for three weeks, two days, and twelve hours. But who’s counting. No Civ.

I have been left with nothing to fall back on. No crutch, no salve. It feels like there is little but difficulty and hardship. And I wonder if that isn’t exactly where I need to be.

Beth and I were talking this morning, and her observation was that it has been hard for her as well. She didn’t sleep as well as she would have liked last night, and during one of her wakeful times, she said that she wondered just how centered her life has been on God lately. Her conclusion was, “not much.” And she recognizes that she needs to change that situation.

Hmm.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is where Peter is in prison. I think I have said in the past that I like how Paul thinks; his logic, his orderly progression. John, not so much John is, to me, a bit of a goof; circular logic (which is no logic at all in my book), mystical, squishy touchy feely. Ick. But Peter? Oh, he’s the man! Hard charging, hard-headed, willing to leap in without even wondering what such a jump will cost. Peter is 100%. You never have to wonder where you stand with Peter. Peter is me. Up to, and including denying my Christ at critical times. Thank God it isn’t about me, but instead it’s about God’s grace and love.

But in this particular Bible story, Peter is in prison. Hopeless. An angel appears to him, and tells Peter to put on his shoes, which Peter does. The angel leads him out of prison, through the doors that the angel has opened, and past the guards to freedom. Now the point of this story for me, is that the angel did what Peter couldn’t; open the gates, shut down the guards. However, he told Peter to do what Peter could. Specifically, “put on your shoes.” I have struggled with that metaphor for a long time. I feel it is incumbent on me to “do what I am able to do,” and depend on God for what I am not able to do. We are all born with abilities and talents. I believe we are to use them to the best that we are able. But where does that stop, and my dependence on God begin? How much am I to “confidently go forth,” and how much am I to “give all to God?” And how do I have “joy in the struggle?”  ‘Cause I gotta tell you, I’m not real joyful right now.

There’s a song out that does a nice job of describing where I am. This is from Tenth Avenue North’s album, “Struggle.”  Please listen to this, it says it perfectly. I’m not stuck, this too shall pass. The day will dawn, the sun shall rise, hope springs eternal. But for now,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUEy8nZvpdM.

Caught in the corner.

Hang on, dig in, strap down, get set.  I am going to state a truism that may just rock your world.  Ready?  Here it is:  Life is hard.  Yep, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but there it is.  Life is hard and there is nothing to be done about it.  “Life is pain Highness.  Anyone that tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.”

When I was young (Wait.  I meant younger) I thought I was ready for anything that life had to throw at me.  I thought I would chew it up and spit it out.  Little did I know just how painful life can be.  Let me describe what I mean.

I met Beth at Behrend College of Penn State in 1975.  Through her feminine wiles, we soon fell in love and planned our life together.  Long walks, long talks, gazing into each others’ eyes, we did all those dewy, romantic and saccharine things that young couples often do when they fall in love.  Objectively speaking, our romance was (and remains) the best and finest romance in the history of the world.  And I wouldn’t trade one single minute for anything.

We married in 1978 (see, Beth?  I do too remember) and started with nothing more than an old Chevy Impala given to us by my folks, a cat, and love.  What a grand start to a marriage!  We moved to northwestern Pennsylvania and I found a job in, of all places, a donut factory on my way to my life-long dream job of being a policeman.  I got into police work over thirty years ago, and the trials and travails Beth and I experienced could have wrecked us multiple times.  But from the beginning, we both loved God more than anything, and have worked to make Him, and Him alone, the focus and center of our marriage.

Children came along, planned and anticipated.  Loved, adored, and our pride and joy.  We raised them “purposely and intentionally,” a catch phrase with a set of our closest friends; a catch phrase, but describes our parenting very nicely.  Everything we did with them was intended to be a life’s lesson, to instruct them and to train and prepare them for everything that life was going to throw at them.  Clearly we were not perfect, and there are innumerable moments I wish I could take back, change, re-do.  But we’re not given that option, are we?  Even so, no one has ever loved their children more, or worked harder to raise their children to be the best they could be.  I went back to school part-time, and worked toward my Master’s Degree from Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA.  I found that I enjoyed my class work (as opposed to my undergrad experience) and excelled.  Of course, I devoted a ton of time to my school work to do so, but enjoyed it none the less.

In the mid-1980’s, I joined the Erie Police Department in Erie, PA.  Having come from a small police department where every sneeze and belch was noted and scrutinized, when I moved to a larger department I was like a kid in a candy store.  I had more fun than anyone had a right to.  But all things change, and even good things have a habit of diminishing.  I finished my Master’s degree program and eventually left the street to become a detective, then a Detective Sergeant working Homicides, bank robberies with FBI agents, Presidential protection details with the Secret Service, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT),  just about any cool thing that one could desire.  I had a “patron” that was guiding me in the ways of politics within the city, and I was moving toward higher ranks; meeting people, shaking hands, joining clubs and organizations.

During this time I also worked in our church.  I found myself elected to the Deacon board, which at the time was kind of a combined Elder/Deacon position.  We made policy for the church, as well as watching for the immediate spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in the congregation.  As was typical, I threw myself into it, and spent a lot of time working for the church.

As are many men, I am driven to excel at whatever task I take on.  And for most of the things I try, I push myself until I’m pretty good at whatever it is I am doing.  However, as I pushed and struggled to advance, I noticed something.  My daughters were in High School, perhaps only a few years from graduating and moving on.  And I hardly knew them.

I remembered some of the ideals that Beth and I had as young marrieds and as young parents, and I did not want to look back and regret the time that I devoted to my job; I did not want to regret the time that I should have given to my children.  So I did something that was very difficult for me.  I took myself off the fast track at work.  Man was I disappointed.  But, I thought, at least I had my church and my family.  Family, church, and work.  I measured myself as a successful man by these three things.

Oops, one down.  I intentionally gave work away, but that’s ok.  I still had the other two.  I convinced myself that as long as I “succeeded” at church and family, I was ok.  Work was actually the third on the list anyway, so I could be less than at the pinnacle there and still be a success at the other two.  However, church is a funny thing; it’s filled with people.  And people are the same no matter where they happen to be located.  I dealt with good folks and mean folks all across the spectrum.  I dealt with issues that I wish I had never known about.  Ultimately I kind of flamed out with leadership in church, too.  When my term as Deacon expired, I did not seek re-election, and I am not sure how eager I am even now, twenty-something years later, to repeat that experience.

Two down.  But I still have my family.  And this is the most important of the three.  As long as I “succeed” at family, I still have worth in my eyes.  I am still a “successful” man.

You kind of see what’s coming, right?

I had read a book once that described a father’s raising his family, and essentially his thoughts were that no matter what success he had elsewhere, if he didn’t raise his children well, what good is he?  I agreed with that, and worked accordingly.

Now before I continue, I want to make clear that I love my children.  With my whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.  Nothing has ever changed that, and nothing ever will.  Further, I need not detail more than this.  They are good people, working to be the best that they can envision themselves to be.  I am proud of them and their accomplishments.  Suffice it to say here that they have chosen to walk a couple of paths that I would not have chosen for them.  Their lives, their decisions.  I respect that and will support them, love them, help them to the best that I am able.

I think that at least in part, I took their “contrary” decisions personally, that it was my responsibility for where they have chosen to be.  Of course, each of us will ultimately take ownership of our choices and decisions, but at the time, I keenly felt that I was an abject failure as a father.  And for me that was strike three.  I was a failure as a man.

Some people turn to drink, some people may become even more spiritual, some turn to other outlets to ease the pain.  I have had several.

For years I have struggled with, shall we say, less wholesome outlets.  I honestly don’t know how teens can cope with the internet.  One can instantly find just about anything one would care to find.  With all that one can access today via the internet, I wouldn’t have survived as a teen.  Anyhow, through a lot of prayer, working with several dedicated and spiritual men, this particular area is much less difficult for me than it once was.

But there were other ways that one can feel momentarily better.  Food is one of my biggest struggles.  I love food.  I love the smell of good food, I love the taste of food and its texture as I roll it through my mouth, I love the satisfying feel of a full stomach.  And Beth is honestly the best cook I have ever known.

For a while this wasn’t as big a problem as it could be.  Although my metabolism had been slowing down, I was pretty active.  Being on the SWAT team was pretty demanding, and I had to stay in some semblance of shape, so even though I ate big, I burned a lot of it at the same time.  Also, at 6’3″, I can hide it pretty well.  This changed a bit when I retired from the team.  I ballooned to an all-time high of 260 pounds of unadulterated cellulose, and looked every bit like the chubby hubby that I was.

I had other outlets as well.  I am a very sensual guy.  I love taste, texture, beauty, scents.  I love trying new things.  I love learning.  So when I find something new that tastes great, smells great, and has nuance, I dive in.  Especially if it’s not something that a ton of people do.  I discovered craft beer and I discovered cigars.  Both are topics of endless discussion for me, I can talk for hours about either.  For the record, my buddy Matt makes the best beer I have tried; second is Founder’s Breakfast Stout or perhaps Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stouts.  Oh, man!  For cigars, my go to is always an Ashton, and specifically an Ashton Double Magnum, although I love all kinds of cigars at different times.  If you’re interested, go see Chris at Leaf Lover’s Tobbaconist in North East, PA for a great cigar.  And remember my advice.  If you can buy cigars and gasoline at the same location, don’t buy the cigars!!

Anyhow, along with Scuba diving, these were the outlets I used to “cope” with life’s little surprises.  I was a far cry from that twenty-one year old that thought he could handle everything.  Essentially, it looks like I can’t handle much of anything.  Or maybe life just kept throwing its little surprises until I was broken down.  Whatever, I was at a point that I needed help with coping.  But I didn’t like where I was.  That having been said, I think I need to clarify here.  As long as this post turns out to be, it is still a very abbreviated version of all this.  This entire process kind of evolved over the past twenty years or so, and I am condensing it here to a couple of thousand-ish words.  Also, it may look like I was just a total wreck.  Not so, but I had come to lean on tangibles, not on inner strength and God’s power.

So, here I was.  A failure at work, a failure at church, a failure with my family.  “Needing” food, scuba, beer, and cigars.  So what happened next?  Earlier this year I looked at a couple of photos taken of me, and man, I did not like what I saw.  This guy’s a fatty!  Beth and I both decided it was time, so we embarked on a weight loss and life style change.  Although I started at a lower weight than my all time high, since May, I have lost about thirty pounds with ten to go to my goal.  Beth has done even better.  I think we both look great, and the next step is to get back to the gym and get in shape.

Food’s gone as a crutch.

Beer has been assuming an increasingly anticipated portion of my life.  And I don’t mean nasty or cheap beer.  You folks that drink Bud lite or Coors, well, you have my pity.  Micros are the bomb!  So many different breweries, so many different styles, combinations of hops and malts, I could easily live in a Brewpub.  Wait.  Clark, what did you just say?  Did you hear yourself?

Beth pointed out to me a bit ago that I was consuming more beer than I had before.  She wasn’t yet alarmed exactly, but she was kind of concerned.  Her concern was justified.  Although in comparison to many I didn’t drink much at all, and although in comparison to Europeans I hardly drink anything, I was still using the beer as a crutch.  Clark, what are you doing?  Yep, I need to cut back.  And although I have no intention to cease, my beer consumption has hugely diminished.

Beer’s gone.  But I still have my last stronghold, I still have my cigars.

You can see what’s coming, right?  Hey, didn’t I already say that?

Many people would say this explains a great deal, but as a teen, I fell on my head a couple of times.  Looking back, I probably fractured my spine, but as I could get up and move, I never went to the hospital or even saw a doctor.  Fast forward four decades or so, and I now have two degenerative discs.  After several years of chiropractic therapy and numerous pain shots, I had my neck fused four months ago on two levels; C-5 to C-6, and C-6 to C-7.  The surgery went great, the chronic pain is gone, and the healing has been fine.  But.  My scuba season ended on the date of my surgery, and I probably won’t get back under water (except for assisting classes of new divers in the pool) until spring.

We went back to my surgeon last Monday.  After x-rays, he showed me that the higher level is about 99% healed; essentially completely healed.  The lower level, not as much.  He gave me a few restrictions, and said that he wasn’t concerned at all, and that the only way he would be concerned at all is if I was a smoker, which I am not.  I told him that I haven’t touched a cigarette in my life, but that I do have an occasional cigar.  At that point he kind of stared at me, hesitated a second, and said, “You need to stay away from those.”

Ok, I get it.  Nicotine restricts blood vessels and inhibits the uptake of oxygen, both needed for healing.  I won’t smoke a cigar for months.  But that was my last tangible support.  I am now officially left with nothing to fall back on, nothing to look forward to (And let’s be totally clear.  When I say that, I mean outside my marriage.  Our marriage is still great, and getting better every day!).  When he said that, I felt like my last pillar was knocked down, my bridge was collapsing.  I was bereft.  Even Beth felt bad for me, and she is not, shall we say, the biggest fan of my cigars.

So what do I do?  As I see it, I don’t have a lot of choices here.  My only choice is the one I should have made long ago.  My only choice is to depend on God’s grace; first, last, everywhere.  A few years ago I coined a phrase that I have tried to utilize.  I kind of forgot it, but I’m gonna pick it back up.  That phrase is this.  Let it go, it doesn’t belong to you.  So this is what I am left with, this is what I want to do, what I want to continually tell myself.  Let it go, it doesn’t belong to you.  I need to give it to God, let it go, live in Him.  Fill me Father.  Fill me with You.  You God.  All You.  Nothing but You.

I don’t know why it is necessary to be painted into a corner to see that one cannot “do this” on one’s own, but I would not be surprised to find that this is rather common.  Even if not, I often find that it is the case for me.  I’ve been cornered, and I have nothing that I can use to defend myself.  I figure I can go in one of three directions.  I can collapse into a puddle of emotional plasma, I can fall back on one of the less healthy things that I used to fall back on, or I can let go and look to the Author and Protector.  I think I’ll look to Jesus.

But boy do I want a cigar.  Let it go, Clark.  It doesn’t belong to you.  Yeah, I know…

Post Election Reflection, 2012

I have taken a break from Facebook.  After the election, I was hoping this would not happen, but the “end zone celebration” I saw from some was disheartening.  And I was so heartbroken over the results that I just needed to distance myself for a time.  I posted a couple of thoughts after the election, but since Wednesday I have seldom visited FB.

Wednesday morning, after the 2012 Presidential election, quite sincerely I posted the following on Facebook:

Brief thoughts on the election:

1) I am VERY happy for my friends that were pulling for Obama. Many were really invested in a win by him, and for them, I am truly happy. I do hope that all this silliness of “voter fraud,” disenfranchisement” and so on will be put to rest.

2) God is still on his throne. He did not wake up this morning, check the paper, slap his forehead and say, “Holy crap! …How did this happen?” He knows, he watches, and no matter who is the President of the US, He directs the course of history.

3) I worry for America. I believe we will be looking at a radically (not in the political sense) different country. In my opinion, we have slid a long way since the “Shining City on a Hill” that we were under Reagan.

4)I am disgusted with the Republican party that they cannot present a candidate that espouses conservative principles. I mean TRULY conservative principles. When done properly, conservative principles resonate with every voter group in the US.

5) I like cats. A lot. As much as I like dogs, maybe a bit more. This is perhaps a bit unusual for conservative types, so I am hoping when the liberal zombie police come to eat the livers of all good conservatives, maybe they’ll give my house a pass because I like cats. (kidding, people)

6) I still like good beer, and it is there for our enjoyment. I don’t care what one’s political position is, if you make good beer, we are best buds. Although, I MIGHT direct certain friends toward skunky beer due to their politics. *cough SteveS*

Of course I was being humorous with the last couple points, but the first four were completely serious. I woke up on Wednesday to an America for which I fear. I prayed more sincerely for President Obama than I probably have in the previous four years. I prayed for America, for my children, for my wife, myself, my friends and family.

I started musing on this about a week ago with a post from a liberal friend of mine. He had posted a “Nation of Change” article written by Robert Reich. Read the article here: “We the People, and the New American Civil War”. I had wanted to comment, but my thoughts were far too detailed to present in Facebook’s format.

First, a personal disclaimer regarding Mr. Reich. Robert Reich was in Bill Clinton’s cabinet as the Secretary of Labor. If one asked him, I believe he would say that politically he is a Moderate. But I have trouble with that. His background, his education, his statements all indicate to me that he is definitely liberal, and comes from a liberal perspective. So, I have a problem with him right there. Whatever one’s politics, my preference is that one be honest. Call it “Liberal” or “Progressive,” be honest about your stance.

In his article, Mr. Reich’s point is that our main challenge as a nation is for all of us “to rediscover the public good,” and what he indicates is that we need to meet more in the middle, and basically disregard the far right and the far left. There are several problems with Mr. Reich’s article, and I believe Mr. Reich to be much closer to the “far left” than he pretends to be.

In his first paragraph, talking about the vitriol of the latest Presidential campaigns, he feels that it is “Worse than the Palin-induced smarmy 2008. Worse than the swift-boat lies of 2004…” The problem is that in 2008 the only vitriol that I recall was toward Palin, not because of her. The hatred, vicious name-calling, and sexualizing of Mrs. Palin was truly appalling, and had it been a woman of the Democrat party being treated as she was by someone of the conservative persuasion, the howling and backlash would have been heard around the world, and yet how she was treated is apparently ok according to liberal standards (side note: I am not speaking of all liberals, I have many liberal friends that I cherish and trust. When I speak of liberals here, I am talking about what I see nation wide, in the media, and in the entertainment industry). Further, nothing that the swift-boat veterans said was inaccurate or lies. These were valiant men, serving with distinction in a miserable conflict. These men came forward and testified against the 2004 Democrat candidate for President and his claims of serving with distinction. And that is their crime. They disputed the only veteran the Democrat party has been proud of since the Vietnam war. And that is because he publicly denounced, not only the war, but the men who served in it. These men came forward, knowing they would be reviled, to set the record straight. And Reich calls them liars.

Second paragraph: Mr. Reich recognizes the many divisions in America, including “whether women should have control over their bodies, ” speaking of abortion, and I agree with him that the divisions he speaks of are not new. However, the issue of abortion is not simply that of whether women should have control over their bodies, any more than the Civil War was just a conflict over state’s rights. This is a topic that rates its own blog at some point, I suppose, but for now, suffice it to say that Mr. Reich oversimplified it here, and I believe he likely does it purposely. Or else it is that simple in his mind. Either way, I think it is telling.

I like what he said about things being more separated, geographically and online; this may have a spark of truth. It does seem that we have clustered as conservatives and liberals, without a ton of contact. However, I think that if one is seeking, regardless of political persuasion, relationship with people, it is actually easier to find than before. Many of my liberal friends I have found on Facebook. I enjoy spirited, passionate debate on issues (clearly, they never win, but it’s only because their feeble arguments wither in the presence of my stunning repartee, and the blinding logic of my positions. Right guys? Hey! Did you ever notice when one is correct, one says, “right?” One never says “left.” Kidding guys. Love you all!) with a number of committed liberals, who are just as convinced of their position as am I. We respect one another’s positions, thoughts, and backgrounds. I find that I am actually more brutal with those with whom agree than I am with those that disagree. I insist that my friends be shown respect and consideration, and I try to moderate the debates with those ideals.

In paragraph six, of Mr. Reich’s article he mentions Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and proclaims both of them to be “ultimate arbiters of truth.” I cannot speak of Murrow, as that was quite some time before me. However, I understand that his fall from grace with CBS happened when Murrow bitterly complained that CBS was giving equal time to individuals on the opposite side of the issues he criticized. Further, Cronkite broadcast also at a time in which he was not the “ultimate” arbiter of the truth, but the only arbiter of the truth. Both men had, and enjoyed, unfettered and unopposed voices in what they presented to the public. And this I believe, is the actual problem. Mr. Reich goes on to attack Fox News and Rush Limbaugh as eagerly exploiting the anger and frustration of the “white working-class.” Mr. Reich calls them “pedlars of petulance,” and states that many of today’s politicians have “gained political power by fanning the flames.”

But I believe that Mr. Reich is emblematic of what the actual problem is here. I believe what he is actually upset about (and I doubt he would agree, or even recognize this) is that conservatives actually have a voice. Conservatives have avenues to get the news that are not controlled by those with whom they disagree. Avenues that are not presenting only one viewpoint. Fox News in particular is reviled by the left, and often cited for its “lies.” Does Fox News lie? Most of the “lies” presented are merely a different viewpoint from the person making that claim, and often, inspection finds that they aren’t lies at all. Further, Limbaugh, although sometimes bombastic, seldom presents anything that could be accused of being a blatant untruth.

I remember when I first heard Rush Limbaugh. It was probably close to twenty years ago, and at the time, I hated talk radio, and I only tuned in because a friend suggested I do so. When I listened to Limbaugh’s show, I nearly wept. I honestly thought that I was one of the few people in the entire world that believed as I did, but here was a man speaking from a position that resonated with me. I continue to listen to Limbaugh, not to “get the truth,” but because in my opinion, he presents the truth. Do I agree with all he says? No, but it’s not that difficult to separate that stuff out, and I think most can do the same.

Same with Fox News. Is it biased? Yep, but they make no bones about it, as opposed to CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, and on and on. Nearly every news outlet has a slant or bias, but my frustration is that they refuse to admit it. I would have much more respect for any of the above if they would admit their bias, and work to present the other side. Fox News has a list of liberal commentators and contributors that clearly and cogently present the liberal viewpoint. As far as I have seen, the other networks may have a token conservative or two, but no one noteworthy, and very few that are taken seriously by anyone.

Here is the problem. The “left” has become the new “center.” and “meeting in the middle” means capitulating with the liberal position. Vitriol? That expressed against those with a conservative position is unrivaled and more frightening than anything one hears from a conservative position. Express a conservative thought or position? You are at best uncaring, and more likely a hateful, angry person. None of the conservative entertainers or commentators express the hate and anger expressed by liberals in the same industry, and yet those on the left are defended, and their jokes draw long, sustained laughter. Very seldom (and I am being generous, here) are they castigated for their words, let alone punished or an apology demanded. List something Limbaugh said that was hurtful and I can list ten from top liberals. And I can almost bet that Limbaugh apologized for what he said, unlike the comments from the other side of the aisle.

This post is not intended to be an apologetic for Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. And I intentionally oversimplified the issues. My intent is to describe my thoughts on the political divide in which we find ourselves, and the disparity I see between left and right. In today’s world, the NRA (National Rifle Association) is not a member-driven group intent on protecting one of our basic Constitutional rights, it is an extremist organization. Focus on the Family is not an organization seeking to preserve the family as the Biblical center of our society, it is a hate group. This is a clear shift in where the country has come from. Those who believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God are not sincerely trying to follow God’s design for their lives, they are dangerous haters, trying to shove their zealous religious beliefs down people’s throats.

I am not a Luddite. I love technology, and love many aspects of where our society is right now. However, I believe there has been a shift in our society, and one that I do not see as altogether good. I believe that we must show dignity to all, regardless of viewpoint. However, it seems to me that the pendulum has swung to where those with a conservative viewpoint are increasingly seen as loony, stupid, or mean, or some combination of the three.

After the recent election, I found that I despair for our country. President Obama was elected back into that office, and now has four more years to work on his vision of America. And I believe that vision to be bad news for our country. Call it Socialist, Statist, or simply Progressive, it doesn’t much matter, it amounts to much the same thing. I believe we will see more confiscation of wealth (but not from liberal celebrities). I believe we will see an expansion of government’s role in our lives. I believe we will see the declining of America’s prestige in the world. I believe we will see a reduction in the military. I believe we will see more, not less, terrorism. I believe we are in more danger economically, socially, and physically than ever before. We are a Representative Republic. And the president has been re-elected. And I fear for what that means for all of us.

My perspective of the 2012 Olympics

NBC, you blew it.  You are my favorite network, even if Fox is more of my political persuasion, news-wise.  I am a huge Bob Costas and Al Michaels fan.  Further, I thought the other announcers did their jobs fine.

Up front, my biggest problem walking in is that I am recovering from very recent surgery, and by the time 8:00 PM comes along, I’m toast (In fact, I am still on some pretty solid painkillers, so this blog post may be slightly ill-advised).  So, anything after that, and I may not have even seen it.  I watched during the day when I could, and usually up to bedtime.  And all day Saturday, and Sunday.  So there are the qualifiers, all out in the open and up front.

So, here’s how you blew it.  Bouncy-balls and hula hoops?  In the Olympics?  Come on!  Those women worked hard, and the movement and coordination is beautiful.  But it’s NOT a sport in any way, shape, or form.  So the Olympic committee erred and let it stay.  You do not have to show it.  Maybe put it on at midnight, if someone wants to watch.  Sand volleyball?  I almost have to give you that one, as I understand that those were the hottest tickets in the Olympics.  However, I suspect it was due to the women that were playing in it, not the sport itself.  And sand volleyball is merely a sport played by people who say, “Dude!” to make them feel like they are almost real athletes.  Dump the sand volleyball.  Handball?  I was jazzed when I heard that one, as I used to play handball.  Tough sport, and one where old guys compete better than young guys.  But what is in the Olympics is NOT handball.  It’s guys carrying a bouncy basketball and throwing it around.  Stupid.  Ditch the handball.

I will list the sports that cause me to look forward to the Summer Games (not in any particular order):  Wrestling, Swimming, Diving, Weightlifting, Gymnastics, Track and Field, Boxing.  Throw in Fencing, Bicycling (off-road and road), Pentathlon, Archery, Judo/Taekwando, Equestrian, Triathalon, Water Polo and Shooting, and you have a real event!  I don’t even mind the Soccer.

But what NBC decided to air was, to put it bluntly, boring.  I was bored out of my skull with this year’s coverage.  Look, I know that sports has become spectacle and entertainment, but can’t you keep a bit of the purity?  Ryan Seacrest and McEnroe (for other than tennis), and you clearly have gone in a non-sports direction.  Now, let me say this.  I think Seacrest is great.  He is charming and witty, engages his interviews well, and is entirely pleasant.  But he is not the first person one thinks of when one thinks of sports.  He was clearly chosen for the entertainment factor.

Now, another disclaimer.  I am old-fashioned enough that I pine for the amateur Olympics, even though I know there were loopholes then, as well as countries that paid their athletes a good salary.  But I believe we have lost the intent of the Olympics when we have professionals play.  And by “professional” I mean anyone that makes a living doing the event for which one is going to the Olympics to compete.  That includes Basketball.  The 1992 Dream Team was great to watch, just because each and every player was one of the best ever, anywhere.  But they should not have been playing at the Olympics.  That would be like me competing with a seven-year old  in a shooting competition.  For the most part, I can confidently say that I would win.  But would that be fair?  So anyhow, I just do not like watching professionals.  When they come on the tube (Volleyball, sand pretend volleyball, Basketball, whatever), I generally turn the channel.

So when did the good stuff air?  I saw very little of the things I like, mostly the boring stuff.  Ribbons, sand, bouncy-balls.  Boring.

In my opinion, it would have been better to show re-runs of the good stuff so more people could see them.  Even knowing the outcome, I would have watched Gabby Douglas and the team compete.  But no.  More hula-hoops.  How about Decathlon?  All NBC did was kind of mention it as an, “Oh, yeah,” kind of thing.

I understand that figuring out what to put on air is a no-win situation.  Even if you did everything exactly as I would personally wish, someone, somewhere would probably complain.  I’m not sure why, since I have the finest mind in the cosmos, but it is possible.  Maybe from the ribbon people.  Yeah, that’s probably it.

I also understand that the time difference was a difficulty, but that’s just something one has to deal with when the events are scheduled on the other side of the world, and we need to just suck it up with stuff like that.  But really, a lot of people actually work for a living, and can’t stay up late to watch the cool stuff.

So.  Put me on record for saying that although I understand how difficult the scheduling would be, this Olympics was a complete waste for me.  And I regret that.  I look forward to the Olympics, especially the Summer Games, but this time?  Dullsville.  Rats.  I was really looking forward to it, too.

I want to go diving!!!!!! (part one)

I hate summer.  I hate the heat, I hate the humidity, I hate feeling like a human pot roast, being popped into an oven set at four hundred degrees.  Starting in the fall, continuing through winter, and into the beginning of spring are enjoyable temperatures for me.  Especially winter.  I love the cold and snow.  I love being outside in winter, I love driving in snow, and I love watching it fall.  My theory du jour is that my internal temperature is such that winter brings down my temp to a point that I can relax and just enjoy.

But there are certain drawbacks to winter.  I miss certain activities that bad weather and extreme cold make a bit more difficult.  First on that list is scuba diving.

My wife and I are avid and enthusiastic divers.  I have been diving for about four years, and Beth about three.  We are solidly in our middle-ages (and yes, I plan for my current age to be the mean average for my life span.  I’m fifty-four), and for several years I had been searching for an activity that Beth and I could enjoy together currently, and for decades to come.  Try as we might, we couldn’t come to an agreement for what that activity might be.  The very thoughts of golf just make me want to run screaming, and one or two that we actually tried didn’t take.  Until scuba.

Our younger daughter decided on a destination wedding on Grand Cayman four years ago.  Settling on Cayman as the destination seemed to me to be a torturous path, wandering all over the Pacific, into Central America, touching on the Mediterranean, and finally alighting onto Grand Cayman.  Beth and I had not travelled by passport prior to this, and we were in turns excited, nervous, anticipatory, and apprehensive about our first trip to the Caribbean.  After arriving in Cayman, we got our rental car, and drove to our condo at Turtle Nest Inn, on the south side of the island near Boddentown.  What a fantastic place to stay!  Spacious and beautiful, we had a fantastic view of the ocean from the deck, as well as the bedroom.

In the end, the wedding was wonderful, our daughter lovely, and the vacation truly amazing.  We fell in love with the Caribbean.  It was the first vacation that we have been on that I wept as we left.  Of course, being a typical guy, I only cry when I’m hungry, and I probably should have had something to eat before our departure.  Ahem.

But before the trip, I did some thinking.  Ever since I was a kid, scuba diving has held a fascination for me.  Ever since I saw re-runs of Sea Hunt as a kid, I thought scuba would be an amazing sport.  However as time went on, the idea of diving took a back seat to other things, and eventually kind of receded from my thoughts altogether.  Until the wedding.  When the destination was announced I was in my late forties, and I realized that if I didn’t go diving now I never would.  Beth and I sat down and talked it over, weighed our finances, and decided that, yeah, I should give diving a go.  I contacted a local diving shop, got prices for lessons and basic equipment, and signed up.  Several months before the wedding, I began lessons at Diver’s World in Erie, PA, completing my basic Scuba Diver certification, and much of my Advanced Scuba Diver certification before the trip (click on Diver’s World above to visit their website).

What a rush!  As is my usual tendency, I punished myself studying, figuring I would flunk out, and beating on myself mentally for ever thinking I was cut out for something like this in the first place.  But as is also my usual tendency, I passed with flying colors, got my c-card (that’s “certification card” to you land-lubbing non-divers out there), and completed several additional dives needed for Advanced Certification.

When we went to Cayman, I had perhaps a dozen dives total in my logbook, maybe less.  I was a newbie, a greenhorn, a rookie, whatever terms one would use to describe someone who is allowed to do an activity, but shouldn’t be trusted alone for more than a nano-second.  I contacted a dive shop, Deep Blue Divers Grand Cayman, and arranged for a two tank dive on a given day.

I met Rick  on the dock at the appropriate time, intimidated and nervous.  Rick was great, taking me out by boat to a location that probably couldn’t possibly be much safer.  We geared up, did a buddy check, and got in the water.  Once we were ready, we dropped below the surface.  And I entered paradise.  Being new, I blew through an 80 cu. tank of air in about 22 minutes (for comparison, an 80 cu tank now lasts me about an hour), but those few minutes were more wonder producing than anything I had ever done.

In Erie, the best visibility I experienced was in the pool, and that was maybe thirty feet.  Generally speaking, the viz in the quarries and small lakes that I dived to become certified was ten feet on a good day.  In fact, in Lake Pleasant (clearly not named with the underwater visibility in mind), the viz was at best three feet.  Up to this point in my diving career, this is all I knew.  I had no experience in water in which one could actually see anything.

And then I dropped below the surface of the ocean off the south shore of Grand Cayman.  Visibility of at least one hundred feet, probably more.  The colors, the corals, the fish!  Of the multitude of fish I saw, one was particularly delightful!  It was small, and colored a deep blue with seemingly neon light blue spots.  They weren’t exactly in schools, but there was quite a number of them throughout the dive.  Later on I discovered them to be juvenile damselfish, and they remain among my favorites.  I am still tickled when I find a few on a dive.

Rick took me on an easy, twenty-minute circle in, around, and between corals.  I was mesmerized.  Honestly, if Rick had just hovered in one spot right under the boat for the entire twenty minutes, I would have been happy.  It was unbelievable, and the time was up way too quickly.  We did our three minute safety stop, surfaced, and boarded the boat.  I had been hooked.  I wanted so badly to share my experience with Beth, but how can one describe something like that?  It was my first time in the ocean, and I just didn’t have the words to say.

So I did what most self-respecting husbands would do.  I pestered her to get into scuba herself, so we could dive together.  When I got the index finger in the face with the words, “Stop pushing me!!!!!” (emphasis not mine), I knew I needed to back away.  That having been said, we did go snorkeling together nearly every day we were there.  One time we were snorkeling off Seven Mile Beach, and I would guess we were perhaps a quarter of a mile off shore.  I saw a conch on the bottom, and wanted to check it out.  I told Beth I would be right back, took a couple deep breaths, and had to power my way to the bottom, probably about twenty feet down.  In fact, I had to keep kicking to stay at the bottom.  I looked the conch over, and when I was ready to surface, I simply stopped kicking and turned to look at the surface.  I popped to the surface with no effort at all.  I virtually could not sink!

…continued soon…

Friends (part two).

When we got to the Dominican Republic on Saturday, January 28, we got our bags and went to the parking lot where they had a cattle truck waiting for our bags, and a school bus for us to ride to the Meeting God in Missions facilities.  I think Beth told me that the truck was one that we would likely be riding on that week.   Remember, at this point I was still very much unhappy with this whole concept.  So here I am in a country I don’t want to be in, waiting in a parking lot and loading my luggage in a truck that really don’t want to be riding in for an entire week, getting on a school bus that I don’t want to ride in to go to a place that I don’t want to have anything to do with.

The driver was a rather big guy that didn’t smile at all.  We sat in about the second or third seat, and I had a real good view of him in the mirror above his head.  It seemed like his eyes were at half-mast for most of the trip.  At this point in our adventure, I am not impressed.

Later on, I learned his name is Victor, and he drove for us quite a bit through the week.  He didn’t seem overly friendly, and as I loosened up, I just kind of figured he simply wasn’t real outgoing, and let it go at that.  Maybe around Wednesday, I saw him smiling and laughing at something, and remember being a bit surprised.

While travelling, I made a couple of jokes with him as he was driving, usually on a difficult stretch of road.  I asked Beth how to say “go faster” in Spanish, and would holler it out to him.  He looked back in the mirror kind of surprised, I guess, that someone would be talking to him, and when I told him to “go faster,” his eyes got real wide, and he kind of smiled and shook his head.  Well, well.  I got to where I liked Victor quite a bit.

At the end of the week, Beth and I sorted our clothes, which to take home, and which to leave (we had decided before leaving home to donate what we could before we left).  I’m a fairly big guy, and in talking with Brian, I realized that there aren’t very many Dominicans or Haitians that could possibly wear my clothes.  It’d be more likely that a family could get a couple of my shirts and make a tent.

In any event, one of the guys I thought of was Victor.  He’s a big guy, too.  I had an Edinboro t-shirt, so I gave it to him at the end of the week.  Makes a great photo.

Braulio was one of the drivers, and it seemed like he was one of the senior drivers there.  He drove when Beth was in the D.R. a couple of years ago, and she really enjoyed riding the trucks with him at the wheel.  He also is a big guy, easy-going, and has a good time with the people at MGM.  Just a lot of fun.

Tito is the brother of Meirka, a Dominican woman who Beth connected with last time.  Tito is really athletic and muscular; you should see him swing a ball bat.  He was kind of the door guard, making sure that unauthorized people didn’t get in, and that the gates were locked/unlocked at the appropriate times.  I had a chance to sit and talk (kind of) with him a couple of times, and really, really got to enjoy being around him.

I was honored to give a couple of shirts to Braulio.  Tito got my suitcase.

I know that it could look like the “rich” American giving cast-offs to the “little people.”  Yep, I am an American.  Yep, by D.R. standards I’m probably wealthy.  Yep, I gave from my surplus.  But in my case, I was honored to give good stuff to people who I considered to be my friends before I decided to give them anything.  I refuse to apologize for where I happened to be born, and I like to help my friends wherever I can.  And thanks to God’s mercy and grace, I was able to serve for a short time in the Dominican Republic.  I was surprised to become friends with a few of the Dominicans with which I came into contact, and I was pleased to give them items that they could find useful.  And I am the richer for all that.

Friends (part one).

We were fortunate that when we went down to the Dominican Republic, we were able to stay with some friends of ours that are full-timers with Meeting God in Missions from our Church.  Brian and Jen Heinrich have been with MGM for a year or so, and we haven’t had a chance to spend time with them for quite a while.  Actually, we didn’t have much of a chance to do that last week.  They were busy doing their jobs, and we were busy doing our stuff with MGM for the week.  But it was nice to grab a few minutes here or there to talk with them.  It was nice to get to know their kids a bit better, too.  Their oldest daughter, Jamie, is a really sweet kid, and it was pretty cool to get to see her moving in and out with the people down there, both DR nationals and visitors from the ‘States.  It was also neat to see their son Elliot running around, too.  He’s seven, and still a kid.  he has a bit of a hard time with the Dominican kids, and hung around with the visitors a lot.  I like him.

It was also very interesting to meet new friends, too.  There was one young man who went out with us every day and helped translate between the staff and the Haitians.  His English wasn’t great, but he worked hard at helping.

Through the week I had taken several of those packaged peanut butter/cracker  snacks to hand out to kids or to anyone I felt “led” to give them to.  I also took Kashi bars and peanuts for me to eat.  No lunch, so I would grab a handful of peanuts when I felt like I needed something.  I would usually eat one pack of the peanut butter crackers and a Kashi bar through the day, too.

On Monday, I had been handing out some of the peanut butter crackers, and I thought it time to open one for me.  I looked over, and Tommy was sitting kind of between helping.  I went over and gave him one of the peanut butter cracker packs to eat, and he seemed to appreciate it.  Through the week, we made a habit of this, when I ate one for me, I gave him one, too.  It only took a day to start to feel a bit of bonding with him.

I noticed a lot of the other young interpreters were wearing ball caps.  But not Tommy.   He was “capless,” with his hair just running wild.  I had taken a cap to wear if I needed it, but found I didn’t need a cap, so I just kept it in my backpack.  I considered giving it to Tommy at the end of the week, kind of a “grand going away” present.  But by Wednesday, I felt prompted so strongly (actually I felt like I was being squished, the feeling was so strong) to give Tommy the cap, that I did just that.  You would have thought I just handed him the keys to a new Lexus.  He put it on his head, but it was sized for me, so it kind of looked like a shopping bag would on me.  But the next day, he came in wearing the cap, and looking proud.  I was, too, a bit.  My new friend Tommy.

At the end of the week, he came into the dining area, and handed me a note.  I will type here what the contents were, and as they are in the note.

“Mr: Clark Peter

I hope God bless you greatly going to find a nice week here in Hato Mayor.  For me was a nice Pleasure to share with you During this week and Establish a Friendship much appreciate that.  You know someone special treat others will back here and I hope that we can see a lot more time.  For you and your wife blessings and other family blessings much… Thank you for the attention that you gave me during.  Not at work never forget you for the cap.  God fill you and your rich blessings, barns be filled.   God will save you and yours.  Te Quiero Amigo!!!”

I love you too, Tommy.  You touched my heart.

What a difference a couple days makes!

Actually I should probably have said, “What a difference a couple months makes!”  My mother passed away in October (I hate euphemisms, but there it is), Beth and I went on a long-planned vacation in November, we had the typical Thanksgiving madness after that, and Christmas prep in December.  Absolutely no time to reflect, grieve for my mother, or to decompress.  Days off over Christmas meant travel, and then the start of the new year.  Since then, I have been stressing over this Dominican Republic trip, with the stress and difficulties mounting as the trip got nearer.

I remember in high school an incident, in which I committed a serious breach of protocol (that’s “slid-slip” for “I broke the rules”).  The teacher against whom I committed the infraction came to school the next day, and visited each home room with his three-foot oak paddle.  In those days, paddling was seen as completely justified, and getting paddled was nearly a rite of passage into manhood.

In any event, Mr. McCarthy walked into my home room and slammed the paddle down on a desk.  It sounded like a rifle shot in a very small room, and I nearly had a heart attack.  He made the pronouncement that he was going to find out who had done it, and they were going to get paddled by the end of the day.  I probably should have spoken up and gotten it out of the way, but such was not in my thought processes at the time.  What a long day that was!  I can’t remember any other time that I thought I was going to throw up for hours, that wasn’t illness related.  Needless to say, he caught up to me by the end of the day, and I indeed got paddled.  I’m not going to say that the anticipation was worse than the punishment, that was the hardest I have ever been hit in my life. (Sidenote: I totally deserved it, and Mr. McCarthy shortly after that became one of my favorite teachers ever.)  But what I will say is that the anticipation was absolutely wretched.

So it has been for the D.R. trip.  I have felt ill, I have been cranky, problems have piled up and nearly overwhelmed me (Control issue? Probably partly).  Scuba diving is a life’s pursuit for me, and I haven’t been under the water since November.  I haven’t even wanted to dive, and haven’t even felt like talking about it, thinking about it, or assisting in training new divers at the store.  The D.R. trip has pretty much consumed me.

We leave tomorrow.  The time is nearly here.  And last night I had the best night’s sleep I have had in a very long time.  I think I’ve come to terms with it, and I am almost (emphasis on the word “almost”) looking forward to it!  Beth and I get to spend time with friends that we love very much (plus!).   Beth and I will be doing this together (major plus!).  And I will, at last, be actually doing this for God (biggest plus of all).  Still not going to say, “Bring it on,” but I am ready.  And the anticipation?  It’s here, and it has shifted from a negative anticipation to the positive.  Pretty cool!  Maybe there’s something to this obedience stuff.  Huh!  The adventure continues.

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