Love Your Neighbor, That’s It

To my Christian friends, this is for you. (Non religious friends feel free to read too since I talk about your greatness! LOL)
 
“We are in debt (to Christ) and under obligation to love our neighbors, and if the world had only loved its neighbors, it would not be torn asunder as it is today.” – JFS
 
I believe this sentence so much. However, in this day and age, I tend to see that many non-religious folks do this better than those who call themselves Christians. How hard is it to simply love your neighbor? So they don’t hold your beliefs, big deal. They look different, so what. They don’t act like you, that’s because they’re not you. We’re all different and that’s a great thing, not a bad thing.
 
“But what about…” I can hear you saying. No, I’m sorry. Jesus forgave those that nailed him to a cross and hung him out to die. He loved them just the same as everyone else. Therefore, none of your “but what about”s tops that, I’m sorry. Even if he was not the Son of God, even if he was just a cool human being, he still found a way to forgive those other cruel humans that did that horrible act to him.
 
If there has been anything my life has been focused on, it is loving my neighbors because it’s the only way to unite the world. Have I been perfect? No, of course not. I falter now and then, but I’ve succeeded more than I’ve failed, that I can promise you.
 
I have great examples to help keep me on course: my parents and my wife. They have been pillars of how to love everyone. My folks never spoke ill of any of my friends despite the fact that some looked pretty freaky and did not in any way shape or form conform to our beliefs. My mom drove across state lines with her sisters to visit her brother who was temporarily out of jail for a week. The crime he was convicted of wasn’t pretty, by my mom and sisters found a way to forgive, just like Jesus, and to love him again. My wife has spent almost 1.5 years trying to love someone in her life that has made it clear on several occasions doesn’t want that love, yet my wife still loves that person. She has proven that you love even when others think you’re not and tell you (falsely) that you’re not. You don’t do it for show. You don’t do grandiose things that show you care to earn “That person is so great”, but you do it in the quiet spots of your heart because it’s the right thing to do.
 
If we want to make the world a better place, start by loving our neighbors…our literal ones. Then when we’ve got that down, move on to the metaphorical ones until we can love them all. If we did, that would make the world a better place for everyone and solve a lot of our societal problems.
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Let’s End Casual Racism

Dear friends and family, 

My son came home a month ago embarrassed because he heard a friend say “nigger” and then later repeated it not knowing what it meant. Friends whose family probably don’t consider themselves racist, but probably don’t mind partaking of a racist joke here and there (“only the really funny ones”). Upon learning what it meant, my son broke down crying because our neighbors are black and it pained him to know that he had contributed to the blind, ignorant hate that is racism. “Why would someone hate another person just because their skin color?” He asked in between sobs. I told him I didn’t know, but that most people probably didn’t understand how they contribute to racism in small ways.

This is why you shouldn’t make casual racists comments or jokes, but more importantly why you shouldn’t laugh at them and should actually tell your friends and family to stop.

Decades ago, I very clearly remember my dad getting ready to tell my younger brother a Pollack joke. My brother asked, “What’s a Pollack joke?” My dad was gonna answer and I said, “Don’t you dare. He’s lived 10 years of his life not learning racist jokes. We’re not ending that streak today.” My dad isn’t a hateful racist, he just liked Pollack jokes because that’s what he grew up learning. This is why we must end casual racism in our generation.

I hate, HATE the fact that the first word to pop into my mind every time I see a black person is “nigger”. My extended family was pretty casual with that word when I was growing up. I think being in the ghetto/barrio, if you can kick another race when you’re down, it makes you feel better and helps ease the pain of the racism you feel. It’s not rational and is completely absurd, but that’s life. I don’t say that word. Not casually, not hatefully. It’s a word I simply choose not to use. I have to consciously choose to. It be racist 30 YEARS after leaving the ghetto. If I can do it, you can too. 

To quote a fave lyric from a song, Your Racist Friend: “You can’t shake the devils hand and say your only kidding.” Please, please don’t shake the devils hand ever, kidding or not. 

Please read this link. The whole thing. Don’t read the first paragraph, think you know what it’s about and that it doesn’t pertain to you. Don’t dismiss it because you “know better” and that this won’t teach you anything because you are then part of the problem that the article describes.

EDITORIAL: What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege

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Giving Back Away from Home

On my personal blog, I wrote a bit about how I’ll be giving back professionally for the next 20 years. As one might be expect, there’s also some religious reasoning for the giving back.

I’m a Christian and thus believe in Jesus Christ. As I’m sure you know, that means that I believe he was born and sacrificed his life for humanity. Everyone is familiar with that sacrifice, but really what I love about Jesus was his life more so than death. He just sounds like the best person you could ask to be around. He was constantly giving service to those that needed it: healing the very sick, consoling the mourning, defending those that had no one to defend them and loving those that were practically abandoned.

As a teenager, I once gave away all my worldly possessions (my collection of popular music cassettes) to my friends. I was very poor and so it took a lot of time to amass that collection. When I passed out these to my friends, it wasn’t clear that I was ever going to get the collection back. It didn’t matter to me though. I loved my friends and wanted them to know they meant a lot to me…even more than the few meager material items I had.

I’ve always been good at loving people and trying hard to find the good in them. I find it hard to believe that we were put here to be evil and cruel to one another. The clearest way to show someone you love them is to serve them. I learned this early in life and it’s stuck with me ever since.

As a member of the LDS faith, service work for others is just standard operating procedure. Most service work, however, tends to be for those within our family or within our geographical ward/congregation/neighborhood boundaries. The exceptions are the general authorities of the church that operate at a global/regional level. While servicing our neighbors is very fulfilling and enlightening, it seems like we’re missing something by merely servicing those near us physically. With technology and travel options, it seems silly to limit our physical area of service work.

With that, I have challenged myself to try to make a difference in people’s lives in places nowhere near home: helping folks learn to better themselves in Silicon Valley, helping folks better represent themselves in court in Louisiana and Mississippi, and lastly trying to start a cultural revolution in Hong Kong.

Is any of this going to be easy? No, of course not, but with the work will come new found strengths and talents. Those things will make it easier. I have my faith and the knowledge that I can call upon my Heavenly Father to help me when the going gets tough.

Will I succeed? I do not know. The Lord has a plan and I’m just a tool in his hand. Should he decide to use me merely to lay the groundwork on these efforts, that is fine. I will cherish every moment I have in participating in these activities. I will take the fall from badly perceived plans, so that someone else may see my mistakes and build upon them.

We will all die someday, including myself. I just want to make a difference in people’s lives before I pass. Even if just 3 people benefit (1 from each of my 3 major projects), I will die happy knowing that I did my best and that someone who needed help was served.

 

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My Faith and Family Above All Else

This probably goes without saying, but I’m guessing that I should probably put words to screen about it anyways. There are two things in life that take precedence above all else: my faith and my family.

Faith First?

I know it may seem strange, to list faith before family, but there’s a reason for that. In order to properly support my family spiritually, emotionally and physically, I need to be the best person I can be. In order to be the best person I can be, I need to lean and depend upon my faith.

I live an “odd” faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I don’t think it’s odd, but society as a whole tends to see it as such. It’s not an easy faith to live, but then again, faith shouldn’t be something very simple to live. If it’s too easy to live, then it’s not helping keep us in check. Or you’re naturally good without sin, but there’s only been one person like that on earth and society hung Him on a cross…literally.

I do well with structure. I like routines, patterns, rhythms and symmetry. I guess that’s why I love to be a programmer, my day is typically filled with all those things. The LDS faith has a similar structure that I find comfort in. Only instead of being items that help me create a useful program, they are items that help me create a useful me. 🙂

One of the core tenets of the LDS faith is the family unit. A lot of emphasis is placed on trying to be the best husband, father, son and brother you can be. I take comfort in the fact that there is an entire organization of men who think daily on how to be better in all those roles. Men who then share that information so that many others can benefit from it.

From the outside, the church probably seems odd because we don’t drink alcohol, don’t drink coffee,don’t use profanity, do give 10% of our earnings to the church, do spend at least 3 hours in church on Sunday, etc. To me though, these are not strange behaviors but instead are ways to help make me a better person for my family.

My Family

There are many aspects to this word: family. There is my immediate family, the one I have stewardship over: My wife and 3 children. There is the family I grew up with: My parents and brother. There’s my extended family: My grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. And lastly, there’s my new family: My parents-in-law, siblings-in-law and my nieces and nephews.

Family is the essence of joy in my life. I am who I am today because of and for my family. They are the reason I take such great pride in items #1 (Family & Friend Time) and #3 (Work Time) in this post on my personal blog. Item #2 is all selfish and just for me. I wish I was completely selfless but alas I’m not. If I didn’t have a family to live for, I’m sure I’d just read books all day, eat top ramen and work just enough to buy more of those two items.

Family helps us grow in so many ways. They push us to the extremes and sometimes we crack in a bad way. It’s not okay, but it happens. Faith helps ensure that we don’t let ourselves get to that point. Sadly, most of the time, we either are the cause of the problem or we add to it versus fixing it. I know without ideas and help from church leaders, I would probably be a horrible husband and father. Many people think we are either inherently good or bad, but there’s more to it than that. It often just takes one small act of selfishness to ruin lives. Faith helps me remember that little acts have huge consequences.

Yet, there is the other side of the extreme where our hearts are just so overwhelmed with joy that it too cracks. Dancing with your baby and having her crack up. Hearing your five year old tell his first original joke. Watching your oldest slowly start to move away from being a child into becoming a young man. Laying next to your wife in bed knowing how lucky you are to have her at your side for this incredible journey. Reflecting upon precious, life-changing lessons that were taught to you by your parents. To be loved, truly loved, is one of the greatest gifts we humans can give to each other. There’s no greater place to feel that love than in a healthy family.

We all have family and so I hope that you to know both sides of the extremes. If you only know the bad and not the good, I’m sorry. I know life isn’t always fair and that not everyone takes their role in the family structure as seriously as they should. The only thing I can offer is for you to start your own family and do your best to make sure that it is one filled with more happy times than sad times.

That Sums It Up

You now have a little more insight into how important and intertwined those items are to me. In this techy filled world, religion and faith tends to be seen as archaic, fantasy, out of touch or plain gibberish. To me, it’s as real and mysterious as this computer I type on. I’m not sure I completely understand the “magic” that makes this machine work, but I know that I can research it and find out for myself so I can know for sure how it ticks. Same thing for religion, it seems like magic and constricting from afar, but if you give it a shot and dig deep into it, I’m sure you too can find one that synchs up with your thinking. That is, if you haven’t already, which I know if you’re reading this, you probably already have. 🙂

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Family Dinner: Cooking it and Making it Important

Sidenote: A companion piece to this post, entitled “Cooking Up a Storm Makes You a Better Coder”, can be found over on my personal blog.

The Importance of Family Dinners

This goes back through the ages. History has proven that families make strong societies. One of the best ways for families to be strong is to have dinner together. I know our church leaders have been saying it for decades.

Now, for most of 2010, I was gone from the home. I didn’t have the opportunity to eat dinner with my family, but I did spend most dinners with friends. I don’t mind eating lunch alone, but dinners to me have always meant people. I give great thanks to my parents for instilling that into me. I’m not sure they were trying to do that, but they did and I’m eternally grateful.

Starting Traditions is Hard to Do

I have a 4-year-old. When I was gone this past year, I’m guessing there was a lot of eating dinner while watching TV. It makes sense since I was gone and it probably wasn’t easy to have dinner at the table in silence. I’m the blabbermouth, so it would’ve stayed pretty quiet without me. Suffice to say, he likes to eat with the TV on. My 6-year-old was of the same belief. However, he is old enough to understand things.

Therefore, when I started up this tradition of family dinner time with no TV it was hard. Both kids said, “Why do we have to do this?” The 4-year-old started crying because he didn’t understand why he couldn’t watch TV. I told them, “But Daddy wants to talk with you. I want you to tell me all about your days.” It didn’t really change things at first.

The first few days, my youngest excused himself rather quickly and went back to the TV. While me, my wife and oldest tried to find our groove. After a few weeks, the crying stopped and only occasionally would there be griping.

One day, my youngest asked, “Why can’t we watch TV?” I’ll never forget that day, because my oldest answered: “But Eli, Dad wants to talk to us. He wants us to tell him about school and our day.” My oldest didn’t say it with sarcasm, he used emotions and emphasis that made it clear this was something important to him and something his little brother should be excited about. I made the decision right then and there to make sure to never let this tradition die.

Tell You Family Why It’s Important and Make It Important

A lot of families try this and many give up. I think they find that it’s too hard. If you find yourself in that predicament, may I offer up some advice:

  1. Tell them it’s important – A lot of parents try to start this tradition but they don’t tell the family why. Many kids feel it’s a punishment, because it sorta is (see next point). However, you need to tell them in plain English at the start, “I care about you and I want to know how you feel. I want you to tell me about your day because every day of your life is important to me.”
  2. Show them it’s important – It’s kind of hard to take parents seriously about dinner if they’re constantly checking their phone, lost in thought about work or hog up all the conversation. This is time for your kids to do most of the talking. Give them the opportunity to open up and share what they’re thinking. It make take a while to get them out of their shells, but when they emerge, it’s a glorious thing.
  3. Make it important – We all lead busy lives, so I think having a set time for dinner is a bit too much. Just agree on Sunday, or even that morning, what time dinner will be on various days. The meals need not be fancy, because the food isn’t the important thing: getting together is the important thing.

Cooking with your Family

I made homemade pasta with my boys the other night. I thought it would be fun for them to help roll and cut the fettuccine in the pasta machine and it was. Yeah, it slowed the process down a bit, little muscles don’t work as fast as big ones. Yeah, there was fighting over who’s turn it was to use the pasta machine, but they worked it out. Yeah, it made dinner later than normal, but they had fun. That’s all that was important…or was it?

I noticed two things:

  1. The boys ate what they made. They didn’t just nibble on it, they ate a big serving. They even ate broccoli as an appetizer. I don’t know if this will work with everything we make together, but it was definitely a good start.
  2. Teamwork makes for stronger bonds. This was the thing that surprised me most. Now, my boys like to play with each other. They usually last an hour or so before fighting. However, after making dinner, they played for a good 2.5 to 3 hours without one fight. We eventually had to go to bed and there was no fighting there either. We went and lied down without complaint.

Now, I’m not saying that having them cook will be an everyday occurrence. I sure hope to make it one though. If those 2 traits are even slightly improved with each cooking session, that’s more than enough reason to give it a try. Granted, not all recipes have opportunities for little hands, but I’m sure we can add something to the menu they can help with.

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The Big Man Upstairs Wanted Me to Learn Something

I pray..a lot.  I pray on average of 5 times per day.  Technically, 3 are just for meals, so they kinda don’t count.  1 is with the family at the end of the day.  The one left over is the one I use for my own personal reflection and growth. I do it right after I wake up in the mornings, when the house is quiet and I can concentrate the best.


Lately, I’ve been feeling a little lost professionally.  You can read up on it over on my personal blog.  When I’m lost, personally, spiritually or professionally, I do the same thing: pray about it.  Usually, my prayers get answered pretty quickly and I’m on my merry way.  This time, not so much.

The answer I got about a month ago was, “You need to learn something.  Come back to me when you figure out what it is.”  Not something you really want to get from the Big Man.  LOL

My initial response was, “Great.  Can’t you just tell me what it is?  Why do I gotta figure it out?  You already know, let’s save everyone the trouble and cut to the chase.”  🙂  I thought they were strong points, He didn’t seem to think so.

So I pondered and prayed.  Well, I thought I pondered, but I didn’t really.  I was just throwing random ideas out and hoping one would be “the answer.”  Then about two weeks ago, I caught a glimpse.  It had to do with teaching.

My current church calling is with the sunbeams (Translation: I teach 4 year old kids on Sunday).  I had a really spiritual experience one day where the Big Man said, “See, you’re in this class for a reason, to perform a task for me, not you.” It reminded me that my most successful church calling was as Assistant Scoutmaster.  I knew nothing about scouts, outdoor life or teenagers.  I succeeded not by doing everything for my scouts, but rather by showing them how to learn on their own and grow by leaning on each other for help.

I went back to the Big Man with my newfound nugget.  “Alright, does it have to do with teaching?”  And I gotta a resounding “Yes, now figure out the rest and be quick about it.”  LOL

This past weekend, I hunkered down and set to figuring it out.  I had some things going on with the biz that gave me some pause.  I found myself asking myself, “How did I get here?  Is this what I want to do with my life?”  Then I remembered teaching.  I got back to the root of why I started the first 360|Flex: It was to teach folk and help them learn from my experiences.  I found myself saying, “I need to get back to directly helping people learn from my coding jobs.” Then a peace came over me.

The next day, on my knees, I presented the idea to the Big Man and He answered, “‘Bout time, I was getting worried.”  Alright, so it was more like, “Be happy.  You know how to be happy, now get back to being happy.  Success will come in due time.”

It’s funny, because there’s things I *want* to do, things I yearn to do: make games, learn instruments to make music, write novels, etc.  However, the Big Man has laid it out for me.  “There’ll be time for that later.  I have work for you to do.”  He’s led me this far and taken very good care of me.  The least I can do is see where he takes me.

Moral of the story, when the Big Man Upstairs says it’s time to learn something, he ain’t playing with your mind.  He has a reason and you should probably figure out what that reason is.  It’ll help you sleep at night, honestly.
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President Obama on being a good father

On June 19th, 2009, our nation’s President took time out to focus on Fatherhood.  You can watch the video of this event here.  With so much going on with the economy, wars and other world affairs, it’s touches my heart to see our President focusing on this topic.  Many would say it’s not important enough to have focus at this time, but they would be wrong.

I’m not going to cover the importance of fathers, because I think everyone reading this is on that same page.  Rather, I’ll just pick a few choice quotes from the President and give supporting evidence from my life.

“I decided that, if I could be one thing in life, it would be to be a good father.”

When I was young, probably 8 or 9 years-old, I brought a book home. I began reading it with fervor. My dad ingrained a gem into me, early in life. “If you want to learn about something, there’s probably a book on it. Read that book and you’ll know how to do it.”

As I read my book on the couch, under a blanket (still my preferred place to read), my mom and dad walked up. “Umm…what’re you reading?”

“A book,” I respond, showing them the cover.

“Yeah, we got that but why are you reading *that* book?” The title was “How to be a good parent” or something to that effect.

“Because, I’m gonna be a dad someday. If I read enough books, I’ll be a better dad.” At 8 or 9, I made the same decision President Obama made. It feels good to know that he and I are the same in that respect

Luckily, my parents explained that being a good dad was something I couldn’t learn from a book. They pointed out to me it was learned by example, from watching others.

From that day forward, I observed as much as I could. I learned a lot of good things through observation. So much so that I wasn’t nervous when our first child was born. I felt ready and if the Lord thought I was ready too, who was I to disagree.

Sidenote: This also sparked my interest in observations and analysis of people in general. Something that has proven useful in business, writing, being social, being a good friend, etc.)

Travelling is tough because kids aren’t good on the phone. [ Ed. Note: That’s a paraphrase.]

As I travel more and more for my business, this one rings more true. It’s one reason I don’t call home much. It angers my wife, so I should try to call more. However, nothing is worse than being on the road, sad and alone, than calling home and hearing everyone having a grand old time. I’m not there, someone should be missing me! I know, it’s a bit selfish, but hey. I miss them, so it’s only fair they return the favor. 🙂

“That bond between a parent and a child is something that is precious, is sacred.”

It warms my heart to hear the President say stuff like that. This is such a true statement. This doesn’t refer to just birth children either, but also to adoptive ones. When you make a decision to take on the responsibility of a child, something precious and sacred does happen. There is an understood (often vocalized in quiet moments) promise. Everyone’s exact promise is different, but the gist of each is the same: to give anything and everything for the child’s happiness and well being.

Some parents forget that promise and it’s a sad thing. For a child will continue to carry its end of the bargain, which is to love in return. It saddens me when I see a “horrible” parent that is still worshipped by their child.

“This is not an obligation, this is a privilege to be a father.”

I think this is very good to point out. Many times, fatherhood does seem like an obligation. Some days, you just want to do what you want to do. You don’t want to be a dad with responsibilities. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to know that there are little mouths waiting for you to feed them as well as little hearts eagerly anticipating attention. It’s days like those that it feels like an obligation.

The one thing we must remember is that these children will only have one father. You. Fate or the Lord (whichever you prefer) brought this little one under your care. Not as an obligation. Not to reward you for your greatness. No, if anything it’s the opposite.

The child is there to humble you, to help you grow and be a better person. Every morning and every night, you need to give thanks to Heavenly Father or give a nod to Fate for this wonderful privilege. You need to reflect on what you did wrong and how you’ll be better moving forward.

Sure, they’ll love you either way, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to bring your best game to the field. The better you get, the better the reward.

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