Monday, September 10, 2007

An MGB and Coming of Age

The summer after my freshman year in college found me in Siloam Springs Arkansas hanging out with my brother. We shared a campus housing apartment at John Brown University with a friend of my brothers and did odd jobs to provide income for a month or two.

My brother's friend worked at a dairy counting down the days until his wedding, my brother was doing odd roofing jobs and I among other things re-caulked a log house.

It was my first extended stay anywhere south of Colorado and I was introduced to things like June Bugs, bugs in general and midnight tennis. Actually midnight tennis incorporated all those things at once. It was amazing to see the number of flying creatures surrounding the mercury lamps illuminating the tennis court. And it was predicable to watch our tennis game degenerate into "June Bug lacrosse" as a particularly large, low flying June Bug kept circling our game at altitudes from eight to fifteen feet in the air and sounding like a world war one bi-plane that was about to lose its motor. The motor would "catch" and the June Bug would soar up to his desired fifteen foot cruising altitude. His motor would then sputter and cough and he would drunkenly glide to within tantalizing reach of our rackets.

Our transportation at that time was a bright red 1970 something MGB. A small English two seater roadster with a very manual convertible top. MG's are fun, "cool," and finicky at best. This particular model was even more temperamental than most because we had actually built it when our family was still living in Grand Junction Colorado. An associate of my fathers had completely taken apart his MG to rebuild it, and then, at the height of dismemberment, lost interest in the project. My father had bought the "car" for $1000. He now had a project to work on with his boys, and we had a MGB body and suspension with four wheels attached to it and nothing else attached. We had seemingly a thousand zip lock bags of loose parts along with an engine, transmission, windshield, hood and the like and a Hayne's do it yourself car manual on MGB's.

Our standard working protocol when working on the car sounded something like this: "Where's that wrench?" "What wrench?" "The wrench I was using that you just borrowed!" "I don't have it." "Yes, you do!" "No, I don't." "Well were is it?" "I dunno." "Get up, you're laying on it" "No I'm not" "Yes, you are!" And then everyone would get up look around for a few minutes until the wrench was found. After resettling back to our work, about ten minutes later someone would say "Where's the screw driver" "What screwdriver"...and on.

When we were "done" it was disconcerting to have several bags of left over parts and no known place to attach them. It became common for us run up to some stranger with an MG in a grocery store parking lot and ask him to open the hood for us. "Oh, so that's where that goes" "Oh man, we had that backwards" and on and on.

Eventually we were able to use up most of the parts and the car was a blast to drive or ride in, except when it wasn't (running that is.)

This was our, or more correctly, my brother's transportation at that time. As he was getting more roofing work, an MG just became more and more impractical. My father then made him one of those "dad" offers. Dad had bought a 1960 something Chevy pick up truck that would be much more suitable for the roofing work and would swap it with my brother for the MG.
Only one problem: dad and the truck were in Berthoud Colorado and the MG was in Siloam Springs Arkansas. Due to my brother's need to continue roofing, the plan was made for me to drive the MG to Russell Kansas where I would meet my father and swap the MG for the truck and drive back to Siloam all in one day.

This was a drive of about three hundred miles one way that would take me through Tulsa Oklahoma, Wichita Kansas and then other less populated Kansas destinations like Newton and the left turn onto interstate 70 in Salina. The route was mostly highway, but for me this was heady stuff. There was a significant task at hand and I was being trusted to hold up one end of it.

Bright and early on the Saturday swap morning I headed out. I had the passenger's seat loaded with cassette tapes and was marking the time by the number of tapes that were run from the seat through the tape player and then deposited on the passenger seat floor board.

About seventy five miles past Tulsa it happened. The MG made like that June Bug and sputtered, coughed and then died. I was sitting on the side of the Cimarron turnpike in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma sitting in a lifeless MG. There were no cell phones at this time. There was nobody else, no traffic, no gas station, no nothing.

I was at a loss. I tried the ignition. Nothing.


And I prayed. I sat there and I prayed because I didn't know what else to do. My heart was pounding, I would have probably cried if I had thought it would help. And I sat there for about a half hour wondering what to do.

A few cars zoomed by, but not many. I didn't attempt to flag anyone down.

And then on a whim I turned the ignition again, and the MG roared (OK purred) to life. Relief and thanks to God poured through my veins.

I put the car in gear and my journey continued.

Some eighty to ninety miles later, I had just entered the middle portion of Wichita, when it happened again. The MG died again. I was on the side of interstate 135. Wondering what to do. And I prayed.

And a guy in a flower delivery van pulled over and offered to tow me to the only garage he knew of that might be open that day. Not every morning in Wichita do you see a flower delivery van rope towing a bright red convertible MG roadster down Interstate 135 in Wichita. He pulled me to a gas station/garage and I profusely thanked him for his help. I was at a place that actually worked on cars, they would be able to diagnose and fix the car and get me on my way.

Only the garage guys wouldn't be able to even look the car until Monday and didn't think that they could do anything quickly for a 1970 something English (foreign) MG.


So I sat in the parking lot of the garage and pondered and prayed some more. It came into my head that the car might be either vapor locking or having some other fuel line issue (fuel pump?) that seemed to "correct" itself when the car cooled down. As being towed and then sitting at the gas station/garage had burned over an hour, I thought that the car's problem might have been "corrected" again.

So I tried the ignition.


Actually less then nothing, the starter didn't even turn the engine over. But this was a "known" feature of the MG and I knew how to deal with this one. One of the advantages of a small two-seater roadster is that it can be push started by a single person even in a flat gas station parking lot. I took the car out of gear, opened the door, got out, put one hand on the door the other on the steering wheel and pushed. In no time the car was rolling at a steady clip. I jumped into the car slamming the door closed, pressed down the clutch, threw the car into first gear, popped the clutch and the MG coughed to life once again.

As I pulled out onto Interstate 135 leaving Wichita I thought I must be insane. I had been at a garage that could had fixed my car (albeit on their time table) and I was driving away from that safety net.

Normal interstate highway trips are a lesson in controlled boredom, especially driving through Kansas. Figuring out how to pass time while mile markers pass by. This trip had gone so far from normal that every cough, sputter and hiccup the MG made (which are the normal sounds emanating from an MG) caused me to jump.

Being preoccupied with wondering when the car was going to die again, I missed a turn on interstate 135 as it passed through Newton. I found myself off the interstate in residential Newton without a clue as to where the interstate had suddenly gone. I am not certain how one can actually exit an interstate and not know it, but I accomplished this incredible feat in the middle of Kansas.

I panicked. I pulled a u-turn on the residential street I was on and began rapidly attempting to retrace my route and find the lost interstate.

And I rapidly got pulled over by one of Newton's finest for doing 45mph in a 25mph residential area. The lady officer asked for my wallet, and I realized I had left it in the truck of the MG and could I please get it out of the trunk? She allowed me to extract my wallet from the trunk, tell her my story of woe, and then went to her patrol car. I used the trunk as a seat and waited for my fate.

After what seemed an eternity she came back, only gave me a warning and graciously gave me directions out of Newton and back on the interstate.

I made it to Salina and took the turn West onto I-70.

Only 60 something miles left to Russell. I came over a rise and a magnificent (and horrifying) site greeted me from the Northwest. A massive thunderstorm was barrelling towards me over the plains. As I was in a convertible car, the top was down. As this was an MG, the process of actually putting the top up would take at least fifteen minutes. The convertible MG top had snaps and buckles in abundance and large doses of grunting, pulling and shoving were required to convince the top that it was actually designed to cover that car.

And I didn't have fifteen minutes anyway.

I decided to drive on through the storm with the top down. One of the other features of convertibles in general is that one can actually drive through significant rain storms sans top and not get more than a misting from the rain. The windshield actually removes most of the rain drops.

Just as the storm struck in all its glory, it hit me: the car was going to die in the middle of that storm. With all the certainty of a prophesy from God I knew it would happen.

And it did. I was about ten miles outside of Russell, lightning flashing, thunder rolling and torrential rain pouring down and the car died. I frantically got out. Unfurled the cover from behind the two seats, pulled enough of it over to at least cover the majority of me and the car's interior and waited out the storm.

As the late afternoon sunlight finally began streaming out from under the last vestiges of the thunderhead, I got out and attached the cover to the car. The car had waited its required thirty minute rest and I was able to push start the car and finish the last ten miles on the journey to Russell.

As I was exiting the interstate I saw on my immediate right the McDonald's that was our meeting point. Nothing ever looked so welcome as that sight. I was over four hours late, soaking wet and would have probably given that MG to anyone who had asked for the car at that point.

Just before I turned to enter the McDonald's parking lot flashing lights behind me showed one of Russell's finest on my bumper. I was stopped, in full view of my father at the McDonald's and given a $75 ticket for not stopping at a stop sign that I hadn't seen. I guess I was too busy looking at the McDonald's and searching for my dad and the truck.

After being given my signed piece of history from the officer, I related to my father the events of my day. My dad looked at me and said, "Son, today you became a man."

Now, I do not know all that is meant by a statement like that but I do know this. I had had an important task, my brother and father were counting on me, there was much adversity and I completed my task. I am sure I could have done things differently and probably better. But it had been done, and my dad had said the I was a man.

I got in the truck, drove back to Siloam.

But the rest of that day truly faded into unimportance.

God was with me and I was a man. Because my father told me so.

Monday, September 3, 2007

On Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

This past Saturday my wife and I were gearing up for a family outing at the Coosada Heritage Festival where my oldest girls were to be performing ballet with the King's Praise Ballet troupe.

Along with getting (all) the children to replace the pajamas adorning their bodies with playing-in-the-park attire or ballet dresses, I was helping my wife make sandwiches for lunch at the festival.

Finding myself in the kitchen making food for my family is always an adventure, but there should be nothing interesting or remarkable in the process of producing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My wife was getting a few other things in the kitchen rounded up. I was toasting frozen slices of bread, and layering the toasted slices with peanut butter.

And then I got a "look" from my wife.

As all I was doing was spreading peanut butter on bread I was stumped. But I didn't immediately ask for an interpretation of that "look."

This was exactly akin to when I have asked my wife where "something" is in our home. Finding myself standing at the aforementioned location of the "something," I will be completely unable to locate it. Before asking her to physically come find the "something" for me, I will at least two or three more times thoroughly rummage through and around the area to make sure she won't come, lean over, grab the "something" and hand it to me to my complete chagrin. This pause and repeated re-looking on my part has reduced her immediate finding of the "something" to about fifty percent of the time.

I assayed my current puzzling peanut buttery situation:

There were about eight or nine bread slices arrayed in front of me peanut buttered to Rob's standard of buttering. This is not to be confused with my wife and oldest daughter's standard which states that "when (peanut) buttering the entire (100%) surface area of the bread slice in question must be completely covered with said (peanut) butter." Rob's standard says that "a slice of bread is considered (peanut) buttered if a good portion of the slice appears to be layered in (peanut) butter."

It couldn't be the layering standard because we had just joked about that standard after I had buttered the first three or four slices.


It had been mentioned that we were making six sandwiches. One each for my wife, myself and the four oldest children. We still had a half sandwich left over from some other excursion this week for the two year old and the baby is not yet doing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

That had to be it, something about the number of sandwiches and my current production of peanut buttered slices.


My wife had gotten the jelly jar out of the fridge and was standing with a jellied knife seemingly unable to find a suitable place to jelly on any of the slices in question. "How many sandwiches are you intending to make?" She queried. "Six," I answered, looking at the eight or nine buttered slices in front of me and waiting for the other four or three slices in the toaster defrosting behind me.

And then the conundrum was solved! There are not just different standards for buttering slices of bread, there are also conflicting standards for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Rob's standard for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich states that "a peanut butter and jelly sandwich shall have peanut butter on both slices of bread with jelly in the middle." My wife's standard states that "a peanut butter and jelly sandwich shall have peanut butter on one slice and jelly upon the other slice."

The sandwiches were finished either using mixed standards or Rob's standard (I can't even remember those details from two days ago), and we went happily off to the festival. The girls and all the ballet troupe danced beautifully and I thoroughly enjoyed my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, not even thinking once about whether or not I was having a Rob standard sandwich or not.

For inquiring minds: the peanut butter on both sides (in Rob logic) stops the jelly from making the one slice of bread gooey.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Skiing Pride and Prejudice

Learning to ski generally comes with growing up in Colorado. At 5 to 6 years old I could be found outfitted in a bright blue full body snow-mobile suit with a complete head mask and bright pink skis that were only marginally longer than my boots. My skiing method was to tuck (body crouched down, knees bent) to go as fast as possible down the ski run. To turn I would fall down, get up, redirect my skis and then repeat the whole process until I made it to the bottom of the bunny hill (the smallest, beginner ski slope).

By Jr. High I had graduated to the continuously standing turn and was able to move from the bunny hill to riding the "big" lifts up the mountain and skiing the blue (moderate) and green (easy) slopes down the mountain.

My brother would occasionally drive us both up to go skiing in his later high school years. He had received the lion's share of the skiing genes in our family and was therefore a much more adept skier than myself. That being the case, he wasn't satisfied just doing the easier runs on the mountain. I was, as a consequence, taken down many black (hard) runs and various other not so easy trails, much to my dismay and sometimes very vocal displeasure.

On one such skiing trip my brother's friend had come along and the two of them decided to take an unofficial offshoot "run" that ended at a bowl shaped clearing occupied by many large boulders. Thickly blanketed by packed snow this bowl became a amateur ski jumper's paradise. At any moment skiers could be seen flying off the snow encased boulders like flock of super balls randomly bouncing off a floor. My brother and his friend commenced to join this flying circus. I became acutely aware of my lack jumping skills and courage. I slunk around the jumps, attempted to be noticed as little as possible, and felt very humiliated and small.

A very important "feature" of this boulder bowl was the exit. It was a barely one skier wide densely tree lined chute. It went steeply down for about 30 yards and then almost straight up for the last ten feet. And it was the only way back on to the official ski run. My brother took me aside as we were reaching the bottom of the boulder bowl and warned me to completely stop before going into that exit chute, because there was no way to slow down once you were in the chute. He then demonstrated what he was talking about as he exited the bowl.

My injured pride welled up and rejected his warning. Having spent my entire time on that run sulking and not attempting even the smallest jump, I decided that I was not going to do something as silly as stopping before the bowl's exit chute. And I showed him; not only did I not stop, I entered that chute with a good head of steam to spare.

Wow, there really was no way to slow down.

I hit mach speed on the down slope, rocketed up the ledge and then flew into the stratosphere skis pointed to the sky, body parallel to the ground. I had majestically entered the air space of the official ski run below.

My terror kicked in some internal gyroscope which drove my arms and ski poles to windmill wildly and caused my body to slightly tuck forward in the air. Miraculously, my body came up vertically and my skis leveled out horizontally just as if I was skiing over a huge invisible ball in the air.

I was going to land beautifully, and not die!

Just as I was completing my landing check list, with my brother standing just off to the side, one of my windmilling ski poles planted in the snow directly in front of me. Gravity and momentum drove my chin into the handle of the planted pole and knocked me out prone at my brother's feet.

A second later I came to. Because I had blatantly ignored his advice, all I received for my pains was a brief check from him to see that I hadn't separated my head from my shoulders. And then some ribbing for not following instructions.

We then skied down the run to the lift. My head throbbed and ached, my jaw felt like it had been shoved into my face for some reason, and my attitude was worse.

As we reached the lift and got in line there was a ski school in session. A brief glance showed that it was a class of Jr. High "Special Ed" students. They were all in the singles line for the lift.

This particular ski "chair lift" was a double chair. Each chair on the lift was designed to hold two people. The entrance to the lift was roped off to form several lines. Skiers would line up in pairs in each of the lines and take alternating turns getting onto the next chair that came swinging around the large overhead turnstile. If someone was by them self in the double line, a person from the single line could then join them to get the most people going up the lift as possible.

I was the third wheel in this skiing adventure and as such I was usually the single of our group. When I saw the single line filled with the "Special Ed" class I approached the lift in the most unapproachable way possible. When my chair came around I deliberately stood on the near side of the chair to make it very hard for anyone to join me from the skiing class single line.

To my horror they stopped the entire lift, moved me over and sat a boy from the class next to me. I was mortified, my head hurt, my attitude was growing worse by the second and then my new chair mate began to talk. And talk and talk. He told me all about his day skiing and what he was learning and how much fun it was and on and on and on.

I was displaying unusual grace and courtesy by not saying a single word and leaning as far out the other side of the chair as I could. I turned away from him as much as I could manage and gave every non verbal cue I could that I just wasn't interested in his day and couldn't he just shut his mouth and let me sulk in peace.

It didn't work or he didn't notice or he just thought that I looked like I was having a bad day and needed him to cheer me up. Whatever the case, he just kept on excitedly describing to me the glorious day he was having and how much fun he was having skiing. It didn't help that every time I glanced forward I would see my brother and his friend obviously enjoying my plight.

And then it happened. As he was talking, we passed the midway point of the ski lift. There was a small hut and a snowy platform there designed to let people get off midway and only ski the bottom half of the mountain. After the platform passed the ground fell steeply away. We were about ten feet past the midway platform and about an equal distance up in the air when the boy exclaimed "Oh, that's where I'm supposed to get off!" And then he jumped off the lift!

It was surreal. Because the slope was going down where he landed his body wasn't jerked at all. The force of his landing just caused him to lay backward on his skis. He then zoomed down and then up a small slope into a floppy ski fence surrounding a hut and platform that allowed people to get back on the lift and only ski the top half of the mountain.

My prejudice at that point was so great that I didn't even care. I was just relieved that he was gone. When we got off at the top my brother turned to me and said, "So where's your little friend?"

To which I fiercely replied, "He's NOT my friend and he jumped off the lift!"

Ah, the kind and compassionate words of a proud and prejudiced boy.

Proverbs 16:18 (NIV):
18 Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

2 Peter 1 (NIV):
5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rules and a Door, Both Broken

My brother and I played games, all kinds in any place. From Risk and Monopoly to Ping Pong and Basketball. Chores in particular, if done in tandem, were turned into games. "Weeding tomatoes" transformed into "the hammer throw." The "hammer" consisted of tall weeds extracted in deliberate bunches to pull out the largest possible dirt clod clinging to the root base. The "throw" involved holding the weed tops, whirling the clod about in a furious circle and then releasing the newly weeded hammer at the precise point needed to achieve both maximum escape velocity and an optimal initial flight trajectory. Releases made at the wrong tangent point were rather disastrous. The winner was the person whose hammer landed the farthest into the field. The tomato patch was the definite loser as it rapidly took on a striking resemblance to the cratered surface of the moon.

Our games also always had Rules. Especially our spontaneously imagineered games. The Rules defined what was allowed and not allowed and especially how points were scored. The first Rule of all invented games was that the Rules were to be followed.

Boxing was a simple example of Rules.


One pair of boxing gloves. Not one pair each, one pair total: two gloves. Now these were genuine (sure nuff) boxing gloves with laces to secure each glove on the wrist and forearm, but the hitting portion of each glove was about double the size of the kind that "real" boxer's use. This extra cushion made our gloves more boxing pillows than gloves. Each brother got one of the gloves. I received the right glove and my brother the left. We were both right handed, but he was 3 1/2 years my elder therefore I got the privilege of boxing with my dominant hand.

Our non boxing hands were wrapped in an assortment of socks, head bands, wrist bands and ace bandages. To this day I am unclear as to the purpose of this portion of our equipment, because, as stated next in the Rules, we weren't allowed to hit with the non gloved hand. Weird.

The Rules:

1. No hitting the head of the other person.
2. No hitting with the non gloved hand (no matter how well socked or bandaged it was.)

That was it.

The Play:

Unlike most games, we had no clear idea how boxing was supposed to be done. We would circle one other and attempt to hit with our one glove. As we were facing one another, my right hand and his left hand were on the same side, so, for the most part, we would just end up hitting the other person's glove. As the gloves were pillow like, little happened. My brother received the worst part however, because the gloves had rather long laces and I was very poor at securing mine. As a result, my glove would have a long tail (like an untied shoe lace). As I punched, my glove's tail would whip around and slap my brother in the face and make him mad.

Boxing was usually uneventful (minus the loose lace), until the day I went insane. Well, not insane really, but I definitely lost my mind and let instinct completely take over. I feinted with my glove hand and then beautifully punched my older, larger, bigger, stronger, faster, brother, square in the head, with my socked-wrist banded-ace bandaged hand.

I had just broken the complete Rules of Boxing in less than a second.

I was a dead man.

Or boy at least.

My brother, already irritated from being whipped with my glove's loose lace went berserk. The Rules of Boxing no longer applied because I had spectacularly broken them all. He was in hot pursuit to pummel me for my sin. And I, who fully realized the error of my ways but was not about to meet my due punishment, took off.

Now our "L" shaped house had all the bedrooms connected via a hallway in the bottom part of the L. The rest of the house was one large "great" room with furniture (couches) and kitchen cabinets left to define the rest of the rooms. We had been boxing in the "living room" area which was the portion of the great room closest to the bedroom hallway and there was a long couch that defined one side of that area. The couch's backside was set away from the wall several feet so as to form a hallway of sorts leading to the bedroom hall and ending at the bathroom door. My bedroom door was an immediate ninety degree turn to the right from the bathroom door.

My survival instincts told me that I would not win a straight line race with my brother so I went around the couch. Although I was slower, I was also smaller so my cornering ability equalled my brothers. We went back and forth around opposite ends of the couch until his impatience took over and he leaped over the couch to get me.

This was my chance, I broke for the bedroom hallway hoping to gain my bedroom and the relative safety of a locked door. But there wasn't time for the ninety degree turn into my bedroom. I dove into the bathroom straight ahead, slammed the door shut behind me and then rolled and jammed my foot into the crack at the bottom of the door to keep it shut. There wasn't time for the door lock.

I was hoping that a little time would help cool down the fury outside my bathroom haven.

The bathroom door was then broken off its hinges and the door with my brother riding it, landed on top of me.

At that point everything changed. Fury and flight were gone. We were now partners and cohorts because we had just broken the house. We looked at each other and the door and hinges with our minds racing. We finally settled on glue. We filled the formerly door screw occupied holes with Elmer's glue. Tipped the door back upright, shoved the screws back into their places, and shut the door.

There ended up being just enough time between the door being broken and mom or dad returning home for the glue to set. It was amazing, the door actually worked! It did kind of drag along the carpet when opened, but actually functioned.

Huge sigh of relief.

Several months later my mom called to us, "Boys, could you come here? The bathroom door just fell off, and your father and I think you had something to do with it..."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Those Who Live in Glass Houses... Part 3

The prophetic power of a mothers voice...

Of the sports in which I was a participant, I was without a doubt the most valuable to my teams in soccer. Especially in my grade school years I scored goals, in bunches. I was good.

When you play sports (especially if you have some success) the playing doesn't stop at the official practice field. If it is basketball and you have a hoop at your house you practice shooting, or play one on one or 21 or horse or anything else you can get someone to play with you. If you play baseball, you play catch or pitch to a pitchback or hit something with a bat.

When you play soccer you kick a ball around, a lot. Occasionally you might get someone to kick it back to you but for the most part you end up dribbling a ball around the yard and then kicking it at or through something and imagining it as a goal (the number of balls popped discourages the use of pine trees for goal posts.)

On this particular day I had been in our front yard for a couple of hours kicking the soccer ball. After some time I had exhausted my interest in dribbling and had settled in on kicking the ball in various ways at our front porch. In this case "porch" was a somewhat loose term for a ground level cement walkway that ran along the front of the house from the driveway to the front door. The walkway was overhung by the roof of the house which was supported with four by four posts. The posts were interconnected by a two to three foot high porch "wall" constructed of two by fours. Our living room had a large picture window which looked out over the porch wall and provided a clear view of the Bookcliffs, a unique "Badlands" type rock and dirt ridge that borders Grand Junction to the north. It also provided my mom with a clear view of my soccer skills as she happened to be walking through the living room that day.

She opened the front door and had the audacity to say, "Don't kick the ball against the front porch, you will kick it through the window."

I was outraged. I had been out there "all morning" and had been kicking the ball against the porch for "over an hour." She just didn't know anything.

My conversation with myself continued as I continued kicking the ball at the porch. My practice finally paid off as I kicked a beautiful shot with power and grace that curved just over the top of the porch and crashed spectacularly through the small window immediately to the right of our living room picture window and the ball came to rest in the middle of our living room.

My mother's standing alongside the enumerable ensembles of prophet mothers worldwide was (yet again) confirmed. At least mom hadn't said "you will kick it through the picture window."

Proverbs 1:8 (NIV):
8 Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Those who live in Glass Houses... Part 2

Windows are just smaller doors, children are just smaller people therefore windows are just doors for children, right?


The stage:

Our house had aluminum frame windows with horizontal sliding panes. Notable was that the window latches were Not located on the sills of the windows, but instead were placed vertically in the middle each window's sliding frame. The window latches were spring type levers which, when the window was closed, had a nose designed to catch on a shallow lip of the stationary window frame to lock the window in place. Normally, opening the window required the latch head to be pressed. This rotated the latch nose over the fixed window frame lip and allowed the window to slide (horizontally) open.

The person:

A supervised child with idle time can be annoying ("are we there yet?" "I'm bored"):

Danger Level "Green"

An unsupervised child with idle time on his hands is dangerous ("Hmmm, what to do?"):

Danger Level "Yellow"

An unsupervised child with time and a defined purpose is about to break something:

Danger Level "Red Alert"

The problem:

Once upon a time, during the days of Jr. High I was a latch key kid. I had the world (or a least a key) on a string. This string was worn around my neck and allowed entry into our house when the school bus deposited me at home after school.

One day, I exited the school bus only to discover that I had forgotten my string! My brother was working out at the high school gym and my parents would be at work for another hour or two. As I stood at the doorway and thought about my plight the Danger Level went from Yellow to Red Alert. I determined that I was not going to just hang out by the house until someone with a key rescued me; I was getting into that house and I had a couple hours on my hands to do it.

The Plan:

I cased the house. The back door was locked as well. None of the windows appeared to have been left open. Ok, now what... Hmmm. The light bulb went off in my head. My brother and I had previously discovered an important feature of our home's aluminum windows: they (at least some of the taller ones) could be opened from outside. The highly technical procedure involved carefully applied pressure on the window frame, just opposite the latch. If done correctly, and with a little luck, the movable window frame would bow in just enough to release the latch nose from the window frame lip and the window could then be slid open.

The precursor to the outside motivated window opening procedure was taking the screen off the window. The window screens on our house were held in by metal spring loops that hung on tenaciously when attempting to remove the window screens. The numerous, creatively non-square screens to be seen around our house bore testimony to our initial attempts at this non-normal window opening technique. The bent screens were also the visible reminder that this external window opening procedure was as strictly forbidden as our beach ball wiffle bat game in the sun room.

The red flags slid by my conscience, I was now in the heat of my plan and paid no attention to sense or consequences. I was scouting for likely windows when my eye saw the orchard ladder leaning to the side of a kitchen window. Ah, that was the one. It wasn't a short window over a sink, it was for the kitchen eating area and was one of the taller windows in the house.

The Predicament:

I removed the screen (already bent so nobody would notice the extra damage) and mounted the ladder. I leaned far over to my right and pushed with the precise amount of force needed to release the window latch.

That also happened to be the precise amount of force needed to unbalance the ladder. The ladder suddenly shifted and tilted. My precarious balance was violently lost and I was thrown forward into and through the window I was attempting to open. Gravity and the ladder propelled me in a forward turn and my right shoulder and side went through the window and as I fell I completed my turn and landed completely inside the house flat on my back on top of the kitchen table with the majority of the window in large shards flat beneath me.

After the adrenaline rushing through my body calmed to a small avalanche, I, violently trembling, got off the table and began picking up the glass shards and putting them in the garbage. My heart then jumped out of my chest at the sudden sound of the front door opening. And I watched my brother walk in the door.

He evidently didn't stay after school to work out that afternoon.

The Postlude:

My father stated afterward that, when he heard what had happened, the only thoughts that had gone through his mind were utter relief and astonishment that I hadn't been cut in half. Looking at the setting, there was not much room for forward momentum. The ladder was flat against the side of the house and I was leaning far out to my right. Truly, gravity and all should have pulled me down on top of the remaining jagged shards sticking up from the bottom of the broken window frame like a glass saw. But instead I was propelled completely through the opening (body, legs, feet and all) and ended up without any significant cuts or injuries that I can remember.

His and my belief was that God had other plans for me and, however it was accomplished, God saved me from myself on that day.

His mercies are new every morning (or afternoon).

Lamentations 3:22 &23 (NIV)
22 Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Those who live in Glass Houses... Part 1

So in my late grade school early Jr. High life we had moved to Grand Junction Colorado and lived in a house with a peach orchard. And my brother and I spent much of our time outside working in the orchard and doing outdoor kinds activities.
But there was also the house. Houses are very interesting edifices. Beginning with concrete and various sizes and flavours of wood and continuing with siding, sheet rock, roofing, wiring, plumbing there's a lot that goes into a house. Oh, and windows, houses have many windows.
Ah, windows. Windows tend to be an afterthought. They are pretty much ignored unless they are dirty, or open when they shouldn't be, or if you are the decorator type and enjoy curtains and blinds and that sort of thing. Or when they are broken, windows are definitely noticed when they are broken.
Broken windows are a pane.
In the life of most houses, the broken window is a very occasional nuisance. Unless some sort of natural disaster strikes (earthquake, hurricane, tornado, etc.) most home windows remain in a relative state of unbrokenness for the life of the house.
Our particular house had lived a life of ease as a single story "L" shaped ranch for years.
Then came the "sun room."
My mom loves plants, and to encourage our family botanist my dad had a sun room built that filled in a portion of the open "L" in our house. It had large slanting floor to ceiling windows making up the south wall, and those adjustable louvre type crank open windows on the east side. Our current house provided the other walls of the room, which included sliding glass doors from the master bedroom which opened into the sun room. It was a room designed for letting in light to grow plants. It contained of a large quantity of glass.
It was also large, square and empty when it was finished. A large empty square space that was begging to be used. My brother and I answered "the call of the room" with "the game." "The game" consisted of two wiffle ball bats and a beach ball. "The game" was beautiful, simple, and we were addicted to it. He had a wall. I had a wall. If the beach ball contacted his wall I got a point, if the beach ball touched my wall he got a point. The beach ball was motivated by the wiffle ball bats. Bats which we held securely in our hands and which were swung with great control and efficiency.
"Held securely", "great control"... any reasonable person should understand the complete care we were taking right? Well mom and dad didn't understand. They forbade us to play this game - when they found out what we were doing. They just didn't understand.
We took this prohibition to be more like guidelines that meant that we weren't to play this when they were present or might find out that we were playing it.
One afternoon we were playing "the game" when my brother's bat swung in a high graceful arc and smashed through one of the two clear glass globe light fixtures which illuminated the room when the sun wasn't shining.
We cleaned up the pieces and shards. And then in true fool sharpening fool logic we decided that since we had already broken something we might as well continue playing and get all the enjoyment we could, because once dad came home dire consequences would happed and "the game' would truly be all over.
So, we continued playing. And a second graceful arc and the second light were obliterated and cleaned up. And then at the height of excitement the bat left my brother's secure grip at a high rate of speed and when through one of the louvred window panes.

I guess we better call dad.

Dad: "So you were playing the game that we expressly forbid you to play?"
Brother: "Yes"
Dad: "And you broke a light?"
Brother: "Yes"
Dad: "Then you continued playing until you broke another light"
Brother: "Yes"
Dad: "Then you continued playing until you broke a window?"
Brother: "That about sums it up"

My brother puts his hand over the mouthpiece and says with a frantic loud whisper, "He's not saying anything!"

Needless to say dad did come home, consequences were meeted out, and we never played "the game" again. But it is a vivid living example to myself of how sin and foolishness is perpetuated:

1. We don't take God at His word (Thou shalt not, truely means don't -ever- do it)
2. We practice deception (if people don't see me do it, it is Ok to do it)
3. Instead of confessing our sin immediately, we just keep doing it

Proverbs 13:20(NIV):
20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm
Proverbs 26:11(NIV):
11 As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Peaches & Procrastination: A Tale of Two Fools

The summer before fifth grade my family moved to Grand Junction Colorado.

Grand Junction was so named because it is situated at the joining of the Grand (now called the Colorado) and the Gunnison Rivers on what is known as the Western Slope of Colorado.

The area is dominated by the Grand Mesa directly to the East which rises 5500 feet over Grand Junction itself and is the largest flat topped mountain in the world.

The valley itself is a "high desert" about 4500 feet above sea level. The area is home to many orchards.

Begin orchestral music...

Our family bought a house on eight acres in the Orchard Mesa region of the valley with a beautiful view of the Grand Mesa. An orchard occupied around half the property and the vast majority of that orchard was peaches.

I love peaches. And peaches ripe off the tree taste like nothing else on earth. The fresh sweet juiciness contained in a peach, just plucked golden and red off the tree, is something that refreshes my soul...

Orchestral music now interrupted by the sound of a detonating bomb...

Our move to the orchard wasn't about the taste of a peach, the high desert air or a beautiful mountain view.

My father bought an orchard to teach his boys how to work.

And an orchard requires (a lot of) work, which was my dad's whole insidious idea. So to paraphrase Dr. Seuss: someone, Someone was going to have to do all this work, so my dad picked out two someones: my brother and me.

The work began slowly while school was in session. We would have evening and weekend tasks in the orchard: helping to fertilize, prune, and plant and general cleanup.

But when summer came around the Work part of the tasks truly kicked into gear.

And by far the worst orchard Work was thinning peaches.

Peach trees often produce clusters of peaches all touching each other. Left to mature, those clusters will form conjoined small unappetizing bumpy masses of a fruit like substance covered in peach fuzz. In order to get large, round, fully fleshed peaches the extra peaches on the tree must be removed so that there is space for each remaining peach to grow individually (no clusters.) The extraneous peach removal process is called thinning.

There are several thinning methods that are be utilized on fruit trees in general. Among these are spraying the budding trees with a chemical that reduces the number of flowers that form and mechanical thinning in which trees are shook or otherwise manipulated by mechanized contraptions to get rid of the extra fruit. Peaches must be, for the most part, hand thinned. Somebody going tree by tree by tree, branch by branch, limb by limb, peach by peach and individually, with your hands, picking off the clustered peaches.

Hand thinning is a lot of work. Especially when you aren't talking about one or two trees, but hundreds.

When the peaches have grown to roughly the size of a ripe peach's pit, it is thinning time! This also just happens to correspond to the time when the temperature in Grand Junction begins to reflect its desert habitat. And it is All desert.

My brother and I had clearly laid out instructions during the summer. Before dad came home from work (around five in the afternoon) we had to have finished all our chores. Not very complicated, pretty simple, not much left to interpret. During peach thinning "season" our main task was to thin two rows of peach trees a day (something like forty trees.)

Depending on our industriousness this task would take somewhere between two to three hours (although my memory is a little fuzzy on that fact). The mornings are also much cooler then mid afternoon, and so if we got right to it we should be done by about ten to eleven in the morning before the heat of the day was upon us.

We rarely -if ever- got right to it.

We played. We played ping pong, we played basketball, we drove the tractor around, we explored the dirt cliffs overlooking the Colorado River, we built tree houses, you name it - we did it, all before about 2 to 3 in the afternoon. At that point an adrenaline alarm would go off in our bodies. We would look at each other and realize that "Dad was coming home" and rush out to the orchard. We would frantically thin peaches, in the heat of the day (peach fuzz sticks amazingly well to sweaty boys), and typically get done just before dad returned home.

There was one "helper" in our thinning. It was a long pole topped with a heavy rubber half hooked knob. It was used to (gently) tap peach clusters that were out of reach. Done with some skill and patience one could properly thin those out of reach clusters about half the time. The other half would result in knocking all the clustered peaches off the tree. So the knocker was only to be used for "out of reach" clusters.

One summer's day, around noon we received a call from friends with an offer to go water skiing that afternoon.

Water skiing, hmmm, it's hot, really hot, playing in the water, water skiing, hmmm.

One catch: they would need to pick us up in a half hour. We hadn't done any thinning yet. We looked at one another and the industrial engines of our minds began to work. We said, "yes" to the skiing invitation and then rushed to the back shed.

Taking the rubber knocking pole as inspiration, we decided that we would use our own mechanical contraptions to compress our thinning time from two to three hours down to twenty minutes. We deconstructed an old bicycle pump and from it got the T handle with its attached metal piston rod (a Double Ended Knocker!) and got a nine iron out of the golf bag.

We ran to the orchard and thinned those trees in twenty minutes. We finished on time, caught our ride to the lake, and spent the afternoon in watery bliss, absolutely amazed with our inventive genius.

When we came home, dad was standing in the doorway. . . Dad never stood in the doorway.

We looked at each other in great puzzlement. "What do you think is going on with dad?" "I dunno." Dad looked at us in supremely evident fatherly frustration and said, "Gentlemen, let's go out to the orchard."

He took us to the rows of peaches we had just "thinned" that day. Summer evening sunlight softly illuminated utter devastation. We had industriously defoliated all of our assigned rows of peach trees. Broken branches either lay on the ground or hung still half attached to the trees. Nearly all the peaches and over half the leaves from those trees had be removed. Half peaches were clinging to the trees (miss-hits from the nine iron). Dad was speechless for a time (and didn't really need any speeches, our day's work spoke too well for itself).

We were marched back to the house and consequences were measured out that I don't even remember. But I will always remember our astonishment at the damage we had done, the disappointment in my father's countenance, and the realization that actions have consequences.

Proverbs 12 (NIV):
15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

Proverbs 17 (NIV):
21 To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool.

That day my brother and I were fools, and there was no joy in my father.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"State Swim Meet" & "People Actually Read Blogs"

I now must succumb to the weight of the evidence: People are actually reading this blog! My dad talked with me about a couple of things I wrote. I've gotten emails about posts, and people have commented online and in person about them. The evidence is now overwhelming - I'm under surveillance.

It's not a bad thing, it just shovels me from the study and out into the living room as it were. It is truly odd to me that "people" would actually read my random thoughts and seem to enjoy them and/or get something worthwhile out of them. This currently is for me writing practice. So, to all you "people" out there reading this, you are seeing my infant steps in attempting to write.

Anyway, onto this weekend, the Alabama Recreation state swimming meet:

We were up at 4:00AM (which is even earlier than 4:45AM) and succeeded in leaving the house before 5:00AM. This was after 4:45AM, but better than usual for us in getting our clan going. (Our extraordinary momentum actually carried into Sunday when we appeared at church BEFORE the service started!)


At our breakfast /change-from-pajamas-into-Flying-Fish pit stop (one and a half hours later) a crisis ignited: A swimming suit had been forgotten! When you are going to a swimming meet how on earth can a swimming suit be forgotten? There was impending hysteria, voices shrilled, tempers ruffled - and then someone actually looked into the swim bag. There was the forgotten swimsuit - right alongside all the other swimming suits. Fuse extinguished, bomb defused and calm returned with all Flying Fish suited, seated and belted into the van. We were back cruising down the road, and I was left to peacefully enjoy my bacon egg and cheese biscuits. (Which are one of life's simple pleasures.)

In less than the Google Maps allotted two hours and thirty eight minutes we arrived at the state swim meet site. We did end up turning left at the next stoplight after a Wal-Mart to get to the swimming complex. Our one-of-hundreds carbon copy blue accordion style awning was unfurled on the rec-center front lawn, and the girls were in warm-ups with time to spare.

The swimming went well, our almost toddler even took a abbreviated nap in the organized chaos of 1000+ swimmers and their entourages (families, friends and coaches) entering and exiting the pool area. When our imminent toddler awoke on the wrong side of the crib, our family went into action to see/photograph/video our two swimmers' medley relay races.

A glimpse at this finely trained process (it is a fine art:)

First, the responsibilities must be divided: my wife got the 'still' camera and went to organize (corral) one of the relay teams, my daughter gathered the crawler and I got the video camera and my walking enabled son.


Second, a prime viewing position must be secured: My wife had this easy(er) because she was with a relay team itself and would end up poolside with that team and therefore obtain a prime position. I however had to wind my daughter (holding the cranky pending toddler), my son and myself upstream against the flow of humidified, hot, and ill humored people and into a place on the pool deck to where we thought we might be able to view our swimmers' events. The poolside was lined in solid entourage three to four people deep, so we positioned ourselves behind our targeted spot a few events early and waited. As each event concluded the people in front would reach their undesired heat and humidity levels and exit their spot. And like a spring loaded snack machine the remaining entourage would scoot forward toward the pool to see their swimmers churn up the water. When our daughters' medley relays were on deck, all the snacks before us had been bought, so we were at the crowd control rope surrounding the poolside and at our targeted spot.


Finally, you must be prepared for the moment with the picture equipment on and ready for action: I had exchanged the video camera for the short napped wrong side of the crib looming toddler from my daughter. He doesn't understand the screaming, whistling and yelling that the collective entourage engages in while their swimmers are in the pool. His problem is this: Why are people making loud noises to a swimmer with his or her head in the water doing repetitive (loud) water splashing/churning motions and sporting a rubber cap which covers his or her ears? The swimmer hears foaming splashing water. This frustrated our pre-toddler to no end. He let his frustration get the better of his self control and joined in the yelling himself. My daughter politely asked me if I could take him and she would kindly hold the video camera until our relays came up, because, "he's too heavy for me to hold for a long time." When the time came the child and video equipment were professionally swapped back. I turned on the camera, eventually took the lens cap off, and focused on the far side of the pool.


Everything went as planned. Fine, expertly amateur video was taken of the first relay and I was happy. BUT, I had failed to take into account the lane location of the second relay. I couldn't even see my swimmer getting ready from my current "prime" location. I rushed (OK edged, excuse me? Pardon me, I'm sorry, excuse me, Excuse me,....) to where I might be able to see her. There was a lifeguard stand and many layers of entourage all enthroned there and no one was going anywhere. What to do? I wedged myself (pardon me, Excuse me, excuse me...) under the lifeguard stand. Well, sort of wedged. There was someone already seated under the stand. I hunched under the lifeguard stand, leaned over the seated person and tried to fit the camera through the stand's steps, between the lifeguard's feet, and shoot video of the relay between the coaches and other swimmers on the pools edge. Oh well.

Overall the state swim meet was enjoyable, eventful and hot.

We all got Sonic cream pie shakes or ice cream "Blasts" at the end of each of the two days.

There was an 11th place, a 12th place, a 19th place, two 5th places and some other place I don't remember.

Our almost toddler was very grateful to finally sleep in a cool, quiet, undisturbed bed.

So was I.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Preparing to travel to State swim meet

Tomorrow morning at 4:45AM my family and I get to load into the van and travel up to Madison Alabama for the state summer swim meet. One daughter will be swimming in two individual events, both she and another daughter will each be in two relays, and my other other daughter will be there to support the first two. She (the other other) is also an alternate relay swimmer ready to swim in case any relay members in her age group are unable to go.

4:45 is early.

I got to use window paint for the first time to decorate the Van windows for the occasion.

Window paint markers are rather frustrating to use for the somewhat artistically inclined. The markers are sized like some of those super sized 'sharpie' markers, but with a big sponge on the end about the diameter of a quarter and about a half inch thick. This should make someone realize that 'fine' details are not a great option when 'drawing' with these markers. The markers also don't dry very quickly. They even come with specific instructions that say "if you are using more than one color, wait for the first color to dry completely before applying second color."

Nothing drys completely in Alabama, (unless you are very patient, sometimes.)

So... if you are artistically inclined, attempt putting some fine details in anyway, and are impatient... You end up with drippy, sloppy, run together paintings on your van windows that your kids love, your wife's happy with, and I cringe at whenever I look at them.

Oh well. By the way, yellow and blue make green.

4:45 is very early

Madison is right next to Huntsville (actually left next to).
I am sure I will be turning by a Wal-Mart to get there.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Musings on Shyness and Freedom

Growing up I was 'shy.'

Not just the garden variety, uh oh, here's a new person I'm going to look down and hide behind mom's skirt for a few minutes 'shy.' I was the wedge myself in the tiny gap behind the refrigerator for an hour until everyone goes away 'shy.'

In complete contrast was my older brother who was outrageously gregarious. When people were around him they were whisked into his world of jokes and tales and laughter. People were drawn like a magnet into his charismatic universe. While I hid, by myself, in my very private world, occasionally taking part in the periphery of the activities that orbited my brothers world.

At times I enjoyed my lot. I could build and play and create for hours on my own and not be bothered. And I became good at the things I did on my own: I got prizes and ribbons for schoolwork and music and art. For the most part all of them solitary activities.

But as time went on, I stopped enjoying my quiet life and began to just feel lonely.

And I began to realize that my 'shyness' was an all encompassing wall. Not only did I not talk with people I didn't know, but even when I was with 'friends' I hardly ever talked about what I felt about something. It was OK to talk academically and debate theories or ideas, but if a question became personal (i.e. "Rob, do you like her?") I clammed up tighter than a toddler on his mother's leg who's not wanting to go in the nursery.

It interesting that in book of Proverbs it states:

Proverbs 17:28 (NIV):
28 Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

I have heard that verse most often used to encourage people with little self control on what they say to hold their tongues and be thought the wiser for it. But in my case that verse was a description of me: I was a foolish person who was thought wise because I didn't speak.

I was afraid: afraid of being embarrassed, afraid of saying something I didn't mean exactly and being unreasonably held to it, afraid of being laughed at and afraid of being the back end of jokes. I felt that if I laid my life out and people rejected me it would hurt (more.)

And I was right. It does hurt when people reject you and when you really opened up your heart. It does hurt to be on the wrong end of a joke. It does hurt to be held to something you didn't mean, and it is, well, embarrassing to be embarrassed.

But I began to learn that if you don't talk about what you think, what you feel and about who you are then nobody can accept you when you do lay your heart open. No one can laugh with you when when you've done something funny. No one can take the time to have a conversation with you about what you really meant. And no one can show love and friendship to you in your times of embarrassment.

There's a balance.

Ecclesiastes 3(NIV)
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
. . .
7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

We don't have to share all things at all times with all people. But if you don't share your life and thoughts and experiences (the good the bad and the ugly) no one can get to know you.

And when I have talked and shared my life with people, God has shown me freedom. Freedom to know people, freedom to agree with people, freedom to disagree with people and freedom to learn about God and the people He created outside the walls of my own very private world. Perfect Love casts out fear. Not sharing my life because of fear was a terribly lonely way to live.

P.S. Those 'most embarrassing' circumstances of your life, that you wouldn't want anyone to know about, those end up being the stories that encourage others around you the most.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bitterness gets you Wet & Splashes others as well

One of my daughters and I were conversing the other day (the exact incident escapes me) about an altercation between her and 'someone.' She was not happy, upset, in some state of (self) righteous indignation, and her countenance was showing it.
Our talk and her attitude brought to mind a most 'humbling' episode in my childhood.
The exact incident occurring at that time escapes me as well, but I was mad, upset, in a serious state of self-righteous indignation and my countenance was showing it.
It had something to do with my brother (its amazing what siblings can bring out in us).
He's three and a half years older than me. At the time I was all of five years old, so he was between eight or nine.
I remember stewing over the forgotten incident and nursing my grudge. I thought about it and fed it the table scraps of my self serving justifications for having it.
I worked it.
Pretty soon I just 'couldn't' keep the grudge inside and I was going to let 'everyone' know about it, right then.
Only problem was I couldn't find anyone.
I started a search through our house to find 'everyone' and finally located my mom and brother in the hall bathroom. They were standing and talking about something unimportant.
I marched into that little room with all the pomp and swagger my five year old body could muster. My pious grudge was oozing out of my pores.
And 'everyone' was still not paying me any attention!
So I pulled my body up as high as I could, in the efforts to make the loudest thump possible in sitting down on the only bathroom seat available... and promptly set myself down completely into the open toilet, feet in the air, knees to chest: five year old boy dunking himself in the toilet.
I had definitely made an impression! They immediately burst out laughing and couldn't stop.
My grudge and bitterness were immediately swallowed in a toilet of complete humiliation.
There is no dignified way to recover from that circumstance.
As I told my daughter, bitterness always hurts the one who is holding it inside. Sure, the bitter person (as a result of their attitude) tends to lash out against those around them. But the bitter person has to live with their own bitterness all the time.

In other words: Bitterness will get you all wet, and will splash those around you as well. (The closer you are the more splashes you get)

In Ephesians 4 (NIV) we see the following admonition:

31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

I, personally, need to be reminded of this all the time.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Daddy's making dinner tonight!

Yesterday afternoon my wife was invited to a 'Tea' from mid afternoon till sometime 'later' in the day. This meant, among other things, that I would probably be producing dinner (supper) for my children...

My wife came back 'later' and as we were catching up on the day she was relating to me some of the topics the had come up at the Tea. A main point of discussion was the art of homemaking. Among the homemaking topics was (as best as I can relate it) how the making of meals has ceased to be an art designed to foster a special family time, and instead meals have become just a quick pit stop to get food in the gullet so we can get on with the next thing.

And although this topic was meant as a challenge for older women skilled in the Art of mealtime to help train and inspire younger women in this Art, it -for this evening- brought into stark contrast the difference between daddy (me) preparing a meal for our family and mommy (my wife).

Forethought (planning) I am sure is a big part of creating special, memorable family meals:

While playing a game with my older girls yesterday, I looked up at the clock and thought, "Wow, its 5:30. I wonder what's for dinner?" "Oh, yeah I'm the answer to that question. Right, so... self, what's for dinner?"

I quickly put together a meal plan:

"Girls, when we finish this game I need you to come with me to the kitchen and help figure out what we have that I can make for dinner."

That was a loaded statement. First I recruited help from the only people present who might actually know what food we have and where that food might be located in the kitchen. Second, I severely qualified (OK, limited) the food choices by saying that it needed to be something that I could make for dinner.

My oldest daughter recognized their plight, opened the pantry door, saw the 'just add water' pancake mix, figured I could probably handle a recipe with just two ingredients, and said, " Daddy, could we have pancakes for dinner?"

I know that nutrition should also be an important part of a meal planning:

I found chocolate chips to add to the pancakes, and stated that we were also going to have eggs with them. (protein with the carbohydrates right?) My daughter slowly said, "OK, we can have eggs but only if you let me cook them daddy." I am not even to be trusted to scramble eggs. I was asked to actually mix the eggs and milk together for the scrambled eggs. It's that actual art of scrambling the eggs in the pan that I am not to be trusted with. I didn't realize you could mess up scrambled eggs.

Conversation is also a part of a special meal:

I said, "Go find a movie that you can all understand." Translation, something our 5 year and 2 year old can mostly enjoy. What ensued was five heads craning their necks to see the movie and paying no attention to their food, and me saying "eat your food, eat your food, eat your food, eat your food..." One child literally fell off their seat twice - couldn't chew food, sit on a chair and watch a movie at the same time. The second fall included knocking two drinks off the table and onto the floor.

Just as my wife wife returned from her Tea, one child greeted her, turned to watch the movie again and caught the dinner plate with an elbow.

My wife looked at me and said "So who's idea was the movie?"

My wife had a lovely Tea talking with ladies about homemaking and the art of mealtimes, and ended her day picking up a shards of broken plate and mopping up syrupy pancakes and well scrambled eggs off the floor, while repeatedly telling everyone not to walk in the kitchen in their bare feet, this included me.

I am truly blessed to have married someone who knows and practices the Art of mealtimes and homemaking.

I am skilled in the art of infamous mealtimes.

Anyone want to learn how?

Friday, July 20, 2007

A musing on Sports and Physical Competition

Sports and other physical games are something that I threw myself into growing up and still enjoy when the opportunity is availed to me. On some levels I would even have been considered to be a 'successful' athlete - meaning I won races or was the best player on a team and scored numerous runs or goals. On many (most) other levels I sweated through practices and then used the gravitational force exerted upon my body to ensure the bench was secured to the floor.
My skills in various sports have run the gamut from 'good' to 'OK' to 'he tries hard.' As years went by my athletic prowess has settled upon the 'trying hard' side of the spectrum. I have at various levels played or competed in baseball, football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, rugby, volleyball, and tennis and golf. Although tennis and golf have been strictly recreational with no real coaching - as any of my intermittent golfing scores would certainly attest.

My oldest girls are currently involved in competitive swimming. This past weekend I watched them compete in a state district swim meet. It is a study in contrasts to watch them and cheer them on. One started swimming later, isn't particularly gifted as an athlete, has worked hard, is lowering her times at every meet, but is not close to competing for any ribbons. She's a 'tries hard' swimmer. Another daughter started swimming earlier, has talent as an athlete, has also worked hard and has a general succession of second, third, fifth and occasional blue ribbons to show for her efforts. She's considered to be a 'good' swimmer.

So who's the success? Can someone who 'tries hard' but never wins (or is never even competitive) be considered successful? Does competing and then winning equal Success? What about winning with a haughty attitude. What about winning on talent, but not working hard in practice, and ignoring your coaches.

And does any of this really matter?

The Bible says physical training in considered to be of 'some value:'
1 Tim. 4 (NIV)

7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

The Bible also talks about a Christians body being the temple of the Holy Spirit; therefore we should live in such a way as to honor God with our bodies:

1 Cor. 6(NIV)

19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

The Bible even references a running race - but only as a example of how we should live in regards to God - we should live lives of discipline and purpose in order to not be disqualified:

1 Cor. 9 (NIV)
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

I look at some of my own responses:

Watching the marathon runner in the Olympics who is hours behind all the other contenders, stumbles into the stadium, is cramping and staggering around the track and then collapsing on the ground and the finish. He didn't win, he wasn't even competitive, but he kept going and he finished. I find myself willing that person on, cheering with the people in the stadium and feeling that person won more than the person who won.

But that is only part of the story: If that marathon runner knew he was going to be in the race but didn't train diligently, then he didn't prepare his body for the event. And then I think that my feelings of success for that runner would have been misplaced. That person created their physical and emotional breakdown and didn't train to win. It's commendable that the runner kept at it and finished but I am not sure I should consider that to be a success.

Another aspect: I enjoy watching team sports. In particular the Denver Broncos football team (having grown up in Colorado.) When I have the chance to watch them play, I will be 'in' the game with a capital N. I am 'Up' when they win and 'down' when they lose.

But for all the enjoyment I may feel in watching my team play and win, again what is success? For the most part when 'big time' athletes win these days, they strut, they're loud and they're proud. They may have won the game, but I cannot consider that to be a success if brashness, pride and haughtiness is what they represent. And I think that my feelings of success for 'my' team are misplaced if those attributes best describe their game.

As a conclusion: The second part of the 1 Timothy passage is what I tend to overlook:

1 Tim. 4 (NIV)
8For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.

In whatever I am doing, am I learning, teaching, and/or being trained in godliness? Are my children in their swimming learning and displaying Godly character? Am I concerned about my children winning or am I concerned that they are being obedient to their coaches and showing love, patience and faithfulness to their teammates and being diligent in their training. Am I, when I play volleyball, displaying joy and goodness? These are what should define what success is in these sporting activities.

Gal. 5 (NIV)
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

I think sports and physical games can be a wonderful training ground for learning and demonstrating the many fruits of the Spirit. But sports can also be a breeding ground for conceit, envy and a spirit that causes us to provoke others. For myself I need to be aware and watchful to nurture the fruits of the Spirit in myself and my family.