What Do You See?

Some mornings I wake up and feel like everything is just fine . . . that the world is moving right along just as intended and everything will pan out as it is supposed to according to the Master Plan.

Other mornings, I wake up and learn of something that happened overnight . . . something tragic, evil, disturbing, and I fret over the condition of world affairs. I worry for Courtney and Chris, for my nephews and nieces, for Ali and Abi. In moments of weakness and confusion, it sometimes seems as if the enemy might just be prevailing in the war. Sadly, world events often seem very ugly . . . and our culture so very confused over some very basic issues. I mean: same-sex marriage? How about this crazy notion that Bruce Jenner is a hero . . . and what he did is courageous? He is not the Woman of the Year . . . what the dude did is demonic, unnatural, and perverted. Will we now see his photo removed from the cereal box and placed upon the tampon box?

Some years ago, I learned about a place that helps me remember something very important. The place is something I believe the Lord created and forever intentioned that mankind consider as he views life . . . that place is located in what is known as Bad Water Basin in Death Valley. It is now a national park . . . Across California and Nevada, located East of the Sierra Nevada.

From one place therein, one can clearly see the highest elevation in the lower 48 states–Mt. Whitney—at 14,505 feet. Moving over just a few feet, one can then view the lowest elevation on the Continent -282 feet below sea level. The highest and lowest . . . both clearly seen from two different positions that are actually not far apart!

What is the point? I believe it is simply a reminder that what we see is greatly influenced by where we stand.

We need to remember that as Believers, God has set us up for success . . . certainly not for failure! Don’t despise small beginnings . . . God has plenty of strength, wisdom, and grace to give us to . . . empower us to live the bigger life He has for us.

If we view ourselves through the eyes of the world, it all seems hopeless; yet, if we view ourselves through the eyes of Christ, everything changes and we instantly become new creatures with a glorious future!

Can you see it? I sure hope you can . . .

Corporate Culture . . .

I have spent the past ten days doing “in-patient rehab” for a knee-replacement. It has been a reasonably good time . . . well spent. During my stay, I have gotten reacquainted with some old friends, Doctors, Nurses, Physical Therapists, Nurse’s Assistants, and housekeepers. Many of the same folks who helped me through the long, challenging, and very difficult rehab following the spinal-cord-injury surgery have been here to offer help again.

Another person with whom have I enjoyed getting reacquainted is Tommy Lee, the Hospital Administrator for this section of the Hospital. Tommy Lee is a highly intelligent, wonderfully educated 28-year-old Vietnamese fellow, the son of immigrants. Tommy, as a first-generation American, is a great model/reflection of my knowledge and history with this group of immigrants.

Over the past 40 years I have known a wide assortment of Vietnamese people. My first experience with them was in Burnet when the local Catholic Church sponsored a few families who had been airlifted out of a nation in the shambles of a long and brutal war and brought to the USA. I provided housing for a couple of those early-arrival families. I quickly discovered that they are a quite disciplined, perhaps even a driven group of people. They are very respectful and polite. I remember that I taught one of those early tenant family’s son (he was the age of about 18 or 20 at the time) to play the game of tennis down at the tennis courts of Burnet High School. A year later he was beating the snot out of everyone in town. A few years later, I heard he was working as the tennis pro at the Dallas Country Club. I never questioned it . . . his game was art form and he was quick as a cat!

When Sandy and I relocated to the Coast, I became acquainted with several others . . . guys who provided services for boat owners, some who owned their own boats and netted shrimp and small bait-fish for sale to sports fishermen, a few in the building trades, and other in the retail or service business. They are culturally inclined as natural entrepreneurs . . . in fact, my friend, Tommy, is one of the few who works for wages.

In his position as an Administrator, with a staff of about 250, and being one of many seeking the way up the corporate ladder in the Christus Spohn Health System, my young friend is learning to balance several things at once. In his culture, a cheerleader/motivator is not necessary; yet, he finds himself actively playing that role for an overworked and challenged staff. He and I have had some wonderful conversations about people . . . the good, the bad, and the ugly. We have discussed various approaches to encouraging and leading our groups, have scratched our heads and debated the foolishness in the world around us of calling wrong stuff right, and right stuff wrong. My bright young friend is an interesting fellow and while driven toward success, he must also process and adjust to his culture, family, and life. We have had some amazing discussions about God . . . who He is . . . and who we are.

He is engaged to a bright young lady . . . who is currently in her third year of medical school. Their future looks bright. I hope and pray it is.

He told me that his parents and siblings recently returned from a 2-week cruise (their first American vacation in 25 years). They cruised from Miami to the Bahamas. The group flew from D/FW to Miami and then boarded the cruise ship. I could just sense the pride and joy he felt for his family in this giant step forward.

As I prepared for my leaving the rehab facility, my case manager delivered the cool little “My Independence Day” button pictured herein and attached it to my shirt. She casually said, “Tommy Lee made this especially for you to celebrate your victory of going home!” As she and I talked, she told me that Tommy Lee, ever the enterprising young man, had actually paid his way through college hand-making and selling such pins. I was reminded that he had told me his dad was a welder in a plant and his mom owned a small nail shop, and there was a houseful of kids.

I am wagering this bright young fellow soars to great heights in the business world and achieves great financial success, but doesn’t lose any part of himself along the path, which is an all-too-common problem in the culture of us as WASP.

 

A Bump in the Road as the New Year Gets Underway!

Week before last was marked by a peculiar Winter Storm . . . dubbed Winter Blizzard Goliath. It really had a powerful impact on much of the nation. Snow and strong winds across West Texas . . . Killing some 30,000 cows. A giant, powerful tornado caused significant damage in the DFW area . . . a sheet of ice up through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. The storm really impacted travel all across the Southwest and Midwest.

Last week was marked by some peculiar financial events. The Chinese stock market activity has been suspended within minutes of opening for consecutive days. While the Chinese stock market is not a strong foundational element of that nation’s economy, the trouble is made to seem even worse by recent problems related to the Yen, and together the two have sent something of a financial ripple across the globe. The reason is simply because the Chinese economy is the second most powerful in the world. The DOW dropped about 400 in response. Opinions between analysts vary . . . with some suggesting that the world markets are hypochondriac . . . and everything will settle down.

To add to the confusion, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are causing world concerns, especially fueled by the concern of the incompetent manner in which the current Administration negotiated with the evil regime in Iran.

The simple truth is the world is a just a mess tonight . . . but the greater truth is that none of this is taking the Lord by surprise. He already has it all planned out and has seen what is ahead. We do well to be alert and wise, but we do better to walk in faith.

Presidential Debates . . .

I don’t care who you are . . . where you are from . . . where you have been . . . or where you may believe you are headed . . . you must surely realize that at this moment in history, we are living in a most peculiar time! The simple truth is that there are some peculiar things going on . . . and we have moved into new, uncharted waters. We are seeing and experiencing some things that just a few years back would have been unthinkable. Let me share my evaluation on the place we are as a country as we work through the political process of deciding on the new President.

The current President (sadly the first American President of color), is far beyond just being an ultra-liberal Democrat. The man actually assumed a Muslim name, Barrack Hussein Obama. We are currently at war with an evil, radical, angry, and militant group of Muslims, known as jihadists. They are commonly referred to as terrorists . . . well, referred to in that way by pretty much everyone except this President and his administration. Most folks suspect/fear that he is actually a sympathizer and fear he may literally be on the terrorist’s side rather than our side (his father is reported to have been a Muslim from Kenya, about which he wrote a book, “Dreams of my Father.”) It is beyond imagination at how he and his insiders have addressed this situation or processed this so called “war on terror.” It is widely believed that he views the jihadists as “freedom fighters” as opposed to being evil enemies. He has regularly demonstrated strong leanings as a Socialist and has publicly referred to the Constitution as “an antiquated document.” His two, seemingly, greatest ambitions have been a government-imposed health-care system, and seriously infringing upon a citizen’s right to keep and bear arms. There have been a great number of mass killings during his terms in office, and he has consistently, and in error, quickly taken to the airwaves and rather than accurately describe it as an act of terrorism, he describes it as gun violence and attacks our 2nd Amendment right. He has created confusion, unrest abounds, and distrust spreads. He has been a radical divider of people.

It is actually a quite sad situation because the man is truly a gifted orator (one of the greatest orators and most articulate men of the 20th century). Moreover, he is obviously a bright fellow. In truth, he is even likable in that he is charming, well educated, quite suave, and even polished. Initially, he presents an air of being presidential. There are some Black folks whom I love and appreciate and who are very dear to me. I know and respect that they have fought a long, difficult struggle in life caused by circumstances imposed upon them. I have often written in this Blog about that injustice and how over the years my opinions of all of that stuff has changed . . . considerably. He could have done so very much to help them, but the sad truth is he feels zero kinship with them . . . he simply does not see himself as being Black . . . and views other Black folks as well beneath himself. Statics show that he has the poorest track record in helping the Black community of any President in the past 50 years.

So, as we flounder through the early stages of the election process, there are basically two candidates for the Democratic nomination: a woman, Hilary Clinton, the wife of former President, Bill Clinton, and a fellow named Sanders, a known Socialist. Then on the other side, there is a large, clumsy gang pounding on one another and not looking like any of the other fields of candidates of prior elections. There are so many candidates, that for traditional debates, the field must divided into separate groups just to fit them onto a stage. They are calling them the A-group and the B-group.

The truth is the Republican Party is in a real mess. The Party leaders completely ignore the base—the voters, and it really does not much like the field of candidates. It seems the Party officials are only interested in Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former Bush Presidents. He fits Party official’s mold, but he simply does not do well with the typical voter and has never shown in any respected poll as being over 5%, in spite of the fact that he has raised a ton of money to support his campaign.

The truth is that Donald Trump is the clear leader in every poll and has been from the outset. Trump is a nightmare for the Party . . . the dude is radically wealthy, flies around in his own jumbo jet (that makes Air Force One look like public transportation), finances his own campaign, and totally ignores Party officials. Huge crowds flock to his campaign events and cheers him on as he makes radical and off-the-wall declarations! He stays far outside the box which typical conservative candidates traditionally occupy.

I am yet to settle on a particular candidate . . . but I have eliminated a number of others. I believe this election will be a defining moment for our nation . . . but then I think the past two elections have also been. I wonder how long it will take us to recover from the damage done to us by this strange character . . . or if we can recover.

A Father’s Legacy . . .

My darling wife, Sandy, is a most remarkable human being. She is so very kind, generous, and gentle; always thoughtful and considerate. She does so much . . . for so many folks that it is far beyond keeping up with. It is a common event for someone to tell me of some wonderful and considerate thing she did for them . . . or someone they know! What is amazing is that she is an extremely busy lady, too! She teaches an at-risk program at Rockport-Fulton High School (which demands that she become heavily invested in troubled kid’s lives) . . . and she is a student in Texas A & M’s Doctoral program. She serves as either Chairman or Vice Chairman of various committees at her school or in professional organizations for the faculty. In addition, she has been asked to serve on some State-wide groups for TEA. Moreover, she is a wife, Mom, and Nana, and she has few equals in any of those roles. In spite of all that, she always finds time to tutor students who are struggling . . . from middle school to grad school. She also teaches a 3-year-old Sunday school class . . . and she is adored by those kids. As we were leaving Church last Sunday, one of her kids was passing by our car along with her family . . . and the mom called back over her shoulder, “Kennedi says she wants to go have lunch with Mrs. Sandy,” to which Mrs. Sandy replied, “How about I come by some afternoon after school and take her out for ice cream?” You can put it in the bank . . . that sweet little girl will be going for ice cream . . . soon! She doesn’t just do things for people, she goes to a great deal of troubled to do special, meaningful, and purposeful things for people.


I am amazed when I take her to a Friday-night movie . . . she is always surrounded by both current and former students. They love this lady. She develops and assembles an individual book of the kid’s life . . . for at least a dozen students each year! She actually begins developing material on them at the preschool age and follows them through high school. She has a filing cabinet filled with data, photos, and clippings from articles about the kids. Do the math: twelve kids a year for twelve years of school = 144 files being developed each year!! Parents often comment when they see the kid’s book, “Well, I am embarrassed . . . you have maintained far better data on my kid than I have.” That is just . . . my sweet Sandy. She gets some very special letters from former students later in their lives about their special book. I am always touched by the letters from soldiers stationed in a foreign land and how much that book means to him. I don’t suppose we will ever know on this side of Heaven how many lives this dear lady has touched, molded, and influenced. She certainly has done all of that in my life. I was reminded of that again last week as I sat at my PC in my study, reviewing my emails. There were several from her requesting that I write a series of notes related to different areas of my life and development from childhood to date. It is for a book she is preparing for each of our children and grand-daughters, called, “A Father’s Legacy.”

She sat for hours at a time all through the years with both my Mother and my Dad and then typed up her questions . . . along with each one’s replies, as she developed such a book about each of them. It was clearly so much work for her, but what a blessed treasure for my siblings and me . . . about our folks. I suspect that she always saw something we could not.

A Father’s Legacy . . . you bet! I have already knocked it out of the park on that issue! I was brilliant in that I sought out . . . found . . . identified . . . and chose . . . the most remarkable woman to be their Mother! I would love for them to remember me as such a wise and prudent fellow, but the truth is that the Lord gave her to us . . . and the sad part is that I wasn’t always smart enough to appreciate, respect, and honor her accordingly! The really amazing thing is that . . . she loves me . . . in an amazing way . . . in spite of my failing her so often.

 

A High-Steppin’ Dude . . .

Several years back I was doing a seminar at the Ambassador West Hotel in downtown Chicago and mid-morning I looked down at my watch to see how long it would be before the banquet staff came in with the morning’s refreshments. I remember how troubled I was that I could not read the date in the bubble on my watch’s crystal. I didn’t say anything to anyone but I began to fear that perhaps I was in the early stages of going blind. I worried about how I might earn a living for my family if I actually went blind. A few months later, I realized that I could no longer distinguish the small marks used as hour marks on my watch. I was really concerned at that point and had my secretary at the time schedule me for an eye exam with an area optometrist. Finally the day of the appointment arrived and I went to see the doctor. He asked the problem and I told him I was having trouble seeing things on my watch. He gave me an eye exam and said it all looked okay. He asked to look at my watch and chuckled and said, “I could not have seen that stuff when I was half your age.” He concluded the exam and told me that I needed a little help both up close and at a distance and I would need bifocals. He sent me next-door to the Texas State Optical (TSO) office. I was assisted by a lady there and after a careful search of her inventory selected handsome gold, wire frames to house my new corrective lenses. As I looked at myself in the mirror I thought I looked rather smug and perhaps, even a bit intellectual in my glasses. I was told they would be ready in about 10 days and they would call me to come back for a fitting. Good to their word, they called, and I returned. The shop is located in a strip-center in a nearby town. As I left the shop, I decided that I ought to discipline myself and begin learning to wear the glasses right off, so I removed them from their case and slipped them on. To this day I am not sure what made me do it, but I turned my head and caught a glimpse of myself in the plate-glass window of the shop I was passing. I was shocked as I watched myself trying to measure my steps through the two separate lenses . . . I am tellin’ you . . . I was one high steppin’ dude! Immediately I did what one always does when he discovers he has behaved in a goofy manner . . . I looked all around to see if anyone had caught me in my goofiness. Whew, I didn’t see anyone in the parking area looking, but as my gaze turned back to the glass there was a beautiful young woman sitting at a desk staring straight at me . . . and she was grinning . . . from ear to ear! Good grief . . . busted . . . I felt like the village idiot!! I quickly removed those glasses and struck out for my car. On the drive back to the office, I reflected on what had occurred and excused myself as my thoughts turned to what a natural thing it was for a man to have to learn to walk with such corrective new eye-wear. Feeling much better about myself and remembering how dashing I looked in my new gold glasses, I decided I would wear them into the office and permit my staff to see how intellectual I looked wearing them. As I got out of my Suburban I slipped the new glasses back on for my grand entry. I am still not sure what happened, but there is a 6-foot sidewalk/wheel-stop in front of the office and somehow I missed the six-inch step up, stumbled forward with a lunge and caught myself against the building. The problem was that in the fall, I managed to jam the thumb on my right hand almost all of the way into my hand . . . I am telling you straight . . . the thumb was only sticking out of my hand about an inch. Darn . . . that really hurt. Santos came along and pulled my thumb back out as I leaned against the building shivering like a Mexican Chihuahua trying to pass a peach seed . . . darn that hurt. My hand was sore for a month, and, honestly, I can still feel it sometimes . . . all these years later. That is my casting hand, too!

It took me a long time to ever master the trick of walking while wearing bifocals, but I finally did. All the while I feared that I would permanently disable myself trying to learn to walk while wearing the goofy things.

At 10:30 a. m. on Wednesday the 13th, I check into St. John’s Baptist Hospital, in San Antonio, to have a new artificial knee installed that afternoon. The orthopedic surgeon tells me the new knee is good for 27-and-one-half years. As I sit here today, I am wondering how much difficulty I am will experience learning to walk with that thing! The financial office of the hospital called to tell me how much to write the check for . . . it blew me away. I thought, “Good grief . . . the Lord gave me two knees for free . . . I should have taken better care of them!”

Then the thought came to me . . . “One day He will give me two brand new knees . . . and those things will be good for a hundred million years-PLUS!” In fact, I will get an entire new body. What a day that will be!

Hope . . . what an amazing gift we have been given!

 

Coffee . . .

There isn’t much better than a good cup of coffee . . . especially an early-morning cup of coffee. My Dad was a great coffee lover . . . and he drank it both day and night. To him, a coffee-break literally meant “a time to drink coffee.” No substitutes! It didn’t matter if it was 3 pm and 110 degrees . . . it was always coffee . . . actually black coffee! It was black coffee for him . . . and anyone who wanted to sit at a table with him! Trust me, you did not want to sit at the same table with him if you wished to add anything to your coffee . . . it was an environment and a system that pretty much left you as probably a person of questionable character.

I can remember that from the time of my earliest memory I was welcome to take a seat at the table with him and join him in a cup of coffee . . . black coffee! It was the same for all of his sons . . . and later for our sons too! Each one of us had to learn that the price for a spot at the table with him . . . and that was a highly cherished place for each one of us . . . was to “drink our coffee like a man!” It was clearly established that he could not . . . would not . . . abide any slackers, trying to add any sweeteners to a cup of coffee; he considered it sinful to “ruin a good cup of coffee!”

The truth is that for us boys, there was no sweeter place on this planet than sitting at that scarred-up old wooden table at “the Poor Farm” . . . drinking our coffee . . . with him. It was there that each of us understood our important place in the world . . . from a country philosopher’s perspective. It was there that each of us learned the ways of a man . . . and, of course, it all began with drinking our coffee . . . black! There was no place we would rather have been; in fact, I wish I could set there with him again this very moment. The truth is that the black coffee was actually pretty bad, but the place . . . the attention . . . and the status, were all huge. It was the stuff of champions!

My dad was quite an amazing man . . . he was a real man’s man! He was fearless . . . he didn’t bother anyone . . . but you could just know by the way he walked across the room that if you were looking for trouble you could find it there . . . and find it quickly! At the same time, he had the winningest smile I have ever seen. He literally was a man that when he smiled, everyone around simply smiled with him. He was sharp as a tack and very witty. The truth be told he was really an amazing country poet and would always set things to a jingle or rhyme. He could have been a great country songwriter . . . if he had known how to channel his talent.

Recently Sandy introduced me to McDonald’s vanilla iced coffee . . . and I have acquired something of a taste for it . . . but I only drink it sugar free! I chuckle at how goofy that is . . . adding ice, vanilla, and cream . . . but, by all means . . . DO NOT add any sugar!

I know that my dear departed old Pappy would still take me to the wood-shed for becoming a sissy in my old age. I was not raised to drink coffee all girlyed-up!

I shed a few tears this morning as I reflected on this rite of passage and penned these words . . . I suspect I know a few guys who will do the same as they reflect on our education . . . as they read along . . . and recall drinking “road oil” . . . as he fondly called it!

I look forward to perhaps one day joining you again for . . . our family tradition!

 

I saw the simple crayon drawing and note neatly printed on one side, lying on the table. I was certain it was the creation of my granddaughter, Alison Faith (we call her Ali). So, of course, I read the note thinking it might have been left for me as she went to bed. In that instant, I had a flashback in time. Let me explain.

This was the week of Christmas and we were at the Hill Country house. Chris brought his girls (Ali, age 7; and her little sister, Abigayle Grace, age 3; we call Abi). The 22nd was Chris’ birthday. The girls got up reasonably early and hung out with me as I sipped my morning coffee. They love playing with my iPad and iPhone and were doing that and failed to stop and show the respect to their dad when He got up. (The rule in our family is that you get to do anything you want on your birthday). Chris slept in. When he entered the family room, the girls were preoccupied and were casual in their greetings. He asked “Nana” to help get the girls’ teeth brushed and get them dressed; instead she was sweeping the floor! Chris quietly went off for a walk. In a bit Nana came in the family room and scolded us and instructed the girls to put the mobile devises away and get dressed for the day. She reminded them it was their dad’s birthday and that they ought to be excited for him and help him celebrate. Ali is a very quick little girl and realized that she had failed to treat her dad the way she wants to be treated on her special day, thus the note. As I read the note I was, once again, amazed at how very bright she is, as well as kind and sensitive.

The logic, thought process, and peace-making efforts of a seven-year-old are all over her note. Therein the cause of my flashback. The place to which I returned was an unremembered playground of a small, West Texas school where I was a seven- or eight-year-old boy, standing on the merry-go-round when a group of several girls of the same age ran up giggling like mad and called out my name. One of the girls climbed up on the merry-go-round and shoved a tightly folded note to me. I can still see her face, snaggled tooth, pig-tails, apprehension in her eyes, and out of breath from her excitement. She had every reason to be apprehensive—she was taking a very big social risk, likely her biggest social experiment in her young life, and doing so in front of a brutal audience—a group of other girls who would forever remember the event. This could be something for which she would be admired . . . or teased without mercy for years to come. After handing me her note, she jumped off of the merry-go-round, rejoined her friends, and they all ran away squealing in excitement. I stuffed the note in the pocket of my jeans and returned to my playing. Back in the classroom, several of her friends inquired if I had checked a box yet? I was completely in the dark. After school I opened the note and was shocked at its content. It basically declared her never-ending love for me and inquired if I loved her back. As I recall, her note went something like this:

“Dear Johnny: I like being in class with you. I love you and hope you love me too. Please check yes or no in the box if you love me too.” Then there were two boxes drawn, with “Yes” beside one and a smaller “no” next to the other box. Then, underneath was the proverbial P. S. Please check yes! Then came the disclaimer: I love you, if you love me, but if you don’t love me, then I don’t love you.

I don’t remember exactly what it was that I did in response to her note, but I hope I was kind and that her friends viewed her as brave and bold. Over the years I have thought on different occasions of that playground social experiment. We all had to put our toes in the water of the social structure in which we live and develop our social skills. For most of us, the first toe-dipping took place in elementary school.

Ali is a 3rd grader and from her note to her Dad, I would say she is right on track in her social development. I sure hope that she hasn’t been planning a note to some 3rd grade boy, and just practicing on her dad.

Empty Seats are not Good . . .

Theaters want every seat filled, airlines want every seat filled on every flight, concert planners want every seat filled . . . and the Lord of Glory wants every seat filled in His house. The empty seats in theaters, airlines, and concerts cost owners/stockholders a profit . . . empty seats in Church cost life-strugglers an opportunity to experience freedom, healing, cleansing, redemption and peace.

We attended the Christmas Eve Service at FBC—Burnet. The Sanctuary was about 80% filled, but those 20% empty seats represented . . . a missed opportunity for hurting people living in a troubled world. It was a lovely Service and a touching reminder that the Prince of Peace came to dwell amongst us . . . it was an opportunity for folks to be reminded of God’s love and to say “Thank You, Lord!”

I know our home Church, FBC—Rockport, had a lovely Service, too! Happy New Year to all!

Crafty . . .

I enjoy a good story . . . I enjoy a good laugh. I found both in this:

An elderly man in Oklahoma calls his son in New York and says, “I hate to ruin your day son, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are getting a divorce; 45 years of marriage . . . and that much misery is enough!”
“Dad, what are you talking about?” the son yells.
“We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer,” the old dad explained. “We’re sick of each other, and I’m sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Hong Kong and tell her!”
Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone.
“Like heck they’re getting divorced,” she shouts, “I’ll take care of this.”
She calls her elderly father immediately, and screams at him, “You are not getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing, you hear me?” she yelled as she hung up the phone.
The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. “Okay,” he says, “it’s all set. They’re both coming for Christmas and paying their own air-fare.”