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President Trump is not your child’s role model … you are

President Trump role model?
Don’t expect President Trump to be your child’s role model. That responsibility begins with you as the parent.

Strong emotions can sometimes cause people to say or do — let’s just call it “questionable” things. This is why I advocate not shooting from the hip and why I encourage people to think before they speak or act.

For instance, exit polls show a large bloc of American voters were “angry” and they broke toward Trump. So, if you are anti-Trump, this is your opportunity to see what raw emotion can do. It put a man that you despise into office.

Because I know that anti-Trumpers are highly emotional right now, I’m willing to tolerate and understand all the protesting that is going on — however ineffectual and futile these protests might be.

One thing I will not tolerate and maintain silence about is a parent’s duty and responsibility toward his or her children.

While reading an article from the Chicago Tribune, titled: “5 arrested after largely peaceful anti-Trump protests downtown,” I came across a blurb about a young woman who brought her 3-year-old daughter to the protest at Trump Tower in Chicago.

The first thing that went through my mind was, “Are you nuts?” Even though the article title says the protests were “largely peaceful” that doesn’t mean protests never break out into violence and danger. On the contrary, they often do.

Furthermore, this woman even admitted “[My daughter is] a little too young to understand all of this.”

So … what exactly is she doing there?

Bringing your child into a potentially dangerous situation is only one thing that rubbed me the wrong way. But it was her next quote that really left me shaking my head.

“The president is supposed to be a role model for children and somebody that they look up to. … I have to be a role model if our president won’t be,” she said.

Wow. Just … wow.

While I agree with her that Trump is not the best role model — and I’ve even said as much as far back to the primaries and throughout the general election campaign — it is not Trump’s responsibility to raise your kids. It’s your own.

“I have to be a role model if our president won’t be…”

No, sweetheart … you have to be a role model, period.

Pope Francis or even Mother Teresa — God rest her soul — could be in the Oval Office and you still would be ultimately responsible for being the first and primary role model in your child’s life — next to Jesus Christ, of course.

You see, it’s not Donald Trump’s responsibility as upcoming President of the United States to be a role model. That’s not his job. His job is to serve and protect the country and ensure the growth and prosperity of America — to help leave the country in better shape for your child than you think it currently is for you.

Now, if you don’t think Trump is equipped to handle that responsibility, you can argue that until you’re blue in the face. I’ve even had my doubts and skepticism about Trump. But that’s not the point of this post.

The topic of this particular blog post is taking responsibility and being a role model in your own child’s life.

If you think Trump sets a bad example, it’s your job to explain to your child why. Tell your child why it’s not right to treat women the way Trump was describing in his “locker room talk” with Billy Bush. Go down the list of offenses that you feel that Trump has committed and explain to your child why you feel these are wrong.

Aaron Sorkin letter

For example, Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote an open letter to his 15-year-old daughter after Donald Trump was elected President Tuesday night. And while I do not agree with everything he says or stands for, I point out this article specifically to exemplify how a parent should communicate the rights and wrongs of the world with their child.

It’s no different than not allowing your child to watch an R-rated movie, making sure they “stay in the yard” when playing ball, looking both ways before crossing the street, instructing them to do their homework and clean their room, teaching them to be respectful to authority, making sure they brush their teeth and go to bed on time, telling them to say “please” and “thank you” — the list of parental responsibilities goes on and on.

It’s a daunting task, to be sure. Nobody said parenting would be easy. I myself have no idea of the tremendous challenges that lie ahead for my wife and me as parents.

But you ultimately have the responsibility to tell your child what is right and wrong. Nobody else does. Don’t shirk that responsibility. Don’t dump it off on someone else.

I love that parents love their children and want what is best for them. That’s the first step. But it doesn’t stop at love.

As a Christian, I believe that Christ is the cornerstone and foundation of each individual’s life. But a child doesn’t even know of Jesus until his or her parents teach and share the Good News with them.

Therefore, whether you are a believer or not … a child’s first and most important source of learning and growing begins within the household, and you as a parent are the President and Role-Model-in-Chief of that particular domain.

And you didn’t even have to be elected to serve.

2016 Presidential Election: Step toward radicalized America?

2016 Presidential Election
The 2016 Presidential Election could bring about a more radicalized version of America completely foreign to what the Founding Fathers had envisioned.

My wife and I have a baby boy named Everett. He turns six months old today.

Perhaps it is fitting that today is also America’s 2016 Presidential Election Day.

Everett is pure and innocent, unscathed and unafflicted by the evil and corruption in this world. He’s a happy boy who is enjoying the sights and sounds of his surroundings. The biggest problem in his young life is when he wakes up hungry and we can’t get a bottle in his mouth quick enough. Or, when his Baby First TV show goes to a commercial break and he has to sit through a barrage of advertisements featuring humans instead of two-dimensional cartoon characters.

Annoyance with commercials is an ageless feeling, I guess.

When we look into his eyes, just like any parent does their child, we see a dependent little being who is going to rely on us for all his needs for nearly two decades before he develops the tools to take care of himself.

At the moment, he is a piece of unmolded clay waiting to be shaped and sculpted. He’s a sheet of blank white canvas paper ready for someone to fill in with detail. Or, more appropriately, he is a sponge who will be soaking in everything his five little senses can absorb, answering questions along the way such as: “Who am I? Where am I? And what the heck am I doing here?”

This is why, as Americans head to the polls today to elect the 45th President of the United States, I’m on the edge of my seat with anxiety as we await which candidate will be leading the country during Everett’s first four complete years in this world.

I’ve heard candidates for more than 20 years use the rhetorical question, “What kind of country will we be leaving our children?” To me, this never resonated because I haven’t been a parent until this current election cycle. I’ve always shrugged off that question and figured I’d let everyone else worry about that. I wanted America fixed right now.

But it takes being a parent to understand exactly what that means. As a parent, you want the best for your child and you never want to see them go through pain and suffering. More than that, you want to see them succeed and have a better life than you had because it brings great joy to see them thrive.

This is why I am nervous for Everett. I’m not so sure he will be left with a better America than the one his parents or grandparents have had.

The national debt is mounting, as our government borrows and spends money as if it were Monopoly currency. Gun violence seems to be ever-growing and spreading like wildfire. Police officers are under attack and criticized for their handling of a very difficult job, trying to maintain law and order so our society doesn’t dissolve into chaos. Terrorism is alive and (not) well, spreading across international borders and hitting first-world countries. Taxes keep rising and affect our cost of living. Health care costs are through the roof. There’s less spending cash in Americans’ pockets, smaller savings accounts, and weaker and bleaker retirement living.

“…and I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

What a disaster this election cycle has become. I am disappointed in Republicans and Democrats alike for the two candidates that they nominated. And for two candidates who have such high unfavorability ratings — even within their own parties! — I am just shocked by the “voice of the people” and how we got to where we are today.

I’m not a historian, but this country couldn’t possibly have been any more divided than it is today — this side of the Civil War.

One side of the aisle wants to preserve the Constitution as it was originally intended. The other side wants to rip it up and start from scratch. I’m a firm believer in the Constitution, what it stands for, and what the Founding Fathers had envisioned for this country, but surely there is a common middle ground somewhere.

Certainly we understand as a society that times change and civilizations evolve but basic human rights, morals, and principles are timeless.

What frightens me most of all for Everett and all his future generational brothers and sisters is that this country is growing more apathetic toward religion and faith. By no coincidence at all, I feel our country’s moral standards have gotten weaker and almost non-existent.

Sure, our society is trying to shape up the conversation into one word: tolerance. And as it pertains to disagreements in opinions, personalities and preferences, tolerance is a wonderful thing. But tolerance doesn’t mean we automatically agree with everyone’s demand to do anything they want all the time.

As it pertains to faith and tolerance, our government seems to be more concerned with protecting one’s right not to practice a religion, but has little interest in protecting one’s right to promote it.

Take religious holidays for example.

Our society has an incessant drive to call Christmas trees “Holiday trees” because we don’t want to offend non-Christians. We also can’t say “Merry Christmas” to people because it’s more “politically correct” to say “Happy Holidays” — we might offend a non-Christian otherwise. Or what about certain schools across the country that give students the Friday before Easter off, but they don’t call it “Good Friday” because that apparently offends non-Christians. Instead, they call it a “day of non-attendance.”

If our First Amendment gives Americans the right not to practice faith, it sure as heck gives us the right to practice it. But if we get scorned and rebuked for openly expressing our faith, that’s not exactly promoting religious liberty and “tolerance”, is it?

Religious liberty is certainly being persecuted in this country and is being devalued and belittled in comparison to other forms of civil liberties.

It’s been said that the next President of the United States could appoint up to four Supreme Court Justices, which means the balance of power in the Court could shift dramatically and change the ideals and principles of this country for the rest of my lifetime, as well as a large chunk of Everett’s and other babies and kids in his generation.

I fear where our country is headed and how dramatically different the country might look. For those of us who are believers in Christ, we may be facing an uphill battle to practice and preach our faith in the face of mounting scorn, ridicule and persecution. (Yes, we live in a more civil world where the persecution we face is nothing like what Christians in the first century faced. But, it’s persecution nonetheless).

In addition to the struggle for religious liberty, I also fear the breakdown of law and order in this country as well as rising societal discord and growing disobedience.

The amount of young Americans who “play by their own rules”, fail to exhibit common courtesy, want something for nothing, lack accountability and responsibility, and who are willing to step over their own neighbor to get their hands on whatever they desire, is growing at an alarming rate.

We as parents have a duty to raise our children to be good, moral, upstanding citizens. To have respect for one another and learn to be selfless beings.

That is going to be a very difficult task for current and future parents, but a challenge I’m willing to rise to nonetheless.

Let’s just see how difficult that figures to be when election results are tallied by the end of the night.

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.

Thanksgiving thoughts on blessings, turkey, and football

Thanksgiving is the start of my favorite time of the year — and no, it’s not just because we stuff ourselves and watch football. It kicks off the Christmas season and a time of togetherness and thankfulness. And as I reflect on my life and get ready to indulge in the holiday season — and in turkey — I realize how thankful I am for the many blessings in my life.

More than anything, I’m thankful for a God who loves me and a Savior who redeemed me, without which, I would be nothing and have nothing.

I’m thankful for my health, for the ability to wake up each day and have another chance at doing something meaningful and being somebody special. I pray I make an impact on others and do more with the time I’m given than simply let it pass by.

This is my first Thanksgiving as a husband, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the loving wife with whom I’ve been fortunate to share my life. It’s also the first Thanksgiving in which she is pregnant and the last one before I’m a father. I’m grateful for that special gift from God.

I’ve been blessed with a wonderfully large family, the immediate ones with whom I grew up and the in-laws I was fortunate to inherit upon marriage. These are the people — along with my wife, of course — who most shape my life, and I’m grateful for the impact that they’ve had.

I’m thankful for my employment, for my home and the shelter it provides, and for the other necessities of everyday life.

As I think about some of the great issues that our country and our world face, I pray for resolutions to those, but also offer thanks for the comfort and security in my life, for which so many have fought and died.

It’s all too easy to let life roll on and to be consumed by the everyday challenges that we face, neglecting to remember all that we have to be thankful for. So, I not only offer a prayer of thanks today but one that hopefully serves as a reminder for the days that lie ahead.

Now … it’s time for some turkey and some football!

Young boy halts baseball game to tell father he loves him

If you’re looking for an uplifting moment to raise your spirits on a dreary Monday, how about this touching moment between father and son at the ol’ ball park?

Big Pete: A tribute to a patriarch, a friend, and a blessing to us all

I lost a dear friend this past week after his long battle with the evil C-word. He was my best friend’s father, but he may as well have been my friend. That’s the kind of man he was; a friend to almost everybody he came across.

Our dearly departed friend was known by all as Pops — in fact, he had a nice arrangement of flowers, spelling out his nickname at his wake and funeral. But to me, he’ll always be remembered as Big Pete. You see, my best friend and his father were both named Peter, a fitting name for two strong individuals and the name that Jesus would give to his disciple, Simon, for it meant “rock”, on whom Jesus would build his church.

Pete’s family lived down the street from my family for most of our youth. Every time I called their house to speak to my friend, the answer on the other end of the line would invariably be, “Big Pete or Little Pete?” — you’d think I would have learned to just ask for Little Pete right off the bat, but I guess I was too young and naive to figure that out. I would refer to the elder as Big Pete, and in time, some point after I grew from a boy into a man, he would always address me as “Mr. Glab.” It was a level of respect from a man 30 years my senior that was unneeded and unwarranted, but extremely gratifying nonetheless.

As the years went by, and as Little Pete and I grew closer and hung out on a regular basis, I grew to know and love the kind of man that Big Pete was and what he stood for. I got to witness firsthand what kind of husband and father he was, how great a friend he would become, and that he truly was a gift from God.

I think what stood out most to me about Big Pete was the kind of impact he had on the lives of others. That fact alone speaks volumes about the quality of life lived. To me, I believe the measure of success in a man is not what he accomplishes for himself but what he does for the success of others. And as I sat back and surveyed the sea of mourners paying their last respects, I saw a crowd of people positively affected, encouraged, and even somewhat transformed by Big Pete.

How does one accomplish so much in his time on earth? I propose that he did it through three simple factors: attitude, hard work, and love. Throughout all the years that I had the privilege of knowing Big Pete, I don’t recall a single time when he wasn’t happy. The man oozed with positive thoughts and feelings and if he wasn’t having a good day, he sure did a good job of masking it to others. That kind of positive personality rubbed off on other people and they couldn’t help flocking to him.

I recall several moments in time when Big Pete would captivate the room, but one sticks out more than others. I play on a softball team with Little Pete and a handful of our friends — a team that Big Pete generously sponsored with his personal HVAC business. The mood on the field can get quite intense given the competitive fire many on our team have. But one night Big Pete strolled down the sidewalk toward the softball field to come watch us play, and as soon as he got to the bleachers just behind the dugout, it was like the President had just walked into his own private suite. The guys on the team ignored what was happening on the field and turned around to shake his hand. He had a smile on his face and exchanged pleasantries with almost every player in the dugout. It didn’t matter what the score was — we were probably down 13 runs at the time — because the level of respect we each had for the man was far superior to the competitive fire in our bellies.

Aside from his attitude, his level of hard work shined through next. The man was always on the go, ready in an instant to fix something that was broken. At his wake, one of the speakers made a nice reference to Big Pete as a “first responder,” comparing his ability to get where he was needed in such quick time to police, firefighters and ambulances. Big Pete had a strong work ethic and he recognized the need to serve and support his family and friends, of course, but also churches, schools, and local businesses.

Finally, love was the third ingredient that made Big Pete such a success in his life. Whatever he did, it came from the heart. He had his priorities straight and I admire the man for it. First and foremost, he had strong faith and a love for God, which not only steered his life in the right direction but also gave him strength in his final days. Secondly, he loved his wife of 40 years more than anything or anyone on earth. I cannot stress enough how important the spousal relationship is. Two lives working together as one, let no man separate. I’ve been married for about three months now and I pray that I live up to my duties as a loving husband and provider for that length of time. Third, Big Pete loved his two sons, their wives and little daughters with all his heart. His sons have grown into great men in part because of the lessons he and his wife passed on to them. And although his time with his granddaughters was brief, he loved them dearly and they’ll learn what kind of man he was as they grow older and hear stories. Big Pete’s love obviously spread to his extended family, his church family, and the legions of friends he developed over the years.

Although my heart is heavy, I’m extremely grateful to have known Big Pete. His wake and funeral were sad, but they truly were a celebration of his life as well. He was inspirational and had a profound impact on all the lives he touched.

You don’t even have to have known Big Pete to learn a lesson from him. I encourage you to heed the following advice. If you want to live well and be a success in life, follow Big Pete’s example: always keep the right attitude, work as hard as you possibly can, love with all your heart, and make sure your priorities are in the right order.

Here’s to you, Big Pete! Thank you for all you’ve given to the world. Gone for now, certainly missed, but never forgotten.

If “everything is bigger in Texas,” does that include a four-day weekend getaway, too?

Every now and then, we all need a break from the rigors of the everyday grind, because, let’s face it, the gears sure do grind you. My wife, Rachel, and I recently took an extended-weekend vacation to help escape that reality, if only for a brief moment. As I type this, we’re four days removed from the trip, proving just how busy I am to even sit down and collect my thoughts sometimes.

We could have gone almost anywhere for this getaway, and there certainly were plenty of choices on our list. With only four days to work with — three, if you exclude the return day which almost always eats into time and enjoyment — we ultimately decided to go with somewhere warm and beachy, and chose Galveston, Texas, for our destination.

Galveston is a city of more than 47,000 people, located on a small island off the southeast coast of Texas that borders the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a little more than an hour drive southeast of Houston, which is where our plane landed early Friday morning. Rachel’s sister, Brooke, and her husband, Shane, picked us up from the airport and we all drove together to Galveston.

Our hotel was beautiful. A broad, wide building overlooking the Gulf’s shoreline, it was across the street from the beach and down the road from some of the “hotspots” in the area. The pool scene was nice, complete with a modest water slide, a swim-up bar, and a friendly staff seemingly eager to help and grateful for gratuity.

When we had arrived and checked in, we took a walk around the premises and had lunch at the Rainforest Cafe next door. Ignoring the loud waterfall behind us and the swinging apes overhead, it was a good place to grab some grub. We strolled along the beach afterward, took a quick dip in the pool, and then crashed on the lounge chairs for a while. By nightfall, we drove a short distance up the coast to a small town called Kemah, and we visited their boardwalk for some fun.

We walked in and out of some shops and I bought a pair of sunglasses because I left mine at home — smooth move, Ace. Who doesn’t bring sunglasses on a sunny vacation? We played the water-shooting target game that you will find at most carnivals — Rachel won; I think she cheated. We also ate ice cream, watched some fireworks, and — my personal favorite — we sat in an open-air restaurant overlooking a channel off Clear Lake, sipping Margaritas and catching up on life.

On Saturday, after sleeping in for some ever-so-needed rest, we headed back north toward Houston to visit the Johnson Space Center to experience a bit of NASA. We walked around looking at different exhibits, reading placards and seeing artifacts from space missions of the past. My NASA knowledge has always been limited to three space flights: Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded shortly after takeoff in 1986, Apollo 11, which was the flight that landed Neil Armstrong on the moon, and Apollo 13, which was intended to land on the moon but could not due to numerous ship failures. Apollo 13, of course, was popularized by the 1995 Tom Hanks film. But after visiting the Johnson Space Center, I was able to learn just a little bit more about the space program.

In addition to walking around, we also sat down for an interesting half-hour show where we were given insight into how an astronaut eats, sleeps, and goes to the bathroom — among other things — while in space. We also learned that due to limited water supply, astronauts will drink recycled urine…

Let me give you a moment to let that sink in…

The woman giving the presentation noted that it’s actually cleaner and more purified than regular drinking water, but … I think I’ll stick to being a web developer here on earth.

My favorite part of our day in Houston was the tram tour we took around the base. We started off visiting Building 30 — also known as the Christopher C. Kraft building — where the Mission Control Center is. We had the option of going to the new mission control or the historic one before we departed and we went with the latter. I have nothing against what NASA is currently doing, but there’s something special and nostalgic about history.

We got to sit in the viewing room overlooking the mission controls room where all the action took place. As I mentioned previously, two of the spaceflights I was most familiar with were Apollo 11 and 13. Neil Armstrong actually spoke to the men in this room from the surface of the moon. And while Apollo 13’s crew was fighting for survival in space, there were frantic men scrambling about in this room trying to save them — as depicted by Hanks’ movie. Apparently, the film wasn’t shot in the actual mission control room. As Wikipedia states: “NASA offered the use of the control room for filming but [director Ron] Howard declined, opting instead to make his own replica from scratch.” It would have been neat if it had been filmed there, but the real event is even more special.

After the missions control, the tram took us to see the Saturn V rocket, the vehicle which launched the Apollo ships into space. The rocket is 363 feet tall, and when it’s on its side — which is how we saw it — it is almost exactly the length of a football field from the back of one end zone to the other. One yard longer than a football field, to be exact.

Saturday night after the trip to Houston, we had a nice dinner in an Italian restaurant inside the hotel before calling it a night.

After the go-go-go of Friday and Saturday, we used Sunday for rest and relaxation, spending hours on end soaking up the sun while sitting poolside. The Texas heat was so strong that we actually started dripping sweat immediately and uncontrollably within minutes of being in the sun. We had to take several dips in the pool to cool off, which was refreshing but didn’t exactly “cool” our body temperature, considering the water was lukewarm as if we were sitting in a bathtub.

We ate dinner Sunday night at a bar and grill down the street from our hotel, and we watched Bridget Jones’s Diary late at night before going to bed — this wasn’t a choice, it was a lack of options, I assure you. We had to be awake at two in the morning, so it was kind of odd to be watching the movie — well, that, and it is an odd movie to begin with — but we eventually passed out for a short couple of hours before getting up and heading back to the airport.

The only good thing about waking up in the wee hours of the morning for a flight is that you get home with enough time to enjoy the rest of the day, which is exactly what Rachel and I did when we arrived at our house around noon on Monday.

The trip was brief, as it was to be expected, but I’m thankful that we got the opportunity to get away for a while. We had a great time with Brooke and Shane, got a little R&R, recouped some of the tan we lost from our honeymoon nearly two months ago, and, yes, even learned a little bit as well.

Yeah, man … a Caribbean honeymoon

Antigua 2015 A Caribbean honeymoon on the island of Antigua.

Following a wedding too beautiful for any words to accurately describe, there’s only one destination a newly-minted married couple logically could go for a blissful honeymoon to celebrate its union.

And when Rachel put the kibosh on a trip to Canton, Ohio, for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the wife and I instead headed south for the small island of Antigua, located on the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea. It’s pronounced an-TEE-ga (not an-TEE-gwa … the “u” is silent) as we would later learn upon arrival.

 

A view of Antigua's Verandah resort's main beach. A view of Antigua’s Verandah resort’s main beach.

YA, MON (the correct way to say, “yeah, man”), this place will do!

We loaded the car and headed to the airport in the wee hours of Memorial Day morning — I didn’t even know there was a 3 a.m. — and departed for a stop in Miami before continuing on to Antigua. The layover in the Sunshine State was nice because it broke up a normally six-plus-hour flight into two nearly-identical shorter trips. The plan was for us to watch a movie together for each flight, but we passed out cold during the first one while operating on just a couple hours of sleep.

Having never been out of the country before, I got to experience my first trip through customs. Long lines, lots of waiting, employees who seemed to want to be anywhere else but there, strange forms and probing questions. It felt like a trip to the DMV.

My first bit of culture shock came after we exited the airport and approached the line of taxicab vans waiting to haul tourists to their various resort destinations.

First, we received a slip of paper that gave us the price of the one-way trip … in East Caribbean dollars, the island’s official currency. One US dollar equals about 2.7 East Caribbean ones, so the astronomical price really catches you off guard the first time you see it — hmm, maybe we should walk to our resort. Thankfully, because their country thrives on the dollars of foreign tourists, they listed US dollars as well.

 

Next, we climbed in the van — driver in the front right of the vehicle — and cruised along on the left side of the road. It really freaks you out the first time you see oncoming traffic in the other lane — you know, the lane you feel you’re supposed to be in. It felt like the wrong side of the road to us, but to the British tourists and Antigua locals, it was normal. We were the American oddballs.

Perhaps what struck me as most odd about the driving in Antigua was the utter disregard for — and lack of — rules of the road. There were hardly any signs on the road and almost no lane markers to be seen, at least not in the less populated areas of the island. The drivers often shade toward the middle of the road and the only rule they abided by was don’t hit the oncoming traffic. Fortunately for us, our drivers succeeded.

I was a little surprised at some of the more run down areas of the island as we drove to our resort. When you think of Antigua, the Caribbean, or any kind of island getaway, for most people the first thing that comes to mind is “fun in the sun.” You get visions of warm air, clear skies, clean water and beautiful beaches. What you don’t expect to see are old, beaten-down shacks, stray animals wandering around, and residents — many of whom have little income and not much to do to fill their days — sitting on chairs on their porches or standing idly beside the road. We Americans often take for granted how good we have it and seem to let the imagery of tropical vacations cloud our view of what life is really like for many of those who live on these islands.

The resort we stayed at was on the east side of the island, a good half hour or so drive from the airport. I’m not going to lie; when we first arrived on site, we weren’t wowed by what we saw. That’s not to say we didn’t think it was beautiful. We must’ve had a different vision in our minds from the pictures we saw on the resort’s website when we booked the honeymoon many months ago. Even now as I take a break from writing this and peruse their website’s pictures, I can tell that they’ve been touched up or doctored a little. I wasn’t unhappy by any means — who could be on their honeymoon in the Caribbean? I’m just reporting an observation I had while there.

 

A look at the outside of our hotel room. A look at the outside of our hotel room.

Housekeeping still was preparing our room upon our arrival, so we decided to walk around and see what we’d be calling our home for nine days. They had tennis courts and a mini-golf course, ping pong and billiards tables, shuffleboard and foosball, two pools, two beaches, boating, a fitness room, a spa, a few bars and four restaurants. Only one of the restaurants was open for lunch at that point, so we sat down on a deck overlooking a bay that leads out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Admittedly, I was still in a bit of culture shock at that point. I’m not someone who understands very well those who speak with accents, so I had trouble comprehending what they were saying. Additionally, some of the employees there seemed less than affable, so I wasn’t prepared for that. It didn’t seem like the most welcoming situation.

 

Antigua's ugly black birds will steal your food if you're not paying careful attention. Antigua’s ugly black birds will steal your food if you’re not paying careful attention.

The food at that particular restaurant was pretty good — after we got used to having birds whiz past our heads and try to grab food off our plates — and over the course of our trip we found ourselves going there frequently for the self-serve soft drinks and nachos, and we ordered ice cream a few times as well. They served a jumbo grilled hot dog there that rivaled the taste of the franks you might get at a ballpark.

After lunch, we finally were able to get into our room, unpack, and get into our Caribbean gear. Finally, it was time to unwind and settle in.

 

A look at our king-size bed (left) and bathroom (right) adorned with some flowers for our honeymoon. A look at our king-size bed (left) and bathroom (right) adorned with some flowers for our honeymoon.

We spent most of our days lounging by one of the two pools at the resort — the main pool and the adult pool. The main pool was bigger with more seating options, was in a Wi-Fi hotspot, and had quick access to the main bar for all sorts of drink concoctions that they served. The adult pool was smaller, but quiet and peaceful because no kids were allowed, and those who went to that pool all were there for one common goal: relaxation.

 

A small waterfall at the quiet, peaceful adult pool. A small waterfall at the quiet, peaceful adult pool.

The first night we were there, we crashed at the main beach with drinks in our hands and watched the sun disappear below the horizon line. Our intent was to check into paradise and check out from the rest of the world for awhile — which we did for the most part, but found some time each day to sit in a hotspot and check Facebook to see what was going on in the wake of our wedding festivities.

 

Cheers to our honeymoon! Lounging on the main beach as dusk approaches. Cheers to our honeymoon! Lounging on the main beach as dusk approaches.

One of the things we learned the hard way was it’s not enough to simply put sunscreen on in the morning and then call it a day. You should always re-apply sunscreen throughout your time in the sun anywhere on Earth, but particularly in the Caribbean, we learned. The first couple days on the island, we walked around looking like Mr. Tomato and Mrs. Cherry.

While lying poolside with a cold drink in hand and reading a book might seem like a great way for rest and relaxation, we knew we wanted to change things up a bit and explore what else Antigua had to offer. So we planned two excursions for our visit: a day of adventure and a night on a boat.

The adventure day took place the fourth day we were there. We got an early start and were picked up by a taxi and taken to our first activity: zip-lining. I had never gone zip-lining before so I didn’t know what to expect. Something about being suspended in a harness dozens to possibly hundreds of feet off the ground never really appealed to me. But I thought I’d give it a try. My wife didn’t have to do too much prodding.

Once again, the language barrier — or, at least the accent discrepancy — became a challenge. For the most part, I was able to understand what our instructor was telling us we needed to do because she demonstrated it visually. But I wasn’t sure what she said about what to do when we had reached the end of the line. So, it wasn’t the height of the rope or the speed at which I might travel that had me a little nervous. It was the possible splat that might result when I reached the tree at the end of the rope.

Fortunately, we weren’t the first in our group of zip-liners, so I was able to see what other people were doing before I had to go. And the first of the nine zip-lines we went on was a short one, so I was able to get a good feel for the ride. Unfortunately, I stopped myself a little short and had to pull my way to the end about five feet. But once the first ride was out of the way, I got the hang of it and it was an exhilarating time the rest of the way.

The most challenging part of the activity wasn’t the zip-lining at all. It was hiking up the hills of the Antigua rainforest in the scorching heat to get from one line to the next.

We got back into the car and headed out for our next destination, but not before we stopped for some “black pineapple,” supposedly the sweetest pineapple in the world.

 

The sweetest pineapple in the world ... Antigua's "black pineapple" The sweetest pineapple in the world … Antigua’s “black pineapple”

After indulging in the admittedly tasty pineapple, we pulled over at what looked like a remote, outdoor rest stop in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. Our driver joked that this was their version of a “fast food” shop. We ate a tasty chicken and rice meal out of a styrofoam container and talked with some other tourists who had joined us. The place looked like a rocking good time, perhaps even a late night hot spot. It even displayed a sign promoting a hardcore reggae band — seems like an oxymoron to me, but what’cha gonna do?

 

Rock out to hardcore reggae! Rock out to hardcore reggae!

Back on the road, we headed for a beach where we climbed aboard a speed boat and got a ride out to a small island where we hopped in a kayak for a 30-minute tour. We paddled our way through the mostly-calm water, stopping a few times to look at underwater creatures like jellyfish, starfish, and this weird, cigar-looking thing whose head and butt looked the same — our tour guide told everyone we’d be wise not to hold it anywhere near our face, just to be safe. I had no reason to go against that advice.

The third part of our excursion included the underwater surface exploration known as snorkeling. This, like zip-lining, was a brand new experience for me. I’m not really the world’s strongest swimmer, but I felt that with a life vest on I could at least get it done. The wife and I got a brief tutorial on what we needed to do before taking the plunge into the water — which felt exhilarating after a hot day of hiking and rowing. When I first jumped in, though, I had trouble with the proper breathing exercises and had to rip my mask off to control it. But I put it back on and got the hang of it and was able to see what rested on the shallow ocean floor.

I cannot believe what lies beneath the surface! There is a whole other world down there and I’m amazed at God’s beautiful and abundant creations. I saw many different shapes and colors of fish and saw what I thought resembled Dory from the movie Finding Nemo — but I’m not sure if that type of fish is indigenous to the Caribbean region.

When we returned to our hotel room that day, as soon as I climbed into bed, I was out like a light. Apparently — so says Rachel — she had time to watch a movie and stay up for a couple hours after I passed out. Let me tell you, this is a rarity. Usually it’s the other way around.

The very next day, we went on our second and final excursion, a short sunset cruise on the west side of the island, the coast bordering the Caribbean Sea. The late afternoon and early evening were beautiful and the ride was quite enjoyable. Although there were clouds in the sky when the sun went down, obstructing what would have been a perfect sunset, it still was picturesque.

 

The sun approaching the horizon line over the Caribbean Sea. The sun approaching the horizon line over the Caribbean Sea. Simply a majestic sight to witness in person but also capture on camera! Simply a majestic sight to witness in person but also capture on camera!

The sunset cruise marked the middle of our honeymoon. We had already done so much and yet we had a whole half a vacation remaining. By this point, we really got into reading by the pool. Between the two of us, we had read five books — finishing each within a day or two. We made a trip to the airport to get some cash — there were about three ATMs on the entire island — and got our first dose of the East Caribbean dollar. We also dined at two of their fancier restaurants and Rachel made an appointment at the spa — definitely not my thing, thus, we were apart from one another for the first and only extended period of time throughout the duration of our trip.

By Monday morning, our eighth day on the island, we started to feel Antigua fatigue-a. We were enjoying every bit of our fun in the sun and the romance of our first days of marriage, but the redundancy of the trips to the pool and eating the same meals for breakfast and dinner at the same restaurant finally started to wear on us. I think it’s quite common for those who go on long vacations to reach a point where they say: “It’s time to go home.” And we had reached that point.

Despite this feeling, we decided to make the most of our final couple days there and we enjoyed every last minute of it. By the time we packed up our belongings and headed to the airport two days later, we were rested, relaxed, and dark tan. The flights home were enjoyable as we watched a couple movies together on our iPad, but we were excited and relieved to get home to our new house and begin our “everyday life” together.

Rachel and I bounced back and forth throughout the duration of the trip about how we would rate the resort at which we stayed, but I don’t think either of us could have given the entire honeymoon any less than a Perfect 10. Memories are etched in stone based on the whole, not the sum of the individual parts. We may have had birds stealing food off our plates, we may have gotten burned in the hot Caribbean sun, I may have kicked Rachel’s butt at ping pong. But born out of all those individual experiences are great stories and lasting memories.

I know I gathered plenty of good memories to last a lifetime.

 

One of my favorite memories from the honeymoon ... a beautiful wife watching a beautiful sunset. One of my favorite memories from the honeymoon … a beautiful wife watching a beautiful sunset.

A groom’s thoughts on the morning of his wedding day

It’s before 7 a.m. I want to sleep, but I’m awake. My body says “hit the snooze button” on its own internal alarm clock, but my mind is ready for the big day.

Last night at the rehearsal, I teased the women of the wedding about their five-hour timeframe for hair and makeup, insinuating that I would get to sleep in on Saturday morning while they were up nice and early, groggy and weary-eyed.

But, alas, I’m awake in bed in the six o’clock hour with nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m up every day for work at this time. Why would my wedding day be any different?

I got out of bed and watched the series finale of Seinfeld on DVD before making my usual morning coffee run. It’s so nice living less than a mile from a cute little downtown area. I envision many Saturday morning strolls with Rachel into town and around our neighborhood. The location of the house was one of its primary attractions to us.

***

I managed to kill a little bit of the excess time this morning, but it isn’t even 9:30 yet — the women aren’t even halfway done with the hair and makeup.

I suppose I could use this time to be productive. Maybe run through our first dance routine one or two more times. Rachel and I gave it one final walkthrough last night before we parted for the evening. Practicing by myself might prove to be a bit difficult. We’ll both admit we’re not the most graceful dancers — between the two of us, we have four left feet.

***

I noticed an influx of questions come pouring in over the last few weeks as the wedding date rapidly approached.

“Are you nervous?”

“Are you excited?”

“Are you getting cold feet?” (followed by a playful laughter)

My answers have remained the same throughout.

“I’m nervous about nothing … except maybe the first dance.”

“I’m as excited — if not more — as I was the day I proposed.”

“And my feet are warmer than they’ll be on the sandy beaches of Antigua come Memorial Day afternoon.”

The truth is, I’ve been ready for this day for quite some time. It’s been a dream of mine for all my life — at least, once I hit puberty and discovered an interest in girls. Back then, I was a shy, bumbling, awkward kid with an intense fear of rejection. These days … well, I can still be bumbling and awkward at times, and the fear of rejection never really goes away, but at least I’m not a shy kid anymore.

I used to wonder why it took me so long to find the woman of my dreams. “Why me, God?” is an all too familiar question from all of us. If it were up to me, I’d have been married with children at 33 years old.

But then I realized that my wishes aren’t always exactly what are best for me. And if they are, my timing isn’t necessarily the right thing for me, either.

Rachel needed to finish grad school and get her feet wet in the working world. I needed to clear up some financial matters and set myself up as the provider I want to be.

After all that, God’s plan and timing worked out much better than my “ideal” plan was.

***

It’s still morning. My coffee is getting cold. The countdown app on my iPhone says there are more than 16,700 seconds — give or take a few — until we say “I do.” Across the room, my tux is hanging neatly within its plastic. I guess I have a little bit of time before I need to shave, shower, and suit up for the big game!

I want to look good for my bride. I know in her eyes I could pull off the style of a Bulls t-shirt and athletic pants like no other, but why don’t we stick with the traditional route? I don’t mind wearing a tux. It’s fun and different, and actually, I find them to be quite comfortable. Really.

I remember picking mine up from the bridal shop yesterday. I wound up driving over 150 miles around the county in a span of seven hours, running last-minute errands for the wedding and the honeymoon. The nice lady at the shop asked me if I had time to try on the tux … as if the answer would be anything but a resounding yes! I know I won the jackpot by landing a girl like Rachel, but I won’t press my luck on the suit fitting properly.

It’s a good thing I did try it on because the pants were too short and the shirt was two sizes too big! I looked liked a puffy-shirted pirate wearing Steve Urkel’s pants. How proud my bride would have been to see me in that. In fact, I think she would have much preferred the Bulls shirt and athletic pants.

After straightening it all out, I left the bridal shop with my tux, but not before the ladies — yes, there were three of them at that point — said one more lasting thing: “Your bride looks so beautiful in her dress; you’re going to cry.”

To which, I replied: “Oh, I expect to.”

Because this much I know to be true: when the music starts playing, as the audience rises to its feet, and when every eye in the building — including mine — is looking at the stunning beauty in white being led down the aisle by her admirable father … that blonde-haired bride will be looking back at me.

***

At some point in my early twenties, inspired by what I had read from others, I decided to create a bucket list — you know, a list of activities, destinations and events that a person wants to do, go and see before he or she dies. Scattered throughout my list are some of the typical things people add to theirs: learn another language, visit a variety of states and countries, learn to play an instrument, etc.

But at the top of that list, firmly entrenched as my top priority, I wrote: “Be a husband.”

Notice the way that’s phrased, though. It’s not just to get married. The wedding is just one day of your life. Being a husband involves so much more. It’s a constant, challenging, ongoing, never-ending task, for which I’ve never been more eager or prepared.

So, to my darling fiancée, and soon-to-be wife (in 14,500 seconds), I say to you this:

I cannot promise you that I will be perfect, as no man or woman is.
I cannot promise you that I will never say or do anything stupid, for moments of stupidity are inevitable.
I cannot promise you that I will have all the answers, because as you already know, I certainly do not.

But what I can promise you is this:

My faith to keep us on the right path, my comfort to soften your fall, my strength to lift you up, my balance to keep you steady, my feet to guide you along, my ears to hear you speak, my eyes to let you know you’re mine, my mouth to speak it true, my heart to beat in sync with yours to share the good and bad, and my love to make you feel like no other has ever felt.

It’s time now to get the tux on and get ready for the best day of our lives. Because, Rach, we are…

“Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.”