Thursday, November 6, 2008

I Hope You Dance

This past weekend we were able to attend a wedding reception.

Yes, we did actually plan on attending the wedding itself as well, but that involves driving on the road that goes to the wedding, and not on the ones that don't. By the time we had realized the error in our collective navigation and were able to reroute ourselves to the appropriate location, we were just in time for the reception and had completely missed the wedding. I would have said we were lost, but we were able to turn around and retrace our route...

And truly, other than enduring many more renditions of "when are we going to get there?" it was a wonderful scenic drive through the Alabama country side - watching the landscape roll by in an endless tapestry of rustic autumn colors.

In addition to enjoyable conversations with friends and the generally fun atmosphere of a wedding reception (which in this case also included the first fireworks and fire-engine sendoff for a bride and groom I have ever seen) there was dancing at the reception.

I grew up not knowing the first thing about dancing. When my schools had dances I would just not go. And if I did happen to be at one, I would spend my time wishing I'd actually ask someone to dance. But I almost never did. Standing on the side of a dance floor, watching other people dance, and kicking yourself for not having the courage to ask is an absolutely miserable way to spend a couple hours of your life.

Later on, during my time at the Colorado School of Mines (in Golden), the Campus Crusade for Christ group at the University of Colorado in Boulder would host an annual "50's" dance at CU's huge Glenn Miller ballroom. It was a lavishly done "big deal." Hundreds upon hundreds of students would flock to the ballroom decked in their poodle skirts, black rimmed glasses and other 50's garb and swing dance into the night.

A contingent from "Mines" would drive the 20 or so miles up the road to join in the festivities as well. My housemates at the time then asked "The Question" - would I go with them to the dance?

"Why not?"
"I can't dance"
"Oh, come on you'll love it"
"No, I'll hate it"
"I can't dance"

And then came the kicker: "What if we teach you to dance, will you come then?"

"What? You can't teach me to dance"

"That's not the question, If we teach you to dance, will you come?"
"But you can't"
"That's not the question"
"If we teach you, will you come?"
"There's no way you can teach me to dance"
"Stop dodging the question: if we teach you to dance, will you come?"
"If you can teach me to dance you'll have done a miracle, it can't be done"
"So, you'll come?"
"IF, you can teach me, and I don't think you can"

Thus began Rob's Inaugural Dance lessons. We pushed back the couches in the living area of the house we were in, and a couple of the girls from our "Mines" Campus Crusade group came up to provide "partners" for the swing dance class. My housemates then worked to teach me "Swing Dancing 101." It was actually remedial swing dancing because I was truly terrible. I stepped (hard) on my partners feet, randomly went the wrong way, had zero sense of timing and was just flat bad. The ultimate was when I planted an awkwardly flailed elbow on my partners chin hard enough to bring tears to her eyes.

Everything stopped for several minutes with me and my housemates wondering if she'd still be willing to continue on as a partner to the swing dance crash test dummy...

Amazingly, in spite of the bumps and bruises, she persevered through a few more nights of dance training. And wonders of wonders it sank in! The whole swing thing actually began to make sense. I certainly wasn't a dancing wonder, but I was able to follow the beat and lead correctly through various swing steps/moves and could chain enough moves together to make swing dancing a very enjoyable activity.

And we went up to the 50's dance and had a great time. I even asked a few people to dance and they did (actually shocking to me.) A most enjoyable part was watching what other people were doing and then trying to copy them or to ask them to teach that particular step or move. Once I had the basic skills, adding to my repertoire wasn't hard, it was in fact really fun.

And now, because of those friend's encouragement, and my - however grudging - willingness to branch out and learn something new and awkward and uncomfortable. I was able to (I got to!) request some swing music at a wedding reception and could dance with my wife and one of my daughters. I was able to dance with my wife at our own wedding reception. And I was able to take her dancing when we were dating - some of our most enjoyable memories.

It brought to mind the words of a semi country/pop song of a few years ago sung by Lee Ann Womack called "I Hope You Dance." A stanza in that song goes something like this:

I hope you still feel small When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance

If you are given an opportunity that you aren't comfortable with, but the discomfort isn't due to the morality of the situation (God says "No"), some innate danger, or other obvious problem (my parents said "No"): Give the opportunity a chance.

To not try things merely because of timidity, embarrassment, awkwardness and so on, will drastically suction the enjoyment out of life. Are there calls for prudence and discernment? Absolutely. Live your life with wisdom. But step out of fear. Perfect love casts out fear. Try something and you might fail. But don't try, and you've failed by default.

And who knows, you may even learn to dance.

I hope you dance.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I grew up not camping.

Our family would occasionally go to a mountain or lake-side cabin - genuine "cabin" cabins, not mansions on the mountain-side "cabins." But we didn't go to a place, set up a tent and camp overnight. We did hike numerous trails in the Colorado mountains: Rocky Mountain National Park, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Grand Mesa, and many other random places in between. But they were day hikes, frequently bringing a fishing pole along, and ultimately driving home to sleep in your own bed at night.

As my brother and I grew into our high school and college years we started backpacking. In particular we would trudge ourselves (and as many people as we could convince) each year over Pawnee Pass usually around the first part of July. We would pack all the necessities required for a couple days and nights in the mountains of Colorado on our backs and head for Pawnee Lake - on the other side of the pass.

Now the Pawnee Pass/Lake hike is not particularly long (only about 6ish miles.) And the first two and a half miles are spent walking up a level, beautiful valley by Long Lake and ending at picturesque Lake Isabelle. But after that point the trail proceeds to gain and then loose over two thousand feet in altitude in just over three and a half miles. The trail head begins at just under 10,500 feet, Pawnee Pass tops out at over 12,500 feet and Pawnee Lake is right under 10,900 feet. So after Lake Isabelle, almost a half a mile in altitude is gained in the two miles it takes to reach the high point of the pass, and then over the next mile down to the lake almost all of that altitude is given back again.

The pass itself is a broad half mile long saddle above timberline. Boulders are sporadically strewn about a tundra grass meadow and rocky mountain peaks are pushing toward the heavens as far as the eye can see. It is gorgeous. The first time on the hike is the most interesting. When approaching the Pawnee Lake side of the pass you keep looking for the trail down, and all that is seen is the 'horizon' of the edge of the saddle. Only in the final few feet does it become apparent that the path down to the lake is a dwindling array of switchbacks carved into a tumbled down rock slide/boulder field/cliff face - 1500 feet almost straight down. And way down at the bottom is Pawnee Lake.

Some noteable items from our trips:

Friend Joining Us: "What's that thing you are putting on the bottom of your back packs?"

My Brother: "That would be a sleeping bag"

Friend: "Oh..."

  • I talk non-stop when terrified. My brother doesn't speak when terrified. In my younger days I didn't talk, and my brother couldn't stop. So this was a very interesting phenomena. It became especially apparent during midnight alpine thunderstorms. With lightning flashing so close and loud that the light was blinding in spite of pillows, sleeping bags and hands over our eyes.
  • I can to do the portion of the hike from Lake Isabelle to Pawnee Lake with severe stomach flu (I cannot, however, talk at the same time.)
  • Mountain peaks at dawn, mirrored in a lake still as glass, are breathtaking.
  • Cutthroat trout in a mountain lake are either hungry or they're not.
  • Get over the pass going home before noon. Do not get caught in a thunderstorm at 12,500 feet with a metal frame pack on your back, being the tallest thing within miles.
  • A campfire, however small, is a wonderful source of contentment.
  • It can snow, significantly in the mountains in July.
  • Remember that nylon is very slippery, to wit: If a nylon tent is pitched on a slope. Gravity will inexorably drag a person in a nylon sleeping bag down into a bunched mass at the bottom of the tent. And, after inchworming back up into proper sleeping position, gravity will cause a repeat performance - again and again, over and over, over the course of a night. As a further note: if inchworm's brother is in an identical nylon sleeping bag and hasn't moved the entire night, inchworm will suspiciously/angerly reach under the gravity defying sleeping bag to reveal the sticky foam sleeping pad that is keeping the brother in a blissful stationary sleeping position. Inchworm will then demand, "Turn that thing sideways!" Afterwhich both sleepers stay glued into prime sleeping position to finish out the night.
Anyway, backpacking was all I really ever knew about "camping." So when my wife (when we had three children ages 5, 3 and 2) said "let's go camping." I looked at her in bewilderment. She looked at me and said, "wait, we need to re-define 'camping'."

But that's for another post.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Weekend in the Life of our Back Yard

We got the cover on the pool. This process is not nearly so exicting as getting the cover off. It takes about a half hour (with numerous helpers). All that's really required is to make sure the pool's not currently green and to dump a bottle of algecide in the pool before applying the cover. And I am not sure what's being really implied in the statement, "wow daddy, the pool is really blue."

We did some yard clean-up. I brush hogged the more unkept edge portions of my back yard (i.e. I ran an electric weed trimmer with the help of two 100 foot extension cords.) It's amazing how much ground you can cover with that arrangement. (that could be a little more than 125,000 square feet if you think about it too much. I didn't think about it that much, and didn't cover that much ground either).

In the process of taming my yard near our more well behaved garden, I bashed my head on some low hanging ornamental pear tree limbs. This precipitated a trip to the garage for a pair of large pruning shears and a bow saw. This immediately resulted in a loud and ringing "un-supervised" daddy emergency warning signal to the rest of my family. The close proximity of tree modifying tools and "daddy" tends to result in massive family centered branch removal projects that highly involve my children.

I was greeted (not several minutes later) with a tall glass of water from my nine year old daughter asking, "daddy, mom wants to know if you're being supervised well enough?" A little while after that, this same daughter said, "mommy, I'll finish (name of some bonus chore here), you go out and supervise daddy."

All told I did have about a 15 minute (times 4 children and 2 parents) heap (or is that a passel?) of branches to haul to the burn pile. But, in comparisson to some of my previous Arbor day modification projects, this was a small bundle of twigs. I guess the supervision must have worked to a degree.

I resumed my trimming, got to our south facing fence and promptly ran into an old scrub stump. It was an interesting amalgamation of sucker Maple and Mimosa. Not terribly big on the top, but the same could be said for an iceberg. An hour or two later with the help of a pick axe, a maul, a shovel and a saws-all, I won.

In the process everyone else got to rake and haul leaves and other random bits and chunks of yard debris. Assorted children probably worked the hardest on their haggling skills - trying to get mom to define how much yard work consistituted being "done."

The yard looks much nicer, the pool looks more covered, my back is much sorer and my children are done with yardwork - for last weekend.

Can't wait for camping this weekend.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Musical Truth

A couple months ago I received a call from my mom wanting to know what I thought about a Karaoke singing game that she was thinking about giving as a present to two of my children (who happen to have birthdays about a month apart.) My parents are ardent singers who have a passion for singing. They like singing well, singing harmony, singing with family, singing with friends - they just truly enjoy singing.

It is one of their great sadness's to see the art of singing just not cultivated these days as it was when they were growing up.

My family has been not that different than our American culture in that way. We sing, at church. We sporadically sing at home - having small children "Only a boy named David," "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock," "Six little Ducks that I Once Knew," "Amazing Grace." But we certainly haven't worked on singing and don't really have a particular talent with it. We're not tone deaf, but people certainly don't flock around when they hear us sing either.

My wife and children are also occasionally blessed with my "renditions" of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" or other such highly classical pieces. Especially when I add my own words to them:

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,
Pink and Purple, Blue and Green they are precious as you've seen
Jesus loves the little children of the world
Periwinkle, Chartreuse too, and a pretty Mid-night Blue
Khaki, Tan and Olive Green, Camo so you can't be seen
Jesus loves the little children of the world

So, a karaoke game? Well... Okay, I am sure the kids would at least somewhat enjoy it.

But the game arrived and was dutifully given on the first of the birthdays. It came with a microphone, and with somewhat less than usual "setting up" on the computer, various hymns, choruses and other more contemporary Christian songs were emerging from the computer's speakers with the words scrolling along in time for a person to sing with.

But then we noticed how the game worked. The words came along on a musical staff, and the computer would show you a little lighted cursor, on that same staff indicating what note you were singing. If the cursor glowed or sparkled orange you were on pitch. When you were on pitch you had a numbered point tally that accumulated. If you were "off " the cursor was blue - and no points accrued. You could watch the cursor raise or lower with your pitch. As the words scrolled across the screen they would be on the note that they were to be sung. If you sang the word with that note the cursor would be bright orange. If you were particularly on pitch the cursor would kind of explode orange and distinctly sparkle. If you didn't, the cursor just stayed blue.

It was humorous to watch myself (and my family) as we initially sang. We would certainly "hit" some of the notes. And we would certainly "miss" many as well. It was particularly humbling when I saw how poorly I "held" my notes. I would be initially "On," sparkling orange and happy and then my voice would crack, wobble, warble or otherwise go off key. And I would watch as the "dumb" cursor displayed my inept singing in patent, flat "blue."

Before you sang a song, the game would even tell you what kind of a score you needed to get Silver, Gold or Platinum distribution.

My first songs were good enough to be "distributed to friends and family."

After our first couple of songs my wife and I "retired" downstairs while the girls kept singing and warbling.

In a few minutes one of my daughters came down mad. Not out of control, but her internal vegetable plate was very well steamed. "I don't like the scores the game gives me."

"Why not?" I asked. She said, "It's not scoring me high enough."

And I laughed. I told her that if you sing well, you will score well. But none of us sings well at this point. I said, "we're all terrible right now."

She backed up and was almost stunned: this child isn't used to being "bad" at anything. "We are?" "Yes," I said. And I explained that with practice and if she and her sister's worked at keeping the note cursor "orange" they would score well. If they didn't, they would score like daddy had.

With a few broccoli knocked off her plate, and with some serious questioning in her face, she trudged up stairs to bed. But over the next few days and weeks she and her sisters worked on their singing, with the help of a little orange musical cursor.

And lo and behold, she and her sisters started to get Silver and Gold and Platinum on their songs.

It was amazing, when you truly sang on pitch, you scored well. When you didn't - you didn't.

It didn't matter how well you thought you sang. It didn't matter how well someone else thought you sang. It only mattered if you were actually on pitch (at the right time.)

The game was and is about musical truth. And that truth wasn't relative, it was absolute.

There's something to be learned from that little musical game. There's what I think, there's what you think. There what I say, there's what you say. There's what I do, there's what you do. But what counts is what is true. If anything I think, say or do isn't true, it is of no worth. If anything you think, say or do isn't true, it is of no worth.

There is Someone who knows what that the true pitch is, and how well we each are singing the song.

And He is also the solution for all our wrong notes.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A German Blast from the Past (Part 1)

As a junior in high school my family hosted a German exchange student for the entire year. Jürgen was also a junior and attended school and all the other activities that I and my family did that year (a family vacation to Yellowstone, and a trip Jürgen and I took to San Jose California come to mind.)

Jürgen learned how to play basketball. One-on-one (or 21 when my brother was around.) He rapidly learned that to get (any) rebounds or generally have any shot at winning - he must be much more physical than he was at first.

He learned.

He also worked very hard on his English. He didn't just want to speak "precise" English, he was after the vernacular that was everyday language at our house. And he got it right, slang and all. After about the first four months the only phrase that he couldn't quite "get" was "right on!" It's interesting how specific inflection and enunciation are with a expression like that. If it is too precisely stated, said too fast, or maybe too slow, or with the emphasis just slightly off - the phrase just doesn't work. He became so fluent that when people met him for the first time later in the year, they had no clue he wasn't from Colorado.

Some of the lasting memories from that time included a late night youth retreat discussion that revolved around Jürgen attempting to tell us Americans what his name would sound like without the Umlaut (Jurgen instead of Jürgen.) We just couldn't hear it at all, both pronunciations were absolutely identical to our English hearing ears. After about the forth or fifth attempt the conversation just dissolved into hysterical laughter. We were complete basket cases in learning the finer points of German elocution.

There was also the time we both took the bus home from school and when I called my parents - in a panic - to see when they would be home to take me to basketball practice they said, "but you drove to school this morning ..."

During our trip to Yellowstone he had more fun and got more amazement from the drive through the barrenness of Wyoming than in the national park itself. He took pictures and pictures and pictures of "nothing." Jürgen by a population "4" sign, Jürgen in front of miles of nothing. Pictures of virtual ghost towns. You name a picture of "nothing" and he had a picture of him in it. In Germany, although possessing expanses of "rural" places, there are always people and dwellings around. Wyoming, on the other hand, has hundreds of square miles of "nothing." And "nothing" is evidently quite interesting if you have always been around "something."

Anyway, this past week (23 years later), Jürgen and his ten year old son came for a visit. My wife and children had heard stories, but were in eager anticipation of his arrival. Jürgen and his son initially flew into Denver where my parents met them. They got to stay with my Uncle Maury there as well and took in a Colorado Rockies baseball game.

to be continued...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Last Week

Began with a business trip to the Chicago area. I and a member of our lock assembly crew travelled to a new jail construction site to replace small o-rings in 224 locks in two days.

I disassembled:
  • Remove cylinder cover, place to the side - just so
  • Remove lock side plate screws, place in cylinder cover - just so
  • Place side plate next to cylinder cover - just so
  • Remove funky lock piece (actuator) place on side plate - just so
  • Remove plate and spring from lock cylinder rod
  • Place spring in cylinder cover - just so
  • Place little plate on actuator on side plate - just so
  • Remove dead latch spring, place inside other spring - just so
  • Remove five lock body attachment screws
  • Place screws on cylinder cover - just so
  • Move remaining lock assembly and removed parts over to other guy
"Other guy" removed the lock's air cylinder, replaced the o-ring, and did some re-assembly. I then finished the assembly process and stacked the locks for re-installation in the door frames.

Just so.

I rapidly rediscovered (yet again) that I can successfully do exactly one thing at once. To wit: Toward the end of our first day (around lock 100) one of the on-site installers asked me about a problem they were having with a different lock.

My brain seized. My current sum total synapse activity consisted of "Remove, Remove, Place, Remove, Remove, Place, Place, Remove, Remove, Place, MOVE." Ting! "Remove, Remove, Place..." I was an old fashioned typewriter: finish one line of your letter and Ting! Bash the carriage back to the next line's beginning and resume furious typing. (I just realized that 'old fashioned' and typewriter are completely redundant, apologies to all readers who just said "what's a typewriter?")

It felt like swimming upstream in setting concrete. Just processing the installer's question and attempting to actually think/solve/analyze took an amazing amount of effort and time. During that time I had to put down the disassembly tools and very deliberately stop all physical activity because I could literally not think and do anything else at that point. Thank goodness I wasn't chewing gum.

After the business trip (we did get all the locks done, and actually solved a few other problems as well on the way), I had a day at work to do an expense report, answer, solve, engineer and email various workish things.

On Thursday night we left for the "State" swimming meet.

Three of our girls had qualified either in relays or individual events and all were very excited. We loaded up our van and headed out on the 3 1/2 hour trip up to Scottsboro. The next day two of the girls did breaststroke, one of those also did freestyle and all three participated in the Medley Relay. There were tears having not achieved some goals incentive's, but it was all in all a good (and not too hot) day. At the end there was a team pizza, coke and dessert party at a park nearby complete with a merry-go-round. In essence the swim team tanked up on pepperoni pizza, cookies, brownies and soda-pop and then had the older ones spin carb-loaded masses of smaller swimmers as fast as they could on the merry-go-round.


Friday at 3am (yes, in the morning) Abi began visibly displaying the effects of a stomach virus. Soon after Katherine's system decided that she had to have it too. A bit later my wife said, "I don't feel well, how's your stomach feeling?" My system then woke up enough to realize that it needed to join in the fun as well. For most of that morning I, My wife and two daughter's lay in curled up nausea on the motel room beds while the other's were stuck watching Saturday morning cartoons.

We had to scratch (cancel out) from all the Saturday swimming events and eventually were able to drive the 3 1/2 hours home. I hardily do not recommend spending any of your Saturday's in that manner. Fortunately all four of us began to feel better as the day wore on. Unfortunately, our almost two year old decided, Sunday night, that he had been left out of the festivities and needed to participate in the fun as well.

But so goes a week in the life of our family.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Visual Update on the Garden of Misfit Plants

Some visuals of our gardens on fathers day.

Lest anyone might think that working the earth and fertilizing the soil is unproductive.
(Three year old provided for scale and with the season's first zucchinis)

And just to show that the more obedient plants weren't to be out done by their unruly neighboring garden: Here's a basket of tomatoes picked the same morning from the Garden of (more) Obedient Plants. - Six year old added because he could lift the basket.
Have a wonderful fathers day.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Things I know

God is real, and He created it all.
My wife loves me
A child that loves sweets
Each day is a new day
Finishing a thing is a joy to me
There is always something to fix
A child that loves very sour things but will never admit that they're sour
If it's not chocolate why bother
Exercise makes me feel better
I can live for days on praise from my wife
A child who loves words
I am a sinner
A smile from a child lifts my soul
A child who's kind, sweet and terrible
I am forgiven
I love a consistent routine
I am random
A child who's nuts
I value being valued
Summer in Alabama is hot
A child who builds
There are times to talk
There are times to not

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On a Pool Cover Part 2

"The Year of Spider Man" concluded:

"So... how are you getting it off there?"


That was a good question. I was basking in my pool cover actually being suspended in the air above the pool to dry, and I hadn't even really thought about getting it down.

Well, I could get it down easily enough - back into the pool. But the whole point was to get it down dry. Dry.


I decided to marshal the troops. Shortish, youngish, smallish troops who somewhat resemble me. I positioned them on either far end of the cover to hold it up as one side of the cover was released from its rope web attachment to the fence.

Did I mention that the cover is heavy?

I must not have learned much from the previous year's attempt at lifting the cover. One year's growth hadn't increased the family horsepower enough to keep the cover lifted. As I loosened the web of suspension, despite the valiant efforts of all involved, gravity - the Kryptonite of this process - inexorably dragged the cover back onto (and into) the pool.

By the time I extricated the entire cover from my web the whole cover was more or less (really more) thoroughly re-wetted. I and my troops draped and re-draped it over the fence and left it to dry as best it could. Eventually I dragged it onto the yard for folding and then storing when my family was off erranding somewhere. And I slunk back into my house to lick my wounds.

I was however able to earn a (slight) commendation from my lovely wife: "How on earth did you lift the cover onto that shelf by yourself?" I chose to take that to mean that I was wonderfully strong and, well, really strong and, well, I don't know, but it was the only remotely encouraging part of that year's episode with the cover.

Year Three, or "The Year of the Sort-of-Tight Rope:"

I started hearing, "Daddy, when are we going to open the pool?" in early April. By the end of April it began to feel like a road trip, "Daddy, is time yet?" "Daddy, how warm does in need to be to open the pool?" "Can we swim today?" "Well, when can we swim?" "Daddy, it's warm enough, I won't be cold" "Are we there yet?" "Are we there yet?" "Daddy, I need to use the bathroom"

Ok, all but the last one or two or three.

One warm afternoon I decided that the cover's time had come. Only I hadn't thought much about the process this time, not that thinking had helped me much the last two years anyway. It occurred to me that at the end of last year we had draped the cover over the fence to finally let it dry. But the pool fence is so short that the cover had to be repeatedly folded over. What if I rigged a rope over the fence line, but much higher than the fence line, kind of a clothes line on steroids?

Yeah, that could work. The cover would be off the pool, but would dry vertically - not taking up any yard space!

I rounded up two long 2x4's, a couple of those garage organizing hooks with the large wood threads made to screw into rafters, two pulleys, some 1/2 inch diameter nylon rope and two of those ratcheting shipping straps. I didn't even try to explain my plan this time, but as I was dragging my collection over to the pool deck I did get a raised eyebrow and a "when there is something we can help with, let me know" from my wife.

I screwed one organizing hook into one end of each 2x4 and attached a pulley to each hook. I then ran my rope through each pulley and used the shipping straps attach my 2x4's to fence posts on opposite ends of the pool. Using my pulleys and some creatively knotted loops, I pulled my rope line to where it was hanging just above the fence. Good enough.

I started disconnecting the cover from the pool deck, and which triggered an immediate, "can we go swimming now?" Soon I had most of my troops arrayed and we dragged the cover off the pool and started pulling it over my improvisational clothes line.

Did I mention that the pool cover is heavy?

My rope immediately sagged onto the fence. No problem, I yanked on my pulley system some more to put more tension on the rope and raise it a up a bit. Each time more cover was pulled over the rope, gravity would pull it down, and I would tighten it more. Then I happened to look up and saw the Achilles Heel of my contraption: one of the organizing hooks was bent almost to breaking and the hook's threads were about to pull out of the wood altogether. I took that to mean that I shouldn't tighten the rope any further.

My wonderful clothes line started out at about 9 feet high on each end, and ended up about at about 4 feet one inch high in the middle. Or in other words, my wonderful contraption had gained me a whole inch of height compared to just draping the cover over the fence to begin with.

Oh well.

Instead of re-draping the cover over the line (which would have finished yanking the hook out of the wood) I allowed the cover to run out on the pool deck on one side and onto some of the yard on the other. I had also failed to wash it while it was on the pool, so I washed it as it was. Let it dry overnight, folded it up and -with the help of my beautiful bride- stuffed it on the top shelf in the shed the following evening.

The children rejoiced and went swimming, or more accurately they rejoiced, jumped in the pool and then screamed "It t ts, c c c c ooooo ld d d d."

Ahhh, the sound's of almost summer.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On a Pool Cover Part 1

We opened our backyard swimming pool for "business" this past weekend.

"Opening" our pool involves removing the pool cover, un-winterizing and starting up the pool pump, vacuuming the pool, and messing with the water itself (balancing the pH, adjusting chlorine levels and other items.)

Easy enough.

Other than the pool cover.

And removing and storing the pool cover isn't difficult per se, but the process is, well, awkward. It is one of those things that must be done, but I am not at all graceful in doing it. I've yet to contrive even a mediocre method of getting the cover off the pool and then cleaning, drying and folding/ rolling/ origamiing the cover into a package and ultimately putting it away for the season.

Getting the cover off the pool is OK - one advantage of a large number of children.

Cleaning the cover goes well - the beauty of a pressure washer.

And after it has dried I can fold the cover well enough.

But getting in and between these items, especially the drying part, is a lesson in how to provide endless humor to the rest of your family.

My wife's face should be photographed each year as she listens to my broken half sentence explanations of how I am going to "do" the pool cover each year. The resulting collage of pictures could be titled, "Studies in Incredulity" and subtitled "You are going to do What?"

Our pool cover is very good at covering the pool. But it doesn't fit well anywhere other than on top of the pool. It is large and heavy (a thick polyester type material reinforced with heavy nylon webbing.) And unless an experiment on mass mildew growing techniques is desired, the cover can't be folded and stored immediately after being taken off the pool, it must be cleaned and dried first. And to dry it needs to be somewhat up in the air. That is the trick: the entire pool cover held up in the air so all that all surfaces can dry.

This is my problem.

Did I mention the cover is heavy and large?

Each year of the cover's three year existence has seen a different method of solving this problem:

Year One, or "the Year of the Chairs:"

I scientifically arrayed several plastic 'outdoor' chairs along with six chairs from our patio set and miscellaneous items from my children's outdoor toy collection in an area of yard roughly the size of the pool cover. The idea was for the pool cover to dry, laying on top of my precisely engineered array of junk. After which I would remove the chairs, fold up the cover and store it away. Sounded good to me.

The cover is heavy...

We detached the cover from the pool, and quickly found out that one middle aged guy along with his beautiful wife and children did not have nearly the horsepower required to lift the cover up over and then set the cover down onto my array of chairs.

The best we could manage was to drag the cover off the pool, across the yard and then pull the front edge over and then onto the chair array. This study in gravity and friction toppled all the plastic chairs and toys and most of the patio chairs, dragging them along as we moved the cover into place.

I ended up hunched under the cover frantically resetting all the chairs and simultaneously transferring the wet sand and dirt the cover had acquired from the yard into my head and back.

When I was "done" the cover was suspended over the yard by my collection, except where it wasn't. The cover draping itself over my array of large bric-a-brac looked something like an upside down egg carton.

Washing it in this condition was a unintended experiment in how to form and drain mountain lakes and rivers. I was constantly pulling here or tugging there to try to drain the lakes and dry up the rivers. Eventually the cover was dry and I pulled my support structure out from under the cover and folded it up and heaved it onto a shelf in our shed.

Year Two, or "the Year of Spider Man:"

The spring of that year saw my dad and I build a sorely needed chain link fence around the pool.

Remembering the previous year's folly, I decided to not attempt to wash and dry the cover over the yard but instead to utilize the new fence and some rope to suspend the cover several feet above the pool itself. It made so much sense to me: I would be conserving space, not taking up any of the yard, and the pool is exactly the right size space for the pool cover. Explaining this particular scheme to my wife got (far and away) the academy award for "Best Utter Disbelief Facial Expression by a Person in a Supporting Role."

Also, in a flash of brilliance, I realized that I could wash the cover while it was still on the pool, rather than waiting until I removed the cover. Out came the pressure washer and the pool broom. In short order the cover top was clean.

Now to the lifting of the cover. The pool cover has a series of nylon webbing straps terminated with metal rings to secure the cover over the pool during the winter (picture a fat, flattened, dark green centepede with twenty or so short black legs.) I fastened a clothesline rope to a post in the fence. I then ran the rope through the cover's nearest nylon strap ring. Proceeding down the pool deck, I ran the rope around the pool fence top bar and then through the next ring in the cover. I wove a rope web between the pool cover and the fence. Every four or five loops I would terminate the rope at a fence post and start with a new rope. At the end of each rope I rigged two metal snap rings to form a rude pulley setup to aid in the lifting of the cover.

With my web woven, I worked my way around the pool deck (ducking in and around my web, tightening the rope pulleys. And roughly, slowly it worked! Gradually I had my entire pool cover suspended (yes, in the air!) above the pool. Although slightly droopy in the middle, the entire cover could now dry and not use up any of the yard, chairs, toys or anything! This was great!

And then my wife asked the (obvious) question: "So... how are you getting it off there?"

Monday, May 5, 2008

Roots, Rocks and the Garden of Misfit Plants

Yesterday afternoon I was tilling up a section of yard for an auxiliary (ancillary?) garden. Our garden "proper" has tomatoes, peas, lettuce, radishes and other members of the vegetable kingdom that tend to stay where you plant them, are typically well mannered, and generally have some sense of personal space. This "other" plot of ground, however, has been reserved for squash, watermelon, cantaloupe and their like. Vegetation that starts exploring the moment it is planted, has no problem ignoring boundaries, and contains no sense of personal space. It is a garden for misfit plants.

Kind of like the island of misfit toys.

Our home has a rather large back "yard" - which the previous (and original) owners had left to go more and more wild as they grew older. Over the past few years we have been steadily reclaiming the more adventuresome portions of yard and have even made progress in taming the "jungle" of oak woods and brush behind the back fence. The particular spot that we have reserved for the misfit melons and such had previously been possessed by an old maple tree stump and various species of small sucker trees and scrub brush.

I had removed the majority of the scrub and sucker shoots three years ago, but the old (large) maple tree stump remained to become a pet project of my dad's during my folk's extended fall and spring migratory stops at our home. After several chainsaw blades and days of shoveling, prying, roping, block and tackling, and quality time with a pick axe, the stump finally gave it up for the team and was hauled one massive mangled puzzle piece at a time to the burn pile.

The formerly overgrown tangle of stump and brush now appears as a smooth, level plot of ground; an ideal location for the new garden of maladjusted melons!

But then, as my arms were being yanked from their sockets by a rototiller futilely attempting to unearth yet another section of buried tree/brush/sucker roots, I was re-reminded that our lives are determined not by how things appear, but by what, in reality, is really there.

Although, on the surface, the stump and suckers had been removed, underneath there was still ample evidence of their existence. And though much pain and agony had been done to remove the stump, still further work was needed to make the ground suitable for a garden. The barely covered roots had to be identified - usually by the rototiller - and removed, with a shovel, pick and an axe. Furthermore, much fertilizer and organic matter needed to be added to the remaining sandy soil to give the garden plants something to grow on.

This garden plot reminded me of another garden plot. As a child we lived in a house that also had a well situated plot in the back yard for a garden. But upon breaking ground for that garden we found rocks, rocks and more rocks. The first year of that garden's existence saw something like 15 pickup beds full of rocks removed from that one plot of ground. The next year another four or five, and the following year two or three. The end result was a bountiful garden. We found out later that the exact spot that we had chosen for that garden had previously been the neighborhood rock dump, unbeknownst to us. Although that plot had seemed to be perfect for a garden, underneath the surface were tons of rock that needed to be exhumed before a successful garden could be planted.

Our garden for misguided melons also made me think of myself. I am not a person who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Most often I have a calm exterior and take most of what happens in life in stride - maybe more of in 'amble,' my wife has more of a 'stride.' But just because my surface seems placid doesn't mean that my life is truly that way. There are roots and rocks that lie just under the surface waiting for the plows of life to come along and hit them.

Some of my roots:

Personal injustice. If I feel I have been wronged it can twist me into some fantastic emotional balloon animal or fanciful psychiatric piece of origami. It can take days, weeks or months before some particular variation of this root is untangled, dug up and dealt with in my heart.

Personal Politics (being used). If I feel someone hasn't been genuine and has instead used (or attempted to use) me for some ulterior end. I emotionally remove them from my universe. They physically exist, but I do not ask them for advice, the time of day, or anything in between. This is a very difficult root to exhume for me because it involves choosing to trust someone whom I feel has proven to be untrustworthy.

Misunderstanding. I am a peacemaker at heart. Peacemaking usually involves a person (or people) owning up to their stuff and apologizing and asking for forgiveness. With misunderstanding there are all the emotions of being wronged, but in the end no wrong was done. And what do you do with that? Let it go. . . Right. . . I understand this. But this is akin to telling me I am over weight (which I am), and so need to eat less and exercise more over an extended period of time. I understand this. But practicing both these understandings, is very hard for me to do. And therefore a troublesome root for me.

The "laundry day" bed at the end of the day. Frivolous I know. But at a day's end, walking into a bedroom with a bare mattress and sheets on the floor, can boil all the impatience in my life's stew right to the surface. A smelly, distasteful root.

My root list goes on, but it is enough to say that I have my many and various roots.

And you have your roots too.

And your spouse, friend, co-worker, brother, sister, cousin, aunt, uncle, etc. all have their unique collections of roots as well.

Some people proudly display the visible twisted stumps, scrub brush and sucker plants of their lives in full view for all to see, complete with no sign to indicate any removal work will commence any time soon.

Others have lives that seem straight out of a master gardeners dream. Beautiful and serene. They display no visible issues.

But in spite of appearances, we are each gardens filled with rocks and roots, visible or not. And our lives interact with and crash into one another on many levels. We each act as instruments in each other's lives. We can be tillers and be in turn tilled. We can shovel, and pick and pull. We can even plant an encouragement or a word of advice or allow another to plant in our own lives as well.

Roots grow back, rocks work their way up, soil is depleted. Life ebbs and flows. But as our lives are worked, the soil turned, rocks and roots removed, fertilizer added and God's word planted, obedience learned, and perseverance practiced, we will produce fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. A life that displays God and His love. Beautiful fruit that grows in and through the imperfect soil of our lives.

Proverbs 20:5 (NIV):
5 The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Some Robisms on Marriage

1. If you think you really understand your spouse - then you need to rethink what you think.

2. People are male and female, this means we are different, God made that difference and anything God has made is a beautiful thing.

3. Take the time and effort to talk from your heart about how you are feeling and what you are thinking (this is very hard for Rob to do.)

4. You are a normal human and your spouse is normal human, do not burden your spouse with super expectations.

5. Many expectations you feel from your spouse are not real. Please see numbers 1 and 3.

6. Practice and put into practice the following statement, "I was wrong. Will you please forgive me." And don't add any "but"s to it.

7. Allow your spouse the freedom to be quiet.

8. Find some things your spouse appreciates and make a habit of regularly doing those things.

9. Have weekly dates with just you and your spouse (forever.)

10. Children are blessings from the Lord and many, many couples are unable to have children.

11. Children do not come on our timing, according to our schedule or with a temperment of our choosing.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Psalm 73:26 Part 2

That morning the enzyme levels indicating new heart damage elevated. My wife was not stable anymore and emergency bypass surgery would need to happen that morning. The girls had a brief visit with mommy and she held our son for a bit. I asked the nurse if I had time to walk my family out to the car before my wife would be wheeled in for surgery and she said yes.

Coming back into the hospital from the parking garage, my name was being paged over the loudspeaker to come immediately to the CICU unit.

I arrived back at the unit to a very upset wife and some equally perturbed nurses and doctors. My wife was telling them in no uncertain terms that she was not going into that operating room without seeing me first, and that they had told me I had time to see my family out of the hospital before the bypass. The surgeon was perturbed that he had a lady who wouldn't go into surgery when it was an emergency situation and time was of the essence. The nurses were just generally perturbed at the whole scene.

Later on the nurses said that her anger at that time released adrenaline into her system which had actually served to positively stimulate her heart and increase blood flow, almost prepping it for the surgery. God works all things together for good.

The bypass took hours. Friends and various family members came and went from the waiting room. People prayed and spoke in low voices. And I waited. A nurse came in at one point and gave an update.

Eventually they came and announced the surgery was done and they were getting her "settled" in her room. After a bit I was allowed to see her.

What I saw were tubes, wires and other medical looking things poking into or out of my my wife's body everywhere. She had a breathing tube down her throat, was still unconscious and had skin that looked like pasty plastic. There was a red heart shaped pillow sitting in her bed with her.

And this was a successful surgery.

I understood the word successful but my eyes were in conflict with what I heard.

I don't do hospitals. I mean, I almost get sick just entering a hospital. The general hospital smell makes me light headed. But God is gracious and allowed me to be with my wife over the days following the surgery. Amazingly they never needed to pick me up unconscious off the floor even though I actually observed most of the in room procedures they performed. My wife did tell me to turn my head when they were taking out the "pre-wiring" for a pace maker they had sewn into her just in case it might be needed.

Throughout that time there were wonderful friends and family who came in and completely took care of our children with little to no input from me.

Over the next few days I lived by the digital stat machine that existed over my wife's bed. It registered her heart rate, blood oxygen levels and other stuff that meant nothing to me. As the days went she graduated to fewer tubes, less wires and forced walking. They removed the catheter for the most part to make her have to get out of bed and walk over to the bathroom.

Eventually she was able to come home. She had to sleep in a lazy boy type recliner for several weeks because her healing sternum couldn't handle being fully prone.

My mom and my sister-in-law both came for consecutive weeks to provide daily care for her and our children. Ladies from our home school group came and cleaned our house for two and a half months. Other friends came and mowed our yard. What a blessing they all were at that time.

When the time came for cardiac rehabilitation, we found out that our insurance wouldn't cover that. We were just talking about the cost, and how I thought she ought to do it, but we just didn't have the finances at the time. I went out to the mail box, and a lady from church had written a note and a check saying that she felt the God had blessed them with a little extra that month and she felt it should go to us. The check was for just $5 less then the total cost of the cardiac rehab. We felt we could afford cardiac rehab for $5.

Months later we had one of our regular followup visits with the cardiac doctor after having regular EKG's, echo cardiograms and finally a nuclear medicine test. They said, you are completely well. The EKG indicates a completely normal heart, the nuclear medicine test indicated a heart ejection fraction of about 55 which is bulls eye for normal heart function. The doctor said you can come back in ten years for a check up if you like. If that seems too long for you come back in five, but your heart is completely normal. There is no activity that your heart should preclude you from engaging in, including future pregnancies, labor and delivery.

God is so good:

God had provided a cardiac nurse living straight across the street to help immediately when she had a heart attack.
He had provided a storm in the midst of a drought to provide an immediate phone to call for help.
He filled up all the CICU beds in the regular hospital our insurance used, "forcing" her to be sent to the premier heart hospital in our region of the country.
He allowed her to stabilize long enough for a complete MRI and surgery plan to be made.
He cause her to unstabilize soon enough after so that she was operated on by the doctors at the heart hospital and not transferred to the insurances hospital as they wanted.
He provided friends and family to selflessly provide care and basic needs when the needs were there.
He completely healed her heart.
He has added two more children into our home after the heart attack.

Psalm 73:26 (NIV)

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Psalm 73:26 Part 1

Almost six years ago I was putting my two year old daughter to bed when she glanced out her bedroom window and saw my wife walking down the sidewalk away from our house. "I don't want mommy to go!" she said. "It's OK," I told her, "mommy is just going for a walk around the neighborhood with a friend and will be back in a half hour."

The area where we were living was in a severe drought and we hadn't seen even a hint of rain for a couple months. But that evening it was beginning to storm, so they took a cell phone with them just in case they needed to be "rescued." Getting some exercise was good, getting soaked for their efforts would be bad.

About twenty minutes later I received a call from my wife's friend and in a very controlled emotional voice was told that my wife had just passed out, she needed immediate help and gave me directions to where they were so that I could bring a vehicle over to get her.

Not knowing quite what to do, I locked the house with our two year old, her two older sisters and our infant son asleep inside and then quickly drove the mini-van the block or so away to where my wife's friend directed me.

My wife was laying half on a sidewalk and half in someones yard with an unknown lady helping her and my wife's friend at her side.

I wasn't prepared at all for what I was seeing. My wife's skin was white and bluish. The lady had my wife's legs propped up as she lay on the ground and was speaking to my wife in very firm and in-control voice. My wife was responding somewhat to what she was saying but seemed dazed and sleepy.

We eventually sat her up and attempted to lift her into the van to take her to the emergency room. But she slumped in my arms, passed out and we laid her on the ground again. Our friend dialed 911 on her cell phone and I talked with the operator and an ambulance was dispatched.

Her friend took my keys and drove the mini-van back to our house stay with our children until my wife's parents could drive down and stay with the kids.

The paramedics came and took charge. They were asking questions, giving care, getting her onto a gurney and into the ambulance and I found myself riding shotgun to the nearest hospital.

My mind was whirling, what happens if she dies? Do I move back in with my parents?

Rain was splashing on the windshield and the wipers rhythmically pushed it aside.

What do I tell my two year daughter? I just told her it would be all right and mommy would be back in half an hour.

I prayed.

We arrived at the suburban mini hospital that was nearest to the incident and my wife was wheeled away to innumerable tests. They did an EKG and confirmed that there had been a heart attack and that her heart was not doing well. She was connected to IV's and they gave her a strong diuretic (I think, I don't play a doctor on TV) because she had massive fluid build up in her lungs because her heart wasn't functioning properly.

She was responsive at this point as was attempting to joke with me and make the situation lighter. The problem was that she was still tinged blue and by the actions and overheard conversations with and between the techs and doctors, she was not doing well. A doctor was telling me that there were four or five possibilities that could cause her symptoms and that they "were all bad." Among them were a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lungs, some type of cardiac aneurysm and something else I don't remember.

The final test at this hospital was a CAT scan. She was wheeled to the basement and I wasn't allowed in the room.

And I sat there just outside the door in a plastic metal legged chair that reminded me of grade school, alone. The corridor was khaki painted cinder block walls and a similarly dull tiled floor. It felt like a tomb and small sounds echoed down its walls.

Twenty minutes seemed an eternity.

Then they wheeled her out, and we were hustled back up into to main ER portion of this hospital and the cardiac doctor on duty called in a ICU ambulance to take her to the premier heart hospital in our metro area. He would have called the flight for life helicopter, but the storms had only increased as the night went on and prevented helicopter transportation.

His comment to the dispatcher was that she was "sitting on something" but he didn't know what. They needed her to get to that hospital as quickly as possible for a cardiac angiogram which would enable them to see what was happening with her coronary arteries and other structures around her heart.

So I got another ambulance ride to another hospital and the world seemed to be disconnecting from me. My wife was talking and joking with the paramedics surrounding her high tech gurney. My wife was stabilized and I was floating.

At that hospital, they immediately wheeled her away to the angiogram lab, and I was shown to a waiting room. It was empty, like most things in the middle of the night. And I laid down on the floor next to the wall and waited alone.

My wife was greeted going into the lab by a nurse in blue hospital scrubs complete with the rectangular face mask. She said, "You don't recognize me, but I'm your neighbor." The unknown lady helping my wife when this all started had been the head nurse in charge of the angiogram lab at the premier heart hospital in our region of the country! She had been called in just after the initial episode, but then asked to stay on a bit because they had a lady coming in, and in her heart she had said, "I bet that's my neighbor."

My in-laws arrived an hour or two later and waited with me. The angiogram doctor eventually came out and said that they had found the problem. The test had taken so long because initially they couldn't even find one of my wife's two main coronary arteries. It was discovered that she had a congenital anomaly of her left main coronary artery. That artery, which typically feeds the back side of heart, didn't originate from the back side of the aorta as it usually does. Instead it originated from the other coronary artery (the right main) which is comes out of the front side of the aorta. And to get back to where it needed to be it had run between her aorta and her pulmonary artery.

That meant that at any time her left main coronary artery (which feeds roughly half the heart) could have been pinched off, being squeezed between her own aorta and pulmonary artery. The aorta is always under a great deal of pressure (it is the main vessel that feeds all the other arteries). But the pulmonary artery is more typically a lower pressure vessel - except when it isn't. As during exercise, or getting up out of a chair or bed, or during the labor and deliver any of our four children (at the time.)

Her particular anomaly is considered especially rare (less than 1 in a million people) and deadly (over 99% are only found at autopsy) because when the heart is damaged the pressure in the pulmonary artery actually goes up. So in her case if her artery was pinched by the aorta and pulmonary artery, it would cause the pulmonary arteries pressure to go up - pinching the coronary artery even more and damaging the heart even more. Somewhat like a drowning person frantically clutches the person next to them and in the process killing them both. A deadly game of catch 22.

Because she had stabilized, they put her into the hospital's CICU unit and scheduled an MRI of her heart the next day to determine the best course of action for the open heart bypass surgery that would need to happen as soon as possible.

They were able to complete the MRI and plan the surgery the next day. The following morning, the nurses in the unit were unnerved by seeing our three little girls with pink hair bows and dresses walking up the hallway to see their mommy, accompanied by my parents holding our infant son. The nurses were used to dealing with people who were toward the latter stages of their life, and were usually in that unit because of their own life choices (i.e. extremely overweight and/or smokers.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fun Things

While camping this weekend I got to enjoy hearing my three year old daughter singing:
"Al -a-bama. Al -a-bama" Over and over during a camping breakfast of slightly burned pancakes and sausages.

I had always thought the words to that tune were "La La Bamba."

It brought back memories of our second daughter - now nine - when she was about three asking loudly from the van's back seat on a road trip, "Daddy, sing the California Lipstick song!"

My wife and I looked at one another in bewilderment, the California Lipstick song? We had never heard of such a song. We puzzled and puzzled, and then finally asked her to either sing or hum part of the tune. She started singing "Super California Lipstick Expialidocious."

Oh, THAT California Lipstick song.

Everyone needs a three year old girl in his or her family.

That brought to my mind my own difficulties when singing Jingle Bells at Christmas as a child. I could never figure out what a "Horsopen" was. Everyone would sing that word in the song and they all seemed to know exactly what they were singing about. And I was just clueless; I had no idea what we were singing about. I was a monument of private embarrassment when I finally saw the song in print and it was a "One horse open sleigh." My face is still red.

Back to three year old girls:

Our oldest daughter, at about three or four, was playing a card game with us and was very pointedly analyzing each of us as we played. The intensity of her concentration could have powered all the appliances in the house. Her gaze was absolutely riveted on each person each time they drew a card from the stack in the middle of the table and placed it into their hand.

When her turn came around she was ready: She set her hand of cards down on the table, very deliberately licked the index finger of her right hand as she had watched everyone do before they drew a new card, and then just as deliberately drew a new card from the stack with her Left hand.

We could not stop laughing.

It was also about this time that she went fishing with "Pop," my dad. When they first got to the fishing spot she threw a rock into the lake. He sternly told her, "No, No, don't do that or you'll scare away the fish. If you throw another rock into the lake we're going home." After that warning, they had a great afternoon together fishing. When it was time Pop told her, "all right, let's go, it's time to go home." Our daughter said "wait!" And then ran, got a rock, and threw it into the lake.

And she went happily home, with Pop laughing all the way.

Have a wonderful week.

Proverbs 15:13 (NIV)
13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I grew up being good.
I mean, I was good at things.
I was smart. I did well in school. I won academic awards.
I was musical. I played violin and I did well. I would get the highest ratings in competitions.

I even tried art, and won first place with a water color painting in a district wide art show.

I was good at soccer too. Without even knowing what I was doing, I placed very high in a city wide individual soccer skills competition and would score goals and more goals for my teams in my younger years.

But I also remember playing basketball:

First with my dad and brother growing up. And later in Jr. high and high school. And I was a miserable failure. I mean, I lost, continually for years. I didn't start for the teams I played on (or if I did start it was for the C team or Jr. varsity).
In my final years of high school I "graduated" into being the defensive stopper. What that meant was that I couldn't handle (dribble and pass) the ball well enough to be the point guard, or shoot the ball well enough to be the "shooting" guard. And my genetics were short enough that I wasn't close to being a forward or center.
I was "good" enough to come into the game when our really good players were tired. My job was strictly to harass the other teams guards into making mistakes for five to ten minutes a game. It was also my job to pass the ball to someone else on the team as quickly as possible if it ever got into my hands. I was a "good" defender, which is like being "fast" for a catcher in baseball - you're still slow.

I liked basketball I really wanted to be good. I would practice hours on end of shooting and dribbling. But basketball wasn't like some of my other endeavours. I wasn't good. I practiced and sweated and worked, and was a failure.

And relating to people:

I wanted to be a charismatic and attractive person, someone that people wanted to be around. My brother was like that. He was fun and funny. Humorous and engaging. People crowded around him and just wanted to be near him. And I wasn't like that. I was shy and bashful. When I spoke I stumbled over my words. I was generally overweight, and as I got older I became the dreaded "nice guy." Nice guys are well, "nice." But they aren't attractive or magnetic to people. I was furniture in a room. Nice to have around and make use of when needed but replaceable and not terribly important overall. I (sort of) tried to be engaging and charismatic but I was a failure.

And then college:

I spent three years at a prestigious engineering school. I even made the Dean's List as a freshman. And then after three years I couldn't hack it. I dropped out. I had now even failed school. I was a failure in academics.

And there was a girl at that school I liked:

A fun and engaging and attractive girl. But when asked, sShe told her Bible study leader that she might possibly date my friend Rick, but never me. She went as far as to say that there were two things she would never do: be a missionary in Africa and date me. I was a failure in a relationship before I had even had one.

And I found myself working as a mechanical assembler for a company called Particle Measuring Systems (PMS.) I sat on a stool eight hours a day with drawers full of screws, assorted tools and put together contraptions that I had no idea how to use.

Forty hours a week I listened to co-workers talking about women, drinking escapades and combinations of the two.

At Christmas time that year I attended a Christian conference for college-age people. I don't remember the main speaker or a single primary point from the conference. During one afternoon there were short seminars on various subjects about missions to different countries, relationships, Christian leadership, apologetics and many others. I don't even remember what seminar that I was attending. I do recall that that particular seminar was going to be a video presentation. And while waiting for a late arriving T.V. /video cart to appear, the seminar "host"chose to read a quote by a former secretary of the U.N. (I think). That quote - greatly paraphrased and mangled I am sure - said something to this effect: "We have young Christian people aspiring to be missionaries to all corners of the globe, to be pastors, and leaders in Christian organizations. But these people need to know that we need Christians in all aspects of society: We need Christian professors and teachers, Christian professionals - engineers and doctors. We need God's salt in all parts of society - not just the obviously Christian ones."

And a light went off in my heart:

"I could do that."

God touched my life at that moment. I have no other way to decribe it. It was as if God's hand thumped my forehead.

"Wake up!"

And I realized that I had been doing most of what I had been doing in my life up to that point because I felt other people wanted me to do those things. Not that, in my case, there were people overtly manipulating my emotions and life to get me to go their way. But I had never really looked at my life and said, "God what do you want me to do?" Until I asked that question - and was open to His answer - my life just drifted along and I felt like a failure.

In the following months I re-enrolled in college and eventually achieved an engineering degree. But I worked for that degree because of what had been revealed at that moment in my spirit. I could be a Christian and an engineer, and that was just as much of a calling as any person who has been drawn to the mission field in Africa or Asia or the Middle East.

I also ended up pursuing and marrying the girl who was never going to date me. (At this point we have six children and are wondering if God is ever going to send Africa our way.)

I have actually stepped out personally and have begun to engage people and not just hope that they want to be around me.

And I have begun to realize that the point between failure and success isn't if you fail at something, but it's in who you serve and why you choose to do what you do.

If God asks me to do something and I do it, and that thing "fails," it doesn't mean that I am a failure, it means that I was faithful. I did what I was asked to do.

If I don't ask God what He wants me to do next, then I am failing. I am failing to continue to walk with Him.

If I don't do what He asks me to do, then I have failed.

Proverbs 4:18 (NIV):
18 The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


This past week I have been enduring some version of a head cold, sore throat and general cruddiness. This morning I gave in and called in sick.

My normal morning routine is rushed from getting up later than I intend to squeezing in exercise in the shed, to shower, breakfast, reading a chapter of Psalms and the day-of-the-month chapter in Proverbs with the children and then getting out the door to work.

Today, I was laying in bed - awake - feeling sleep deprived and generally bemoaning my poor sickening circumstance.

I eventually rolled out of bed into some sweats, wandered to the kitchen table and found myself immersed in my families normal morning routine. The one I don't see because I have previously left for work: Our oldest child busily emptying and reloading the dishwasher, having drawn that chore this week. A daughter practicing some more difficult portions of a new piano piece. Another seated at a table starting her schoolwork and absently twirling her hair. The five year at his "desk" sporting a faux felt dented cowboy hat while contemplating a workbook. The smiling three year old jumping across the tiled kitchen floor. Her denim and pink plaid dress hanging away from her body - giving the appearance of a blue and pink bell(e) playing hopscotch. Our one and half year old -still in his footed pajamas- alternately racing toy cars through the carpet and orbiting his older sibling's domains, punctuating his flight through the family solar system with a few counter timed low notes on the piano to help his sister.

And through the gunk in my head and the sleep in my eyes my soul smiled and sighed. There was such peace and pleasure during that snap shot in time. The joy in the smile of a three year old girl. The impulsive akwardness of a toddler. The beauty of music. The fun in a favorite hat. Even in the duties of school work and chores, there was loveliness in a happy spirit and a good will to work.

I am thankful to God for a day being sick.

1 Thess 5:18
"give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."