Hook-ed on Motivation work-ed for meh…meh!

I’ve often wondered how I would respond if tortured. It hasn’t happened, unless you count going on a fast or making myself get up to exercise when I’d rather sleep, but the lines of thought on both sides of this issue fascinate me. Both sides have motivations, and both sides affect the other side’s motivations. I’ve watched this scenario play out from the elementary playground to international diplomacy, and it seems that motivation affects so much. My world is rather school-intensive, so I see the effects of good and bad motivation in that world rather clearly defined.

I have found that most students who struggle with math aren’t lacking intelligence or effort. They usually lack motivation and good instruction. When they get good instruction, they get motivated. They believe. If they believe they will get help, and believe they can do it, they will try it. When they try it, they learn it. If they don’t try it, they won’t learn it, and if they don’t believe in the help or themselves, they won’t try.

Another contributing factor to my interest in this field is my experiences playing sports. I had many coaches; most were of a similar type. They used poorly spliced cliches, strong emotion, and gruff intimidation to make a group of knuckleheads pay attention and work hard. This style was somewhat effective…it trained obedience, loyalty, and the ability to summon and control aggression, and those are valuable. But it also had some problems, especially as this style was based on military leadership, which was also adopted by schools, parents, churches, and other institutions following WWII. Just because it worked in the military doesn’t mean it has broad applications in the civilian world.

First rule of motivation: You can’t make someone do anything. All you can do is enforce consequences.

Second rule of motivation: People are more highly motivated long-term by what they like than by what they fear.

Third rule of motivation: Strong relationships are more motivating than almost anything else.

These rules apply to all situations at all times in all cultures. Many have tried to contradict rule #1, but there are always those willing to suffer torture and death for what they believe who prove the rule at last. Most dictators have tried to show that rule #2 can be reversed, but someone always topples them, usually with help from the inside…which proves rule #3. And every family shows rule #3 to be true, especially when it comes to intense love for an individual.

So now that we have established what’s true in the landscape of motivation, let’s look at how we’ve applied and misapplied these principles to our professional lives.

In the individual sports (golf, boxing) or arts (solo albums, authors, stand-up comedy), you make more money when you succeed more often. When you win, you win for yourself by yourself, and you get the reward of more money, or at least the opportunity to earn more money if you want it. In this area, we seem to see rules #1 and #2 applied almost universally, at least in the free world.

In team sports (football, hockey), team arts (bands, movies/tv), and some businesses, we see a small bonus for exceptional team performance, but the free-agency mindset has caused individual performance to result in higher pay or better opportunities for the individual. This sets rule #2 against rule #3 using rule #1. It’s confusing because it’s conflicting. Labor vs Management has muddied the waters, and both sides are to blame because both have abused their power, resulting in ammunition for the other side. It seems we need them both because neither can be trusted with all the decisions…or the money.

In most professional cases, there are agreements worked out to give some of the money and power to the Labor and some to the Management. How does this affect the three rules of motivation? Well, #3 is damaged greatly. It’s hard to be friends, or even friendly with the people who seem to be holding you back…especially if they see you the same way. And this relationship begins to undermine rule #2 because of the adversarial atmosphere. When fear comes in, people stop trusting others and the system, and begin to try to work against rule #1…and nobody is motivated like they could be.

In my profession, education, the situation is even worse. Not only do we battle the adversarial relationship with colleagues, but we battle the de-motivating pay. We get paid for time at the building…and what we do there only affects our pay if we take on extra jobs, or do so poorly that we become a public-relations issue, and have to be fired or harassed into resigning or retiring. We don’t get any more pay for doing well. Bad teachers get the same pay as good ones. The business world wouldn’t keep bad employees; sports teams trade or fire bad players; actors and directors avoid working with bad people. So why is education the last to apply the rules of motivation to its own people?

Three reasons: money and power, political credit, and decades of training. But that’s another post, that, frankly, I don’t want to read, much less write. So I will spare you the rant; you’ve probably already heard it.

What about other areas? Suppose you work for yourself; that makes rule 1 complicated. Self-discipline is key, or you find yourself on the wrong side of both rules 2 and 3, and eventually rule 1, as well. What about public service? It seems similar to education, as far as I can tell from the outside. Military, law enforcement, and the like? Rule 3 plays a huge role in these professions, it seems. And the low pay means most don’t stay if they don’t like it, following rule 2. Hotels, restaurants, movie theaters and the like? Advertising and atmosphere costs follow rules 1 and 2, since these are luxuries, not necessities. Atmosphere and service create perceptions that follow rule 3.

So we see that these rules hold in many professions. How do they work, or don’t work, in your area?

Next post: motivation in the Church and the family

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The Farmcraft Matrix

Hello, Neo.

No, there’s no white rabbit. You’re here because you have reached a certain level of competence in your gaming. You excel at those games requiring the management of multiple resources in strategic ways to overcome an opponent’s management strategies. Every choice, every decision, every instant makes a difference in the outcome. But you already know this.

You have played. It is time to live. We assume you want the red pill. Water?

We have a new challenge for you to try. Consider…farming. Listen carefully.

You have used programs to build up, stockpile, upgrade, coordinate, and respond decisively to changing circumstances. You have depended upon these programs to operate exactly as you tell them, consistently until you change them, and relentlessly until you stop or redirect them. Your new tools will not be as…consistent.

You will have at your disposal your wife and children. They are unpredictable, distractible, emotional, and vulnerable to many things that will affect you far less than they. They require varying amounts of supervision and appreciation to carry out the tasks your farm will require. They will need to be taught each task and made to practice it repeatedly under your supervision until they can do it to your satisfaction…and even then, they won’t be perfect. Neither will you.  Also, there is no way to click on a group and get all of them to do the same task at once or to go the same direction at once…unless food is involved. Are you up to these challenges?

Next, your supplies. Some of them will be found on the land you choose to occupy, especially wood and dirt. You may also find piles of trash, which sometimes have hidden treasures, so don’t avoid them. Dive in. Most supplies, however, must be bought, made, or borrowed. Make friends with your neighbors, and they may let you borrow some of their tools for special projects, but don’t abuse them or their trust in you. Take care of their tools and return them promptly for increased access in the future.

Balance the credits you earn from your jobs with the short-term and long-term needs of the farm and other parts of your life. But you’ve done this before. Upgrades take time, remember? But this time, there won’t be any bars slowly filling up to tell you it’s nearly time to reroute resources, or make a decision. You have to make your own indicators. I hope the Oracle had good news for you.

In addition, you must get acquainted with new opponents.

The smallest ones will be nearly invisible until they attack. You will hear them first, or feel them wiggling in your hair. They are nicknamed “bugs” because they bug you until you deal with them. They must not be underestimated. Preventative steps must be taken; many products are on the market. Find the one that works.

There are some larger small enemies, more dangerous and cunning, that will require traps, poisons, and tight defenses, even to the point of a dining room sweep, a dish washing, and a counter-wiping nightly to discourage their invasion. They are furry and cute, or additional bugs, but don’t let that fool you. They are dangerous and destructive; destroy on sight. Sons with BB guns might come in handy.

I said earlier there was no white rabbit. Your rabbits are camouflaged, but usually harmless. Opossums and raccoons, however, will break into sheds and garages to steal catfood, leftovers, or live ducks and chickens. Arm yourself accordingly. We suggest a low-caliber rifle, live traps, and secure doors. Yes, you get to kill the bad guys with a real gun. It will produce real blood, so get your stomach ready. And then you have to either burn or bury the body so other predators won’t start sniffing around.

Coyotes and hawks have proven to be rare inconveniences, but be prepared. You may also have to deal with bobcats, mountain lions, and bears, depending on your location. Eat neatly, and clean up carefully, and they will usually move on to easier food sources. Just don’t get careless.

Local humans can be both helpful and difficult. They are not competitors, so watch your tone and attitude towards them. They speak their own slang, so plan to learn the “country talk” that will help you get help from them when you need it. Just like you learn to ignore the programmed responses from digital characters in your game, you can learn to get along with the unusual responses from your country neighbors. Don’t expect them to do what is best for your goals; they have different goals of their own. They also have different experiences, so listen when they tell their stories. But take them with a grain of salt; many stories are exaggerated for emotional effect. Don’t try to top them.

And then, there’s the weather. It may not affect a digital world, but it has major impact on the real one, especially a farm, especially in Oklahoma, where every kind of weather on the planet likes to visit at least once a year. No one coordinates these visits into any kind of order or progression. You will have to prepare for all of them as much as you can, realizing that the only constant, dependable thing about the weather is its inconsistency. This might make for some interesting stories to share with the neighbors, and some unplanned community activities, such as redistribution of limited resources. Plan on doing lots of paperwork, making lots of phone calls, and forgetting passwords online in order to recover from these events. Yes, you must talk to people from a foreign country about the subtleties of a contract drawn up by lawyers regarding laws made by politicians about the land you live on that’s regulated by private companies just so you can see your way to the bathroom. Real life is more complicated than even the most engrossing video game imaginable. And then unpredictable people change it…again. Welcome to the desert of the Real.

What blue pill? You’re not giving up so easily, are you? I thought your courage was legendary; aren’t you the one who’s known for bold, unexpected maneuvers in the heat of battle? Aren’t you the one who’s tenacity is willing to forego food, sleep, and social interaction just to conquer and overcome? Aren’t you the gamer so devoted to a story that you forget about birthdays, holidays, daylight, mealtimes, and people’s names?

Well, if you see that gamer, let him know the Game of Life thinks it can chew him up and spit him out in many small pieces. Also let him know that God thinks otherwise, and has some really cool upgrades waiting for him, and that the ending is SO worth finishing the game.

Yeah, I thought you might be interested.

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June 2015: Pests and prospects

God rescued our chickens from a rogue coon. It took that, because I went head-to-head with him for a week, and it was a draw after all that. He snatched cat food for a week, but I put the food in a pet crate, and he was foiled. Then he snatched a chicken two nights running, even going so far as to pull open the metal wall of our chicken’s shed. I proceeded to build a door only I could move, and reinforce the walls with concrete blocks. I set a trap and baited it. For three nights, he set off the trap, but got none of the bait and no chickens. Then, we drove over a dead coon on the one lane bridge one morning…and there were no coon tracks around the shed next day, or the next. Divine intervention! Problem solved.

Today, I was at the Tulsa Zoo, and I saw the raccoons in a display. I thought to myself, “Why do they keep pests at the zoo? Where are the armadillos, opossums, and squirrels?” I hope the coons at the zoo appreciate their lives. I hope they never get a taste for chicken.

The Imaginary Floating Sheep have returned, to bleat randomly in our backyard swamp. The wasps have tried to expand their territory into more eaves, and several snakes have been found under a pile of logs. And the bagworms have invaded several trees, as well as our front cedar bush. One day, I had enough, and I brandished my pole saw, and took out…about half the webby nests. I just couldn’t reach high enough to get the others. I did manage to eliminate nearly all the worms on the cedar bush, though, because I could reach them. I covered the bottom of a bucket with two layers, and several days later, I picked off 16 more. I think I got them. I have semi-traumatic memories of these worms destroying an arbor vitae at our last house. Yechhh. It was disgusting. But it wasn’t repeated, thankfully.

Our neighbors have kept their lawn very well-mowed this summer. I say this because our lawn is not that way. Any rain that lasts more than one afternoon takes up semi-permanent residence in our yard, turning it into a clay-lined swamp for a week. In the meantime, the grass grows ever taller, and it’s anybody’s guess as to whether Frankenstein’s Mower will come alive in time to cut the grass before the next rain. It makes me wonder about the people who cut lawns in the rainforests. Oh, wait…

I also wonder about where my career is headed. I know there are people out there who are aiming for department chair, or supervisor, or expanding their business to new markets, but what if you might end up doing all three accidentally? My career path is not the kind counselors hold up on a card to young students to say “See? It’s easy to get ahead.” They don’t even say “Don’t let this happen to you.” With my career, they’d probably say “What the howling mother of Megazod was this guy thinking?”

I got my bachelors’ degree in Secondary Science Education because I loved to dissect, and I got to dissect several human bodies while in college. Yes, I’m one of those people. So, of course, I got my first job teaching math. Yes, math; I happened to take, and pass, the certification test for math when I got certified for science, and voila! I’m a professional who never took a single class in college for the subject he teaches. (Don’t tell my employer.)

So, after teaching four years in a public middle school, chairing the department for two years, and having nothing to do with science, and while we were expecting our second child and moving into a new house, I decided to take the next logical step in climbing the career ladder: I resigned with no prospects. Yep, genius. Actually, I’ve heard several people tout the value of this seemingly illogical step because it forces you to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and your goals, and gives a reason to look for something better instead just treading water. It certainly did all that for me.

Then I took more steps. I was hired by a private school to teach math and science, and after four years, I took, and passed, the certification test for administration, the subject in which I got my Masters’ degree. I was then hired on to the administration, and for two years, I enjoyed stress and opposition hardly to be imagined from people who claimed to have the same belief system I did. It was sometimes hard to accept.

At this point, the next logical step on the career ladder is…that’s right, get fired and stay with the organization. Really. That’s what happened. They booted me out of administration and asked me to be a teacher instead. With 24 hrs to think it over, I decided to feed my family, and went back to the classroom, which was much less stressful at first. After four years, however, I was fired again, on the same day they gave me a trophy for ten years’ faithful service. I didn’t keep the trophy long.

Thinking logically, I found a job at another public district much closer to home, which was more laid back, but also very comfortable, so change wasn’t usually welcome. After a year of teaching middle school science and coaching two girls’ sports for the first time, I was let go to make room for more AP courses in the high school. Do you see where this is going? No? This doesn’t look like an ideal career? What’s wrong with you?

I spent the next year working four part-time jobs: I taught some courses at the local community college, taught part-time at a private high school, tutored students from all grades and levels, and maintained a large yard for a couple from church who couldn’t keep up due to health issues and aging. It was a chance to re-evaluate, and I came up with…God is God, and I’m not. And I’m fine with that. I am very willing to let God lead me to the next step, because…dadgum. How does anyone plan around getting fired unexpectedly, finding no work unexpectedly, getting called unexpectedly, and seeing a bunch of part-time gigs keep your family afloat while God prepares something special? You don’t. You can’t tell where you will be in 5 years, or even in 5 minutes. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan, but don’t plan on just your plan. Expect life to happen, God to redirect, and the results to be beautiful, messy, a little scary, and perfect.

Even with pests and Imaginary Floating Sheep.




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The consistency isn’t perfect

In the grand tradition of the website “cakewrecks.com”, I present…Sign Wrecks. (Dun-dun-duhhh!)

1. “Let’s see: I don’t live near a country store, and I’ve been itching to raise rabbits. I need to get this document notarized, too, and I just don’t have time to make two stops.”

Actual sign in midtown Tulsa: “Rabbits and Notary.” Perfect!

2. “I’m fixin’ to host a pagan sacrifice, but I forgot my supplies. What’ll I do?”

Actual sign near our house: “Firewood and Pigeons.” Perfect!

3. “Aw, man! My buddy’s birthday is today, and he’s always wanted his own squid. And I missed lunch. Where should I…”

Actual establishment in east Tulsa: “Seafood and Gifts.” Perfect!

4. “You know, I hate myself. I’m craving ice cream, but I’m so fat and ugly that I’m going to go to an ice cream store and order a salad, ha! That’ll…um…really hurt…me, or something, because I’ll be eating healthy, and hating it, so that makes me more virtuous, right?”

Actual marquee at an ice cream and dairy store: “Try our new salad.” Perfect!

5. “I can’t decide between a burrito, a burger, a salad, or yogurt. I really need to find a place that makes one of them so appetizing that I’ll be able to prioritize my tastes, and say no to all the others.”

Now, how many fast-food places can you think of that offer all the items listed above? Yep, I can think of several, too. This poor guy; he’ll never be able to make up his mind now. He’s probably the one driving so furiously in the wrong lane with no turn signal…

6. “I need gas for my car, but I also need gas from indigestion, so I’d better find a place that serves sugary, fatty, brightly colored junk food with caffeine and has gasoline.”

Oh, look. A convenience store…Perfect!

7. “My yard needs cutting, but I don’t want a regular lawn service. I want a creative company that isn’t hindered by correct punctuation or meaning, or at least doesn’t edit.”

Actual billboard in midtown Tulsa: Experience the difference “with our lawn care.” Hm. Seems like they might be secretly hiring another lawn care service instead of actually doing the work themselves. Can’t think why they would do that, but at least the misused quotes weren’t around the word “difference.”

8. “I want a burger. No, I want a hot dog fixed by a burger joint. It needs to smell like a burger.”

Actual sign at a regional burger chain restaurant: “Hot Dogs $2.” Perfect!

9. “Oh, no, not Chinese food. Sheesh. I can’t stand all the options, the fried food, the exotic sauces, the variety of seasonings, the desserts, or the all-you-can-eat aspect. (Sigh) But at least they have those little onions.”

Actual marquee at a Chinese buffet: “Pearl Onions.” Perfect!

10. “My car needs an oil change, but it’s getting hefty. Too many additives, I guess. Is there a way to get my car to eat healthy oil?”

Actual sign in front of a car repair shop: “Low carb oil change.” Perfect!

We love our options, don’t we? Me, I’m looking for a sign that says “Take it or leave it.” I want to go somewhere that’s proud of who it is, what it does, and where it stands, and knows it can’t do everything. There is some business you don’t want. I just hope it isn’t mine.

“Thank you, come again.”

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April 2015: sprang fever

“I wanna live where the green grass grows…” But not in our chickens’ house.

I discovered grass growing through all the dirt, poop, pine shavings, and spilled feed on the floor of the Quack Shack, our birds’ shelter. I also found it growing in the dump cart, in a pile of mud and ashes from the burn pile. Now that I think about it, those areas must be pretty fertile. It just isn’t where I expect to find new growth; I expect to find the same poop/seed mix I see most days.

Life can be that way, too. We expect only the same drudgery, mundane, meaningless vanity we slog through each day, but God has other ideas. Suddenly, after what seems an endless, changeless time of repetition, we find growth in ourselves, our spouse, our children, our neighbors, our friends, and our family. God is still at work. Always has been. And He may let us wander in a desert for 40 years, but He will never leave us anywhere indefinitely. That privilege is reserved for His Presence.

My Grandmother has married…again. This is her fourth husband, and a great fit for her. He’s solid financially, spiritually, and physically, and all of her previous husbands were lacking in at least one of those areas. Now, she will be taken care of, more completely than ever before…and both families of relatives rejoice for them both. And it was a good excuse to catch up with relatives that I haven’t spoken to in years, outside of Facebook.

My infrequent sprints through Facebook leave me with the impression that many people seem to expect universal agreement in a given philosophical perspective about any random issue. They must not have kids, or remember going to school, or something, because the posts seem very open and sincere…perhaps a little too much so for the world-wide web. The responses to these posts invariably contain rebuttals with obscure references, statements of the obvious, and contrary rants, as well as scattered cheers and agreement. Perhaps a diary would be more appropriate for private thoughts; maybe they want to pick a fight, or just see what will come pinging back; maybe it doesn’t really matter.

Easter seems to bring out strong feelings from many. I learned in church today that Christianity not only elevated the status of women, but also spawned the humanitarian notion of medical care for the old, deformed, poor, and unwanted, as well as a remarkably unique standard of sexual faithfulness in marriage. Wow! What a good thing for the world that Christ came and started a church that produced these valuable things…

…unless you’re a peddler of porn, a politician in need of a crisis to solve, or a leader in another religion. Every joy is deeply opposed; John Eldridge taught me that. We are born into a world at war. Battle cannot be avoided; sides must be chosen; values must be defended. (Watch “Henry V” Battle of Agincourt scene)…”upon Saint Crispin’s Day!”

That covers a lot of ground…just like the puddles in our yard. See, it’s been raining for days, and since we have mostly clay soil, it doesn’t absorb quickly, even when it’s dry, so we get a swamp for a yard and wading pools in our gravel driveway. Our pond is trying to establish new outposts everywhere, and the puddles are starting to form corporations. I just hope they don’t try to enforce Imminent Domain.

By the way, we don’t own any sheep. You won’t believe me if you come to visit, but it’s true. See, the insects in our inundated yard make noises like a herd of sheep, but no white wool can be found anywhere. Welcome to the Bug Ventriloquist Hour, or the Home of the Floating Invisible Sheep. It makes us want sheep; at least then, we’d get wool, milk, or meat for all the noise we would have to endure. As it is, we get to watch hawks swoop in and catch frogs in our puddles because the mosquito larvae are so numerous that we can support a large frog population in our wet yard. Frogs must be easier to catch than mice.

But we didn’t flood, hallelujah! And I did get to mow most of my yard once so far this year.  And heat and humidity is not necessarily better than cool, rainy Pacific Northwet Weather. (Yes, I left the “s” out on purpose.) But it’s always harder to appreciate what you’ve had for weeks, and easier to pine for what you don’t have…and then complain about it when it comes and wish for the thing you just replaced. Sheesh; we are silly, aren’t we? Thank God for His patience, and the perspective His Spirit helps us cultivate. We learn to see beyond today without trying to figure it out. Peace comes from trust. I need to remember that.

Well, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda, yackity schmackity…I talk a lot. How about if you talk back? Leave a comment, and let me know if you would like more details about anything you read here. Or maybe you want a rant about restaurant menus, or something. I’ll see what I can do. Thanks for reading.


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May, 2015: Drown the Swamp Beast…With a Good Will

It’s storm season in Oklahoma, and the concept of weather prediction is rapidly losing significance. Remember in elementary school, all those months and seasons with cute kids dressed in holiday garb pasted on the walls, so you knew what to expect when? Some restrictions may apply…such as the reality of massive flood-inducing rain for weeks on end during May in the southern Mid-western United States. Our region is famous for droughts recently…and the sudden profligation of earthquakes from drilling for oil…and ice storms, wildfires, and tornadoes. Let’s face it; when other states send their weather men here to learn how to predict the weather, you know it’s hard to do.

For instance, if you had asked me to describe how I prepare for cold-weather mowing, I would have said “What?” Such a thing would have seemed worthless to ponder…until I did it twice in two weeks this spring. Rain and wind dropped the soon-to-be summer temperatures into the 50s, and being wet out in the wind didn’t help. I almost got the mower stuck in the mud, and learned how to fish-tail a riding mower. Yep, I’m that red-neck-ed.

And, if you had added that you needed to know how to take metal cable off of a lawn mower blade, I would told you to turn in your mower driver’s license. Those things are dangerous, and nearly impossible to unwind from…oh, no. Yep. Been there, done that, and if it hadn’t been for Will, who fired up his acetylene torch and shot sparks out from under the mower in question to remove the cable, I’d probably still be there, vainly trying to unwind steel cable from under a riding mower…in the rain, a la Hemingway.

So it seems that trying to make plans based on expectations of previous experience is a losing game in Oklahoma weather. God does like to prevent our lives from being boring, and we should be thankful…

Our ducks are sure loving it. Everything is a puddle or a pond in our yard, now. We are so thankful that all of our garden beds are raised, or we could kiss our crops goodbye. We are also thankful that we have not flooded, nor has our road been closed down. We stood a pretty good chance of both several times recently, as have many others in our area.

Our frogs are loving it, too. More water means more tadpoles and more mosquito larvae to eat. I hope they all eat so much, they explode. Ew. Sorry for that picture. Another gross event happened twice recently: our son shot two mice, one in the basement, and one in our living room under the desk. He’s so much more effective than traps, and much faster than poison. I get a real kick out of saying “Get your gun, son,” to my oldest boy. Of course, then I get to clean it up…but after 5 kids, there just isn’t much that can gross me out anymore. Even the stench of stagnate mud and bird poop in an enclosed space doesn’t…oh, wow. That reeks. That’s our birds’ shelter that we herd them into every night and let them out of every morning, and my second son nearly barfed when feeding them this morning. I don’t blame him a bit. My stomach has taken many years and many leftovers to reach its current strength.

My youngest son seems to have inherited a similar constitution. He eats like he’s double-parked. He has discovered that you sometimes gets second helpings that slow-eaters miss, so the first in line for seconds is my third son, born on the fourth (of March). We have five kids, he’s six years old, and there are seven in our family. That’s gr-eight, not asa-nine, as in-ten-ded. Okay, I’ll stop there. I’m a math teacher, alright? I like numbers.

For instance, take pi (3.14159265…) or e (2.717…); these numbers are considered “irrational” because nobody, in their right mind, would design a number like this. It’s too cumbersome to use; it’s not neat. The decimals go on forever with no discernable pattern and nothing repeating through the whole group. “Rational” numbers either have a pattern of repetition, or they end. We like those. We use them because they are easy. We only use the irrational numbers when we have to, and because God made them and the universe they describe, we do have to use them. There’s no way around them. This, to me, is further proof that God made the universe and math is only discovered, not invented.

Absolute concepts are an affront to moral relativists, atheists/agnostics, and postmodernists because such concepts are knowable, invisible, unchanging, and always true independent of our perceptions. “Nuts! Maybe other kinds of truth are the same way. Maybe everything isn’t relative. Maybe truth can be known for certain. Maybe we can know facts about the invisible world that are more certain that what we know about the visible world. Maybe there has to be a mind behind all the order.” You can see why the area of science most adamant about evolution, and all the moral implications thereof, is the are of science most removed from mathematics: Biology.

I love Biology because it revolves around the most unpredictable, illogical, mysterious beings God ever made: people. So I’m not sure if I became a math teacher to get some order in my biology-intensive life, or if I became a biology teacher to put some excitement into my order-intensive life. Either way, I like the balance that the two disciplines bring to my thinking, and I’m so glad I get to teach them both. God is a god of both the unpredictable and the dependable, isn’t He? Everyone’s life has them both, usually more than we think is comfortable, but to live completely in one of the two areas without the other would never be comfortable to anyone for long. We were made for the rational and the irrational, for the predictable and the surprising, for the sunshine and the (weeks of) rain…blub, blub.

I think I’m glad I live in Oklahoma. I think I’m glad May is almost over, too. God did promise never to flood the earth again, right? Where’s my Bible…

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March 2015: Fussing Feathers, Legos, and Sausages

When I was young(er) and people asked me “What are you gonna be when you grow up?”, I usually didn’t have a definite answer. I still don’t, but “Professional Poultry Butcher” definitely wouldn’t have been on the list. Now, however, I’m rethinking my career choices.

See, our neighbors keep turkeys as pets, and when the females get injured by violent male attention, or eggs get eaten by violently protective females, our neighbor asks me if I want a turkey. I could never say no to free meat, so I accept their offer. The first time I did, I had never dressed a turkey before. I had eaten turkey, and taken all the cuts of meat off of a cooked turkey at meals many times, so I thought ‘how hard could it be?’

Heh, heh. Well, it’s not a piece of cake. But I have had some experience dissecting, so it wasn’t confusing. The hard part was separating the cuts of meat and cleaning up after. My lovely wife helped me sanitize the buckets, knife, table, my boots, pants, gloves, and shirt. Mm-mm: bleach. We weighed the bird, and sans feathers, feet, head, innards, and skin, we froze 36.8lbs of meat and bone. Way cool, man; way cool. God totally provides, dude. Gnarly.

Incongruous? Bizarre? Unexpected? That event probably would have been to most of you. It seemed almost natural to me. My history, my aptitude, and my situation made it so, and God made them what they are. God plans this stuff. He planned it all eons ago, just like tomorrow for me, for you. That’s worth thinking about.

We spent the first Monday of Spring Break on the road, and it was all of the best of a road trip. Everyone was happy, no lost tempers, no discipline issues, didn’t get lost, found some cool places to stop along Route 66, and listened to Shakespearean Star Wars! I highly recommendeth it, prithee. We visited the LEGO store in a mall in OKC, and I have to say, that was worth the trip for us. I do have some questions about what I saw in the mall, however. First, Victoria doesn’t keep anything secret, except the truth that God made marriage to be more satisfying than any picture. Second, seeing two burly, hairy men working the skin-care products store was a little strange. Third, the chocolate store with all white tile must want all the melted chocolate finger smudges to show; perhaps it’s enticing. Nah.

The rest of Spring Break involved a lot of dust, insect parts, dried mud, and moving tubs and boxes around. That’s right – I reorganized the basement/garage. The next big project is putting in a new door to the outside world, and involves masonry, hammer drills, and increased head clearance, hallelujah. When I first mounted a door on the existing wood frame to close up the gaping hole in the basement, my friend Daniel came over to help. He brought all his tools, and I brought all the wood, and after hours of cutting, arguing, measuring, calculating, and then doing it all again, we had a decent door, and still had our friendship. All this was great, but I kept bumping my head on the cross-beam, so I wanted to remove it and make the door taller. He couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. His head fit just fine with inches to spare. I couldn’t make him see it my way, but this time, I’m doing all the work…I think. The door will be taller, or heads will…get bumped, again.

Tonight, we played outside with our kids. They never cease to make me laugh and shake my head in wonder. My son took off his plaid pajama pants (in full view of the neighbors, who wouldn’t care) and put both legs back through one pant leg of his trousers. He then had me put a toy football into the other pant leg and tie it so the ball couldn’t escape. Last, he pulled up the one pant leg he was wearing and began running around the yard, which caused the ball in his other pant leg to thump him continuously on the rump, and other places. There you have it: the self-spanking wee Scottish sausage boy. I bet we could sell action figures, don’t you?

We all laughed so hard, none harder than my son who had done the inconceivable. After a few children, I stopped trying to explain everything they did. It makes life more fun if you leave room for mystery, spontaneity, and randomness, and stop trying to control it all. It’s more fun for you and for your kids, and for all those who are around you and your kids. Well, almost everyone; those people who are still trying to control it all won’t be at ease, but maybe your peace will puzzle them. Maybe enjoying your kids will remind someone that some kids can be enjoyed, and that it’s possible to train them to be that way most of the time. Maybe your kids, enjoyed by you, will wake up someone to the reality of God’s love, peace, and purpose for family. It’s hard to argue with someone’s life.

Especially if they’re a self-spanking wee Scottish sausage boy.

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February, 2015: Time for a Second Look



Time Of YEAR!

Time to break resolutions before the tax documents arrive!

Time to forget doing taxes to watch the Super Bowl!

Time to complain about the weather to avoid doing taxes!

Time to watch hockey because that’s what’s on!

Time to forget Valentine’s Day until Feb 14th’s afternoon, then blow a few grand!

Time to forget which presidents we celebrate on Presidents’ Day…and why.

Time to forget what Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. actually stood for.

Time to forget all the great things the Irish have accomplished because we had too many beers…

Time to plan massively packed itineraries to consume the only week we have off during the spring semester, then complain about how exhausted we are after the time off.

Time to plan activities for Easter, one of the two or three most important holy days in the Church calendar, and decide how to split time between Jesus and the Bunny.

Time to panic about the ACT, college, graduation, finals, and, and, and…!


So…what will you make time for?

What will you honor with your time?

What will get the most valuable possessions you have, your time and attention?

The urgent is loud…but the important is what you will wish you would have done. How easy it is to think only of feelings in the moment, and miss greater moments in the future. Our will to be uncomfortable now translates directly into joy, peace, and relief later. Our indulgence, procrastination, and lethargy now translate directly into guilt and delayed success later. It is hard to hold back when so many comforts are so easily had. It is hard to leave the warm for the cold, wet, and gray. But Spring is coming.

When the world turns green in a week, the animals begin to fire up their engines, and the sun feels warm all day long, we will have energy, ambition, and great dreams. But we will have massive debt, baggage, and regrets, as well, if we are not careful. Success is not an accident. No one builds empires on lottery winnings, buried treasure, or caught Leprechauns. Successful projects and lives are built on discipline, hard work, and God’s direction. So what time is it?

Is it time to go psycho health-nut, eating raw grass and running marathons? Time to pitch out all the electronics, or the sweets, or the stash of whatever? Time to sell it all, move overseas, and adopt every orphan that comes by?

Well…maybe. Maybe that’s what it would take to finally see your life as it is, and not just how it feels. Maybe that would turn your values upside down, and change your habits, and change your destiny.

Maybe it takes something smaller and more difficult. What about turning off the electronics instead of throwing them away? What about eating vegetables instead of sweets? What about loving the children you already have by consistently enforcing boundaries in their lives and modeling submission to boundaries in your own?

Maybe it means training yourself, and then your family, to hold something sacred, to observe a reverent attitude instead of a flippant one.

Maybe you should find out what MLK actually said, and believed.

Maybe you should do the taxes first, and then watch the hockey.

Maybe you should slow down, look around, and just let things settle a little bit. You might be surprised by what you see, perhaps for the first time.

See the selfless resignation of Washington and the massive generosity of Lincoln. See that your wife needs your support at home or a day off more than she needs flowers or candy. See that your elderly neighbor needs a friend, your marriage needs the stability of disciplined spending, and your cravings are a mask for your insecurity that only God Himself can fill.

See the miracle of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, and let Him speak to you about your future.

Investigate the history of the Irish, especially the story of Saint Patrick, God’s messenger to the Irish.

Give thanks for the sunshine, the snow, the warm, and the cold, and know that no storm of life lasts forever.

And maybe, just maybe, Spring Break might be a good time to just…take a break. Unschedule your week, and just let it happen. See what comes into your life and what decides to leave. See what comes into your mind, and what fades away. See what God has planned for you, and let go of trying to figure it all out.

Sometimes a second look makes all the difference. Unless you’re watching hockey.

My daughter just blew a snot-bubble…inside of another snot-bubble. That deserves a second look.

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December, 2014: I can’t believe it’s not weather

I couldn’t believe it was actually happening.

I hung up the phone to begin watering the trees, I heard a soft pinging all over the leaves. It was ice. Tiny ice pellets, denser than snow, but too small to be hail, fell on the ground. And I began to water the trees…during an icing. I had to shake my head; what amazing timing and what a sense of humor our Lord has. :)

During the last 10 days or so, when temperatures have stayed below freezing most of the day and all of the night, our pond has frozen rather thoroughly. The surface ice was so thick, we walked on most of it for several days. We chipped out a chunk more than 2 inches thick. It was (literally) hard…to believe.

My children pulled each other on snow discs across the pond. When they looked at what they could see under the ice, they found two turtles and the largest frog I’ve ever seen in the wild. All of them were moving, so I guess we’ll see (and hear) them in a few months when things thaw out.

Since we didn’t have any real snow on the ground Sunday night, we improvised indoors with some cloth and rubbery artificial snowballs. We threw them around for part of the Sunday night class for 5th and 6th graders my wife and I help to teach. It was fun. They were lighter than real snow, and didn’t hurt a bit, but they were harder to aim, so we missed. A lot. I had never seen any substance like them. I couldn’t believe you could make artificial snowballs that were similar to the real thing.

Our kids couldn’t believe the new chore packs system we began implementing this week. Each child has a lanyard with a plastic case, in which are slipped the cards for all their chores for that day. They can’t go do their own thing until all chores are completed for that time of day, and we have the master list for reference. So far, so good. Although there are few bugs. Our bed won’t get made until next week, and one of our kids doesn’t have to vacuum as much as the others, but that’s okay, right? Honey?

Our newest addition, Livie, has become fascinated with faces. She wants to touch them, but it’s kind of iffy whether she will gently caress, or claw madly, or shove a finger in whatever opening she can find. She’s cute, but a little dangerous if you aren’t prepared. She can’t believe her new friend…in every mirror she sees. They have the best time. :)

I had a hard time believing that my children could beat me at geography, although to be fair, they had played this particular game more than I had. My son bested me at South American countries, but I took North America in straight sets. We’ll have to have a rematch, maybe in Europe. Neither of us will win Asia or Africa; there’s just too many countries without distinctive shapes to keep track of them all correctly. It should be fun. It’s kind of rewarding to see your children passing you up, going beyond you, and succeeding more than you did. I hope it is for you.

I know you just won’t believe this, but I entered…a beard-growing contest! Yep, I know my whiskers just barely show up…after a day, and that my smooth face stays smooth for almost a few hours before you can feel the fuzz returning, but what the hey, I thought. Let’s have some fun with it. I have yet to hear what the prize is for winning, so I’m not paying the entry fee until I hear that the prize is worth it. This is one area where I absolutely refuse to lose money by winning. I guess I hold the same position in other areas, too…

I have such a fun job. I was assigned to turn some old pumpkins into compost, and a hatchet was suggested as an appropriate tool. Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Just call me Slashing Pumpkins, Jack-o-lantern the Ripper, or Jack the Pumpkin Shredding King, cause I had the best time destroying those gourds. They were frozen, too. I know that’s just not believable, especially in January, but take my word for it. The scavengers would have to be pretty desperate to eat these things.

Later, when temperatures warmed up to 60+ degrees, and I was outside, I caught myself wondering if I should put on suncreen…in January! I laughed out loud at that thought. But this is Oklahoma, where you always take what you need if the temperature goes way up, way down, or rains, because it just might before you get home again. Our weather is very independently minded. Or just plain rebellious; we’re not sure exactly how to describe it.

We accept it, though, just as it is. I suppose most people in most places are the same about their weather. We know we can’t change it, we know it will be better than someone else’s for part of the year, and we know all locations on this planet have weather challenges. It strikes me that this is a good reminder of our life in Christ while on this earth.

We know every Christ follower has trouble, wherever they live, whatever their situation. We know life with Christ brings amazing blessings and memorable difficulties. We know we can’t change Him, but knowing we must change according to Him. Eventually, we accept Him as He is, knowing He has accepted us as we are. We go into each day aware that circumstances and attitudes can swing high or low suddenly, and that we must make preparations for both. So it seems that living in Oklahoma’s weather can help prepare me for a life with Christ. I wonder what your home is doing for your life? God designed it to do something good, I bet. Send your Oklahoma brethren word of your adventures by leaving a comment, and see how easily we believe your impossible stories. Hey, we believe that Oklahoma weather is predictable, right?

And then we butchered a turkey. Really. See you next post.

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