The Stately Whalen Banner 2017!

On the rare occasions when I have written one of these Family Letters I have included some tongue-in-cheek embellishments or out right lies for the sake of entertainment.

However, so much has happened this year within our family that I am compelled to put it on paper succinctly without any fantasy-riddled suspensions of reality.

We knew this year would be full, fun and marked by once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Armed with some time-share points that were set to expire this year if we did not use them, LaDonna and I spent the first week of April in South Florida visiting Fort Lauderdale, Miami (I love me some Little Havana) and the Florida Keys. I went snorkeling in Key Largo and swam with a stingray and a sea turtle at the same time. We also enjoyed a scenic “day trip” from Fort Lauderdale to Key West in our rented Camaro convertible.

May found us in Las Vegas for a long weekend with LaDonna’s parents, her sister, Lori and our brother-in-law, Hank. We enjoyed the Cirque du Soleil show, “O” at the Bellagio. Amazing! Hank and I began to practice relaxation by sharing a glass of wine and a cigar on some of our family trips. Limited to designated smoking areas we have met some very interesting people. In Las Vegas some of the topics of discussion in which we engaged with new acquaintances cannot be shared in a family letter but suffice to say we learned some things that we really did not want to know regarding a strip club in Atlanta.

The highlight of the year was the June 3rd wedding of our daughter Lisette to Tom Frankton. The wedding was held on the MV Skansonia, a decommissioned 1930’s era ferryboat on Lake Union in Seattle. The Seattle skyline, including the iconic Space Needle, provided the backdrop for the ceremony. It was perfect! 13 members of Tom’s family traveled from England for the festivities as well as 18 friends and family members who traveled from California and Michigan.

Of course turnabout is fair play so the Frankton / Eeckelaers (Pronounced Éclairs) family hosted an October reception for the newlyweds in The United Kingdom. The reception provided an opportunity for friends and family members who were unable to travel to the U.S. in June to celebrate the nuptials. Tom’s mom, (Or is it ‘mum’?) Theresa is one of 12 siblings and so with aunts, uncles and cousins the party was an opportunity to actually experience “My Big Fat Greek British Wedding”. There were over 80 people in attendance, only three of whom were not related in some way. The marriage of Lisette and Tom is proving to be one of the great blessings of our lives. Not only are they a beautiful couple but also our new family has grown very close very quickly and we have developed a deep love and respect for our new family members “across the pond”.

In conjunction with our England trip LaDonna and I fulfilled a life-long dream by traveling to Italy before the celebration. The trip included a Mediterranean cruise with stops in Italy, Sicily, Malta, the Greek Isles and Athens. After that we spent a week visiting Rome, Florence and Venice. The fun was even greater because LaDonna’s parents as well as Lori and Hank also came. We were in Rome for my birthday and I enjoyed one of the best birthday celebrations ever including a mouth-watering pasta dinner at an al fresco restaurant called, “Dolce Vita” and being serenaded by a couple of street musicians singing an operatic rendition of “Happy Birthday” in English. (Thanks Hank) You can’t make this stuff up. While we were in Italy my sister, Gayle and brother-in-law, Larry visited Paris before joining us in England. One of LaDonna’s dear friends… well she is a dear friend of our entire family, Marlene also joined us in England traveling with our son, Will who was unable to join us for the Italian portion of our European adventure.

Speaking of Will, he is experiencing his own adventures. He has returned to school to prepare for a career in teaching. He is racing through the curriculum at, what seems to me, a neck-breaking pace. At this rate he may complete four years of school and student teaching in about two-and-a-half years. (This is our son who once managed to find an error in a math textbook. His answer on a test was marked incorrect because it differed from the one provided in the answer key. He was so certain that his work was correct that he revisited the problem and it was discovered that the publishers of the textbook had the incorrect solution in the answer key. It can be intimidating when one realizes that one’s children are smarter than the parents.)

Back to England where we enjoyed a few days in London before going to Rugby in the English midlands for the big wedding reception. That party was definitely the cherry on top of the sundae. We all laughed a lot, cried a little (tears of joy) and created lots of very special memories.

After all of the history, art and culture we experienced and the amazingly gracious warmth of the people of Italy and England; when asked what the highlight of the trip was for me I can honestly say that spending time meeting and getting reacquainted with our new friends and family members in England was arguably at the top.

Oh yeah, we have four animals living with us. Our two Shelties, Max and Roxy; Tom and Lisette’s Aussie-doodle, Pippa who considers every mammal to be her best friend and Will’s cat, Gizmo, the reigning Queen of the Casa who has no best friends, only subjects.

Here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a blessed, joy-filled and happy 2018!

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“Merry Christmas, Ya Filthy Animal”

2004 vacation 095The title is a quote from the movie “Home Alone” which has been repeated in commercials and printed on T-shirts. It carries with it seemingly conflicting messages. However, it shines a light on a dilemma I have been pondering for the past few years.

When I was a teenager, the circle of friends with whom I hung out practiced a different type of communication. It is not uncommon but for many people it could easily be viewed as “off-putting”. Many people curse when angry or experiencing pain and others do so to place emphasis on an extreme situation. My friends and I used obscenities for regular communication. When we greeted each other it wasn’t with a casual wave, we acknowledged one another’s arrival by giving the finger to whoever was arriving. We didn’t gesture with a nod of the head, we flipped each other the bird.

This was how we knew that we loved each other. One of my friends might say to me, “F— you!” But I knew that the spirit behind that F-bomb was one of deep friendship.

Our emphasis on political correctness is molding us into a race of people one might have seen on an episode of “The Twilight Zone” where social compliance was dictated apart from one’s true sentiments.

I don’t begrudge people saying “Happy Holidays” during the holiday season but many of us choose to celebrate Christmas and extend the greetings of the season by saying, “Merry Christmas”. Aside from a few militant zealots who use that phrase as some sort of a dare to be confronted, the vast majority of us who wish others a Merry Christmas are doing just that, extending a greeting of the season. It is intended as a wish for the greeting’s recipient to have a happy holiday season filled with joy, peace and laughter.

If I am greeted with any common greeting apart from Merry Christmas I will not be offended. I will receive it as a kind wish from a fellow human being.

Let us please celebrate our diversity by receiving the greeting “Merry Christmas” or any other holiday greeting as a sincere and heart-felt gesture of good will not as religious indoctrination.

However you choose to observe the upcoming season of good will permit me to wish you a sincere Merry Christmas, a prosperous New Year and the Happiest of Holidays!

“Happy Birthday To Me!”

2004 vacation 09536 years ago today I experienced my spiritual birth. Over the years I have learned new things and been challenged in many ways. I was a 21-year-old living at home with a dead-end job, substance addiction, little hope and no direction or purpose. I had declared that I would be dead before I reached 30 but what is really scary is that I didn’t care.

I have been encouraged and I have been declared crazy because of my encounter with Jesus of Nazareth that night. During that encounter with Jesus I felt as though a warm shower had washed over me removing all of the doubt, despair and hopelessness that had haunted me.

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Tornado Relief Team!
Me, Larrabee & Vido
Lifelong Friends!

Since then, I survived my thirtieth birthday, been blessed with the best family and friends any person could dream of. I have been trained and conditioned in all of the “correctness” of religion and have wrestled with the tension of thinking and believing what I understood I was supposed to think and believe.

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August 11, 1984
Lisette & I
The Best Daughter EVER!
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The Best Son EVER!
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Happily Ever After!

My theology is still pretty orthodox but my relationship with The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are more important than the components of my doctrine and theology. I found tremendous freedom in understanding that God will continue to be a wonderful mystery to me and that He will never run out of ways to amaze, encourage and inspire me. “…His compassions never fail. They are new every morning…”

I knew that I had reached what could be considered spiritual “maturity” when I became complacent in my journey. I felt I had learned and experienced everything there is to experience and that there was nothing new under the sun.

Then one day, when I read King David’s words in the 51st Psalm, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation”, I realized that God doesn’t want me to be “mature” to the point of complacent haughtiness. He wants me to continue to experience the joy, peace, hope, wonder and amazement that I experienced 30 years earlier. He wants to amaze me – and He continues to do so.

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Me & “Blitz” At A Wedding

Jesus said, “…anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”. I want to always look at God and all of creation with the wonder and hope of a child. Maybe that makes me immature, childish or even naïve, but it also brings me peace, joy and hope.

People can argue my theology and my experience. Other believers can question my doctrine and theology, people of different faiths or no faith can question and doubt my experience but the simple beauty is this: No one can take it away from me! It’s mine – it’s in my heart, mind and spirit. And that can never be taken from me!

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I Get PAID To Talk!

Thank you, Jesus! I love you!

“There Is Hope For Everybody”

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Prominent Democratic Media Personality, James Carville has been married to Former Republican Political Consultant Mary Matalin since 1993.  Their relationship illustrates the notion that not only may opposites attract, they can also compliment each other. It has been said that if you’re both identical, one is unnecessary. How can two high profile and high powered individuals with such divergent opinions maintain a successful marriage relationship?

In preparing for this post I discovered that Matalin recently left the Republican Party and figured that my premise was dead in the water. I presumed that her fiery husband must have worn her down and converted her to liberalism. That is not the case. Matalin changed her party allegiance from Republican to Libertarian, which seems to be a common transition by several GOP adherents.

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When asked about their unusual relationship in a CBS interview in May of this year, Matalin said that when they fight it is about the air conditioning, sometimes money. She said that her and Carville can both be ferocious fighters and implied that they know better than to engage in political discussions that would almost certainly lead to brutal arguments.

The lesson for all of us is this. When we commit to a marriage relationship with someone we love so deeply that we have promised to endure sickness and health, prosperity and adversity together; it is imperative that we choose to place the relationship above any issue that could be a “hot button” causing damage to the unity to which we are committed.

The unity and love we share in our relationship is of greater value than any issue that we allow to divide us.

“The Zen Of Jesus”

2004-vacation-0951.jpgI had an interesting thought. How might the teachings of Jesus line up with the teachings of Zen Buddhism? I began to search the Gospels for teachings by Jesus on peace, love, contentment and the avoidance of worry among other topics.

Then I figured that there must be others who have had the same thought so I Googled “The Zen of Jesus”. On the first page alone I found six books available on the subjects of “The Zen Teachings Of Jesus” and “Christian Zen”.

I am not advocating doctrinal synchronization among world religions but I am so confident that Jesus truly is “The Way, the Truth and the Life” that I am compelled to present Him as more approachable to individuals hindered by preconceived notions resulting from the toxic rants delivered by a few of his vociferous followers.

There are countless individuals who are struggling so deeply with the trials and tribulations of this life that they aren’t concerned with theological discussions about the afterlife; like, if there even is one.

Jesus said that He was anointed to…

“Proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”                                           Luke 4:18-19 / Isaiah 61:1

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Anyone who is grieving, disenfranchised, marginalized, depressed, ill, confused, in pain and / or simply wondering why they exist would do well to consider examining and meditating on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Even if one is not searching for salvation or eternal life but simply for some meaning to life and relief from the pain that can be so prevalent in our world, Jesus will meet you where you are. I am confident that one will be surprised and even impressed by encountering Jesus apart from the “trappings” of religion and just might find something even deeper and more wonderful than the existential meaning and relief they are seeking.

“Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

2004 vacation 095It is increasingly evident that the American people are becoming disenchanted with our political system and politics in general. I’ve heard from many people who are equally disappointed with both of the major parties yet recognize that third party candidates accomplish nothing more than remove votes from one of the two major monopolies… I mean parties.

There seems to be more concern for the the party than for the good of the American people. There also seems to be greater effort among politicians in maintaining a “job” than achieving progress in the governing process.

Each party and the candidates therein appear to do little more than disparage opponents with acerbic rhetoric, half-truths and out right lies.

What concerns me the most is that the parties and candidates and delegates seem to be mired in a culture of mean-spirited hostility and are either unable or unwilling to make drastic changes to a system that is honest, respectful and bi-partisan. They drank either red Kool-Aid or blue-Kool-Aid and they are thus inextricably fused to their party platforms.

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There is a reason that we have different political parties; we have different opinions and values but just “hocking phlegm-balls” all over people who disagree with us or who embrace different priorities conflicts with the purpose of a democratic republic where everyone has a voice, everyone’s opinions are valued and considered and where solutions for the common good of ALL citizens is the supreme priority. It’s as if we are trapped on George Jetson’s conveyor belt, unable to get off and all I want to do is cry out, “Jane, stop this crazy thing!”

I was inspired to write this post because in one day, two different people voiced there independent frustrations on Facebook both saying essentially the same thing, we are tired of childish rants and raves by idiotic politicians who only do what serves and suits them with no respect for the needs, feelings or opinions of others.

“Commandments, Suggestions & Relationships”

2004 vacation 095(I haven’t posted in a few months but the following thought came to mind. After arriving at my conclusion I figured that it is a good subject to post)

God gave us the Ten Commandments as the foundation of the Law (Torah). As people of faith we need to look at the Law through the lens of God’s heart.

Why did God give us the Law? What does God ultimately want? Does He want our obedience or our love and devotion?  He wants both but how should they be prioritized?

Jesus said that the Law, all of the Law and Prophets, were summed up in the Greatest Commandment, which is, from a human perspective, two commandments intertwined as to be unable to be separated.

Mark 12:30-31                                                                                                                                             “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.’”

Relationship is the key. God wants us to love Him first and foremost. He does want our obedience but He wants our obedience to be an outflowing of love and devotion to Him rather than an act of self-protection from divine wrath.

The best way for me to illustrate this concept is as follows…

The seventh commandment instructs us to “not commit adultery”. In our household that has never been stated as a house rule or law. (We don’t really have house rules, just an implied code of conduct developed over years of relationship.)  it would however, be a violation of a vow I took over 30 years ago to be a “true and devoted husband, faithful to her and to her only…”

I have never committed adultery, I have never cheated on my wife. Why have I not committed adultery and why will I not do so? Is it because I do not want to face the consequences of breaking that rule? That could be a secondary motivation but the primary reason that I have not nor will I ever commit adultery is because I love my wife. I am madly in love with her and I could not bear to hurt her, break her heart or betray her.

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While the consequences of such an act would be devastating to me that devastation on my part would be warranted but the pain that my wife would endure would be incomprehensible and I could never recover from knowing that I had inflicted such an atrocity on someone so special and so important to me.

My reason for obeying the no adultery rule or not because it would be a violation of law but because I would be hurting someone I love deeply. Our relationship would at best be damaged and at worst, destroyed.

God wants us to get to know Him on such a level that our adherence to His commands are motivated by love for Him, not of simply doing good.