Choosing the Right Yoke

Today I was struggling, truthfully, it started yesterday. And probably long before that – it’s been a long year or five. The particular struggle in my life is irrelevant, but the lesson of the struggle is. I know God has been working on me about showing joy during times of struggle – and, keeping with my pattern, I’ve struggled with that too. But today I did something better and turned to His word for guidance. And after some different passages I fell into one that spoke to me clearly in Mathew.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light

Mathew 11:28-30

Merriam-Webster defines a yoke, and there are several meanings. In the Bible, it’s most often used to describe a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together. Merriam-Webster would go on to say that it could be an oppressive agency. Why does the dictionary think as I do? Carrying a yoke, that’s oppressive, burdensome.

Jesus has the audacity to say if you have a burden, take another burden? What exactly is Jesus saying to me here, in this moment where my burdens seem too heavy?

Love, Servitude, Obedience

The yoke that Jesus carries is one of Love. As a human, this often comes in the form of serving others, and Obedience to God. How does loving others, obeying and serving God make our burdens light?

So often we choose to take up the yoke that solves our problems. Let me work and toil on this thing so that I can fix my happiness, my struggle, so that I can fix my joy. But, Jesus tells us to drop our yoke and take up his yoke. His yoke is easy and light, it includes love, serving others and being obedient to God.

Loving Yourself The Way God Loves You

If you’re a parent you know the sheer joy of watching your child do something really bad, but you are overcome with sheer joy. I’ve seen numerous plays, concerts, and sporting events where my child was not the star – but they were always my star. When Seth was in preschool, they had a Christmas performance where he was Santa Claus. He was dressed up in a Santa outfit, including some stuffing in his belly to make him appear extra jolly.

Seth was so shy then in that play. He spoke timidly, and made it through the underwhelming performance. It was a performance that only a parent could love. Have you heard the phrase “a face only a mother could love”? Well, you’re face/life/circumstance is that that only a Father could love and adore. You too are a hot mess, like the rest of us. But God, he adores us – even amidst our greatest failures he tears up in pride in how strong you are, how well you fight through the hard time. Amidst the struggle, The Father is glowing.

Joy

one thing I’ve been really struggling with for a long time is being joyful on the outside when there are trials, tribulations, and struggles of various sorts. I’ve never been good at smiling during the hurt, at being joyful through the pain. God knows this, and he’s been working on me about it – but I’ve fought him the whole way. How can I find joy in a moment like this? How can I be happy when my world is falling apart? How can I show joy even as the world around me crumbles?

I was today years old when I learned that my joy should be derived from Him, that even and especially amidst my struggles God peers on with utter love, joy, amazement at His creation. And friends, that’s all that really matters amidst our earthly struggles. This earth is a pitstop to reach a place where His love surrounds us eternally.

Holiday Stress

The holidays always bring some joy. Often the most wonderful time of the year brings it’s own set of baggage. Remembering those who we lost, the hurt of family who is not around anymore (or never was). The pain of loss, the heartache of not being able to give your children all that you want to give them. The financial stress, the rush, the arguments with family and friends.

The Pain, The Pleasure

All of this is life. The pain and the pleasure, the love and the hate, the hot and the cold. But in Him, we can take His yoke, and be more joyful. Today I’m thankful to have the time to sort through some of this in my head, and I hope that it works – that I can be happier in times of sadness. And, even if I can’t yet – He will be watching with amazement at His creation working through some set of struggle, and loving me every bit more because of the struggle.

In times of my personal struggles, as long as I continue to seek the answers through His word and prayer, then I be better – encouraged. Maybe I will learn, and maybe I will practice what I learn. I’ll keep turning my eyes to Jesus during times of struggle, and perhaps someday, you’ll see me with joy amidst that pain.

My Children Can Know Peace

My wife and I have four children together, our oldest is currently 17 years old. For his entire life (and more) the United States of America has been at war against terrorism. First Iraq and then Afghanistan and other places in-between. This week that is all coming to an impossible end. As videos and images show the terrible outcome of war, I’m incredibly thankful that perhaps we can turn a corner. I’m hopeful that the country in which my children call home can now be more peaceful and, instead of war, we can spend the next 20 years at peace.

“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King, Jr

For the next 20 years young women and men won’t return from a foreign land with scars they will carry with them the rest of their lives. For the next 20 years, young people can instead visit foreign lands and return with things that will enrich their lives and the lives of others. For the next 20 years, young people can pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness instead of pursuing enemies in foreign lands. For the next 20 years, people can love instead of hate. For the next 20 years, people can build instead of tear down.


I’ve been a faithful patriot, I served my country with honor, and will continue to do so until the day I die. However, I pray that my children see the love and obedience I show towards God above everything else. I pray they love Jesus with all their might, that they teach their children (and their children and their children) about the love of Jesus. I pray they learn about the endless Love that only He can offer. Today I’m thankful for a new day of peace, and that the days of war can finally come to an end.

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.”

Mathew 24:6

Love, At the Barbershop

Yesterday I went to the barbershop to get a haircut, mostly because I was starting to look like a wild man, but also because I like going to this place that reminds me that the world can be simple. Instead of being just reminded of a simpler time, I left upset and disappointed. It wasn’t until this morning that I was able to resolve my disappointment, anger and disgust.

My favorite thing about visiting the barbershop is that it reminds me of a simpler time. Today people like you and I push ourselves to mass consumption, we’re rushed, exhausted, and always spending our time and money in places that don’t bring us enjoyment. I certainly don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a trip to Walmart, or The Mall, or Other large place of Big Promises and Low Expectations. More often than not, I don’t leave one of these big box stores a better person. I’d even venture to say that I leave a lesser person – more disappointed in people, and companies, and even myself. But harken back to a time before these Big Box Stores when small shops did the jobs of these places, and I think you find places that give more than they take. In Ashland there’s an abundance of these small businesses that will enrich your life. As a child, I recall going to White’s Meat Market, which is still open but I haven’t been there in many years. I still shop at the same store my grandparents did, not because there are falling prices, but because it literally takes me back to a simpler time every time I step through those doors.

As a child, I recall getting the world’s best hot dogs from the deli, among many other treats. There, they may even offer to take your groceries to your car for you, and will even walk the isles to help you find something. I go there not only because it’s convenient, but because they offer some little things that I like in their deli, and carry the brands that I’ve remained loyal to for years. Just yesterday I went to Jolly Pirate Donuts and picked up a baker’s dozen. And those are just 3 little places that I love in Ashland, but there are many more. Before Walmart people mostly shopped at small businesses that left them more fulfilled, better people.

My second favorite thing about a barber shop is that it’s a place to meet people in the community and talk about current events. I never know who I might see and get to talk to, and the topics can be just about anything. Sometimes it’s just talk about the Kentucky Wildcats, or rumors about expansion of local business or new business, but sometimes it’s politics. Even as we try to avoid it, and most people do, it comes up – we can’t help it, and it’s mostly okay. I can hear other people talk about something I don’t agree with without getting enraged, which yesterday I thought was a bad trait.

Among the topics yesterday were how badly the Wildcats were playing, this much we all agreed. But there was a lot of talk about fear. Fears about the COVID vaccine, how the recent vote to allow alcohol sales in throughout Boyd County would cause mass alcoholism and child abuse, and fear that President Biden would be ushering in a new world order. Some men in the shop had powerful opinions about the former and present president, neither of which I agreed with. I left there thinking that I should not go back to that barbershop, because I couldn’t believe the man I knew could believe in such crazy, conspiratorial ideals. To me, the thoughts he expressed were dangerous to our community and nation, and these opinions were not based in fact, but instead in rumor, rhetoric and hearsay. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

The words they spoke left me disappointed that I didn’t say something to defend the view of my world. But this morning, that all changed, as God began to speak to me about Love. During Jesus’ time, he did not spend time focusing on the politics of the day, instead he almost always talked and displayed love. A quick Google search says there are at least 157 mentions of the word “love” in The New Testament, and little about politics. However, Jesus’ story was a very political story. Jesus was crucified and died because he claimed to be King of the Jews – which was treasonous, according to the Roman Empire. Though he did mention politics occasionally, especially those in The Church and those of Rome, he almost always turned to thoughts and acts of love. I recalled 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, which states:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

There is plenty in this world that I disagree with, and sometimes I’ll make my thoughts known. The older I get the more I choose not to express myself, because I’ve been wrong enough to know better. I’ve grown to believe that this non-action is a personal weakness. Sometimes it makes me feel like a coward. Today, I’m reminded that my weakness is not weakness, and that I am not a coward. Instead, I’m showing love to others in the same way Jesus did.

If I chose to never go back to that barbershop again I would not be showing patience, I would be easily angered, I would be keeping a record of wrongs. When my oldest son, now 16, was a toddler, this barber gave him his first haircut. I’ve trusted him with the people in my life who I hold most dear. While he’s not my dear friend, he’s an old friend, and I want to show him the love of Jesus.

These thoughts give this old sinner hope this morning. Because if I can show the love of Jesus, the patience of Jesus, then so can you. These small acts of love will make the world a better place. Even in the midst of a pandemic, political upheaval and turmoil, and a time when social norms are changing. We do not have to agree with one another to treat each other with the love of Jesus.

The Heart of a Free Man

I’m currently listening to the book The Richest Man In Babylon, which I heard had some worthy ideals that may appeal to me. It’s been a bit of a laborious read since the linguistics are from another era, namely the era of the early 20th century, but I push on. It talks about the great American ideals of picking yourself up by the bootstraps, being self-reliant, and taking control of your (financial) life while not blaming others for the situation you happen to be in. In this way, it may be a timeless classic. Let’s face it, in 2021 this may need reiterating.

We live in a time when many people think that they deserve what others toil for. We can read that Jeff Bezos makes about $9,000,000 per hour, and wonder why because even making just $15 per hour would change many lives. Mr. Bezos is one of a handful of billionaires that simply make too much for the good himself or society. But let us stop there on that today – because there is truth in the reality that none of us control what Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates or, for that matter, what your neighbor makes. You can only control your own financial future, and to focus on the success or failure of another man is simply a bad way to go about improving yourself.

Those born into wealth and privilege have the easy path toward passing that same wealth/privilege down to their children and grandchildren. However, that does not preclude you and me from also becoming wealthy.

Picking yourself up out of a cloud of debt is going to be the hardest job you may ever do. I thought the author did have some valuable insight on the matter in the following thoughts, which are vastly paraphrased: If you found yourself in a fight for your life, wouldn’t you fight as if your life depended on it, bringing all the strength and power you could muster? The same could be said about your debt. Debt is a man who will take all that you have, including your pride, and punish you so much that you will be afraid to show yourself in front of your friends and family. Debt is a big, strong, powerful man, he will pummel you. Make no mistake about it, if you have debt (and don’t we all), you’re in the fight of your life.

If you have somehow over-leveraged yourself, or have been through a life event that has impacted your income, then you may find yourself struggling. COVID has given many terrible gifts, and for some, it has been the gift of a hulking debt soaking up what little income you have remaining. To paraphrase my favorite TV minister, this is just a season of your life, God is setting you up for the greatest come back of your life. But that come back depends on your ability to recognize the opponent (debt) and fight with all the tools in your toolbox.

In The Richest Man In Babylon, the author states that the mind of a free man fights, while the mind of a slave will roll-over, and accept his fate. I nearly didn’t include that in this blog because it recons back to a time when men should be slaves to other men. But let’s be real for a moment, aren’t we all slaves to something? Perhaps that’s a habit (like tobacco), a debt we owe, our upbringing – but we’re a slave, in that context. As he states, we can choose to have the mindset of a free man, a man who can hold his head high in public, a man with coin jingling in his pockets, a man who makes consistently good decisions.

Wealth is not achieved overnight, it’s the slow build up of good decisions and discipline. Luck will bless the prepared man. But today I ask you to examine your mindset, and ask yourself which mindset you have, the mindset of a slave or one of a free man. If you have a mindset that says ‘everyone is against me, I’ll never get out of this situation’ and so on, you can change your mind, you can become a free man, too.

I’d love to hear your feedback, or if you’ve read this book, your thoughts on that too.

Good and Successful Men

I’ve a confession: my high school career did not contain anything to brag about. I did not make good grades, in fact, I barely graduated. I was not motivated, smart, happy, and maybe I wasn’t even nice or friendly. I did the bare minimum to get by.

After high school, I bounced around between jobs, attended the local community college where I finally graduated. I tried to go to Morehead State University, but I left there after one semester flunking at least some classes. During this time I was always trying to get better gainful employment, but mostly didn’t do well for myself. I even tried a small business that also failed, not because it was a bad business, but because I did not have the tools to allow it to succeed. There’s not a lot from years 18-24 that I’m proud of, because I just coasted along. I had no idea what success was, how to get there, nor did not have any direction in my life.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I was a dirt bag, because I wasn’t. I didn’t do drugs or get a face tattoo, I was never arrested. To the contrary, I tried hard not to do those things, and I’m thankful for that. You see, I was trying really hard – I was (and still am) a really hard worker. I thought that I should get a college degree, but this is the same guy who barely passed high school – so I didn’t even know how to do that. Even with that goal in mind, I didn’t have an ambition, a dream that college would fulfill.

At 25 I joined the Navy, which changed the course of my life. Since 25, I’ve mostly done well for myself. In the last 10 years, the trajectory of my life has changed drastically for the better, but it’s been the culmination of a lot of hard work, one day at a time. Taking a moment to reflect, I wish I knew at 18 (or 8) what I know now. I wish that I had direction, someone who was successful to lead and teach me. As much as the adults in my life loved me (and I was surrounded by lots and lots of love), I didn’t have anyone around who was successful in their life who had the time to teach me how to also be successful.

Nobody is born with the innate knowledge of what it takes to work your way up on the job ladder and how to build and maintain your credit. Boys like me had to stumble their way through it, and a few made it through on the other side and became successful. But that success wasn’t through who I was or knowledge I attained. Mostly, it was through one person or another being nice, giving me a chance, and coaching me through the best way they knew how.

One such man was J.B. Finlay who was the director at the Huntington VA Medical Center. I met him while doing an internship that was required for me to graduate with my BS degree from Ohio University. I am grateful for the kindness that he showed me, for giving me a window into his success. Another was a professor at Ohio University, his name was William Rau. In his classes I learned how to be a good student. He counseled me on a career, and was perhaps the first teacher who treated me like I was or could be smart. Another gentleman, Curt Justice was an incredibly smart business man, a hard worker and would give anyone the shirt off of his back. He taught me that owning a business meant you could do all of the jobs in the business, and that fear did no service to the businessman. If he had to jump out of a airplane as part of his business, he would jump then figure out how he would land. He also taught me a great deal about faith and God. James Shallard worked at a little company called AppRiver, and he saw a skill set of a young man and thought those skills could be put to work on his software development team. He gave me a chance, and plenty of time to grow into a position, and to him, I’m grateful because he gave me my foot in the door that would reveal a great passion in working with technology.

There were others along the way, and there will be more I think. Today I strive to teach my four boys the lessons I’ve attained over the course of my life. Almost all of them were hard lessons. My goal is to give them the guidance that I lacked so that they can make better, more informed, decisions. They are my legacy, but there are other boys out there who need my guidance, my knowledge, and need to see my success. Perhaps there’s a young man out there who hasn’t seen success, and doesn’t have direction, and is fighting the invisible man, much like I was. You can’t win a fight against an opponent you know nothing about, and that pretty much sums up what I was doing as a young man. I think in the weeks, months and years to come, I’ll try to find this young man, and lift him up like those men who helped me.

In today’s world, good men do not have a high value placed upon them. With all the talk of toxic masculinity, one thing has been forgotten – good, successful men know how to teach boys how to be good, successful men. It has been my life’s experience that there is a serious shortage of good men in this nation willing to share this knowledge. We need good men more than ever to teach, mentor, coach and lift up our boys. In spite of being very busy in my own deeds, I have a new goal to teach and help raise up young men.

Victorious In Kentucky

Thomas Wolfe authored a novel titled You Can’t Go Home Again. It’s about a successful novelist who returns home and is shunned because the characters in his books were indeed about real people in his home town, and they were ashamed and angry they he had exposed them. Even though I spent a decade in Florida after leaving my home town, I never wrote or spoke anything inflammatory about those I once knew. Mostly, I was trying to shed the coat of existence that had been placed upon me. That coat contained more than 2 decades of history, and many people who knew me before I could walk. Sometimes when people know exactly who you are, it’s hard to become what God has destined you to become. Six months ago, we all moved back home – history in tote.

After nearly 10 years of fighting to get myself and my family in better positions, and redefining who I was, my fear was that hitting this reset button would reset who I had become. My fear has not become a reality. Instead I find myself even more determined to become who I am destined to be, and reading my last name will not remind anyone of who I was decades ago, it will remind them of what they see right in front of their eyes. The path of my life in Kentucky has been wide and straight, and even easy, so far.

When I left Kentucky I felt small, vulnerable, poor and failed. Probably because I was all of those things. To say that I had struggled mightily is an understatement. Like many Americans who had faced similar fates in decades past, we packed up everything we could fit in the smallest trailer we could rent, and headed South. Upon reflection, that journey was reckless, and even stupid. Rachel and I drove nearly 1000 miles with 3 small children with everything we could carry and very little money. When we arrived at Florida, we had hoped there was a place to stay, as was promised, and that we could make it. This was a sink or swim moment, and one I cannot imagine putting my children through at this stage in my life. But after 10 years, not only did we swim, we became better people, harder workers, fighters, and survivors. Maybe those traits best define us now. We have lost battles, we have been hurt – but we pushed, achieved, and finally over-achieved.

In our return home, we carry those values we have earned, not because we choose to, but because that’s who we are now. I return home not in defeat and with lowered shoulders, but in victory, shoulders back and prepared to be victorious of anything and everything that gets in the way. If that thing is history or people I knew or once knew or heard about, then so it will be. I’m home and am ready to receive what is mine, and for that matter, what is yours. I am victorious.

A Warrior’s Love

Tonight I have fatherly love on my mind. Not the kind a father gives his children, instead the type of love a child craves from his father. I have always craved acceptance and approval of my father, and have felt that he gave neither. Recently, I’ve noticed how much my own children crave my acceptance and approval, and how I’m also not giving them what they want.

I can see they crave some outright blessing, whether that’s a verbal “how amazing of you to do that, you make me proud” or a show of gratitude. Like my father, I find myself not giving those blessings, not because they don’t exist, but because a father’s love is already beyond approval – it’s unconditional. Besides that – that blessing would only last a moment, and they will continue to seek it. Even when my children do things that embarrass me, I accept and approve them. Not because I apply a blessing to their action, but because the biggest joy I can imagine is them being happy, content, successful, capable of being loved and showing love.

Father’s don’t have an agenda except that we want everything that is good for them. When I perceive one of my boys doing something that is going to steal their own happiness or success from them, in my heart, I disapprove, because of my love. It is a father’s love that causes this disapproval.

My relationship with my father has been broken for many, many years now. There is some pain, and there is some joy. For many years I really disliked what I thought he did to me (or rather, what he didn’t do). When I became a father, I vowed to be the man he never was. Because of this I’ve stayed away from jobs that required me being gone for extended periods, I’ve coached them and been to almost all of the games and practices. I cook, clean, work incredibly hard, and try to teach them everything I know. I’ve tried my very, very hardest to be the very best father I can be. Yet, here we are – them craving my acceptance and approval, and me (seemingly) providing neither.

Tonight I was thinking “where have I gone wrong?” Now, I think – that’s the nature of fathers and sons. A father loves more than a son can imagine. A son thinks of love as a one-dimensional object that is displayed toward them, not on them and around them. When I discipline my children or have difficult discussions with them, it is never for my benefit, but for theirs. I think this is perceived as disapproval and non-acceptance. Isn’t that a shame that I thought this, and that my children think this also?

Now I think about how I can change that dynamic – how can I show them that I approve of them while I care about them probably more than they care for themselves? As a 45 year old man, with a father in his 70’s, I find myself doing things that I think would impress my dad – isn’t that just silly? Is that God’s way to instill in us to love ourselves as much as a father loves his son? To be clear, I’ve never done much to impress my father. He’s much more accomplished than I will be at his age in many ways. I’m constantly amazed at how smart he is, even today. Just last week I was blown away by a correspondence with him and thought “he’s so incredibly smart, I can never be that smart!” That is indeed, the summation of a father-son relationship. That is God’s way to tell me “you can and you will do better”.

The epitome of a father’s love is that he’s willing to sacrifice being loved (or even liked) if that means encouraging his son to do better, to be stronger, to fight harder. A mother’s love is a sympathetic love, a father’s love is a love that builds courage. Both sympathetic and warrior love encourage a child in a different way. As a son, my mother’s love taught me to be kind, giving and loving. My father’s love taught me to be courageous, brave and to fight for the life I didn’t know I wanted.

When I see my children seek my approval I know they seeking something I can never give them, because absolutely nothing is ever going to give them what they deserve. One small step can derail a life, every single choice matters, every thought, every action – and part of me is satisfied they will think of me and ask themselves if I approve. What they’re really asking is “is this what is best for me?” However, I know they will despise me for it, maybe even hate me and may even cause them to rebel. That’s what I did. But, they will continue to strive and fight for what is right, and that’s the kind of love I want to give them, a warrior’s love.

Surrounded by Blessings

Each day when I wake up I think how incredibly blessed I am to have a good job with good people. I am reminded how healthy I am, how prosperous my life has become. I am focused, confident and strong. Everyday I am getting younger, feeling more and more refreshed, growing in wisdom, wealth and health. I have four amazing boys, a beautiful and hard-working wife, and family that loves me. The best of my life is ahead of me! I can’t believe this is my life, it’s exceeding my hightest expectations.

Sadly, I don’t always feel this way. However, my feelings and circumstances do not change my blessings. Even when I wake up still tired, I am healthy. Even when my muscles ache, I’m still blessed to ambulate in any way I choose. Even when I wish I had more of some material thing, I have more than I need. Even when I don’t feel confident, strong or focused – I can be any and all of these things a lot of the time. Even when my boys act up or I argue with Rachel, I am still incredibly blessed. Even when i think my best days are behind me, I know that is not a true statement.

My blessings are often impacted by my attitude. Sometimes my attitude still stinks, but I’m making improvements in this area of my life. I have become tired of not feeling blessed when I know that I am. Here I am, the son of the King, and I feel like the world is against me. He laughs at that, God wrote the story of my life end to beginning, has counted the hair on my head, and has blessed me because of His grace (and certainly not my actions or because I deserve it). I’ve been getting better at letting God love me, I’m getting better at understanding I am blessed. I understand I’m here to serve a purpose greater than me, and am opening up my life to receive the countless blessings He wants to bestow.

You’ll Shoot Your COVID Out

Yesterday was Independence day in the United States of America, and a mixed-bag of feelings washed over me. While preparing for our move to Kentucky, I had to leave the house three times yesterday, twice to Lowes and once to Walmart. Like many of you, I try to avoid going out, and when I do, I do my best to practice social distancing. I do not always wear a mask (sometimes I do), but I could and maybe I should. In today’s world, there is more information available at our fingertips than ever. Some sources of information claim to be the source of truth and fact – and it could be true, or it could be false. Some information (like this blog) is just an opinion – I don’t claim to know more than you on the subject, it’s just my opinion. This opinion is the sum total of my life-long learning experiences, and I’m trying to do the very best that I can.

When I was a kid I thought all adults were wise. Later, I learned that all adults were not wise. Even later, I learned that all adults were wise, again.

I’ve learned that as I age, my mind adjusts to new information. I make opinions based upon what I’ve learned over the entire course of my life. Things I once thought were certainties are now surely false, but that may change. Even for those of us who aren’t the smartest, we still gain wisdom. I think this is also true for You (dear reader), Lebron James, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Dalai Lama, Joel Osteen and Charles Manson. Notice how I selected a wide arrange of people on the spectrum, although I don’t have much in common with any of these people, except that I am human, much like you – and that I learn things and grow in my own personal brand of wisdom. I don’t personally know anyone who is super wealthy or famous (or infamous), but I do know many people (like you) that are amazing people, and all of us have wisdom.

Some people think COVID is a conspiracy, others think it’s a virus that is spread and that we’re all in danger (sound the alarms!). The people I call my friends come from different backgrounds, some have a little money while others have little. Some of you are Democrats, some are Republicans, and some of you are neither. Almost everyone I know has seen A Christmas Story, and know the line “You’ll shoot your eye out”. Regarding that line specifically, we know that Ralphie, was told by every single adult he knew, including Santa, that he did not need the Red Rider BB Gun because he would shoot his eye out. However, on Christmas morning he ended up getting his prized wish. Shout out to irresponsible parents everywhere. As it turns out, Ralphie did not shoot his eye out, but he did shoot himself, breaking his glasses in the confusion.

You see, it was indeed possible that Ralphie would shoot his eye out (or his brother’s eye or perhaps a neighborhood dog’s eye). That’s possible – every parent in the world can testify to this simple truth. Parents struggle with giving their children age-appropriate things, because we know they most learn to navigate this world as an adult some day. Each of my children have learned at different intervals – some of them I might’ve given a dangerous toy too at a much younger age, others, I wouldn’t give them this same toy until they were much older. Parents want their children to grow and learn, we even want them to have fun, and we want them to be safe.

Sometimes parents make good judgement calls, sometimes we give our child a motorcycle on their third birthday – usually, it all works out just fine.

My faith plays an important role in my life, it sets the boundaries of what I believe in what is right and wrong. I share my faith with my children because they will need God more than they ever needed me. I fail daily in ways that God never will, He will comfort and guide them when I cannot be there. These faith boundaries guide us, and are important to us and our children. While we can never have faith in a political party, brand or movement, we can have faith that God will guide us through it all.

I think our best scientists, leaders, politicians, and activists want what is best, but I also know they too do not know everything. Like you and I, they’re making decisions based on a lifetime of learning and the best information available to them. They may one day look back and regret making a decision to mandate this or that. In fact, I think that’s the expected outcome. That’s why the government moves so slow, it was built that way on purpose – so that we could not, in the heat of some moment (or weeks or months), give or take away a freedom that would forever change the fabric of this great experiment called America.

Yesterday while out and about I saw fear everywhere – people were either giving me judging looks, or just avoiding eye contact altogether. Everyone is giving everyone lots of social distance, which I think is what matters most at the moment. Most people did not speak, I spoke to a few and tried very hard to be friendly. If you know me, this was a task – but I know people are hurting and confused, and we need each other now more than ever. We need to be nice and friendly, we need to be human to one another. If you or I were to die due to COVID, I would hope someone would have something nice to say about us. But even that is in danger – funerals, work, school, businesses – life and death are now postponed until further notice.

Yesterday was Independence Day, a day that is designated to celebrate the freedom we have enjoyed in this country. But I had many mixed feelings because we live in a time where our freedoms are restricted. Not in a small way, but in a large way – we cannot go out and about like we once did. Vacations, cancelled. Family reunions, cancelled. Walmart closes early, like every other store, and restaurant, bowling alley and skating rink (even if those places are open now, I’m not even sure).

There is evidence that what we are doing is not enough to flatten the curve. There is also evidence that we’re doing too much, and that we’re giving away our freedoms in the form of compliance. On Independence Day I was saddened that we’re not being more brave so that we could enjoy more freedom. Friends, I want you to be you, loud and proud. Whether you think it’s a conspiracy or whether you think you have all the data to confirm the worst-case scenario. And I want you to be safe, and to keep my safety in mind. Is it even possible to have both safety and security?

I want to interact with people without fear that you’re judging me for what I’m wearing on my face, who’s political party bumper sticker is on my car, or what the color of my skin is. But here we are, against one another, caught in this terrible act of violence that is judging. If there were a conspiracy, it might be something like “have them all turn on the other and then we can do whatever it is we want to do”. I’m not saying that is really happening, but sometimes it has the feeling of that.

What is really happening is much worse, we’re not being nice to one another anymore.

Many of us care more about shaming or sharing opinions than we do about how a person is feeling or doing. Some of us are really struggling – no, I think most of us are really struggling. It’s hard to be home with the kids all the time, to not be able to do the things we want to do, to be isolated and alone. It’s really hard, even if you think you’re adjusting well (which I think I am), it’s still really hard.

When you go out in public, with our without a mask, I would like it to be your choice. You might shoot your eye out, or you might shoot my eye out, or it might turn out okay in the end. We cannot be certain of the outcome yet because nobody is that smart and correct – we’re all learning, doing the best we can. But, what I implore you to do now more than ever is to be kind to your fellow human. Whether or not they vote Red or Blue or Green, whether they wear a mask or don’t, whether they support the Black Lives Matter movement (or not) – be nice. When I was a kid someone once told me that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile; I still don’t believe that statement. What I do believe is that even if smiling is hard, do it anyways. Wave at your neighbors or have a discussion with them. It’s okay to have and share your opinions. But we all have them, some are right and some are wrong – some are right now and may be wrong later, and some are wrong now and may be right later. None of it will matter when you have your funeral. People will remember you most for how you treated them. Treat people well.

I’ll Take My Spoils Now

The statues and symbols that represent The Confederate States of America have again come to the forefront in The United States of America. I want you to take note right now how both of those nations are independent and different than one another. Hank Williams was wrong, If the south would’ve won I wouldn’t had had it made. Instead, I wouldn’t be permitted to love the people I love – my children couldn’t play at the same parks or drink at the same water fountains as their children. Not only that, The Confederacy was the enemy of the country I served for, The United States of America. If you love The Confederacy and the ideals of white supremacy, you’re the enemy of my country and you’re my enemy.

Betwen 2000 and 2004 I served in the United States Navy. As a veteran, I’ve guarded the lives of men and women of color, as they have guarded mine. They stood their watch, I stood mine, for one another. I’ve been served and have served people of color, not because I must, but because I could. It was a true honor to have served with the many women and men of color who I could call shipmates. If you don’t love people of color, you’re not just their enemy, you’re my enemy.

Over the last decade of my life some of the finest and best people I’ve ever known are people of color – I don’t just like them, I love them. They have taught and coached my children as their own, I have taught and coached their children as my own. We have stood beside one another on football fields, basketball courts, baseball diamonds, soccer fields and at lacrosse tournaments. These families trusted us with their most precious gifts – their children, as we did them. I have loved on their families, and they have loved on mine. If you don’t love people of color, you’re not just their enemy, you’re my enemy.

On April 9th, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant and The Confederacy was no more. The Confederacy existed between 1861 and 1865, and they lost. The Confederacy does not exist any more, as it suffered a similar defeat to The Third Reichthey lost in compelling and convincing fashion and the world became a better place because of it. We, as the citizens of The United States of America are the victors. The victors of war get to enjoy the spoils, one such spoil is writing the history.

“To the victor goes the spoils” – William L. Marcy

For many years in America, there have been sympathizers to the southern cause. The man who shot and killed one of America’s most beloved presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was a Confederate sympathizer. James Earl Ray, the man who murdered Martin Luther King, was also a sympathizer to the ideals of white supremacy. Yet, I consumed the the media that was tolerated within the main streams of American culture. I loved to watch The Dukes of Hazard, with the Confederate flag emblazoned on that bad-ass Hemi. Some of us even went to schools named after those Confederate leaders. For what it’s worth, I still love that Hemi, but I don’t love that flag. Here we are in 2020, many southern Americans celebrating the monuments of an ideal that was defeated more than 150 years ago. Below is a chart of monuments built to The Confederacy by year and I can’t help but ask – why do the victors allow for this?

Confedarate monuments (2).png
By Volunteer Marek – revised graph with panels removed, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

The short answer of why this has been allowed is because racism is not only tolerated in America today, it is celebrated. When the Allied Powers invaded and freed Germany from the Nazi regime, citizens and military alike destroyed symbols and statues that had been built to the Nazis. In America, we’ve tolerated the symbols of hate that The Confederacy built for too long. I’m here to tell you today, as a Victor who can enjoy the spoils of victory, I do not stand for this or with this.

In 2020 victorious American’s are demanding these statutes and memorials be taken down. Slave owner? Take it down. Leader of The Confederacy? Take it down? White Supremacist? Take it down. If you believe differently, you’re an enemy of the greatest country the world has ever seen, The United States of America. Today, we’re taking it all down so that our children will enjoy the spoils of victory that we have been promised since 1865. I stand with my brothers and sisters of color, in a chorus of love and unison when I say this – take them all down, we’re the victors and we’re rewriting the history books today.