Tag Archives: friendship

Taking Root

Thinking of my kids as we move, and the advice I’d rather not give them but I know applies:

Push those roots down
But not too deep
Widespread roots come up easy
Ripping away some clods of dirt
Leaving a scar on the surface
Which quickly covers over
With new grass

Deep roots don’t come up
Without violent force
Strong hands grasping,
Crushing, straining
Until everything breaks free
Deep roots leave a hole
And a damaged plant

Found a new place for you
A familiar spot to settle in
The ground is soft and moist
The air warm and damp
You’ll grow well here
So push those roots down
But not too deep.

The Cons

“We’ll probably never come back,” I told my wife as we left Okinawa, our home for a total of 14 years. We were headed to Offutt Air Force Base, a place I knew I never wanted to be stationed based on what I heard from my friends overseas.

Never say never, so goes the logic, especially where the military is concerned.

On the first day of our four-day Labor Day weekend, I got an assignment notification from the military. We are headed back to Japan at the start of the year.

I started thinking of the positives and negatives about this decision. If I say no, I lose the ability to retire. So although I say “pros and cons” like it matters, there really isn’t a choice involved.

Okinawa is beautiful, the additional money for living overseas is a useful financial blessing, and after so long overseas, Okinawa feels a lot like home. I know what to expect from my job there, and my family is eager to visit our favorite places. “The beach!” my teenage daughter exclaims. There are some fantastic pros to going.

Then the thought of actually leaving hits home, and I’m surprised by how bittersweet this news is. There’s the initial shock and the dread of moving, with all the hassle of outprocessing and air travel as a family. But the list of cons goes far deeper.

Even though we never thought we’d want to be in Omaha, Nebraska, this base and this town have captured a place in our hearts. Part of me doesn’t want to leave, and it’s because of people here:

The coworkers I encounter every day – I work at the school house, the initial training squadron for my career field. I train sharp students and have the privilege of collaborating every day with the very best of my career field. There is so much knowledge and experience in our building, I often feel like I’m learning as much as the students we train.

The true leaders – There are plenty of Air Force managers out to run programs and score great bullets for performance reports. But I’ve been lucky enough to work for several officers and enlisted leaders who go further, who are willing to take a hit in order to take care of their people. When I’ve succeeded, they’ve recognized it. When I’ve failed, they’ve corrected it with grace. And while I feel privileged to work for them, they’ve expressed confidence in me and gratitude for my contributions. I have rarely felt as valued in the workplace.

The sincere friends – There are many who know enough about me to look down on my faults, to point and laugh at my mistakes. Yet I’ve had friends come alongside to strengthen my weaknesses instead of exploiting them. When I didn’t perform in my job duties in one area as well as I should have, I found support and restoration to get me back on track. When I struggled with fitness, I had coworkers who cheered me on to success and stopped me from beating myself up.

The surrogate family – There are few things that touch my heart as much as when someone touches the heart of my children. When you take time to meet my kid’s needs and put a smile on their face, you’ve won me over. I think of the worship pastor who looked out at a mens’ meeting, saw my oldest son standing alone, and then left the platform to go put an arm around him when I was stuck at the piano. I think of the leaders and pastors that have connected my daughter to a passionate group of peers, so that she comes home each week bursting with joy. I picture the BX vendor who takes time to let my son share his rock collection and trade with her for the polished stones she uses to make jewelry. There’s the surrogate grandmother who stepped in to create a special birthday for each of my children – especially for the middle child who often gets left out by his older siblings. And there are the writers who not only push me on, but encourage my wife to share her experiences as a source of help for those enduring painful situations. I often get the spotlight, but some light shined on Jami when she least expected it, and more than anywhere in our past, she has been blessed here. So I have been likewise blessed.

My actual family – My brother and my sister-in-law offered to fly our oldest children to my hometown to visit with their grandparents. They traveled with their two small children to visit us when we weren’t able to come to them. My mother-in-law arrives in a couple weeks to do the same. My parents, along with them, have borne the frustration and the pain of separation from family with patience and endurance. The thought of travelling far from home again is unsettling, because I want so much to be closer to loved ones.

So, as I consider what lies ahead, imagine my surprise at the tug on my heart. I am not a Husker fan, so perhaps I am not a true Nebraskan. But I am grateful nonetheless that I have so many reasons to want to stay in the place that I never wanted to go.

You all are the cons, the reasons we will miss Offutt.

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.


Happy Bird Day

I call this blog Literary Karaoke because I realized that my writing – like many other things I do – is good enough for people to enjoy it for free, but not necessarily good enough to make a living.

I play piano really well, but I fall into that same category. And I also draw a decent picture… decent enough that people like my artwork, but not so much that I can hang up my military hat and draw a paycheck. (See what I did there?)

Let’s add another thing to the list: Cakes!

Good enough for the price I paid.
Good enough for the price I paid.

Good enough to please our 8 year old birthday boy… and that’s what counts.

He’s the middle child. Technically he’s one of two middle children, but our oldest boy (12 now) and teenage daughter (14 last week) are usually teamed up. So the Angry Bird lover is the one who most often gets excluded, and exhibits the “middle child” symptoms the most.

We aimed to make today special – he got to have one of his friends over for cake, ice cream, and a movie. He got a present from a friend of our oldest boy. He opened gifts from his grandparents, and I surprised him with a Lego set my wife and I had hidden away.

We ate a cheap decoy cake while the cake I made was cooling in the fridge.

But then his friend gets a knock on the door in the middle of the movie. Other neighborhood kids want the friend to come out and bike around the housing area or whatever. And this friend’s logic is, “Well, I have already seen this movie, so…” and he walks out.

Pretty crappy, if you ask me.

At the same time, it’s a hard life lesson. Sadly, all too often, people don’t care about you except for how you benefit them. “I’ll come over for the cake and the ice cream until something more interesting comes along.”

My son didn’t seem to mind, but I still brought him over and let him curl up on my lap to watch the rest of the movie. He snuggled up and fell asleep. It was a rare moment, especially considering how he keeps getting older. (Why don’t they just stay at that perfect cute age of…well, not growing up so fast?)

After the movie, he got up, built his Lego set (which was promptly destroyed by the 2 year old), and played on his scooter outside for a bit. And I decorated the cake with his favorite bird, his favorite color, his favorite frosting, and some surprise treats in the form of Angry Birds gummies around the edges.

Because I want him to know that no matter what the world says or does, no matter how often they’re content to take what they want from him and then set him aside, there’s one thing he can count on.

Mom and Dad think he’s amazing, and there’s always a special place for him here.

And sometimes there’s cake.

Who Are We Dying For?

This is a post from a forum about 2.5 years ago. Now my family and I actually live here in Omaha, and we attend the church I mention below.
While I’ve been apart from my wife and kids, sent TDY by the Air Force to learn an exciting new aspect of management in my career, I have been attending a great church in Omaha, NE. The Friday night young adult group is particularly special to me, because from the first time I visited, they exemplified a welcoming loving community.Tonight, the speaker shared about love. I am trying to jot most of it down from memory, so of course some of it is lost. It is long, but I found it to be a very good message, and I hope others do too.

More specifically, he shared about relationships and how we show love in the relationship (anything from “I love pizza” to “I love my good friend” to “I love my wife” to “I love God”). He went to Plato and Aristotle, and then of course to the Bible, discussing concepts of “love” and how it works in our relationships. Naturally, there was discussion of the various Greek words, agape, phileo, eros.

Aristotle broke down “phileo” into three categories of “friendship.” There’s the friendship of utility; this is what we see in business. When you have something I want and I have something you want, we have to interact in order to make a deal, and generally we will do so in a polite way, treating each other nicely, being “friendly.” But this friendliness is more like that of an acquaintance. When I walk out the door, I really don’t think about that person any more. They don’t think about me either. Our business is done; we both got what we needed from each other.

The next step up was something like “friendship because we share a common interest.” Some people will go out and drink together, and they have a bond while they do that. People who share the same hobby may get together to pursue that. While they are together doing whatever it is that interests them, they have that friendship. It’s a bit closer than mere acquaintances. Maybe it’s a workout partner, or a member of a band, whatever. The key is, when the association stops, so does the friendship… kind of like how far too many of us probably are when we walk out of the church building.

Then Aristotle says there’s the friendship of character. I appreciate your character, I get along with you, we think alike, I enjoy your company, we have a good time together. We may be the best of friends… so long as neither of us change too greatly. When that happens, people often drift apart. Whatever held us together no longer does so. In the most extreme cases, you can think of common excuses for divorce. “He’s not the man I married.” “I don’t feel for her like I used to.”

The key point is that all of thisphileo– all of this “friendly” or “brotherly” love — is still focused on “I” and “me.” What do I get out of this relationship? What do you do for me? Are my needs being met?

Even among Christians, the two answers to what is the most important expectation in a relationship are honesty and reciprocity. In other words, a lot of how we relate with whomever we relate to has to do with “give and take.” Put another way, “I will give in the relationship so long as I get something from the relationship.”

The unspoken but obvious end to such relationships is that at some point, I will NOT love you if you ________ (fill in the blank). All too often, if we’re honest with ourselves, there is some line, some situation where I will no longer love you… because I no longer get what I want out of the relationship.

If that is any part of how we view our relationships with others, if we find ourselves looking at people’s value in terms of what they do for us, then we will sooner or later be willing to cut them off when they don’t meet our expectations.

When you boil it down, all those different versions of phileo seem a lot like eros. He didn’t mean just the “erotic” form of love, but the passion, the lust, the desire for something, the yearning to possess or control something. The “Oh, I’ve got to have that” sort of “love” we might feel. When you see that all those other relationships, the friendships mentioned above, are so easily based on me getting what I want from you, then you can see how deep down, it’s all about what I want and what I feel I must have.

It’s almost like we’re consuming ourselves, trying to find our satisfaction. “I like you because you think like me, you get my jokes, you make me laugh, you talk with me about what I’m interested in.” Basically, that’s saying I like me, and I see enough of me in you that we can get along for now. Don’t go changing on me.

It’s so refreshingly different when we see people who care about us or who love us without any sort of expectation, without looking for anything in return. People for whom the relationship is not “give and take” but simply “give.” People who die to themselves a bit and exemplify Christ.

This is, of course, how God related and relates to us. He doesn’t cause the sun to shine on the good people, or the rain to fall to nourish the righteous. He doesn’t extend His grace only to those who earn it or who qualify. He qualifies and accepts the “whosoever.”

We were also singing a song with a chorus about how we can give God “my everything, all of my incompletes, the worst and the best of me.” The worship leader had invited someone to church, and the man’s response was, “Oh, I can’t go. I’d have to hide my sin.” Somewhere along the line, his picture of God got skewed to look like how we treat each other all too often. Somewhere along the line, he learned that he can’t be honest with God, and he can’t give God what God wants in order to earn His love.

That is a horrible shame, when we know that God’s way of loving qualifies and accepts and restores and welcomes all who come to Him. I’m very grateful to God for the sense that I do comprehend a little bit of just how deep and how far-reaching and how amazing His love and grace and mercy are. I do know that He loves me, all of me, and that I can come boldly to Him, just as I am, without trying to present myself a certain way in the hopes of being accepted.

But this challenges me to wonder about what kind of picture people get of God’s love through my relationships with them, especially those I deem difficult to love. It is all too easy to be forgiven an incredible debt myself, to be treated in terms of grace… and then turn around and treat others based on what benefit they are to me.

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…”

So who are we “dying” for?