Our Four-Legged Friends

Our four-legged friends can bring so much happiness into our sometimes mundane lives. Our beloved pets are non-judgmental of our numerous faults and imperfections – so long as they’re fed regularly and we show them some attention and affection once in awhile. They tend to worship us and remain loyal until the end. The hardest part of pet ownership is knowing when to put down a furry family member. In a perfect world our four-legged friends would never suffer: they’d simply settle into a peaceful nap and not wake up when it was their time. However, that preferable scenario most-likely will not be the case for many, and I imagine most of us aren’t even thinking that far ahead when we first become pet owners.

My wife and I adopted an adorable mutt from our local animal shelter just a few months after we got married. I guess the honeymoon stage of our marriage must’ve been over for us to have even be considering expanding our family so shortly after tying the knot. (In actuality, I’m happy to say our honeymoon has never really ended.) Our new puppy was a Brittany Spaniel and Elkhound mix, so we cleverly named her Brittany. She was a short-haired breed, so in our naivety we assumed Brittany wouldn’t shed very much although we soon found out she’d leave behind a hairy mess wherever she ventured.

Brittany donned a coat of white fur with small brown and black spots scattered about. Her unique markings featured a solid black configuration resembling a headshot of Disney’s loveable Mickey Mouse character (famous ears include) which draped over her back like a horse’s saddle. I taught our indoor dog how to sit, shake, speak, lie down, and roll over. A year later my lovely wife and I decided to have a child since we had been pretty successful at raising a puppy. (What’s the difference?) After our son was born, but before mother and child were released from the hospital, I took one of our newborn’s caps home to Brittany so she could familiarize herself with our baby’s scent. We had heard somewhere that this would help ease any anxiety our dog might have adjusting to a different surrounding.

Brittany seemed enamored with our son and watched over him like an older sister would. They soon became good friends, but sometimes Brittany had to remind her human counterpart of their pecking order. I remember when our son was about four years old, and I was watching him and Brittany frolic in the leaves one crisp, autumn afternoon. Our little one had been continuously chasing around his playmate, within the confines of our fenced in backyard, when apparently Brittany had finally had enough. She came to a sudden halt, swiftly turned around, and knocked her “brother” to the ground. Our son quietly sat there for a bit, probably trying to decipher what just happened, until he must’ve determined it was all part of the game since he then got up and began pursuing his four-legged friend again. Each round Brittany would humor her annoying companion for a while before playfully knocking him back down.

When our son got a little older he’d tell me to “make a hole” whenever I’d lay down on the couch to watch television. His request meant for me to turn onto my right side and curl up my legs so there’d be a place for him to nestle into. Brittany would usually come lay next to the couch to be near us. I’d periodically reach down and pet her tummy or caress her velvet-like ears. I’m sure her favorite was when I’d gently take one ear, between my middle finger and thumb, and slowly rub as if attempting to snap my fingers. Brittany’s diet mainly consisted of dry dog food, but she certainly enjoyed munching on pizza crust during our family movie nights. She loved popcorn as well and could catch the puffy stuff from a considerable distance…until one day she couldn’t.

By the time Brittany had turned 16-years-old she had lost a good portion of her eyesight and her hearing. She no longer frolicked, and she had suffered a few mini-strokes during the last couple of years. We did not witness any of her episodes firsthand, but sadly we couldn’t help but notice the aftereffects. With each stroke it became a little more difficult for her to bounce back from than with the previous ones. We eventually decided it was time to put her down. I was with Brittany, caressing her velvety ear, as her loving spirit left this earth. That experience remains one of the toughest times of my entire life.

We had acquired a cat, Junior, when Brittany was just shy of 10-years-old. After Brittany’s passing Junior immediately stepped into the role of greeting us at the door whenever we’d come home. Maybe such actions taken by a feline aren’t unheard of, but surely it’s at least a bit unconventional. I am not a cat person by any stretch of the imagination. I do not fully appreciate their independent nature; I want a pet to come to me when I say, “Come.” I’m also easily irritated when hearing that faint, annoying sound they make throughout the day commonly known as, “meow.” However, our son wanted a cat for his 8th birthday, and it just so happened my younger sister who lived right next door was caring for a litter of kittens at the time, so being the wonderful parents we are we obliged our one and only.

Our son was absolutely thrilled with his birthday present. Our new addition was your basic black and white kitty; however, he did have a very pretty face. Junior got along well with Brittany (for the most part) and wasn’t that much trouble because our son was in charge of taking care of his four-legged friend. When our boy went off to college somehow I inherited the feeding and the dreaded cleaning of the litter box duties he left behind. Unfortunately, as much as my wife and son desired Junior’s attention, he ultimately chose me as his number one target when craving some affection. He preferred no other lap to mine. Sometimes I’d accommodate Junior and sometimes I wouldn’t. (I think it was my way of showing him my independence.)

Over the years, I grew to somewhat like Junior (excluding his annoying, “meow,” of course). Like Brittany, Junior eventually succumbed to that harsh, but unavoidable, reality we call old age. Our 18-year-old cat’s eyesight and hearing had significantly diminished, and he was experiencing other health related issues as well. His feeble frame had become a mere shell of what it once was. Last week we decided it was time to put Junior down. I was slightly comforted, after arriving at the animal clinic, when the veterinarian concurred that putting our kitty down seemed like the right thing to do. Junior’s faint breathing dwindled as his “chosen one” wept uncontrollably next to him. I continued softly stroking his scruffy fur, a few more times, after the doctor pronounced he was gone.

I foolishly thought it would be easier this time, but putting Junior down wasn’t any easier than when I watched Brittany take her last breath. I think the most difficult part of the life-ending process is the aftermath. Knowing I was ultimately the one who determined the fate of another is almost unbearable at times. Carrying around the guilt for “playing God” doesn’t ever completely go away. There’s also the guilt when recalling the times I could’ve been more attentive, more affectionate, and sometimes more patient with Brittany and with Junior. Oddly enough, I was recently thinking maybe I had finally gotten to the point where I could actually consider becoming a dog owner again, but after saying another tearful goodbye to a beloved pet I’m certain that will never happen. For me, the pleasure of owning a pet is not worth the pain that inevitably comes with having a four-legged friend.


My Best Christmas

I saw an honest-to-goodness elf one Christmas morning hours before sunrise. It took place sometime during the mid-70’s, but no my elf sighting was not the result of partaking in that decade’s culture of “accepted” drug use. I was only around eleven years old, for goodness’ sake, when I had the extraordinary pleasure of spying one of Santa’s helpers wandering throughout my childhood home. I was cozily tucked away in bed, but I was fully alert. I remember I was anticipating the day’s expected abundance of presents, cherished time with family, and our traditional Christmas breakfast (but mostly the presents), so I’m sure I had all my faculties, and there were no sugar plum fairies dancing in my head. I know what I saw.

The elf just suddenly appeared before my eyes. He was your average, as seen on TV elf, but encountering one in person was beyond thrilling nevertheless. Admittedly, it was also a bit eerie having the North Pole employee, fully upright but at eyelevel, staring at me from only a few inches away from my face. Looking back, I wish I would have initiated a conversation with the portly, thirty-something year old (I’m guessing) donned in green velvet, but instead I laid there motionless and somewhat frightened. I was quite perplexed by the unique experience.

Santa’s helper vanished as quickly as he had appeared. A mere few seconds later I heard the distinct sound of one jingling bell coming from the nearby living room. My Christmas stocking was intentionally equipped with a single bell in hopes of catching St. Nick in the act. Santa’s capture would simply have to wait, at least another year, because I certainly wasn’t about to leave the safety of my bed to investigate the matter. I realize my elf sighting may seem unbelievable to some, but my older (and wiser) sister actually saw Santa Claus – in the same house – standing outside her bedroom door – during the month of June! So, how does my spying an elf on Christmas morning sound now? It really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, about me or the remarkable vision I had when I was a child, because regardless that was my best Christmas.

Many years later, in 1987 to be exact, I celebrated Christmas as a husband for the first time. My lovely wife and I had married in June, and after our weekend honeymoon we moved into a stucco, one bedroom home. The house did possess a certain charm even if it was about the only rental home in town we could afford. At least none of the floors inside the house were slanted: unlike the only other option we had at the time that also fell within the confines of our limited budget. It is not an exaggeration to say that when placing a marble next to one of the bedroom walls it would immediately roll across the floor to the opposite wall. We tried it, and that’s how we know! Anyway, our first Christmas immersed in wedded bliss brought with it new and joyous experiences such as finding that perfect Christmas tree together and giving others gifts as a couple.

Our collection of Christmas decorations, as young newlyweds just getting started, was pretty scarce. With time (and numerous after Christmas sales) our holiday décor would one day become an extensive collection of ornaments, seasonal knickknacks, and currently full-blown holiday displays, but not in 1987. That year the missus crafted a fireplace, out of a large, empty McDonald’s box that once contained frozen french fries, to liven up our place for the glorious holiday season. The box was painted a deep shade of red and featured a brick pattern meticulously outlined in black. The homemade fireplace was perfectly cheesy and served its purpose as the best place to hang our new Christmas stockings. I swear there were times I could actually feel a hint of warmth radiating from the manufactured flames. I’m sure wherever we landed, that first year as husband and wife, really did not matter since it’s absolutely true what they say…”Home is where the heart is.” That was my best Christmas.

Two Christmases later I found myself very blessed to be one third of a threesome. My lovely wife had given birth to our precious son, back in August, so we were no longer just a couple. Obviously, our lives were forever changed from then on especially at Christmastime. Our main focus was now on our little one and how we could make his Christmas extra special. Of course, at his age (just shy of 5 months old) I’m sure our son was less interested in what Santa brought him than we were. Many times he was captivated by the packaging more so than the costly contents inside. In fact, we eventually noticed if we gave our boy a box, a piece of string, and maybe some tape then he was a happy camper, and he could entertain himself for hours at a time if we’d let him.

It would take many more years before our son was truly interested in what was in Santa’s bag of goodies. Oh, the money my wife and I could’ve saved during his early years if only we had known. That’s alright though because Christmas isn’t about the money one spends. It’s about fondly remembering how my newborn child looked, dressed up as Santa (stocking cap included), and how fascinated he was with all of the sights and sounds of December 25th. Seeing the wonderment of Christmas through your child’s eyes and sharing the holiday season with your offspring, for the first time, is downright incredible. That was my best Christmas.

Christmas isn’t just for the little ones as my wife and I were reminded several years later. We were finishing our Christmas shopping when I spotted a 1998 Mitsubishi Eclipse, shimmering like a diamond, parked in a car dealership’s lot. I spontaneously veered into the lot, as if under some sort of spell, and pulled up alongside the shiny gem. The sports car’s exterior finish was a shade of grey, like no other, and the body style was identical to that of the lime-green colored Eclipse featured in the original Fast & Furious movie. Our teenage son had previously mentioned how awesome he thought that specific vehicle was and his desire to own one some day. Did we dare?

It was only by chance, and after receiving my wife’s hesitant approval, we were even considering purchasing a car for our son at that time. He was still 7 months shy from being able to obtain his driver’s license; however, randomly driving by that particular car dealership and spotting my one and only child’s dream car sure seemed like a sign to me. I think we attempted to rationalize our impending, expensive purchase by acknowledging our child was a responsible, straight-A student and all-around good kid. After the dreaded (but mandatory) negotiations, with the salesman and his curiously unseen boss, we bought the Fast & Furious replica. I drove the vehicle to my mother-in-law’s house where we stored the “sweet ride” in her garage until the “big day.”

Christmas morning, around 4:00am, I bundled up and set out on foot to retrieve my son’s Christmas present. I certainly could’ve used a pair of cross-country skis or at least some snowshoes, while traipsing through the fresh fallen snow, but somehow I managed the 2 mile trek wearing my old pair of snow boots. It was cold, and it was dark although the moon’s reflection against the white snow lit the frozen ground just enough for me to stay on course. The long-sleeved, thermal shirt I was wearing underneath my winter coat was soaked with sweat, from the challenging excursion, but I wasn’t about to complain. Here I was walking in a winter wonderland whilst beaming with excitement at the thought of my son receiving his special gift. What more could I have asked for on this joyous occasion?

I ultimately reached my destination, opened the garage door, and inserted the key in the Mitsubishi’s ignition. The powerful purr of the engine only added to my jubilation. I then drove the Fast & Furious replica to the nearest carwash, for a thorough cleaning, before racing home and parking the vehicle in our driveway. I placed a giant, green bow on top of the car’s hood and retreated from the winter elements to the warmth and comfort of my home. I was relieved to find my son still nestled in his bed since I feared the rumble of the engine might have wakened him. I closed all of the window shades in our living room so the lavish gift would have a better chance of not being detected before its time. I wrapped the car key in a small box, placed the decorated package underneath the Christmas tree, and then waited patiently (sort of) for the day’s festivities to begin.

A couple of anxious filled hours passed before the highly anticipated moment had finally arrived. Our son’s initial look of confusion, when discovering the key between two layers of wrapping tissue, was promptly replaced with a magnificent expression of epic proportions. He dashed over to the bay window and peered through the slits in the closed blinds. There was no dramatically dropping to the ground and fervently kicking his legs as was typically the case whenever our son would receive a present he deemed beyond awesome. He may not have given us a show this time, but our teenager did display an enormous grin that would put even Julia Robert’s smile to shame. That was my best Christmas.

I cannot reflect on this time of year without recalling the two times I gave my wife expensive (at least to us) jewelry for Christmas. I suppose I thought buying her a couple of elegant diamond rings along the way was the least I could do for her continually putting up with me. I totally surprised the missus, in 2003, when I presented her with the Past, Present & Future three-stone diamond ring. Buying her a diamond ring for Christmas that year was the furthest thing from my mind until one day I felt compelled to at least consider the possibility. I had seen the commercial promoting the fine piece of jewelry numerous times, but it wasn’t until after seeing the sentimental scene on the television screen for the umpteenth time that I truly appreciated the significance of the Past, Present & Future concept. I suddenly knew not buying my wife the ring was not an option. That was my best Christmas.

In 2010, I gave my wife a new wedding ring (not a total surprise) to replace the original one she had faithfully worn for over 23 years to that point. My lovely bride still appreciates her old wedding ring (she’s told me so) even though the differences between the two symbols of eternity are like night and day. I vividly remember how my wife’s left hand shook uncontrollably, for several minutes, immediately after I gently slid the sparkling, new ring onto her finger. She constantly gazed at the exquisite gift, with utter amazement, for the rest of the day. That was my best Christmas.

I realize my best Christmas has occurred numerous times throughout my life. The year I received my first “big boy” bicycle was my best Christmas. My best Christmas was also when Santa left me a green pogo stick one year and a pair of orange stilts the next. I’ll never forget waking up on December 25th to find an Atari gaming system, already hooked up to the television, for my siblings and I to share. That was my best Christmas. It appears as though my best Christmas is always about either giving or receiving gifts, and that would partially be true, but there’s certainly more to the story. It’s more about the privilege of witnessing a loved one’s astonishing appreciation for an unexpected gift, but most-importantly it’s about spending Christmas with your family. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if this Christmas is my best Christmas.


Getting Screwed

“Everyone’s out to screw ya.” That is one of my many mottos, although it’s probably about the only negative one, I have in my repertoire of truisms. “Enjoy the journey” and “It’s all good” are much more positive sounding than the aforementioned adage, but regardless “It is what it is.” That last motto is most-likely my brother’s favorite saying although he has also taken my “Everyone’s out to screw ya” sentiment a step further by adding his own “If anyone’s gonna get screwed…it’s me.” I suspect there’s a vast amount of unsuspecting people out there who’s getting screwed at this very moment, and I’m sure they’re not even aware that it’s happening to them. Don’t care for the word, screwed? Then try using cheated, gipped, duped, swindled, or bamboozled in its place if it’ll make you feel better.

I certainly dislike being so cynical at my tender age (I’m not 50 yet), but I truly believe the deceitful actions of a good portion of the human race warrants such skepticism. It’s admirable to want to see the good in people, and to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but we should know by now that people are inherently bad. Why else would “People = Sh*t” be one of my favorite Slipknot songs? Okay, I suppose the brutal drumbeats and harsh vocals may have something to do with my fondness for that track as well, but the message still rings true. How do I know? Because I have lived.

Looking back, even as a child my peers obviously were out to screw me, and I probably held the identical mindset towards them; however, I doubt if any of us even realized what we were doing at the time. I’m pretty sure my main objective wasn’t fairness, when trading baseball cards with my friends, but I don’t think I was out to screw them over either. I simply believe it’s in our nature to take advantage of others if it somehow benefits us. Unfortunately, we are born into this world as self-absorbed homo sapiens. The problem is far too many of us never outgrow our selfish ways. Ultimately, it’s up to each and every one of us to choose how we’re going to handle any advantageous situation that may come our way.

The first time I can remember having the inkling that “Everyone’s out to screw ya” was shortly after my lovely wife gave birth to our son in 1989. We were required to pay the estimated cost of our attending physician’s services, minus the anticipated insurance benefits, well before our baby’s due date. We were told at the time we would be reimbursed if we had overpaid, for services rendered, sometime after the delivery. My wife and I eventually learned we were owed over a thousand dollars when all was said and done. We waited, and then waited some more, for our refund check to arrive in our mailbox.

As a young couple caring for a newborn we definitely could’ve used that money (our money). A few months had passed when I decided a phone call on my part was long overdue. I contacted the doctor’s office and was informed I had to request the funds that were owed to us before anyone could issue a refund for the overpayment. Really? About a week later we received the requested check. I believe it was during this time when I added the saying “Why does there always have to be a problem?” to my collection of truisms. I just don’t understand why some businesses seem to think it’s my responsibility to hold them accountable. Somewhere along the way I’ve also discovered it’s sometimes entirely left up to me to make sure everyone else is adequately doing their job.

Another time my “Everyone’s out to screw ya” theory was reinforced was a few years ago when I encountered a business preying upon their customers. They were a bit selective as to who their victims were, but the auto repair franchise was disingenuous nonetheless. I had regularly taken my vehicle to this particular auto shop, for oil changes, without incident. However, the one time I had the missus drop off my car, on my behalf, everything changed. The business opted to upgrade the type of oil used, which was unnecessary and without our permission, so our bill was ten dollars more than usual. I immediately headed to the auto shop, once my wife informed me of the additional charge, and demanded an explanation for their conduct. I was given some pathetic excuse, for their switcheroo, albeit the manager did offer us a free oil change next time. I told the manager I sensed they were deliberately taking advantage of their female customers; therefore, my wife and I would not be back!

More recently, a member of my family experienced a company cleverly “putting the screws” to him during an annual inspection of his 3 year-old air-conditioning (A/C) unit. The heating and cooling specialist took a few pictures of some dust and mold, located in my loved one’s attic, and then warned him of the health risks associated with the growing fungus. The representative offered to take care of the problem, right then and there, and he was even kind enough to offer waiving the $600. mold removal fee if my family member purchased a specific, expensive gadget (that day) which he claimed would eliminate any future health hazards. The scare tactic worked, and my trusting loved one spent assumingly thousands of dollars that day. Subsequently, we were apprised, after a little bit of research, that the mold in the attic could’ve only been caused by one of two things: either the A/C unit was too big for the home’s square footage or the heating and cooling system was not properly fitted when it was installed.

Therefore, we’ve concluded the company’s negligence was solely responsible for my family member’s health threat, and the problem should’ve been rectified at no cost to him. In addition, we discovered the purchased gadget, presented as the solution to any health concerns, was only an air purifier, so eventually the fungus will reappear unless the actual problem is fixed. That’s just another fine example of how ” Everyone’s out to screw ya.” I now actually live my life expecting to be cheated, gipped, duped, swindled, and bamboozled. I find that practice to be the best defense against getting screwed.


Good vs. Evil

In the beginning, everything was inherently good until the Garden of Eden incident. Evil entered the world when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, and ever since then there has been an ongoing battle between good and evil. That’s rarely more evident to me than during this time of year. ‘Tis the season for all things spooky: monsters, skeletons, cauldrons of witches’ brew, and black cats. (Actually, all cats are creepy all of the time.) I’m well aware that with fall comes colorful foliage, Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice concoctions, and of course football season (both real and fantasy), but most noticeably autumn brings forth Halloween. Thoughts of good vs. evil are always at the forefront of my mind around All Hallows’ Eve.

The season’s cooler temperatures and diminishing hours of sunlight tends to awaken something inside of me that’s typically dormant throughout the rest of the year. I instinctively begin craving the “darker stuff” from my eclectic compact disc collection. I find myself selecting music from artists such as Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson while classics from the likes of Kenny Rogers and Barry Manilow remains on the shelf. I also naturally stray from my normal afternoon routine of watching the abundance of wholesome comedies found on network television. I gravitate from viewing reruns of Leave It To Beaver and Dennis the Menace to watching numerous horror movies of the disturbing kind. I suppose all horror flicks are disturbing in their own right although I’m more of a psychological thriller connoisseur than I am a slasher film fan. One bag of Candy Corn: $2…One large pumpkin for carving: $5…Jack Nicholson in The Shining: priceless.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend dabbling in the things associated with “the dark side” especially if one is not firmly planted in His light. One of my favorite mottos is “if you don’t stand for something…you might fall for anything.” I’m rooted enough in who I am and what I believe to not allow the Devil to have his way with me. Satan has made an art form out of deceiving humanity since he first appeared in the Garden of Eden, but I’m on to him. I do realize the Deceiver has a knack for quietly entering through the backdoor instead of boldly announcing his deceitful intentions at the front. Being aware of the Evil One’s ways is half the battle, so I will not be fooled.

Admittedly, I simply like being scared. Obviously, I’m not speaking of the fear one would have after hearing a doctor’s dire diagnosis. I’m not alluding to the deep concern one might have for a loved one gone astray either. I am referring to the type of fear that stirs up an exhilarating, yet manageable, level of anxiety within: the kind I remember experiencing, as an adolescent, when aimlessly wandering about inside one of those haunted houses exclusively manufactured for Halloween. The anticipation of the unknown, waiting behind every door and lurking in every nook and cranny, was more than enough to arouse the hair on my arms even before setting foot in the makeshift house of horror. I’m sure I’d be just as anxious today as I was back then. Some things never change.

I don’t think trick-or-treating has changed much since I used to hit the streets, during the 70’s, in pursuit of free candy. Some might argue begging for a Snickers has become more dangerous in recent years, but I would have to disagree. I know I’m about to sound like that cranky, old man (every neighborhood has one) who can usually be seen, with raised fists pumping in the air, shooing all of the neighborhood children off of his lawn, but here it goes anyway: (use old man voice here) In my day we had to worry that a “flasher” might answer their door, and parents were compelled to check their children’s goodies, at the end of the evening, for concealed needles and razor blades…and we liked it! (stop old man voice here) I just don’t hear any of those concerns anymore.

Maybe it’s because parents have become too complacent these days, or quite possibly those evil individuals, desiring to do harm, were forced to give up their tampering ways. I imagine their annual unethical practice was severely hampered after so many hospitals began offering free x-rays of every little ghost and goblin’s collected treats. I reckon the final nail in the coffin was when some schools and churches, as well as the hospitals, began providing other alternatives to neighborhood trick-or-treating. My lovely wife and I (at my urging) took advantage of both. We’d take our son to the hospital, for a bag full of candy, and then I’d escort him around numerous neighborhoods for a few bags more. Hey, free candy is free candy.

I’m sure most dentists cringe at that sort of behavior, and most churches oppose Halloween altogether. I understand the depravity associated with All Hallows’ Eve; however, I believe all situations are what you make of them. For instance, one Sunday morning, when my son was around 10 years old, one of our pastors preached a very interesting sermon. The unorthodox message was about the whole “Satan can enter through the backdoor” concept, and he mentioned the beloved Pokémon cartoon as being one of the culprits. My ears instantly perked up because my son absolutely loved the Japanese television series. He boasted Pokémon trading cards, figurines, posters, t-shirts, and a stuffed Pikachu (his favorite character).

The missus labored over constructing a Pikachu cake, for his Pokémon themed birthday party, and we even got him a Pikachu piñata. Looking back, it seems a bit ironic our son was perfectly fine with beating his adored character into pieces with an aluminum baseball bat. I can’t recall exactly why the animated series was supposedly bad for the soul, but after careful consideration (about 13 seconds worth) I concluded my family could responsibly handle Pokémon in our household. My wife and I were just thrilled our son had finally outgrown his Barney stage. I don’t think choosing to celebrate Halloween is much different than the previously mentioned Pokémon example. Life has its good vs. evil battles although a majority of those battles need not even take place if our minds (and our hearts) are right with Christ. We are all assured of this: In the end, good will conquer evil.


A Flat Tire, Religion, And The Worst Idea Ever

The other day my lovely wife got a flat tire while running some errands without me. Thankfully, she was able to safely pull into a nearby service station before any harm was done to her Elantra’s back rim. The missus then called to apprise me of the situation, including telling me there was no spare tire (aka donut) in the Hyundai’s trunk, before purchasing a new tire and having it mounted. The station’s attendant nonchalantly informed my wife that only about 50% of today’s newer vehicles are equipped with some type of tire replacement. A donut is now actually considered to be more of an optional item instead of a standard feature. I found that news to be entirely suspect, so I launched a full-blown investigation into the matter.

Well, maybe full-blown is a bit of an exaggeration: I looked it up on-line, and I read the Elantra’s manual after the missus got home. To my surprise, the newly discovered information was absolutely correct. Supposedly, one of the main reasons why there are no spare tires, in approximately half of the newer models, is because the majority of stranded motorists would much rather whip out a cell phone, to enlist the aid of a tow truck driver, than attempt to change a flat tire. In addition, I was told current government regulations, concerning fuel efficiency, was a major factor as well. Nowadays, parking sensors, rear-mounted cameras, touchscreens, Bluetooth, and even wi-fi comes standard on most vehicles, but I guess having a spare tire included in the purchase price is just asking too much.

I certainly don’t think issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple is asking too much of Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, though. The Rowan County employee recently had her 5 minutes of national fame after refusing a gay couple their newly acquired rights. Mrs. Davis tried to appear non-discriminatory, by refusing to give out marriage licenses to heterosexual couples as well, but to no avail. Her façade eventually became quite transparent, so she was forced to finally admit she was unwilling to perform a portion of her duties based on her religious beliefs. The government official’s refusal to do part of her job earned her several days behind bars on a contempt of court charge. I understand Davis’ duties changed a bit when the United States legalized gay marriage nationwide, but whose job description hasn’t varied at times throughout their employment?

Some people consider Kim Davis to be a martyr for Christ, but I think she handled the entire situation poorly. I can see only two respectable positions to take in this particular matter. The elected official should either perform all of her duties, as a county clerk, or resign. The Apostle Peter says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” We are also told to “Honor everyone” and to “be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” (1st Peter 2: 13-19) My unsolicited advice for Mrs. Davis is as follows: by all means, pray for those your conscience tells you may be on a destructive path, but do not make a spectacle of yourself in the process.

I’m sure those words of wisdom will go unnoticed especially since Pope Francis “secretly” met with Mrs. Davis, at his request, while touring the United States this past week. The Pope supposedly offered Davis his support and encouraged her to continue the fight. I’m not Catholic, although neither is Mrs. Davis, but I must say I’m more than a little disappointed in the Bishop of Rome, in this instance, since the last thing Davis needs is any additional encouragement to do what I think is wrong. The Pope bears no significance in my life, so I really shouldn’t care what he thinks one way or the other. I’m not aspiring to sound harsh, but in my chosen realm of Christianity the Pope simply has no relevance. I have a personal relationship with Christ; therefore, I don’t require anyone intervening on my behalf, or relaying messages to God, because I go straight to the source.

I have no use for religious figures, whether associated with the Vatican or not (the “middleman” if you will), to hear my confessions or to absolve me of my transgressions. Regardless, I still respect the leader of the Catholic Church, and I admire his commitment to God. Pope Francis appears to be a humble man who exudes an abundance of gentleness at all times. He effortlessly spreads a message of all-inclusiveness, compassion, and love, seemingly more so than anybody preceding him, wherever he goes. I think the Bishop of Rome triumphantly advocated for universal responsibility and unity, during his recent visit, without offending either the Democratic or Republican Party. I appreciate that because I don’t think religion should ever be used to promote a political agenda and vice versa.

To the contrary, Kanye West has no qualms about self-promotion, and he tends to have an agenda at all times. The popular rapper recently announced his intent to win the U.S. Presidency in 2018. Of course, the next two presidential elections are to be held in 2016 and 2020, so I think his current confusion already suggests there’ll be some problems with his future campaign. Nevertheless, I’m sure he won’t get discouraged since he has such a high opinion of himself. Anyone who would title an album Yeezus, with “I Am a God” listed as one of his tracks, surely doesn’t possess much humility. The rapper’s ego is so elevated that even Donald Trump seems meek in comparison.

The thought of Kanye West as President only gets worse when adding his wife, Kim Kardashian, into the mix. The enormous following the power couple maintains is quite frightening. Their impact on today’s society is reminiscent of the influence former talk-show queen, Oprah Winfrey, had during her reign on television for well over two decades. The possibility of President West and First Lady Kardashian occupying the White House in the near future is not so far fetched. I’m not too confident the American public, especially the younger generations (sorry!), would denounce a feasible West candidacy.

Kanye and the missus assuredly have the finances to support a sustained campaign; the happily married couple enjoys a combined net worth of approximately $215 million. Enlisting the help of Kim’s mother, Kris Jenner, would be a wise decision and extremely beneficial for Mr. West. Kris Jenner, the mastermind behind the Kardashian empire, is a marketing genius, and she has a knack for successfully promoting any agenda regardless of how absurd or immoral it may be. She is unapologetic for exploiting her daughters’ “mistakes” (and their bodies) in exchange for growing the Kardashian fortune estimated to be around $300 million. Popularity, hoards of money, and a shrewd campaign manager have the makings of an effective campaign.

In the past, I’ve heard a few impassioned American citizens threaten to actually leave the United States if certain candidates were ever elected into office, but I assumed they weren’t being serious. However, if there does come a day when Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are residing at the White House then I’d have to seriously consider abandoning this country. I cannot imagine living anywhere where its citizens would elect an egotistical rapper as their nation’s leader. That’s the worst idea ever! Suddenly, getting a flat tire and not having a spare doesn’t sound so bad.


Pro-choice

As time goes by I realize I’m being discriminated against more and more often, and I’m certain it’s only going to get worse. I’m not being treated unjustly because of my race (that’s another story) or due to my religious beliefs. I suppose I could be considered a victim of age discrimination since I’m singled out and treated differently based on my fondness for “the good old days.” I’m mostly discriminated against though for maintaining a pro-choice attitude pertaining to advanced technology that is obviously running rampant in the world today. I’m not opposed to progress, but I am against forcing it on people.

“The man” (whoever he is) insists we blindly accept change, whether we like it or not, without even considering the consequences. He continuously and vigorously imposes his will on us until ultimately we are either too exhausted to continue resisting or else we’re left feeling inadequate when we don’t succumb. I often think the younger generation, who I’m beginning to suspect may be “the man” (in this instance), is eagerly waiting for those of us a bit leery, of their pursuit of never-ending advancements in technology, to expire. The reason being there would then no longer be any of us left, to challenge the only kind of life they’ve ever known, regardless of how well-intended we were with our warnings.

Fortunately, “the man” has failed a time or two in the past when attempting to get everyone on board with his agenda although not for his lack of trying. We currently continue to have the option of reading books, magazines, and newspapers without the aid of technology. However, I’m positive offering periodicals on-line and books via the Kindle was intended to replace all paper copies of those types of literature. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened (at least not yet). I reckon there is still enough of us on this earth, who prefer perusing a genuine newspaper on Sunday mornings, to halt any inclination publishers may have for offering on-line editions only. The day I lose that choice is the day I become an ignoramus because I refuse to read a book or a newspaper on a computer screen.

I thought compact discs were finally safe from extinction, but now I’m not so sure. I recently discovered, while vacationing in North Carolina with my family, that cd players are no longer prevalent in some of the newer vehicles. Our rented Chrysler 200 came equipped with extensive “bells and whistles,” almost to the point of being too confusing to drive, yet the mid-size car was void of a compact disc player. I can understand omitting the cassette tape player, as a standard feature in newer models, because that format of recorded music is no longer even produced. I can also understand why a manufacturer might provide a way to attach an iPod to the vehicle’s speakers since many people are entrenched in that sort of technology. What I can’t comprehend though is why the cd player is apparently being phased out when approximately 50% of the population continues to fancy purchasing CDs instead of downloading music off of the internet.

I figured the people had already spoken, in regards to preserving compact discs, and I no longer needed to worry, but I guess the verdict is still out. I have well over a thousand CDs in my collection, but my only alternative in North Carolina was listening to a lame radio station while cruising in the rented Chrysler. I experienced another unwanted encounter with advanced technology, during my outing in the Tar Heel State, and once again (as expected) I was not a fan. My family and I went out for an ordinary dinner, but the restaurant’s ordering process was anything but ordinary. We entered the establishment expecting the simplicity of good food and good conversation, but instead we were instantly forced to kowtow to a newly acquired piece of state-of-the-art-technology. We were informed the iPad setting on our table was actually our menu. The waitress explained how convenient the contraption was, for all concerned, but of course to my chagrin.

My anxiety level immediately rose like a launched rocket ship. The young lady tried teaching us (mostly me) how to use the gadget, but I probably would’ve been better off trying to learn Chinese. I did discover that successfully swiping a computer screen with my finger, navigating through numerous food items and over 150 beer options, was extremely difficult, confusing, and tiresome. The waitress’ proclaimed convenience, for using the iPad, was in actuality our inconvenience in disguise. If it weren’t for my tech-savvy son, sitting at our table, we might’ve died from starvation before the evening was through. I don’t think dining out should be that complicated; therefore, I can’t imagine ever going back there in spite of how tasty the food and beer might have been.

Once in a while we’re seemingly given a choice, but when a negative consequence accompanies one of the options, but not the other, is it then really a choice? For instance, some grocery stores now offer their customers additional savings if they download the week’s digital coupons onto their shoppers’ card. We all have a similar card, yet only those who go on-line before shopping gets the luxury of receiving more for their money. Not everyone has a smartphone, and not everyone owns a computer: whether due to modest finances or simply by choice. Regardless, penalizing people based solely on them not embracing technology seems unfair. I think it’s blatant discrimination.

Unfortunately, Starbucks has recently expanded their love of advanced technology as well by offering a new promotion deemed “Mobile order and pay.” Also a bit unfair. They are literally encouraging customers to “skip the line” by doing everything on their electronic devices. At Starbucks it’s no longer first-come, first-served…it’s first-texted, first-served. It pains me to know my favorite place to write is part of the problem although I’m not willing to sacrifice my grande, dark roast coffee (with free refill) for the sake of fairness. I’m a very weak man when it comes to my Starbucks fix.

I had my first inkling, approximately a dozen years ago, as to where our nation was most-likely headed concerning its admiration for advanced technology. My lovely wife and I were dining out one evening when I noticed a gentleman romancing his cellphone instead of his female companion. I vividly remember how engrossed the man was with his tiny object and how defeated the ignored woman, seated across from him, looked. I pointed out the awkward situation to my wife, and we both agreed it was truly a sad sight to behold. The clueless man continuously ogled and caressed his electronic date for the duration of their stay. Now, the previous scenario has become the rule, not the exception, in today’s society. Spying an assortment of electronics on nearly every table in a restaurant is commonplace nowadays. I assume if people are willing to forgo conversations with their loved ones, while out for dinner, then it’s fairly conceivable they’re probably not sufficiently interacting with one another at home either.

I’m troubled that droves of people have become so attached to their electronic devices even to the point of idolatry. I’m also concerned about what other types of technological discrimination is waiting for us just around the corner. Here’s where I’m suppose to say, “To each his own.” I’m not lobbying to thwart the advancement of technology, but I am adamantly opposed to being forced into a lifestyle I believe is detrimental to relationships. Just because it’s the norm that doesn’t make it right. I presume some of you are guilty of rolling your eyes, at some point while reading this, and mistakenly referring to me as a dinosaur or else making some sort of horse-and-buggy wisecrack. If so, I’m left wondering why. I assuredly have no desire to make the horse-and-buggy my main mode of transportation, but I hold no animosity towards anyone who does. I’m not anti-technology…I’m just pro-choice!


Contentment

It’s quite interesting, as well as refreshing, how the Holy Spirit intervenes seemingly under even the most trivial of circumstances. I was having a little trouble deciding what to write about when I remembered Christ is interested in every aspect of my life. Once in a while I find myself becoming a bit too complacent, when walking with the Lord, that I sometimes forget He has all of the answers. I made a simple plea for some clarification, during my evening prayers, as to what topic I should be entertaining. The very next morning, while continuing a Bible study I had started in January, I came across 1st Timothy 6:6-8.

The Apostle Paul said, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Previously, I had considered offering my thoughts on contentment; however, I had just come up with a clever title pertaining to a different subject altogether, so I figured that ship had already sailed. Obviously, I was wrong. Immediately after reading those verses I no longer had any doubt as to what I was suppose to be writing about at this time. I cannot (and will not) dismiss the Holy Spirit’s intervention as merely a coincidence.

Google defines contentment as “a state of happiness and satisfaction.” I prefer Wikipedia’s definition which states, “Contentment is a mental or emotional state of satisfaction drawn from being at ease in one’s situation, body and mind.” How many people do we know who have the aforementioned abundant supply of food and clothing, as well as many other things, yet they are still discontented? It’s fairly difficult though to rebuke those who are not content since our country actually promotes this type of behavior. We are encouraged to buy into the notion that we must constantly strive to advance in our careers, upgrade to larger homes and more expensive vehicles, and be the first in line when the newest technological device hits the shelves.

What it really boils down to, in today’s society, is we have a misguided admiration of the almighty dollar. The noticeable differences between the haves and have-nots are what tends to divide us as a nation. We are erroneously separated into categories based on our financial status; however, the Bible warns us (again in 1st Timothy) that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” I’m not contending there’s anything wrong with ambition, and I’m certainly not implying there aren’t any fulfilled have-nots living amongst us. In fact, I would venture to say there are probably more individuals with much less money, than those with beaucoup bucks, who are content with their lives. The problem with making accumulating wealth a priority, and striving to obtain more possessions, is that inevitably it becomes a vicious cycle, so there’s rarely a chance of achieving any sort of lasting satisfaction. How much would be enough?

Not so long ago my father was asked what was on his “bucket list.” After pondering the question, for a quick moment, he unexpectedly replied, “Nothing.” My father was born of modest means, did not attend college, and was the sole breadwinner for his family of six. Looking in from the outside it appears as though he hasn’t had too much excitement in his life. He’s rarely traveled, has never been on a cruise, had never purchased a new vehicle until recently, and my father doesn’t even own a computer, yet he is content. He explained how important raising a family had been to him, how he couldn’t think of anything he desired to do (even if money was no object), and how even if he could he still wouldn’t change a thing.

I consider myself content as well although I have many things on my bucket list. I’d like to travel more especially outside of the United States. I also wish to one day partake in bungee jumping, go whitewater rafting, and possibly run a half marathon. Attempting to run a full marathon (26.2 miles) would just be silly. I’ve already tried my hand at waterskiing, snorkeling, and parasailing – and I really don’t even know how to swim. I went skydiving several years ago as well. Some folks think it’s ridiculous to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, but I highly recommend the exhilarating feat.

For me, skydiving on November 26th, 2001, was somewhat of a religious awakening. I would think it’s nearly impossible to fall from the heavens, at 13,000 feet, without considering one’s mortality. I even pondered what could possibly go awry before boarding the compact aircraft; hence, the reason why I quickly penned a short letter to my lovely wife before takeoff. I reminded the missus how much she and our son meant to me, and I apologized for the times, during our then 18 years together, when I wasn’t the perfect mate she deserved. I reckon I was yearning for complete contentment “just in case.” I asked my bride not to read the note unless something went amiss up in the blue sky. Of course, anyone who knows my wife most-likely has already guessed she read my heartfelt words before I even got on the plane.

On this earth we are “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). We are here experiencing the lower story (life’s fleeting moment) although the upper story (God’s divine plan) is the only thing that truly matters in the end. Ultimate contentment is surrendering all things to Christ. It is realizing your soul is your greatest asset. Assuredly, I am not against earning a good living, climbing up the company ladder, or having a bucket list as long as those desires are secondary. It’s not important that I once went skydiving, and I’m not too concerned whether or not I’ll have the opportunity to someday experience any of the other adventurous activities on my bucket list. Regardless, I’m content.


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