Shelby

Let me tell you about Shelby.

Shelby came to join our family in July and left us too soon.

Last July our 12 year old daughter convinced us that she needed her own dog. We went to the shelter shortly after July 4th, kowing that many dogs get lost and scared by the fireworks. After touring the shelter, Gabriela fell in love with a little female German Shephard mix. The feeling was immediately mutual. I tried to not let Gabriela get her hopes up because the dog was not yet available and we hoped the owner was looking for her and she would find her family.

We came back to visit and check on her. Gabriela had already named her, so we were hoping she was still there. When she saw Gabriela the tail started going and she started jumping on the gate and barking. She was so excited to see her. I didn’t understand the connection, but I knew I had to do whatever I could to get this dog for my daughter. It was not going to be clear shot, however.

On our third visit (the day Shelby was to be available) she was not there. Checking at the adoption desk, we were told that she had been sent to UC Davis to be spayed. She should be back in two days. We arrived before the shelter opened and waited. We rushed in and found her still not there. It seems that UC Davis has a commune of dogs they keep for blood donations and other such purposes. Apparently someone at UC Davis had decided they wanted our Shelby and they have the ability to jump the line and avoid the adoption process by selecting a dog for the commune and keeping her there for a year. After the year, the dog is then available for adoption by someone working at UC Davis. I filed a complaint with the head of the shelter and, it seems, I was not the only one.

A couple of days later my friend, Joel, who volunteers at the shelter, called me and told me that my dog was back at the shelter. I hightailed it over to the shelter and arrived third in line before they opened. Joel let me in to visit with her and Sean held our place in line. I met Shelby up close and personal and fell in love with her as well. As it turned out, the person two behind me was also there for Shelby. She had called UC Davis and filed her own complaint. It also turned out that she had not been spayed, so we had to wait two more days to bring her home.

Once home, and after a short adjustment, Shelby fit right in. She and Stout and, especially Sasha, became the closest of friends. They became partners in crime and destroyed their share of furniture, dug up the garden, and tore holes in the fence to play with the neighbors’ puppy. She loved to lay with Sasha and look out the window or play a three-way tug with Sasha and Stout. Mostly, she loved to run. Put the harness on her and attach her to the waist leash and she pulled like a sled dog. She hated when we took one of the other dogs and, once, escaped to chase after Alessandra and Sasha when they went for a run. She tried to catch up to them but didn’t know which way they had gone. She loved everyone and instantly became everyone’s favorite. Start to pet her and she would not let you stop. Unless Gabriela called her. She never left any doubt as to whose dog she was. She and Gabriela had an intimate connection and Shelby would be at Gabriela’s side if it was at all possible. Bedtime was always welcomed and she would run to Gabriela’s room and sleep with her, cuddled together, every night.

Spring break was a busy week with a lot of projects to do. Gabriela was applying her organizational sills to my garage while I was working in the yard. When Alessandra came out to check on me, all three dogs ran out the door and into the garage. Stout came back to me and I thought the other two had gone in with Gabriela. No one knew for 10 minutes that Shelby and Sasha had run straight past Gabriela to go for a run. When Gabriela came and asked me where they were we knew they had too much of a head start to go after them on foot. We grabbed the keys and only got to the end of the street when we saw Sasha coming back towards us. We got her into the truck and continued around the corner. Stopping at the light and hoping to see her running towards home, we waited for a couple of minutes. We made a left turn and headed in the direction we last took her running, but I flipped a U-turn and headed back. Less than two minutes after we had been at the same intersection, we were back there, but this time Gabriela said: “is that her?”

Shelby lay in the intersection and I parked the truck. Telling Gabriela to stay in the truck with Sasha, I went out to check on her, knowing what I would find, but not prepared. Shelby saw me coming towards her and tried to get up, but couldn’t move. She pawed my direction, helpless to do anything but look at me and wish I could take away her hurt. I said “Oh Shelby, you crazy stupid dog” and picked up her broken body in my arms. I could smell the blood and hear her gurgling attempts at her last breaths. She was still looking at me with what seemed like sorrow for running off and hope that I could somehow make it better. I could not. I had failed in my duty to take care of her and now I had to face my heartbroken daughter.

“Will she be OK daddy?” She was now out of the truck and opened the back for me.

“No, sweetie, I don’t think she will make it.” I placed her in the truck and petted her and kissed her. Gabriela did the same. She would say later that she didn’t get to say goodbye, but she did. We took Sasha home and told Alessandra what had happened. We went to the emergency vet, but Shelby was gone before we started the drive.

Truth be told, this has been devastating for me. Some of you may think I am taking the loss of a dog too hard. Our dogs are family to us. The last few days have been filled with sorrow, with trying to comfort Gabriela and trying to deal with the unexpected loss of my own. I went for a long run and had tears streaming down my face for most of the time. I broke down and sobbed on Friday evening. I watched my other dogs (especially Sasha) deal with the loss of their friend in their own way. The first two days they were visibly sad. If you’ve ever seen a sad dog, you know what I mean. The third day they changed and started being more affectionate towards us. Dogs have a unique ability to sense what their pack needs and provide it. I know the pain of this sudden loss and the guilt of my failure to protect will not last forever, but it’s not going away anytime soon either.

Shelby, we love you.

Buyer’s Remorse

Anybody spend too much at Christmas? Years ago, when I lived in the Bay Area, I would get off work on the last work day before Christmas, and do all of my Christmas shopping on the way home. I would go from store to store down The El Camino until I found gifts for everyone on my list. If I were left on my own, I would still wait till the last minute to do all of my shopping and then I’d spend way too much. I get caught up in the moment, swept away by the emotion, excited to give gifts that I know will thrill those that get them. Of course, the bills do come and I have to figure out how to pay for it all. Fortunately, my wife shops throughout the year and finds great deals on great gifts and sets them aside. It’s a different kind of excitement to find out Christmas morning what I got everyone, including her.

Maybe you’ve bought a big ticket item recently? It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now you have to pay for it, and maybe you’ve started second guessing yourself. You think that maybe you can’t afford it after all. Maybe you wish you hadn’t bought it. It happens a lot. So much so that there is a legal loophole to get out of a contract. You’ve probably seen it. Anytime you buy something on a contract, there’s that little clause you sign that says you have three days to change your mind, but after that, it’s yours. It’s called the Right of Rescinder. It’s there so that if we get caught up in the emotion of the moment and buy something we really can’t afford, we can change our minds and undo it. It helps people avoid defaulting on debt and the horrible consequences that can sometimes go along with that. Although, even that does not always go as it should. I remember, a few years ago, when we bought our car. We had fallen victim to a bait and switch and ended up buying a more expensive car than we had wanted. We took it back within the three days and tried to return it, but they wouldn’t honor the 3 day right of rescinder. That was in 2007 and we still have that car. It turned out OK and that dealer has since gone out out of business. Not that that has anything to do with buyer’s remorse, but I did feel somewhat vindicated when they closed up.

So, anyway, I was thinking about this and connecting it to other choices we make and how some (many?) of those choices fall short of what God expects of us. We know we all fall short, or go astray. I was thinking about the Right of Rescinder that we have for the things we buy into that give us buyer’s remorse.

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We buy into things that we shouldn’t. Some of those things we buy into are because we are deceived into thinking that something bad is good. Some of the ways we fall short are errors in judgement, lack of wisdom, or experience. Some are actual choices we make, where we know what we ought to do, but we don’t, or we know what we ought not to do, but we do it anyway. Paul suffered the same fate:

Romans 7: 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.

Maybe you have felt that way from time to time. I know I have. In some way or another, we all buy into lies the world tells us. I think there are three kinds of lies that we may buy into at various times in our lives.

“I’m not good enough.”

We know we are going to screw up, so what’s the point in even trying? Sometimes, when I’m driving, and a police officer pulls in behind me, my thoughts go to all the potential mistakes I could make that could get me pulled over. Am I speeding? Did I come to a complete stop? Did I signal? I know I’m going to get pulled over, maybe I should just floor it and run this stop sign and get it over with. Of course I don’t do that.

The world, and Satan try to convince us that it doesn’t matter what we do because we can never be good enough anyway. Of course, like all lies, this contains a certain amount of truth. We will never be good enough, but that is where Jesus comes in and His sacrifice brings us healing and and forgiveness. Since God sees us through the filter of the Blood of Jesus, we are good enough; not by anything we have done, but in spite of ourselves and entirely because of what Jesus did.

Do you ever believe you’re not good enough? Maybe you need to realize that Jesus’ sacrifice is a gift and not something we earn.

“It’s really not that bad.”

There are variations on this. Things like, “no one will notice,” and “everyone else is doing it.” We justify things we do like, being less than honest on our taxes or keeping extra change when we get too much at the store. I have noticed, in recent years, a trend among students at school that seems to be that “anything I can take without getting caught is OK.” It has become more obvious and more blatant, but don’t we all do that to a certain degree? “Everything’s legal, if you don’t get caught.” Right? Where do you draw the line? What is too much?

The world tries to convince us that some sin is OK, or, at least, not that bad. Jesus, on the other hand, taught that we should be perfect, just as our Father in Heaven is perfect. Clearly, not possible without His grace, but it’s still what are to strive for and justification has no place in it. Jesus justifies us, in spite of our sin; we cannot justify our sin.

Do you find yourself thinking that your sin is not that bad? Have you ever thought “at least I’m not like…” or, “at least is didn’t do…?” Maybe you need to accept that any sin is enough to separate you from God.

“That’s not what God meant.”

This is, literally, the oldest lie in The Book. The serpent told it to Eve when he said that God didn’t really mean that she would die from eating the forbidden fruit, but that she would become like God. We have many ways of buying into this lie too. We say that it doesn’t apply to us because the Bible was a different time and circumstance. We claim that people are being too legalistic. We interpret God’s commands to suit ourselves.

Jesus said:

Matthew 5: 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

So, clearly, every command is of equal importance to God. He never placed any priority of one over another. Do ever find yourself interpreting God’s Word in a way that excuses or permits something, or benefits you in some way. Think about how God really intended His Word to be understood.

Jesus broke it down into two simple concepts. Love God and love others. Yet, we still find ourselves making choices that benefit our own worldly desires. We still find ourselves buying into the lies that the world tells us.

In spite of all of this, Jesus freely forgave us all. He came to give us abundant joy. He came to free us from the bondage that comes from buying into the lies.

I think Paul summed it up very well in his letter to the Romans.

Romans 8: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

And, prior to this, in our memory verse:

Romans 6: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

We all make bad choices sometimes. We all have regret. The Grace provided by Jesus means that our debt is paid. That doesn’t give us permission to make bad choices, but it does mean that we can let go of our past.

Truth be told, the grace of God means that Jesus takes away buyer’s remorse for the bad decisions we make, but our challenge is still to not buy into the lies.

 

The Best Part of Teaching

People frequently ask me why I like teaching high school. Often, this question comes from my students. I actually enjoy witnessing the cognitive development that takes place during the teenage years. Prior to this time in their lives the majority of their views and opinions come from one of two places: either they have heard it from their parents, so it must be right, or they heard it from their parents, so it must be wrong. However, as they get more involved in high school, expand their circle of friends and influences and begin having individual experiences apart from their families, they begin to form actual opinions on their own. For the first time they build their belief system based on their own experiences and not only those of their parents. Obviously, the influence of their parents is still most significant and gives these young people the starting point for everything they will ever believe, but now they get to add to that the influence of others and their own development.

The other day, in my geometry class, we had the opportunity to go off topic a little and discuss some current events and issues that will affect us all. Fortunately, I have created an environment of trust and freedom in my classroom where students may feel safe in expressing their opinions. I was impressed with the courtesy that was displayed and the respect that the students had for each other and their differing points of view. This was no light weight discussion. Topics moved quickly form the current scandals facing our federal government to gun control, abortion and the death penalty. We have students with polar opposite opinions and everywhere in between.

The most important task facing educators is teaching our students to boldly express themselves with kindness and respect for others and to form those opinions from informed positions.

Truth be told, some of the most significant learning happens when we step away from the curriculum and let the students express themselves and apply what we have been teaching them in a real way… and the students learn then too.

He is Risen

images-1A little over 2000 years ago the Son of God, being in His very nature God, having all the power and authority of His Father, made Himself to be one of us to show us how to live and to give us the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. That is not what we celebrate.

During His life time, Jesus challenged the status-quot. He taught us to live out our beliefs in a way that honored our Creator through serving others. He showed us the path to Heaven. He taught us that we are loved and how to love. He taught about money, politics, sex and relationships. He showed us that faith, hope and love are the basis of everything and that love is the greatest of these… but this is not what we celebrate today.

Nearly 2000 years ago Jesus was betrayed, tried and convicted in a farce of a trial, and sentenced to die for crimes He did not commit. He was beaten and bled and died to pay the debt for our sins. This debt we could not pay because we cannot possibly cleanse ourselves of the sin we have covered ourselves in. His final word, “tetelestai” means “paid in full, completed, it is finished.” As a flawed and broken human, I am more grateful for the Grace afforded by this sacrifice than anything else I could ever imagine… but that’s not what we celebrate today.

Nearly 2000 years ago, today, Jesus Christ’s tomb was empty. The angel proclaimed; “why do you look for the living among the dead. He is risen.” No more powerful words have even been spoken. “He is risen.” Death has no hold on us. The gift of everlasting life has been give to man by God, Himself, through the person of His Son. This is what we celebrate today.

Not all believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Not all believe in God, at all. I read this week where someone said that God, nor Jesus, even exist at all. Truth be told, Jesus is an actual historical figure. He lived. He taught. He died. His tomb was empty three days later. Accept Him as your Savior, or not, but He was here and He did the things He said He would do. He continues to do the things He said He would do.

Celebrate today. Take time to enjoy what God has blessed you with. I hope and pray that you will know Him as I do.

Fathers & Sons

I spent some time reflecting today on all it means to be a father and how that has shaped my life as both a father and as a son.

I was amazingly blessed today to baptize a father and a son. Although it was the son who made the decision to be baptized first, he asked that his father enter the water first. I was impressed that he honored his father in that way. It’s no small decision to surrender one’s life to the God who created the universe and to choose, publicly, to make Him the Boss of one’s life. It showed a great level of respect when this particular son stepped aside and asked that his father proceed him in baptism. It made me think of the prophecy that the spirit of Elijah would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers.

I am blessed to have a father who has become my friend. He has taught me that we never stop learning and that wisdom is only granted to those willing to humble themselves enough to learn.

I am blessed to have an adult son who has become my friend; who has learned some hard lessons and has developed the wisdom to grow and learn from those around him as well. He has become a father, himself, who teaches his son the lessons that he has learned so that this next generation may learn from his father, rather than repeating the mistakes of the past.

I am blessed, also, to have a young son who sees me as the man I should be, rather than the man I am. He inspires me every day to try to live up to his image of me, though I fall miserably short.

I am, most of all, blessed to have a Father in Heaven, who loves me so much that He would send His Son to suffer and die that I might be freed from the sins and shortcomings of my human nature.

Truth be told, He is your Father too and He loves each of us more than we can possibly imagine, more than we love our own sons, which is beyond that which any of us could comprehend.

Hyperinflation and Education…

 

I’m not quite as anarchical as some of the people in this video. However, it is critical for us to realize that it may be too late to save our economy and, perhaps, our nation. The government is NOT our friend. After hyperinflation destroys our monetary system as we know it, those who have a tradable skill or the ability to produce a necessary product will be the ones who survive. Everyone else will be forced into a life of servitude and absolute poverty like we have never seen. I am not talking about a great depression – I’m talking about the absolute and complete collapse of our economic system. The government strategies are NOT working. They cannot work.

It’s true that the education system we now live and work in is actually a propaganda machine whose largest purpose is to create more people dependent on that very system.  On the other hand, we live in that system so we have to learn to work within it. There are exceptions, but, in general, higher education still leads to better jobs, but so does more practical experience. While a college degree does not set you apart, because everyone has one, NOT having a college degree puts you well behind those who do for most career paths. You have to have both. Get as much education as you can without debt. Get as much experience as you can. Learn to think creatively. Realize that owning a home is not, necessarily, the key to the American Dream. Invest in your future (real estate is not a good investment) and live within your means.

Truth be told, the student who is able to work and gain experience while putting themselves through college, graduates with true value in the real world and in the job market place.

A Life of Mediocrity

I always knew I wanted to be great at something, but I have not been able to figure out what it is. I dreamt of being a great athlete, but I never worked hard enough in the off-season. I always wanted to be a great musician or singer, but I never practiced enough. I thought I could be a great teacher, but I don’t spend enough time planning and thinking about how my students will hear my lessons. Maybe I could be a great coach, but I don’t devote enough time to it. I had the opportunity to be a great leader of men, but I am too distracted by other things to focus on the task at hand. I even think I could be a great writer, but I just don’t spend enough time writing. Not that I don’t have any talent in these areas, but I try to do too many of them. In fact, I’m fairly good at all of these things, but not great at any of them.

We have all heard the story of the baseball player who spent hours and hours practicing throwing the ball through a tire or bouncing it off the house, or the basketball player who spent all of his or her time shooting in the driveway with the dream of one day being a pro. We hear it from them when they have won a championship and they tell us that it was all they ever dreamt of and now they have achieved it. We hear the musician winning a Grammy and talking about how they first started singing when they were 2 and it’s all they ever wanted to do. I remember thinking, “I had that dream.” Most of us did at one point, but then the dream changes or we get otherwise distracted. Life gets in the way of our dreams, for some of us.

You might be like I am. I just haven’t been able to pick a dream. I have too many, and they get in the way of each other. Here I am, 47 years old, and I just haven’t been able to decide what I want to do when I grow up. Perhaps I am a Renaissance Man, you know, a “jack of all trades,” but I still have this burning desire to be great… at something. I don’t want it for my own fame or fortune (not that there is anything wrong with that), but I have always wanted to leave a mark on the lives of others. Sometimes I hear from students, from players, from men I serve with at church that I have changed their lives. I have even heard some professional musicians tell me I am a good harmonica player. I get just enough encouragement in all my dreams that I don’t let go of any of them.

No great advice for you today readers, just some commiseration for all of you distracted dreamers out there. You are not alone. Truth be told, I would really like to pick something and be great at it.

Dave’s Not Here

It has been a few weeks since I received the news that my good friend, Dave, had passed away. He leaves behind his wife and three small children who are now struggling with the challenge of losing their husband and father.

Dave was, perhaps, the best drummer I had ever seen. He also had a firm grip on the values he wished to instill in his children and he made sure every day that they knew what was important and what was expected of them. I am certain that his wife will continue to teach their children those values and that Dave’s legacy will continue for generations. His daughters and son will know their father, even though he left us so early in their lives.

As I said, Dave was a good friend of mine. Our children went to the same school and our wives talked nearly every day. They only lived a mile or so from my house, and yet, I hadn’t seen or talked to Dave in almost a year. Life was busy and we both had our ‘stuff’ going on.

I have become quite fond of saying that “we’ve all got ‘stuff!'” But the ‘stuff’ can’t be allowed to get in the way. As a teacher and a ministry leader at my church, I always expound to others the importance of relationships and that the ‘stuff’ must be put in perspective so that it doesn’t interfere with the relationships. It still does. I get so busy teaching algebra, that I sometimes forget to teach students. I get so busy leading a ministry, that I sometimes forget to connect with the brothers in Christ that I work with.  I sometimes get so involved in being a provider for my family that I am less of the husband and father that I should be. I sometimes get so busy that I forget to be a friend.

I know what Dave would say; “Dude, it’s cool.” But, Truth Be Told, it’s not cool that we let ‘stuff’ get in the way of what is really important.

Happy Mother’s Day

Mothers have always made great sacrifices. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, prayed and wept for years that the Lord would give her a son. When He finally did, she immediately gave him to the Lord to spend his entire life in the service of God.

Mothers teach us those things that are truly important. One of the most successful disciples of the New Testement, Paul’s protégé, Timothy, reminded Paul of the faith of both his grandmother and mother who taught Timothy to love and serve the Lord so that Paul, speaking to Timothy, says that he is sure that their sincere faith “now dwells in you.”

Among Jesus’ last wishes was that his best friend, John, take responsibility for His mother. Jesus said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son” and to John, “Behold your mother.” From that time Mary lived with John and he cared for her.

My mother played football with me. I still remember her breaking her ankle playing quarterback. She also taught me to cook. More importantly, she taught me to respect women. She taught me to stand up for myself. She made sure I did my homework and was always there to check it (and me). She always expected me to do my best, but always gave me the support I needed when I fell short.

My father instilled in me a desire to provide for my family, but my mother showed me how that support is received. Most importantly, my mother taught me to love God. My Father taught me faith in God’s power, but it is a mother that teaches us to love and, especially, to love God.

And so, on Mother’s Day at least, we honor our mothers. The sacrifices, the lessons, and, most of all, the love that only a mother can give.