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Howling Iraq

I have seen the greatest men of my generation fall to IEDs and to RPG’s, from night terrors and self-medication. I have seen the greatest men of my generation emerge crazy from their diseases and their demons, taking a bullet for a brother, or from their own gun because they couldn’t take that bullet. I have seen the marble-lined graves of the fallen who could not find an enemy worth engaging. I have seen real men seeking the Book of the Wars of the Lord, finding out-of-shape ayatollahs spouting lies and wreaking fury and false promises.  I’ve looked down my barrel at such low-life commanders and mealy-mouthed mullahs, and passed judgement. PUSILLANIMITY! Not worth my ammo.

I have seen the feared warriors of my generation reduced by the five, by the ten, when a 19-year-old punk and his godless twenty-three year-old brother unload a shrapnel bomb. I have heard the word of God spoken like the water at the living stream, and a hundred lowlife supposed men of Allah trying to explain the appeal of seventy-two vestal virgins. I have heard the many drink from the words of a few. I have seen people of promise spend twenty years of their lives chasing their tails like mentally handicapped dogs because they would sooner die that listen to a word of wise counsel, and a thousand times sooner if that counsel came in the name of our Lord. I have seen children of the church who never faced a challenge they didn’t know what to do with from Vacation Bible School who never developed the faith of a mustard seed, because their faithlessness was never challenges, so it could never develop.

I have seen wafers that could spread out across the Sea of Galilee wasted as so many empty calories on the tongues of children of the untested. I have seen sermons snail-mailed, e-mailed, newslettered and tacked up like Martin Luther’s 99 Theses. by well-meaning pastors who are preaching holy words, but lacking the fire to ignite the faith. I have seen those ministers fall to their own unbelief, because they howl into the empty chapel and say, “It’s not information, children! It’s not seventh-period English. It’s what will save your lives, but you don’t listen, and then the best and the brightest of our generation go off and die with their song still unsung because the Lord is crying and you don’t care!


Formulating a Plan to Get What You Want

It is vital to realize that a one time payoff doesn’t lead to you achieving your goals. It was not good enough for Jacob and it should not be good enough for you. Before you accept compensation in exchange for your value,  there are several points to consider.

Know your worth. Your time is valuable and you should treat it like it is. How you spend your time says all about what you are an expert in. The information you gain from how you spend your time is a valuable asset. Most people do not see the potential that is within them to start a business or a consulting company based on the skills they already possess. Most people behave as if their means to an end is associated with someone paying them to do a job for specific salary. For your information, a salary is a controlled amount of money paid to an employee that is often times not negotiable. Unfortunately, a salary is not an accurate label of your value. As a matter of fact, what job or place of employment can truly represent how valuable you are by the salary they pay you? Who wants to pay you a wage that is equal to your value? The truth is no one can truly afford you. You are priceless. No one can pay the price that you are worth. For Christians, we know this to be true because Jesus paid the price for our sins. This salvation opened the door for us to live life free from sin. Jesus paid a steep price for us. If what I am saying is true, why do we waste our time trying to find someone to compensate us for our value? Despite all of the energy you put out, you will never find equal compensation for your value. If you naïvely continue to search for it, you will continuously find yourself disappointed. It is in your best interest to identify ways to create the value you believe you are worth.

Assign tasks to your time. When your time is allocated to a particular activity, you have to spend it wisely on activities you desire to master. You should use your time to master something. Life experiences are meant to help you grow and develop in ways you have never grown before. But if you spend your time doing something you do not master, your time will be wasted. Time is a precious commodity that each human being has in a finite amount, and we are empowered by God to manage it. The responsibility for allocating this resource lies squarely on our shoulders. Even if you never become a CEO, a leader, or an influential person, you will always have CEO power over your time and what you do with it. In addition, remembertime waits for no one. Before you know it, five to ten years will pass by and you will look back and wonder what you have done with your time. If you know this will happen, and it will, it behooves you to plan out your time and what you will be doing with it. Assign activities to your time, assign resources to your time, and assign relationships to your time. You will end up appreciating the planning process you went through. Your time will thank you for that as well. Learning and mastering this is equivalent to unlocking the secrets to success and wealth.

Master your trade or skill. Use your time to learn something new or achieve mastery over something you already do well. This simply equates to becoming educated. People are quick to equate education with college degrees, but education is much broader than the parchment that a diploma is written on. Education is learning a new activity or behavior that will equip you to accomplish a task. Education occurs more often than people realize. Some people are educated by life, by experience, by a teacher or mentor, or in a classroom. Regardless of how you are educated, it is critical to know that education is the engine for true success. If you are not willing to invest in your education, you are not willing to see yourself grow. You need education just as much as the next person. Your focus should not be to walk down the graduation aisle but to learn from someone that knows more than you about the subject matter you care about. When you know that you are educated about what you are doing, you have power; at least more power than you had before. You have more power to think, to perform at your best, and to be whomever you need to be because you now know how to function with your newfound knowledge.

Learn people. This has to be a skill you master above all others in order to achieve the success you desire. Not knowing people is like not knowing yourself. When you do not know people, you lose valuable opportunities to learn about who you are, what you like, what interests you, what annoys you, what makes you happy. These key data points help you determine who other people are and how you should generally, and I mean generally, deal with them. What you learn about people should not be used as a lump sum measurement of everyone; rather, the principle of learning about people should be a principal practice you embrace in all your interactions. The more you learn about people, the more equipped you are to guard against people that are not helpful to you during your growth period. Our exemplar, the Biblical Jacob, did not know his father-in-law Laban was scamming him. If Jacob knew this information, we can assume he would have made other arrangements with his father-in-law. The lesson that can be learned from this process is that learning about people and their intentions before you develop a deep relationship with them will save you a lot of trouble and heartache in the future.

Communicate clearly. Communication is the chief skill you should seek to master, because unless you communicate clearly, you cannot enroll other people who could help you achieve your aims. I will admit, communicating can be difficult, particularly when it involves discussing topics that are sensitive to you. However, it is important to remember that if you do not share what you are feeling or thinking, no one will know how they can help you. Without communication, how would you know what other people are thinking? How can you be the best you can be for others if no one ever told you how to do that? How can they summon their best efforts on your behalf if you don’t tell them what you need? Communication is a privilege God has given us and we have a responsibility to use it.

Before closing this section, I want to reiterate its message. You have to commit yourself to mastering your craft. Your craft is only valued at the price you set for it. No one can set that value for you and nor should they. When you allow people to set the price for your craft and how you master it, you will never realize the benefits of being a master of your trade. This is why you hear so many wealth and personal improvement gurus and coaches tell their readers and clients to stop expecting their place of employment and the salary they receive to define their value, because you will never be paid what you believe you are worth.

Think about it like this.

In today’s real estate market, people across America are selling their homes. Many sellers are looking to sell their homes for what they think they are worth; however, the realities of the market dictate the value of the house and how much it will sell for. Your feelings cannot and will not ever affect the price of your home nor will it motivate a buyer to pay a price you feel they should pay. This is completely relevant to how you should view your life. People are not going to respond to how you feel and will not pay a price you feel they should pay. No more than they will pay the price that you set emotionally for your house will they pay what you feel you deserve for your time, skills, and expertise. They will pay a price for your services and what you have to offer based on the value they place on you. If you come to terms with someone that is willing to buy your house at a price you set, great, but in most cases you will have to make some concessions dictated by your market. Only if you have a one-of-a-kind house will you be able to command a one-of-a-kind price. Similarly, if you want to be free of market forces for your time and talents, you need to develop one-of-a-kind talents. This is why mastering your craft is important. If you want to be worthy of a high value, prove it. Where are the results? Who have you affected? Who has benefited because of you? Prove your value by mastering your craft.

Creative Nonfiction: Biography

Chapter 1. School for Parenting

I tasted the sweat rolling down my cheeks. The big green car my mama and this man I knew as Vader drove cooked me like a loaf of cornbread when I stayed inside, so I got out and leaned against a telephone pole and opened the door for my little brother, who was sleeping.. Dressed only in shorts and flip-flops, I figured out that my shirt did more for me as a parasol than as a garment, and beside, in Ghost Town, Oakland, USA, who cared what I looked like? Most people here were like my ma, just thinking about where they were going to get high and who they owed money to.

My ma’s clear, dark chocolate skin and natural, untamed Afro are what I remember most clearly. That, and the fact that when she stood up straight, which wasn’t often, I could see her head above the Dodge Dart that Vader got at a police auction in Fremont. As far as I knew, anyone whose head rose up above the roof of a car was big. All grown-ups were big. Especially my ma. How wrong I was, and not just physically, either.

Ma had told me to sit tight, that she’d be right out. I knew there was something wrong when my head started to swim. I didn’t know how long I was roasting in the Dart before I opened the door and hung up my shirt on the telephone pole. I was six years old. I couldn’t tell time. I stood underneath my shirt, hoping that it would serve as a sail and catch any wayward breeze. I kept time to an imaginary song by wearing a crease in my flip-flops with my toes.

A rebellious blade of grass squeezed through a crack in the concrete sidewalk. There wasn’t much nature in Ghost Town. Aside from the blade of grass in front of me, and its equally wayward cousins, there were a few bramble bushes and a rare rosebush. Down Crawford Street, at the very end of town, one angry palm tree stood guard, stretching its jagged fronds threateningly at anyone who ventured that far. That palm tree dominated the cityscape of squat cement-brick warehouses and dented, rusting aluminum-sided one- and two-story houses. Around any commercial building stood a chain-link fence; at the top of the chain-link fences, chances were there would be barbed wire.

Out of boredom, I flipped off my right flip-flop and started sliding that blade of grass between my toes. I could tell just how much pressure I could put on the little green sliver before I would tear it off. My mind wandered, far out of Ghost Town, out of the nasty poverty of Foster-Hoover, all the way up the steps of my grandma’s 4-plex apartment building on North 42nd. Street, where one of our neighbors had a new Ford Thunderbird, and nobody who had their own place was in poverty, or at least not too deep in. There, Ma would go out into the laundry, and come back all shaking, but when we stayed with Grandma, we ate, slept, wore good clothes, and went to McDonald’s. And we didn’t have to share our space with Vader, who had moved in with Ma.

The earth was turning, but Ma wasn’t coming out. Shadows took little baby steps forward, finally giving the blade of grass a welcome midday shade. I crossed the sidewalk and hugged the building, wondering whether I should go inside. I was a six-year-old boy. I had to take care of my four-year-old brother. I felt so alone. I stood in that shade, and I wondered about my mom. She had done this to me before, but usually my older sister, who was nine, was there to keep me company. I didn’t yet know what these trips into Ghost Town were all about. I was, like I said, a six-year-old boy.

I couldn’t tell time, even if I had a watch, but I could guess that, based on the stretching of the shadow to the end of the sidewalk, off the curb, and onto the hubcap of the Dart, that it was two or three hours that Ma was in the house. When she came out, I was surprised, because I had stopped watching the door. I was dreaming of McDonald’s. Filet-O-Fish. Almost too hot to eat. Tartar sauce, ketchup. French fries.

“Sorry, baby,” she stammered.

She wasn’t.

Vader stumbled through the doorway next. Ma fumbled around in her purse for a moment, and drew out Vader’s key ring. Vader, quieter than he was when he went in that bungalow, didn’t even yell at Ma when the keys slipped off his hand and hit the pavement. . The big man stumbled forward and missed the keys. He grunted, turned around, and lifted up the keys. He stumbled toward the door of the Dart. I noticed that even though I was standing on a convection oven and he was inside a house that was dark and cool, he was sweating.  Ma went around the front of the car to the passenger side

“It’s unlocked,” I told her.

She opened her door, and I did as well. That man cursed again, and I heard the jangle of the keys hitting the car floor. He reached down, grunted a few times, opened the door again, and stuck his feet out. So did Ma. She was looking on the floor boards and under the seat when she froze. I got back out of the car, and tapped her on her thigh.

“Can I help you, Gwen?” We called her by her first name. Maybe I would have smelled trouble with that if I were a little older.

“I got it, baby.”

She pulled the keys out from under the seat. I noticed that she was sweating, too, and that her eyes were huge, unnaturally wide open.  “Ma, are you hot?” I asked. I knew that she was in a cool basement, while I was in the bright sun.

“No, I’m cold, but I’ll be OK. You never mind.”

We got back in the Dart, and she started the car. We were parked on the wrong side of the street, and Vader started out driving the wrong way. Thankfully, he corrected his mistake. After a few blocks, he found a 7-11 and pulled in front.

We walked in. Vader grabbed a bag of Halls menthol lozenges. Ma picked out a Dr Pepper and a moon pie. I had to ask. “What about me?” She rooted around in her purse, finding two crumpled dollar bills. She opened her change purse and frowned.

“We’ll have to share, baby.”

There were a lot of things that didn’t add up, but I would have time to figure this out soon enough. Too soon. Now I just wanted the cool, sweet Dr Pepper on my lips.

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