Saturday, July 28, 2012

What Makes Marriages Work?

Two are better than one... and a three-fold cord is not easily broken.
The Book of Ecclesiastes

According to a Huffington Post piece by Cornell University Prof Karl Pillemer, there is still hope for the future of marriage, in spite of the fact that fewer people are marrying and divorce rates remain distressingly high.

Over 90% of high school seniors, he notes, say they plan to marry, and a majority of people still believe marriage offers a host of benefits.

So why do so many relationships turn sour?

As a part of the Legacy Project, Pillemer interviewed people who had been happily married for more than 30 years and came up with the following factors associated with marital success.

1) Marry someone a lot like you, especially when it comes to basic values. Opposites may attract, but tend not to make for great and lasting marriages.

2) Don’t expect your partner to change after marriage.  If by chance some changes do happen that you see as positive, be grateful, but don’t count on them.

3) See friendship as being as important as romantic love. When asked, "What's the secret to a long, happy marriage?" a common answer was, "I married my best friend." Similarly, from those whose marriages did not succeed, many said, "We were good at love, but we never learned how to be friends."

One 87-year old advised, "Think back to the playground when you were a child. Your spouse should be that other kid you would most like to be with."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

An Eye Opener on Affordable Healthcare

This afternoon I'm recovering from having my first cataract removed, from my right eye.

I was totally impressed by how painless and efficient the surgery was. Compared to only decades ago, when this would have required several days of recuperation in the hospital (with a sandbag on each side of my head to keep me absolutely motionless), this was a cakewalk. I’ve experienced far more discomfort in a dentist’s chair.

However, today’s procedure was, to put it mildly, a lot more expensive than a dental visit. It involved my having, by turn, the attention of at least five Rockingham Memorial Hospital health care workers in addition to my excellent surgeon, Dr. Kenlyn Miller.

And I’m fortunate to have both Medicare and Everence as good insurance providers, thanks to the nationally funded insurance program that’s been in place since 1965, plus the contribution my work makes to my having a good secondary insurance policy.

I’m not really complaining about the cost, but here are the numbers:

Rockingham Eye Physicians: for an eye examination, a pre-op and post op office visit and Dr. Miller’s 15 minutes of surgery, $2265.

Rockingham Memorial Hospital: for the use of their operating room and the help of their great nursing staff for over an hour, another $3,460.

Medicap Pharmacy: for the eye drops required prior to and following the procedure, an additional $170.

That adds up to a total bill of $ 5,895, which in my case is not a serious problem since I’m blessed with good insurance. But what if I had not yet been eligible for Medicare, was struggling to make ends meet, and for some reason just couldn’t afford health coverage?

A hotly debated issue these days is whether healthcare is some kind of constitutionally supported role government should be involved in. Personally, I am impressed by how Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite groups simply take care of each other’s major health care costs, groups that have opted out of receiving government help. 

But what about the rest of us?

One thing America’s founders clearly didn't anticipate is the astonishing revolution in medical science in the past century, which has nearly doubled life expectancy but has also created unimaginable increases in costs they could never have dreamed of. Back in the good old days (which none of us would likely choose to go back to) people were generally able to pay for whatever primitive but often unreliable remedies that were available. Or if necessary their neighbors and friends could easily chip in to help pay the bill.

But a century ago many more people simply died for lack of the kind of treatments we take for granted today--for conditions like cancer, kidney failure, pneumonia, heart failure, or strokes for which we now feel we have to provide every prohibitively expensive treatment and prolonged life support possible.

Thus the blessing of costly but often effective remedies and the curse of astronomical increases in costs have created a serious dilemma. The nation finds itself in some serious uncharted territory, and has yet to determine how “we the people” should respond, for the “common good” and for the “general welfare.”

Meanwhile, if we don’t opt for the Amish solution, and if I wouldn’t have the coverage I do, could any of you spare me a couple grand for my next cataract surgery?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Purposeful Procrastination

Is every kind of "putting off" a bad thing?

Not really. In fact, I believe most of us procrastinators need to improve our putting off skills.

At any point in the day we are doing something, whether its just vegetating, having a conversation with a friend, mowing the lawn or working at our job. Each of these things has its appropriate time and place, but we can normally do only one of these things at a time, what we believe is most important at the moment.

This means that we must learn to put off all of the other things that get in the way of accomplishing that one thing we have set out to finish. That's what we procrastinators (my theory) have a hard time doing, setting some of those other things aside.

For example, when we finally get around to cleaning out the garage we may get a text message we feel we have to respond to, followed by the realization that we need to make a doctor’s appointment for later in the week, and then we remember the flowers in the back yard that need watering. You see where I am going with this.

Because we have such a hard time putting some of those other things off until later--all of which may be perfectly legitimate in their right time--we put off our priority tasks, whatever they may be.

So the secret is to choose well in what order we want to do things, take those things one at a time, and put off everything else until we’ve done them. Then go on to the next thing.

That's what I call purposeful procrastination.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Horror in Aurora

James Holmes
"Prepare a chain, because the land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence." Ezekiel 7:23

Admittedly, tighter gun controls would not in themselves have prevented James Holmes, the alleged killer at Theater 9 in Aurora, Colorado,  from creating havoc there earlier this week. And I agree that the underlying problem is that we are a nation that appears to be becoming increasingly sick in ways both morally and mentally.

But while we are assessing the part a pornographically violent entertainment industry and other societal problems may play in this, some sensible limits on the kinds of guns, particularly semi-automatic assault weapons with huge ammunition clips, are in my mind long, long overdue. Such a prohibition was in place in the US until 1994, and the number of people slaughtered by such weapons has increased dramatically since then.

Here’s a part of what my friend Barkley Rosser, an economics professor at James Madison University, just posted on his blog:

In particular, this tragedy in Aurora makes clear that all the yapping by NRA propagandists that individuals carrying guns can/will stop madmen from killing lots of people (something we heard from these people after Cho shot up VA Tech, only to have the VA legislature fall all over itself genuflecting to the most ridiculous and obscene requests from the NRA), does not cut it.  Holmes could not be stopped by all these junior Zimmermans and fantasists training so hard to protect "us" from whomever they thought were threatening us.  No way.  This guy had body armor, and that is how it will be in the future.  This particular fantasy of the NRA and its bootlickers is dead in the aisles of Theater 9 of Aurora, Colorado.  Sorry guys, grow up.

My final point is to any true believer in the super sanctity of gun rights.  Sorry, but this is not a universally recognized right.  The only other nation that has similar legal views to the US in the entire world is Honduras, whose gun dealers compete with ours for supplying the drug cartels in Mexico. If any of you are proud of this, so be it. I am not. The US was arguably the major inspiration for individual human rights in the world, with the French Declaration on this following after ours, and the 1948 UN Declaration clearly modeled on ours as well.  But none of those, and nobody else's (except world-inspiring Honduras!), has followed us on this particular matter, where our ancestors' "need" to keep injuns, slaves, wetbacks, and other potentially troublesome people from our"frontier," in line.  Again, this last jibe on my part is simply a recognition of the power of path dependence and the historical record of the US that makes it so difficult to do anything about this, even such screamingly obvious things as banning assault weapons that no civilian has any obvious or legitimate use for is at least one obvious move that might improve things.

You can read his entire post here:
For a tongue-in-cheek perspective on the Second Amendment, here's a link to the post "The Right to Bear Cars."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Strangers And Aliens In Two Tennessee Towns

He (God) loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners...   Deuteronomy 10:18-19

Back in 2009, Pastor Steve Stone of the Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, learned that local Muslims had bought property across the street from their church.

According to a September, 2011, Sojourner article, “Peace Be Unto Them” Stone decided the right response would be to show them some Christian hospitality, Southern style. So he had a sign put up in front of the church,  

"Heartsong Church welcomes 
the Memphis Islamic Center 
to the neighborhood.”

This unexpected act of kindness was the start of a friendship between the two congregations that created quite a stir. Members of the Islamic Center and the Heartsong church began to have occasional carry-in meals together, worked at a homeless shelter, and otherwise neighbored with each other over the years. Upon learning that their Muslim friends needed a place to pray for Ramadan because their building wasn't ready, the church even opened up its doors to let them have their prayer services there.

Many people strongly criticized Heartsong for allowing people of another faith to pray in their church building, but Stone told Sojourners they were just doing what Jesus taught them, “to love their neighbors".

Meanwhile, two hundred miles away, when the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, posted a sign on their property announcing a new building, a vandal spray-painted "not welcome" on it and neighbors filed suit against the mosque -- arguing that the mosque was a terrorist training site in disguise. And when construction started, a vandal set fire to a backhoe and some other equipment.

When Jesus tells a story in Luke’s gospel to illustrate what it means to be God's kind of neighbor, he has the hero be a member of an alien religious and ethnic group, the Samaritans. These folks were despised by Jesus’ fellow Jews as being heretical outsiders, in spite of their claiming to worship the same God.

Today he might ask, “Which of these Tennessee towns were the real neighbors in this story?”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lamenting "Living Losses"

After the tragic loss of daughter Jenna in a bus accident in 1996, Ken Druck, Ph.D., author of The Real Rules of Life: Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own, created Families Helping Families, a program to offer support to others going through a bereavement.

The response was overwhelming.  They started receiving calls from all over the world, not only from people who had lost loved ones, but who were grieving other kinds of losses, like having children who were either missing, strung out on drugs, debilitated by mental or physical illnesses or an accident, or who were estranged, incarcerated and/or lost to them is some other way.

These parents, he writes, were often suffering as much or even more than those with loved ones who had died.  He describes many as “feeling helpless, scared, confused, angry, humiliated, guilty — and living under a dark cloud of fear, dread, despair and sorrow – everything from their health, to their relationships, to their work and sense of purpose for living were all profoundly affected.”

Among the most painful aspects of such losses is that of the kind of future they had always dreamed of for their children and grandchildren. And with “living losses” far fewer people are likely to come by with hugs, casseroles, and offers of help and prayers. There are no rituals or ceremonies offering some kind of meaning in the loss or providing for the kind of spiritual solace available to those mourning a death. There is a sense of being abandoned by God and by others.

In the words of one of the anguished Psalms of lament,

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?

(Psalm 13:1-2a)

Monday, July 16, 2012

After and Before--Storm Cleanup Results

Here's the result of the June 29 storm and the cleanup efforts that followed. With the good Lord's help and the aid of our Stihl chain saw and Nissan pickup, the job finally got done, in spite of the oppressive heat.

Note the red oak sapling rising to take the place of the white pine, miraculously spared by the latter's fall. 

Another blessing that proves that it is indeed "an ill wind that blows nobody good".

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Making Do With a 73-Year-Old Brain

“Ever stop to think, then forget to start again?”
(bumper sticker on a friend’s car)

A week after my last birthday I found myself 15-minutes late to my regular bi-monthly meeting with some local chaplains.

Nothing too unusual about me being tardy (one of my friends once referred to me as “the late Harvey Yoder”) but this particular meeting was one I just plain forgot. And to make matters worse, it was held at my workplace, which means I was the unofficial host.

No great harm done, since our gracious secretary opened the meeting room for everyone and all was well. But I was embarrassed at having failed to recheck my daily schedule, one that had this event clearly marked.

I attribute all this to my 73-year-old brain. It has served me well enough over many years, but when it comes to memory, I’m having my share of senior moments.

For example, I more often draw a blank on names, not yet of family members, co-workers or close friends, but sometimes of other people that have been in and out of my life over the years. I justify this somewhat by my having been blessed with so many good connections in so many different contexts. For example, former students of one of my annual Lifelong Learning Institute classes (fifteen since 1996) often come up to me expecting me to recognize them. They usually look familiar, though sometimes even their faces escape me.

My brain has other quirks I’ve learned to live with. Like just plain absent mindedness, a trait my own mother often pointed out when I was growing up. Either I was engrossed in some book or my mind was far away just daydreaming and not paying attention to tasks at hand. I still lack attention to details like where I left a tool, my check book or some important papers. Speaking of the latter, I tend to be a better “piler” than a “filer.”

To make matters worse, I’ve been wired with a trace of obsessive-compulsiveness. Not enough to be diagnosable, but as an odd example I used to feel a need to straighten out any twisted cord on a land line phone. I have also found it very hard to toss anything away that might be of use to someone sometime. My mother actually taught me this, especially when it comes to never throwing away food that some other creature might enjoy, or that should go on the compost pile. That kind of “should” is still strong (though I’m not as much of a hoarder as someone I heard of who kept a container labeled “strings too short to use”).

Finally, I sometimes find my brain operatng in overdrive, and at inconvenient times like 4 am when I could use another couple of hours of sleep. This often involves ruminating over ideas for a future radio spot, an article or a blog post, like this one.

Results of this nocturnal brainstorming may vary. Reader discretion is advised. Take into account that this is the product of a 73-year-old brain.

But since it’s the only one I have, I’ll just thank God every day and try to make the best of it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Meet Jackson, Hamlet Drive’s Newest Resident

Our local population just grew by one, the seven-pound son of our next door neighbors Amy and Jacob.

Hayden and Jayden, the two-year-old twins, are pleased to welcome their brother, as are all of us.

We couldn’t have better neighbors. So we’re glad to see their tribe increase.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Playing the Blame Game

“To the extent that other people are our problem, that’s the problem.”
                Stephen Covey, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”

I was somewhat taken aback when I first ran across this statement. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it began to make.

This is not to say that other people do not have problems, maybe tons of them, but those problems belong to them, not to us. Our problem is to figure out how to cope with our "problem people," how confront them, negotiate with them, accept them, and/or distance ourselves from them.

When these become or challenges, we gain the power to do something about them. But if we define others as being our problem, we render ourselves powerless until or unless they change.

I often hear rationalizations like “If she/he gave me the attention and love I needed, I wouldn’t have looked for it elsewhere,” or “I he/she didn’t get on my nerves so badly, I wouldn’t lose my temper the way I do.”

Or I often hear some variation of “She/He knows just how to push my buttons.” The fact is, all of our “buttons,” as well as the wiring behind them, belong to us, and the reactions we have to our “button pushers” are entirely our own.

So the sooner we rid ourselves of our “He made me/She made me” excuses, the better off we’ll be.

The above illustration is by the late Lee Eshleman, in my  "Lasting Marriage: The Owners' Manual."

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Underindulgence, Rx for Greater Happiness

We have all heard stories of people who have become instantly wealthy through winning the lottery and then losing both friends and fortunes in disastrous ways, primarily because they became alienated from others through the pursuit of more and more things for themselves.

Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of a new book called “Happy Money: The Science of Spending,” note that while people with a comfortable living standard often report feeling better off (happier) than people living in poverty, more income doesn’t buy any more happiness once we reach some reasonably comfortable standard. They learned that while people believed that their life satisfaction would double if they made $55,000 instead of $25,000, that in fact people who earned $55,000 were just 9 percent more satisfied than those making $25,000.

So, contrary to popular belief, folks able to buy more for themselves are generally not effective in turning their money into happiness, whereas in most cases people feel better off by simply buying less, and buying more for others. In other words, underindulgence, doing with a little less than ones usual, is actually the better key to getting a greater “bang for your buck” in the happiness department.

For example, chocolate lovers who enjoyed their favorite treat and then abstained for a week had a greater sense of enjoyment of chocolate than those who indulged their craving every day. So while a few extra blessings may sometimes help give us a lift, the pleasure curve soon peaks and drops off and the law of diminishing returns sets in.

In another fascinating study by Dunn and Norton, random individuals were given an envelope with some money and with instructions on how to spend it, with half being told to buy something for themselves and the others to buy a gift for  someone else. In virtually all cases, at the end of the day, those who spent their money making someone else happier reported the most joy and sense of well being. This should come as no surprise to those who have long been taught that to lose our lives is to save it, and that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Norton, in an unforgettably inspiring talk on, refers to a website called, where teachers list specific needs they have for projects to enhance their students' learning. Contribute to any of them and you get a thank note you both from the teacher and from his or class members stating how their gift has benefited them.

But even without this kind of feedback, can we imagine the difference we could make in sharing the joy of the mother of a malnourished or sick child if we invested in their need rather than just adding to our accumulation of more stuff?

Friday, July 6, 2012

"Steps to Better Health" Initiative

Sitting in the waiting area at JMU's Blue Ridge Hall recently I observed the large number of able bodied people using the elevator instead of the stairs.

This got me thinking about an idea I thought I'd post here for your response. What if we all got behind a "Steps to Better Health" campaign to encourage more stair use, perhaps by creating an attractive note that could be posted on elevator doors that went something like: "If able, use the stairs to improve your health and save energy."

Climbing stairs forces you to lift your body weight, so it strengthens your legs and hips while also getting your heart rate up. It's a super-easy way to sneak in some cardio: The average person burns almost 150 calories in just 20 minutes of stair-climbing, which is equivalent to around 33 minutes of yoga or 35 minutes of brisk walking.

For people who are concerned about enhancing their physical well being as well as the health of the planet, this could be a low cost effort that could spread everywhere. And maybe someone could design a catchy logo and/or a slogan to go with it.

Your thoughts?

P. S. And don't even get me started on the subject of able bodied people using automatic door openers designed for the handicapped.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Hard Storm Hits Hamlet Drive

Last Friday night we were enjoying time with our daughter and family in Rochester, New York, unaware until the next day that an unusually violent storm had struck our Valley. Wind gusts of up to 75 mph blew over trees and knocked out power lines everywhere, accompanied by spectacular lightning fireworks and some tornado type twisters.

Returning home Sunday evening, we didn’t know what to expect, but as we neared Harrisonburg we saw only isolated tree branches down here and there and everything appeared pretty normal. Then as we turned into Hamlet and to the third house on the right, ours, we saw that the 60-year old white pine tree in our back yard was down.

The tree was slowly dying anyway, and I had been thinking about hiring a tree removal service to fell it, which would have cost us a bundle. Had it been leaning away from the house, I would have planned to do this with my own trusted Stihl chain saw, but it was definitely leaning the wrong way, and the 55 foot tree was only about 45 feet from our bedroom, so I questioned whether I’d be able to get it to land where I wanted it to.

As it turned out the strong wind kind of did me a favor--on the eve of my 73rd birthday, no less, and all for free. Only our clothesline suffered some minor damage.

Another blessing was the fact that a nice red oak had been growing right at the base of the white pine as if just waiting to replace it (see it on the left of the photo). My other worry, by the way, had been about how to fell the pine without risking damage to the new oak sapling. Well, the wind storm nicely took care of that as well, a win-win all around.

We will miss this stately old tree, of course, but when you’re 73, you want to count every blessing that comes along, even if it comes with a price, like having some of our sweet corn flattened and most of this summer’s apples and pears prematurely “harvested" and lying all over our back yard.