The events of the last month have been difficult to watch as they unfolded. Pages and pages have been written about our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and its hasty collapse that occurred before our own withdrawal was complete. There is a discussion to be had regarding military withdrawal strategies, whether it was even necessary, etc. (especially when I’ve seen no one espose how I would have handled it) However, that is not what is occupying the majority of my thoughts when I reflect over the past 20 years; rather, it’s the people.
I’ve been thinking about Louis Neil Mariani (“Neil”). I profiled him back in 2009, and his story is heartbreaking. When I searched his name again, I found that his wife Ellen was one of the last victim families to sue vs. taking the compensation fund payouts. Losing her husband wasn’t enough; she spent years raising funds and bouncing through some questionable legal representation, just to be told that she could not have her day in court. I have no idea what either of their politics are - it doesn’t matter, and that’s the point. I mourn for Neil, Ellen, and the entire Mariani family - and I wonder if we, as a nation, have learned anything from their involuntary sacrifice.
I’ve also been thinking about the time I spent deployed back in 2006. It got me thinking even then, but it’s come to mind more frequently, particularly with the Afghanistan collapse. One of the aspects of that job was to open, inspect, and repair packages that were found to be damaged when they passed through our facility. In doing this, I would see glimpses of what was being sent to the military members downrange; quite frequently, it was pictures of children, love notes from spouses, and food items that weren’t easily available in a combat zone. We also, on occasion, had to inspect mail headed home from the war zone. In these, too, I would see family memorabilia, often wrinkled and dirty; they had accompanied their owner through some very difficult times.
These difficult times didn’t always have a happy ending. There were marriages strained, many broken; even among my paltry crew of thirteen co-workers, there were families dissolved because of those four months. This toll, too, is something I mourn; each party usually bears some of the blame when a marriage ends, but the circumstances that led to that dissolution were brought on by the stresses of war.
I realize that some of these marital partnerships may not have made it; if it wasn’t the war, it would have been something else. Maybe Neil would still be alive and well, preparing for his 80th birthday soon - but maybe not. The “maybe” questions belie what is behind much of the mourning, which is the loss of potential - unrealized potential, unjustly snatched from its owner well before it should have been.
One of the hardest questions I’ve fielded over the past month or so is “How are you?” I try to say the requisite “fine” in return, but sometimes the question just hits differently. My… uh, eyes sweat… way more than they used too. I mourn that we lost thirteen Americans, and untold Afghans who had been “on our team” as we ham-handedly exited that nation. I mourn the “falling man” picture of 9/11, and the very similar images of people falling off the landing gear 20 years later, so desparate to escape. A younger version of me would have been angered by this; now, though, my main emotion is sorrow.
It is imporant, though, to not let the sorrow and long-term futility of the heroic efforts of so many - so great a price for so quick a loss - give rise to despair. One of the most encouraging things I have read over the past month was a Sunday French Press entitled “They Held the Line”; I would encourage you to read it as well, especially since this post is not going to end with some uplifting, inspiring hope for the future.
“Never Forget” became the rallying cry after 9/11 (even though it had previously been used regarding the Holocaust; I guess we did, in fact, forget). But, for those of us who prosecuted the War on Terror, forgetting will never be an issue. My prayer is that future generations will not have such an agonizing event, and a 20-year struggle to defeat a difficult enemy, where the hard fought gains are lost before our boots have even left the soil.
My father passed away in late January of this year, and I had the honor of delevering the eulogy at his funeral service. Over the past few months, I’ve tried to write different tributes to him, but I did not like any of those attempts more than what I said about him that day.
I love you, Dad, and I miss you very much.
Allen Jackson Summers – born Valentine’s Day 1944, passed 3 days before his 52nd anniversary, faithful husband, and, quite possibly his most notable achievement, fathered the best two kids ever to walk the earth! No, I’m not here to present an exaggerated, self-serving obituary; I’m here to honor the man I’ve called Dad for 47 years. In the day-to-day busyness of life, we often don’t take the time to think through and identify just what exactly makes our loved ones so special. When I started thinking, though, it was very easy, and two big things came to mind.
The second was his humor; he has been funny for as long as I can remember. Growing up, we had joke books that we could read – and we did, then borrowed more from the library when we finished those. Every Sunday after church, we’d stop by White Star Market and get the Sunday paper. When we got it home, Mom got the coupons, but Dad got the funnies. His prowess with puns was near-legendary. It didn’t matter if he got a laugh or a groan; any noise he could coax from you would signify a well-executed pun. He knew the short ones (“How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh? Ten tickles.”), but he would also tell elaborate stories, just for the punny punchline at the end. I’ll recount one of his that I remember, and you can honor him with whatever sound it inspires in you.
A piano player asked his piano player friend if he had any recommendations for someone to tune his piano. “Of course,” he replied, “Opperknockity is who I use.”
“What kind of name is that?” asks the guy.
“It’s odd, but he does great work,” was the reply.
So, the player calls Opperknockity, who comes and tunes the piano. He leaves his card, and says to call him again once the piano starts to lose its tune. Well, 6 months in, the piano still sounds great. A year in, still perfectly tuned.
A few months after that, he sees his friend again, and tells him he can’t believe his piano is still in tune! His friend said, “Don’t you what they say? Opperknockity only tunes once!”
I mentioned that his humor was the second thing I thought about; the first was what I would describe as his quiet faithfulness. Despite his joke-telling, he was rarely the one in the center of attention. He worked 3rd shift at a few different jobs, and he did very well with very little supervision. Every year, he worked as the registrar for Neighborhood Bible Time, staying late after each night’s activities to ensure that the boosters were recognized for the work they were doing, keeping them motivated to memorize Scripture. I know he fell right back into that when he moved back to Seymour; I don’t know who did it while he was gone, but they didn’t seem to mind giving that job back to him!
Growing up, I remember that even though he worked 3rd shift, he would go to the Rescue Mission’s Thursday dinner and Bible study. He would go even when he wasn’t actually presenting that day, just to be there to talk with those who came. He served in the bus ministry. He sang in the choir. In our home, we always had daily family devotions, and I can’t remember ever noticing him missing his own personal devotional time.
I could probably fill lots of time talking about the many things he did - things very few people may have seen - but these things made a vital impact for the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 4:2 says “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” I can stand here today and say that he lived that verse out in many, many ways; and, while my ministry opportunities have often led to serving more publicly, I pray that I have followed his footsteps.
In 1 John 2:6, John writes “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” Dad modeled this in his life, and pointed many people to Christ through his example – including both his children. One of his favorite hymns was “He Hideth My Soul,” with the chorus taken from Psalm 63 and John 10. (We sang the first and last verses of this song of praise.)
A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.
When clothed with His brightness transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love,
I’ll shout with the millions on high.
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.
– “He Hideth My Soul” by Fanny J. Crosby (public domain)
“Dave” is David Alton Herrington, my father-in-law of right at 24 years (counting engagement time as well). He passed away Monday evening after a multi-year battle with cancer. I’m sad, to be sure, but when I think back to who he was and the time we had together, behind the sadness is a large pool of gratitude. The remainder of this is addressed to him, but public so that others know the positive impacts he had on my life. (I’m also grateful that I did not wait to share this with him; though the words aren’t verbatim, nothing here would be new to him.)
First, thank you for your daughter. Listing the ways she improved my life would likely fall short; from changing my outlook on my own talents, abilities, and worth, to the gift of your three grandsons, to unconditional love, to challenges when I needed it - I am the man I am today, in large part, because of her. A girl does not become a woman of her character in a vacuum; your guidance is a large part of who she is today, and I am forever grateful for that. Besides, without her, I likely would not have even known you - and my life would have been lesser because of that.
Next, thank you for welcoming me as your son. That same guidance that helped Michelle also helped me. From clean laundry back before Michelle and I were even married, to a place to stay when we visited, to places to stay even when we weren’t with you, to trips with you, you spared no resources to make sure that my family had a place to stay and a means to get where we were going. You advised me on investments, and not taking your advice is one of my regrets - you were right on that! You also respected who I was as a man - you didn’t try to change me into you; that meant a lot.
Thank you, also, for being strong. Whether it was in business, advising me about safety issues when we both worked in the field - or whether it was in the face of a body that had decided to turn against you - you showed true tenacity in every circumstance. As my body decides it doesn’t want to do everything it has done in the past, I look to your example to keep pushing it to do what it can. Thank you for applying both strength and resources to enriching the lives of my sons; each one of them can tell me fun times with “Papa and Gran” where they made memories that will be with them the rest of their lives.
Finally, thank you for holding on through this past Christmas season. I know that it wasn’t really in your control per se, but I will always be grateful that we had the opportunity to spend your final Christmas together, celebrating and making memories that all of us will long treasure.
Please take time today to thank the Lord for the many blessings He has provided. Thank your family for all that they’ve done for you, and thank your friends for their friendship. Take time to reminisce over particularly good times in your life. Enjoy the people around you, or fondly remember those who are no longer around. If you have the ability, do something nice for someone else; you’ll make an even better memory for next Thanksgiving.
Finally, resist the urge to catalog failures and shortcomings, and by all means - leave politics in the dumpster inferno where it currently resides. Who wants a dumpster fire at the dinner table, anyway?
I wish each of you a happy, relaxing, and joyous Thanksgiving!
Memorial Day is one day a year when we should put ourselves in this boy’s shoes for a moment. Look at his face - really look, with an open heart and perceiving eyes. He doesn’t need a red number on a calendar to remember his loss. He sums up the range of Memorial Day emotions perfectly; defiant and strong, yet mourning. This is what this day is about. Our nation was bought at great effort, and great price, by the blood of our fellow countrymen, and continues to require those who have given their lives in her defense.
So - happy Memorial Day*. May God bless America.
(* I know there are those who take issue with the phrase “Happy Memorial Day”. If we can call Good Friday good because of sacrifice made on our behalf, I think we can also let our gratitude for these sacrifices lead us to be happy. I certainly don’t think that those we honor today would want us moping around; take time for reflection and gratitude, then enjoy the freedom they earned for you.)
Today marked the end of my wife Michelle’s four-year leadership of the base homeschool group. Our family’s journey with homeschooling is nearing the end of its seventh year, but when we arrived here, we had about a month’s experience. The base homeschool group provided playmates for our children, and support for Michelle, as the majority of the homeschooling duties fell to her.
Three years in, the group had shrunk to just a few families, and Michelle stepped up to assume the presidency of the group. Her first year, the group grew by a few families. However, in her second year, there was a huge influx homeschooling families, and the majority of those were families who were new to homeschooling. During that year, she spent lots of time talking with individual people about homeschooling, while managing the calendar for field trips, parties, and other social occasions. Not all the families were new, though, and as she transitioned to her third year, she restructured the group and set up “coordinators” who were responsible for various aspects of the group’s activities. This divided the work, and allowed people to be even more effective; some of the field trips involved nearly 50 kids! Her title changed from “President” to “Group Coordinator,” and freeing her from the party and field trip planning allowed her to focus on helping new families get oriented, as well as sharing information on curriculum and relevant legal information with the group. This coordinator style of leadership proved its value as the third year transitioned to the fourth, the group continued to grow, and nothing fell through the cracks.
Oh, by the way - while doing all this, she is also currently homeschooling a 10th grader, an 8th grader, and a 3rd grader.
Michelle, you have done an absolutely amazing job. You’ve not only educated our children well, you have worked countless hours to help other families exercise their right to educate their children the way they see fit. If there is anyone more deserving of an end-of-tour medal than you, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them. I’m proud of the leadership you provided for the past four years, and I’m very proud to be your husband.
This is the first or last post of our “2012 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous” series. 2012 wasn’t all bad; let’s take a look at how.
The London Olympics
London got a third turn to host the modern Olympic Games in 2012, and they did an outstanding job. The facilities were all first-rate. The opening and closing ceremonies both set new high bars, being spectacular without being cheesy. Security was also successful, with no violence or terrorist acts being committed during the games. Of course, seeing USA sitting atop the medal board at the end was an added bonus.
The only thing about the games that I would change would be the coverage. I’m not going into full #NBCfail mode, but they should have found a way to televise the games as they occurred, while still preserving their prime time “here’s what we think you want to see” coverage. Rio lines up with the US, so that shouldn’t be an issue as much; evening events can be broadcast live if they wanted.
Eat Mor Hate Chicken
In July, Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy, son of founder S. Truett Cathy, mentioned in a Baptist Press interview that the chain was supportive of the traditional definition of marriage. Judging from the reaction, you’d have thought that he had just introduced the new spicy sodomite sandwich! There were calls for all sorts of punitive actions against Chick-Fil-A, from boycotts to denying future permits. They also were attacked for giving charitable donations to “hate groups.”* So why is this on the good list?
This is here because of what happened next. A groundswell of support arose for the purveyors of fine non-cow products, culminating in “Chick-Fil-A Day,” where every single restaurant had lines around the block as people came out to show their support. The protests two days later paled in comparison to the outpouring of support for the stand the Cathy family was willing to take. Meanwhile, many in the gay community “came out” (sorry, couldn’t help it) in support of the restaurant, citing its employees’ respect for every customer, and others spoke highly of the environment as an employee. Chick-Fil-A fought back against the “you donate to hate groups” charge, and the official boycott effort went by the wayside.
In a year where “same-sex marriage” won at the ballot box, and religious groups failed to get the government to amend “health care” requirements that violate their religion, Chick-Fil-A was a nice bright spot of support for traditional marriage and the right of business people to share their beliefs.
* Just a note, activists – if you call Focus on the Family a hate group, you really should educate yourself, and close your mouth so you don’t completely destroy your credibility when you figure out how things actually are and start making sense.
Mark it down - 2012 proved that the mainstream media now makes no attempt at objective reporting. From the debate moderators, to the selective coverage of the party conventions, to the complete dearth of investigative reporting on Bengahzi, it’s like they just quit trying. When comedians other than Jay Leno are writing jokes about you, you’ve become a parody of yourself; and, when Jon “I can cuss, 'cause I’m edgy, but they can’t broadcast it” Stewart makes more sense than you do, you are an embarrassment to the craft. But, these two facts have become so self-evident that even the American people can’t miss it.
The bias is not the “good” part, but sunlight is the best disinfectant; the exposure of it (and embracing of it) is why this lands on the good list. Some journalists are starting to get it. While Jake Tapper (of ABC News in 2012, of CNN this year) has been the fairest MSMer for a while, this year saw many reporters, including CNN’s Anderson Cooper, asking tough questions and refusing to allow dodging. Special recognition also goes to Univisión for their debate questions; the English-language moderators could learn from you.
Maybe we’re almost to the point where liberals will actually see why criticizing “Faux News” with supporting links from The Huffington Post and Mother Jones aren’t that convincing. And there lies the rub; you shouldn’t restrict your reading to either “side.” Read the editorials with which you disagree, as well as the ones you like. Compare story selection among several news sources, and if there is a story missing, find out why. We have the tools now to easily do it, which may be the best part of all of this. You can be as informed as you want to be.
This past year was a great year for our family. In January, February, and March, we were able to do quite a bit of snow skiing. I and my two oldest sons conquered several black diamond runs and couple of double-blacks; I learned the trick to moguls (ski the tops, not the groove in between them); and even my 7 year old found blue and a couple of black diamond runs he could do. We’re looking forward to more of that in the next few months, as our favorite ski area is ready!
In September, we were finally able to take a family cruise where one of our stops was letting our sons swim with stingrays in Grand Cayman. Michelle and I had done that back in 2006, and wanted them to experience it. We also visited Jamaica, where we had a surprisingly good time, and I celebrated my 39th birthday in Cozumel, Mexico. We got to cruise with the same couple with whom we cruised in 2006, and they also brought their family; it was great to spend time with them.
When we got back, we prepared to move. After living on a military base for nearly 10 years straight, we now have a place to live off base. Great friends here in Albuquerque got transferred overseas, and we are able to live in their house. It was a great blessing; we had begun to outgrow our current house. It is definitely nice to have a separation between “work” and “home” now; plus, now I’m not the guy who lives on base, who gets the calls to do stuff “because you’re already there.” Win-win!
Finally, in November and early December, our family was able to participate in Hoffmantown Church’s production of The Story, a dramatic musical presentation of the Christmas story, starting with creation and ending with the resurrection. We had never done anything like it; we usually were not around for it. But, since we were, we signed up. It was amazing! At the first rehearsal, I was not quite sure it was all going to come together, but each time, things got smoother, and by the time our final dress rehearsal came, we were ready. There were 450+ volunteers who worked, and over 6,500 people saw it. We are really looking forward to next year.
Of course, the 2013 production of The Story is still 11 months away; there’s a lot of 2013 between now and then. I hope that I have much trouble narrowing down the few things to include in this post next year. Happy New Year!
Today is the first day for the 40/40 Prayer Vigil for Personal Revival and National Renewal. That’s a pretty long title, so I’ll just call it 40/40 from here on out. I just got through praying over the first day, and I’m really excited about how this is going to change me. (No, I don’t have any inside knowledge - I just know that God’s plan is better than mine every time. I’ve also been through the entire guide, so I know what’s coming up!)
40/40 is praying for either 40 days or 40 hours prior to our national election. While it is timed to coincide with the election, and voting is the focus of a few of the days, the main focus of this prayer vigil is personal revival. Though originated by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the vigil is non-denominational; if you’re a Christian, you likely won’t find any of these suggested prayers running counter to your beliefs. Finally, this is a non-partisan thing; no matter what letter would be in parentheses after your name, if you’re a Christian, this is for you.
So, how can you join in? Well, a PDF copy of the guide (in both English and Spanish) can be downloaded from the ERLC’s official 40/40 prayer site. You can visit this page each day; the prayer guides will be in the sidebar. If you want a daily site in Spanish, visit PrayerTracker and change the language to Spanish. Finally, if you have a WordPress blog, and you want to have the prayer guides in your sidebar, you can search for the “40/40 Prayer Vigil” plug-in and install it however you normally install plug-ins.
Happy Anniversary to the lady who, sixteen years ago, made me the luckiest man in the world. Whenever I think back to our wedding day, I smile, and not just because of the crazy things my friends did. (I still wonder if they ever got all that bird seed out of the carpet in that room…) We’ve shared lots of good times, and even seen the rare bad times bring us even closer as we walked through them together. I love you very, very much, and am looking forward to spending many more years at your side.
Hey, guess what, babe - our marriage is old enough to drive now!
(As I type this, it is my anniversary where my wife is, but not quite my anniversary where I am. This is a first for us, celebrating on two different continents. While I also hope this is our last year in this position, I am very grateful to God for allowing us to celebrate the last 16 May 11ths together. I’m also grateful to her Dad for giving her this opportunity to see a part of the world she hasn’t seen before, and for raising his little girl into the wonderful woman she is today.)
This is the last (or first, depending on how you’re reading it) part of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.”
Evil’s Class of 2011
2011 was a good year for tyrants to breathe their last. Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaeda and mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrors attacks, was killed in a daring raid on May 2nd. Muammar Gaddafi, the long-time leader of Lybia, was captured and killed October 20th. Then, a week before Christmas, Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator, breathed his last. These three men did very little to soothe pain and suffering in this world, choosing rather to inflict it in an attempt to maintain their power and control. As of today, none of these three men control anything - in my book, that’s a very good thing. (Even better would be a change in direction, though that’s looking doubtful at this point, except possibly in Libya.)
Contrary to popular opinion, you can make value judgments about these nations (or, in al-Qaeda’s case, their organization). Man has a God-given yearning to be free, both physically and spiritually. God also made it plain in His Word that choosing Him is a personal decision - it must be made in one’s heart, not forced by government at the point of a gun. Regimes can try to control behavior, but they cannot change hearts. These leaders used violence and oppression to try to conquer the hearts of their citizens, rationalized in many cases via religion; the God of the Bible wants us to surrender our hearts to Him voluntarily. These leaders worked against Him, and they are gone.
While the Cain Train’s derailment made the “bad” list, one positive to come out of his campaign was his 9-9-9 plan. This plan scraps all existing tax code, and replaces it with a 9% income tax, a 9% national sales tax, and a 9% corporate income tax. This plan is the first time a poll-leading presidential candidate has proposed such a massive overhaul of the tax system, and the only plan apart from the FairTax (which Mr. Cain also supports) that eliminates the ridiculous spaghetti of our tax code - spaghetti with a compliance price tag in the millions. While there was the expected knee-jerk reaction from the usual sources (“What? You mean POOR PEOPLE would have to pay 9% on THEIR INCOME, TOO?!?!”), Cain’s analysis showed that this would bring in about the same amount of revenue. Combine that with the vast simplification of the tax code, thus eliminating much of the compliance and enforcement expense, and you’ve got something that just might work.
I realize Cain’s analysis is that of someone running for office, but it does mesh with the analysis done by those that espouse the FairTax. 9-9-9 provides the most level of playing grounds - if you make $10,000, you’d owe $900; if you make $100,000, you’d owe $9,000; if you make $10,000,000, you’d owe $900,000. Corporations, although merely voluntary associations of individuals, are taxed at this rate as well. The national sales tax, balanced with reduced compliance cost to the businesses that would be collecting it, is nearly break-even. This would encourage growth without punishing success.
I can’t remember where I read it, but it’s almost like some people are obsessed with making sure everyone has their “fair share” of the pie. Others see the pie and ask “Hey, why don’t we just get a few more of those?” 9-9-9 clearly falls into the latter camp. Basing economic policy on “It’s not fair that he has more than me” is poor; there’s a reason we teach children not to look at life that way. Instead, we should compare our poor to the poor of other nations, and realize that even the “poor” in this country are better off than the average citizen in many other nations.
I hope that, the next time an alternative tax is pitched, we can have a rational discussion about it. In fact, the FairTax is proposed nearly every year - if you read about it and like it, just let your Congress-critter know.
A Full Trip Through the Bible
Inspired by my Christmas gift from my family in 2010, I searched the web for reading plans and found this one, which looked very interesting. I started a Facebook group and asked if any of my friends would like to join me on this journey, and 22 others joined me; I even made a few new friends along the way. Each day I would post the reading for that particular day, and we could use the group to share, discuss, or encourage one another. There were times I got behind (it happens), and when I posted an encouragement to the group, others were there with me. We weren’t judging each other, we were simply encouraging one another - as Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”
The pace was quick, and although I enjoyed it and was blessed by it, I believe 2012 will see me taking it a bit slower. I did flag several verses as I was reading through, and those are the places I’ll start digging in and digesting what’s there.
So, there you have it. As in previous years, while I had to cut off the lists for the bad and the ridiculous, those all happened externally. I could have filled the list for this post with solely personal things. This tells me that I serve a God Who blesses me, no matter what sort of bad or ridiculous stuff goes on around me. I believe more good is on its way in 2012, and some of it might not even be just for me. :)