Saturday, November 4, 2017

Another Hound


Because we apparently need a little more hound dog love in our lives...
Meet Barrett, the beagle.
He is 12 weeks old and the kids' Christmas present this year.

He and Bo have gotten along just swell.

For a puppy, he's pretty mellow.


Kai is still perplexed.
He often calls him "that little puppy" and has continued to ask
if the puppy is sleeping at our house and when he is going home.

Definitely puppy love at our house!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

An American Marriage: A Political Parable

Once there was a couple.  They did not fall in love over romantic dinners at fancy restaurants or through intimate late night phone calls.  Instead, theirs was a marriage of convenience and necessity, one where many outside forces destined for them to be together and so it was.  Over time, this distant but respectful union grew into a genuine fondness, where each came to love, appreciate, and care for the other.  Maybe it was not a passionate marriage full of take-your-breath-away kisses but nevertheless, they did care for each other.

They enjoyed many years of feeling content, of going through the hard and the easy.  In the hard, they put one foot in front of the other and soldiered on, coming out on the other side a little worse for wear but intact.  They reminceed about the easy with smiles and laughter.

This everyday, pedestrian relationship though would not last.  At some point, tiny irritations and big betrayals happened.  The man and the wife continued to walk through life together, looking like a union on the outside but fractured on the inside.  Eventually, they found themselves fighting to stay married, each one maintaining that they didn't want the marriage to end but each one focused on self-preservation and righteous indignation. 

Each one would point fingers at the other, using both current and  past history to show the others lack of love.  "Two years ago, you forgot my birthday."  "Well just yesterday, you were short and angry with me because you thought I was speeding."  Tit for tat, any attempt at conversation soon dissolved into a back and forth recounting of each  person's faults.

Without much provocation, hurtful words would fly through the air.  It always started with small words, rooted in perhaps truth.  "Selfish."  "Mean spirited."  "Rude."  Slowly but slowly, the words evolved into insults.  "Cry baby."  "SOB."  "Idiot."  "Fool."  And with each word hurled, slowly but surely, they stopped using their spouse's name.  "HE always ignores me when he gets home from work."  "SHE never does anything but nag me."  "Nope, I can't watch the game at your house tonight.  THE WIFE wouldn't like it."  Humanity stripped away by such a simple change in language.

No marriage relationship exists in a vacuum and this marriage is no different.  Well meaning and sometimes not so well meaning in-laws, parents, and friends all offered opinions on every topic imaginable.  From child rearing to housecleaning to money and religion, there was never a shortage of opinions injected into their marriage.  Some were rooted in facts.  Others were based merely someone's perception of the facts.  Often, neither the man or the woman delved deep into the opinions being offered to them.  Instead, they clung to the opinions that they liked best, the ones that did not challenge them and their perceptions of the relationship.  It felt good to have one's perspective affirmed and lifted up.  It was much easier to bask in one's own rightness than to examine one's heart for wrong thinking. 

Soon every issue carried the same amount of weight.  What to eat for dinner became just as important as paying the bills.  What color of sofa to buy became just as important as helping their child decide upon a college.  And with each instance of minutia, the couple never failed to ask the opinions of their friends and family, specifically those whom they knew would agree with their position.  There was no attempt to let go of something trivial because it was a small thing that could be overlooked.  Instead, any dispute was a war, a battle to be won.

Many times, both the man and the woman would use the children as a guise of selflessness.  Each one would say that what the other was doing was not good for the children, that it was not good for the future of their family.  In some instances, this may have been true.  But more often than not, the children, the future of the family, was merely a pawn, being used when it was convenient or when it would rally others to support that person's side.  No family member or friend wanted to stand opposed to the children and the future so it became a instant way to win support.  Lost in the conversation was the present impact on the children.

Both the man and the woman knew how to push each others buttons.  In fact, they were experts at it.  The woman valued neatness and order and rule following.  The man valued creativity and learning and being social.  So it should have come as no surprise that at some point, the man started deliberately leaving his dirty socks beside the bed instead of in the laundry hamper.  Likewise, the woman took joy in refusing to allow the man to bring any more books into the house.   At some point, the empty laundry hamper and the books were no longer objects.  They were sacred cows, symbols of the things each person loved, symbols that were being trampled on, inanimate objects that were placed onto pedestals, worshipped by each person as more important than their spouse.

Actions and reactions became more about what each person's individual rights were rather than focused on each person's responsibility towards the other.  "Who can believe the way he acts?  I guess he's free to choose his actions but he's not free from the consequences.  It's my right to respond to his callousness."  "She's so full of herself, completely self absorbed.  It's my right to bring her down a notch."  Never once did someone question the role of personal responsibility in the relationship.  Never once did someone consider that his or her responsibility was to listen to what the behavior was saying, to attempt to empathize and connect to the heart of the person in question.

At long last, they decided to make one last attempt at salvaging their embroiled relationship.  The drive to the therapist's office was tense with no eye contact and a few clipped phrases.  The man and the woman exited the car, neither bothering to wait for the other as they walked to the door.  As they sat in separate chairs in the waiting room, it was easy to see how the physical divide mirrored the divide within their hearts.

Once they entered the therapist's office, they were unsure of what to expect.  The therapist began introductions and then stated a few sage words.  "Reconciliation requires effort and compromise.   It requires listening and responding with understanding, not listening and reacting.  Pride has no place within the work of reconciliation.  Because it springs from a place of humility and vulnerability, reconciliation should break your heart.  Even if you are certain your actions were unintentional or misread, you must learn to seek to understand the perceptions of your spouse.  Reconciliation is not the same as assuming a servile position although it does require one to consider the needs and viewpoints of the other party to be as valid as your own.  Reconciliation will require nothing less than 100%  from each of you, not a commitment to do half of the work while your spouse does the remainder.  Now where do we begin?"


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Four Year Old Genius

Four year olds definitely have their own sense of genius built right in.  Take for instance this Monday, when it was raining and Kai was wanting to play outside.  He was not willing to believe Mom, that it was too rainy to go out so we went out to investigate.  As I was telling him it was too rainy for anyone to be outside, he quickly replied, "That squirrel is outside!"

And then today as he was getting ready to go to our babysitter's house, he wanted to take a football.  I reminded him that Joni's rule was "no toys from home."  Kai's words?  "That not Jesus' rules."  Followed by "God older than Joni!"




New Hair, New Gig

Conleigh is trying something new this year.  Well two things really.  The dreadlocks are gone.  I  guessing it took thirty hours or so but we picked them out and saved a good amount of hair.  And she is a cheerleader for our local youth football team.  She is a great cheerleader, full of spunk and energy and she does a great job of knowing her cheers and routines.  The whole cheerleading bit makes her seem really old to me.  That and the realization that I had my first crush on a boy at her age.  Gah!


Friday, July 21, 2017

The Big One: Vacation 2017

Last year, we attended Nubability Camp with Zeke, just the adults and Zeke.  The camp featured limb difference coaches who mentor and coach limb difference athletes.  The biggest take away for us has been Zeke seeing people who look just like him and seeing those people, especially the adults, succeed and do all the things everyone else does.  This year, all of us attended. It's in southern Illinois so that in and of itself was an endeavor.  Did I mention we were going to take our travel trailer?  Because we are slightly crazy.  And then it seemed like we should take advantage of being away from home and see something new.  Lake Michigan sounded good.  So Nebraska to Illinois to Indiana then back home.  I think we managed to hit all of the major Midwestern cities, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, and Omaha.  (We skirted them but it still sounds pretty cool.)  Eight days on the road which may have been a day or two longer than what was really wise.  Here are the highlights.
Swimming with Coach Lefty...yep there's a reason his nickname is 'Lefty.'


Kenson trying out lacrosse.  He loved it and returned to play for 5 of the 6 open choice sessions.



Volleyball for Conleigh 


Zeke and  Kenson's focus sport was football.



This was the group of campers who participated in football for their focus sport plus their coaches.
Zeke really enjoyed Coach Eddy who is the coach on the left.  



Conleigh's focus sport was cheerleading.
They worked on two cheers to share with the whole camp.


She was quite excited that they got to do lifts.



Kai was not old enough to participate but he still got to do some fun things like have his face painted by the talented Tisha.

Batman!

And a pirate!


We all look happy.  
(No one wants to hear the audio of the actual sibling arguments and the parents who are losing their cool.)


Chilling in the camper-we camped for 5 nights in a row. 
We also stayed in hotels for a few nights so we camped 6 out of 8 nights on the road.
Yes, I feel like I deserve an award.  
(But my cousin in currently a full time rver with his four kids so I guess my medal will have to wait.)
We really experienced the gamut of camping experiences from torrential rains to semi sketchy mobile home parks to a very nice KOA to no showers on site. 


The last part of our vacation-Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan.
 This was the first time my kids had seen the beach.  
They had so much fun.
 Football in the water with Dad, sand castles, wading, skipping rocks, digging holes-lots of smiles all around.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Snapshots from the Night

Tonight, while sitting with Kai on the couch, he told me to "buckle up your eyes!"  Um, what?  Then he held his hands over his eyes.  "Like this!"  Oh!  Apparently buckle up your eyes is the same thing as cover your eyes when you are three.

In other funny notes, I walked into the bathroom to check on Conleigh when she was taking a bath and found her face down in the water, googles on, body stretched out.  I reminded her that the bathrtub is not for swimming and she told me that she wasn't swimming.  No she was actually practicing for when she searches the Bermuda Triangle for lost ships.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Sitting with Refugees and Immigrants

I sit.  She sits.  We sit together in grey plastic chairs, nearly knee to knee beside a brown woodgrain table.  You know the kind.  The sturdy plastic, institutional kind.  The kind that are made for hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of pencils scratching across their surface, as students complete their work.

I have heard that when she first enrolled in class, that some said school was the only place she didn't cry.  For a whole year.  This school was the only place she didn't cry.  Who wouldn't cry if they had fled madmen with knives and guns, whose violent acts apart from knives and guns made knives and guns seem somehow kind?  Who wouldn't cry if they knew that their family members had been beheaded, knowing that they might actually catch a glimpse of a neighbor or relative on the nightly national news, but only because of the horror that was happening near by?

I wonder now, two years into her new life, how much her heart has really settled.  How often does she still feel like a foreigner in a strange land?  How many times does she think about her old life, the one that she had to let go of just two long short years ago?  How hard does she work to keep those tears at bay?  How intermixed is her gratitude with heartache and longing?

I sit.  She sits.  American.  Kurdish.  Christian.  Yazidi.  Women.

Every day, I teach English to refugees and immigrants.  I teach parenting and navigating an American school and understanding American culture.  I sit next to Muslim women in hijabs and a Yazidi woman with tattoos across her fingers that I'd love to know more about, next to a Mexican woman with beautiful green brown eyes, a Sudanese woman who is also Muslim, and a French speaking man who is Congolese. 

I am not hysterical regarding the latest news from the White House.  I am optimistically concerned.  (Is that even a thing?)  More than anything my heart is weary.  I feel like I should say something.  Because unlike many of you, I sit next to the very people impacted by these policies.  I'm not sharing information, asking you to pick a side.  I'm not sharing information asking you to agree with me.  (Because in some ways, I'm not quite sure what I believe.  I'm honestly not sure I could articulate a position.)  I am asking you to read and think and consider how is on the other side of the visa desk, to be introspective in how you talk and act towards refugees and immigrants.

Let me start by sharing Senator Ben Sasse's words.  "The President is right to focus attention on the obvious fact that borders matter. At the same time, while not technically a Muslim ban, this order is too broad. There are two ways to lose our generational battle against jihadism by losing touch with reality. The first is to keep pretending that jihadi terrorism has no connection to Islam or to certain countries. That’s been a disaster. And here's the second way to fail: If we send a signal to the Middle East that the U.S. sees all Muslims as jihadis, the terrorist recruiters win by telling kids that America is banning Muslims and that this is America versus one religion. Both approaches are wrong, and both will make us less safe. Our generational fight against jihadism requires wisdom."

I appreciated Senator's Sasse's ability to see both sides of the issue as it is connected to admitting refugees and immigrants.  It is foolhardy to believe that every person who desires to immigrate here has good intentions.  Likewise, it is also unwise to operate from a place of fear.  The last few days have left my head spinning a bit.  Between pundits and hard news and Facebook's version of news, I just have been discouraged at it all.

It is hard to watch people take complex, complicated issues and reduce them into simple, black or white issues.  I think that's why I liked Senator Sasse's words, because he refused to do that.  The reality is it is not either or.  We do not have to support and provide for only veterans or only the homeless or only refugees.  We can do both.  We do not have to be compassionate or security minded.  We can be both.  We do not have to be only rooted in justice or only rooted in mercy.  We can be both.  We do not have to be patriotic or service oriented.  We can be both.  With no intent to be dramatic, as a Christian, I often live with this tension of being accountable to Jesus about my choices.  I most certainly have a list of verses that govern how I hope to live  If you are someone who would claim the same faith, I'd hope you also have a list of verses that influence how you live and why you believe what you believe, a list that is not just about the things you can easily connect to Biblical living but to things that are a bit more nuanced, where you have to do some soul seeking with God about how His words influence your worldview.  Thinking about immigration and refugees should not be exempt from this.

One of the hardest things for me to watch is when someone's opinion is connected to a na├»ve understanding of the truth.  Or even worse, it's hard to hear someone share something that comes from a flat out lie.  I've seen both.  Please, before you form an opinion, do your homework. We of course will make mistakes.  We of course will not always hear the whole story.  We will of course find ourselves influenced by the way a reporter covered the story.  And there are of course situations where the facts will lead two people to make two different conclusions.  But often, people don't do even a basic Google search in order to fact check their opinion.

At the risk of sounding like a blow hard, here are a few examples I've seen in the last week.  I am not saying I understand all of these issues perfectly.  I am certainly not an immigration official.  I am not trying to put any spin on these issues, other than to share what seem to be true, as best as I understand it.

Illegal immigrants need to fill out their papers to get legal
In regards to illegal immigrations via the United States' southern borders, I've seen people continue to assert that those here illegally should go down to an immigration office and fill out the paperwork to become legal.  With a handful of exceptions, this is simply not reality.  You cannot immigrate to the US from within our borders.  You must return to your home country, apply for a visa, and complete the required paperwork from that location.  I know that sounds simple.  However, the issue is that the US issues many different kinds of visas, with limits on how many can be issued of each kind.  The majority of people who are coming from Mexico and Central America are unskilled workers.  The number of immigrants who would be eligible for such a visa far outweighs the number of visas that our government is willing to issue.  This inequity in numbers is part of what fuels illegal immigration.

Refugee vetting is not secure
The refugee process, while not perfect, is generally speaking lengthy.  I agree that it is difficult to process people from countries where the central government is in chaos.  I have concerns over how a refugee can be properly vetted when the paperwork establishing his identity is incomplete.  However, there is a process that usually takes 18-24 months, that includes multiple steps that must be completed overseas before the refugee is allowed to enter the US.  To say with certainty that it is 100% secure is not accurate.  But it is also not accurate to assert that we are just letting whomever in to the country.  Again, there are exceptions to this and there are refugees who manage to get here without visas who are allowed entry.  (Cuban refugees are a prime example of these.  If a Cuban reaches the U.S., he is often allowed to stay despite the fact that he came without a visa.  I honestly do not know how such a policy applies to Syrians or any other Middle Eastern refugee.  However, I would guess just by using common sense that the situations are someone different due in part to Cuba's proximity to the U.S..)

Muslims from certain countries present the most risk to us
I realize that the current executive order does not specific Muslims, that it also excludes many Muslim nations.  However, I would hope those who are very concerned about radical Islam and terrorism, that they would not just buy the media narrative of radical Islam being unique to the Middle East.  Radical Islam exists in a variety forms in a variety of places.  It's face is not solely Arabic or Sudani.  It exists in Saudi Arabi, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya, Bosnia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China.  (Yes, you read that right, China.)  I won't provide you with all of the links but if you simply google the country name followed by the phrase "Muslim terrorists" you will find a bevy of information.  I am not certain that we can assure our safety regarding terrorism by regionalizing our immigration concerns. 

Look at what has happened in Europe
Take the time to understand how European immigration laws work as well as to consider how the closeness of Europe impacts the way refugees have fled the war torn Middle East.  We are not Europe and will not be, even if there are those who might be considered in favor of open borders in the U.S..

Trump's current policies are no different than Obama's
Not exactly.  There are some similarities but there are also differences.  I can't believe I'm citing Snopes but they actually have a comprehensive comparison, along with citations of the multiple sources they used when writing up the comparison.  It's worth the read.  Also, for those who are saying this, please think about what Trump has said.  He used the words "extreme vetting."  If his plan is extreme vetting, than having a policy identical to Obama's cannot be.  Likewise, Trump's own words included the phrase "Muslim ban".  He also continually used phrases like "the blacks" or "the Mexicans."  I know for some that is just indicative of him being a plain spoken man who just says what come to mind, without considering political correctness.  However, I don't think any of us who are white would have appreciated Barack Obama referring to us as "the whites."  Trump's past words sets him apart from Obama.

Muslims should not be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. because they want to impose Sharia Law in the U.S..
If Sharia Law is of concern to you, please research it from reputable sources.  (ie not from an extreme right or left wing source)  Just like Christianity covers a vast array of opinions, so does Islam.  I have yet to find anything from a reputable, non partisan source citing Sharia Law as a real risk to the U.S..  Yes, there are stories out there but none of them seem to point to a realistic threat.  Just because a Muslim has brought a lawsuit or has acted in a certain way does not equate to a risk.  Just because one Wiccan brought a lawsuit, this doesn't equate to a Wiccan take over.  Just because one Christian killed her kids because God told her to, this doesn't equate to a Christian movement where all people should follow suit.  If the only thing you know about Sharia Law is that it is an extreme and aggressive form of Islam, research it a bit.  Not because you are wrong but because it's a complex issue.  I would not normally classify the Huffington Post as bias free since they are normally left of center but this article is actually very fact based.  I would also encourage you to read this article from the Pew Reseach Center on Islam both in America and abroad because it specifically addresses the number of Muslims in favor of Sharia Law.  How Sharia Law Became Embedded in Our Political Debate is also worth the read.  Instituting Sharia Law in the U.S. would basically require a complete gutting of the First Amendment.  It would require a lengthy legal battle involving all levels of our judicial system.  In my non-legal mind, the closest thing we have to that involve the Native American tribes.  However, even with those groups, they are generally still held to the laws of our land.  Without a doubt, we should be concerned about how women, criminals, and those of opposing faiths are treated. 

The absurd, the graphic, or the sensational
On both sides of the immigration issue there are entities who intentionally spread half truths or untruths in order to energize those who are already leaning towards an opinion.  Recognize when you are being manipulated by these sites.  I have recently read stories about a mob of Muslims killing a woman by pulling her limb from limb and that refugees are carrying a flesh eating disease into the U.S..  It's a bit like being in junior high.  (Gah!  I hate to even make that comparison.)   But seriously.  Some of this stuff is just like a junior high rumor dressed up as news.  Ask yourself if the story actually makes sense.  Ask yourself why this story is being shared, if the group sharing it appears to have an ulterior motive in doing so.  Ask yourself what is the result of the sharing, specifically does it lump people into groups and narrowly define a certain group.  Both of the examples I gave were based in a bit of truth.  A group of Muslims did kill a woman.  There are some concerns about a parasite based flesh eating disease among Syrians.  However, both are designed to incite fear.  The first story hopes to paint all Muslims as supporting such a mob.  In fact, Afghanistan, pre Taliban, was actually a very progressive Muslim country.   (If you are looking for some light reading on Afghanistan, I highly recommend The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.)  There is a disease that comes from a parasite connected to sandfly bites that does appear to be increasing in Lebanon and Turkey, as connected to an increase in Syrian refugees.  However, that is a far cry from it being an epidemic or making its way to the United States.  Also, generally speaking, when you house humans in refugee camps, outbreaks of disease are going to happen because refugee camps are not exactly the Super 8.  Similarly, on the other side, there have been numerous articles on exactly who has not been allowed to enter the US because of Trump's policies.  It's often children and may even include children with medical conditions.  This is actually true, that a travel ban impacts all kinds of children.   It is important for us to recognize that it is a trade-off, that tightening our policies will limit the entry of truly needy people into the U.S..  But it's also a tad sensationalist because the press did not highlight these concerns when there Obama place travel restrictions on Iraqis earlier.  I'm sure there have been other similar stories, where the purpose is to sensationalize the plight of refugees or immigrants; I just haven't seen them.

I'll leave you with a few links for reading.  I realize that they may have a bend to them.  It's pretty difficult to find something that doesn't.  But I think many of the perspectives shared are worth reading.  I'm not asking you to say "yes, admit all refugees or immigrants."  I am asking you to think about the person on the other side of the that word, to think about what your words, repostings, and funny memes say about that person.

Immigration 2017  This posting is specifically geared towards acting politically in support of refugees and compassionate immigration policies.  My intent of my blog post was not necessarily political so I know this seems like a bait and switch.  However, my reason for sharing this  is because the author neatly puts all of the potential immigration issues into one article, explaining how each works at face value.

A Sane Approach to the Refugee Crisis  A middle of the road article, specifically written to Christians, asking them to think about the opportunities that we are presented with via the refugees who live in our communities.  I personally interact with five Muslim women on a daily basis because they were allowed to immigrate into the United States.  While my goal is not proselytizing them, I do think there is an amazing opportunity there to be a Christian who loves them, one I would not have if they did not live here.

Washington Post article, written by a former USCIS officer  I recognize that this also might seem to encourage you to choose a side.  Not my intent.  What I think is valuable is that this post shares facts about what it looks like when we vet refugees.  I am not saying the process is fail proof.  I am not saying there are not exceptions.   I am not saying we should not be cautious.   I am saying, before you form an opinion, consider what the facts are.

Returning Refugees  A flip the script type piece, asking you to consider that many refugees may really wish to stay in their home countries, that their choice is not really a choice.  While many refugees are happy to have the safety and opportunity of the United States, it wasn't necessarily their plan for their lives.