Monday, March 30, 2015

Me and My Arrow...

So...My daughter took a walking tour of the LU campus on Friday. Yeah...I work there. Yeah...I tell her about how great the place is every 13.4 seconds. Yeah, she lives here with me at least half the time. But you know how it is when it's your dad talking...(personally I have no idea what that is like, but that's another story) you just tune it out because, well, he's your dad. So Friday she took the tour with a group of Homeschoolers and she was SOLD! She wishes she could start tomorrow. All those great things I told her about the campus and the future of LU, well I guess coming from someone else it was gold! She is so excited about starting school here next year. Excited about living in a dorm and the opportunities to use her talents excited about all that she will have at her disposal on this amazing campus.  She was so excited, she even asked if we could eat at "The Rot" (The Reber-Thomas dining hall) after church yesterday. She's been struggling with hope at times lately. College seemed like such a long way off that she had almost given up on it. After Friday she is all-in. The comments she made were very telling...how Liberty really "gets it" about kids her age. Doc had a knack for that and so does JerryLamon Falwell​. Prior to Friday, college seemed daunting and a bit scary for an introvert like her. Now she can't wait. I sat there in the dining hall listening to her expounding on the virtues of Liberty and I remembered how I was when I was her age and Liberty was the only college I even bothered applying to. She has grown up so darned fast. I like to think I did a decent job fashioning my one-and-only arrow and she's almost ready for flight. In another year and a half, she'll be headed to the first big target. It's almost time to pull the string back and let her fly. I dread that moment, but I'm thankful for the chance I've had to shape this arrow of mine, and thankful that I stuck it out and I'll be the archer that sends her on her way.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ted Cruz at Liberty University...one week later

I waited almost a week to write this. I know I tend to be emotional and passionate and I realized immediately how seeing Senator Cruz’ speech at Liberty University had affected me. So I waited.
I waited as the press tried to create a diversionary tactic with the whole “The Student Body was force to listen” thing. (The student body is required to attend ALL convocation services…not just this one. The scheduled speaker was Gov. Terry McAuliffe…no staunch conservative by any means.)  They said he was rehearsed. If by rehearsed, you mean, “without teleprompters, and speaking from his heart and not from his handler’s cue cards” than I guess he was rehearsed.
I waited until the din had died down and life here at Liberty had returned to normal. Six weeks until Commencement, building projects, customers for me to serve, etc.
My daughter is spending the weekend with some church friends, and so I have time to do the thing I love. To write. So here goes. My take on Ted Cruz’ speech at Liberty University and how it impacted me.
I suppose there should be a brief summary for those new readers of my blogs. Much of what I have to say here isn't as impactful if you don’t know my back story. So here it is:
I spent ten years in the mortgage industry. The last one was the beginning of a nightmare. The industry collapsed and then the economy collapsed and being in the mortgage business was like riding in the bow of the Titanic when it hit the iceberg…I took the hardest hit.
I spent the next 6 years, first stumbling around punch-drunk at the loss of my career, then my home, and then my self-respect. I lived in my car for 4 ½ of those six years because a guy in his mid to late forties, with only two years of a pre-med degree, and who had spent the last ten years of his life in an industry that was now all but gone, isn't the first guy hired in a bad economy. I slept in my car and showered at the county rec center. I did odd jobs. I shivered in the dark some times and walked for hours when there was nowhere to go to escape the horrible, overwhelming sadness, and shame of being a homeless man. But I had three things that kept me going and would not let me quit. My daughter, and my Faith, and the work ethic that being the grandson of immigrants built in me. I completed my  Bachelor’s degree through my alma mater (Liberty University) and their online program. I pressure washed driveways and washed windows and even built a chicken coop to earn some money. I shivered in the dark in the winter and sweltered in the summer. There were days when I could not look at my own reflection as I passed a shop window. I had folks who I thought were my friends abandon me, and folks who I didn't realize were such good friends reach out when I was ready to give up and encourage me.
I was too stubborn to quit, partly because I have always risen to the top, through hard work, and mostly because I knew my daughter was watching, and I’d be damned if I’d let her see me live out my days beaten by this world. So I fought on.
Six years after losing my home, almost to the day, I moved my daughter and I into our first real place to live. She had been living with her mom until last May when we moved to Virginia and I went to work for Liberty. So I understand struggle and I appreciate hardship and hard work and determination.
That’s my frame of reference as I write this. You needed to know that if you hadn't already…
     So I sat in Convo as Senator Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for President. I guess the first thing that occurred to me was that here I was, at 51 years old, experiencing history. How many people can say they have ever been there when a candidate announced his Presidential intentions? Not many. I was experiencing history and I knew it. Whether I vote for Senator Cruz remains to be seen at this juncture. But being there was special, and I wish the kids who whined about being “forced” to sit through it would realize this.
Now…my thoughts on the speech.
I reiterate, I don’t know yet if I will vote for Cruz. But his speech moved me to tears on several occasions and here’s why…it was American.
I am the grandson of immigrants on both sides of my family. Three of my four grandparents were born in Europe and my maternal grandmother was born here not long after her parents arrived. I grew up with the stories and the legends and the ethic and the deep, abiding, intrinsic love for this country that comes from being reminded how very lucky…how blessed, we are to be here.
Blessed.
You aren't supposed to say that anymore. You aren’t supposed to attach God’s favor or blessing to this land anymore. Liberals have hated it for years and nowadays, even “evangelicals” shudder at it. It’s so enlightened to argue that God never had His hand on this country, or we were never favored by Providence. Our very history would refute that, but we have shrunk from it nonetheless. Now, to be clear, we are not “favored nation” like Israel was. God did not make some pact with our founding fathers. But we were, without question, begun by Christian men who desired a land where CHRISTIANITY would be the predominant religion and the effects of that Faith would permeate society. We were never to be a Theocracy, but rather an “Evangelistocracy,” (my own word) a land where the free practice of Christian beliefs would be protected in such a way that it would influence our society and our government for good.
For about 190 years or so, this worked well. Somewhere in the late 50’s we drifted from this faith and our society began to change for the worse. We lost sight of right and wrong, good and evil. We lost sight of ourselves.
We lost connection to those immigrant stories that made up the fabric from which this nation was sewn. Stories like my own grandfather who was born on the boat on the way from the Ukraine. Or my paternal grandfather who stole aboard a freighter out of Gaeta with a forged birth certificate that said he was 16 when he was, in fact, only 13. He landed in Chester, PA, Processed through customs, and worked for the railroads for a while. During WWI, he returned to Italy to fight for the Allies, because he was ineligible to fight for the US Army. He stole a locomotive once, during an encampment and got busted down. He returned after the war, learned the plumbing trade, and met my grandmother in Philadelphia, where she lived next door to a singer by the name of Mario Lanza, married her and had 14 kids.
Fourteen.
I have an Aunt who ran away to join the circus. Yeah…that really happened. I have an uncle who played Delco Rough Touch with Vince Papale. I have an uncle who can grow a car by planting a handful of screws and some motor oil…he has the greenest thumb on earth.
We have stories. Stories of struggle and lack and poverty. But also of victory, and hard work and success. We felt loss and tasted victory. Those stories got me through the darkest six years of my life. Not the government. Not a handout. Not section 8 housing and an EBT card. It was hard. I hurt. I wanted to quit. But I had stories that made up my heritage and I chose to live up to them.
Last Monday, Senator Cruz stood before our student body and told his stories. His immigrant dad who escaped Cuba to find only opportunity. No handouts. No entitlement programs…only opportunity. But he seized it and made something of himself.
Senator Cruz’ mom hails from the same town I grew up in after my mother married and we moved from Philadelphia. She too came from a large immigrant family in Wilmington, DE. When the norms of society were against her, she too seized the opportunities and made something for herself that defied what everyone likely expected of her.
Opportunities.
In that inspiring speech, I never once heard about handouts, buyouts, sellouts, or entitlements. I never heard about what we were owed by the government. Except to get out of our way and let us succeed on our own.
I heard a man who lived the way I lived. Who worked for what he got and when he couldn’t get it, he didn’t whine, cry, or sue anyone. He just worked a little harder until he could get it.
I heard a man embracing the ethic my grandparents held to. The ethic I hold to. My grandfather died at 77 years old, having just gotten down off a roof he was repairing for a customer. At 77.
Ted Cruz spoke about returning us to a time when your pride was a good thing. When having a dream was only part of the story…working for that dream was the other part. He spoke of an America where the government listens to us. Listens to us. A government that is busy giving away the candy store is too busy to listen. They are working from the assumption that they know better what we need than we do.
He spoke of secure borders. Now listen…I have immigrant blood. But we all came here legally, respecting the sovereign borders of the US and we went through the system the way we were supposed to. I grew up in a neighborhood made almost entirely of immigrants. I love that thread of our fabric. But I want it to be handled properly…or we lose it all.
Ted Cruz’ story reminded me of my own, in so many ways. Maybe that’s why I fought back tears so many times as he spoke. Underneath it all, I heard a man who loves this country deeply…as I do.
When I say I love this country, it’s only because there aren’t any other words to use to describe it. I love this country. I cry at the National Anthem. I salute the flag when I see it. I thank every soldier I ever come across. I reflect on Memorial Day and Independence Day. I love this country.
I love the opportunities she affords. I love that, regardless of what liberals say, if you want to succeed here, you can find a way. Ted Cruz gets it. He wants us to be that country again. He wants me to succeed. He determines a successful government not by how many citizens are dependent on it, but by how independent its citizens are from it.
I was inspired. Inspired because I heard at least one politician who still has a deep abiding love for this country burning in his heart. I’m sure Ted Cruz is not perfect. But to me, that one thing…that DNA level love for America…is enough to overcome any shortcomings. And I was inspired because after six years of hell, I have sometimes wondered if I made the right choice. If living the hard life was the right thing. If maybe I shouldn't have gotten a section 8 house, an EBT card, and an Obama-phone. Ted Cruz reminded me that I made the right choice in the hardship I endured. 
Whether he wins election or not, his speech renewed some hope in my own soul. Hope that there are some people out there who still love this land like I do. Like my grandparents did. Hopefully, like you, the reader, do.

God Bless America.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What if Ted Cruz was a Liberal...

It's just the way my humor works. Sadly...it's not that far off from the truth.

                                                        If Ted Cruz was a Liberal
24 hours after hearing Senator Ted Cruz and his amazingly inspirational speech at Liberty University, I wondered to myself how his entire life story would have looked had his dad been a raving liberal instead of a hard working conservative. Since humor is my strong suit…this will be fun.

***This is in no way endorsed by Ted Cruz and none of what is stated here came from the Senator.
                                      
“Thank you so much President Falwell…although I disagreed with your father on every single point he ever stood for. God / Allah / Buddha / Vishnu / Great Spirit / or none of the above, bless Liberty University! (wait for applause)
I am thrilled to join you today…at the largest Christian University in the world. But let me be clear that I am not endorsing Christianity over any other religion or atheism for that matter. There are many paths, brah. (laugh a little here)
Today I want to talk with you about the promise of America…
Imagine your parents when they were children. Your moms, your dads, your mom and dad, your single mom, your single dad…
Imagine a little girl, growing up in Wilmington, Delaware. During WWII. The daughter of an Irish / Italian Catholic family. Working class…her uncle ran numbers in Wilmington. But we can’t judge him…he simply had no opportunities, no free education, no government jobs. Of course he chose crime!
She grew up with dozens of cousins, because her mom was the second youngest of 17 kids. Now, if they hadn't been adherents to the fascist, dictatorial Catholic Church and all their impersonal rules, and if there had been decent women’s reproductive opportunities back then, maybe there would have only been two or three. But no! She was lost in the crowd because her parents were draconian and believed in that stupid “sanctity of life” thing.
She had a difficult father…a man that drank far too much and didn’t think women should be educated. If there had only been a decent DCS back then…or a divorce advocacy group, her mother could have left that tyrant and raised those babies in proper government housing! (wait for applause)
And yet this bright, pretty –not that that matters to her personal value as a human being- young lady…my mom Eleanor, graduated from Rice University with a degree in math. MATH! Stereotypes abounded already and she was forced into the teaching world! The evil conservatives wouldn’t abide her becoming a broadcaster or a welder. They tried to convince her that she didn't really want a math degree…but she was too brainwashed. 
Today, my mom would have spent seven of the best years of her life pursuing her female philosophy bachelor’s degree…but not back then.
She became a pioneering computer programmer in the 50’s and 60’s…but who knows what kind of wonderful beat poetry she might have written, had she not taken the “safe” route and gotten a math degree.
Imagine…a teenaged boy. Not much younger than many of you. He grew up in Cuba, at a time when the government –led by Bautista- was corrupt. He joined a revolution, as every teenager should at some point. He fought to overturn the evil dictator and bring about a glorious communist revolutionary utopia. He winds up in prison, beaten, abused. Eventually –much to my eternal shame- he grew disillusioned with communism, probably because of his lack of quality education and understanding. He flees to America.
Imagine the hope in his heart, because he had no idea what an evil system capitalism really is, as he rode that ferry across the Atlantic and arrived at Key West. From there he hopped a Greyhound bus to Austin, TX, where he hoped to align himself with other Hispanics who had ruthlessly been stripped of their native land by the evil Imperialistic USA.
He finds a job washing dishes for $.50 an hour…because they refused to allow the dishwashers to unionize...those horrible rats!
Imagine a young married couple. Living together in the 1970’s. They have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Not that it matters. They could have a relationship with Jesus or not…that’s their decision…their path. They have a little boy, and they’re both drinking far too much. Probably because they had no real job opportunities and not enough time for personal recreation and mental welfare. They didn’t really need Jesus…they needed affordable healthcare, shorter work days and longer weekends. But since they lived in the social restrictions of the day, they turned to “religion.” They “clung to their Bibles” as our beloved Leader says. But hey…they’re my mom and dad and I love ‘em...ya know?
When I was three…my father decided he need to self-explore and find himself. He grew restless with the family norms foisted upon him by the fascist religious right. Unhappy, he left us to experiment with single parenting, while he traveled to Houston and lived in a commune, and pioneered alternative energy. But then one of his coworkers – a Christian who could not stop proselytizing in the workplace and made my dad so uncomfortable with his relentless invitations- prevailed on my dad and he went to a Bible study. Because of his lack of education, and the pull of his old-fashioned upbringing, he embraced this “religion” and chose the path that was best for him. He became a “Christian.” (Although I believe we are all “Christians” if we simply do our best) My dad came back because of the emotional effect of his spiritual path. So I was raised in a two parent home. But I would have been JUST FINE in a single parent home, or a non-traditional home…let me be clear. (wait for applause)
Imagine a brainwashed little girl whose parents were missionaries, forcing their spiritual will on helpless, uneducated Africans. But I love her anyway and we got married. She’s a great mom to our two little daughters whom we co-parent in a home with no traditionally defined parenting roles.
Imagine a teenaged boy. The year he was to go off to college, his parents had to declare bankruptcy because the oil industry collapsed and his father’s business went under. That was me. It took years of psychological counseling, a lawsuit against my parents forcing them to help me pay for my college degree even though they had lost everything, (that was THEIR problem) and thankfully the availability of quota driven affirmative action grants. For 7 years…from my undergrad through law school…I was known as Chico Hernandez Esquella Rafael Jose Cruz. Junior.
I switched back to Ted after winning the senate seat.
I understand the hardship of completing your bachelor's degree in less than 6 years! I understand the disappointment of having to work a part time job writing “Impeach Reagan” on coffee cups at Starbucks and trying to engage customers in political diatribe!
Now imagine a new America! An America where the rich –as I determine what “rich” means- pay for everything! Where you ride to your government job on your government bicycle while your children attend government daycare as early as one month old! All for FREE! Imagine being a guest in the White House and enjoying Queso made with government cheese. The same government cheese enjoyed by every citizen of this great land. (wait for applause)
Now imagine an America where no longer does anyone have to go through a background check to become a citizen here. Imagine hundreds of thousands of, not “illegal aliens” but what they REALLY are… “Displaced future citizens” arriving on our shores in government cruise ships…or should we call them… “Cruz Ships?!” (wait for applause)
Imagine abortion so convenient, so private that a woman simply walks into a spa, and walks out, not only devoid of that pesky “blob of indeterminate matter”…but exfoliated, deep tissue massaged, and with hair and nails befitting someone who just made the toughest private decision she’ll ever make…often for the third or fourth time. (wait for applause)
Imagine healthcare expanded to include your groceries…because if you aren’t eating right you aren’t feeling right! (wait for applause)
Imagine free AUTO insurance for your solar powered smart car! (Wait for applause)
Imagine an America where in order to vote all you have to do is pass parts of a basic field sobriety test!
Imagine an America where only the police, the army, and the government have guns! (wait for applause)
Imagine an America where all religion is banned…because we can’t just go after the “bad ones!”
Imagine an America where the free TV, free internet, and free cell phones you get each month are chock full of helpful information from your beloved, benevolent government!
Imagine taxing those evil one percenters right into hell from whence they came! (wait for applause…this might take a while)
My friends…Imagine this with me. Stand with me…because I stand for nothing. And someone who stands for nothing, doesn’t stand against YOU! (wait for enormous applause!)

Thank you and may the deity of your personal choice...or nobody…bless America. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Have to" or "Get to..."

Folks who know me know what I endured over the six years between May 2008 and May of 2014. Those six years were devastating in a million ways. I tried a lot of things to rebuild my life. Everything from testing for my Insurance brokers license to washing windows. Door after door slammed shut in my face. I didn't have the option of quitting, because I have a daughter and she was watching. I was determined to not let her see me defeated. She saw me lose a lot of battles, but I stayed in there until I won the war. 
Since August of last year I have been employed by my alma mater, Liberty University. Now, that by itself is wonderful enough. Having a job is a great thing. Having a job where you went to college and in a place you call your second home is even better. But having a job where not only do you get the chance to make a difference and have an impact, but where that is encouraged...well that's just a dream come true.
The first two months were a little hard. I had been away from the corporate world for six years. I had not had co workers in that time. In fact -because of how I was forced to live during that period- I was isolated and alone and it took a re-acquainting period to get used to being around people every day. I know that sounds odd, maybe even unbelievable, but it's true. I felt a little intimidated and a little intruded-upon during those first few weeks. It's sad how we can become so insulated from each other that we see others as an intrusion, not as a blessing and as an opportunity.
But that's how I see everyone here now...as an opportunity. I have the opportunity to impact lives every day, simply by the way I carry myself in meetings, how willing I am to serve my customers here on campus, how readily I smile in the hallway, or even by picking up a scrap of paper laying on the ground and throwing it in the wastebasket.
You never really know who is watching you and who will be impacted by your life. I learned that from listening to the Phillies win the 2008 World Series while living in my car hidden behind a church in Nashville. I heard Harry Kalas call that last out, and while Harry never met me and didn't know my plight at the time, just the way he did his job made an impact in my shattered world.
I am determined that every person I come in contact with here will be positively impacted by being around me. I want to leave them smiling, warmed, and just a little happier to have met me. I want them to be happy when they see me step into their office and a little sad to see me leave. 
I've been here six months now and I have yet to have a "Dreaded Monday." Maybe I have six years of catching up to do. Or maybe I just appreciate having a career and a purpose so much, that I don't see a real difference between Monday and Friday.
You can have that too, and you don't have to be homeless for six years to do it.
You just have to look beyond the job you do and see the people you do it for. See them as opportunities to be an encourager, a friend, a good-finder and a listening ear. Do more than just your job.
 Here is a GREAT example of that. 

This man GETS IT! He's today's hero! 
You can be a janitor or a Senator, and you have the same opportunity to be a difference maker.
Your job is an opportunity. Make the most of it.
Play YOUR music at work. And play it LOUD!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Fearfully and Wonderfully

Psalm 139:13-16
"For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be."

This is a very familiar verse, especially in the Pro-Life movement. And for good reason. When David marvels and says "I was fearfully and wonderfully made"  the ancient Hebrew word for "made" is the same word found in Genesis chapter 1 when God made the world and it's occupants. It is the same Hebrew word used when describing an artist creating a work of art. That's what you are to God...a work of art. Read the Genesis account of Creation and notice one thing; God spoke everything into existence except man. He made man by hand. He created us with His touch. God touched you the moment you were conceived. He has a plan. It will include dark days and bright. Good times and bad. Prosperity and poverty, with NO guarantee which one will prevail while here on Earth. You were created by hand for a purpose. A reason. A cause. You are an instrument that has a song to play and if you don't play it, the music of the world will be just a little duller, just a little less exciting. Someone's life might go untouched. Some struggling soul might be left without inspiration. You never know who is watching and taking strength from your struggle. You never know who needs to hear YOUR song.
Wherever you are, whatever you do...play your music loud!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

He Knows Me By Name...

I am an unabashed Andrae Crouch fan. Have been most of my life. What passes for "Worship" music today is watered down kool-ade compared to Andrae, Keith Green, Rich Mullins, Rick Elias and the generations that came before. They were the last group of artists to actually be in it for ministry and not for fame.
But this isn't a rant against CCM...not this time anyway.
I was sitting in my kitchen, thinking back over the past 7 years. 7 Years ago this month, my career in the mortgage industry ended when the company I worked for closed it's doors in TN (eventually closing altogether) and I was jobless. By May I would be homeless. And so began a 6 year journey through the darkest, driest, most lifeless desert I had ever walked.
I wondered, many times in fact, if God had entirely forgotten me. My faith...feeble as it would become sometimes...was the thing that kept me going. Faith and my love for my daughter. Had it not been for those two things, I would have given up.
There are times I wish I had done things differently. There are moments within that 6 years that I handled wrong. But overall I think I came through okay. I got my degree, something that had bothered me for years. I reconnected with my passion for writing. And my faith got tumbled, beaten, reshaped and refined.
Through all of this...God never forgot my name.
There is a line in Andrae's classic song "Soon, Very Soon" that says: "We have come from every nation. God knows each of us by name. Jesus took His blood and He washed our sins away..."
When Dannibelle Hall sings that line it brings me to tears every time. Because her voice was so amazing and lovely, and because the line says so much truth. God knows each of us by name. He knows YOU. By name. You matter to Him and the thing you are going through right now...that matters to Him too.
Live in light of that truth.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Play your music LOUD!

You're here for a reason. Find it.
You're here to have an impact. Do it!
You're here to love. Feel it.
You're here with the potential to make your best something better every day. Give it!

You're here to play a song that nobody else can play. Play it loud!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Big News!

The new book is out!
"The Legend of Joey Trucks...The Accidental Mobster" is NOW AVAILABLE! Here is the link:

Legend of Joey Trucks

The first press release is going out tomorrow (3-3-15) to coincide with the Kindle release and to really get things going. I'm very excited about this book. I think it's a great story and it really shows Italian-American life in the proper light. Plus I just love to laugh. There are some very tender scenes as well, especially between Joe and his dad and Joe and his Nonna.

Buckle up...this could be fun!