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.