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Posts Tagged ‘Family Relationships’

My wife, Kelly, and I will celebrate our 27th Wedding Anniversary on August 27th.  There are couples who have been married a lot longer than we.  Many couples we know have not been married as long but are working hard towards it.  Other couples ended their relationships long ago for various reasons.  All of us will testify to the fact that marriage relationships are hard work, especially good ones.

It seems that God has a sense of humor. When he instituted the idea of marriage between a husband and wife, he could not have picked a more odd way to bring people together in such close, intimate proximity to one another.  Never mind all the issues surrounding the differences between the sexes in how the think, process reality, respond emotionally, communicate, and build relationships.  There are also all the various personality differences to deal with too: introvert versus extrovert; saver versus spender; externalizer versus internalizer; task oriented versus people oriented; verbal versus non-verbal; emotive versus non-emotive; and this list goes on.

What was God thinking? Of course, dumb and numb with overwhelming passions and longings, most couples don’t even consider these issues until it is too late.  This should be reason enough for seeking good premarital counseling before marriage.  Even then, attempting to get two hormonal driven humans to stop and consider reality from an objective point of view is quite the challenge to any premarital counselor.  After all, the couple is thinking, “Our love will conquer all.”  They are too inexperienced to recognize the fallacy of that Disney storyline.

So, hurrying through the preparations for the “big” day, often the real issues of what makes marriage relationships successful are left for a later date. It is a guarantee that, ready or not, that day will come.  And most unprepared couples are left stewing in separate rooms asking themselves, “What now?”  It is then that they realize that it will take more than loving feelings and passions to get through the rocky places of their relationship.

It seems to be part of God’s great plan for marriage to use it as a way to transform individuals. He takes two – or perhaps more correctly, we take two – highly selfish individuals and throws them into the confines of a relationship where they must beat the selfishness out of each other.  Anyway, that is the way it seems to happen.  Then, just about the time that they think they are unselfish and more loving, along comes someone who is the epitome of selfishness – a baby, who then becomes a toddler, who becomes a child, then a pre-teen, and then finally a teen-ager.  Each stage of growth only seems to be intended to increase the self-focused nature of the child to scrape any last remaining scraps of selfishness out of the parent.

White House, Washington D.C., Spring 2010

White House, Washington D.C., Spring 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Perhaps this is one of the only ways God realizes that our sinful and selfish natures can adequately be dealt with – in the context of intimate relationships. It is not the stranger or mere acquaintance that drives me nuts.  It’s my family.  How many children have declared, “I’m not a part of this weird family!”?  Or, wished that they had been born of different parentage?  Alas, it is too true – you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.

So it is also in the marriage relationship – the most intimate of all human relationships. The very one that we often are passionate about and with – yes, that very same one – becomes the very one that drives us mad with frustration and anger.  How many couples have looked at each to realize, “We are not on the same ‘page’ are we?”  It is not unusual for couples at some point in their relationship to wake up some morning, look across the bed at the person sleeping beside them and think, “I really do not like him/her right now.”  All of these are the attempts of our selfish nature to exert itself over us and our relationships.  The only way to defeat it is to allow the relationship’s challenges to transform us.

Marriages that transform individuals and couples help them discover that the “we” is more important than the “me.” They realize that the strong emotions that conflict brings does not mark the end of the world or the end of their relationship.  They know that time and determination are on their side.  They embrace the fact that they cannot change their partner but can only change themselves.  They act so that their feelings will follow because their commitments cannot be determined by ever-changing emotions.  They choose to see the potential in their partner.  They remember what character traits attracted them to their partner in the first place, even though those same traits may today be driving them to distraction.  They recognize that their relationship problems cannot be blamed on either party but that they are common problems that each must work on separately and together.  They grow comfortable with the fact that every relationship will experience times of drifting and times of intimacy, that there are different seasons for each stage of life, and that how their relationship began will not be how it appears in the end.

In short, not only will the relationship be transformed over time, but each partner within it will also be changed for the better if they are willing to allow their personal transformation to take place. It is when one or both of the partners in a relationship determine to hold on to their selfishness that unclimbable walls and mountains are created.  This is often when we hear, “I’m just not happy anymore.”  Or, “we are so incompatible with each other.”  A relationship that was designed to do away with all selfishness only becomes the cause for greater selfishness in these individuals.  This usually results in the most selfish of acts: relational suicide.  This brings about the self-destructive acts that become self-fulfilling prophecy that affirms the relationship was doomed from the start.

Want to change your life? Go ahead; get married.  It will surely transform you.  You certainly won’t remain the same over the years.  Further, add children to the mix and it is a sure-fire way to get rid of the last vestiges of selfishness.  Are you single and think, “Ha!  I don’t have to mess with any of that anyway.”  Yes you do.  You have family that will do that for you unless you safely remove yourself to some distant land.  And even then, you have close friends, unless you become a monk or nun of some order that disallows communication.  It seems that God intended all along for our closest relationships to transform us by beating the living selfishness right out of us.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The Guilted Parent

Life offers us very few guarantees. We would like to thing, for instance, that all our efforts at our career would guarantee us success and wealth.  Or, that the time we invest in spiritual pursuits would insure us against troubles and pain in this life.  Or, that the investments we put into the lives of our children would promise us perfect kids who become perfect adults and in return raise perfect grand kids.  But there are no guarantees.

The problem lies in our constant search for those guarantees. We want a secret formula: put this into your life or your kids and this will be the result.  We want magic talismans: quote this Bible verse, pray this prayer, do these spiritual things and this will be what you see.  So, we run from book to book, conference to conference, in an effort to find the magic bullet that will kill our fears about the future.  While self-education and awareness is wonderful, there is no formula, talisman or bullet that will guarantee us against failure and disappointment.

No where is this more evident than in the frantic efforts of many Christian parents. Believing that a child enters the world tabula rasa (with a clean slate) upon which the parent can determine the outcome of a child, these parents go through all sorts of spiritual and mental contortions to do so.  The problem arises when a child does not “turn out” as expected.  This places a considerable amount of guilt upon the parent (and sometimes the child as well).  The rest of the Christian community looks upon the wayward or prodigal child and blames the parent for doing something wrong or not doing something right.  There is not a lot of grace or mercy available for parent and child.

It is faulty think that says the parent can always produce the child. It is a lie that guilts a parenting into believing that good “christian” parenting will produce godly children.   There are instances that we are all aware of where even under the best parenting and spiritual guidance a child has self-determined to go his or her own way completely contrary to how they were raised.  At the same time, there are plenty of instances where a child has come through and come out of a background that is filled with all kinds of social and spiritual problems and obstacles to be a success materially and spiritually.  This defies the psychological determinism that plagues so much of our Christian philosophy and theology about parenting and families.

It is the lie of psychological – or spiritual, in this case – determinism that has produced all the Christian formulas and programs available today. They each offer their own guarantees to raising successful kids as if child-rearing and child-training were a trouble-free, risk free endeavor.  In a B.F. Skinner-like approach, a Christian parent can produce godly children as if they were planting a garden or training a family pet.  One only needs to throw in a few well-placed Bible verses.

Thus, Christendom has produced the guilted parent; an impossible weight of legalism towards the parent-child relationship. It is as if the Bible was a parenting manual filled with formulas and spiritual laws that, if carefully followed just right, would produce guaranteed outcomes.  Thus, if the child did not turn out “right,” then it can only mean that the parent screwed up somewhere and did not follow exactly the prescribed formula or spiritual law.  The guilted parent syndrome is not helped by the “testimonies” of successful and winning parents who have raised obedient, respectful, compliant children who live faithful Christian lives with no missteps or disappointments.

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I have known parents who have carefully read and faithfully followed all the advice of Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Yet, despite all their frantic and careful studies, they had a child(ren) who seemed determined to live a life completely opposite of their parents’ values and lifestyle.  I have other friends who systematically followed all of the rules from Growing Families International and their Growing Kids God’s Way curriculum with seeming success, until one of their children did not seem to respond to their carefully crafted efforts.  Both of these parents were at a loss and suffered under a load of guilt and shame for the outcome of their kids.

It is interesting to note that even in Scripture, some of the most successful people of God were followed by ungodly children. At the same time, some of the most wicked characters in the Bible produced righteous children who did incredible things for God.  Finally, if one were to measure God’s success as a successful heavenly Father based upon the actions and activities of all of his children, by the measurement of the material commonly marketed to Christian parents today, he would be a failure!

This has been our experience within my family. My wife, Kelly, and I are well-educated (both with Masters Degrees).  We have read the books, watched the videos and listened to the speakers.  Despite having our home full of books and constantly reading to our children, we have two children out of our four who had a very hard time learning to read and so don’t like to read.  Imagine this from a child who has a father with a personal library that numbers over 3,000 volumes.  Doesn’t make sense according to the formula we were given about helping our children become “readers.”

We also have always been involved in church, spiritual pursuits and openly talked about spiritual things with our children. We read the Bible, prayed around the dinner table, regularly included prayer for missionaries and surrounded our lives with very spiritual people.  We have not done this perfectly, but we have done it to the best of our capability and knowledge we had at the time.  Nevertheless, we have one child who has chosen to live a lifestyle with a set of values that are completely contrary to how he was raised.  Again, this doesn’t make any sense according to what we have been told all these years.

As with so much of our modern Christianity, and much of humankind’s approach to God in general, we have reduced life with God to a formula rather than faith. Like the legalistic religious rulers of Jesus’ day, we have made our own set of laws about parenting that are too heavy for many to bear.  We leave those who are not able to perform according to these rule and regulations outside “the ark of safety” to drown in their guilt and shame.  But Jesus came to introduce a different way.

Living according to these “Christian parenting laws” only proves our failure. The apostle Paul reminds us that “the Law brings death” – and that can apply to just about any spiritual law or legalistic religious system.  Only faith in what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection can bring life to parents who have children who are spiritually and morally wayward.

  • It is a faith that believes that his grace is sufficient for all our sin and their sin.
  • It is a faith to believe that the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ is still able to work in their lives and return them to the heavenly Father’s household of faith.
  • It is faith that believes that God graceful and merciful intervention can make up for all of my – or anyone’s – parental mistakes and short-comings.
  • It is faith that believes that the spiritual seeds that were planted at one time in a child’s heart will one day mature into a harvest of righteousness despite what fruit or weeds might be apparent there now.
  • It is faith that believes that God’s love as heavenly Father is greater and more abundant than my earthly parental love.
  • It is faith that believes that God accepts me even as a mistake-ridden and faulty parent to my children.
  • It is faith that believes that just as God’s unconditional love accepts and embraces me; it will also accept and embrace my child no matter where they may be on their own spiritual journey.
  • It is faith that believes that the same God who is our righteous and holy judge is also our merciful and loving counselor.

It is time to set the guilted parent free. It is time to replace formulas with faith.  It is time to reject psychological and spiritual determinism with a trust in God’s power to do what we ourselves cannot guarantee; which is children who worship and serve him.  Let the guilted parent be set free.

These thoughts came about as I finished reading “The Myth of the Perfect Parent” by Leslie Leyland Fields in Christianity Today (January 2010, Vol. 54, No. 1).  There is a follow-up interview with Donald Ratcliff by Katelyn Beaty that the reader may want to see.  Some of the terminology and ideas that are in my Blog came from Leslie Fields article.  Follow the link to see the complete article.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Some wise person once observed that we do not make our technology as much as our technology makes or shapes us.  This is perhaps at not time more evident that in our current technologically driven culture.  Of course, give it a few more years and the evidence will only be greater.  Most people embrace all forms of technology without question or judgment.  This is what the companies who market to the mass of humanity are hoping for from the consumers.

I have been without a cellular phone for over a year now.  After the initial technology withdrawals, I have been observing our culture with a different set of eyes.  It’s kind of like someone who has smoked for years and then quitting.  Suddenly, the world is different with tastes and smells that went unnoticed before under the ubiquitous cloud of smoke.

Now I notice couple and families strolling through the grocery store or neighborhood park together with one or more of them eye-pasted to their personal cell phone texting and receiving text messages.  Spouses and children go unnoticed, let alone their surroundings with its sights, sounds and activities.  Not only can so many of us not drive without attempting to text and receive text messages, but we also cannot sit in someone’s presence without checking out phone after every vibration or beep that emanates from it.

It used to be that “keeping up with the Jones'” meant that you too had indoor plumbing; then it was electricity; then it was a telephone; then it was a black and white television – and then a colored one; then it was the microwave; then it was a cordless phone; then it was the personal tape or CD player; then it was a car phone; then it was a computer; and, now, it is a cell phone.  However, it is more invasive than just having a cell phone.  Now my family must have cable TV with a personal TV in each person’s bedroom.  Each person is expected to also have their own computer – preferably a laptop.  With the phone or cable company’s family plan, each person in my family can also have a cell phone.  Thankfully, the phone or cable company can “bundle” all these services together so that I only get one bill a month – a big bill – instead of several.

Well, to save money and avoid the technology bill, my family is without cell phones.  So, to many of our acquaintances, we come across as Luddites.  On top of that we do not have a television, let alone cable.  So, that puts us in the “weird” category.  We do have two computers – a laptop and desktop – with internet capabilities, so once they hear that then we move up a category just above the Amish technology-wise.  It still strikes me as odd that my family of four cannot get by with two computers in our household.  There is constant haggling over who needs online next.  The rule is:  Work and school before play.

We have friends and family who spend their evenings with each member sitting in different rooms in the house self-entertaining themselves on their personal computers or TV’s.  Car trips are spent listening to personal listening devices and texting on cell phones.  Now there is also DVD players in cars and mini-vans to keep the kids entertained.  Better yet, personal DVD players are now available.  Hardly a church service, wedding or funeral goes uninterrupted from a cell phone going.  Our most important and sacred times together as humans are broken by the sounds of vibrating and beeping electronic devices.

Mink at Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, June 2007

Mink at Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, June 2007 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

It seems to me that the more our toys and objects become personalized the more we as individuals become impersonal.  We no longer stop to make conversation, eye contact, smile at passerby-ers or connect with those around us.  It is too easy for me to be absorbed in my own little world connected with only what interests me.  In short, I share my world with no one.  It becomes all about me – my texts, my play lists and my messages.

Time will only tell what the ramifications of this technological trend will have upon our future relationships and civilization.  There is already talk of some who are “fasting” from technology for periods of time.  Families are taking “no technology” vacations with no cell phones, personal listening or game devices.  Some radical individuals are attempting to “unplug” there lives as much as possible from all technology.  I do not recommend becoming a Luddite.  On the other hand, these efforts to reconnect without technological interruptions should be applauded.

The new conversation among technology companies and our government concerns “technology rights.” The idea is that every one has the right to have access to technology.  Everyone should have access to the internet, which requires access to a computer also.  My children are required now to use the internet for homework, either for research or to turn it in.  This puts a lot of pressure on even the poorest to have computers and internet access through the telephone or cable company.  Most do not live close enough to the public library to have ready access to those resources.

It is true as someone wisely observed about humans and technology:  What is a convenience today will be considered a right to own and have tomorrow.  When counseling and giving advice to individuals or families during difficult times, they cannot imagine forgoing the cost of cable or their cell phones.  It is unthinkable!  They would rather find ways to cut back on the grocery bill instead or not use the heat or air conditioning as much.  Like it or not, this is the new reality of the 21st century.

Subtly, our own technology and enamoration with it is redefining our existence. Like the humans in the Pixar movie WALL-E, technology appears to be taking over our lives.  Our dependence upon it puts us in a symbiotic relationship where our very existence – life, liberty and happiness – is dependent upon its co-existence.  This may very soon in our future redefine what it means to be human.  It already redefines the “haves” and “have nots.”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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So, I have another birthday coming up. This yearly event stopped meaning anything special to me years ago – somewhere after 40.  This birthday will mark my last year in the decade of the 40’s.  Next year I hit the big 5-0; that will be a much bigger deal to me.  There’s just something inauspicious about hitting and moving beyond 50.  Of course, those who have moved way beyond that mile-marker will tell me otherwise.

Believe it or not, the biggest decade markers that were downers for me were the younger ones. Turning twenty was traumatic.  Somehow, in my mind, it meant leaving “youth” and entering into “age.”  Not old-age per se, just an age where the responsibility stakes went up ten-fold in my mind.  It was, in my thinking, leaving the care-free stage of life and entering the care-burdened age.

This is one reason why I always warn my children not to worry about growing up so fast and “getting out on their own.” So far, none of them have listened to me.  I suppose it is the optimism of youth that helps us to launch into our independence.  Of course, complete and total ignorance of what really lays ahead helps too.

The other decade marker that was a downer was thirty. I was depressed for a week.  This seemed to mark me as the entrance into “old.”  All youth is gone and spent, now all that was left was aging and more burdened responsibilities.  In retrospect, however, I do have to say that my thirties were quite fun and fulfilling.  I had some real rough years closing out the decade, but for the most part they were enjoyable times.

Turning forty did not faze me all that much, for some odd-ball reason. I had some friends who made the event a lot of fun (at my expense, of course).  At the same time, there was a positive stride into the decade of the 40’s with a certain sense of maturity, wisdom and life-experience.  These have been good years with lots of good experiences.  It has held enough life adventures to keep it interesting.  So far, I think I am well on my way to fulfilling my life’s mission of “finishing strong and finishing laughing.”

This life goal or mission helps me to focus on what is important: finishing strong in my relationships with God and my family and friends and to do it all with great joy and no regrets. It is that last point that is the sticky one.  It is truly hard to finish life without any regrets so that one can end life with great joy – laughing.  Perhaps approaching the age of fifty has made me more retrospect than ever (as if I could be any more retrospect…I’m wired to be an internalizer, meditator and processor).  I had a friend tell me one time, “Boy, Ron.  The stream of thought sure runs slow through you.  But I have to say, it does run deep!”  We still laugh over that observation as there have been many funny applications to it over the years.

Tubing On Quilcene Bay, Washington, Summer 2007

Tubing On Quilcene Bay, Washington, Summer 2007

I have been witness to many people who, at the end of their life because of disease or death, spend a few moments replaying their regrets.  There seems to be a need to attempt to correct any mistakes before one leaves this life.  Sometimes, this is not always possible.  According to Bronnie Ware, an Ezinearticles.com contributor and palliative care worker, when questioned about any regrets, the dying had five common themes that surfaced again and again:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

These all strike me as having to do with my life goal to “finish strong and finish laughing.” A life well-lived and full of joy up to the end of it strikes me as something the Creator would take great pleasure in as He witnessed our leaving this world and entering the new creation He has awaiting for us.  Each of these five things recalled by Bronnie Ware reminds me that life is full of risks that present opportunities and pitfalls.  One cannot live life sheltered in hopes of coming through with no scrapes or bruises.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a message on risk-taking. It was inspiring as well as challenging.  What would we be doing differently right now or attempting to do if we knew that we could not fail?  There lies the stuff of dreams and visions.  In the message a quote was shared:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing!”

What a daring statement! Like me when I heard it, you are probably wondering what brave soul, perhaps famous, made such a declaration.  Our speaker pointed out some of the risk action ideas in this quote: danger, exposure, adventure or nothing!  The quote is from Helen Keller.  What a statement from a deaf, mute and blind hero for whom getting out of bed everyday was an adventure and a risk!  The speaker pointed out that, willing to do so, she changed her world as an author, activist and even lecturer!  Suddenly, I find myself in short comparison to someone born with so many “handicaps.”  Certainly, I in accompaniment with my full faculties have a long ways to go to catch up with her.

I suppose that there is no way to completely avoid end-of-life regrets. Clarity of vision seems to be the privilege of only those at the terminus of their life’s journey.  We could all stand to learn more from them.  The words of Jesus could also help to prod us: “Playing it safe and guarding your self will not help you in the end.  Only risk-taking and self-sacrifice will help you discover who you were made to be and the reward that will await you at life’s end” (my own paraphrase of Luke 9:14).

So, to “finish strong and finish laughing” is going to require more work on my part it seems. Every day as well as every decade will be an adventure.  It reminds me of Frodo‘s recollection to Samwise of Bilbo‘s wise words in The Lord of the Rings: “Remember what Bilbo used to say: ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to‘.”  Who knows what’s around the corner of 50 – or 60 or 70 for that matter.  Might as well finish them strong and laughing with no regrets.  If anything, it will leave the devil frustrated over me and my friends wondering.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The parent’s greatest source of joy
may be the laughter of a child.
The giggley coo’s of an infant
learning to play peek-a-boo;
The cackley silliness of
a young child tickled and tossed;
The gurgley guffaws of
a young teen getting and playing jokes;
The open-mouthed joyful smiles
of young people at play with their siblings;
And the parent’s greatest source of joy
may be laughter born from a child.

Almberg Kids with Funny Hats, Seaside, Oregon, 2002

Almberg Kids with Funny Hats, Seaside, Oregon, 2002

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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A new and joy-filled season in parenting is when one gets to car shop with and for his or her teenagers.  Afterall, their unrealistic expectations are rooted in youthful optimism.  Any sense of the actual cost to operate a vehicle flies higher than a bald eagle on a warm updraft.  Who wants to worry at the very moment of selecting their image-maker-dream-come-true vehicle about such mundane things as maintenance, oil changes, tires, insurance, yearly license and registration fees?  Well, the parent, for one.   Therefore, one of the duties of parenting is to gently but firmly bring them down to the reality of terra firma.

My oldest daughter, Cara, has been so very fortunate to be saved from such painful developments.  We were saved from the excruciating painful process by a friend who gave her a 1980’s vintage Dodge Shadow.  Since I was a pastor – which meant an income just above the poverty line with no benefits – she knew the reality of getting any vehicle at all was slim.  So, she was overjoyed to have one to call her own.   It had been well-maintained and, while it did not rank high on the coolness factor, was her own transportation.  She had a certain amount of freedom that she would not have had sharing our family vehicle.  I was happy for her.

Unfortunately, the day came when the old Dodge Shadow ‘gave up the ghost.’ Its death could not be avoided.  Whether due to the mileage or the harsh North Dakota winters, it stopped running and became a driveway ornament.  This launched us on a mission to find another vehicle for her.  She had a job and school.  Coordinating those activities with her mother’s needs and my own was going to prove a nightmare.

One day, while her oldest brother, Gareth, who was on military leave from Afghanistan, and I noticed a baby-blue 1971 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a “For Sale” sign on it.  It was parked by the Firestone store on George Washington Way in Grand Forks.  You couldn’t miss it.  The seller wanted $1,000 for it.  It looked in good condition.  It had more chrome on it than 100 of today’s vehicles put together.  The bumpers could have been used to weigh ship anchor for the U.S.S. Enterprise.  It was, truly, a thing of beauty.  Gareth and I kidded one another about buying Cara THAT car.

Now, before you judge my daughter or my family of being to proud to drive around a 1971 vintage anything, there were some practical reasons for not considering it seriously.  First, the gas mileage would make operating it prohibitive.  The plus side would have been that she could never get very far with it.  But we could not really consider something that would take a budget slightly larger than the Lithuanian’s annual GDP to operate each month.

Second, my daughter is 5’6″ and 115 lbs.  It would have taken three or four Grand Forks phone books just to get her to be able to see and drive.  We did not have that many phone books.  The plus side was that she would have been surrounded by more heavy duty metal than our troops go into battle with today in their Humvees.  They just do not make cars like that anymore.  The number one cause for auto body repair in North Dakota is hitting deer crossing highways.  The bumpers on that vehicle would deflect a small buffalo.

Anyway, Gareth and I had a good chuckle talking about and picturing Cara behind the wheel that 1971 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.  The reality of it was that the car deserved to be owned by someone who would appreciate the cars vintage, make, and model.  It would not have gotten the respect in our family that it surely deserved.

Nevertheless, I could not help myself one day when Cara and I were driving up George Washington Way and saw the car parked alongside the road.  I saw a moment for some fun.

Hey, what do you think about that car?” I said pointing out the baby-blue Cadillac.

What?  That big one? It’s kinda’ cute.  I like the color,” replied Cara kindly but a little guarded.

You’re brother and I are thinking about getting you thatWhat do you think?” I said, pushing the idea a little more.

I don’t know,” she hesitated.  “It’s kinda’ big, don’t you think?”

Yeah,” I agreed.  “But you’d get used to it once you drove it around for awhile.”

There was a bit of a frightened look on Cara’s face now.  “I don’t know, dad.  I don’t think I want something that big.  It’s bigger than a boat!  I mean, what about the cost of gasIt’s going to suck a lot of gas.  I won’t be able to afford to drive it.”

My sweet daughter.  She’s thinking real practical.  Fear will do that to you.  But I could not just let this go.  So, I fibbed a bit to draw out the drama of the moment.

Yes, gas will be more but insurance will be cheap.  Well,” I continued, “your brother’s got the guy’s phone number and is going to get a hold of him today.  He’s probably calling him as we speak.  The guy wants a thousand dollars for it.  We’re going to see if he’ll take seven-hundred-and-fifty for it.

What!?” Cara exclaimed in a somewhat frantic voice.  “Dad, don’t let him do it.  I can’t drive that!

“Ah,” I thought.  “She’s taking the bait.”

“What do you mean, Sweetie?” I asked.  “You’re brother is offering to buy it for you with his military pay.  He wants to do this for you before he heads back to Afghanistan.

WHAT?!! Are you kidding me, right now?” came a more desperate plea.  “No, dad.  Don’t let him do it.  I’ll hate that car.  How will I drive it around town? I won’t be able to see over the steering wheel! How am I going to be able to park it?”

Of course, these were all good points.  But, at this point, I am having too much fun and I am having trouble not smiling or breaking out into laughter.

Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, 2009

Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Well, you better call Gareth,” I said.  “He’s supposed to try and take care of it for you today. He was really wanting to do this for you.  I think you better talk to him.  I mean, after all, Sweetie, it’s a free car.  He may be a little disappointed.

By now, I could tell Cara was conflicted.  She needed a car.  She appreciated the idea of her brother buying her a car.  But just not THAT car.

Now the tears flowed, “Dad, I can’t do it.  Can’t you talk to him? I won’t be able to drive it.  How about if you drive it and I drive your car?”

What?” I objected.  “No.  That would be your car.  Besides, you’d be way safer in it with all that metal wrapped around you.  I wouldn’t want to drive it.  I do too much running around.

But, dadWhat am I going to do? I’ll be scared to drive that thingPlease, won’t you call Gareth and explain?”  Cara pleaded.  “Please?”

No,” I calmly replied.  “That won’t be necessary.  I’m just kidding.  We weren’t going to guy you that car.  How would you drive something like that?”

WHAT!?” Cara exclaimed.  “Are you kidding me, right now? You are kidding me, aren’t youDad!”

By this times the giggles and guffaws had over taken me and now I was in tears from laughing so hard.  I am sure that other drivers on George Washington Way must have been wondering what was going on in our car.

Dad!  I can’t believe you!” Cara protested indignantly.  “You were pulling my leg all along?”

Through tears and laughter, I answered, “Yup.  And, boy, I really had you going, didn’t I? That was priceless.  You should have seen your face.

Wiping the tears from her eyes and with some relief, Cara replied, “Yeah.  Well, I wouldn’t have driven that thing.  You or mom would have had to drive it.

But, Sweetie, what about all that chrome, and those big bumpers, and all that metal surrounding youIt would have kept you really safe.  And, you know, your safety is my main concern.”

Now she looked at me with eyes that said, “You don’t think I’m going to take anything you say seriously from now on, do you?”

I wiped the tears from my eyes and continued chuckling to myself.  What a priceless father-daughter moment.  At least to my way of thinking.  She probably claims to be scarred for life from it.  I, however, will cherish it.

Still to this day, whenever I see a 1970’s vintage, lots of chrome, big-bumpered car, I think back to that moment.  Like this last summer when I visited the Cool Desert Nights Car Show in Richland, Washington.  There were so many beautiful old cars.  But the ones that made me pause the most were the 1970’s vintage Cadillacs.  There I stood smiling from ear-to-ear with a tear in my eye.  Some experiences are just worth living again and again.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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This weekend my family and I will be making a long drive to the Washington coastal community of Ocean Park for my brother’s funeral.  My brother, Bruce, died January 15th of liver failure due to alcoholism.  We will be joining my parents and my remaining siblings along with other family and friends for a memorial service for Bruce.  Even with a month to think about it, it will still be a long, 5-hour, thought-filled drive.

I have often said, when I was in pastoral leadership, that “Funerals are for the living, not the dead.”  The dead are beyond our comfort and touch.  However, those who remain behind are still present and need the comfort and touch of family and friends.  This is why many people attend funerals of family or friends they barely know but go, instead, to support their grieving family and friends.  We want to be there for them.

This is my case with my brother, Bruce.  The sad truth of our relationship as brothers is that I barely, if really at all, knew him.  Until this last Father’s Day (2009), I had not seen nor heard from Bruce for 16 years.  My two youngest children had never seen him.  I am grateful for the two days we had last year to reconnect.  It was good to see him connect with nephews and nieces he had not had any contact with for all these years.

Bruce Charles Almberg, 2009

Bruce Charles Almberg, 1964 - 2009

The reason for the lack of communication and relationship is a complicated and painful family history that I will not divulge here.  Suffice it to say that Bruce carried many personal and family wounds that made contact with his family painful if not unbearable.  Except for my mother and my sister, and even that sporadically over the years, he really did not have too much to do with any of us.  So, the opportunity to see him, talk with him, and spend time with him last year was monumental for our family.  After that holiday together, Bruce and I chatted on the phone a few times; something that we had never done before.

I left for college when I graduated from High School.  Bruce was 14 years old.  Except for a few brief stints at visiting home during college, we never had much interaction together.  Most of my knowledge of what was happening in Bruce’s life came through my mother or sister over the years.  Attempts at visiting during vacations or letters and cards were never acknowledged or answered.  However, that is not unusual behavior for Almberg males.  We would probably do well in monasteries.

So, after getting a chance to finally visit and talk with my brother, it was sad news to hear that he was admitted to the hospital on New Year’s Day 2010 with liver failure.  He was not expected to live passed the weekend.  However, he did not die until two weeks later, on the 15th, after being transferred from Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland, OR., to a nursing care facility in Longview, WA.  Those two weeks in the hospital, though very hard, was important.

During his two weeks in the hospital quite a number of people had an opportunity to pray for him, offer the hope of Christ, and share the love of God with him.  My parents believe and trust that God was able to bring peace to Bruce’s heart and soul.  As such, we are able to leave him in the arms of our Heavenly Father who is full of love, compassion, and not willing that any should perish.

Meanwhile, we will gather this Saturday, February 13th, to remember him, whether we have long-time-ago memories or recently made ones.  We will be present for one another and comfort one another, especially his wife Denise.  Afterall, while it is the dead that we commemorate, it is for the living that we gather.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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