The give and take

In life, there are givers and takers.

<I’ll pause here for you to collect yourself after such a profound comment>

I know, that’s not exactly an earth-shattering revelation to you. What is of interest to me is how often these two factions end up in some kind of close personal relationship with one another.

I’d like to talk about the dynamic of the Givers and Takers, but also the difference between a Taker and a Receiver.

Takers have a sense of entitlement. Whether it’s just a greedy nature, or they’re simply a product of their environment by being spoiled with attention and gifts, Takers feed on the good nature of Givers. Takers can be manipulative. Takers are not Givers, though they can be generous. But their generosity is a beard to cover up the ulterior motive that lies beneath the surface. Takers need what others can give them as if it were fuel. It may be material things, or it may be attention. Or both.

Receivers are entirely different. There is humility in the Receiver. Receivers are good Givers, but not all Givers make good Receivers. I am a pretty lousy Receiver. I have visited friends who offered me food when they’ve hosted me. I could be starving, with a growling stomach that would scare the dog, yet I would still turn down whatever food they offered. It wasn’t until a friend of mine sat me down and confronted me when I learned the need to be a good Receiver. He reminded me of the great feeling I get by helping someone in need. There is a profound satisfaction in offering something to someone without them asking. The feeling you get is a reward in itself, because you want nothing in return. There were times when I deprived people who cared for me of that very feeling because I turned them down.

The bible defines this kind of relationship, between the Giver and Receiver, as agape love. There is no selfish ambition in it. Agape love requires no reciprocation. However, a good Receiver is also a good Giver, and is eager to “return the favor”, though it is not required, and no strings were attached in the first place. There is no scoreboard, but if you did look at the tally between Givers and Receivers, it would be pretty even.

There is a saying that is good, but needs to be tweaked. My version of the saying is, “Blessed are those who give without remembering, and receive without forgetting.”

The Giver must exercise wisdom. All too often, Givers end up attached to Takers. Takers are quick to accuse the Giver of hypocrisy when they grow weary of the one-way highway of good deeds. The Giver must discern the difference between the Taker and the Receiver. It’s like finding the person on the median of the road with the “Will work for food” sign. Will they really? Or are they simply looking for a handout? Do they truly have the ethic and humility to repay a good deed? Do they really have the depth of character to give back? A good Giver isn’t interested in an equal gesture. A Giver is satisfied with the humble joy of the Receiver. The good Receiver may not return the favor right away, but because of their character, they will not forget the good deed, and will reciprocate eventually in any way they can. The Receiver is able to spin around the old Janet Jackson song by asking themselves, “what have I done for you lately?”

It takes a lot for a Taker to become a Giver and a good Receiver. If you are a Giver with a Taker in your life, you have to come to the point to where you stop enabling them. This isn’t necessarily easy. Resentment will grow if the dysfunctional symbiosis continues. You are better off putting your time and energy into the lives of people who will truly appreciate and respect you.The Taker doesn’t understand the difference between sacrificial, selfless love, and brotherly love. You can and do continue to love the Taker. But sometimes another kind of love that must be implemented by cutting off the Taker.

Tough love.

Tough love means that despite what the Taker insists they need, you recognize their truest, deepest need is to learn to do without, or learn how to take care of it themselves. God is the example of the Ultimate Giver. Even though He is our provider, and every “good and perfect gift” comes from Him, there are times when we do not get what we want. Not because He doesn’t love us, but because He really does love us. He knows what we need can only come about by us not getting what we want.

Happy Birthday Dad!

A mere five days after my mom’s birth, my dad was born. Yep, same year, too! I used to tease my mom about “robbing the cradle” with a younger man.

As I have said before, my dad is a man’s man. He is a former United States Marine and a retired San Francisco police inspector. To say my dad was something of a thrill seeker in his day would be accurate. Recently, a list of the top 15 scariest jobs was released, and not only did my dad hold three of them, those three are in the top 5, including the number 1 scariest job!

Those who have come to know my dad in the past 25 years are often shocked to hear of the life he led. Hearing of the kind of man he was doesn’t seem to fit with the man he is.

Having known him my whole life, I see how it all blends. To mentally survive being a cop in San Francisco, you must be able to keep yourself from getting emotionally attached to human suffering. Professionally, he was able to do this. But personally, he poured himself into serving others. He loved building things. While he did a lot of home improvement projects, he volunteered his skills and time to so many community groups. I was in the Boys Club, so he had a big part of building our floats for the annual 4th of July parade through town. This time of year was always busy for him. He built many haunted houses for my schools, as well as perfected his costume and presentation as Santa Claus for decades. He coached little league baseball, and ultimately became the league president.

As he neared the end of his career in law enforcement, he did the unthinkable. He got involved in prison ministry. For a cop to go into San Quentin to meet face to face with inmates was completely absurd. As you might imagine, cops were not all that popular in prison. But he didn’t care. He felt it was important for inmates to see the human side, the Christian behind the badge.

After he retired, he and Mom got involved with an orphanage in Mexico. To see my dad play with little children was a side I had never seen. He let them climb all over him. He let them put things in his hair. He let them do whatever they wanted as long as it made them happy and smile. He performed magic tricks for them.

He simply loved on them.

At home, he went from a man who I never saw make a sandwich..because Mom loved to take care of us that way, to a man who made breakfast, lunch and dinner. He did laundry. he cleaned the house. Dinner conversation ranged from talking about the Giants and 49ers to tips on what kind of fabric softener I should use and how to steam vegetables in the microwave. When my mom’s sickness made her incapable of maintaining her role as the homemaker, Dad embraced it. I never thought that could happen. But he did it. On top of it all, he became a nurse. He took such tremendous care of my mom during the last 15 years of her life.

What an example of a real man my dad has been. He was a provider. He was and is a man of strength and integrity. He is and was a strong spiritual leader. He was and is generous with his time and money. He is eager to take care of people.These are the qualities that underline the Marine, cop, and mild-mannered grandpa.

Today is the birthday of a legendary man. I’m honored to know him as Dad.

Happy Birthday Dad!

 

Happy Birthday Mom!

Today is the 76th anniversary of my mom’s birth. She passed away two and a half years ago, but her legacy lives today.

As I thought about this day and its meaning, I thought of all she had to go through with raising me. I didn’t make things easy on her, that’s for sure. After all, I was a teenage boy at one time. There was a significant portion of my life when I simply didn’t respect her as I should have. I always loved her, but I didn’t truly respect her.

Thankfully, when the time came for me to see her for who she was, she was still very much alive and available for me to express my love, and my respect. So many lose out on that opportunity because they learn too late, or their parent(s) died too young. I’m so grateful to God that nothing was left unsaid. We had several years to finally have the loving relationship she deserved.

My mom taught me so many life lessons without me even realizing I was learning. As a teenager through the early adult years, I figured I knew it all. My mom was 29 years older than me, so she couldn’t possibly be in touch with today’s issues we face.

Yeah, in some ways she was out of touch. My mom couldn’t set a VCR to record a TV show. Trying to get her to use a cell phone was pointless. Forget the idea of her ever getting the concept of sending text messages or using a computer. But whether my mom was technologically illiterate or not didn’t keep her from being on the cutting edge of what was truly important in life.

My mom lived her life with grace and dignity under pressure. The years leading up to my birth were among the most difficult for her. She endured very difficult circumstances. The last 15 years of her life were particularly challenging. But through it all, she never complained. She simply marched on. My mom found the joy and fulfillment of serving others. She took care of her family, she was always the class mom throughout my school years. She was the team mom on most of my youth sports teams. After I was out of high school, she and my dad turned their attention to serving under privileged kids. They served on the board of directors of a Mexican orphanage. They bought an RV for the express purpose of being able to drive down there and stay as long as they wanted without being a burden to the orphanage by taking up much needed beds. I went with them on occasions. What an eye opener it was to me to see these children and the way they responded to my parents, and my parents to them.

My parents then went on to spend 8 years living in Costa Rica ministering to couples and families there. Again, when I went to visit, I could see the amazing impact my parents had made in their new world.

My mother was an amazing woman. There was a time in my life when I tried to distance myself from her in order to carve out my own identity. It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized the honor it was to be her son. Maturity has that affect on us, I guess.

So on this day, I search the depths of my heart to pay a meaningful, tear filled tribute to the woman God blessed me with to raise me and teach me.

And the lessons didn’t stop just because her heart did.

Happy Birthday Mom.

Comfortable in (and with) my own skin

Nobody is perfect, right? Believe it or not, that was something that took me a long time to believe in the first several years of my life. When I was very young, something was happening to my physical appearance that set me apart from others…and not in a good way.

You know how school kids can be. Anything that makes you even a little bit different, a little bit unusual is raw meat in the lion’s cage. When I was 5 years old and just beginning my social life, the affects of vitiligo began to manifest on my body. As a young boy, it was clear to see by my year round tan that I was of Mexican descent. But that only made it more obvious when that beautiful dark skin was juxtaposed by the spreading condition that killed the pigment on my hands and elbows.

The hardest part wasn’t the physical, but the psychological impact. I remember praying to God when I was a kid, asking Him to make me “perfect” like other kids.

As I got older, things didn’t necessarily get easier. In high school, there were upper classmen who called me “leper”. I even had one teacher call me a zebra in front of the entire class. I had many people ask me if I had been burned. Whenever I wasn’t using my hands, I almost always had them buried in my pockets.

When I was 19, I discovered singing. While that was a a life changing development in a positive way, it also put me in a very uncomfortable situation. The most common place for a singer to be is in front of a group of people. And to make things worse, they won’t be able to hear your voice over the music without the aid of a microphone. That meant having my hands in a very visable place with everyone looking at me.

On one occasion, I was singing in a church in Nevada. After the service, the pastor felt compelled to pray for my healing from vitiligo. While his intentions were pure, I didn’t necessarily feel I needed healing. More than anything, I needed healing from the paranoia I had been dealing with since I was 5. All my life, I was afraid for my condition to be noticed. Vitiligo was not limited to my hands, but I was pretty much able to cover up the other areas with clothing. As I have grown older, it has spread. Now it is not so easy to cover up, since it’s now spread to my face. It started around my eyes. I’ve had many people ask me if I was wearing eye shadow. Now it’s all over my face and forehead.

I would dare say that more people than not have some physical insecurities. Whether it’s something that has been a target for ignorant people to ridicule, or we’re just proactively avoiding the mere possibility of being teased. If we’re not being teased, we’re probably at least the topic of conversation when we’re not in the room.

I don’t enjoy having vitiligo. But ultimately, it’s only cosmetic. I no longer allow it to control me. It no longer enters my mind when I’m standing before a crowd to sing or speak. I no longer look into people’s eyes to see if they’re curiously looking at my skin.

When I was planning a lifelong dream to go to New York City, my mom was very resistant of my trip. It was only five years since the attacks of 9/11, and she was more than a little uncomfortable with her “baby” flying cross country to a place which is the most obvious target for more terrorism. But I was not going to let terrorists keep me from my dream, much less the unsubstantiated fear of them.

My challenge to you is to overcome your insecurities. As I have learned through my life, people are less likely to notice our imperfections than we think. What we think is ugly or freakish, other people don’t even see. Our real friends don’t even see or care about those things. And if someone is tripped up by our imperfections, guess what. They’re not deserving of the influence we allow them to have.

The bible says that there was nothing about Jesus so attractive that people would be drawn to Him. He didn’t have Hollywood looks. People were drawn to Him for much more substantial and meaningful reasons.

You are a person of substance. Don’t let fear or insecurity, the terrorists of your self esteem and value, keep you from living your life. People love you just as you are. You should see what they see.

You should see what Jesus sees.

Trend setters

The other day, I wrote a post that opened up some conversation regarding today’s teenagers and twentysomethings and the way they dress and behave. Fingers point in a lot of different directions which all have validity to them, at least to a degree.

Let me just say that young people are not all of a sudden more vulnerable to outside influences than they have been at any other time in history. Dating back to the early years of the 20th century, fashion has continued to push the boundaries set in previous generations. Pop culture has always been at the leading edge of influence. Music and film has always been a huge factor in trends. From Mae West to Lady Gaga, Elvis to the knuckleheads from The Jersey Shore, America’s young people have had a steady diet of outrageous behavior from the perceived glamorous lives of the rich and famous.

Where today’s youth has it especially tough over previous generations is the proliferation social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter. Elementary school kids are carrying cell phones with cameras, able to take pictures and videos of themselves and others on demand.Then they’re able to post them on the worldwide web in seconds, with instant fame, or infamy, free for the taking.

Girls and boys from a very young age are losing their modesty. They’re losing their inhibition. This is nothing new. It’s just that technology has given them the tools to take things to a troubling new level. This behavior only intensifies as they age. The pressures they face to be noticed and feel relevant are overwhelming. They are being taught that the more outrageous they are, the more attention they will receive. Whether that’s with attention-grabbing attire, posting provocative pictures, sexting, among many other risky activities, today’s youth is traveling down a very slippery slope.

We cannot expect pop culture to reverse this trend. We cannot expect that technology is going to make things easier. It’s up to us to be a good example. We cannot be more concerned with keeping in touch with our own youth by being “cool” to them. This generation of young people, including adults in their 20s, need us to take them seriously. We need to appreciate the pressures and influences that bombard them. We need to listen and watch. We need to exercise wisdom. We need to be someone they want to emulate…for the right reasons.

They have plenty of people to follow for the wrong ones.

A different voice

Next week is the 76th anniversary of my mom’s birth. She passed away two and a half years ago, but I still find myself learning from the example her life was.

Back in January of 2009, I wrote a post about her and a particular lesson she taught me by her example. As I face uncertainty in an area of my life that has never been an area of question, I am reminded of her heart. To give you a little background, my mom was a woman of great faith, and a fervent prayer life. One of her favorite things to do was to pray. She loved praying for others. I never knew her to pray for her own wants, unless they were for the purpose of blessing others.

As her illness became more aggressive in her body, she was unable to physically do things that were a big part of her life. Chief among them was being able to kneel and pray. When her body would no longer cooperate with her desire to do so, she felt a certain disappointment in not being able to take a posture of humility and reverence. Her statement to me was that she felt like a bird with its wings clipped, unable to fly. But without missing a beat, she followed that moment of disappointment with a moment of determination.

“But I can still sing”.

I have been dealing with my own disappointment lately in being unable to minister to God and others in a manner to which I have been accustomed since I was 19 years old. In my frustration and sadness, I heard my mom’s voice in my heart.

Sometimes we are forced to find a new voice, a new way to express ourselves to God and man. I guess that’s why you’re seeing a resurgence in my blog posts. This is my way of using my voice…to open my heart. I don’t know what the future holds for much of anything in my life. But I am choosing to not be silenced. I am choosing to continue to try and make a difference. It may not make a difference in anyone else’s day or life, but I pray it does in mine.

Thanks Mom. Your legacy and your example continues to teach and inspire me.

I’m starting to sound like my parents!

I’m just alerting you up front, this post isn’t so much about life lessons. It’s more of an observation. I’m really hoping to open up some discussion with this to see if you’ve noticed the same thing I have, or if I’m just turning into my parents. I’m curious about the observations of men, women, young and old.

The picture to the right is of a woman I saw in a courthouse on Monday. It’s hard to tell from the picture since I was trying to be discrete in taking it, but she is wearing a tank top, pajama bottoms and leopard print fuzzy slippers. TO COURT! Believe me, this isn’t an isolated case. This is not an uncommon sight. I will give her the benefit of the doubt that she wasn’t there to appear before a judge, but even to go out in public like that???

On the other end of the spectrum, I have to ask when did it become socially acceptable to dress like a prostitute in public? Skin tight and awkwardly short skirts and shorts. Then you have the 5 inch heels, skin tight tops with plunging necklines. Seriously, when did this become mainstream?

To take this a step further, I have to say that I have seen some very questionable outfits on girls at church! No, not women. GIRLS. Teenagers. The topic has come up in conversations with friends who are roughly my age. I’m not a parent, but my friends are. Of daughters, no less. So I categorize their observations as qualified. I’ve seen some astonishingly short skirts with ankle-buckling high heels. I understand our culture has, at some point, accepted this look as fashionable and mainstream. I don’t believe I’ve ever been accused of being a prude, but this recent trend is a concern to me.

So, to summarize, there are three things that confuse and concern me:

  1. When did bedtime wear become acceptable to wear when out and about in public?
  2. When did hooker-wear become appropriate?
  3. When did it become OK for teenagers to wear outfits that look like they’re ready to hit night clubs become acceptable to wear to church (or at all), and how/why do parents allow it?

I realize I may step on a few toes with this post, but I’m open to debate. Maybe this is just me getting older and being out of touch. But maybe others feel the same way but don’t have the soapbox to bring it up and have others listen.

What are your thoughts?