Category Archives: commitment

A Housewarming Gift In Heaven

Nancy Gary Dick Backyard

MY BIG BROTHER

This past Friday morning, we got the news that my big brother had passed away overnight, near where he lived, in Alabama. When our big sister broke the news to our nearly 95-year-old mother, the words of comfort I offered her included: “Thank you for giving me as good of a big brother as a guy could ask for and thank you for pointing all your kids to Jesus.” My comfort during this time lies in knowing that that’s where my brother is now … at home in Heaven with Jesus. As a result, more than I would ordinarily, I’ve found myself considering what things are like in Heaven.

My Big BrotherChester Richard (Dick) Wiram is my big brother. Of course, there’s a lot I could tell you about him. If you’d like to know some of his biography, I recommend starting with his obituary, that appeared in our hometown newspaper. What I’d really like to tell you about, though, is a bit about the kind of guy he was and how he impacted my life.

BROTHERS?!

When he passed away, Dick was close to 70 years old. I’m nearing 67 so that means Dick got the first three years of his time here on Earth to himself, without the responsibility of being my big brother. If he was still here with us, I expect that he would refer to that time as “the good old days”.

Isn’t that the way it is with brothers? You can say and do things with each other that you couldn’t get away with if it was anyone else. But, you can do so with your brother because it’s usually done in jest and because of the love you share. Dick was great at that. I told my wife, Ruth; it seemed that Dick had done that by taking our Dad’s wry sense of humor and developing it to a whole new level. Continue reading

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The Talent of Marriage

Listen & TalkWhen my wife, Ruth and I married, we assured each other that we were truly committed to our “until death do us part” wedding vow. Specifically, we agreed that divorce is not an option in our marriage. Although it seems to me that this should be an important consideration for any couple preparing to marry, it was crucial for Ruth and I. In part, this was due to the fact that we both have had previous marriages. Additionally, we both came from homes with divorced parents. Having had an up close and intimate experience with the devastation divorce brought us, our parents, our children, our siblings and so many others; we wanted our relationship to have no part in contributing to that.

THE THEFT OF DIVORCE

In addition to the waste that divorce had caused in our own lives, Ruth and I had a growing concern for the ruin throughout our society that has come from divorce. Relevant U.S. statistics* on this include:

  • Annually, there are about 2.1 million marriages and there are about 1 million divorces. The divorces impact more than 1 million children.
  • Each divorce costs our society an estimated $25,000 to $30,000. That means $25 to $30 billion in overall increased cost to our nation.
  • Children in single parent homes are:
    • Seven times more likely to live in poverty.
    • Nine times more likely to drop out of school.
    • More likely to have academic problems, behavior problems, be aggressive, have low self-esteem, feel depressed, and experiment with illegal drugs.
    • 70% more likely to be expelled or suspended from school.
    • Twenty times more likely to be in prison.
    • 25-30% more vulnerable to illness.
  • The negative impact of divorce on business includes:
    • Disrupting the productivity of a worker for up to three years.
    • During the first year following a divorce, the divorced employee loses an average of four weeks work.
    • Lost productivity, due to marriage and relationship difficulties, cost companies an estimated $6 billion.
    • Unhealthy marriages, family problems and divorce are major stressors. Stress related issues cost corporate America $300 billion annually.
    • Unhappily married couples were almost four times more likely to have a partner abusing alcohol. Individuals with alcohol related issues miss work 30% more.
  • Health issues affected by divorce include:
    • Married men live ten years longer than divorced men. Married women live four years longer than divorced women.
    • Divorced men are twice as likely to die of heart disease, stroke, hypertension or cancer; four times as apt to die in accidents; and eight times higher by murder.

* Sources include: U.S. Census Bureau, Marriage Commission Research, NY Institute for American Values, Marriage Savers, President Obama, Choosing Wisely Before You Divorce, A Cry Unheard and The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.

THE BEST DEFENSE …

In order to under gird our commitment to our “until death do us part”wedding vow, from early on in our marriage we have kept our eyes open for married couples activities and groups that we could join in. Our most significant find, during the first eight years of our marriage, was the Married Couples Fellowship at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa (CCCM). It’s a wonderful group, headed up by Pastor John Mann and his wife, Rynner. We received far too many blessings through our involvement with this fellowship to recount here. One of our very favorites, though, was getting to go with the group on their annual week-long couples retreats to Kauai. Those retreats almost always coincided with our wedding anniversary. If you’d like to get a better sense of all this and have a good laugh, check out my related article, entitled Kayaking Up The Waialua. Continue reading

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21st Century Miracle Worker

Maryjane and Brandon Mellmer

Maryjane and Brandon Mellmer

I will probably always remember the look on Maryjane Mellmer’s face when we met. We were in the elementary school Structured Communication Class (SCC) where she serves as the Teacher. FYI – SCC is a Special Ed program for kids with autism. She was supporting the efforts of a Para-educator to physically control a fifth-grader who, obviously, didn’t have much self-control. I was there to start a three-week assignment as a substitute Para-educator. When my introduction included me saying, “I want you to know that I’ve never done this before … I don’t just mean that I’ve never subbed in this sort of classroom … I mean I’ve never worked as a sub in any classroom”, though she had a numb look on her face, through a forced but brave smile and with intentional enthusiasm, she said, “Well, OK!”

To my surprise and probably to Maryjane’s surprise too, we’re now in our fourth school year working together in that same classroom, Room 20. When I tell others about my experience in Room 20, I consistently tell them that I’m blessed every school day to get to work with 21st Century Miracle Workers. Of course, I recognize the exaggeration in saying that. The Miracle Worker is the story of Anne Sullivan, whose tutoring of the blind-and-deaf-from-infancy Helen Keller not only connected Keller with the world in order for her to have a decent life, it made it possible for her to have an exceptional life. Anne Sullivan was one of a kind. Miracle Workers like her don’t come along every day. With that said, I can’t think of a more fitting description for Maryjane. This past month, the school district where she works honored her with its Employee Excellence Award  and in doing so; they acknowledged her as the leader of a team of 21st Century Miracle Workers. In other words, they agreed with me. Considering these things, I want to tell you a little bit about how Maryjane came to her role as a Special Ed Teacher, along with some details of what she is achieving in that role.

Maryjane Mellmer (Third from left) - Excellence Award Presentation

Maryjane Mellmer (Third from left) – Excellence Award Presentation

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Play Mean but Play Clean

dick-butkus-coverWhat comes to mind for you when you hear the name Dick Butkus? Immediately, I think along the lines of the caption on this Sports Illustrated cover … “Dick Butkus of the Bears – The most feared man in the game (NFL Football)”. No doubt, many others (especially those of my generation) share that same first thought. And, there’s ample justification for that line of thinking. The 6 ft 3 in, 245 lb Butkus, was known as one of the most feared and intimidating linebackers during his nine years as a player for the Chicago Bears.

Next, you may think of Dick Butkus as a celebrity endorser and actor. That’s my next thought too. And, here too, there’s plenty of good reason for thinking that way. The “most feared man in the game” persona of this Pro Football Hall of Fame member has been very effective in promoting brand names, from his Miller Lite commercials with Bubba Smith  to his “I’m sorry, Dick Butkus” spots for FedEx. And, Butkus has had numerous roles on TV and in the movies. He was even the namesake for Rocky’s English Mastiff, in both the Rocky and Rocky II movies.

So, if you met him today, wouldn’t you expect to meet a somewhat older version of the Dick Butkus you’ve come to know about over the years? That is, an imposing figure who still lives in his hometown, Chicago, whose time is mostly spent enjoying the leisure activities of retirement, along with some dabbling in the worlds of sports and entertainment. That’s what I thought when my Wife, Ruth and I had the pleasure of meeting him recently at a MarriageTeam Tailgate Party & Auction. I will say that the qualities I expected to find in his makeup all seemed to be present and undiminished. However, I also got to start becoming acquainted with some dimensions of the man that were a pleasant surprise. One of these is a campaign he started, called Play Clean™. It’s a program that encourages teens to “train hard, eat well, and play with attitude”, instead of resorting to illegal steroids. His willingness to take this stand against steroids caused USA Today to comment that Butkus may have a greater impact on the game in his 60s (now 70s) than he did playing in his 20s. Continue reading

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Land Where The Fathers Hide

WHERE’S DAD?

missingparentAccording to my Pastor, “…human relationships – particularly when united in fellowship with God – (are) the foundational building blocks … and the backbone of (our) local communities and culture.” I wholly agree with that and I’ve added to it by saying, “Without that foundation, secular goals – e.g. a thriving and stable economy, affordable quality healthcare, affordable quality education, justice for all, etc. – are unattainable. When communities and culture come apart, so do all things relying on the support of that foundation.

In another recent Teaching (from Matthew 19: 13-15), my Pastor touched on the dramatic deterioration our culture continues to experience with one of these “foundational building blocks”. This aspect of cultural devolution has been labeled “Fatherlessness”. Since this reality has significantly impacted my life, from near the beginning to the present day, raising the topic touches me deeply.

Before delving into this matter, first, I must issue a disclaimer. I am not fatherless in terms of not knowing who my father is nor that he had no presence in my life. Although I didn’t grow up in my Dad’s home, I knew him and I love him dearly. When he died, at the age of 56, I was devastated. With that said, when I was only three years old, he left my mother, making her a single-parent … a term that wasn’t even used in those days … and I, along with my older brother and sister, became what were then known as children of a broken home. Looking back over the decades since that event, I’ve recognized that a male role model and mentor has always been lacking in my life and I’ve often wondered how different my life would have been if that void had been filled.

My “broken home” experience began over six decades ago, around 1950 to 1951. In those days, I and my siblings were the only “children of a broken home” that I knew. Sadly, since then, this has worsened exponentially. According to an article entitled Father Absence and the Welfare of Children, by Sara McLanahan:

“Increases in divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing have dramatically altered the family life of American children. Whereas in the early 1960s, nearly 90 percent of all children lived with both of their biological parents until they reached adulthood, today less than half of children grow up with both natural parents. Nearly a third are born to unmarried parents, the majority of whom never live together, and another third are born to married parents who divorce before their child reaches adulthood. To further complicate matters, a substantial number of children are exposed to multiple marital disruptions and multiple father figures.”

WHAT HAPPENED?! Continue reading

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Kayaking Up the Waialua – An Essential Skill for a Healthy Marriage

A Good Example of the Need

We have quite a few home improvement projects on our “to do” list this summer. Since handyman skills didn’t come to me naturally, we often hire the applicable talent for this sort of work. However, several of the items on this summer’s list involved landscaping and they seemed to mostly require brute strength so I decided to take them on myself.

Of course, my Wife, Ruth and I agreed to a landscaping game plan before I dove in. One of the main landscaping projects was to use red rock to replace the areas of bark chips that make up a significant portion of the ground cover in our front yard. Additionally, to address some issues that have been developing with two of the three mature Ash trees presently within the bark chip covered areas; we planned to set all three apart with decorative rings, replacing the bark chips with organic compost amended with organic fertilizer.

As I said before, this seemed like a project that required more brute strength than skill. Equipped with a 1/2 ton pickup borrowed from one friend and a wheelbarrow borrowed from another friend, I thought I could complete the job in a couple of days. About three days into the work, I found myself in our front yard continuing to rake and shovel away at four or five layers of bark chips … I actually ended up removing about six cubic yards. Meanwhile, for those three days, a cubic yard of red rock had been sitting in the bed of the borrowed pickup, parked in front of our house. Unfortunately, there was no place to put the red rock until I finished with the bark chips removal. Also unfortunately, with the pickup full of red rock, I had no way of hauling away the bark chips. Based on my original plan, I thought the volume of bark chips would be low enough that I could dispose of them via one or two of the city’s semi-weekly yard debris pick-ups. This meant that I needed to find a place to store the bark chips until I did have the ability to haul them away … in other words, I got to move the 6 cubic yards of bark chips twice! And even more unfortunately, removing the multiple layers of bark chips was exposing the upper half of major roots of the Ash trees we were striving to save. This meant that I would need to put down about a cubic yard of compost around the trees before putting down the red rock. But, due to the fact that the borrowed pickup was still filled with red rock, I had no way of hauling in the needed compost.

All this meant that, as I continued working away in our front yard, I was wishing I hadn’t started this project and that I had a magic wand that would allow me to return our front yard to its beginning state. At that point, my thinking was that our front yard might actually end up looking worse, not better and that I could end up killing the trees we were striving to save. Since Ruth sensed my exasperation, on a regular basis, she was coming to me with “just one more idea meant to help.” When she came to me with what (in my mind) was about the “dozenth” of these ideas, she reacted to this resulting in a negative change in my countenance by saying, “Never mind.” I responded by saying, “No, I want to hear your suggestion but I want you to know that it would have been most helpful for me to hear these ideas when we were setting the game plan for this project. At this point, they’re tending to just add to my frustration.” As I said this, I realized, “We’re having another ‘Kayaking Up the Waialua’ experience.”

The “Kayaking Up the Waialua” Experience

Of course, in order for you to understand where this fits in, I need to tell you about our experience “Kayaking Up the Waialua.” This came along with our getting to join in Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa – Married Couples Fellowship’s inaugural Kauai Retreat. Of course, this was something we had planned for well in advance and that we looked forward to for months.

Fittingly, the first day of this week-long retreat was our Anniversary. So, that evening, we got cleaned up and dressed up (Aloha style) to go out for our Anniversary dinner. Our dinner reservation, based on a recommendation, was at Café Hanalei at the Princeville Hotel, on Kauai’s North shore, at sunset. It turned out to be a magnificent recommendation. I’ve been blessed that I’ve seen some pretty fancy hotels, from Hong Kong to Europe. None of them compare to the architecture of the Princeville Hotel’s lobby. The Café Hanalei overlooks Hanalei Bay – the Hanalei that Peter, Paul and Mary were inspired by for “Puff the Magic Dragon”. The view is spectacular. The Café Hanalei is a bit pricey but it’s one of those superb restaurants where the food makes it seem well worth the price. At the end of the meal, the restaurant brought out a dessert we had not ordered. I can’t describe it but it was wonderful and the plate it was served on said, “Happy Anniversary”, in chocolate. Afterwards, we waddled to our car and drove back to our resort for a good night’s rest.

The main reason for me filling you in on that Anniversary dinner was because it was so dramatically different from the following day’s experience, “Kayaking Up the Waialua.” The day started with the two of us going out on the beach to watch the sunrise. Afterwards, we went to a continental breakfast provided by the company the church used to book the trip. We left the breakfast at 9 a.m., so that we could meet the Married Couples Fellowship group on the beach for our first time of praise, worship and Bible study. It was wonderful to get together for praise, worship and Bible study in the midst of such a beautiful part of God’s creation. However, that first time on the beach together was a bit abbreviated because a majority of the couples had signed up for a kayaking trip up the Waialua River. That’s where our challenges started.

Before going on, I need to tell you a little about the sun and me. Suffice it to say, I’m an extremely white guy. When I was a kid, my Mom would make me wear a tee shirt when I went swimming and I’d get sunburned through the shirt. So, that means coating myself thoroughly with sun block before spending any significant time in the Hawaiian sun. You should, also, know that both Ruth and I left home with sinus colds so that was our first bit of discomfort that day. And, we had been up since 3 or 4 in the morning, due to the three-hour time difference between Hawaii and California. Additionally, less than a week before our trip, I’d taken a fall while roller blading and I was suffering from some pain in the left part of my chest and back. I think it was a bruised or cracked rib. Even without all these afflictions, we knew the paddling would be strenuous for us, particularly since we hadn’t been doing much in terms of upper-body exercise. However, Ruth thought we’d be able to pull up to a bank to rest, have a drink and a snack whenever we got a little tired. Otherwise, we thought we’d be able to enjoy the beauty, take some pictures and end up visiting Waialua Falls and the Fern Grotto. Here’s what really happened:

During the worship on the beach, I realized I’d been too liberal with applying sun block to my face because it was getting in my eyes and nearly blinding me. As soon as worship was over, we went to our room so I could use some eye drops. Fortunately, that helped, though it took most of the next hour for my bloodshot eyes to stop smarting. Then we drove to the kayak rental place to learn that we had to load the kayak and equipment on our rental car, drive to the river, assemble the kayak, get it and us into the river and do the trip without any further assistance. We, also, learned that we hadn’t dressed properly. Although we had swimsuits and aqua socks with us, we thought that shorts and tennis shoes would be proper dress for the trip we had in mind. We were wrong. By 10:30 a.m., we were in the river, wet up to our butts, hot and sweaty, covered with sun block, eyes smarting and heads aching. If that sounds like fun, there were no banks to pull up to due to heavy foliage along the banks; there was no opportunity for picture taking due to the need to constantly row against the current and the fact that all you could see was the water and the heavy foliage along the banks. The need to constantly row really tested our upper-body strength, aggravated my chest pain and gave us both blisters in the fleshy area between thumb and forefinger. The need for teamwork to keep going straight and to not turn over also provided some interesting testing. I’m pleased to say that we seemed to pass that testing, in as much as, unlike several others, our kayak remained upright. We eventually came to a fork, with one way going to the falls and the other going to the grotto. Since people coming the other way warned us not to try to go to the falls due to strong currents, we took the fork to the grotto. Actually, we went past the grotto because it wasn’t marked well but we did make our way back to a place where you could tie up and with a lot of effort, get out of the kayak. We then hiked up a muddy hill to see the Fern Grotto, being visited by group after group of Japanese tourists who had come by tour boat. While doing this, we drank a soda and scarfed down a couple of pieces of fried chicken we’d gotten at a Safeway the night before. It was hard for me to believe that this fried chicken was from the same species as the macadamia nut crusted chicken I’d had the previous night at the Café Hanalei. By the way, there are lots of chickens running around loose on Kauai, as a result of Filipino immigrants bringing in fighting cocks. It’s kind of disconcerting to be eating fried chicken with live chickens running around you. You sort of feel like they’re cheering on the bugs that are biting you. The return trip was pretty much a mirror image of the initial leg except that we were going against the wind instead of going against the current. The one thing I did enjoy seeing on the return trip was schools of mullet jumping over waves. However, the waves were from the wake of huge tour boats (carrying those Japanese tourists) that nearly swamped us. It was between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. when we got out of the river so the whole adventure had lasted about five hours with about four hours of it being in the river. On the way back to the hotel, Ruth and I agreed that we wanted to do nothing but sit still for awhile before getting cleaned up.

Ongoing Application

No doubt, there were several points during our “Kayaking Up the Waialua” experience when we were having wishes similar to the one I had three days into our recent landscaping project – i.e. wishing I hadn’t started this project and that I had a magic wand that would allow me to return our front yard to it’s beginning state. But, we survived our “Kayaking Up the Waialua” experience and at Bible study the next morning, we began to have more appreciation for our experience, realizing that everyone had a challenging experience and that it had strengthened our relationships, as a result.

The lessons learned from our “Kayaking Up the Waialua” experience have served us well over the years. Even when you’re doing your very best to carry out the game plan you put together as a couple, often life just doesn’t go the way you expect. As I noted in the story about our “Kayaking Up the Waialua” experience, “The need for teamwork to keep going straight and to not turn over also provided some interesting testing. I’m pleased to say that we seemed to pass that testing, in as much as, unlike several others, our kayak remained upright.” We passed that test because our commitment to each other is to stick together, caring for and depending on each other, regardless of how real life plays out versus our game plan. And that applies even when it’s very challenging to do so. A good example here is when, in an attempt to help keep us “going straight and to not turn over” in our kayak, one of us decided to provide some uniformity to our rowing through the cadence of calling out “Right, right. Left, left.” but, unfortunately, the cadence being called out was the opposite of the side that person was actually rowing on. Another good example here is when one of us senses exasperation on the part of the other and offers “just one more idea meant to help” but that well-intentioned effort isn’t received gladly. In the first case, we still ended up with a very entertaining story to share about the treasured memory of a trip to Kauai. And, in the second instance, we ended up with the attractive appearance of our front yard causing neighbors to stop by and ask if we were getting ready to sell our home. Moreover, through the lessons learned from our “Kayaking Up the Waialua” experience, as well as from other lessons the Lord has equipped us with to strengthen our relationship, we’ve been blessed with a marriage that is far richer than we ever imagined.

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