Mommy, why?

My Mom almost never left me wondering.

Yes, I was baffled by her tears from time to time, puzzled by her scheduling, and periodically frustrated by the “How’s your love life?” inquiry, but that’s par for the course. All children have imperfect Moms who love their imperfect children. But what set my Mom apart was her passion for understanding. She studied; she watched; she asked; she went exploring; she nosed around; she didn’t quit until she found some principle or connection for the problem or issue in her life. As a child, I knew that if Mom didn’t know, she could probably find out, and if she didn’t need to know, I didn’t either.

Mom was curious, and had seen enough of life not to believe all she heard or take everything at face value. She always wanted to see past the surface, to find the hidden things that most people wouldn’t expect to find or wouldn’t take the trouble to find. She was an intrepid explorer and adventurer of the human heart and mind, and she has inspired me to be one, too.

She was the one who helped me to understand that not everyone was confident enough to handle my blunt honesty. Thanks to her, I am far more compassionate and gentle with my words than my natural bent would make me. She was the one who helped me understand the motives of others that were foreign to me, the invisible motives that drove visible behavior. She trained me to notice and connect needs to actions and words, and this understanding has served me well many times in my life.

Mom seemed to sense that I needed to make sense of life, and she always had a direction for my mental energy and questions. I’m sure there were times she wondered why I wanted to know, or what business was it of mine, or why I couldn’t just let it go. But while she didn’t squelch my passion for understanding, she also didn’t let it get out of control. She knew there were limits, both natural and necessary, and she helped me accept them gently as I grew. To this day, the conversations I have in my head as I sort through life are guided by her words from years ago.

Her help has been especially valuable to me in my socially oriented field of education. I have learned from her not only how to communicate, but also when to communicate, and why. Everyone doesn’t need to know everything about everything, and I have my Mother to thank for understanding discretion and the refusal to divulge what would only cause more distress.

Mom also helped me process grief, anger, fear, and despair. I tend to stew on things, and sometimes wallow in feelings for days, but she modeled for me the Biblical and Godly path of forgiveness toward the injustices of this world, and I saw her find freedom on that path, so I followed. I found freedom, too. She had many opportunities to show me the value of forgiveness: trouble with relatives, trouble with friends, trouble with church, trouble with Dad’s job, and even trouble with some of us in the house. I learned patience and kindness from watching her work through her feelings in prayer as she tried to follow God’s word. I gained confidence in the God who answered her prayers, and who had earned her trust even when He didn’t answer prayers right away, or the way she wanted.

From Mom, I also learned to make my imagination help me with my feelings by choosing to be resourceful. Too often, I have let my imagination be the servant of negative feelings, and that leads to more negative feelings, but she showed me I could take control and imagine good things coming from my situation instead of bad ones. Now I teach my children this same valuable lesson. We are never victims of circumstances, or others, or feelings unless we choose to be so.

My Mom has distinguished herself in another way; she was always humble enough and even grateful to learn from her children. She always seemed fascinated with anything we wanted to tell her, and even more so as we got older. As we grew in maturity and understanding, and shared what we learned, she learned and grew right along with us. And we all learned a lot from Dad. Mom was always asking questions…and Dad usually had a very thoroughly researched answer. Sometime he knew so much that he had questions for us in order to make his point. Mom showed us that we could learn from each other, that familiarity, and living in close quarters for years at a time, didn’t have to breed contempt. I’m very grateful for that; it’s how we raise our children now.

And when Mom didn’t know, she was never afraid to ask. She would ask God where the missing shoe, or keys, or money was. She would ask her children about who they liked at school. She would ask her husband why Christians believed in this doctrine and not that one, and where the idea came from. She would ask coaches to let her sons get a drink after running for 30 minutes while the coaches chatted…okay, she yelled about that one, but the point is, she saw nothing shameful about not knowing and nothing virtuous in remaining ignorant. She believed that you had not because you asked not, that God would help you find if you looked, receive if you asked, and get in if you only knocked loudly and long enough. Time and again, she proved to be right. And I’ve never forgotten. Now I teach my children the same thing. I’ve added my own corollary to her cherished principle for lost things: if you’ve looked everywhere something should be, you have to start looking where it shouldn’t be. They taught logic in my school.

And then, of course, Mom showed me how to understand the mystery of marriage. Some parts are always mysterious; I learned that real quick. But I also learned that it gets better with time if you both keep working at it; that it’s never quite perfect, but it can get pretty close sometimes; and that it’s foolish to build a relationship on feelings alone. They don’t last, good or bad, and you need to have something solid to fall back on when things are hard. She reminded me that you and your spouse must be in agreement about the most important things, but should complement each other’s personality and sensitivities. The weakness of one should be the strength of the other, and you need support around you to remind you of these things.

Mom was never timid about sharing truth…with anyone. She prayed with the Mormons who came to our door; she prayed with friends at their dining room table; she prayed with us in the backyard. As kids, we knew the state of our parents’ finances, the names of people at Dad’s work that made his life difficult, the family beliefs that should not be loudly and publicly shared with certain relatives, and the reasons why we weren’t allowed to watch this program or stay up later than our parents. You wanted to know? She’d tell you. And I learned so much when she did.

I’m sure I was more nosy and less oblivious than I should have been, but I had a sense, I think, that I would need to know these things. I think my Mom knew I needed to know them, too. Thanks, Mom, for telling me why. God blessed me with you…and that’s reason enough.

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Crazy daze

Amphibious Landing Craft shape?

Maybe. I’m just crazy enough to go for it.

See, I’m already crazy enough to have another child. Yes, the world is a dangerous place; it won’t get safer if people have smaller families out of fear. Yes, children are expensive; they also contribute much to the family, if they are properly trained, motivated, and appreciated. Yes, it’s more work to take care of another child; it’s also more love, and everyone could use a stronger dose of the messy, painful, beautiful, mysterious thing called love.

I’m also crazy enough to live where it floods often (though it hasn’t since we moved in), where wild animals roam, and where the roads sometimes consider pavement optional. Ah, country life…You should see the stars…or listen to the frogs, horses, cows, and owls at night…or smell the woods after the rain. And the neighbor’s barbecue smells pretty good, too. :)

I’m also crazy enough to catch, kill, and pluck my own ducks. They taste pretty good, especially in soup, but I recommend skinning over plucking. All those feathers get kind of tedious. We keep ducks for the eggs; I’m crazy enough to eat those things birds lay on the ground. We use them for cooking and give them away as gifts (the eggs, not the birds). And since the two youngest, newest males to the flock were harassing our females and eating too much, we found a better use for them. I even got to teach my sons some anatomy in the process. Yup; that was a good day.

More crazy? Sure. How about…mowing the yard before the last snow of the year? Did that last week. That was wild; giant, white flakes for 15 minutes on April 14th. I thought I had seen it all.

How about doing my own serious plumbing while my family was at home? Yeah, I have to admit, I’m crazy enough to do that, too. Looking back, I should have called my plumber friend first to get the tips I learned from watching him fix my mistakes in half the time it took me to make them. But I did most of it right. And now I know how to fix my mistakes much faster. My wife has so much courage…and patience. I guess she’s crazy, too.

I’m also a school teacher, which some think is crazy already, but it really tests you in the springtime. Everyone gets a taste of nice weather, and no one wants to be inside anymore, and then standardized testing fries your brain…your sense of humor comes in handy, and it helps to remember that school is almost over.

Oh, and we home-educate our children. Yup, crazy in most places, I guess, but it’s actually much less stressful here in Oklahoma than almost anywhere else. Even so, most people can’t imagine finding the time, giving up the career or the income, or putting up with their child’s attitude for hours at a time. These are legitimate challenges, certainly, but not impossible to overcome. You just have to be crazy enough to step out of your comfort zone, and get creative. And be willing to accept the incredulity of others without being defensive. It gets easier with time.

We don’t own any video games. Our kids don’t watch programs on our one television with no cable, and don’t have cell phones. Our kids don’t do any highly-regulated youth activities. Our kids eat vegetables every meal…and they like some of them. They don’t get to keep all the candy they get, and they write ‘thank you’ notes to their relatives when they receive gifts. We believe children are a blessing, and we insist that they be that way to others. I know, totally nuts, right? Guess what? We aren’t the only ones.

Go back to your Grandparents, and ask them about how they were raised, and you’ll find the normal family was much like what we try to be – simple, unhurried, unplugged, and home together most of the time. Granted, the culture was less frantic, but the families at home were the reason why. Families are the primary influence on society, including the Church. We always have been. Which means we can cause change by how we live at home…or by how we don’t. Crazy? Oh, yeah. Crazy awesome!

Think about it: the book you read to your child prevents a TV show from telling her she needs to look like a starved refugee to get attention. The work you and your children do in the yard keeps them from following the neighborhood punk into a life of crime. The places you take your children fill them with dreams for their own families instead of isolation and a search for entertainment. Think about it. What an opportunity!

And this isn’t just about your kids becoming honorable citizens or people of character. This is about you slowing down, having deep thoughts of your own, passing on what you have learned, and learning some more as you listen to your children. As you replace stress with family time, exchange activities for unstructured creative time, and trade busy road-time for work at home, your health will improve, your mind will clear, your marriage will become interesting in wonderful ways, and you’ll suddenly find you have time to look ahead and look back. The time was always there; you just have to say no to some good things to make room for the best things.

Yes, it’s a sacrifice. Yes, it requires intentional focus and energetic execution, especially at first. Yes, you are going against your own nature and the popular culture. That’s why others will call you crazy, but that’s the fun, isn’t it? You have to do something really different to earn that coveted label. And then, you get to enjoy the crazy results.

See you there. Or you can watch us be crazy and wish you could have the results without the sacrifice, but we know that doesn’t work. Come join us; you can always go back to busy and normal when you want. If you want. I’m crazy enough to think you won’t.

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May, 2014: Life gets messy and 7owm9c##^!bbb;…

Ah, Spring…when a young homeowner’s fancy turns to thoughts of…destroying all the pests that try to invade his house all day long from every direction! (Panting, wheezing)

The local woodland creatures seem to find our home an immense source of amusement. I found large piles of poop on our deck recently, but they were too big for our cat. Puzzled, I finally put two and three together (and got 4!) when I scared a raccoon off the deck several nights later. Apparently, he had been eating the cat’s food. He must have been REALLY hungry to go that far. We don’t spend any more money on our cat than absolutely necessary; his food is bottom of the line. Maybe the ‘coon thought he’d rather have bad food than catch something. “I know a place where you can eat dirt cheap, but who wants to eat dirt?” Woodland creatures, that’s who.

Our cat disappeared for 4 days. When he returned, he had a tuft of fur missing from behind each ear, and a cut on one ear. He didn’t say where he’d been. I’ve told him to quit clubbing and get a new hobby, like killing mice. We have used traps to kill four of them in the last few weeks. I have even resorted to the more exotic traps: the disk with a hole in the side that rotates shut when the mice go for the bait inside; and the half-pipe, that slams shut on the mouse after it sticks to the glue paper. Really. Neither has been productive, but at least they were cheap, I keep telling myself. Like dirt.

While the cat was gone, a pair of wrens built a nest in our garage/basement, and hatched at least three young ones. They laid, hatched, and learned to fly in the time the cat was AWOL. They were all grown and gone by the time he got back. I think God was involved in the timing, and enjoyed it.

After the cat returned, the birds left, the mice were gone, and the ‘coon found other amusement, a snake decided to join our little menagerie. I found him in our garage/basement among the toy weapons, helmets, and sports equipment my sons play with almost daily. He backed up immediately when he saw me, and I spent the next twenty minutes searching the tubs, moving the stuff, and telling my sons to get on shoes and stay out until I was sure it was safe.

Now, I like to think of myself as a reasonably brave, somewhat tough guy…kinda sorta, but I had no idea what I would do to kill this snake. My only thought was to chop him with a hoe on the concrete floor, but God had other ideas. The snake had backed himself behind a massively heavy sheet of something or other, amongst some smaller pieces of the very heavy substance. Once I knew he was there, I blocked him in, lifted a smaller piece, and dropped it on him. I wiggled the gigantic shard back and forth, and severed him into three pieces. Brilliant! But not my genius; God gets all the credit for the perfect snake trap. And I am grateful.

My sons all wanted to play with the snake carcass. They poked it, stroked it, mashed it, and began to pull it apart. Then we had to go in and wash up for dinner. We didn’t eat snake, in case you were wondering. But we did get a good look at the maggots that ate the carcass the next day before breakfast. Then we threw it away.

With all the other creatures going nuts, I should have expected the ants to join in. They have commandeered one of our several laundry lines strung from trees in our front yard. Now this line connects two trees, and other lines are connected to these lines, but the ants have spoken: only the one line is worthy of their tourism. They form convoys to travel from the Big tree to the Short tree, laundry or not, and many have found themselves suddenly flung into oblivion, crushed by fingers, or furtively spirited away in a laundry basket with the clothes they were traveling over in their pilgrimage to the Short tree. Makes me wonder if they know something about that tree that I don’t…Hm. Nah.

And that’s just the animals. The plants are sending out sorties and missions to populate and conquer in every area they can find dirt. Thankfully, my riding mower and weedtrimmer are in good working order, although my pushmower is proving difficult to keep running. I have even rigged my own choke (don’t tell the manufacturer) after the hair-thin metal coil controlling it broke (Ahem! Outdoor power tools should not be dependent on anything that small!), but no dice yet.

We have asparagus and lettuce and sunflowers and peach trees coming up, a pleasant surprise beyond our wildest hopes after the chickens invaded accidentally and tore up all the raised garden beds looking for grubs. But at least they lay eggs. I even saw one nearly snatch a red wasp out of the air, but it got away. More’s the pity.

Our berry patch has spread, again surprising us, and the new plants seem to be going along with all the growth. I encourage you to go get some plants and see what you can grow. Use plenty of water and fertilizer, but stay away from raccoon poop or all your plants will smell like cat foo88sp-‘]#^%

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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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