January, 2014: getting jiggly with ice

Imagine Johnny Carson, doing his monologue on the Tonight show: “It was so cold…it was so cold…”

“How cold was it?” shouts someone.

“It was so cold that my hamstrings jiggled when I scraped the ice off my car because I was in a hurry to get in out of the cold.”

Okay, it doesn’t work as well as Carson’s original material, but that was me last week, jiggling in the light of the sunrise, scraping my car windows as if I was about to strike gold. And the frost on my car has mutated. It’s a strain that has developed immunity to ordinary methods of removal. Lemme ‘splain.

There’s the thin layer you can melt with your breath; the scattered, dirty, pretty bits you debate about scraping because you can kind of see through them; the thick layer that gets your blood pumping when you scrape and is so satisfying to cut through; and the super tough, super thick kind that you can’t chip off with a screwdriver. I’ve tried. This one requires thirty minutes of running the engine…and then a screwdriver works.

But this new kind is worse than the others. It taunts you.

See, it looks like the thin layer that comes off in pretty curly bits. One scrape, and then you think it’s the thick kind that comes off with extra effort. And some of it does; but underneath it is a layer that defies scraping. I think it has been cross-bred with moss, slug slime, and superglue, because it resisted my every attempt to scrape it up. I finally got desperate, and began to use the corner of my scraper. It worked, but was more headache than relief. It scraped off pencil-thin streaks, and I scraped all over in my haste to avoid hypothermia, so I had a few pencil lines in my window to use in my drive to work. My drive involves avoiding oncoming traffic on a two lane country road with potholes and no shoulder, so visibility is key to maintaining your car’s integrity. I had more work to do.

I tried to scrape right next to a pencil streak, but ended up scraping the same streak. This makes it take a LOT LONGER. And being frantic because of the cold didn’t help. Since I couldn’t scrape a clear area, I did the next thing panicked, half-frozen drivers do: I scraped a cross-hatched pattern – vertical pencil streaks crossing horizontal ones. Brillant! Not. Now, I had a confusing web of streaks to try to see through as I dodged potholes and semis. I gave up, and went inside while my car warmed up. I was late, but I lived to tell the tale. And I plan to buy a new scraper, maybe a battery powered one with the word “industrial” in the name.

 

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December 2013 – January 2014: Seriously? No.

I’m starting out serious because Christmas started serious for me this year. I have never seen Christmas quite this way before. So much was in need of rescue; Jesus came to save us, and I needed to see Him that way this year. 2 Corinthians 9:8 – “And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.”

We think compromise is reasonable. We think some loss is acceptable; we don’t expect 100% efficiency or faithfulness from people because we don’t want to be held to such a standard ourselves. And then a child speaks…and our cynicism defends itself. God is not stopped by the limits of people, even the “others” we have to interact with in our dogged pursuit of His will for us. Failure does not fit in His vocabulary regarding our future. That’s wonderful news! Or is it? Do we want victory, or just survival? Do we want our little dream because it’s comfortable, or do we want God’s dream because it’s uncomfortable? (sigh) Death to self. Not just sickness, or weakness, or silent passive-aggression, but death – final, complete, irreversible, no-refund, total commitment to God’s will, no matter the cost. Most of us go for what’s comfortable…most, but not all.

Oh, yeah. Jesus puts the “Man” in “Em-man-uel.”

“If it ain’t broke, you’re not tryin’.” – Red Green, home handyman from Opossum Lodge, Canada. And there is some truth to this. If you never risk, you have nothing to make your story worth hearing. No wounds means you haven’t defended someone in danger. No stories means…you haven’t really lived. Go break something oppressive; go get into some trouble with the local Pharisees; go dare, that others may dare more. Be bold, that others may have confidence who follow you.

And speaking of bold…Warning: bodily function humor is about to be used. Proceed at your own risk. I have three sons…and I’m a guy…and my wife laughs at the noises we all make, so if you’re “dainty”, proper, or don’t have any kids, or smell like lilacs after eating chili, maybe this won’t click with you; but for all the dads with poop under their fingernails, and moms whose sons make farting noises on their elbows, enjoy.

My wife and I lay in bed, lazily awaking to a snowy morning under a warm blanket, and wondering what to have for breakfast. We listened for noises of play from our children on the floor below, by which we can tell how many are awake and whether we can get them started on their morning chores. Instead of laughter, or grunting, or thumping, as usual, we heard what sounded like muted tuba practice…or maybe dragging a heavy chair across a tile floor underground…or an enhanced version of what happens when you squeeze the last few drops of honey out of the bottle. Somebody got a lot denser in a hurry, because they let out some serious air. We could almost feel the bed shake. We looked at each other…and burst into giggles. We caught our breath, looked at each other…and burst into giggles again. Yes, we are parents of boys. And we are not ashamed what makes us laugh…usually.

It reminded us of the episode that happened during our camping trip to Colorado this summer. We had set up camp after a very difficult trip over very rocky ground. Our kids passed the noisy time by counting the “ka-DUNKs” our heavy van made when it encountered the uneven ground. Rain had drenched our clothes and tent, and even though I finally got a fire started, and managed to keep it going in the rain, and even cooked hot dogs for supper (although our youngest ate half of them while we all cried and argued), we decided we couldn’t spend a night in a soaked tent under soaked sleeping bags and get any sleep. So we found an expensive tourist-trap hotel nearby after driving out the 4.5 miles of ka-DUNK trail to highway, and settled in for a comfortable sleep.

Early in the morning, I lay in bed reading, and my wife had just begun to open her eyes.  We had begun to discuss our plan for the day, and sip some coffee when…BRRRRAMP! BRRRRRRRRAAAMMMP! Everyone woke suddenly surprised, in shock and awe at such a loud noise that seemed to come from inside our room. Slowly, it dawned on me that one of my sons had made these sounds all by himself, without really trying. I lost it, laughing to myself. But then my son realized HE was the origin of the noise and then his siblings did, too, and we all lost it, laughing out loud at the power of…digestive release, I guess. My wife summed it up by saying, “Well, morning has broken.” We all lost it again, collapsing into giggles, snorts, guffaws, and moans. I wonder what the other hotel guests thought we were doing. Maybe they complained about the air ducts, or the pipes, or the ground shifting, but let me tell you, the real event was far more…natural. Earthquakes happen all the time, right? Especially if you have boys.

Go borrow from your local library the Pixar Shorts DVD, and watch “Mini-Buzz” about a miniature Buzz Lightyear with a huge head and Jersey accent. See if you laugh at the forgotten toys left behind at Poultry Palace that came with the chicken version of a happy meal. A short list:

Tai-kwan-doe, the female deer dressed in the white robe and pants, whose left hoof is always raised so she can chop a pre-broken plastic board in half

Beef Stewardess, a female cow in a blazer and skirt, whose life-vest inflates

Bozo the Ninja clown…(snort)(silent shaking). I’m sorry, you’ll have to come up with your own description for this one.

Dee Jay Blue Jay, the bird in the headphones with a double-LP player on his lap

Funky Monk – think Friar Tuck meets Ice-T, dressed like a disco dude; says ” ‘sup.”

Steak-bot, who transforms from a steak into a robot, and battles the Vegetrons for dinner table dominance

Neptuna, member of the Mermaid Battle Squad, both beautiful and dangerous…to swallow, who leads the rejected toys in therapy sessions.

Pixar really should have released this one in theaters by itself. I would have paid to see it.

John Eldridge reminds me that the same God who has already planned the overcoming of man and Satan’s worse schemes is also the one who gave us laughter and the confidence to relax that laughter produces. Who better to relax than the Almighty? Who better to give us joy than Jesus? So give thanks for Christmas, enjoy fumigating the holiday pounds away with the young, and laugh because our Jesus laughs, too.

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October 2013: Red-neck-ed

Ah thank mah kuhn-tri roots r a’showin’, ah rekkn…shaw ’nuff.

(Ahem) Excuse me; I probably don’t sound exactly like the citified, college-educated, academic intellectual you might have been expecting. There’s a reason: location.

Actually, several kinds of locations. First, I live in the United States, famous for not expelling its citizens or making them resent their chosen homeland. This country was built by the adventurous, rugged individualists who were not afraid to made do with the materials close at hand when the fancy stuff was impractical, expensive, or just silly. This applies to language, too. “American” is not the same as English, and every Brit will agree.

Second, I live in Oklahoma, famous for its unusual mix of Southerners, Westerners, Indians, outlaws, and homesteaders. The “Territory” was its unofficial name for decades. It wasn’t because life was easy. Farming in clay, fighting off wild critters, wilder natives, and wily politicians, weathering tornadoes and monumental temperature swings in record time kind of makes a man different than what you find in major urban areas around the world. We speak philosophically, tell stories, and take our time doing both, but we don’t listen to backtalk. Don’t get hung up on conjugating verbs, ’cause you’ll git leff ‘n the dust, pardner.

Third, I live in a small “town”. The largest building in the town is devoted to baseball. Seriously, it’s called the Baseball Academy. We have two restaurants, one of which sells furniture, a gas station, a library, and a post office. We also have softball, wrestling, basketball, cheerleading, football, and track and field, and that’s just at the Middle School. People here may visit larger towns for some shopping and entertainment, but they also mow with their shirts off (women included – sports bra!), drive with their brights on for long distance viewing, and wouldn’t be caught without their camouflage and personal weapons systems during hunting season. Life is just too real to be very formal.

So put yourself in this environment for a few years, and listen to yourself one day as you carry on conversation. It won’t be the same as you sounded before you moved. And it’s not just your language that will change. You’ll begin to find yourself doing odd things, like scheduling events based on the weather, even in the milder times of the year; or deciding that formal sleepwear is just too much bother; or that dirt and pieces of trees carry no germs whatsoever; or how about mowing your driveway? I had to mow mine last week, or the bugs would have taken over. You just might even decide that your riding mower is so much fun to drive that you could even go get the mail from the community row of mailboxes past your neighbor’s house. Yep. Done that.

I’m not sure just how red-neck-ed I am. I wear blue jeans, flannel shirts, and boots. I do own multiple firearms, I do change my own oil…and tires, and suspension, and starter motor, battery, spark plugs, etc. I burn dead wood in large piles, although my wife usually has to start the fire (sigh). We own livestock, trap wildlife, use a riding mower and chainsaw seasonally, see snakes/frogs/turtles every week, and listen to the beautiful medley of owls, cows, and horses of an evening. We go to church reglar (that would be ‘regularly’). We can see most of the stars most nights, and hear the creaking of the wells in the distance.

We live between two one-lane bridges over creeks that used to flood, and reside in a three-story A-frame house that rests on an above-ground basement. Yep. You read that right – above ground. We actually live in the two floors above that, so you have go up 16 steps to our deck to get our front door…after you drive around to the back of our house and go through the gate in the fence. We don’t get many salesmen, and we’ve never seen a Jehovah’s Witness. We do get people whose cars have run out of gas, but that’s about it. The woodland creatures visit more often than strangers.

I don’t own a truck, a four-wheeler, or a trailer…yet. I don’t drink beer, I don’t use tobacco or four-letter words, and I don’t hunt. I just bought a camouflage jacket, my first. And recycling is the fancy Eastern way to say “use it again, a new one is too expensive,” which people around here have been saying for awhile. I’m starting to get the hang of storing piles of odds and ends to use for building projects later, and I’m learning how to slow down and make time for just chatting with people for no reason. So I guess my neck is pink, at least…or maybe that’s from the afternoon sun. Nobody here wears sunscreen, either. They all wear pink, though, for breast cancer awareness, and they had a contest this year to see which class could raise the most money for a football coach’s wife who had cancer…the opposing team’s coach’s wife.

Life is just too real to be too formal…and we like it that way.

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June 11, 2013: Incongruous in Progress

Close your eyes, but hold tight to the rope.

Now, jump! Wheeeeeeeee! Keep your eyes closed!

Now let go, and reach for the next rope as you fly through the air…

Pause. This is where I am headed right now, suspended in between secure and stable places to land, holding on to nothing visible, nothing tangible, and nothing certain. It makes you think…

At least, I think it does. Maybe it’s better not to. Yesterday, I didn’t really have a choice. It went like this…(cue accordion intro)

The plan was to use my push-mower in the sweltering humidity of the morning before it became the scorching humidity of the afternoon. Task completed, very sweaty, whew! I decided to shower and dress for my meeting and short stop at school for a few odds and ends from my computer. My wife continued using the riding mower while I cleaned up. (dramatic music)

As soon as I was semi-professionally dressed, my lovely wife informed me that the mower was under attack! Actually, something was under the mower: carpet, which is held down with tacks. Yes, it’s a stretch. It’s carpet…it has to stretch. This stuff wasn’t about to let go of the mower blade, however, so I had to lie down and reach under the mower to try ripping the stuff off. After many fruitless attempts, I began counting the stains on my semi-professional outfit…and gave that up quickly. I would have to change clothes again. And I could have showered again, I was so sweaty.

See, in Oklahoma, when the humidity is up, we can grow crops in our laundry (nearly), so you just plan on being sticky and wet no matter what you wear when you go outside for longer than 3 seconds.

I got the mower fixed, earning some scratches and yelping from time to time. (sigh) Death to Self, right? Well, it hurts. Just sayin’.

After a change of clothes, I headed out to make a download at the office, but due to administrative issues, couldn’t, so I planned to leave early, but I ran into an old friend who needed to talk, and after a wonderful time of sharing and praying, I left for my other job later than expected. Actually, I was late.

Being a few minutes late to my other job as a tutor didn’t hurt today, though, because my client was also late. God is good. And unexpected. You would think, after walking with God for these years, that I would expect something adventurous, but I seem to fall into the trap of never expecting change like everyone else. I laugh at this characteristic, but we all struggle with it, don’t we? God is always gentle with us, but I know we give Him reason to chuckle.

And that was my day; at least, that’s what I remember. Maybe there was more…

“K, you ever flashy-thinged me?

“No.”

“I ain’t PLAYIN’ witchoo, K!” – Men in Black

 

 

 

 

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Aug 25, 2013: And the green grass grows all around…everything!

Can you hear it?

No, not the dogs howling with the sheriff’s siren every time they think he’s driving by…

Nope, not the frog chorus trying to drown (ha, ha) out the insect buzzing…

Nah, the storms are over (for now); there’s no thunder, tornadoes, or weathermen to hear…

I mean the silent roar…of green. It’s inescapable. The minute you step outside, look around, and just take in all the plants exploding everywhere, you can’t help but be knocked off your feet by the roar of GREEN’s silent [boom].

What an incredible witness to the power of growth, redemption, healing, and life! No matter how dead the forest during winter, how dry and yellow the grass after drought, how barren and stark the clay dirt after a flood, or how broken the rubble after the storm’s destruction, the roar of green cannot be contained, restrained, or explained. I can barely maintain my sanity trying to keep up with the mowing, trimming, and mulching. The watering has taken care of itself this year. (snort)

Just saw a hummingbird at our window twice this morning. Our 17-yr old friend down the street is shooting off his shotgun at snakes in our pond in the hopes of becoming the next Steve Irwin. We’re about halfway done going through our camp gear from our trip to Colorado.  The country life moves at the speed of nature, which can be slow as Christmas in the winter, and exploding with energy during the summer. Guess our speed today: give up? Somewhere between steady and reckless, I think. Some days, it’s hard to say for sure.

It’s also hard to say for sure what might happen next. I changed several things this summer, going from a private Christian high school math department to a public middle school science department, from a football coach to a softball/basketball coach, from a non-denominational modern church exploding with growth to a non-denominational established church exploding with community, and from two and a half part-time jobs to two and two halves…kind of. Lemme ‘splain.

I still work online with ORU’s eAcademy, but my hours with Huntington Learning Center as a tutor have been sporadically replaced with the optional monthly income of Brown Mackie College, where I teach science to nursing majors…sometimes. I’m still open for business as a tutor, although I won’t be seeking any clients until the spring. So that makes two part-time jobs I do fully part-time, and two part-time jobs I do partially part-time. I won’t use any smaller fractions, I promise.

Our ducks and chickens have stopped laying to molt in the heat, and our pond has finally succumbed to…scum. Duckweed, to be precise. The whole summer, it stayed full and clear without the sun on it all day, but now, the heat and late sun have made it less vibrant; even the turtles are absent. Ah, well…the snakes also seem absent, and that’s good news. Our snake hunter took one live from our driveway, and it was venomous. God is gracious to keep us so safe from the world around us. I found out recently that I can sell the pelts of any fur-bearing creature for varying sums locally, so perhaps the shoe is on the other foot, the tables have turned, the dice have been cast down onto the gauntlet…or something vaguely ominous and threatening. Or it will be, as soon as I get my firing pin replaced.

I wish people could eat hackberry saplings; I could feed the town with what we grow every two weeks in the land next to our hill. This year, though, I have kept the hill itself cleared the whole summer, and increased the usable area around the pond. It feels so good to see progress. And the wasps haven’t been too bad; a couple of stings early in the summer, but they have moved up the house recently, and their numbers are dwindling. I left them alone this year; maybe I’ll continue that practice if they continue to do the same.

New seasons, new challenges, new relationships and new ways to reach out…I look forward to what God has for us next. We hope bees and goats and a new deck are coming, and that the basement will get finished, but each thing in its own time as God directs. It’s His story, and He tells it best. See you on the next page.

 

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Tinkering uncontrollably

I need more self-control. I tinker all the time. I’m an incontinent tinkerer, according to my wife, ’cause I tinker constantly. I tinker in my house, in my basement, in my car, in my head, in public, indoors, outdoors (not to be used for the other use!), you name it. I’ve tinkered there.

What is tinkering? Strictly speaking, it was used to describe a metal-worker of tin, usually a maker of pots and pans for selling from his cart (see Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series). However, it has become synonymous with tweaking, adjusting, and messing around unnecessarily with anything that is fine just the way it is, and it is this definition that qualifies me as an incontinent tinkerer. I just can’t leave it alone, even if I’m not qualified to render anything like an informed opinion to whoever is bothering me at the moment.

I got all hot and bothered by a facebook post recently, and shot my mouth off digitally, not responding in love, and what happened? Potential friend blocked me off of their page. Too much tinkering. What reaction did I expect?

I yell at other drivers as though they need me to inform them of how dumb their driving decisions are. They probably already know, or would if they could put down their cell phone. It’s good that they can’t hear me. I’d have been to the hospital many times if they could pick up my signal. Now my kids yell the same way. Why didn’t I see that coming? Does someone have a mirror handy?

I pray for friends, family, and those in need as though the results depended upon not only the right diction, but upon repetition towards a high score or something. (sigh) Who’s in control again? Put down the worry and fret, and no one gets hurt. Put it down…walk away from the kneeling spot…

I rail against the opinions expressed on tv, facebook, newspaper, and magazines. I invent scenarios in my head where I outsmart, outshoot, and outfight all bad guys of all kinds…forgetting that I don’t really wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the influences that suck me into these scenarios during prayer time in the first place. My spiritual radar gets messed with so easily. Maybe if I…wait, I’m doing it again!

Now, I know men were made to take action, to intervene and cause change, but you have to know when to make your move. Too soon, or too late, you may as well not make any move, and our timing isn’t God’s timing, plain and simple. So we have to learn to sit still, to wait, to trust that God will give us the green light when things are ready. Why is that so hard to do?

Little boys don’t sit still, you know. I’m convinced Heisenberg had several young boys around when he came up with the uncertainty principle for the electron – that you can’t know its location or its (something; weight, charge? Somebody help me out; where’s my research assistant?) at the same time because the electron is always in accelerated motion around the nucleus. What’s funny is we men are also prone to laziness. We just sit there, doing nothing. Surely, we can find the balance with God’s help.

Actually, I think tinkering is one of several extremes that deviate from God’s perfect timing. Willful ignorance or escaping to entertainment are others. I’ve done all of them, as most of us have. So now that we know all this, what do we do about it? How do we overcome incontinent tinkering and leave well enough alone when we should? How do we distinguish between those situations that need our intervention and those that need to be left alone?

 Well, I’ve been tinkered with, spiritually speaking, and here’s what I’ve found. God is the Great Conductor of the cosmic orchestra, living and non-living forces alike. He alone knows for sure when to intervene and when to let well enough alone. So our success in this endeavor depends upon staying connected to Him and learning from His direction as we go. Easy? Ha! Easy means there’s nothing powerful to overcome, and no glory in doing so. But it’s a skill worth acquiring. Your family, company, team, and Church are depending on you to step up…or to allow others to step up. Both can triumph; both can be tools of the enemy.

If you like to intervene, practice trust instead of fear. That’s what micromanaging and dominating comes from. Oooo, this hurts, doesn’t it? Someone else might do it wrong. Remember, just because you have an answer doesn’t mean it’s always the best one. Maybe you need to learn from someone else’s good ideas. God doesn’t just speak through you. I know, hard to adjust to this “team” thing, but that’s what God wants. Give it a shot. It might be nice not getting blamed, or complained about, or ridiculed, and you can be the best friend of the leader. After all, you have experience, and when they know you’re not trying to subvert them (this may take some effort), they will love to have you to lean on. And you might find you like being in the second-in-command position. You can exert a lot of influence on the leader, but no one bothers you with the annoying questions, the complaints, or the second-guessing. Sound tempting?  

And if you like flying under the radar and letting everyone else take charge…and all the responsibility (blame), you need to get off your big, fat patootie and get out front for once. You have good ideas, too, and it’s your turn to take the risk, take the lead, and take the fall if it doesn’t work. You may have to fight hard to be taken seriously at first, or to convince others to give you a shot, but remember that God is in charge of the timing and results. When He says go, there’s a reason.

We need you. Sign up and join the fight, says Andrew Peterson. “Ah, fiddlesticks, just open your mouth and let it come out.” – Pert Kelton in The Music Man. Live out loud, says Steven Curtis Chapman. You, then me, then you, then me, says Rebecca St. James. (Yes, all my favorite music is from my college years; so’s yours.) So go for it; give it your best shot…without tinkering all over the place. It’s hard to clean up.

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America’s Obesity Problem

We are so fat…mentally and spiritually. We can’t think fast, decide quickly, or act decisively because we haven’t practiced filtering. That is, we don’t evaluate what goes into our eyes and ears very often because we’re so busy cramming so much input into our minds so often. There’s so many options so readily available, so much time to be entertained instead of working, and so much pulling at us to give in and be lazy that we don’t say “No” to the media very often.

Ever change channels because you are offended by the content? Ever walk out of a theater for the same reason? Ever cancel a subscription, change seats in the waiting room, or purposefully return a book, unfinished, to the library because your spirit is offended on behalf of your Lord and Savior by the sinful garbage the world calls entertainment?

If not, why not? Shouldn’t we expect to do this frequently in “an adulterous and evil generation”? Even if you have done this, you can probably think of times you should have done it, and didn’t, and regretted it later. God calls us to purity because He designed truth, goodness, and beauty to walk hand-in-hand. We lose one, we lose them all. Guard your heart, the Bible says, because out of it flow the issues of life.

If all we know, if all we can think of, if all we see is what this world tells us to see, we are slaves. We have been overcome by our appetites and the puny pressures of societal images of the ideal. We will be forever tantalized and never satisfied, as the ruler of this world designed. We will become the best slaves ever…because we are not aware of our true master or our opportunity to be free.

Time for a diet. Turn off the tv and put it away. Cancel Netflix; stay away from the theater and RedBox. Turn off the phone for the day, and unplug the computer. Put away the Kindle, iPad, and iPod. Turn off the radio, hide the magazines, and fold up the newspaper. Do you begin to see how many ways we are bound by the world?

Give yourself a few days of this to let it all settle down inside you. It may take a week or so. Read the Bible instead; it was designed to help you find freedom, peace, and strength instead of oppression, worry, and weakness. God made us to face these things and overcome them, not hide from them and be forever chained to them.

Now go off caffeine and sugar. Start eating whole grains, yogurt, fresh fruit and vegetables, and meals made from ingredients. Plan a menu, and stay away from anything in a plastic wrapper. Eat at home. Try that for 3 meals a day for a week. You will begin to learn how your attention span can grow, that your sleep can be peaceful and refreshing, that your body has so much to tell you, and that you maybe don’t need all that medication so much. You’ll remember things without having to work so hard. Yeah, it’s really cool. See, God made our minds, bodies, and spirits to work together, so if one is fat, the others get fat, too. Indulgence brings fog, as Lewis said. Even attempted virtue brings clarity.

Now begin to pray each day. Talk to God. Listen to what He wants to tell you. Write prayers in a journal. Read hymns from an old hymnal, and see how training and instruction can be so beautiful at the same time.

Want to get really counter-cultural? Go say hi to your neighbor. Invite them to church. Take them cookies and ask them questions. People are really interesting. Yeah, you won’t like everything you find inside them, but God loves them, just like He loves you; yeah, you, the one with all the problems and hang-ups that you’re just starting to realize. If He can love the unlovable, He can help you love them, too.

Welcome to freedom.

 

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Excused from Greatness

We Americans don’t want to be great. It’s too much work, and definitely too much suffering. We want people to know we could be great if we, um, you know, had a perfect set of circumstances and didn’t have to give up anything, but, golly, I have this ADD thing going on, and my parents aren’t perfect, and my teachers aren’t competent, and my friends add so much digital drama, and I have to catch my favorite show or video game, and keeping up with my friends’ tastes in entertainment takes such an effort…I just don’t have anything left for greatness.

Sure, the stories of great men and women are inspiring…a little. But life’s so easy, so comfortable, and has so many excuses for justifying myself just the way I am that I don’t have to be great. I could be; I mean, I’ve got dreams, talents, passions…kind of. But not right now – I just got a text! It could be a casual acquaintance, sharing ignorance and digital drama that I just have to indulge in! I don’t want to deal with the mess and the pain and the pressure of a real life. I don’t want to face my fears, my weaknesses, my mistakes, and I certainly do not want to make any real decisions that require actions that bring any consequences. Real life is too uncomfortable. Please excuse me…from greatness.

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April 28, 2013: Country Music, Second and Third verses

“Igor! It’s alive!”

“OOGGG! ME MAKE FIRE FIRST TIME! WIFE NEVER BELIEVE ME, BUT ASHES TELL TRUE STORY!”

Yes, we did actually burn off a huge pile(s) of branches last week, in spite of the gusty winds. The wind, though, made it the meanest, greediest fire I’ve ever seen. I would have been terrified if it had caught me in the woods. As it was, with only green grass in striking distance, and wet ground from rain the night before, the fire couldn’t burn past the source of fuel, which we kept in a tight circle. My second son became quite the fire marshall, tending the fire, checking it and helping to put it out. He and his brothers learned how to burn up a whole leaf and not destroy the main stem, and that’s such a vital skill in the country; you never know when you might need to burn part of something. (snort)

Speaking of the fascination of young life, we have a new baby chick! Our smart chicken, Ginger, hatched a young one, and we were so proud…until we saw the other three eggs she destroyed that were her own, and the four duck eggs she also kicked to the curb. Little assassin. I feel sorry for her new one; she hardly lets him out for air. But we’ve got one chicken egg and three duck eggs in our incubator, and we’re hoping for the best. If, however, we end up with mostly drakes (males), we’ll make a trip to Atwoods and get some more to add to the flock.

My wife has gone nuts with planting fever, and it’s wonderful to see. We have a new apple tree in our orchard of four, a hydrangea, periwinkles by the front bush with the day-lilies that actually survived the massive drought, vegetables in the three raised beds, watermelons in the dirt pile, herbs and flowers on the deck in pots, pots with flowers in the island on the driveway…and all the trees are greening, too. Ah, spring, when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of…catching water critters with buckets on ropes. At least, at our house, that’s what our boys are doing. Crawdads, tadpoles, and guppies in three buckets were the catch of the day yesterday. Now they’re back in the pond, hopefully eating mosquito larvae to their hearts’ content until a bullfrog turns them into more muscle tissue.

I mowed again, and the mower worked the first time again! I used my weed eater, and it worked the time, too…after I turned the switch to “on”. Sheesh; always check the on switch and see if your machine is plugged in before calling tech support or throwing a fit. It’s a lot smarter and more mature, plus it exercises your humility. MM-mmm, gotta love a little death-to-self in the morning! Or whenever; God knows when you need to be taken down a notch or twelve.

We have given our dog back to the pet adoption people. It was not a hard decision to make, but it was hard to get them to agree with us. We miss a warm, fuzzy critter to pet when we get home, but we don’t miss stories of the newest thing she had chewed to bits, or the hole she dug, or the mess she made. We don’t miss worrying that the neighbor’s dogs would eat her, and we greatly appreciate the stray’s sacrifice to make us aware of the danger our dog was in. Now that our dog days are over for now, we speculate about the relationship between the new cat and our old one. Their markings are so similar that we think they must be related. The new one is a female, the regular is a male. Kittens? Bite your tongue. Unless you want them all at your house.

Spring hath sprung. Sproing! The massive roar of green seems to sneak up on us every year; God’s so good to make each season last long enough that we welcome the next season in its turn. Our new apple trees seem to be doing well, the berry plants are leafing out, the salad mix is harvested several times weekly for the supper table, and even the mud yard for our ducks and chickens is starting to get green again. Without the dog, we can let the birds out into the rest of the yard during the day, which fattens them up cheaper than bagged chow, plus it keeps the bug population down and shortens the weeds. I tell ya, having ducks has been such a blessing to us. God knew what He was doing.

With all the rain recently, we decided to burn some extra wood we had lying around, because, hey, the rain won’t be dissolving it any time soon. We did a cookout on the hill overlooking the swamp that is our backyard, and since I was struggling with the fire…my sister turned it into a roaring blaze, an’ aaa hayulped! Yessir, I am the world’s greatest fire starting assistant. (sigh) I would not have been a very eligible caveman if I were single.

This last week was homeschool convention week, which we always get excited for. This year, we both attended the Tulsa convention at Spirit Bank Center of Bixby, and then my wife attended the OKC convention with two other Moms from one of our homeschool groups. We got so encouraged and re-inspired, and we found out we’re doing some things right. Yes, haha, we know some of you think we’re nuts to try educating our own kids, and others of you think we should be the only ones speaking at the convention, but the truth is probably in between. There is too much to explain or relate, but I will say that the cutting edge of what works in teaching is found in the homeschool world, not public or private or higher ed. Moms don’t have time, money, or help to throw at their child who needs to learn. They have to face all the issues, internal and external, and deal with them every day, so they know how to get things done. No bureaucracy here. Moms don’t use red tape. (I should put that on a bumper sticker.)

We didn’t hatch our own eggses, precious, so we bought 3 ducks and 3 chicks today, and boy are they cute! And our cat is a daddy. I found kittens in our basement Wednesday afternoon with their mom. If any of you want them, give us a call. We will give them away to someone. I’ll contact streetcats adoptions by next weekend if no one else is interested.

Grab your banjo; I hear more country music playing nearby, and they need one more instrument – your’s. Come join the band! Your neck’s looking redder already…

 

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April 13, 2013: The Home of Country (Life) Music(?)

In the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by the many humorous and incongruous situations that living in the country affords, and I wanted to set poetic descriptions of them to music for your entertainment. I’m having trouble picking one song, though; so many have humor potential in the title, such as Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”. I’m sure you can guess the substance that comes to my mind first, what with our many barnyard animals and recent rain.

Actually, the first thing I thought of was my youngest son, who has decided to imitate our animals and fertilize our yard with his own excrement. Cue the Brittney Spears song “Oops, I Did it Again.” My wife related his most recent incident to me yesterday, saying he went behind a tree in the yard, and then cried for help to wipe as he stood there with his pants down, just as everyone was supposed to be loading up in the van to leave for an appointment…of course. My wife is such a good Mom; she managed to get him wiped (outdoors) and all the kids loaded in the van for an appointment in a matter of minutes, and didn’t kill anyone. That’s impressive, especially after a long day of housecleaning and home schooling. But that’s my wife. (happy sigh) Cue DC Talk’s “She’s That Kind of Girl.”

The other uniquely country situation that has me waxing poetic instead of my car is that the rain makes my driveway grow, and then I have to mow it. Yup, my driveway; two gravel strips with a grass strip in between, and the chickweed smells pretty good after a good mow. Puddles form after each storm (that rhymed!), and the sound of gravel crunching under the tires is a familiar, reassuring sound, like a good book from your childhood. (Let your mind take you back for a minute.)

Life in the city hides us effectively from the connections between God’s creation and our refined results. My wife once asked a friend where ham came from; the friend replied that, of course, it comes from the deli, duh. Um, do delicatessens grow out of the city concrete? Does food grow on shelves? Do clothes grow on hangers? Do children grow in the yards of day-care facilities? Do cell phones grow on the end of our arms? You get my point. Cue the song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” because heck, in our pop culture, we don’t even know what real fire is, or how to start one without natural gas, chemicals, or explosives. Thank God for the Boy Scouts and Atwoods.

Which reminds me: my boys and I got up early today to go start a fire under our ever-growing burn pile. It was supposed to be a perfect day – not cold, cloudy, not too windy. But we walked outside into a lovely soaking rain, and so we changed our plans: we’re killing a rooster intead. John Denver, you may begin “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” if you please. Or maybe “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain When She Comes,” which must be the only time I’ve ever seen two apostrophes back to back when used correctly.

See, we have two roosters, which fills the crowing quota for several counties in every direction. The hen we have is smarter than either rooster, and neither of them boys lays any eggs. (Greek accent)”So…there you go!” Simple logic says we repurpose one of them for internal resource renewal, which means we eat it. Cue the song from Disney’s Little Mermaid, “Les Poissons”, in which a French chef sings to the seafood he’s about to obliterate in several tasty ways. (Maniacal laugh)

Here in the country, we treat critters as several different things: mortal enemies, family members, and honorable competitors, depending on whether we are hunting the same prey, sharing living space, or in need of therapy. (Don’t try to match the motivation to the description; sometimes they all overlap.) But in every case, we country folks believe we are Tom Bombadil inside our property line – we are master. Animals do not have any rights where the property line begins; they defend their nests, we defend ours.

They can move; we planted ourselves and our garden so we wouldn’t have to move again. Cue the Woody Guthrie song, “This Land is My Land,” and stop it there, ’cause we ain’t sharin’ it with no critters. Especially wasps. My rule is, if it stays outside, let it go unless it’s threatening our stock. If it comes in the house, it’s dead. I will stay up half the night, move the furniture, take down decorations, and delay dinner if necessary. It’s that serious. Plus it’s a great excuse to own and shoot firearms. Cue the theme from that hit 80′s tv show, “The A-Team,” and watch the jeep flip high in the sky every time…beautiful.

Last week, I got ambitious, by which I mean my-wife-had-to-bail-me-out-of-a-jam- which-makes-a-good-story-now-that-it’s-over-and-no-one-got-hurt. Ever been there? Live long enough in the country, and you will. And your wife will have the same kind of story where you come through for her, too. God makes sure you depend on each other to keep your two egos in check and to maintain the respect for the man and the love for the woman that you both need from each other. And living along with the rhythm of nature ensures that many such adventures will keep you both from getting complacent, timid, lazy, or spoiled. Or lacking in humorous conversation. Cue the song “We’re From the Country, and We Like it That Way.”

My ambitious project? Chopping down another tree. I have done it several times before, so it didn’t seem like it would be a big deal, but then my kind neighbor got involved, and offered me her chainsaw. Once I got it going, a strange transformation took place. (Transformers’ Theme: “More Than Meets the Eye”) I made short work of the first tree (saw that coming didn’t you? Get it? Saw?) and decided to do more trees. I cleared old stumps off the hill, cut up nearly-fallen branches around our pond, and cut fallen trees into logs for burning and seats for putting around the fire pit. And then, I saw one last tree to take down for the day. If all went well, I’d have time for a shower and nap before attending church that evening. (Dramatic pause.)

So I cut on the tree, and as I severed the last of the trunk, it fell sideways…about an inch or two into the tree beside it, and it happened to fall into the crotch of two of that tree’s branches. This meant it was stuck in its semi-fallen position until I could move the bottom of the tree enough to change the center of gravity, and hopefully convince the tree to let go of its neighbor and embrace the good earth. (I had to read “The Good Earth” in high school, and it was another well-written frustrating story that it was good for me to deal with. It helped me become the fine writter I yam toodo’ljany;iugaos) Now, that was the plan, except for one little thing: the tree, although severed, still rested all its weight on the stump…and on the chainsaw that was still between the two. (sigh)

I couldn’t remove the chainsaw by my own power, so I had no idea what to do. My wife, sensing I was in distress, came out to ask if she could help. Cue the Amy Grant song, “I Love You,” because I really did need her help. We decided to hitch a chain to our van and the tree trunk to pull it off the stump and the chainsaw, and then maybe I could do something to the tree. Maybe.

My wife followed my directions and our van slid all over the yard as we yanked on the massive tree. It did come off the stump, and I did manage to rescue the chainsaw, but the tree wouldn’t fall out of the neighboring tree, so we decided to do something else safe: climb an extension ladder and use a chainsaw fifteen feet off the ground. Country air gives you confidence, I guess. Or muddles your brain when you are desperate to finish something. Possibly both.

So my wife held the ladder and got a sawdust shower while I cut on the tree, and tried very hard not to get the chainsaw stuck again. I got close several times, but managed not to cut off a limb from my body or get the saw stuck. God be praised. Finally, the bottom piece collapsed on the ground, not crushing my wife or knocking me off the ladder, and the top piece…stayed in the tree. (sigh) Even after going up higher on the ladder and cutting off another piece, we still couldn’t yank off the top piece with a rope. So our oak tree has some large hackberry branches now; it’s the 8th wonder of the world. You should come see it…and walk off, shaking your head and chuckling. Cue the Big Band song, “Woodchoppers’ Ball.” If you dare.

We were soooooo sore the Tuesday after. Wow. It felt like high school football practice again. But we were very thankful for power tools, generous neighbors, sturdy vehicles, muscle rub, and guardian angels. And our bed; it’s soooooo soft. Ahhhhh…Cue Andrew Peterson’s “You Can Rest Easy,” and have some hot tea. Or possibly cold Gatorade, depending upon your latest adventure outdoors. Don’t forget to check for ticks, which is another country song…of course.

 

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