Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why Breastmilk is Like Manna

Parenting can be stressful. Like that moment when your pediatrician tells you that your baby has only put on one ounce in the last two weeks. Suddenly you realize that you are probably the worse parent the world has ever seen, and that you are failing this helpless little creature who looks to you for everything. Nevermind that she is a healthy, active baby who can push herself up into a standing position in your hands, make eye contact, babble, mimic faces, laugh, and blow the sides out of a diaper with the best of them. Never mind that she grew an inch in length and a centimeter in head circumference. One ounce of weight gain, and immediately you begin to doubt your competency even to be a parent.

Then you start wondering, “How do I tell my parents? How do I tell my in-laws? Won’t they just pounce on us with more advice than we can shake a stick at? Will we have to rehash every parenting decision since conception and justify them all?”

But most of all, the all-consuming question is, “How do we get the breastmilk to come in more plentifully?”

Of course the answer is simple, and not too far off from what we were already doing. The plan is mostly a scheduling thing, basically just make her eat every 2 ½ - 3 hours, whether she wants to or not. This means stop letting her sleep through the night (sad face) and wake her up for a feeding every 3 hours minimum until she bulks up and has the fat reserves to go longer.

What that simple plan adds up to in real life, though, is a lot of anxiety, and almost no sleep for the first couple of days. Since my wife is pumping after every feeding, we usually have an extra half an ounce or so of milk in a bottle at the end of the feeding, and the temptation is to save those little scraps up, add them together, and give Evie a monster feeding at the end of the day, and give Mommy a rest.

But “No” says the lactation consultant, “That’s not what you want to do.” Instead she wants us to use it as we go. Just feed it to her from the bottle, because it takes less work than the breast and she will swallow it even when she is tired. So now, unlike a few days ago when I could look in the fridge and see at least a couple of ounces chilling there that we could fall back on in an emergency, now there is nothing. There is only one feeding at a time.

There are moments when I see the appeal of formula, not as a supplement or as a replacement in emergencies, but as a full time strategy. Formula is 100% in my control. I can go out and buy it when we need it, I can stockpile it, I can mix as much as I want, and we can always see it, there on the counter, ready to go. There is no fear that maybe this time, there just won’t be enough. This despite all my medical training and having done multiple research papers on the benefits of breastmilk over formula, still, it is attractive because it is 100% in my control. I can forcefeed that baby and make her put on the rolls!

It shouldn’t be too hard to see where I am going with this, should it?

Well, lo and behold, yesterday morning after less sleep than I could conveniently count I turned on the Divine Office podcast while we fed Evie her morning meal, which we refer to as first breakfast. The whole series of psalms and readings was so perfect I am linking you to the page here (go to Office of Readings tab).

Yet still they sinned against him;
They defied the Most High in the desert.
In their heart they put God to the test
By demanding the food they craved.

They even spoke against God.
They said: Is it possible for God
To prepare a table in the desert?

It was He who struck the rock,
Water flowed and swept down in torrents.
But can He also give us bread?
Can He provide meat for his people?”

When He heard this the Lord was angry.
A fire was kindled against Jacob,
His anger rose against Israel
For having no faith in God;
For refusing to trust in his help.

Yet he commanded the clouds above
And opened the gates of heaven.
He rained down manna for their food,
And gave them bread from heaven.

Mere men ate the bread of angels.
He sent them abundance of food;
He made the east wind blow from heaven
And roused the south wind by his might.

He rained food on them like dust,
Winged fowl like the sands of the sea.
He let it fall in the midst of their camp
And all around their tents.

So they ate and had their fill;
And He gave them all they craved.
Psalm 78:17-29
When I read this, two feelings immediately struck me. The first was renewed hope and gratitude. Trust. God is trustworthy. He designed the whole breastfeeding system, He loves Evie far more than we do, and we can safely trust her with Him.

The second was shame. I had not been trusting. I had been freaking out, at least deep down inside, if not actually in words or actions. I mean really, what is your trust worth if you only trust Him when everything is going right?

Of course, as I type this a little voice in my head whispers, “Oh, it’s all very well to trust God in most things, but this is different. This is serious. Too much is riding on this to sit back and do nothing.”

But what about the Israelites in the desert? What did God tell them?

“And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing,
fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank.”

I am pretty sure the Israelites were far more desperate than we are. They had no reserves, their very lives were at stake. If the manna failed to come, they were literally going to starve to death! Is it any wonder some tried to hoard up a supply? And yet God was requiring trust of them. He was requiring them to trust Him with their lives, to give up their attempts at control and just enjoy His providence.

This is what He is requiring of us. Absolute trust. That little voice is right. It is all well and good to trust God most of the time, but until I trust Him with something that really matters, when my life or the life of someone I love is at stake, I have not really trusted Him.

So I thank Him for this trial of trust, and I am sorry for not having seized it more fully. But all things work together for good to them that love Him, even my slowness of heart. Glory be to Him!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Budo 101: Conclusion.

*Warning: This story describes an offensive event, and so language and situations may be offensive to some and are not intended for young children.

Part I is here. Part II is here.

Budo 101, Continued:

Jack was left sitting in his chair, staring at the principle’s desk, trying not to make eye contact. So that was her dad? No wonder she went berserk. Shit! That’s a dude who means business!
Mr. Merckle, sat in silence for about thirty seconds. Then he looked up at Jack. “Go back out in the office and wait for your parent to get here. Ms. Hagg has your suspension letter.”
Ashley and her dad were still out there. Dan was talking with Ms. Hagg, who was smiling at him like a middle-aged fan girl. “Yeah, I think I probably did enjoy that a little too much, but you know, it’s just wrong, and something needs to be done. I’m not sure what, but Sharon and I are going to think about it.”
Ashley noticed Jack and looked away from him. Whatever, bitch. It was just a joke. Just wait until I see Deek again, Jack thought. I’m going to... But he knew he was going to do nothing. He was going to play it off as no big deal and go right back to being Deek’s minion just like he always did.
Dan turned and saw him. Oh shit! Jack slouched into his chair and whipped out his phone.
“Ashley, here are the keys, I’m parked out by Evergreen Street. I’ll be along in a minute.”
“Okay, dad. I’ve got to grab my stuff from my locker.”
“Okay, baby.”
Dan walked over and sat down in a chair one seat over from Jack.
When he didn’t say anything, Jack glanced up at him. He was just sitting there, scratching his five-o-clock shadow, staring at him with a musing expression.
“Look,” Jack said, “If you’re going to give me the speech about ‘stay away from my daughter or else,’ save it. I swear I’m not interested in her at all. It was just a stupid joke.”
“Oh I know,” Dan said. “I know it was a joke, and I believe that it wasn’t your idea.”
“My buddy dared me. He wouldn’t let up until I did it.”
“Sounds like a great friend,” Dan said with unconcealed irony.
Screw you, man, Jack thought. What do you know about high school? Back when you went it was a one-roomed schoolhouse probably.
“So are you tired of it?” Dan asked.
“Tired of what?”
“Being a punk.”
Jack stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets. “I’m not a punk.” Why was this guy even talking to him?
“Well, I don’t know what else to call you. I don’t think you’re a bad kid, and I sure as hell know you’re not a good man, because a good man knows when to tell his ‘friend’ to go to hell. A good man doesn’t grope teenage girls. You’re not bad, you’re just a punk. I know. I was a punk when I was your age.”
“Gah!” Jack rolled his eyes. “What do you want from me? I’m just a kid! I won’t do it again, okay, can you just leave me alone?”
“Oh believe me, I know you won’t do it again. Everyone in this school knows that you have wandering hands, and you got beat by a girl.”
“She didn’t beat me,” Jack yelled. He stood up and punched the wall. Dan’s expression did not even flicker. “She got lucky, she surprised me, and I don’t hit girls.”
“I know that. Dude, I know she wouldn’t beat you in a fair fight, and she knows it too. She fought like I taught her to, just hard enough and long enough to get away without getting decisively engaged. She did the right thing. You could too, you know.”
Dan stood up. Up close and personal Jack saw that he was not quite as tall as he looked from a distance, he just stood like he towered over everyone, so people thought he did.
“I want to give you this,” Dan handed him a business card. On one side was the name, “Five Senseis’ Shotokan Karate” and an address. On the other side was a picture of a fist covered by an open hand and the words, “Admit one for Budo 101.”
“What is it?”
“It’s an invitation.”
“To your karate school?”
“Well it technically isn’t my dojo. My friend Tanner Sensei owns it, I just help teach some evenings and weekends.”
“So you want me to learn karate?”
“No, this is a special class. Budo 101 is a special six-month program that I developed with Tanner Sensei, for teenage guys such as yourself. It is invitation only, or judge’s order.”
“Judge’s order?”
“We have an arrangement with the county courthouse. It is an option for first time juvenile offenders who are given probation.”
“Do I look like a fucking juvie?” he threw the card on the ground.
Dan very mildly crouched down, without taking his eyes off of Jack, and picked it up. “No, you’re not a juvie. And I want to keep it that way. Only about half of our students are juvies, the rest are referred by school counselors, parents, pastors, that sort of thing. I think you would benefit by it, so I am inviting you, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.” He handed the card back.
Jack thought about not taking it, but something about the older man’s straightforward demeanor made him stretch out his hand. Dan was not yelling at him or cussing him out. He didn’t even seem mad anymore. Jack looked the card over again. “How much does it cost?”
“It’s free.”
“Yeah right.”
“No, seriously. I am a dentist and my wife is a child psychologist. We don’t need the money. But free does not mean that it is cheap. It is invitation only, but it takes a serious commitment. You show up six nights a week for six months. If you miss a night you apologize to the entire class and make it up on Saturday. If you miss two, you are done.”
Jack scoffed. “And if I come? You’ll teach me, what? How to fight?”
“Among other things, yes. You will learn how to treat people with respect, for starters, how to be somewhere on time, and in the right uniform. How to let a boss know if something comes up and you can’t make it. You will push yourself mentally and physically. If you make it to the end you will learn how to relate to women in a way that is based on real life and not on porn videos. You’ll learn how to pick friends, how to stand up to your friends, and yes, a basic level of how to defend yourself or others against physical attack.”
“Basic level?”
Dan smiled and shook his head. “If you make it all the way through, you get a green belt in Shotokan karate and are eligible to join the intermediate class if you want, but there is no obligation. Some stay, and some kids who get through Budo 101 are glad to be done with us.”
“So green belt is...”
“It usually takes students a year and a half to two years as a white belt to earn their green belt, but that’s because most only come once or twice a week.”
Jack was silent. This was crazy. This guy had just called him a sexual predator and now he was offering to teach him freakin’ karate. “What’s in it for you.”
Dan shrugged. “Well, I’d tell you not a damn thing, but you wouldn’t believe me. Think it over. When you get tired of being pushed around by your ‘friends’ and taking it out on teenage girls who have been trained not to stand up for themselves, give us a call or drop by. The class is continuous, so you can start at any time.”
He offered his hand, slender but veined and muscular.
Jack didn’t take it.
“Well, you have a nice day, then,” Dan said. He walked out of the office.
Jack sat down and put the card in his pocket.
He looked at the clock, which barely read 3:30 P.M.
I hate my life, he thought.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Budo 101: Part II*

*Warning: This story describes an offensive event, and so language and situations may be offensive to some and are not intended for young children.
Part I is here.

Budo 101, Continued:

Mr. Merckle looked up from his computer with a ponderous sigh, his face red before he even said a word. His lower chin wobbled as he pushed himself back as far into his chair as he would go. “What is it now?”
“Fighting in the hall,” Mr. Sink, the English teacher, delivered up his captives.
Mr. Merckle sighed again and shook his head, causing fluid waves in the loose flesh under his jaw. Jack watched the ripples with amusement. How hard would he have to shake his head to get a ripple to go all the way around his neck and come back on the other side?
“John Snyder and Ashley Tildford.”
Mr. Merckle made a note. “You both understand that we don’t tolerate fighting in this school?”
“I wasn’t fight...”
“He grabbed...”
“Quiet, both of you!” The principle had a way of booming his voice and leaning his head forward with little eyes glaring out over cherry red cheeks. It worked every time, and had been known to stop cafeteria food fights dead in their tracks.  The two teenagers in the tiny office were no match for it. Even Mr. Sink jumped.
Jack subsided into his resentful thoughts.
“I am too busy to deal with you two at the moment. Ms. Hagg will telephone your parents and we will discuss what is to be done with you later. In the meantime, both of you will sit out in the office and Ms. Hagg will keep an eye on you until your parents get her. You may work on homework if you like. Dave, let Ms. Hagg know on your way out, would you?”
He thrust himself forward to his computer again. Clearly they were dismissed.
Damn it, Jack thought. They’re calling dad.
He didn’t think his dad would care too much about him fighting at school, but he would never hear the end of getting beaten by a girl. Well shit, how was he supposed to know she was into freakin’ karate or kung fu or whatever? And she didn’t beat him, he just wasn’t expecting it. She just surprised him that’s all.
And anyway, what was her problem? It was just a joke. It was just a little boob grab. He knew guys like Deek who did that all the time. Walk down the halls, grab an ass, feel a girl up. Those chicks always giggled and maybe shoved back a little, in a playful way. They didn’t go berserk and turn into vengeful teenage warrior goddesses.
Ashley, that was what Mr. Sink had called her. She was curled up in a chair on the far side of the office, as far away from him as she could get, almost with her back to him. A cell phone chimed some synthesized classical music, and she fished a flip phone out of her butt pocket.
She did have a nice ass, Jack thought.
A fast, shrill buzz sounded on the other end of the line.
“Hey Mom.”
Buzz buzz buzz.
“No, I’m okay. I know. No. I’ll see you tonight. No, Mom, I’m okay.” She gave a short, nervous laugh. “I beat the snot out of him.”
“Bitch!” Jack muttered, “You just got lucky. I wasn’t trying to fight cause I don’t hit girls.”
She ignored him.
“I know. I’m fine. Love you too. See you tonight. Bye.”
She snapped the phone shut and put it away, turning even further away from him. He pulled out his phone and started playing “Angry Birds.”
Five minutes later he heard a Bruce Lee kung-fu yell coming from her pocket. It was her cellphone again. She answered, “Hey Dad,” without checking the number.
This buzz was deeper and slower. The girl hugged herself and sank even more deeply into her chair. Jack, for his part, lounged even more emphatically, stretching himself further out into the office. Phone calls from two parents? What a momma’s girl!
“Yeah. I’m okay,” but she sniffed back a tear.
The phone buzzed a question.
“He...” she swallowed. “He grabbed me.”
“Around my chest.”
“But it’s okay, Dad.”
Emphatic buzzing.
“No, I know, but I got him good. Then the jerk tried to come after me again. I hip tossed him really hard.”
Buzz Buzz.
“Me too.” Her voice got lower and quieter. “I wish you were here, Dad. I need a hug.”
The buzz was deep and soothing. Jack found himself wishing he could hear what it was saying, in spite of himself.
“Really?” Ashley said. He could hear the smile in her voice. “When? Okay. I will see you when you get here. Thanks, Dad. Love you too.” She closed the phone with a smile.
About an hour later a tall man in his mid-forties walked into the office. Jack didn’t like the look of him. He was wearing khakis, button up shirt and tie, but he didn’t look like someone you messed with. He looked like he was over six feet tall, with wide shoulders and long arms. His hands were slender, but looked strong. He carried himself like an athlete with upright head, alert eyes, moving from his hips like the guys on the wrestling team. Not the kind of guy Jack really wanted to have pissed off at him.
But Mr. Tildford did not even look at him or at Ms. Hagg. He walked straight towards Ashley’s chair like a man on a mission. She didn’t hear him coming until he was almost there, but when she turned and saw him she leapt up and jumped into his arms in a flying hug. He caught her and hugged her back, holding her face against his chest and smoothing her hair. “Hey Ash,” he said. “It’s okay. I’m here.”
How long were they going to hug, Jack thought. Was she crying? What a baby! He rolled his eyes and looked away with burning cheeks.
“You okay?” Mr. Tildford said.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” She nodded and brushed her hair back behind her ear.
“What are we waiting for?”
“Mr. Merckle said we had to sit here until he was ready to deal with us.”
“Oh, really? The message I got was you were suspended.”
“What!?!?” Her jaw dropped and she clasped her hands to her cheeks. “Suspended? I didn’t do anything. He didn’t even give me a chance to explain.”
Jack sighed and dropped his head in his hands. Suspended. Now his dad was really going to blow a gasket.
“Right. Well, I think we should have a talk with him, shall we.” Mr. Tildford stepped over to Ms. Hagg’s desk. “Could you let Mr. Merckle know that Dan Tildford is here to see him.”
“Certainly Mr. Tildford.” She relayed the message into her phone.
“Send him in,” boomed back, cracked and staticky but clearly audible.
“You may go in, right through that door, Sir,” Ms. Hagg pointed with her pen.
“Thank you. Come on Ashley.”
Jack watched them go in and lounged as far back as he could in his chair.  His butt was hanging off the seat and his legs were stretched out into the aisle. Back to the Angry Birds, then. He didn’t expect his dad to be around any time soon. He didn’t get off shift until 4:00.
About ten minutes later, Ms. Hagg got a call. She looked up and called Jack’s name. “Please go into Mr. Merckle’s office. He wants to talk to you.”
What did they want with him? Jack slouched to his feet.
“Mr. Snyder, come in, sit down.” Mr. Merckle pointed him to a chair. “Mr. Tildford thinks you should be here for this. Now, continue Mr. Tildford.”
“Call me Dan.”
“All I’m saying is, I really think you should listen to what these two have to say before suspending them.”
The principle shook his head and smiled condescendingly. “Dan, do you know how many troubled students come through this office on a weekly basis? Do you know how much time it would take for me to listen to every single one? Our policies are very clear, fighting is not tolerated. The penalty is suspension. I really am not interested in what they have to say. They will be given a letter explaining the policy and terms of the penalty.”
“So you are not interested in, say, who started it?”
Mr. Merckle sat up stiffly and frowned. I guess he’s not used to being argued with, Jack thought. “Excuse me, but I don’t think it matters who started it.”
“Oh excuse me, but yes it absolutely does.” Dan scooted his chair forward a couple of inches closer to the desk. “If my daughter is attacking random people and abusing her karate skills then I need to know so I can ground her and remove her from karate class. If, on the other hand, she is defending herself or someone else from bullying or sexual harassment...”
“Really, Mr. Tildford...”
“As I said, if she is defending herself or someone else as I have taught her to do, then we are going on a father-daughter date this weekend, wherever she wants.”
Jack almost snorted but silenced it. It wasn’t that he was afraid of Dan, but he didn’t feel like drawing attention to himself.
“Mr. Tildford,” the principle shifted and glanced at the clock on the wall. “I understand that teenagers can sometimes be insecure about some peer interactions in school. We have school counselors who are trained to assess and intervene in situations like that. However, we do not believe in using violence to solve our problems.”
“Who is ‘We?’” Dan looked irritated. He was leaning back in his chair with his hands folded in front of him, tapping his index fingers together, and the muscle in his jaw was bulging.
Why the hell do I need to be here to listen to this, Jack thought.
“Who is ‘we?’” Dan repeated. “You said ‘we’ don’t believe in violence. Do you mean the people in this room? Or maybe us as a society? Or are you just using the royal we?”
“Mr. Tildford! If you are not going to discuss this in a reasonable fashion I will have to ask you to leave. My time is extremely valuable.” He was using his food-fight stopping voice.
“So is mine,” Dan shot back, not the least bit phased, “I had to reschedule two patients this afternoon to be here and you will damn sure do us the courtesy of listening to both sides of this story before you pass judgment on my daughter.”
Jack raised his eyebrows and allowed himself a little smirk of satisfaction. It was good to see someone put the principle in his place for once.
Mr. Merckle swallowed a shocked expression. “All right, fine. What do you two have to say for yourself?”
Dan looked at Jack. “Go ahead, son. What happened?”
I’m not your freakin’ son, Jack thought. “It was just a joke!”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing. I just, like, touched her a little.”
“How did you touch my daughter?”
Jack shut his mouth. Something in the tall man’s eyes made him extremely reluctant to answer that question.
“He grabbed my... breasts. From behind.” Her face was scarlet.
“Is that true?” Dan turned a clenched jaw towards Jack.
“It was just a joke. She didn’t have to freak out about it.”
“No? And why didn’t she have to freak out about it?”
“Shit, that stuff happens all the time. Everybody does it.”
“Who is everybody?” The questions came at him almost before he could finish his replies.
“All the guys. It’s just, like, I don’t know, flirting.”
“Hell no, it is not flirting! Do you know what that’s called in the workplace? Or anywhere else in the real world outside this school? That’s called sexual assault, and it’s a crime. It results in fines, jail time and potentially being labeled a sexual predator for the rest of your life.”
“Come on!” Jack’s voice cracked. He suddenly remembered horror stories he had heard about guys getting put on watch lists for silly things like peeping in windows and stuff. Sweat was breaking out all over his back. “Come on, I’m not a predator! It was a dare. I didn’t even want to. A friend made me do it.”
“Do you think that will hold up in court in the real world,” Dan’s voice wasn’t loud, but it was hard as ice, and his eyes were blazing.
The principle broke in. “Mr. Tildford, aren’t you being a little severe? You cannot threaten this boy with being labeled as a sexual predator, ruining his life forever, because of a harmless prank.”
“Mr. Merckle, I am not planning on ruining anything or labeling anyone. We have no intention of seeking legal action. I am doing this kid a favor by reminding him that outside the narrow walls of this school, actions like that have consequences.” Dan was leaning forward, stabbing his finger into the top of the principle’s desk to emphasize his point.  “He had better wise up before that real world catches up with him.” He sat back again and turned to Ashley. “What happened, Ash?”
“He grabbed my breasts from behind. I elbowed him and knocked him back with a mae giri. I yelled, ‘back off creep,’ like you taught us. He tried to grab me again so I knocked him back again. But then he tried to grab me again with both hands, so I took him down and dropped a knee on him. Then I got away. That’s what you taught, right?”
“Yep,” Dan’s face seemed to smile in spite of him. “You did good.”
“Mr. Tildford, I repeat that this school cannot condone fighting. There are other ways of settling our conflicts.”
“No offense, Mr. Merckle, but that is the dumbest thing I ever heard. You just heard this boy confess to sexually assaulting a girl half his size, and not only that, but he boasted that this is a normal occurrence in this school. It ‘happens all the time.’”
The principle’s face was glowing red and a vein was pulsing on his forehead. “Don’t you think ‘sexual assault’ is a harsh description for a teenage prank?”
“Not at all. I think that is the technical legal description. I am a fourth degree black belt in Shotokan Karate, and I teach a self-defense course for women and minors every week. Placing your hands upon another person against their will is technically considered assault and battery, under law. Doing so for the purpose of sexual gratification is sexual assault. That is what he would be charged with if he did that in a military unit, or an office, or on the street somewhere.”
“This is not a military unit, an office, or the street. This is highschool...”
“A highschool that is failing royally in not preparing this boy for the real world.” He turned to Jack. “How old are you, son?”
“Fifteen,” Jack muttered, “And I’m not your freakin’ son.”
“I am sorry. Fifteen? You look older. I would have guessed 16 or 17,” Dan turned back to the principle. “In three years, he is going to be a legal majority and something like this will get him put in prison for a long, long time.” He stabbed his finger into the desk with every word, and then paused to let that thought sink in. “Not to mention it will ruin his life afterwards, being put on a sexual predator watch list. ‘Harmless pranks’ like this have a way of sticking with you.”
“Your opinion is duly noted,” Mr. Merckle snapped. “Did he do wrong? Yes. That does not justify the use of violence.”
“There we will have to agree to disagree. What you are telling me is that sexual harassment and abuse is rampant in this school, that the young girls here are powerless to protect themselves, and that the school faculty does absolutely nothing to protect them or put a stop to it.”
Mr. Merckle was silent.
“Can you understand why this is frustrating to me? As a father of a teenage daughter?”
“I understand that this is emotionally disturbing for you...” the principle began.
“Don’t give me that. Emotionally disturbing? Hell yeah it is emotionally disturbing!” He sighed and rested his chin in his hand, propped up on the arm of his chair. “I am not going to change your mind, am I? I think we’re done here. I’ve made my case and you have confirmed my opinion of this school. What is your decision?”
Jack was watching the exchange, almost holding his breath. And this dude was a black belt in karate? Shit! I hope I never piss him off. Wait, I already have. Way to go, me!
Mr. Merckle shrugged and held out his palms, helplessly. “The policies of this school. We cannot tolerate violence.”
“So you are suspending these two?”
“I have no alternative. I cannot make exceptions for one student that I will not make for another.”
Dan sighed. “For how long.”
“Our policy for first time offenders is three days.”
“Well, Ash, looks like you’ll just have to go help Tanner Sensei at the dojo for the next three days, after your homework is done, of course.”
“Bummer,” Ashley said, trying not to smile.
“You have a nice day, Mr. Merckle,” Dan shot straight up to his feet and strode out the door, followed by his daughter. He stuck his head back in. “Oh, and one more thing. My brother in law is editor of the Summersville Dispatch. If I ever hear that my daughter was sexually harassed in this school again, you can bet he will be hearing about it. And that goes not just for my daughter but any other girl in this school. And you can also expect to hear about this at the next school board meeting. I suggest you come up with a plan to do something about it.” The office shook as he slammed the door.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Budo 101: Part I*

*Warning: This story describes an offensive event, and so language and situations may be offensive to some and are not intended for young children.

Budo 101

“What do you think of that one?”
Jack followed the upward lift of chin and eyebrows down the hall to an open locker on the other side. A group of girls was standing around it, chatting, while one of them seemed temporarily stalled in the act of putting something into the locker, or perhaps taking it out.
“Which one?”
Deek Davidson tossed his thick blond curls and gestured with his chin again. He was too important to be bothered to point. “The brunette in the red tank top.”
“Nice,” Jack agreed automatically. “I’d tap that.”
“You’d tap anything that spread its legs for you,” Deek bumped him off balance with a shoulder. “Don’t lie. You’d do any one of them if you got the chance. You’d do fat-ass Maria ‘Pig’linski if you could find the right fold.”
Jack tried hard not to turn red. He laughed derisively and retorted, “Oh if only you knew!” What else could he say? He couldn’t deny that he was still a virgin, or Deek would have demanded details, a name, place, date, time, etc. details that he would have been unable to supply.
“But seriously, what do you think about the brunette?”
“Meh, she’s cute enough,” he adopted a tolerant, superior attitude. Oh yeah, she was fine. She was okay, if that was the best you could do. If you weren’t a 15-year-old sex god like he was.
“Yeah? Which one would you do?”
Actually, he secretly knew the brunette in the red tank top was the cutest of the bunch, but he felt rebellious. Why should Deek be right all the time? Which one was the next cutest? Not the little blond who looked like she was barely out of a training bra, and not the Asian chick who looked like a dude. Black girls? Hell no.
“I’d go with blue t-shirt.”
“I’d do her all night long.”
“She’s got no boobs!”
“She’s got great boobs. Nice little handfuls. And look at that ass!”
“She looks like a track chick, and those bitches be crazy.”
“She’s hot.” Okay, “hot” was stretching it. She was tall but petite, toned and athletic looking. He could see divisions in the muscles of her upper arms when she brushed a strand of hair away from her face. She wore jeans and a blue t-shirt, and her bra strap showed nicely through the back, but otherwise her outfit was not super revealing.
“Bullshit.” Deek snorted.
“Whatever, man.”
“Prove it.”
“Prove it! Go up and talk to her. Better yet, go up and grab her ass.”
“That’s retarded.”
“Do it or you don’t have a hair on your balls. Pussy!”
“Come on, man. I gotta get to class.”
“Don’t try to chicken out! You said her boobs were nice little handfuls, right? Go right up behind her and grab them. Chicks like that. They pretend they don’t but they really do. Why else would they dress like that?”
“No, man, this is stupid. I’m not doing it.”
“Chicken! Buck-buck-ba-buck! Pussy!”
Each syllable hit him like a sledgehammer across the head, beating him into submission. As Deek continued, getting louder and louder, Jack could feel eyes around the crowded hall turning to look at him.
“Screw you, man,” he said. His body turned in a rush. Quickly now, he had to get it over with before he thought it through. Make it seem like an accident. Or a joke. Laugh and walk away....
He was right behind her. An agonizing pause. This was dumb, just forget the whole thing, but he heard a soft hiss behind him, “Pussy!”
He stepped forward, reached around her from both sides and grabbed.
A thrill of triumph shot through him. Nevermind that he had missed with his right hand, and had mostly a handful of ribs, he had done it. His heart was in his mouth, and he was seeing the world through a red haze of victory, while his pulse pounded in his temples like a marching band and a thousand cheerleaders.
“KIAI!!!!” The back of an elbow connected with his temple and he saw stars. Backing off with his head in his hands and a knot of deprecating excuses tangling his tongue, he saw the girl pivot to face him with her right knee raised to the level of her ear, it seemed. Then POW! Her sneaker shot straight out like a hydraulic piston, like King Leonidas’ sandal, and plowed into his sternum.
“Back off, creep!”  she yelled as he staggered back about six feet.
There she stood, eyes flashing, face burning with shame and anger, hands shaking and knotted in fists at her side. One leg was poised slightly behind the other, lightly on her toes, as if she was daring him to try again.
“What the hell is your problem?” she yelled.
“Hey, come on, chill bitch, it was just a joke,” he said reaching out to grab her. Why was he doing that?
He never got a hand on her. One hard little fist pummeled the inside of his forearm, batting it away, and she lunged forward with the other in a stiff arm to his chest, knocking him back again.
“I said, back off!” her voice was quieter now and she was unmistakably crouched in a martial arts stance.
“Come on, Jack, are you going to take that? Show that little bitch who’s boss,” Deek gave him a push from behind.
Jack reached out to grab her head with both hands but she was not there. She was behind him. A foot stomped on the back of his knee and it buckled. He threw his hands behind to catch himself, but she wrapped both of her arms around his head and twisted him around her hip. He spiraled face down on the ground and she dropped a hard, pointy knee into his back as he hit. He tried to roll over and grab her ankles but she bounced away.
“What the hell is your problem, dude?” The girl’s friends were surrounding her and a crowd had gathered, cellphones out like paparazzi cameras.
A pair of khakis pushed through the swarm of lenses. “What’s going on here?”
“Bitch went crazy!” The words tumbled out of Jack’s mouth.
“He grabbed me,” the girl retorted. He couldn’t tell if she was frightened or angry or both.
“That’s it! You, pick yourself up. Both of you follow me. Principle’s office, right now.”
Jack picked himself up and eyed the surrounding crowd. Cell-phones were still out snapping pictures right and left. He could practically hear the videos whirring. Perfect. This was probably going to be on youtube in five minutes. He didn’t know any of these kids.
Deek was nowhere to be seen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

True Blue

I sometimes wonder, do human beings really,
Really want to be made happy? Really?
We say we do, we get all touchy feely
Fluffy-pinky, winking and laughing hollow
Laughter after drinks and intercourse.
Of course we do!
     (But really?)
  I don’t mean wanting
The way a man wants ice cream after dinner.
But more like hot red beef wants salt, like fire
Wants wood, like heart wants pulsing blood, like blood
Wants fire and burns for battle, broil and brawl.
Like home wants ruddy ember glow, like farm
Wants wet warm springing days of living green,
Like crops want rain, and farmer crops, and drops
Of dew coalesce on thirsty emerald leaves
For love.
                Gloomy blue gray days of moping
Hopeless funk, portend our self-important
Snobbish refusal of color.
                                             Until one day,
A rescuer! Flashing fierce St. Elmo’s fire, singing
Metallic odes on jaw wire; lightning shooting
Neon pain, a feast of feeling, knocks me
Reeling, electric blue bright sparks impart
The truth of Blue.
       A toothache is,
          at least,

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Diary of a Country Priest

"Dear God, I give you all, willingly. But I don't know how to give, I just let them take. The best is to remain quiet. Because though I may not know how to give, You know how to take... Yet I would have wished to be, just once, magnificently generous to you."
"The Diary of a Country Priest" by Georges Bernanos.

I do not know how to give. The humility of this prayer is heartbreakingly beautiful. After all, it is not that I may give to Him, but that He might have me. That His will might be done, not that I might do it. That He may rejoice in making me what He wishes, not that I might become that.

Of course in actual fact the two are inseparable. He cannot make me what He wills unless I become that, and one of the things that He wills that I become is joyful, full of life. Nor is it wrong to desire fulfillment, to desire to be united with Him and to taste the joys at His right hand for ever more. As C. S. Lewis puts it, "A man is not mercenary for wanting to marry his beloved." Marriage is what the beloved is for (in a limited, human sense.) In a much deeper and more fundamental sense, Heaven is what I am for. It is not mercenary greed but deepest humility and gratitude to desire to receive all that God desires to give.

But it is very wise, and touching, and childlike, that this priest could see only his inability to give, and see the solution in God's utter ability to take. It is like the man who sees his lack of humility, and has finally come to realize not simply his lack, but his inability to supply that lack. He might be tempted to despair, but if he does then he has not learned the still deepest truth, that God's grace is sufficient unto us. God created us to receive everything that we are incapable of doing for ourselves. In other words He created us to receive Him. The proper response to that glimpse of our own powerlessness is joy, gratitude that we could provide God an opportunity to do what He delights to do, to give us what we lack.

"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12:9b.

Anyway, read "The Diary of a Country Priest," prayerfully and with gratitude, and pray not to be made like the humble Cure', but made into whatever God wishes to make you.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tempted to Hatred

"Pray for me to be made more charitable: we're in the middle of a Faculty crisis wh. tempts me to hatred many times a day."
C. S. Lewis, in a Letter to Sheldom Vanauken,
Quoted in "A Severe Mercy," by Sheldon Vanauken

They provoked him at the waters of Meribah.
Through their fault it went ill with Moses;
for they made his heart grow bitter
and he uttered words that were rash.
Psalm 106:32-33

My wife and I are hosting a bi-weekly book club, in which we read and discuss Sheldon Vanauken's "A Severe Mercy." The C. S. Lewis quote with which I opened this blog is from last night's chapter. The two verses from psalm 106 were in the Office of Readings this morning. I have probably read Psalm 106 many dozens of times, maybe as many as a hundred, given its recurrence in the Liturgy of the Hours, which I have been praying daily for a couple of years. However, that particular passage stuck in my head this morning, as I prayed. It attached itself to that C. S. Lewis quote and refused to be separated.

It is easy to see how the two are related, but I didn't get the significance at first. Of course it is nice to know that C. S. Lewis was human and subject to the same petty temptations as the rest of us, but he made no secret of that. Indeed, for a careful reader, there is no doubt that he was not only tempted, but far more aware of the temptations than most of us are. 

He probably would demur my comparing him to Moses, but to me he has been a sort of Moses. He has been a prophet and a law-bearer. I thought about this for a bit, still not getting the significance. I felt that Moses should not have allowed the people to break his focus on God. He should not have allowed them to "get to him." Just like C. S. Lewis shouldn't let other people's uncharity tempt him to uncharity himself. 

But then a paradigm shift happened and I realized that what the Holy Spirit was getting at was not addressed either to C. S. Lewis or to Moses. It is addressed to me. I am not the one being tempted and tried by those under me, because I am not over anyone. I am not a spiritual leader or authority. I am not the tempted. I am the tempter.

For a brief second I saw myself, not as Moses being embittered, but as one of the children of Israel embittering him. I saw my grumbling, sarcasm, flippancy and nonchalance in a new light. How many times have I, by my behavior and words and attitude, or even just by my ignorance, tempted someone else to hatred? How often have my wise-crack comments, instead of enlightening or assisting someone, irritated them to the point where they thought unkind things about me? Probably far more often than I realize.

Doesn't that make me, in some way, partially responsible for their sin? How many times have I set out to share the great gift of Jesus; and gone from there to simply sharing "the Faith" which is facts about Jesus; to sharing "my faith" which is how I feel about those facts; to finally trying to force my views on others, or at the minimum looking down on them or judging them because they refuse to see things my way?

This is another example of psalm 90:8 "You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence." Or Psalm 19:12a "But who can discern all his errors?"

To which our response must be, "Deliver me, O Lord, from my hidden faults!" Psalm 19:12b.

His grace is sufficient.