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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My thoughts on the "99%" and "Occupy Wall Street"

I wasn't going to blog about this topic because to be honest...these people make me sick and I don't want to give them any space on a blog I've worked hard on, to develop a small following. But I have had enough of them and I have been in enough arguments with Internet friends about this "movement".
"Occupy Wall Street" is a farce. It's a joke and the perpetrators are frauds. You look at them attacking corporate greed and corporate excesses and they do so with their iPhone and iPad and wearing clothes made by the biggest corporations in the world.
Of course I could pick apart their hypocrisy for an hour but I'm not going to. The real reason I am compelled to write is the reasoning behind it all...and the lack of initiative these losers demonstrate.
First of all...Nobody earning $50,000 ever hired me for a job. They don't employ people. These protesters need to grasp basic economics. The rich are rich because they are good at making money. Typically they don't do that alone so they have employees. Most of the time they create whole industries that employ even more people. For that...for the burden and the impressive achievement of employing hundreds or thousand or tens of thousands of hard working people...these greedy selfish pigs are paid handsomely. They pay huge taxes on those huge paychecks. Those taxes employ the government employees who bitch and whine about everything, while having the best pay scale and benefits plan known to man outside of Congress.
You want to know why those people are worth all that money? Because if they don't do the job right, it's not just their own job they's all those "99% ers" out there who work for the companies that these brilliant minds manage. If they screw up, the result is exponentially bad. want to have the best and brightest running the company that pays YOUR paycheck? Or do you want some liberal minded moron who thinks he should run a Fortune 500 and be paid $250,000 for his efforts?
You let the rich do whatever it is that got them rich, (assuming it's not running moonshine during prohibition) and they will need to hire you and then you can put away your signs, take a shower, cut that dreadful thing on your head and go to work. But the truth is you don't really want that. You'd rather see yourself on the news crapping on the flag.
This is still the land of opportunity. If you want to improve can. I know...because I have.
4 and a half years ago I was a successful mortgage banker working for the largest privately held mortgage company in the U.S.  I was a multiple award winner and an achiever. I had a home and a life. I have a (now) 13 year old daughter that stayed with me every other weekend and who was, and is, the focal point of my life.
By May of 2008 I was homeless. The company contracted from 900 offices to 125. The entire industry collapsed. I had no money and no place to live after I lost my home. I refused to leave my daughter and move away to somewhere where there might be work. So I slept in my car at night, showered at the county rec center and picked up odd jobs. I am not from Nashville so few, if any, people reached out to me. I was isolated and alone and broken. I found one job, only to have that company go out of business as the economy worsened. I lived on unemployment for 6 months until that ran out, and I ate Ramen noodles that I snuck into local restaurants in my computer backpack and mixed with hot water that I told them was for a refill for the hot tea I had never actually bought. I shivered in the dark when winter got here. In 2009 I discovered I was eligible for financial aid and I decided to finish the degree I had started 26 years prior. I enrolled at Liberty University Online (I had attended LU as a resident student before) I lived off the extra funds I didn't need for school. I slept in a friends basement when winter 2009 arrived. I studied by the interior light in my 1995 Volvo and I uploaded my homework using the free wifi at Panera Bread Company. I worked odd jobs when my unemployment ran out. I discovered I am a very good writer and I self-published four books. I did anything I could do to survive, overcome and eventually rebuild. I missed my daughter horribly, seeing her only an hour here and there during the week. I have not had a place to live where she could come stay with me for 3 years now. I miss her more than I have words to express. But in all that time she never wondered if I would still be there if she needed me. I never missed a violin recital or a school play or a talent show. She knows what I have been through and she knows I did this...I endured this humiliation...for her.
I learned who my friends are...and sadly I learned who they are not. I learned who has real compassion and who only speaks of it. I learned that some people will not accept your suffering unless you suffer exactly as they think they would if they were in your shoes. ( I also learned that these people never really considered what my shoes might have felt like.)

I just filled out my Spring 2012 class schedule...the last one I will have to do. Because I will graduate in May. Against great odds and screaming resistance and isolating loneliness, I have finished this task. I could have gotten much better grades...I know I am capable of better. I could have finished sooner by a semester or two. But considering how I had to do this I am satisfied. Some efforts are more than the grade on the paper.
It was hell. It was hard work (it's not over yet, but it's all but final now) and it was mentally tough and it was demeaning to live this way. I wore out that Volvo after 250,000 miles.
I'm not making enough money to get my own place yet, but I am keeping gas in my truck and some food money and I can do something with Morgan on weekends. I am resisted by her mother on every turn because she somehow thinks this was all a result of some failure of I singlehandedly sank the economy. I have had friends abandon me because sometimes on my darkest days I vented and spit bile when they think I should have "had more faith". They said this, of course from the comfort of their homes, or in the comfort of their office, or while their kids played nearby, and after consulting with their loving spouse. Had they lost everything, as I have, they would have probably sang a slightly different song.
But I made it. I have begun looking at myself in the mirror, and seeing a real man looking back. I have soldiered on and remained there for my daughter when I was never afforded that blessing myself.
I will tell you it was the grace of God. I am a strong, stubborn man, but I would have broken long ago. God came through a million times in the wolf hour, when I was questioning the value of my life and not believing there was ever going to be anything good coming from this. There were times I thought I would die like this state. Always God came through with some small wink or kind word from a true friend. And if that wasn't available...he merely flashed my daughters face on the monitor of my memory and that's all it took. I would die for her...and sometimes that required that I live...for her.
Some "corporate fat cat's" taxes paid on his greedy, overblown income was a portion of the financial aid I get that has enabled me to finish my dream. And it's not just the's the hope. It's the knowledge that I am really going to see something good happen after 4 years of sorrow. it's feeling like a man again. Liberty University Online has not just been a means of completing my's been life support.
Those "occupiers" who whine about Wall Street and who embarrass themselves with their disgusting antics...try trading with me. Try fighting all the way back from devastation. Maybe "the whole world is watching" as you say...but that's nothing compared to knowing that my 13 year old daughter is watching.
Come May, you can have my spot in the humiliating pantheon of the wanderers. Because while you have been carping about what you think you were owed, I went out and got what was available. Just thinking about walking across that platform and getting that degree makes me weep. It's been a long hard road and the only reason there is anything at the other because of those "1%" who make careers for people and who pay the bulk of the tax burden so that mid-forties dads who are hit with devastation can find the resources for a second chance for themselves and their child. I, for one, am thankful for them.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Coming Home...thoughts on homecoming week

Friday is Homecoming at my alma mater, Liberty University
I won’t be going back this year…the first time in 5 years I won’t be there. But I’ll be there in spirit…because in a lot of ways my heart has never left. Because in so many ways, Liberty Mountain is home. I guess that’s why they call it “Homecoming”.
     When I was in high school, the only college I wanted to go to was Liberty. The only degree I wanted was from Liberty. The only place that mattered was the mountain. In a lot of ways that hasn’t changed.
     I was thinking about this post for a few days. I had written something different and wound up changing it this morning. I was thinking about the words to a song that a dear friend of mine, Allan Shamblin, wrote and that Miranda Lambert made into a number 1.
The song is called “The House that Built Me

                                         I know they say you can’t go home again
                                         I just had to come back one last time
                                         Ma’am I know you don’t know me from Adam
                                         But these handprints on the front steps are mine

                                         Up those stairs in that little back bedroom
                                         Is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar
                                         I bet you didn’t know under that live oak
                                         My favorite dog is buried in the yard

                                         I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
                                        This brokenness inside me might start healing
                                        Out here it’s like I’m someone else
                                         I thought that maybe I could find myself

                                         If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave
                                         Won’t take nothing but a memory
                                         From the house that built me

                                         Mama cut out pictures of houses for years
                                         From Better Homes and Gardens magazine
                                         Plans were drawn and concrete poured
                                         Nail by nail and board by board
                                         Daddy gave life to mama’s dream

                                         I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
                                         This brokenness inside me might start healing
                                         Out here it’s like I’m someone else
                                         I thought that maybe I could find myself

                                        If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave
                                         Won’t take nothing but a memory
                                         From the house that built me

                                       You leave home and you move on and you do the best you can
                                        I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am

                                       I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
                                       This brokenness inside me might start healing
                                       Out here it’s like I’m someone else
                                       I thought that maybe I could find myself

                                       If I could walk around I swear I’ll leave
                                      Won’t take nothing but a memory
                                       From the house that built me  

Allan didn’t know me seven years ago when he wrote this. And he’s never been to Liberty University and as far as I know he’s never even been to Liberty Mountain. But without even knowing it, he captured the heart of what LU means to so many of its alumni. It’s home for us. It’s the “House that Built Me”
I didn’t have a home like the one in this song, where character was formed and love abounded. There isn’t a house in my memory that calls to me from across the years and says “If you can just get back here you’ll figure it all out and be alright” But I have Liberty University.
     In a lot of ways, that place is home for me. I met my best friends there. I slugged it out for the hockey team and made the “bad food” jokes. I was there when curfews were ridiculous and dress code was like a “Happy Days” wardrobe. I remember when the DeMoss building was a blueprint and when the Vine center was an overgrown ravine where we played Capture the Flag.
Liberty was where I was first challenged to really know what I believed, and why. It’s where somebody knocked the kool-aid out of my hand and told me to drink beer like a grown-up. (Okay…not actual beer…you get the analogy) It’s where Jim Freeman and Greg St. Clair became my best friends. It’s where Cory Walyuchow and Justian Wylie and Craig Handwerker and Wade Burrows and a bunch of other guys became my team mates, and my dream of playing collegiate hockey came true.
It’s where I first saw mountains. It’s where I first saw mountains move.
Most of all, it’s where Dr. Falwell was. I loved that man. I went there because of him. I would sometimes listen to his sermons in chapel and think “C’mon Doc! Seriously? A D-1 football team with our own first-class stadium beating Notre Dame someday?”  Doc had said this when Lou Holtz was coaching ND and they were unbeatable. 28 years later and five consecutive Big South titles in hand, I would dare say the LU teams from last year and the two years prior probably could have done the job. (Brian Kelly sort of changes that possibility for now) I remember one service at Thomas Road Baptist Church when Doc told us of his dream of Liberty having it’s “own channel for spreading the gospel” and it would come through some new technology called satellite. He told us the receiving dish would be “slightly bigger than a pie plate…maybe 24 inches in diameter” and you could hang them from the eaves of any home in the US. I remember sitting there thinking “Right Doc…That’ll never happen”  Then came Dish Network and Direct TV.  Then came “The Liberty Channel” Doc was right. Again.
He would lay out his grand dreams for the mountain and we’d sometimes sit there thinking “I love the idea Doc…but that aint gonna happen. A law School? A med school? Dorm rooms with only 2 people in each one? That will NEVER happen! (Those of you who are of my vintage remember being crammed 4 deep into dorm rooms built for two.)
     Doc was larger than life. He was a cantankerous kid in a grown-ups body who never lost sight of having some fun now and then. He had a passion for Jesus Christ that defied description. He had faith that literally moved mountains. He loved people. He had a knack for seeing people as Jesus saw them. It’s why he could reach out to Larry Flynt after Flynt had done his best to denigrate Dr. Falwell in the most salacious manner. When Doc died, Larry Flynt actually got choked up during an interview with Larry King, when he referred to Dr. Falwell as his friend. Flynt was always downplaying the fact that Doc befriended him and, Doc took a beating for it from his contemporaries. But I thought it was genius. He reached out in love to an obviously bitter and hurting man and openly called him his friend. What could Flynt ever do against that kind of big heart?
I learned about loving people on the mountain. I learned about which battles were worth fighting and which were not.
     Mostly I learned that with God, one seemingly unimportant preacher from a small town in central Virginia could be used to touch millions simply because he said “yes" to God and dared to dream big dreams.
     Two years ago, my daughter went to homecoming with me. She was 11 at the time. We had gone to an art exhibit and were crossing the road to go to the dining hall for dinner. Standing on the curb in a cold late October breeze on a grey overcast day, I stopped and looked around. Morgan was enamored with “SnowFlex” the giant artificial snowboard slope high on Liberty Mountain across from the campus. The day was dark and dreary so the lights were already on at the slope. I pointed across the street to dorm 22…my first dorm on Liberty Mountain. This was the room I shared with Jim Freeman, who would become one of the best friends I ever made and, my defacto big brother. I told Morgan how there used to be nothing on that side of the mountain but brush that caught fire every spring. I told her how there wasn’t a Vine Center or a Demoss building or an ice rink when I first came here. Then I choked back tears and told her about Dr. Falwell. My daughter has wonderful, daring faith even at her young age. I knew she’d be impacted when I relayed the stories of Doc’s constant biting off huge chunks of this mountain and turning it into a tangible “home” for all of us…his “kids”.
I put my arm around my little girl and swept my hand across the view in front of us and told her; “All of this…everything you see here is because one man said “yes” to God and had faith that God had a plan. And God can do the same thing with you." Morgan somehow understood the importance of what I was saying, and she had heard me talk about Dr. Falwell enough times to know how I loved him. She got a big smile when I told her, “Go ahead and dream big, honey. Jump in and do what God tells you because the same God that was behind Doc is the same God who will see your dreams come true."
     My upbringing didn’t lend itself to great faith…I had to learn that on the mountain too. But I had a great example and over time I learned. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating…Dr. Falwell used to tell us all the time “You don’t measure a man by what it takes to knock him down…but by what it takes to keep him down.”
August 1984 was the start of my freshman year. I completed my last 5 semesters online, most of the time living in my car after losing everything I had in this economy.
Next May I will walk across the stage on that mountain and I will receive my long awaited diploma…because there at my home…in the “house that built me” I learned that I do have what it takes to finish what I began. I learned by watching that giant of a man and father-figure, that I will never be measured by what it took to keep me down. Because I watched a man who kept getting up. I have travelled back to the mountain many times over the years, probably, as Allan wrote because               
                                      “ I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
                                         This brokenness inside me might start healing
                                         Out here it’s like I’m someone else
                                         I thought that maybe I could find myself
I think I’ve come home so many times looking to find myself. To find the young man I once was who first came here when there was little here to come to. I think I have travelled back to this house that built me because I knew instinctively I was still being built. Liberty Mountain has, in many ways, been the fixed end of my compass.
     Now I will finally return as a graduate. In May I will come home to this house that built me with a little swagger, a little pride. I have some scars from the battles I fought just finding my way back here and I’m limping a bit from my wrestling matches with God. But I’ll be home again. Because this place built me and throughout life we all need to come back and remember who we were when we got here and who we were when we left.
Welcome home LU alumni…and I’ll see you all next year.