Archive for November, 2013

The future of Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

What do you think a typical Thanksgiving celebration will look like 10 years from now?

Could it be that the same thing is happening to the Thanksgiving holiday as happened to Memorial Day and Labor Day? These were two holidays that used to represent something worth honoring in American history. But now, for most of us, their primary significance is that we get a three-day weekend and we can take advantage of start-of-summer and back-to-school sales at the mall.

I think Thanksgiving is a holiday in transition for a couple of reasons. Even if you’re like me and you don’t plan to be waiting at Target at 8p.m. when it opens on Thanksgiving, there’s no denying that the trend seems to be toward making Thanksgiving just another shopping day. As another example, Kmart will open at 6a.m. on Thanksgiving in case you want to cross a few people off your gift list while the turkey is in the oven.

It would be easy to see these stores as evil because now their employees have to work on a day that used to be dedicated to spending time with their family. But hey, times are tough and everybody is just trying to make a buck. These stores believe they are responding to consumers who want to get to the door-buster deals as early as they possibly can. And with Thanksgiving coming especially late in the calendar this year, the struggling economy, and double-digit growth in online sales on Thanksgiving Day, brick-and-mortar retailers are challenged with how to entice consumers to part with their money.

So whether you see it as good or bad, stores opening on Thanksgiving is now a fact of life. I’m sure we’ll never go back to the way it was – back when Thanksgiving was one of the few days of the year that you couldn’t have instant shopping gratification.

I think another reason that Thanksgiving celebrations will look different in 2023 is because the way people think about preparing Thanksgiving dinner is changing. More and more are opting to purchase a complete take-out Thanksgiving meal. And who can blame them? What working woman hasn’t momentarily considered buying Thanksgiving dinner in a kit? Not having to strategize about when to do the grocery shopping so you can avoid the crowds and still get a turkey for 59 cents a pound, would relieve a huge amount of stress.

But as more people buy a ready-made dinner for the convenience of it, there are going to be families where the children grow up not knowing how to prepare Thanksgiving dinner. I would bet that most women of my generation have vivid memories of watching – and by watching, learning – how to cook a turkey. (Even if my mother did constantly baste the turkey which has been shown to actually dry it out.)

Does this all lead to a Thanksgiving Day that doesn’t look more special than any other day? A day that becomes nothing more than a fast-food meal consumed quickly and without any ceremony so we can spend the day shopping for TVs at Best Buy?

It would be a shame if that happened.

The GORUCK Challenge

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

When our son, Ethan, enlisted in the army a little more than a year ago, we were quite sure that a lot of positive things would come from his five years in the military – it would give him training, purpose, and skills, not to mention a steady paycheck, help with his student loans and a guarantee that we wouldn’t have to help him schlep his stuff to a new apartment or back home – Uncle Sam would take care of the logistics for the foreseeable future.

But there has been another positive aspect that we really didn’t anticipate. Being surrounded by men and women who take their level of fitness very seriously has spurred him to develop his own physicality in a way that is a little surprising to us – given the determined lack of interest he showed in sports or any type of physical activity when he was growing up.

As a kid, Ethan studied karate for about eight years and was actually pretty good at it. But the minute we said that he could stop going, he took his last bow at the door of the dojo and never thought about martial arts again – unless it was in the context of the skills of a video game character. On our insistence, he joined the tennis team in high school. He loved the camaraderie but when the season ended, he set his racquet down in the corner of his room and it stayed there, untouched, until practice resumed the next spring.

However since joining the army, whenever he calls, he always gives us reports about his recent physical achievements – how fast he runs and for how many miles, how many pushups he can do, and so on. When Steve and I get off the phone we look at each other with a “Where is our son and what have you done with him?” kind of expression.

The revelation about what Ethan is made of continued for us when he told us a couple of months ago that he and a bunch of his army buddies had signed up for a  this weekend in Santa Cruz (ruck is short for rucksack; the army term for a backpack).  GORUCK, according to their website, is an event, not a race, patterned after Special Forces training. It starts at 1:00am, lasts 14 hours and involves various combinations of ocean water, sand, pushups, running, log carrying and team building challenges all while carrying 40 pounds of bricks in your ruck. We hoped that Ethan came out alive.

After eating a couple of pounds of barbeque on the way back to the army base in Monterey, sleeping for 16 hours and washing a pound of sand out of various crevices on his body, he called us to say that he had in fact survived. He described a few of his team members as “the five fittest guys on the planet” and certifiably so because they are CrossFit trainers; his team leader carried the “supreme confidence” that comes from being a Marine recon trainer. Would he do it again? His answer was absolutely “yes.”

I guess this is all just a reminder that our kids sometimes surprise us; and when the way that they surprise us is by pursuing something that’s constructive as opposed to destructive…well, that’s a gift.

Deliberate acts of kindness

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Our daughter, Valerie, who is a senior in college in Southern California, called us with some news that left me speechless for a moment or two. No, she wasn’t calling to tell me that she had eloped or anything of that sort.

Rather, Valerie was calling to tell us that one of her professors and his wife (who have almost adopted her into their family during the three years that she has been in college), had written a check to cover the cost of replacing the radiator in her car. We’re not talking a couple hundred dollars or so…this was a big expense.

What prompted this kind of generosity from them?

In the last few months, Valerie’s 2001 Volvo that had 113,000 miles on it when she bought it in 2010, has taken a turn for the worse. Major repair has followed major repair – the fuel pump, catalytic converter, ignition, and on and on. Valerie has paid for these repairs as much as she is able but in addition to the financial strain, it has caused her a lot of emotional stress to be on her own in SoCal and not have dependable transportation to get to work and school. For her, when the “Service Engine Soon” light comes on, it might as well be a sign of the apocalypse.

So in the most recent episode, the car was barely been out of the shop when the engine light came on and the car starting overheating when she was driving to Bible study – which is hosted at this professor’s home. She calls us in tears – she’s parked outside his house – and is totally distraught over how she’s going to cope with another expensive and disruptive car repair.

All we can do is tell her to get the car to the mechanic in the morning, and for right now, go to Bible study and tell your friends what’s going on. We know they love her and will support her in any way that they can. Everyone has been through the frustration of multiple car repairs – we know they will be empathetic and commiserate about how it really sucks to have to deal with this.

The car did indeed get fixed over the next couple of days. Then about a week later her professor asks her to stop by on her way home; he tells her that he and his wife have a fund that they set aside to use as God leads them. They had prayed about it and felt led to use this money to help Valerie through this especially stressful time.

What do you say when someone gives you a gift like that? My reaction was “Give it back!” But the truth is, the money isn’t mine to give back. It’s not like this couple had a moment of insanity when they wrote the check. They did it deliberately and intentionally. They gave it graciously – it should be received graciously.

It’s still a little overwhelming to experience this kind of generosity and love. I wrote a letter telling them that there is no doubt in our hearts, that God has a plan for Valerie, and this school and their presence in her life, is part of it. Of course, we are grateful for the excellent education and training she has received academically, but as parents, knowing that they were there to support her spiritually and emotionally, is more than we ever could have hoped for.

We are blessed.