Monday, October 15, 2012

I really remind you of him?

Did you ever say something and then realize it didn't sound like what you meant? 

Some of the most precious moments I have as a Dad are when my children are trying to express themselves and have a bit of a verbal faux pas that gives me an excuse to needle them a bit.

So last night I was coming out of a Mexican restaurant where we were celebrating my sister-in-law's 50th birthday.  (Yes, Belinda, now the whole world knows that you've turned 50.)  I was holding the hand of my 7-year-old daughter Christiana.  About a third of the way to the car, she says, "Daddy, do you know what I think of when I hold your hand?"

Always interested in the mind of a 7-year-old (and usually thinking on the same level myself), I said, "What do you think of when you old my hand Christiana?"  Because she is often given to profundity beyond her age, I think I was expecting something theologically or philosophically significant.  So I was particularly stunned by her reply.

"Beauty and the Beast," came her answer.  Well, it was readily apparent to me that she was the beauty in our story so that left only one character choice for me. 

"Christiana, I can't believe you're saying that I'm a beast!"  Instantly she realized her predicament.  It gave me great fun to tease her a bit on the subject.  Her 17-year-old sister Grace quickly understood her comment.  In the Disney cartoon on the subject, there is a scene of the young lady in that story placing her hand in the hand of the beast.  Her hand appeared tiny in the large and powerful hand of the beast.  Christiana thought of how small her hand was inside of my hand.  In essence, she was noting my relative power and size differential to her own.  It was the size rather than any other beastly characteristics I possess (especially since I was shaven at the moment) to which she referred.  But the timing and terseness of her answer made for a memorable moment.

Why write a blog article about that?  Well, it points out something I've been told but was reinforced by another incident this weekend.  To a little girl (up to the age that someone comes to take her away from home), her Daddy is the most important person in the world.  It is a big deal to spend time with him, talk with him, sit by him, sit in his lap, hold his hand, play games with him, laugh with him, and discover the world with him.  Never underestimate the importance of this job.

My own mother lost her father when she was 10 years old.  In the last 50 years, I've never heard her say anything about her Dad that wasn't wonderful.  She remembers his kindness, his generosity, his care.  And yet another relative I saw this weekend remembered a very different man.  He remembered my grandfather as someone who honored his own desires without regard for his family.  He remembered someone who did as he pleased and spent as he pleased but gave little love to his wife and children.  I knew my grandmother had a hard life.  But not having ever known my grandfather, this news was a total surprise to me.  And it made me wonder why my mother only seemed to remember the good about her Dad -- those occasional acts of kindness that characterize all her stories about her father.

Could it be that a little girl -- now a widow of nearly 90 years -- still thinks of her father as one of the most important men in her life?  If Dads are that important, what kind of opportunity do we have to really influence the lives of our daughters (and our sons) by INTENTIONALLY protecting and wooing their hearts?  Hold your little girl's hand today.  And if she says you remind her of the beast, have a good laugh about it.  You'll shape her heart for a lifetime.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Personal trainers are worth their weight in protein powder....

The most challenging part of getting older is keeping things in balance.  Balancing work / family, balancing enjoyment of life with saving for retirement, etc.  But in the last couple of years I discovered I was having subtle changes in physical balance -- just getting in and out of the tub I wanted sometimes to tip one direction or the other.  With a sedentary job (software engineer), I started having pain in my right leg due to my IT band binding to my muscle by fascia.  I decided it was time to hire a personal trainer.

I need to apologize to all the people I've seen with a personal trainer in the past.  I thought they looked silly doing exercises with balance balls and tension bands.  "Why aren't they doing real exercises?" I thought.  I stand corrected.  My trainer has had me doing some of these inane-looking exercises and I find they can put a real whooping on me.  Why?  Many are designed to restore my balance by strengthening my core.

Here's the benefits I've experienced having a personal trainer now for 3 months:
  1. I've lost 41 lbs.
  2. Because I've had an appointment with a paid professional, it has removed any temptations to make excuses for not going to the gym.
  3. My left leg started with 1.5 lbs. less muscle mass than my right leg (they have devices for measuring this).  This has now corrected and I have equal muscle mass in both legs.  This is due to all the things my trainer -- Matt -- has done to correct my imbalances.
  4. My balance has improved dramatically.  Some of the exercises I couldn't do at the beginning are now no longer challenging.  But every time I master one, Matt comes up with a different exercise to challenge my balance in another way.  He has explained that much of it is training the neuro-muscular connection.  When your balance is challenged in a new way, your brain has to learn new ways to instruct your muscles what to do.  All of this is resulting in a body that will be less likely to fall when I get older.
  5. My strength has made dramatic improvements.
  6. My blood pressure has dropped 20 points -- both systolic and diastolic -- without changing any medications.
  7. My trainer has become my friend.  We have to "catch up" when our schedule has been interrupted a bit.  Also, I've taught him to play racquetball -- the only thing in the club I can do better than him (but he's improving fast).
  8. My posture has improved dramatically.  Sitting in front of a computer all day caused me to have shoulders that were rounded and slumped forward.  This is called "crossover syndrome."  Matt saw that instantly and set about working to strengthen my rhomboids, lats, and rear deltoids.  I now walk much more upright and don't have to work to hold my shoulders back.  It makes me look years younger and makes it less likely that I will be one of those poor elderly people who are permanently hunched over.
  9. My self-image has improved as I can still give guys 30 years younger a good workout on the racquetball court.
  10. I have more control over my diet.  Having put this much effort into getting better, I am far more conscious about making wise choices.  I also bought a BodyMedia Link device for measuring calorie expenditure.  I compare this to my Sparkpeople dietary data and can tell you exactly what my calorie deficit or expenditure is during the day.  When I hit a plateau, I showed this to my trainer who suggested a 1-day "refeed" to trick my body into thinking the "famine" had ended.  So I ate 1.5 times the required number of maintenance calories on 1 day.  It worked.  I temporarily gained 1/2 a pound but then lost 7 lbs. over the next 4 days.  A good trainer understands the dynamics of weight loss and what to do when you hit a plateau.
  11. My cardiovascular condition has improved dramatically.  I feel like I'm 20 years younger after 4 months of training.  Workouts that would have killed me 3 months ago now are just a bit challenging.  It feels great to be in shape and see my blood pressure so low each day.
Costs on trainers vary a great deal.  They aren't cheap at my club.  So we may not continue this indefinitely.  I believe I now have the resolve to continue exercising on my own.  But I still have another 50 lbs. to lose and want to get to where I can do dumbbell chest presses with 100 lbs. in each hand (currently at 55).  And Matt says I still have a long ways to go to correct other problems that come from 30 years of neglecting my health. 

Matt is my chief cheerleader.  I text him when I reach a new weight low or accomplish a new physical feat.  He lets me know when he has free time for racquetball.  Since he goes to my church, he watches what I eat each Sunday at our fellowship meal after the morning service.  I've seen some personal trainers that just look like they're doing a job and aren't all that glad to be doing it.  But Matt is passionate about seeing his clients make progress.  He is constantly encouraging and cheers me through the last 2 or 3 reps of a weight lifting that seems impossible.  He gently "pushes" me beyond my perceived limits but is sensitive to what my real limits are.  And sometimes he holds me back if exercising one part of my body too much would be detrimental to achieving balance with another part of my body.  I sometimes want to push too hard to the next step and he will let me know when I'm not really ready for it.

So if you haven't considered a personal trainer, let me encourage you to find a good one.  He or she should be encouraging, enthusiastic, passionate about your progress, have the ability to be firm but not nasty, and become your cheerleader and friend.  Make sure to get one that is certified by a nationally recognized accrediting body.  A good trainer knows how to instruct you to use the right form.  Matt is always after me about keeping my chin up and shoulders back.  He stops me if I'm doing an exercise wrong.  The right form is more important than an impressive weight.  The right form will keep you from injury.

If you find that person, you'll discover that it probably costs a lot more to NOT have a personal trainer than to have one.  It has been the best investment I've made in my health and in feeling great every day.  I wish I'd done it years ago.  Like everything else, you can price shop.  I know a club nearby where I can get less expensive training.  But I've found the right trainer with the right qualities and I'm sticking with him.  I can't wait to see where I am a year from now!

Belated Father's Day reflections


My Father's Day weekend was awesome.  On Saturday, I started by playing my nephew racquetball for one and a half hours.  Then we lifted weights for an hour – after which I was thoroughly exhausted.  Matt is a first-class guy and I am proud to have them as both my nephew and my personal trainer.  Saturday marked the first time in his three weeks of racquetball experience that he was able to beat me at the game.  Because he is in the best of shape, I knew my racquetball victories would soon come to an end.  I have never seen anyone learn the game more quickly, and therefore I was not surprised to lose to him after only three weeks of play.  In terms of a racquetball handicap, I am a week C level player but hope to get better.  Matt started as my racquetball student, but he will now be giving me instruction.  After a tiring racquetball game and weightlifting workout, Matt warned me that my arms may not hold a shotgun as steadily as they normally would.

I returned home and took my two sons, Richard and Arthur, to the gun range for trapshooting.  We shot four rounds of trap.  Matt's predictions turned out to be true.  Richard handily won every round.  And Arthur, my ten-year-old, even tied me on one round.  Once again I found myself being trounced by young men that I had taught to shoot.

Then on Sunday morning, I had the opportunity to hear my son Richard teach Sunday school at our church.  For the last year he has been teaching a series on the Divided Kingdom -- the history of the nations of Israel and Judah.  God has given him unique insights with profound practical applications.  Richard does not have a seminary degree.  And while it would be wonderful for him to have a greater knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, he really does not need a seminary degree to be an effective teacher or pastor.  God has given him all the gifts he needs.  Richard has had keen insights that I have never seen in Scripture.  I remember teaching him the basics of preaching and often hear him teaching concepts that I taught him he was still young boy.  Now he is a man with his own family – a wife and daughter – and has a successful information technology career of his own.  In many ways, he has already surpassed my accomplishments.  I often find myself being the student with Richard teaching me things that I did not know.

Fortunately for me, there are still young children at home that have much to learn that I can teach them.  And I hope that I will have the opportunity to teach character and my life lessons to my grandchildren as well.  But I realized on this Father's Day that I have reached something of an apex in my life.  Those whom God entrusted me to teach are now teaching me and others.  I see others having developed superior skill in the things in which I encouraged them.  Up until now, I regarded middle-age as the time when your broad mind and your narrow waist exchanged places.  I realize now, however, that it is also a period of time in which you gradually release control and authority and watch others as they bloom and grow and prosper in their own lives.  I have always said that my job as a father was to raise children who would be better Christians than I am.  I have always hoped that my children would exceed the skills, the accomplishments, and the sphere of influence that I had during my lifetime.  From all that I see, I am now seeing the realization of that goal.

I really cannot take credit for anything that has happened.  Nevertheless, I thank God that He has allowed me to be a part of the lives not only of my own children, but several other young people as well.  I am an imperfect messenger with countless flaws and character deficiencies of my own.  Only by the grace of God can I now see greater hope for effective godliness in the next generation of family and friends.

I gave some thought this weekend to what I would do differently if I could do it all over again.  Here is my short list:
  • I would not sell my 1969 fastback Mustang with the Cleveland 351 racing engine, the Cragar mag wheels, the Hurst transmission, and the 850 Holly-4 barrel carburetor. I do not know that keeping the car would have had any profound effect on my life, but I really did like that car.
  •  I would have been more faithful and diligent in Scripture memory.  Few things have benefited my life so much as the Scriptures that I memorized as a young man and even during my parenting years.  Joshua 1:8 promises success to those who diligently meditate upon Scripture.
  • I would have spent less time in entertainment and more time in prayer.
  • As a young man, I would have spent less time striving to achieve success.  Instead I would have focused on those things that are eternally significant.  By striving for fulfillment instead of success, I have no doubt that I might have achieved both.
  • I would have begun each day by reading a written reminder to choose to respond people in a kind, patient, and gracious way.  In so doing, I could have avoided using so many verbal 2x4s to solve problems.
  • My wife and I would not have tried to prevent pregnancy during the first 3 to 4 years of our marriage.  After stopping birth control, it took several years before God blessed us with a child.  I often wonder whether we missed other blessings.  The eight children born to our marriage have blessed us beyond our ability to describe.  They motivate and encourage us to be better people.  They bless not only our lives, but also the lives of others.  Children take a lot of energy.  For that reason, it is better to grow up with your children rather than to wait until you are older to have them.  You do need, however, to make glorifying Christ the goal for your family.  That focus is essential to raising children who will be a blessing rather than a curse.
I received wonderful gifts of written encouragement from several of my children this Father's Day.  God gives us all together too short a time to love, nurture, and train children before they grow up to surpass us and have families of their own.  If you are a father, may I encourage you to make the most of every moment with your family?  I can promise you that in your old age you will not wish that you had spent more hours of work, more hours watching television, or more hours surfing the Internet.  However, you may well wish that you had spent more hours investing your life in the lives of others to produce a lasting and living legacy.  I only pray that I will have the wisdom to make the most of the time I have left with my children and grandchildren – who are such an incredible blessing to me.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The light in the tunnel is a train...

I've spoken several times on preparing for the coming economic collapse.  A few people have taken me seriously and are making preparations.  Most simply live as though life will go on as it always has.  Porter Stansberry has done a good job of succinctly summarizing why an economic collapse in the United States is imminent and inevitable.  When I say "imminent," history shows that when a Republic (like Germany) prints money to pay off its own debts, the natural result of inflation does have some lag time.  Our government just borrowed another trillion dollars in the end of January.  The debt ceiling went up without even a notice in the evening news.  We now owe over $16 trillion (not $15 trillion as in the quote that follows).  And in March we will borrow again to pay $1.7 trillion in short term T-bills that are coming due.  Inflation is happening, but we are in the "lag time."  In Germany it took 18-22 months after serious government printing before normal inflation turned into hyperinflation.  So it is inevitable, but you still have time to prepare.  You still have time to buy precious metals, invest in contrarian stocks, store food, and teach your family that loving one another is more important than material possessions.  So what will you do.  Porter Stansberry gives permission to pass on these comments, and I'm happy to do so.  (He is a competent analyst and always worth reading.)

What follows is a review of what I think are the most critical facts in our country's looming currency crisis. Most people still don't understand the risks we face as a nation because of our feckless leaders and their reckless ignorance of basic economics.
 
What follows are facts. Nothing in this essay will be conjecture or opinion. I will make no forecast – at least not in this essay. So please, stop the political name-calling... and grow up. The problems we face are ours. All of ours. It doesn't matter how we got here. It only matters that we begin to deal with these issues – soon. If we don't begin to solve these core financial problems, they will certainly destroy our country.
 
 Today, our national federal debt far exceeds $15 trillion. This alone is not a serious problem. The interest we pay on these debts is small – thanks to the trust of our creditors, who, for the moment, continue to believe America is a safe bet.
 
So... what's the problem? The main problem is the amount of debt we owe continues to increase at a faster and faster paceThis is exceptionally dangerous for two simple reasons. First, there's simple math. When numbers compound, the result is geometric expansion. And that's happening right now with our national debt because we continue to borrow money to pay the interest. And we have done so for about 40 years. Think about it this way: How big would your debts be today if you'd been using credit cards to pay your mortgage for the last several decades?
 
 Even worse, our debts are compounding at an accelerating pace because we lack the political ability to limit the federal government's spending. Please understand... I'm not pointing the finger at any politician or either political party. I'm simply pointing out a fact: This year's $3.6 trillion federal budget is 20% larger than the entire 2008 budget. And while our government has grown at a record pace, our economy hasn't. It has hardly grown at all. Thus, this will be the fourth year in a row we set a record for deficit spending. Never before in peacetime has our government borrowed this much money. And now, it's borrowing record amounts every year.
 
 This combination of borrowing record amounts of money (during peacetime) and continuing to borrow the money we need to pay the interest is setting the stage for amassive increase in total federal debt levels. Why is this happening? Don't our leaders realize they can't continue on this path?
 
 Well... the problem isn't so simple to fix. What we face isn't a $15 trillion problem. It's actually much, much bigger...
 
 The $15.3 trillion we owe today is really only a minor down payment on promises the federal government made to its most important creditors – the American people. Not yet included in our debt totals are the $15 trillion shortfall in Social Security (thanks to the Democrats), the $20 trillion unfunded prescription drug benefit (thanks to the Republicans), or the $115 trillion unfunded Medicare liability (thanks to the Democrats and Republicans).
 
 Most people ignore these looming liabilities because they obviously will never be paid. In fact, the federal government's total obligations today – including all future obligations – is more than $1 million per taxpayer. And that's if you assume all 112 million taxpayers really count. (They don't. Only about 50 million people in the U.S. pay any substantial amount of federal income taxes.)
 
But here's the funny part... While everyone seems ready to ignore these obligations, we've already begun to pay them. Our spending on Medicare and Social Security already greatly exceeds the $800 billion in payroll taxes we're collecting to pay these benefits. (Total spending on Social Security and Medicare last year was more than $1.5 trillion.) And that means our actual debts will continue to compound faster and faster every year, assuming nothing is done to curtail these benefits.
 
 I want to make sure you understand this fact: It doesn't matter how much (or how little) Congress chooses to cut its discretionary budget. The promises we've already made to Americans in the form of Social Security and Medicare guarantee that our debts will continue to compound faster and faster, every year. How do I know?
 
 Once again... let's return to basic math. Right now, we're spending (at the federal level) $2.4 trillion per year on transfer payments and interest on our national debt. That doesn't include any of the other functions of the government – nothing else. Meanwhile, we are only collecting $2.3 trillion a year in income, payroll, and corporate taxes.
 
Let me make sure you understand this: Even if we cut every other government program – including the entire military budget  the federal revenue collected still wouldn't be enough to merely cover the costs of our direct transfer payments. Not even close. And every year, these payments will automatically grow.
 
 Here's another way to look at the same basic numbers, but on a macro scale. Right now, total government spending in the U.S. equals $7 trillion per year. (That's federal, state, and local.) Total interest paid in the U.S. economy on all debts, public and private, equals $3.7 trillion. The size of our total economy is only $15 trillion. Thus, we are currently spending $10 trillion (out of $15 trillion) on our government and debt. This is unprecedented in all of American history. This financial structure is unsustainable – and extremely unstable, given our debt levels.
 
 There's the bigger problem (yes, it gets worse). The political solution to our soaring deficits will most likely be higher taxes. Yes, technically that's a prediction... And I promised no predictions in this piece. But let's face it. You will never see the federal government make dramatic, meaningful cuts to its promised benefits – not when half the country pays no federal taxes and more than 40 million people are on food stamps. So it's not really a prediction – it's a political reality. Will higher taxes save us?
 
 No. You cannot squeeze blood from a stone. The federal debt isn't the largest obligation we suffer under. Americans hold nearly $1 trillion in credit card debt. We hold nearly $1 trillion in student loans. Total personal debt in America is larger ($15.9 trillion) than all of the federal debt. In total – adding up all of our debts, public and private – Americans owe close to $700,000 per family. It is not possible to finance our federal government's spending via taxes because the American people are broke. Total debt levels in America are the highest – by far – of any developed nation.
 
 Tax the rich, you say. Well, of course. But marginal rates in many places are already greater than 50%. Tax rates this high don't work… They actually reduce tax revenues as people move their economic activities elsewhere to avoid taxes… or even simply forgo working.
 
Don't forget, the very wealthy can simply leave. James Cameron – director of blockbuster movies Titanic and Avatar – recently did just that, buying a 2,500-acre farm in Canada. John Malone, chairman of Liberty Media, likewise told the Wall Street Journal that he bought a farm on the Canadian border specifically so that he could leave the country whenever he wanted. "We own 18 miles on the border, so we can cross. Anytime we want to, we can get away."
 
Think I'm exaggerating the risks of real capital flight from the U.S.? Well... let's look at the facts. According to the latest IRS report, the number of Americans renouncing their U.S. citizenship has increased ninefold since 2008.
 
 How then will the government's spending be financed? Well, I promised no predictions. Not today. But I will remind you that since 2008, the Federal Reserve has expanded the monetary base from roughly $800 billion to nearly $3 trillion. That, again, is a fact. Feel free to draw your own conclusions about what the Federal Reserve is likely to do in the future if the U.S. Treasury is faced with a financial need that can't be met.
 
 You may do whatever you'd like with today's Digest. Feel free to pass it around to your friends – or anyone else who may be interested in these ideas. Be prepared for lots of nonsense about making the rich pay their "fair share" and pie-in-the-sky projections about how the entitlement system could easily be reformed.