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A poorly planned protest promotes self prior to the point

American Flag

I firmly believe in the concept that a person who pokes fun at the foibles of his own kind is not inherently doing anything wrong, so long as the jab is done in good nature. I believe this is an act in humility and an open acknowledgement of fallibility.

For instance, a white person can poke fun at things that certain white people do. Likewise, black people can do the same about black people. Same goes for men and women. I’m Polish, so I can jokingly poke fun at the stereotypes of my heritage in the same manner that a blonde can laugh off naiveté.

With all that said — and not to digress too much — allow me, as a 10-year player in football, to take a jab at some of the current NFL players who are choosing to protest the national anthem.

These “meatheads” must’ve been hit in the head one too many times if they think their protests are being handled in the correct way.

(Yes, with the increased awareness of concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, I shouldn’t make jokes about getting hit in the head, but I’m being lighthearted about it, so sue me.)

I believe in the United States Constitution, its original intent, and the need for America to preserve and protect the rights declared in the sacred document.

For example: I hate guns, I hate the misuse of guns, I hate the idea that private American civilians feel they need to own guns. But I love our Constitution and our Second Amendment to it permits the authorization of possessing said guns.

Similarly, the First Amendment to our beloved Constitution gives us our greatest freedoms of all, including the one I will be discussing in this post: the freedom of assembly, which covers one’s right to protest.

I don’t believe in protesting. Protesting does more to bring awareness and recognition to one’s cause but it seldom — if ever — changes minds or gets things done. But protesting is protected by our Constitution, thus, I tepidly accept the right of protesters to promote their cause, even if I may disagree with its effect.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick created waves in recent weeks, not just throughout the NFL but outside the sports world as well, when he infamously sat down during the National Anthem as a means to protest “social injustice” in our country.

When asked after that first game why he did that, Kaepernick said:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

I have a big problem with that for so many reasons. Let’s run down the checklist.

1) The idea that Kaepernick is protesting the flag and the country is richly ironic. The United States is the greatest country in the world for so many reasons, among which includes the opportunity to be gainfully employed. Kaepernick doesn’t want to show pride in this country, and yet it’s a country that has allowed him to have one of the world’s best jobs, attain celebrity status, and earn millions of dollars, which puts him among the Top 1% of the world.

…how dare this country oppress him! That’s hypocrisy any way you slice it.

2) Kaepernick’s intended target is way off … kind of like his passes. I recognize that there is anger and hatred going on in this country. I recognize that there is still racism in our civilization to this day. I recognize that for a lot of minorities, opportunities still seem more difficult to obtain than for whites.

But for cryin’ out loud … it’s not the country’s fault! It’s individual citizens’ faults. The country does not endorse oppression; it embraces freedom and opportunity for all. But if a racist business owner denies employment for a minority, that’s his wrongdoing, not the country’s. The country does not encourage discrimination. In fact, I think this current administration — led by a black man, mind you — is promoting more equality than any administration in history.

Stop blaming the country for the actions of its citizens. Start blaming the citizens instead.

3) Protesting on an NFL sideline does more to draw attention to one’s self than the cause. Remember what I mentioned earlier: the freedom of assembly — and thereby the right to protest — gives people the ability to draw attention to a cause that they care about. But if your protest says more about you and draws more attention to yourself than it does the cause you’re promoting, then you are not doing it correctly.

One of the principles of Kaepernick’s protest was police brutality, which has been a hot topic in the past few years after the media has reported several incidences of white police officers killing — sometimes — unarmed black civilians.

That’s a fair concern. I don’t think any person — regardless of whether they are in a position of authority or not — should discriminate against other human beings.

The problem I have with this target of protesting is that all police officers have been unfairly lumped in together as being racist and bad humans. I’m disgusted by this notion because I think the vast majority of police officers are good and decent human beings.

Do not let the negative actions of a few parts define the whole.

And as it pertains to Kaepernick — and other NFL players who have joined in protesting the National Anthem — protesting the anthem isn’t exactly drawing attention to police brutality. What do policemen have to do with an NFL game?

Wouldn’t Kaepernick’s time be better served by protesting outside a police station that employed an officer accused of committing a hate crime? That’s an example of attention being drawn to the cause, not to an individual doing the protesting.

Conclusion

Let me conclude this post by saying this: I recognize Kaepernick’s right, as well as the right of any other human being, to protest whatever cause they feel is important. But you’re not doing yourself any favors by putting your crosshairs on the United States of America, a country not responsible for the actions of a few. A country that does not endorse, encourage, promote or permit under law the oppression of any of its citizens. Nor are you doing yourself — or your cause — any favors by drawing more attention to yourself than what it is you’re fighting for.

And that’s my biggest problem with Kaepernick. It’s not his cause that is the problem. It’s his actions that are misaligned and misguided. He can correct that by stopping the protest against a country that has given him so much and instead focus on individuals that are truly responsible for the “oppression” that he’s railing against.

Something tells me he won’t change that.

Peaceful bliss in Cape Cod

Cape Cod beach
Cape Cod beach

A lot of things may happen to me in my life, but some just aren’t worth explaining or holding on to.

A week in Cape Cod is quite an exception.

And it’s not the size or extent of the event that matters … it’s the quality that leaves an impression.

The beach is semi-crowded, but the people are hardly noticeable with all the serenity going on around me.

As I write this, seagulls are pleasantly squawking overhead as they circle Saquatucket Harbor, just off the coast of Hardings Beach in Chatham, Massachusetts.

Waves gently crash against the shoreline and the wind ruffles the umbrella that provides just a touch of protection and relief from the blazing sun. It’s been a cloudy morning but blue skies can be seen in the distance.

If I look to the left, I see nothing but clear blue water for miles. Out in front of me are scattered sail boats and standing paddleboarders drifting slowly with the wind. And off in the distance to my right sit a row of lake houses lining a cove, overlooking the massive body of water.

In a perfect world, we’d own one of those houses and spend our summers retiring to the Cape for fun in the sun and some R&R on the beaches and the water.

It’s a dream we’ve talked about for years, and although a house in Cape Cod is not likely in the cards, a beach house in Wisconsin or Michigan near our home in Illinois is very much a possibility.

What makes a lake house such a dream?

Part of the attraction is the beauty and the serenity, for sure. Who wouldn’t like looking outside their windows at a real-life screensaver? Who wouldn’t enjoy catching rays of sunshine, feeling a warm summer’s breeze on their skin, standing in one of God’s majestic oceans — or other bodies of water — and falling asleep to the sound of water sweeping the shoreline?

More than what pleases the five senses, the idea of leaving the hustle and bustle, the speed and the grind of one’s daily life and escaping to a much simpler way of life is about as appealing as it gets.

Just hours ago I had my three-month old boy in my arms wading in the shallows and dipping his feet in the water. I had my beautiful wife sunbathing next to me with family surrounding us, reading books and listening to music. We had a picnic on the beach and we sat and enjoyed our surroundings.

What I did not endure in those peaceful moments was the stress brought on by lunatic drivers, clueless and discourteous passersby, self-absorbed shoppers, and many other of life’s cornucopia of unpleasant social interactions. I wasn’t living by a schedule with places to go and things to do. I was not answering emails and coding websites.

Oh, I love my job — make no mistake about that. But it doesn’t hold a candle to the finer things in life such as sitting my boy on my lap and feeding him a bottle. Or watching my wife walk the shoreline in front of a vast, beautiful seascape.

This is what vacation is. And some will see the ocean as half-empty and say that once the trip is over, it’s back to the daily rigors, the trials and tribulations, the grind and the rat race to which we’re all enslaved.

I choose to see an end to the means, a long-term goal posing as a framed masterpiece, hanging on the wall inside my brain. Life has its ups and downs, its trivial moments and momentous occasions. I choose to enjoy what passes my way while also keeping an eye toward the future. A future with rippling waters, warm sandy beaches, a bright sunny sky and the ambiance created by God that we so often miss due to our short attention spans, which are diverted by life’s menial problems.

As I sit here with sun-baked skin and my son by my side, I dream of a day when he appreciates the finer things in life, finds contentment in the simple things and is grateful for all the gifts that God has given him. Then I will know for sure that my wife and I have done right by him.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

1 Timothy 6:6-7 (NIV)

Happy one-month, Everett James!

Everett James
Everett James, first week of life.

I received a lot of advice in the nine months leading up to fatherhood, but one quote stuck out to me more than all the others.

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

Gretchen Rubin

It’s a reminder that despite how difficult the days might seem, through all the crying, lack of sleep, and challenges that accompany being a parent, the years seemingly go by so fast.

Before you know it, you look up and ask, “Where did the time go?”

That’s exactly how I feel looking back on the one month with our sweet little boy, Everett James.

It seems like just yesterday that we hurried to the hospital, checked in, and prepared for the arrival of baby boy Glab. I still vividly remember the first time we heard him cry as he made his way into this world. Tears were instinctive and emotions were overflowing.

I stood by his side taking pictures and marveling at the miracle that he was — and still is — while they cleaned him off and prepared him for mom and dad. Not normally one to want to hold newborn babies, I gladly accepted him into my arms and held him for the first time as we sat by Rachel’s side and had our first family picture taken right there in the delivery room.

Down the hall to the nursery, baby was wheeled with dad in tow. He was weighed and measured, tested and given shots, all with nothing but positive results coming back. He was our perfect little angel boy and I was floating on cloud nine.

In the nursery with Everett, while the doctors were finishing with Rach, I gave our little boy a pep talk. I told him how Jesus loved him, how his mom and dad were crazy about him, and how he already had so many people in his life who cared about him, something he couldn’t even realize. I told him I was going to teach him everything I knew and how I couldn’t wait to play basketball with him in the driveway and share so many great moments with him.

I swear, he was quiet and attentive — as much as a one-hour-old boy could be — the whole time I was talking to him. And if I didn’t know that babies that age couldn’t focus their eyes, I’d say he was looking right at me with silent reverie — but it’s okay, boy; there was plenty of that going in your direction.

Everett James
Everett James, such a happy little boy.

The past month since that joyous day has been a whirlwind. We’ve prayed for our boy and our family regularly. Friends and family have gotten to meet him, we’ve taken him for walks and to the store, we’ve brought him to church to be in the house of the Lord and around a loving congregation, and we’ve snapped more photos on our phones than I’m sure either Rach or I have taken in our past year of marriage.

Fatherhood has been everything I could have imagined or hoped for — and it’s only just begun. Just wait until he does more than eat, sleep, and poop, I tell myself.

Little boy has already gotten bigger. Born 8 pounds, 4 ounces, he just topped the 10-pound mark this week at his latest doctor visit. We can also see the growth in his face and hands, and he’s showing more alertness by the day.

We sing to boy — mommy well, daddy poorly — and also read to him and play music for him. Sometimes all of that soothes him, other times he cries and holds up one of his little hands as if to say: “Please! … I’m trying to sleep here.”

Our happy little family.
Our happy little family.

Rach and I often talk about the many things we can’t wait to do as a family of three, but we also know how short this precious time with a newborn baby is, and we don’t want to skip the present with both eyes fixed on the future.

Sometimes I catch myself staring at our boy for long periods of time, not necessarily waiting for him to do something cute — although Lord knows he can make the heart melt with a hint of a smile, a facial expression, a sneeze, a hand placement, a heavy sigh, or any number of subtle body movements. But instead, I’m looking at a little miracle from God. A blessing beyond our wildest dreams, who brings more joy to our lives than any possession could possibly do. I look in his eyes and see a whole other side of life not nearly identifiable until I became a father.

And for that blessed gift, I thank God for his abundance of grace and generosity.

Happy one-month of motherhood, Rach! You are doing a terrific job and I’m proud of you for all that you have done and endured.

And happy one-month, little Everett James! I hope we have shown you the love and nurturing that you deserve, because we always want you to know you are loved beyond all expression.

Everett James
Everett James turns one month old.

Paul Ryan correct in his cautious approach with Donald Trump

House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper that he is “just not ready to [support presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump]”.

This, of course, was met by a rebuttal from Trump in which he said — I’m paraphrasing here — “Well, I’m not going to support YOU, doodie-head! So there.”

Okay, that was a bad paraphrase, but it sounds like something a first grader might say, which is about the level of education Trump has used in conducting himself during his campaign up to this point.

But Trump, did, in fact, say he would not support Ryan, in essence saying “I’m right and you’re wrong” and thus flipping the proverbial double bird to the Speaker of the House.

Sean Hannity of Fox News, a prominent Republican who has one of the most popular talk radio shows in the country, had less than flattering words for Ryan.

“Establishment out to sabotage GOP nominee, yet they betrayed the base,” Hannity tweeted at Ryan.

Hannity seems to have disregarded the rest of Ryan’s interview with Tapper, in which Ryan said he wanted to support Trump, but that the presumptive nominee had some work to do unifying the party first.

What’s wrong with that? He didn’t say he was joining the #NeverTrump movement.

Hannity went on to tweet, “The Hell with what the voters think. Circular firing squad now led by @SpeakerRyan”, before suggesting “Maybe we need a new Speaker.”

What Hannity is neglecting to realize is that he is being hypocritical.

The “will of the people” and “what voters think” is not only reflected by those who voted for Trump, but also by those who did not vote for him.

Yes, Trump has received more votes than any other Republican candidate. And yes, he is on his way to receiving the majority now that his last competitors have dropped out of the race.

But to ignore the fact that this has been a contentious campaign fueled by hate and indignation and that large chunks of Republican voters are so upset at Trump to the point that they might vote for Hillary Clinton or just stay home on Election Day, is also ignoring the will of the people and disregarding what voters think.

I get it. I understand that no matter how unpleasant Trump might be, no matter how unpresidential, smarmy, pompous, arrogant — and any other synonym you might want to add — Trump continues to act, four years of Clinton is a near death sentence to conservatism and would be far worse than a Trump presidency.

But that doesn’t mean that Americans — Republicans specifically — should just fall in line and blindly pledge allegiance to somebody whose character and values they strongly question.

That’s not called democracy … that’s called dictatorship.

Americans want a president that they can believe in. Somebody who leads by example and can be a role model for the youth of the nation. Yes, Americans want a leader who “get things done.” But dictators get things done, too, and they still don’t have the love of their people.

I think Speaker Ryan gave a perfect response when asked if he is now supporting Trump as the presumptive nominee. He said that he wanted to, but that he’s not there yet.

I feel the same way.

Trump offended a lot of Republicans on his way to becoming the presumptive nominee. Now Trump should be the one to work on mending the fences — or “walls”, as is more applicable with Trump — for the sake of uniting the party.

Ryan is also getting some flak from other members of the Republican party and staunch supporters of Trump, who claim that Ryan needs to “be a leader” by setting a good example for other skeptical Republicans to fall in line and unite behind Trump.

Those who lay that burden on Speaker Ryan are misdirecting responsibility.

Yes, as Speaker of the House, second in the United States presidential line of succession, Ryan holds the highest Republican office in all the land.

But he’s not the most prominent Republican. That honor now belongs to Trump, because he’s running for president. And as the most distinguished person in the Republican Party, Trump is responsible for “leading” and “inspiring” and causing Republicans to find hope in him.

Thus far, he seems like he has no interest in fulfilling that role. Maybe he can do that by the convention and give people a reason — not to “fall in line” behind him like minions at the feet of a dictator, but instead to race to his side with loyalty like followers of a great democratic leader.

Harriet Tubman $20 bill: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Harriet Tubman $20 bill: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Harriet Tubman $20 bill: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

I’m a believer in the expression that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So, when news first reached me that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, my first question was, “why?”

Not “why did they choose Harriet Tubman?” Not “why did they choose the $20 bill?” And no, not even “why did they choose a woman or an African-American?”

Instead, my question was, “why fix something that didn’t need fixing?”

Does changing the face on a piece of currency make it any more valuable? Was keeping Jackson’s face on the money somehow harming our economy?

No? Then I repeat: “why fix it?”

If the currency absolutely had to be fixed, then I applaud the government’s decision on Tubman. In principle, it makes sense. Tubman was an abolitionist born into slavery who escaped and helped lead the efforts of the Underground Railroad during the American Civil War. Jackson, meanwhile, was a slave owner and former President responsible for the Indian Removal Act, which stole land from Native Americans and led to the Trail of Tears, causing the death of thousands of American Indians.

In essence, the switch from Jackson to Tubman sounds like a no-brainer, right?

While Tubman was a good choice, I’m still hung up on the intent behind the currency change.

Those who know me best understand my level of distaste for Donald Trump, the current frontrunner for the GOP nomination for President of the United States.To put it more bluntly, I think he’s an obnoxious, arrogant blowhard with little knowledge of what it takes to be president.

But Trump put it correctly when he said that he thinks highly of Tubman but believes the move to put her on the $20 bill was “pure political correctness.”

To put focus on a trivial matter such as who graces our nation’s currency, simply to pacify a small segment of people who might be upset by it, is just an incredible waste of time.

Seriously, does anybody even pay attention to who is on our money? I don’t care if it’s Andrew Jackson, Michael Jackson, Harriet Tubman, or Harriet the Spy … I just care how many of them I have in my wallet.

The idea that our country is trying to appease everybody so as not to offend anybody is just hard to wrap my head around. Some might try to call that progress, but I call it spinning our tires in the mud. If we wait until everybody in the country catches up, the rest of the world will pass us by, and we will cease to grow and progress.

The constitution was written not to make every citizen equal, but to ensure opportunity exists for every citizen, which it most certainly does for those willing to work hard and earn what they deserve.

So, while I applaud the choice of Tubman for her courage and bravery, I frustratingly loathe the reason behind the switch. Changing the face of currency in order to put a woman or a minority on it, not for monetary improvement but simply for the sake of “equality”, belittles Tubman’s great accomplishments and instead puts the focus on qualities she had no control over.

Warriors break Bulls record: Stunning and unfathomable

The 1990s was a good time to live in Chicago, particularly if you were a Chicago Bulls fan.

His Airness, Michael Jordan, was in the prime of his basketball career and helped lead the Bulls to six championships in a span of eight years. And, some may argue, that if Jordan had never retired for two seasons, the Bulls would have won eight titles in a row.

But for as magical as the two separate three-peats were, one shining moment stuck out more than any other in the course of those six seasons. And that was their 1995-96 championship season when they set the NBA record for most wins in a regular season with 72.

I remember that season very well, and I knew the team was in for a special year in the summer prelude. The Bulls front office boldly pulled off a trade with the San Antonio Spurs for the enigmatic troublemaker, Dennis Rodman. The hair-dyed, multi-tattooed former Detroit Piston “bad boy” was just the missing piece the Bulls needed to fill their power forward position — a guy who would play defense and grab rebounds.

As a brash teenager, I confidently predicted the Bulls would win the championship on the very day they acquired Rodman. That seemed all but inevitable given that the team already had the greatest player of all time in Jordan, and one of the best No. 2 players ever in Scottie Pippen.

No, the question wasn’t whether the Bulls would win their fourth title of the 90’s … it was how quickly and by how much.

Little did I or anyone else expect at the time that the Bulls were destined for the record books. The Bulls destroyed their competition and went on to win 72 regular season games, with just 10 losses.

That was a record I didn’t think would ever be touched. To only lose 10 games in a season seemed impossible, as if you were playing a video game on “rookie mode” — the easiest competition level, for those of you unfamiliar with the video game lingo.

Several teams since that year had tried, but just couldn’t come close. The Los Angeles Lakers teams of the early 2000’s with Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton couldn’t do it. The Miami Heat “super team” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh flirted with the notion but didn’t have the prowess. And none of the great San Antonio Spurs teams of the entire millennium up to this point could manage to top 70 victories.

Then something strange happened. A team from Oakland, California, which played an up-tempo West Coast style of play, started shocking the NBA landscape with ridiculously high shooting percentages and better-than-expected defense. The team was led by little 6-foot-3, 190-pound (soaking wet) Stephen Curry, a player who could go down as the greatest shooter of all time.

To think that a player of Curry’s stature could win the Most Valuable Player award and destroy opposing players who are bigger and stronger than him just seemed outlandish.

But alas, the Warriors have done it. They have won 73 regular season games and not only beat the greatest-team-of-all-time’s record, but they now hold the distinction of being the only NBA team in history to lose single-digit games in the regular season.

And that … is … amazing.

Even though I said it before for the Bulls, I now say it again for the Warriors: I don’t see any other team coming close to touching that record for a long time — if ever.

Part of me is bothered that the Bulls’ record is broken. As a fan of the team, of course I wanted them to live in immortality. There’s a banner that hangs in the United Center, where the Bulls play, proudly displaying “72” in honor of that record-breaking season in ‘95-96. I’d hate to see that banner come down, or worse — think of how that number is only second-best every time I look at it.

But then there’s another part of me that realizes change is inevitable in this world, and sports are no exception. Records — not rules — are made to be broken, and what the Warriors did this season was remarkable. But the Warriors winning 73 games does not take anything away from the greatness of the Bulls in the 90s.

Sure, there will forever be comparisons between the two teams and the question of “which team is better?” will be asked for a long time. My belief, of course, is that the greatest player of all time gets the benefit of the doubt. And there’s also some part of me that believes if the Bulls had it all to do over again, knowing that they would need 74 wins to hold the record — they would do just that.

So, why does it bother me that the Bulls’ record no longer stands?

I think part of the reason is the pride factor. Every sports fan wants to support a winner. A champion. A team team that defines greatness.

But in my moments of clarity — usually late at night, such as the time of this writing — I realize that sports pride is just foolish.

For starters, I had absolutely nothing to do with the Bulls’ success in the 90’s. Fans want to feel like they’re part of something special, which is why they use first-person possessive pronouns when referring to their favorite teams. But I didn’t step onto the court that season. I didn’t help them win 72 games. I had nothing to do with it.

Secondly, pride is a sin. To look so fondly upon a sports team for some kind of ego boost or self-satisfaction is just plain wrong.

With a level head, I’ve come to the realization that I’m more stunned by the manner in which the Warriors have won games this season than I am saddened or angered by the Bulls’ fallen record. I’m also relieved by the notion that this Warriors team is mostly — if not completely — comprised of good men with normal egos.

Could you imagine the feeling if the arrogant LeBron James held that record? I’d be devastated.

Instead, the Warriors are a team of talented, hard-working players who win as a team. They focus more on the names on the front of their jerseys than the ones on the back.

Kudos to them. They broke the “unbreakable” record and they deserve the recognition.

Emotional Intelligence Quotient: What are your EQ behaviors?

How high is your Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ)?
How high is your Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ)?

How high is your EQ?

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry. I didn’t either until recently.

EQ stands for emotional quotient, but is also known as emotional intelligence (EI). Similar to how natural intelligence is measured by the IQ, emotional intelligence is measured by the EQ.

Throughout my childhood and into my early twenties, I was prone to outbursts of anger and frustration, sadness and despair. Those aren’t uncommon feelings for children to exhibit because kids lack the maturity to handle the disappointment of not getting what they want.

But as you enter adulthood, you need to learn to manage your emotions better. And it was sometime in my mid-to-late twenties — not coincidentally when I began my serious walk with Jesus Christ — that I found emotional peace and contentment. Are all Christ-followers exempt from bouts with unhealthy emotion? Of course not. But faith helps.

I came across this article from Time.com titled “18 Behaviors of Emotionally Intelligent People,” and I was curious to see if I exhibited them. For the most part, I found similarities between the behaviors they were describing and what I feel I possess, because I do feel I have a good grasp on emotional intelligence.

But I am human; thus, I am imperfect and have work to do. Here are the 18 behaviors that they listed in the article, along with my analysis of where I stand for each of them. I encourage you to read the article and do a self-assessment for yourself, too.

  1. You have a robust emotional vocabulary
    I feel that this is one of my strong points. I’m a big believer in semantics, that words have many different meanings. There a synonyms, sure, and quite a few words that share similar meanings. But they’re not exactly the same thing. Think about it: if multiple words had the same exact meaning, there would be no need to have that many. The article points out that someone who is capable of clearly expressing what is bothering them — i.e. not just saying they “feel bad” — then it’s easier to deal with the issue.
  2. You’re curious about people
    The article describes the curiosity as one borne out of empathy. And as a Christian man, I try to exhibit empathy, but still knowing that there’s always room for improvement in that area. I think I’ve always had this burning desire — at least since adulthood — to try to understand people. For starters, I love stories, and every human ever conceived has a unique story. Secondly, I find human behavior and emotion fascinating, and that’s a core reason why I took up psychology — albeit briefly — in college.
  3. You embrace change
    In a moment of clear transparency, I must admit that my first instinctive reaction to change is one of hesitation. It’s not that I dislike change, per se. It’s more a reflex than a feeling. When presented with a scenario that would cause some kind of change in my life, I want to first weigh the implications that will come from such change. Is it a big, life-altering change that will require a lot of work? Is it something small and trivial that won’t make me skip a beat? After thinking things through, I am more likely to accept change than what my initial reaction may portend.
  4. You know your strengths and weaknesses
    I feel that I have an extremely good grasp on my strengths and weaknesses. I know what I’m good at, what comes naturally, what contributes to my success in life. I also know what I need a lot of work at, what challenges me, and what faults tend to hold me back. The article also speaks of people who “push [one’s] buttons,” and I certainly know which types of people those are.
  5. You’re a good judge of character
    I’m confident in my ability to judge another’s character. Can I read them like a book? Not really. I’m not God. But I happen to have a ton of people in my life who have exceptional character, because I choose to surround myself with others who make good choices and live respectfully. As Proverbs 13:20 states: “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” And 1 Corinthians 15:33 says: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”
  6. You are difficult to offend
    This is an area where I need improvement. I care so deeply that I allow too much to offend my sensibilities. But typically it’s only those closest to me, like family and friends, who are able to offend me. There is little that any stranger or mere acquaintance could say to me to offend me, for their opinions do not define who I am. But if a loved one says something to me that may be true, however unpleasant, it’s often a difficult pill to swallow.
  7. You know how to say no (to yourself and others)
    I’m a bit of people-pleaser, always wanting to make others happy in whatever way possible. Thus, saying no has not always been the easiest thing for me to do in that regard. However, the article refers to delayed gratification and avoiding impulsive actions, and that has long been a strength of mine. I rarely buy things for myself. I sometimes go years with the same clothes. I wear my shoes until the soles come off. That’s not always the smartest thing, but I know how to tell myself “no”, and I’m learning the right way to tell others no when it’s important for my health and sanity.
  8. You let go of mistakes
    As a bit of a perfectionist, it’s a little bit harder to let mistakes go, but I’m improving. A mistake — especially an avoidable one — will initially bug me because mistakes are a cause of lost production and/or time. But I also firmly believe that mistakes offer the best opportunities to learn because of the negative stimulus that is generated from the incident. Therefore, I don’t let mistakes linger for too long, but there is an initial hurdle to clear.
  9. You give and expect nothing in return
    I literally do not need anything more than the essentials of life. And my wants are few and far between. When asked by others what I want for my birthday or Christmas, I have a difficult time coming up with responses. Now, does this mean I would never care if I didn’t receive another gift the rest of my life? That’s easy to say in the moment, isn’t it? I have no idea how that would make me feel — gift giving is one of the Five Love Languages, after all, and it’s one way to feel loved by others. But I don’t need a gift in return just because I give one to others. A gift by definition is something that should be given without any kind of expectation of return. Otherwise, it’s known as a debt or a loan.
  10. You don’t hold grudges
    Much like the mistakes (No. 8), grudges are a little bit of a challenge as well. It’s not that I will hold something over someone’s head forever and treat them differently because of it. But certain words or actions can stick in my memory for longer than I care them to be there, and that leaves me with occasional sadness or frustration. I try to use analytical reasoning in times like this, to let myself know that either something is incapable of being changed and thus should not be dwelt on, or worrying about something does not help solve it.
  11. You neutralize toxic people
    I hate conflict. To a fault, actually, because some conflict is healthy, so I’ve learned. But this behavior that the article refers to has more to do with people who are excessively difficult and just aren’t on the same wavelength as you, as opposed to a loved one with whom you might have a disagreement. These “toxic” people I have no problems keeping at bay. I will not avoid them altogether, especially if they’re in my life for one reason or another — such as a coworker or neighbor or a friend of a friend. But I will certainly not let their negative thoughts and words become a drain on my emotion. I will also listen to them respectfully, and if I disagree, I can do it courteously.
  12. You don’t seek perfection
    Boom. This is a big problem for a perfectionist. Even though I am acutely aware that there is no such thing as perfection, I have a hunger to do better and achieve something more. I develop websites for a living, and in such a creative field where most projects are open to subjective evaluation, I have a hard time accepting my work as “good enough.” As a result of this, I often repeat my work, doing things over and over again until I feel they are satisfactory. Admittedly, this is not the most effective use of my time and my production could be better by setting expectations that aren’t anywhere near perfection.
  13. You appreciate what you have
    “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” -1 Timothy 6:6-8. The Bible speaks of the need for contentment, and it’s an area that I’ve mastered, quite honestly. When I sit back and think about the desires in my life, little to none have to do with material possessions. Do I have dreams and goals like anyone else? Sure. But I also know that if I don’t achieve these things, or accumulate certain possessions that would be fun and enjoyable, that my life would turn out just great by the grace of God.
  14. You disconnect
    Often when people think about “disconnecting”, their initial thought is about cell phones and social media. That’s just a product of the society we live in today. But that’s just one aspect of disconnecting. To disconnect also means to ease the burdens in your life, to remove or lessen the stressors that can weigh heavily on you, and to take vacations and small breaks from normal rigors of the everyday world. And it’s in these areas that I excel at disconnecting.
  15. You limit your caffeine intake
    Yikes! Talk about one of the most challenging behaviors on the list! I have regularly consumed caffeine for years — to the point where it’s caused gastric issues that I’ve had to monitor and regulate. But I must say, I don’t completely agree with the premise in this article. The article states that caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline, causing the “fight-or-flight” response. And:“The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response to ensure survival. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email.” That’s a bit too simplistic. To say that a person who is on a caffeine hike can’t rationally respond to a curt email is a bit of a stretch. I’m not a person who shoots from the hip. I think things through and don’t respond on pure emotion. Whether my adrenaline is pumping or not, I’m going to put careful thought into what I say or do. In fact, I’m more likely to have a brain that works when it isn’t dog tired and lacking adrenaline.
  16. You get enough sleep
    I have a difficult time sleeping. No, I’m not an insomniac, and I probably get more sleep than most who have “sleeping issues.” But I’m both a bit of a night owl and a person who can’t really sleep in. Somewhere between six or seven hours is considered a good night for me, and I seem to be able to function well on that … especially if paired with an influx of caffeine in the morning! (see No. 15!)
  17. You stop negative self-talk in its tracks
    I don’t like to be a pessimist. In fact, my glass is generally half-full. But I’ve been told I have a tendency to “talk down” about myself at times. That’s difficult to hear because that’s certainly not my intent. I’m a person who knows his strengths and weaknesses (see No. 4), plus I try my best to be humble and admit my faults. But I guess there is a fine line between admitting your weaknesses and talking down about yourself. Maybe it’s an art form I need to practice more? In general though, I don’t sit around and dwell on negative things. Life is too short and is filled with too many blessings to be upset all the time. I’m generally happy-go-lucky.
  18. You won’t let anyone limit your joy
    I don’t need the approval of others to be happy in life. Do I like to make others happy? Of course. It’s a good feeling. But if I’m surrounded by Debbie Downers, rather than let them rub off on me, I’m just going to leave the room. If somebody has a negative opinion of me, I’m not going to let that bring me down. Like I mentioned in No. 6 about being offended, if a loved one is upset at me and says something that may not be pleasing to the ears, it’s going to initially bother me. But I’m not going to let it bother me to the point I live my life in sadness and despair. I’m going to want to work it out so the joy can return.

As you can see, there are areas where improvement can be made in almost any behavior, even in something you feel may be a strength of yours. I encourage you to read the article on emotional intelligence and see how you fare in each of the examples.

War on Terror only way to fight against terrorism

War on Terror only way to fight against terrorism
The War on Terror is the only way to fight against terrorism and those who seek to do us harm.

I am a peaceful man by nature and hardly possess a vengeful bone in my body … just make sure you follow the rules of the road, or else!

I believe violence is never an answer to any of our problems with the exception of self-defense.

But one issue that leaves me longing for retribution and resolution is the ongoing threat of terrorism.

In most cases, words are the best method for resolving problems. All other means of conflict resolution are usually escalators that push dilemmas past a threshold, sometimes beyond the point of return. Heck, even words themselves can heighten tensions more than they bring about peace.

But when it comes to fighting terrorism, words are like blowing bubbles at battleships.

How do you use diplomacy with terrorists who care not to negotiate?

How do you speak reason into the minds of terrorists who have far different ideologies and systems of morals than you do?

Terrorists, by both definition and intention, are hellbent on destroying the fabric of our democratic societies and attempting to disrupt the peace and civility upon which our nations are built.

They’re bullies, in layman’s terms. And sometimes bullies need a pop in the nose.

Defeating terrorism and defending our nation’s interests both at home and abroad is the biggest challenge we Americans face today. And when I hear about ISIS beheading Christians at a regular interval, then claiming responsibility for brutal terror attacks — such as the one in Brussels this Tuesday — there’s only one way to respond to those who clearly lack the morals that most peace-loving people do:

Stand up and pop them in the nose.

I’m usually not an advocate for sending our troops into war. For starters, I wouldn’t want to send others into harm’s way when I’m unwilling to do the same thing myself. Secondly, the emotional toll forced upon a deceased soldier’s family is a terrible burden to carry. Not to mention, even those who survive battle could develop long-term mental, emotional and physical ailments.

But our brave soldiers know what they’re getting themselves into. They know that death is a possibility and that serving in the military is not just a scholarship program.

Fighting terrorism is one area where I fully support the use of force. I think it would be in our nation’s best interest — and in the best interest of all democratic nations around the world — to rise up and fight extremism.

For if we don’t fight back now, we are enabling and encouraging the continuation of such practices, and leaving ourselves in danger of losing the freedom and peace we fought many years to obtain.

First time voter: Every vote counts, not always

First time voter: Every vote counts, not always
First time voter: Every vote counts, not always

“I’m not going to vote, because my vote doesn’t count.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this declaration before. You might have even uttered that phrase a time or two in the past.

I still maintain that in parts of the country — like states that are heavily Republican or Democratic — this holds true.

For the longest time, I used this as an excuse not to vote. I live in Illinois, after all, which turns a deep, solid shade of blue every four years for the general election. The last time Illinois was won by a Republican Presidential candidate was in 1988 when George H. W. Bush picked it up.

Sure, there are local and state elections that are more up for grabs, but I have never known enough about the candidates and their platforms to give anybody my vote.

Some people tried to convince me to vote anyway, calling it my civic duty or telling me people fought and died for that right. To which my response was: “While I appreciate the sacrifice made by many, and while I’m grateful for all the freedoms given to us by the constitution, I also feel that I have as much freedom and right not to vote as I have to exercise a vote.”

Freedom is a two-way street, after all. Freedom not only gives you the right to do things, but it also gives you the right not to do things.

With that said, I had gone 13 years of my adult life without exercising my “civic duty,” until this year. On Tuesday, March 15, I cast my first ever vote in Illinois’ primary.

My reason for voting had as much to do with denying one candidate a victory as it had to do with voting for another. While my vote ultimately was unsuccessful, I have no regrets about breaking the 13-year abstention.

Now that I’ve finally taken the plunge, I imagine I’ll be voting more often in the years ahead. Not out of some sense of obligation or duty, but if and only if I see an opportunity to make a difference.

And that’s a freedom I’m happy to exercise.

Best pies in honor of Pi Day

Best pies on Pi Day - Apple Pie
Best pies on Pi Day – Apple Pie

Math was always one of my best subjects in school. It just came naturally to me because I have an analytical mind that seeks reason and meaning.

While other subjects like science, language, art, and geography are flexible to change, there is something to be said about the definitiveness of math. Something comforting in knowing that math has a resolution to it and is not going to change.

Science is always evolving and amending itself. Language will change with the times and cultures. Art is a random hodgepodge of creativity and interpretation. And geography updates itself as societies dictate.

But with math, one plus one will always equal two.

With that said, I have never understood what pi is and how to apply it to my life. It has something to do with the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, but what kind of fun is that?

So, as the world celebrates National Pi Day on March 14 — or, 3.14, the first digits of pi — I’m going to celebrate Pie Day — which was actually January 23, but it’s worth repeating.

Here’s a list of my favorite pies — which I can no longer eat unless there is a gluten-free alternative.

  1. Key Lime
    I was tempted to leave this one off the list because I’m not currently craving it, but it’s very tasty when I’m in the mood for it.
  2. Banana Cream
    I’m hit or miss with this pie just as I am with bananas in general, but when I do feel the craving for it, this is a delicious choice.
  3. Lemon Meringue
    I’m not a huge fan of lemon-flavored things, but this pie has just the right amount of it.
  4. Vanilla Caramel
    Perfect for when you want something tasty yet not over the top.
  5. Turtle
    Some people prefer simplistic desserts without too many ingredients — but I love desserts with lots of flavors and “stuff” in them!
  6. Pecan
    I’m a big fan of pecans and I also like them in my ice cream as well as my pie.
  7. Chocolate Creme / German Chocolate / Chocolate Silk
    I couldn’t figure out which chocolate pie I liked best, so I threw them all together.
  8. Cherry
    I typically don’t like cherry-flavored things because it gives me flashbacks to when I was sick as a child and had cherry cough syrup. But this pie is the exception to the rule.
  9. Boston Cream
    I love custard-filled desserts, and this also finds its way onto my favorite donut list.
  10. Oreo
    One of the best-flavored cookies of all time made into pie format!
  11. Pumpkin
    I love all pumpkin-flavored treats, and what’s best about this is that it is seasonal, thus it becomes better for its timeliness.
  12. Apple
    You’re not American if you don’t like apple pie. In fact, the old saying, “as American as apple pie”, spells out its greatness.