The most important thing in life (hint…it’s not medicine)

Every year, in May, we take a beach vacation. Because we home-school, our schedule is a little bit more flexible, so we can enjoy the coast before the masses descend. This year, however, was special. I worked a lot of extra shifts over the winter. Furthermore, now that I do locums I write my own schedule in whatever way I like. We had long wanted to stay on vacation for more than a week, and this year our wish came true. We planted our winter-weary, school-sick, work-fatigued selves at the beach for three glorious weeks.

Frankly, we didn’t quite know what to do. In past years we rushed to fill our time, and we watched the weather to be sure we could enjoy every second in the sun. We ate out more and we sat still less. We vacationed frantically, you might say.

While our time together was finite this year, we did not feel it press so close upon us. And so we slept late and cooked our meals in our rented house. We played games until late in the evening and we biked as much as we could to as many places as possible (only coming close to heat exhaustion once).

It being May, and the Atlantic, the water was cool but not cold. The sand was a hot blanket and the pool was heated and our bodies began to come alive with warmth and plenty of Vitamin D. We were tanned and lean from exercise; not fatter as our evening ice-cream should have made us. And we were happy, together, as all families are meant to be. In fact, that trip was a little like my image of heaven, in which the good things go on and on but never become mundane or boring; a place where love precludes any annoyance or frustration, and the same delightful cycle of rest and play is forever untarnished. Time stopped a while at Hilton Head this Spring, and it felt as if our lives floated in a magical suspension of one reality, replaced with a higher reality of life at its very best.

However, one of the best things about the trip, one of the most powerful gifts and realizations, came when Jan sagely reminded me of a fascinating fact. Since I started residency and we were newlyweds, this trip was the first time we had slept together in the same bed all night, for three continuous weeks, in 24 years. Between night shifts and travel and shifts ending at one or two or three in the morning, we had often missed the intimate comfort that comes from sleeping together through the night.

It is the price of a career in our specialty. Despite the assertions of specialists who always seem surprised at late night and early morning consults, we know that people are sick and people die at all hours. And the consequence of that fact is that someone always has to be up and available. And as noble as it is, that reality extracts much from our lives as flesh and blood humans, who crave sleep and touch. Humans who can endure loneliness but do not enjoy it for long.

All of us are proud of our work and our dedication. Proud that we can wake from a nap on a dime and make obscure diagnoses, or intubate at 4 am after sewing a lip back together. Proud that we can go for hours on Pop-Tarts and coffee, or whatever other heinous concoction does the trick. And our spouses are proud of us, as we are of their courage and fortitude when we are away.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. And from my own perspective, I have a very real sense that none of it is the way it was meant to be. Death and sickness are as wrong as sleeping apart from my wife. It’s a thing to ponder. And if you, dear reader, can find a way to never leave the side of your love in the watches of the night, I encourage you to think long and hard. It would be a precious gift. Alas, for most of us it is almost impossible. But we can dream.

When we left the beach, it was not really with sadness. (There was, admittedly, some brief anger as we tried to close the luggage carrier in the pouring rain.) Rather, we left with the joy and rested hearts that always come when we rediscover love and simplicity; when we rediscover one another. We were ready to leave, I suppose. The children (rather, the teens) were filled with joy when we returned to our hillside home, nestled in a jungle of Blue Ridge foliage, overgrown from weeks without resistance from humans and our machines. And they were very clear: they missed their mountains, for all that the beach was grand. When you’re born from two West Virginians, you have a gene for mountain grandeur, to be sure.

Returning home we petted the dogs and cats and sifted through long neglected mail. The kids reconnected with friends and summer began in earnest. And for two more nights, before I was off again, my wife and I slept side-by side in the last remaining days of vacation; listening to one another breath in the wee hours and holding hands.

I think we should all pause, now and then, to spend lavish amounts of time together. And if that means making less, owning less, or signing up for one less committee, one less project, it’s probably worth it. Because our life is far more wonderful, far more precious than shifts and payrolls, schedules and papers.

So if you want to glimpse heaven, leave it all behind for longer than normal. Lie on the sand or climb the mountains or do whatever you and yours find best. But be careful. It might change your life forever, as you rediscover the fact that for all its wonder, medicine is not the most important thing in your life.

Not even close.

Orbit little worlds. A poem about my children.

Here’s a poem of mine from many years ago, resurrected today on Throw Back Thursday at the ACEP Medical Humanities Section website.

I hope you enjoy!  All my little planets are much older now, but still they stay in orbit one around the other as kids who, rather than disdaining their siblings, treasure them.  I remain their archivist and astronomer…and always will be.

https://www.facebook.com/ACEPMedicalHumanitiesSection/posts/793826510648122

 

Orbit little worlds

Spin around and spin around

and hold each other tight,

spin in giggling circles

with your smiles starry bright;

hold your hands together

and fall upon the floor

laughing little brothers

I am watching from the door.

Up you go and spin some more

in orbits sure and strong,

your gravity grows tighter

though you won’t be little long.

So little planets, orbit on,

through your starry space,

and save a place for sister

for you soon will see her face.

A little moon I think she’ll be,

fair in sparkling skies,

and I will be a star-gazer,

with wonder in his eyes.

For never have the worlds aligned

so perfect, true and bright

that I could watch the worlds I love

then touch and hold them tight.

To sleep, perchance to dream: of CHF, OD’s and PE

This is my column in the July edition of Emergency Medicine News.  It’s my way of trying to put to words what we all feel during our night shifts, when morning seems an eternity away.  Rest well, my friends, whenever you can!

http://journals.lww.com/em-news/Fulltext/2014/07000/Second_Opinion__To_Sleep,_Perchance_to_Dream__of.9.aspx

Tonight I will sleep in bed, all night, with my wife. The hours will pass in pleasant dreams, wrapped in a blanket, warm beside my darling. We are on vacation, and our teenage children will be sleeping in their beds as well; after they have watched enough bizarre videos on YouTube and eaten all the chips in the house.

But as I sleep, many of you, my dear colleagues, will be wading through the morass of the night. I still work nights, here and there. And once upon a time, I worked nights full time. But those days are thankfully gone. Nevertheless, I remember. I remember what it means to work at night. And I remember that sometimes, it seems that the night will never end. It’s hard to explain it to anyone who hasn’t lived the experience. But I know. And maybe you can share this with them, so that they will also understand.

I remember hot summer nights when I came to work and walked through a parking lot that looked more like field of tail-gaters before the Clemson-Carolina game. Sitting on the beds of trucks, smoking in open car-doors with music playing as toddlers in only diapers climbed around the seats eating french-fries, the unwashed masses seemed to find solace in the red glow of the ER sign. Their assorted illnesses mere pretext for the grand social event of the evening.

‘Hey doc, get in there and hurry things along, will ya?’ I’d smile and cringe.

Once inside the door, someone, a registration clerk or triage nurse would always say the lines I hated most. ‘If I were you, I’d leave.’

‘If I could don’t you think I would?’ I would respond. And inside, filling rooms and lining the hallways, would be the contents of my night. Typically, my cross-covering partner would be up to his or her gluteus in large reptiles, and spend the next two or three hours trying to clean up messes. So I would wade right in and begin.

There was always some chest pain, young and old; high risk and low. And some that began with ‘I was really upset and had this pain after my wife and me got into a fight.’ There was also the young woman who passed out, and the old man with CHF. Most nights would include the screaming girlfriend of the loser of some fight, his chest slashed open, or his face caved in by someone’s fist.

Some patient would have a hip fracture and one would have an overdose and one would just want to die but be angry about being held, and in the midst of it all would lurk a very nice, very tolerant patient with something horrible; a subarachnoid hemorrhage or a pulmonary embolus.

And to cap it off, several would just need their chronic illnesses evaluated, whether weakness or numbness, or strange bump under the skin. (Mayo clinic having failed miserably to elucidate the cause.) And without fail, there would be a multi-layer closure to be performed because Jim Bob or Mary Sue became so drunk that they fell and split open their scalp or lip.

All of this would build and build until about 3 am, when things would seem to slow down. However, the next four hours would be devoted to the sorting out and disposing of the night’s dramas and traumas. Although peace was not a certainty, and the waning shift was sometimes punctuated with mundane requests for narcotics, or with those terribly injured in a roll-over accident, their swimsuits still sparkling from the Mica in the creek where they had been swimming.

Even before the advent of EMR, charts needed to be completed, by hand or by dictation. And since I was usually alone after 1 am, I would be the one to close that complex lip, reeking of Jim Beam. Between all of the disparate complaints, it was imperative that I not fail to read a c-spine or collate the results of all of the CT heads, CT abdomens, CT angio’s, EKG’s and serial troponin levels.

As night crawled on, there were annoyed consultants to query, transfers to arrange, admissions to sell and family members to contact. There were police officers who needed their ‘clientele’ cleared and sadly, sometimes, there were coroners to contact and death certificates to sign.

But the remarkable and reproducible aspect of it all was the way that time lurched to a stop. Once, when we went off of Daylight Savings, we kept moving the clock back to 2 am to torture a young nurse. ‘This night is never going to end!’ she said, as we laughed. But how right she was!

Nights always lingered, and as my mind slowed, and the paperwork piled up, I wanted nothing so much as another pair of hands, or eyes; another person to help chart, or just to see the 5 am ectopic work-up, or the 6 am wrist laceration.

I recall looking outside, past the ambulance bay doors, wondering if dawn would ever come, and thinking that if it didn’t, I must surely have died and gone to eternal punishment. When that fatigue arrived, no caffeine, no snack, no nurse MacDonald’s run, nothing helped. When your mind is a fog, when it’s an absolute effort of will to see the patient, do the procedure and then document all of it. When nothing, nothing in all the world, is better than ten minutes, face down on the desk with eyes closed and sleep instantaneous; sheer joy until the next nurse question, x-ray tech call, or ‘chest pain in room 9.’

I don’t miss those full-time nights. And even though I still do one here and there, I hope to do them less and less. And more than that, I hope that one day medicine will evolve in such a way that we don’t have to risk our patients, and ourselves, with the very real danger of pure exhaustion in the never-ending misery of the night, where fatigue meets necessity, where human limits meet unlimited human need.

Because as I go off to bed, I can say that nights are meant to be enjoyed, not merely endured. Sweet dreams..

Modeling sexuality for your kids. My post at the dadmatters blog, Focus on the Family

I’m honored to be featured at the dadmatters blog!  Here’s my post on modeling sexuality for your kids in their teenage years.

http://dadmatters.focusonthefamily.com/how-to-model-light-hearted-sexuality-for-your-kids/

My wife and I have tried to be very intentional in discussing sexuality with our children. We’re homeschoolers, so of course every discussion is a mini-class. (Homeschooled kids recognize this phenomenon and come to expect it…even if they roll their eyes.)

But we ‘took it to the next level’ a few years ago, around the time that our church youth-group had a weekend retreat on sexuality, complete with college-aged counselors and videos, as well as STD photos supplied by Dr. Dad. Our boys were in the youth, scattered between middle and high school. Our daughter was in grade-school, but all ears at all times.

Thus it was that even she was involved in some discussions of sex. Jan is a very good educator, and also a trained counselor, so it was natural for her to include our little girl in the talks, albeit at an age-appropriate level.

So over the next few days, our little princess would often stop her brothers and ask the following question: ‘Are you going to have the sex? I think I’ll have the sex, because the sex sounds interesting.’ Brother one, red-faced, would run away. Next victim. ‘How about you? Will you have the sex?’ Repeat with second and third brothers, with varying responses, like hands over ears and yelling ‘lalalalala.’

They would plead with us: ‘mama, papa, PLEASE make her stop it!’ To princess it was just another day of inquiry. To her brothers it was sheer torture. Frankly, my wife and I had a great laugh about the sibling interaction on ‘the sex.’

But it illustrates the point that run as they may, children will confront sexuality. And as fathers and mothers who want to model Godly relationships, we have a duty to explain it and prepare them for their own futures as sexual beings.

So we have discussed it, in terms physiologic, relational and spiritual. Over the years, we have tried to explain to our children the boundaries within which their sexuality must function. If the world wants to teach us anything, it’s the propaganda that unhindered, unfettered sexuality is the only way it can be ‘true’ or ‘natural.’ We all know that for the lie it is; and research is quite clear on the issue. From staggering rates of STDs, to the very real fact that sexual satisfaction is greater in marriage than outside of it, science shows us the falsehood of ‘popular wisdom.’

So the kids have heard all of it, in one way or another. All are now teenagers, from 13 to 19. They know what the Bible says about sex and they know, from numerous ‘lectures,’ about issues like disease and infidelity, and even the importance and joy of having children. That we have been successful is evidenced by their discussions: ‘my kids will be way smarter than your loser kids!’ And it’s confirmed by the way they recognize bad relationships and inappropriate sexuality on television and in movies.

However, we aren’t done. The older guys may be weary of lectures, but we can still influence them. Good, loving parents never stop teaching…or at least advising, since we are always trail-blazers for the futures of our children. So in my opinion, the best thing we can do is model affection for our children.

We’ve always done it. My wife and I hold hands. We embrace frequently, we kiss in front of the children. They see the way our emotional love, and our verbal expressions, are modeled in our physical behavior. To use theological terms, our love is incarnate in our embrace, and in the smiles that we exhibit when we are together.

Teenagers are cynical by nature, and even Christian teens can become jaded by diabtribes, and by the endless chain of sappy pamphlets and poorly executed videos on abstinence. We have to be careful. But they pay attention to the examples we set. They watch closely for hypocrisy; if I said I loved their mother but was distant and cold, they would take note. And if we told them that they should wait because marital sex was the best sex, but then we never exhibited any connection or romance as a couple, they would get the message.

So here’s my Dad advice: if we want our children to believe in waiting, to believe in sex within marriage as the right way to express their sexuality, to look forward to that time, then we have to model affection, touch and passion. We have to laugh and play with one another, to make the marriage relationship look like a delightful, wonderful thing to be emulated. We have to flirt, and speak to one another in a way that suggests our attraction. I commonly say (and mean it), ‘You look beautiful honey!’ Or my wife might say, ‘there’s my fine-looking man!’ Then, the children see that the boundaries we teach about sex will enclose a promised land of green pastures, rather than a barren land of boredom.

Oh, and one more thing. To have a little fun, and keep them off guard, don’t neglect to joke. Sexuality, like faith, has to have a light-hearted side. Here was one I recently tried. I had been playing Wii with the kids, after their mother was in bed. I turned to them and said: ‘You know, sometimes when you aren’t here, your mom and I play strip bowling.’ The look on their faces was AWESOME!

Due to the behaviors Jan and I model, and the words we share, I believe our children have learned that sexuality in marriage is an inestimable gift, a thing which welds a couple together. And a thing that makes waiting worthwhile.

Even if is their ‘gross’ parents teaching them the lesson.

Let’s not devalue mothers this Mother’s Day.

This was my column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful mothers out there!

Let’s not devalue mothers this Mother’s Day.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/05/10/devalue-mothers/8919973/

Women today have choices about their future careers.  There’s hardly a field where women aren’t prominent, and that’s a wonderful testament to the diversity of our culture. But often, when a young woman states that her goal is to be a mother, there’s a kind of disappointment leveled by others.  ‘Do you mean after you go to school and have a career?  I mean, don’t you want to accomplish something?  For you?’

I understand.  Everyone has dreams and goals, plans for greatness.  And the friends and family of these future mothers have their best interests in mind.  They don’t want their loved ones to subvert themselves and give all of their efforts and talents, all of their youth to someone else.  And yet…

Who among us does not?  In a very real way, most of us are ‘ancillary.’  I think about myself and my fellow physicians.  We are not the end purpose of medicine.  We’re here to allow everyone else to stay healthy and navigate illness and injury, in order to go back to their families, friends and jobs.  We succeed to the extent that they need us less and less as they grow stronger and more robust.

The same is true in business.  If our young woman, with dreams of motherhood, should climb the corporate ladder first, well good for her!  But for whom is she climbing? First of all for her supervisors, maybe later for the board of directors (all of it financially rewarding, we hope) and in the end, even if she is CEO, she works for whom?  Her customers and clients.

Do teachers accomplish their great works for themselves?  They may find their work rewarding, but they teach so that children can move off into the world and find their own work, their own families and lives, can support themselves…usually by working for others.

Women in the military serve the nation.  Women in higher academia serve the future of the institutions, their academic disciplines and their students.  Hard working women in small businesses or large serve the ‘customer,’ who is always right.  And in public service, police, fire, EMS or others, heroic women serve the good of the public at large.

As artists, whether in music, visual arts or literature, women may be very independent, but they still hope to please critics and buyers, and hope to advance the quality and expression of their particular art media.

So I wonder, if a woman says that she wants to stay home and raise children, why is that somehow a lower path in so many minds?  That woman, who may or may not have worked for any of the industries or groups I’ve listed (a small sample of the whole) will turn her attention to caring for, serving the children she bears or adopts.  They will be her customers (although not always right), her public, her industry, her small nation, her medium of expression.

The markers of her success will be theirs. Their health and happiness, their ability to care for themselves as adults, their entry into the world and into their own families. Those will be the metrics by which she will judge success or failure.  And in some cases, when children are very ill or disabled, their comfort will be the product she produces for years…or for a lifetime.  This isn’t just emotion.  The intact family is a very clear and validated predictor of future health and success for children.

I’m not in any way suggesting that women who work are failing their children; not at all.  I’m saying that motherhood is more than cribs, cuddles and laundry, diapers, mini-vans and soccer practice.  It’s too easy to reduce it to a set of visual cliches, so commonly attributed to motherhood in our society.  What I mean is that motherhood is not a lesser path, or a mere supporting role.  There are no mere supporting roles, for we almost all support someone, work for someone, help someone or produce for someone.  Even the President is a servant of the people.

But the role of mother, in developing the children of the nation, is foundational.  And her work, for work it is, is essential to the future of the nation and the well-being of our citizens.

So when young women choose that path, at reasonable ages, with husbands and sufficient financial resources, we ought to encourage them.  Motherhood, you see, is a choice the world cannot afford to devalue.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Good people, please have babies!

Good people, please have babies!

My column in today’s Greenville News.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20140330/OPINION05/303300012/Ed-Leap-Consider-having-babies?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7COpinion%7Cs&nclick_check=1

Good people, please have babies!

 When our children were small, it was common for older men and women to walk up to us and say ‘what a beautiful family!  Enjoy every second, because they grow up so fast!’ We were always appreciative, thanked them and stored away their insight.

Now I find myself doing much the same thing. I see fathers, mothers and children in airports or hotels, in restaurants or shopping centers (or the ER) and I remember the sheer, frantic joy of it all.  The endless efforts to keep them safe, herd them from place to place, feed them, bathe them and finally tuck the little darlings into bed. I recall, almost tangibly, the delight of collapse as Jan and I fell into each other’s arms and began snoring…only to wake immediately at cries of distress.  (Or be scared into cardiac arrhythmia by the child that always liked to stand at our bedside in the dark and stare until we noticed him. Everybody has that kid.)

Now ours are older.  (Not gone, mind you…our youngest is only 13 and her brothers 14 , 17 and 19…they’re still children, do you hear!)  But I’m old enough to look with wonderful perspective at the families around me.  Therefore, I can only say this to young married couples.  ‘Have babies!’

It’s funny. My wife’s father was one of 17 children, and my grandparents came from large clans.  Jan was one of four.  But our family of four was deemed far too large by many people we encountered.  A common refrain was, ‘you’re a doctor, don’t you know what causes that?’  Or the ever popular, ‘don’t you two ever watch tv?’  (A. yes, we know.  B.  TV is much less interesting than the alternatives.)

We aren’t alone. I’ve talked to many couples who dared to have more than one or two children, but who were met with shock and surprise.  And some who were met with cruelty and unkind remarks about overpopulation.  (Which, by the way, is quite the opposite of the real problem in most of the first world, which is rapidly de-populating; Japan sold more adult than infant diapers last year.)

It’s a pity that children are viewed by so many as a problem, rather than a blessing.  It’s a pity, as recently suggested in a Time Magazine column, that pregnancy is treated as pathology in sex education courses.  In fact, those courses should cover both contraception and the proper timing, finances and expectations for those young people who actually want to have children.  It’s a shame that people who decide to choose children over career advancement are seen as somehow unbalanced and unmotivated, when the very future of the country depends on their children.

The nation depends on their children working, contributing, paying taxes, serving in times of crisis and adding their own genius to the future.  Their successes and failures as parents will determine how much money we bleed as a nation in order to try and repair the consequences of inadequate families: consequences like drug addiction, poverty and criminality which are clearly associated with poor family structure.

A country without enough children is doomed, in the same way that a church without a playground, or a children’s ministry, will too soon be a place of successive funerals until someone puts up the offering plates and turns off the lights for the final time.

Furthermore, in this world there has to be some balance.  So, I also tell young couples, ‘good people need to have children.’  And their children need good people to marry. And the kids from bad family situations, born into hopelessness and struggle and abuse, well, they need good people to marry as well. The cycle has to be broken.

Of course, we reasonably say that young people should wait until they are mature enough for children.  And I certainly agree, up to a point.  Even though that first dog as a couple may help a couple to learn to share responsibilities, it isn’t enough. Ultimately, we’re never ready until we do it.  Children raise us, leading us from selfishness to selflessness.  They also serve as a common goal, a shared struggle for parents, fusing a man and a woman further and further into one entity and leading them ever deeper into the meaning and power of love.

So I repeat:  have babies.  It’s good for the country and good for you.  But enjoy them:  after all, they grow up so fast!

We all teach our children (what we think is important)

My column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  A little background:  I am always fascinated by the popular assertion that those who are religious invariably ‘shove religion down the throats of their kids.’  While some probably do, I would assert that everyone has that potential.  An environmentalist can shove environmentalism and a social liberal can shove progressivism and the list goes on.  But more important, as you’ll read, what good parents do is teach the things they consider valuable, healthy, promising, hopeful.  Things for the good of their children and that the parent believes will make their futures brighter.  I hope you find it interesting, and share it widely!

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20140309/OPINION05/303090002/We-all-teach-our-children?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|s

My children have grown up in the church.  Doubtless, in part because of their exposure to Christianity, they are Christian.  However, they’re teenagers all four, so sometimes it’s hard to tell what they believe. Sometimes, their mother and I wonder if they weren’t secretly raised by wolves. (But that’s another discussion for another day.)  Nevertheless, they have been immersed and bathed in Christian scriptures, Christian worship, Christian doctrine and Christian culture from infancy.

They’re so thoroughly Christian that they actually have the capacity to laugh about their beliefs and the people who share them.  (My sons have quoted GK Chesterton, who said ‘It is a test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.’) Not only so, they routinely ask us hard questions about what we all believe and why we should.  I have always encouraged this behavior. I believe it improves, rather than degrades, belief.

Nevertheless, many people consider what my wife and I have done to our children to be indoctrination. They say, to use a popular phrase, that people like us are ‘cramming religion down the throats of our children.’  What those folks believe is that a child should not be forced to embrace a particular set of beliefs or values.

Obviously, a kind of negative indoctrination can happen in families and can be quite dangerous. Indoctrination by bad parents can lead children to accept abuse as normal, to confuse poor thinking with good thinking or drug use with normal coping skills.

But ‘indoctrination’ can also mean ‘to fully instruct in fundamentals or rudiments.’  As such, let me suggest that every good, loving parent indoctrinates his or her children in what that parent considers important.  And while it’s very post-modern and tolerant to say, ‘I don’t tell my children what to believe; I want them to grow up and decide for themselves,’ it really isn’t the way humans raise their young.

For example, if our children ask us, ‘what about cheating on my wife, dad, is that OK?’  We don’t expect parents saying ‘well, son, that’s up to you. I’m not going to cram my morals down your throat.  Decide for yourself.’  Or if they say, ‘mom, I’m thinking about being a corporate cheat and embezzling money for a career.  How about it?’  Mom doesn’t say, ‘honey, that’s entirely up to you.  I’m not here to judge your beliefs and I’ll support you whatever you do.’

What about the environment?  Modern urban parents would faint dead away at the suggestion they should say to their kids,  ‘Pollute or not, my darlings; I can’t force you to accept my values!’  Anymore than they would suggest that their children choose a diet of their preference, to include thrice daily milk-shakes and nachos.  Nor would they say, ‘well, my little ones, seat-belts are something your mother and I believe in, but we aren’t going to judge you if, as adults, you decide they aren’t for you.’

And how about intolerance?  ‘Kids, if people are different and you want to hate them for it, it’s your call.  I’m not going to cram my beliefs (doctrines, that is) down your throats.  I respect you too much for that.’

In fact, every parent who loves a child will teach them, even to some extent indoctrinate them, in the things that parent deems relevant and important; and especially those things which prolong life and give meaning.  Whether it has to do with personal health, social interactions or moral values, it isn’t just people of faith who teach the kids what to believe.

The Lenten season is upon us.  In our house, we teach the kids that the single most important events in history were the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.   My wife and I believe that those events changed the world, transformed human hearts, and that they have both explanatory power and positive effects on the lives of believers and the world at large.  And we believe that those events, so long ago, have consequences in both time and eternity.

But the fact that we teach those things does not mean we are ‘cramming religion’ down the kids throats.  It means we’re doing our best to teach them what we consider true, good and valuable.

And that’s no different from anyone else, religious or not.

 

 

 

Heroism means discomfort

My post at this week’s Girls Just Wanna Have Guns.

http://girlsjustwannahaveguns.com/2014/01/heroism-means-discomfort-pansies-never-hero/

 Heroism means discomfort

 

One of the things that has become obvious to me about carrying a concealed firearm is that it can be, quite honestly, uncomfortable.  Sure, after some experimentation it becomes easier.  But it requires adjustment in attire, it requires attention to how the weapon may be seen when moving.   And while I was always a ‘gun in the glove-box’ guy, I don’t have years of experience with daily carry.  However, I’m learning.  And what I have observed is that in the end, it is perhaps best that the weapon always be a little annoyance to me. That its presence is not so comfortable that it is ignored.  It makes me vigilant.  And it serves to remind me of the fact that those who choose to confront danger and evil have always, and will always, endure discomfort.

Mind you, I’m not trying to hold myself out as any sort of hero.  But those who are heroes, they endure.  Those who provide for our nation, who protect our nation, their lives are seldom things of comfort and ease.  Whether fighting the Taliban in the cold, mountain reaches of Afghanistan or struggling with drug cartels in the heat of our Southern border, whether patrolling the skies or the seas or your neighborhood, the men and women who protect us endure difficult training, long, tiresome hours and danger.  Their equipment is heavy and their bodies always weary and sore. A concealed firearm is an annoyance, but rifle, ammo, communications gear, first aid kit, water, body armor, helmet…all of it combines to wear heavily on those who need it in their daily work.

The same is true of those who fight fires or work in EMS, whose training is also long and arduous at times.  Their gear weighs them down as they pour water onto conflagrations or wear oxygen to rescue others from smoke filled rooms; or their patients weigh them down as they carry them down twisting stairwells and stop along the way to do CPR and shock hearts back into rhythm.

And lest we forget,  discomfort is often the daily lot of those who provide energy and material for our collective use. Coal-miners, Oil rig workers and those in the barren petroleum and natural gas fields of North Dakota or West Texas, all of them work or live in sparse conditions and perform dangerous tasks to give us what we need as a nation.  Their sacrifices are seldom considered by those who tap away at tablets in comfortable, warm apartments, disdaining those who work and risk to provide their food, fuel, electricity and products.  The wind and rain, snow and heat, the many hazards endured by hard working people are worth remembering.

To a much lesser extent, I learned it in medicine.  Medical school and residency were times of pressure and fatigue; sometimes exhaustion.  And for those who practice at all hours, who are available for the difficult, violent, drunk, sick and dying, medicine is uncomfortable.  But there is a pride in that as well.

The fact that men and women desire comfort is not some special sign of the times.  We always have.  But it is more accessible now.  Despite the troubles of our nation, we live in an era of ease unprecedented in history.  (Whether it will last is quite another question.)

The problem is that we continually forget that discomfort of some form or anothe is the price of greatness, goodness, honor and preparedness.  And it is something we must pass along to the next generation of citizens, lest we have a drought of heroes.

It is all too easy to sit back and let others do the hard lifting. But whatever we do professionally, whether dangerous or not, life has moments for us to face discomfort with courage.  Marriage has its difficulties and discomforts as we sacrifice our own happiness or safety for the ones we love. Certainly parenthood does.

Mothers and fathers who love truly and deeply know that there is absolutely no discomfort or danger that they would not face for the good of their sons and daughters.  There is a kind of heroism there as well.  Particularly in this age of extended adolescence and child-men, I would have every father pass on to his son the value of discomfort.  Whether starting your wife’s car on a cold morning or crawling under the house to fix a burst pipe; whether dealing with the stinging creatures in the house or rocking the sick child all night, those difficulties define us as men.

And it goes without saying, or should, that the discomfort attendant to learning to protect his family from the wolves of the world is a difficulty every man should embrace with the same passion with which young knights embraced their swords.

The world is full of easy things, comfortable things, battles fought and adventures taken in a virtual, electronic world, enjoyed from the comfort of our couches or beds.  But to survive as a nation, as a civilization, some men and women (hopefully more than less) will have to continue to bear discomfort for the good of all.

And it’s true from the Air Force Combat Controller all the way down to the father who defends his family with his wits or fists.  Without the willingness to endure difficulty and decline ease, we simply won’t, simply can’t, survive as a nation.

Teens or adults, we’re all works in progress! (My recent Greenville News column)

Teen or parent, we’re all works in progress

 

Do you have a teenager?  Do you know a teenager?  Were you a teenager?  If so, and it’s pretty much everyone reading this column, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that teens are, to paraphrase Pascal, ‘both wretched and glorious.’

Now, I love my children, no matter what age they might be.  From the moment I held the first in my arms, and with each subsequent child my wife bore to me, I was awash in love.  I was full of love to the point of exploding.  And I have loved every stage of their development from day one.

But this teenage thing, well it’s different.  Please understand that I don’t love them one iota less. But when those teen years came around, things begin to change.  They aren’t harder to love…just harder to be around at times; and at other times more charming than at any point in their lives to date! And they certainly don’t need less love or attention.  If anything, they need more.

However,when kids become teens they cease to be simple poems to enjoy and become riddles and enigmas to their parents and to themselves.  They are physical challenges as they grow out of everything and eat whatever holds still.  (And can no longer be wrestled to the ground as easily.) And they become challenges emotionally, as they become, little by little, the adults they are born to be.  And this, I suspect, is where the problem lies. In their increasing need to be themselves, think for themselves and learn to make their own decisions.

See, I don’t mind being thrown to the ground or losing an arm-wrestling match. But I find it difficult when I can’t explain to a teen why they should or shouldn’t do a thing, believe a thing or go to a particular place.  It’s sometimes a challenge to explain that I actually know more about a problem or an issue than they do.  Perhaps because it’s hard to articulate experience to a young person who hasn’t much of it.  And it may be, in part, because young people believe that their electronic access to all the world’s knowledge makes them smarter than anyone!  Here’s a common exchange in our house:

 

Me:  I just think that’s a bad idea…trust me.

Them:  Yes, but I just read several studies online that said it was OK.

Me:   I know, but that’s not been my experience, so let’s talk about it some more and let’s consider the study and, well, no because I said so!

 

That seldom goes well.  Most of us hated that answer from our parents.  The thing about our teens is this:  they’re sometimes difficult or stubborn because they’re supposed to be.  They owe us respect but they’re learning to think and decide for themselves. They’re living in an information tsunami, and struggling with their expanding minds and changing physicality. And frankly, if they didn’t question us from time to time, that would probably be a bigger problem than the questions themselves.  And worst of all, and it’s hard to embrace this, sometimes…(lean closer, it’s a secret)…sometimes the kids are right and we’re wrong!  Don’t let that get out, OK?

But here’s the other thing to remember.  I was thinking about this one day and sort of said, in a half prayer, ‘Lord, why don’t they just do what I say?’  And He said to me, with what must have been a smile, ‘son, why don’t you just do what I say?’  I responded, ‘but I’m their dad, and I know more than they do, and they should trust me and…’  And he waited a second and said, ‘think about it…wait for it..’  I then responded, ‘oh I get it…’

The essence of it all is this.  We’re all teenagers.  Whatever our age, we remain, on many levels and at various times of our lives, the same confused, stubborn, charming, learning, difficult, angry, affectionate, brilliant, emotional and wise creatures that teens so typically are.  And we’re all parents standing around frustrated with other people.

This reality affects our marriages, our work, our national politics and our faith every single day.  Like teens, we’re all ‘works in progress.’  That’s certainly the message of Christianity.  God trying to shape us, through love and trial, into something more like our true Father.

And it’s the reality of our teens.  So we owe them the same patient love that God shows all of us, ‘wretched and glorious’ as we all are.

 

 

Be thankful for your boring times…and Happy Thanksgiving!

Here is my column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  Happy Thanksgiving, and may you have blessed, boring days!

 

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20131124/OPINION/311240019/Ed-Leap-Enjoy-boring-times?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|s&nclick_check=1

 

How many ordinary, boring days do you have?  How many days so unremarkable that you can barely remember anything about them?  When I ask my confused patients if they know the date, I’m looking down at my watch.  I forget too.

Life slips by like that and we find ourselves at successive days, not marked by outstanding or memorable moments.  Some researchers posit that we really don’t remember our lives like a movie with a running strip of film, but as a series of moments that stand out.  The rest, it seems, is rather a blur.

The blurry days aren’t necessarily bad; just unremarkable.  They may include include waking the children, feeding them, feeding the dogs and cats, kissing everyone goodbye for the day, going to work, cooking again, helping with homework and getting everyone headed to bed.

The blurry days are days of office work or study, days when we wish for vacations, or outstanding breaks from monotony.  They are the days well described by Dr. Seuss in the book, ‘My Many Colored Days,’ where he says ‘Gray day, everything is gray.  I watch but nothing moves today.’

They are days when we are sometimes beset by ‘first world problems.’  I learned this phrase from my kids, who make it their mission to ensure that I know the latest funny concepts to emerge in culture.  A ‘first world problem,’ for instance, is this:  ‘my nice car isn’t as nice as my friends’.  Or ‘when I go to work, I only have an hour long lunch.’  Or as one child suggested, ‘the Wi-Fi doesn’t reach my favorite bathroom.’

I imagine that on our ‘blurry days,’ when life just is, we may anchor on those first world problems just for a little something to mark the time.  A little stimulus, if only in frustration.  A shot of adrenaline to feel alive.  But it’s deceiving; our little complaints, even our numbness, blind us to an important perspective, especially at Thanksgiving.

The hard truth is that many people in the world would dearly love one of our blurry days, our gray days, our first world problems.  Everywhere in the world, men and women would weep with joy for the safe boredom, the predictable monotony of our wonderful lives in our wonderful land.   They would gladly surrender religious oppression or violent conflict, untreated disease or slavery for a dull day in the office, a magnificent day of messy children and cooking over a warm stove, a delightful afternoon of study in a place with clean water and good medicine and just laws. Their days are marked alright; marked by loss and tragedy and memories of things that this life will not likely be able to purge from their minds’ eyes.  They dream of our boredom.

But it can get more personal than that.  How many times in each of our lives have we hoped and cried and prayed for the day we were experiencing to be any other?  To be average and forgetable, even uninspiring?  Or to be thrilling or wonderful, or anything other than what it was; painful and miserable.

Many years ago, my son Seth, then five, was diagnosed with diabetes. I worried about his future.  I wondered if he would escape complications and reach his manhood.  I hoped for a regular day.  And now, each evening, I sit with him as he laughs and plays music and does his school work, the very vision of a powerful young man.  I’ll take any regular day with him.

Three years ago my wife was diagnosed with a stage four malignancy.  At every point in her diagnosis, treatment and recovery, I longed for her to have normal days, days free of drugs and radiation, pain and fear.  I ached for average, common, mundane days of work and joy and meals and health.  I can see every day differently now with her by my side.  We arrived at normality, at days of blessed, glorious simplicity.

This Thanksgiving, consider for a moment a time when you wished you could hurl yourself away from trouble and forward to the future.  And give thanks for where you are right now, a place and time you probably once wished for with all your might.

And for those of you still hoping and still hurting, may your gray, boring day of thanks come swiftly.  It may seem far away, but it will arrive at just the right time and leave you forever grateful for common things.

Happy Thanksgiving!