Growing up?

The last couple of months have been kind of exhausting. I am finally poking my head up for air as the assignments have turned from “this week you will cover these five chapters” to “here is the study guide for the final exam.” My last two exams are in two days. I have to work tomorrow. I have one last writing assignment that I just don’t want to bother with, because I think I can pass the class without it. That’s how tired I am; I would be content to pass.

I have become an adult. I can tell by the things I am concerned with. Once upon a time it was “aw, man, I have to get up at 6am for PT.” These days, I am concerned about getting approved for the loan that will let us get through another year of nursing school on part-time employment. I am worried about the new baby on the way, and keeping the one-year-old clothed and fed.

Yesterday I was looking at a list of cool internet memes and I saw this thing where an Australian hurdler was doing a sort of warm-up dance right before a race. She was bouncing and waggling her hips while her pony tail flipped behind her. It was breathtaking. What shocked me most was that I didn’t look at that beautiful, athletic young woman with lust. I just appreciated how innocent and lovely she looked, playing with her finely-tuned instrument. Have I really outgrown the biggest problem area of the last twenty years of my life? Have I gotten that old?

I washed dishes, laundry, and even vacuumed today, but it wasn’t enough. I am glad I did those things, because they helped my wife, but there were still dishes left to do when the day was done. There is always more work to be done. There is always more homework to be completed, more chapters to study, more trash to take out, or messes to clean. It never ends. This is life as an adult.

My wife vacillates between nausea and exhaustion. That’s pregnancy. I can’t blame her for the unending mess around the house. Some of it I create.

I bought a lottery ticket. I saw the lottery was up to $400 million. Imagine that. A million dollars is enough for a lifetime. Four hundred million… I could buy a big house with lots of rooms, hire a maid and a chef, buy an airplane, learn to fly it, and travel the world. I would never fear having enough food for my wife and children. No, my big concern would be what charities to invest for.

The funny part of my lottery story is that I bought my ticket for the wrong lottery. Powerball and Mega Millions are not the same thing.

I am 36 years old, and I dream of financial security.

“But, your dream,” You say, “It’s not Biblical…”

Yeah. Rich man, eye of needle, I remember. Lilies of the field, I know. It’s not on my shoulders. God provides. However, understand the context that this is the guy who at 18 packed a backpack of clothes and a skateboard and flew to San Francisco with $25 in his pocket to start his own life. I was homeless for about three weeks then, and again several months later when I lost my job and didn’t find a new one right away. I can’t do that anymore. Not with a wife and children.

I am grateful for the wife He gave me. I am grateful for the child He blessed us with. I am grateful for the one to come. I am grateful that we always have had enough, and that I believe He will continue to provide amply for our needs.

We made turkey pot pies for dinner. I saw my wife making gravy to go in the pie, and she was doing it “wrong.” I left the room rather than criticize. I am grateful that I learn and do a little better now and then. We ate huge portions of dinner together while watching TV. Somewhere in the world, children are dying of starvation or working in sweat shops. I can’t fix it. Sometimes just being kind to my wife is too much for me to manage.

Father, forgive me for thinking $400 million dollars would bring peace and security to my life. Forgive me for wanting peace and security instead of the life you have given me. Help me to always have grace and loving-kindness to share with the people in my life, just as you always have for me. Please help me to lessen the suffering of people in need, if it be your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Reality vs Fantasy

It’s been a little while. National Guard weekends tend to throw me off, what with the added preparation, disruption of the normal week schedule, and need to compress my homework into the fewer available days.

I want to talk a little about media. Do me a favor and Google “study shows violent video games.” The list that pulls up for me shows some studies that show a correlation between violent video games and violent behavior, studies that show no correlation, and even some studies that show violent video games decrease violent behavior. Yeah. That’s all over the board.

What does the Bible say about this? Let’s take a moment to ponder Matthew 15:10-11: Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.  What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” So, what makes a person defiled is what comes out of their mouth. What comes out of the mouth? Words.

The words of our mouths defile us, because they speak the truth of our hearts. In fact, the attitude of our heart is perhaps the single most important thing spoken about by Jesus. Take Matthew 5:28, where Jesus says “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” That is a profound statement, because when you unpack it, it says that our hearts desire sinful things, and that those sinful desires are as abhorrent to God as the sins themselves.

Casting our nets a little wider, Jesus was asked to sum up the law in Matthew 22:34. He responds in verses 37-40 with, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus says the whole of the law is summed up in loving God first, and loving your neighbor as yourself second. Again, he speaks of the heart of man.

How does this relate to media or violent video games? Well, with these three examples I am trying to express a theme seen throughout the Bible. That theme is that our hearts matter, and that we see the true desires of our hearts expressed through our words, our actions, and our attitudes.

Video games are virtual worlds. They lack real world consequences, because they are fantasy by nature. They allow people to be powerful in ways they are not in the real world, and do things they would not normally. They create a forum in which it can be easier to express the desires of the heart. Most of the games I play are RPGs that allow you to make decisions about what kind of character you want to be, and whether you want to play as a good character or an evil one.

What if you want to create an evil character, and spend your leisure time raping and pillaging? Well, as the contradictory studies showed in that initial Google search, some people play an evil character as catharsis, to vent the frustrations of the day or escape into a world where they have power and control. That time in-game allows them to face the next day without going a little nuts. Some people play evil characters as preparation for the real evils they commit on people in the world. As a modern day example, there have been cases of kids joining the military because they love the bug guns in video games, and want to get to shoot them for real. Whether they want to shoot them at people or not is another heart issue.

People want to say “it’s not real” or “anyone can tell the difference between a show or a game and reality.” Well, I have to argue that every time a friend quotes a movie at you or makes a purchase based on an advertisement, they are proving that media influences culture, which is a reflection of how it changes our hearts. Even if that were not true, Jesus himself says that the desires of our heart matter. If your heart wants gruesome, bloody video games or movies, that matters to God. Whether you are murdering your spouse or your boss in your thoughts, or having cyber sex with real or virtual persons, it is all sin just as much as the actual act would be, and you need to spend some time examining your heart and your circumstances in order to make changes.

Are video games and movies wrong? I think not. I think they are a tool. Like guns and drugs, they give people a means to express the desires of their hearts. It is the hearts of men that are the problem, a problem to which Jesus is the answer.

In fact, I would argue that the media is a mirror that shows us the truth of ourselves. We collectively choose to pursue violence and sex rather than God. When we as a people choose God, there will be no market for violence and sex, because we will not need those idols. Until then, God allows us to commit those sins, because the natural consequences of sin bring us back to him. It takes hitting rock bottom with drugs to force a person to rethink their life. It takes being caught with pornography or hookers for a person to rethink their desires. It sometimes takes getting thrown in jail for someone who is violent to see that their way of behaving is not conducive to society.

No amount of gun control, legislated morality, or big brother surveillance will change men’s hearts. Only Jesus changes a heart.

Well, I feel like I have gone from a specific topic to a rambling, sweeping mess, therefore, I will stop.

Patience

Recently I was trying to fly home with my wife and child. We got on the first plane fine, but the second flight was delayed, and then delayed some more, and then further delayed, before finally being cancelled. During the delays I went and stood in line to ask if we would still make our last connection to get home. After they cancelled the flight, they asked us all to line up if we wanted to try to get on the next flight instead, so we did. I was the first one in line when they finally called out that all seats had been filled. They boarded the next flight, and then kicked everyone off a while later due to a possible fuel leak. So, they had two planeloads of people (including me) lining up to see what flight they could be put on, and when they might be able to head home. If you can imagine a line of over 200 people stretching from the little desk with the two people who could help, all the way down the hall of the airport past the next couple gates…

During all of these times I was standing in line, there was a woman standing with me who was travelling with her daughters. She was one of those very verbal people. She was getting progressively more frustrated with the failure of the two people at the desk to help us, or get more agents in to help us faster. Throughout it all, she kept commenting on how patient and peaceful I was being.

At the time, I was thinking of how very many people there were who needed help, and how these two people would have to work for hours to get through every person. I thought about how awful I would feel looking down that massive line and knowing that my partner and I were going to have to fix all of it. I knew some of the people were angry, and some might even yell. I looked at myself and thought; yelling is not going to help. Yelling is not going to make those two poor agents work faster or try harder. If anything, it will alienate them and make them give up. I would hate to be doing their job right now.

Thinking back on it now, I realize that God is the creator and sustainer of the entire universe, and that there is no way he is unaware of me, sitting in an airport, waiting for my flight home. If there is a delay, if things are not going as planned, He knows.

God has plans for us, and they trump our plans. I wanted to go to medical school, but I didn’t get accepted. I applied to nursing school and even though I was not finished with the prerequisite classes, I still got an acceptance letter almost immediately. I think of that as a little miracle, a little evidence of God’s plan for me, because I know that nursing schools get so many applications that they typically expect an applicant to have all of their prerequisites done before they apply.

The next time things are going wrong, and your plans are failing, don’t despair, don’t get angry, and don’t yell at people. God is in charge, and while his plan is often not our plan, it is always better. Besides, customer service people don’t respond any better to yelling than you or I do.

Why I believe in God, Part 2

I have a BA in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. I don’t say this to in any way imply I am an expert. I am not a scholarly person. I don’t like to read journal articles or do research for publishing. The study of life is just something I love, and my experience in the field colors my worldview.
One of my favorite parts of biology has been studying the microscopic side of life. Proteins are pretty fascinating, even if you have to learn a specialized language to discuss them. Form and function are intertwined, as they often act like locks and keys, and a malformed protein just doesn’t work. Cells are the smallest unit of life. To date, we cannot take a bunch of proteins, stick them together in the right configuration, and make a live cell. Life only comes from life. So, how did life begin?
Science has tried to answer that question with theories. One popular theory is that there were a lot of organic molecules floating about in seawater billions of years ago, and that by chance they all came together in just the right way to produce a living cell.
I really dislike that theory. I like to think of the cell as a thing of irreducible complexity, because if you really get down to it, even a cell is far more complex than you would imagine. Cells contain organelles, which are like tiny analogs to organs we see in people and animals. Cells have mitochondria that produce energy, ribosomes that create proteins, a whole network of microtubules and microfilaments that provide structural support and allow transport within the cell… Cells are far from simple.
Take the simple act of eating. A cell eats by surrounding its food, engulfing it in cell membrane so that the food becomes trapped inside the cell. Just the act of surrounding and engulfing a molecule takes a complex mechanism of support tubules that move the insides of the cell around the object and special proteins that allow the cell membrane to break selectively to create a sphere around the object without letting the contents of the cell leak out into the surrounding seawater. See, when a cell breaks open and leaks, It tends to die.
Rather than write a huge thing about cell workings, let’s just stop at “cells are irreducibly complex” and if you want to argue, use the comment section or send me an email.
Another theory is that the origin of life was some other planet, like Mars. Of course, that just defers the question without answering it. If life began on Mars, how did it begin?
Faith is the belief in what cannot be proven. Therefore, a person who says life began (insert theory here) is, short of the invention of time travel and subsequent study of the actual origin of life, expressing faith.
If you really want to irk a scientist, tell them that short of irrefutable evidence, the theory of evolution is a matter of faith. They can’t prove that evolution is the origin of species. They just have faith.
As I said at the beginning, I love biology. Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Romans 1:20 says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
I love the study of life, but whether your love is the heavens above, the earth below, math, science, art, or anything at all, you can see the glory of God in all of it if you look, because He created everything.

Why I believe in God, part 1

Romans 5:8 talks about God’s perfect love for us, in that while we were sinners (enemies of God) he sent his son (his most precious and beloved) to die (paying the price of sin) so that we could be redeemed from our sinfulness.

For me, the sacrifice of Christ, while powerful, is a distant thing. It’s like the uncle you never met dying. It should mean something, but it has little impact on my everyday life. What made God real for me in a practical, everyday sense, and thus firmly cemented my relationship with God, was meeting and marrying my wife.

I can’t really put words to the importance of my wife. I can’t sum her up, because almost all of what she is and does matters, and it’s too much to put words to. She is a woman who gives of herself to me. She supports me (and has even been known to defend me, embarrassingly enough) and gives me comfort and strength. She inspires me to pursue my nobler ideals and turn away from my sinful desires. Rather than nagging, she just defers to me, letting me lead on my own terms. She is faithful and loving, and without her I would not be the man I am.

There is no doubt in my mind that my wife is a gift given to me by God. We have been brought together by little miracles. We met in a military school where dating was not allowed, yet we quietly dated for two months without issue. Her parents said no, we couldn’t get married because I was not a practicing Christian, but then sent us to talk to her pastor who said he would be glad to marry us, and then convinced her parents. I found out I was getting deployed, so we got married a week later in a ceremony thrown together entirely by volunteers from her church. It was brief but beautiful. She got deployed within weeks of me, and we managed to get stationed on the same base in Iraq for nine months, and were even allowed to live together. Our second deployment we transferred to the same unit and worked hand in hand for the whole year. God has kept us together.

What really gets me about my wife is that as wonderful as she is, and as much as we love each other, her love for me is but a fleeting shadow of God’s love for me. She is a daily reminder of God’s perfect love. This amazing woman who tells me she loves me, and respects me, and says sure, she will give up everything and move to Alaska or Puerto Rico with me, follow me wherever I lead just to be there with me, is nowhere near the perfect love of God.

Her love changed my life.

God’s love changed my soul.

Matthew 7:9-11 says, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

I thank God for the good gift of a wife, a partner who shares my life and reminds me of God’s love for me. While I was yet a sinner, God reached out to me and gave me a precious gift to guide me back to him.

With great power comes great responsibility

I know, it’s a comic book line. But, it sums up a truth beautifully.

Chemical weapons are banned by 189 of 196 countries recognized by the UN.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_Weapons_Convention

They are so horrible that almost no one in the world would consider using them. Syria is, of course, amongst the seven countries that have not agreed to the ban. I believe the UN is obligated to respond to the use of chemical weapons. The US, as a world power, cannot turn a blind eye to a government using chemical weapons on its own people. We have power, and with that power comes an obligation to use it responsibly in the protection of the weak and the innocent from the strong and corrupt. 

I really don’t think anything good will come of US involvement in Syria’s civil war. Our top generals have said that there are terrorists on both sides of the conflict, so no matter who we supported, we would end up supporting terrorists.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/08/27/the-one-map-that-shows-why-syria-is-so-complicated/

http://santee.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/terrorists-on-both-sides-of-syrian-war-seek-wmd-israefd8699c530

http://www.dw.de/top-us-general-warns-of-syria-intervention-costs/a-16974488

However, we do know that Syria has been supporting and harboring terrorists, and has played a role in the destabilization of Iraq and Afghanistan. Something needs to be done to stabilize the country and guide it to a more peaceful, lawful future.

There are people in the US that are sick of our country acting as the world police. I get that. It’s costing us lives and money. But, if we don’t do it, who will? Who will protect the Syrian people? I am a service member. I have chosen to work in a job that potentially puts my life in danger. If our government and our generals get together and make a plan to intervene in Syria that requires my life, I’ll go and serve with honor. I only ask that it is the best plan they can come up with, and it protects the innocent at the cost of the wicked.

I am not pro-war. War is an ugly, horrifying mess. However, I will not accept complacency in the face of evil, and I am not asking anyone to do what I am not willing to do myself.

Rough Month

It’s been a rough month for us financially. We are living off our savings while I attend nursing school. My wife quit her job because they were treating her pretty badly, so our only income at the moment is National Guard pay.

A couple weeks ago our washer broke. Front-loaders apparently have a five to seven year lifespan. We replaced it with a top-loader. Then we went to visit my wife’s parents. I spent a bit more there than I should have, making them a nice dinner. On the way back our flight was cancelled, so we had to stay in a hotel. The airline wouldn’t even comp us, because the cancellation was due to weather.

Next our refrigerator stopped working. We threw out a lot of the contents (Milk, eggs, etc…) because by the time we noticed, the freezer was halfway defrosted and the refrigerator contents were warm. I ran out and bought a cheap chest freezer to save the frozen stuff. The repair guy came and replaced a relay, so we bought new milk and eggs and lunch meats. Next day, the whole thing was warm again, so the repair guy came back out and declared the compressor bad, which means I had to run out and buy a new refrigerator.

I am thankful for my military discount, and for the providential sale on just the sort of refrigerator I wanted. I am thankful we have the funds to manage all these purchases, when some people would be devastated by the loss of a $400 appliance.

I try to remember in all this that it is not my money, but God’s, and that it is not my strength that feeds my family, but God’s providence. Still, with almost two thirds of our savings gone, I am nervous about getting through the rest of the year, and what will happen when my classes end in December. I still have to take the NCLEX LPN exam before I can be hired as a LPN. I think they only make about $15 an hour, so my income is not going to be very good until I get through another year and take the RN exam.

Well, God will see us through.