One of my mom’s primary contributions to our Thanksgiving meal for the extended family was sweet potato casserole. You know the kind: yams that when coated with a fine layer of brown sugar, cinnamon and marshmallows, become ‘candied’ and basically taste like candy. She had a gift for making this simple dish something from another culinary world. There were always Thanksgiving leftovers, but the heirloom dish she used to make her casserole was always scraped dry by ravenous spoons--and maybe a finger or two.
I awoke this morning to greet another family-filled holiday without her. I felt the familiar tinge in my heart to which I’ve grown accustomed when remembering her—and still grieving her absence. She’s been gone a few years, but it still hurts. It will always hurt.
Like her signature Thanksgiving dish, my mom was a simple person. She never required much from life aside from a good sewing machine, hot tea, art supplies, and Motown records. But she took simplicity and made a richness out of life that was irreplaceable.
It’s so simple. Life is sweet, isn’t it?
The good stuff, the bad stuff, and everything in between. You take what you’re given and make sweetness from those simple ingredients. Love the people around you. Love the people that piss you off. Love the people that don’t wish to be loved. Once they’re gone, there are no leftovers, just memories.
I'm going to attempt to make that casserole and it will taste nothing like my mom's, but that's okay, I'll still try.
My life sweet today and cherish the fleeting and be grateful for the simple things.
I came into my faith under the wings of a Baptist church in east central Indiana. Entering the sanctuary each Sunday as a child, I was consumed with intimidation as we passed family after family who seemed to have the extra things in life that our family lacked: money, nice house, clothes that fit, a present father.
The worship space was plain and elegant—the décor a hold-over from the 50’s and 60’s. The bright red carpet invaded the space resembling a giant child’s tongue after he’s consumed a cherry popsicle. There were three sections of oak pews, each stained seemingly to match the ashy skin tone of the elder members. The wooden seats were bolted to the floor for safety—and probably to ensure they remained in place should a raucous soul move too roughly in the spirit.
There was no assigned seating, however, most of the congregants sat in the same pew every Sunday. It was an unspoken rule that you don’t move from the previous week’s position—physically and for some, spiritually. We were no different, though on occasion my mom’s uninhibited spirit would have us move up a pew or back a pew from our home base, which was within the first five rows on the left side of the sanctuary.
Directly in front of our seating area sat the huge electronic organ, played nimbly and capably by a kind grandmother by the name of Harriett. Halfway through the service, after we had sung the opening songs, said a prayer and recited scripture, took up a collection, our pastor would make his way to the pulpit to provide a sermon. Harriett would click off the small reading light above her books and loose sheets of music. She would leisurely pivot on the large attached bench and slip on her flats and begin softly walking to an empty pew. I watched her the entire time, but once she was a few feet away I would look towards the pulpit only to happen a glance back at her to catch her eye. She would flash an easy, reassuring smile and a quick wink. Without fail she would sit down in front of us. A few seconds later as she appeared to be listening attentively to the sermon, her arm would reach behind toward us extending a handful of Velamints wrapped in tissue—one for each person in the pew.
I was young so I don’t recall much of the sermons on those Sundays, but I’ll always remember Christ’s unfailing love and recognition shown to me through Harriett’s simple gesture of choosing to sit near us and offer those small tokens of grace.
Harriett Hamilton passed away yesterday, January 25, 2016.
She led a long life of blessing others with an infectious smile, warm heart, and loving presence. She will be missed, though it makes my heart happy knowing she’s now sharing a mint and a smile with the loving God who instilled in her that same giving spirit.
Andy Goldsworthy is an artist from Great Britain. His work focuses on utilizing the elements of nature to create innovative works which challenge our perceptions of the volatile and ever-changing beauty of nature. He describes his initial process:
I remember his presence well; the almost giant-like presence, towering over my cousins and me with welcoming hands and a steadfast embrace. Enveloped in his arms, my world was easy, and fears that often swirl around a young boy’s heart were on pause. It was much like a dream for me hugging my grandpa, and when you are young, you expect those dreams to last forever. But like a handful of dandelion seeds must be whisked away by ever moving winds to form new landscape, so must these delicate dreams.
Robert Parent was a medic in the US Army during World War II. He carried a pistol at his side and was trained on a bazooka, instantly making him a bad-ass in his grandsons’ eyes. According to my mother, the day he returned from active duty he stuffed his olive green fatigues and military issued accessories in a cardboard box and threw them in the trash, along with any desire to speak of his wartime experiences. My grandfather knew there were wonderful moments in life from which to create worthy memories; war was not one of them.
There was an annual parade in our hometown celebrating the beginning of an event called the Rose Festival. The parade (and festival) was one of the largest in the area and seemed to awaken a young and excited spirit in my grandpa. There were numerous rolling vendors selling blow-up hammers, neon light sticks, and other assorted temptations for a young child. The scores of floats were ornate and striking; transporting local dignitaries and festival queens whose royal designation may or may not have bore a correlation with their level of attractiveness.
The marching bands burst forth with an endless supply of oxygen and drum rolls, as the pimply-faced high schoolers tried feverishly to stay in step with the chubby kid smacking a bass drum beside them. Every few feet a white polyester leg could be seen falling out of step with its counterparts giving the appearance of a robot soldier losing battery power.
Strategically placed in between the floats and bands, were overweight Shriners performing formations with go-karts. The merry drivers would awkwardly follow one another in a straight line until they approached a large section of the crowd, break from their lines, proceeding to thrill the spectators with figure eights and turns, all the while narrowly missing the feet of the dazzled children that stuck out from the front row seat on the curb. And on that curb I would sit enjoying the spectacle along with hundreds of others, occasionally sneaking a glance at my grandpa as he sat in his wooden backed aluminum lawn chair, smiling and puffing away at his Dutch Master cigar. He would always keep a supply of the cigars in his breast pocket, to keep him company on long walks with his dog Mitzi or while relaxing on his front porch listening to a Red’s game.
Usually about halfway through the parade, a particular float would grab his attention and he would stand up and begin waving excitedly. The float in question was sponsored by a square dance club and it shook uncontrollably beneath the motion of ten to fifteen stretchy cloth clad dancers with the sole purpose of demonstrating their best promenade…two by two. The man calling the square dance held a cheap microphone that crackled when he pronounced his consonants and his sing songy, folkster rap would continue the entire length of the parade route. The reason for my grandfather’s excitement at this moment was that he was good friends with the white haired caller and when the float passed by he would throw my grandpa’s name in the song and dance call:
“Swing your partner round and round, bow to the corner, Hey there’s Bob Parent! Bow to the left, Promenade!”
My grandpa would clap and wave and then plop back down in his chair. He would look at us all with pride as if the parade for a moment at least, was in his honor. And maybe it should have been.
My grandpa’s jovial spirit fueled his friendships and interactions. Rarely would he enter a local restaurant or store without hearing a boisterous “Hey Bob!” Granted, his conversations during these interactions were brief and mostly surface topics, but his welcoming personality and warm laugh made the other person feel as though their words were worth a fortune to my grandpa’s ears. He had a certain gift for making his friends and family feel on top of the world.
My grandparents played a major role in my early childhood. Through most of my young life, my mother bore the weight of parenting my brother, sister, and I. We struggled to say the least, but my mother was resourceful, working hard to keep our hearts filled and stomachs satisfied. Due to her work schedule, usually consisting of 2 to 3 jobs, it was necessary for me to stay with my grandparents after school.
Their home was filled with warmth, and proudly displayed the wear and tear from countless years of loving and raising children and grandchildren. My grandma was a wise and kind woman; the type of person who knew how to transform a simple box of macaroni and cheese into a kindergartner’s dream come true. Her motherly love came naturally and she selflessly gave her love to our family. At that time, my grandpa worked for a local bank making deliveries. He would arrive home shortly after the bank closed, around 5 o’clock.
I would wait for this moment the entire afternoon: the huge bear hug from my grandpa.
His scratchy wool sport coat…
The prickly 5 o’clock shadow against my cheek…
The overwhelming waft of Old Spice aftershave…
His gentle strength.
While in his embrace he would enthusiastically ask my grandma, “Mom, did you see what I got?!” referring to the hug, and the love given by his grandson, the grandson that felt adored by his grandpa’s simple actions.
For a little boy struggling to make sense of his little world which lacks the strong presence of his father, this hug and attention from my grandfather was my compass. For he was more than just my grandfather: He was a humble war hero and my grandmother’s soul mate. He was the joyful caretaker of the hearts of his best friends and the ‘unofficial’ grand marshal of the parade.
My grandpa passed away during my senior year of high school from cancer. I sat by his side along with my mom and brother, the morning he whispered his last breath to the earth. How such a common affliction could ravage such a unique soul will forever confound me. During his funeral I grew angry at myself for my lack of tears. I listened to family members speak of his life and history. I stared at the empty vessel that was my hero lying in the casket. I prayed that he was with Jesus.
As we walked by the casket for the last time, I realized the physical comfort my grandpa provided to me was now a memory. I turned to walk to the back of the church. Tears flooded my eyes at the loss of a beautiful part of my life. But I know the beautiful flowers can not last forever, there are new fields to grace…new dreams to fill.
I’ll hug my kids tightly tonight.
My mom was made of art.
She was artistic, yes, but she also lived and breathed creativity in all of its quirkiness and simple beauty. She—sometimes reluctantly—embraced the ebb and flow of life and channeled both the light and dark moments into her handmade works, so as to emit splendor from every weave of a needle; every scratch of a pencil. Hers was a life more fulfilled by resourceful optimism.
One lazy summer evening found me sauntering into our front room, watching my mom sitting in the small corner that served as her sewing and craft area. I plopped down on the green carpet and sat cross-legged, flanked by G.I Joes and our dog, Abby. My eyes refused to blink as I watched my mom’s gentle, agile hands manipulate her chosen medium; a piece of fabric she would transform into a stuffed animal for a niece or nephew’s birthday, or charcoal pencil to paper to produce a sketch of one of our tattered cats sitting in the windowsill staring affectionately at her.
She was surrounded by a large rectangular sewing table, boxes and bins of ribbon, a craft store’s worth of fabric in old Avon boxes, and miles of spools of colored thread. Her chair –most likely some sort of “gift” from a church member who purchased a new one for their home office—creaked and groaned as she made calculated pivots to reach for thread, or to pat the furry head of our grossly overweight cat, Louie, reassuring him he was receiving her undivided attention.
The hot, humid Indiana summer evening drove her to set up our large blue—very child un-friendly—steel box fan, and she opted for the coolness of a hand-made summer dress that soared past her knees screaming: ‘I’m a conservative hippy!’ Varicose veins—like broken blue calligraphies—were drawn around her calves and shins from years working on her feet. Her feet found comfort in brown leather moccasins decorated with small beads and tassels in Native American patterns—a new pair each year as a small gift to herself.
Nearby stood a tall glistening glass of sun tea that she swore tasted differently than iced tea that simply steeped on the kitchen counter—as if the sun’s energy transferred to the tea enhancing the flavor. Complementing the tea would be a small bowl of peanuts or saltines on which she would nibble in between precisely sewn stitches or the delicate shading of a sketch.
In winter months, the iced tea was replaced with hot along with an occasional peanut butter sandwich. She knew to leave the knife and peanut butter jar on the counter since one of us would see her eating the sandwich and immediately want one. No one can spread peanut butter like a mother’s careful, flowing hands.
There would always, always be music filling the air: Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Lionel Richie, The Temptations, and her favorite: Smokey Robinson. There were times when she would close her eyes, lift her hands, and get lost in the earthy, yearning Motown emotion; singing and dancing as if she was a graceful puppet on soft strings. Motown moved the blood in her heart; cajoled the sweetness in her soul. Come to think of it, my mom might’ve been a 30-something black woman at heart.
Out of all her selflessness, however, she took great personal pride in her three kids. She had no doubt in her ability to love us honestly and completely. We were the medium she chose to work on until she was exhausted at the end of each day. And from simply witnessing her in all her endless glow and optimism, I had no doubt that I would also work with my hands and heart to return that love to her—to bring light from the dark, and joy from the pain.
And maybe give sun tea a second chance.
Happy Birthday, Mom.
My mom would always tape a 3x5 card to the fridge. On the card was a written list of our bills for the month. While walking through the kitchen or opening the fridge to steal a hunk of bologna, I often found myself pausing to look over the list. I was only in the 5th grade so I was just beginning to understand large numbers and how money worked—but I still had no clue as to the amount of work and time it took for my mom to pay for those 2 to 3 digit numbers on the card. She held down a full-time job, and spent many other hours either employed part-time or fulfilling various sewing or art related requests to support our family. My mom loved her kids; she grew tired of work, but never grew tired of us.
So when the time came for me to join the band at school—and buy an instrument (snare drum)—I knew it would be difficult for my mom to afford the extra cost. But she believed I had the ability to play drums and she wanted to provide the means for me to do so. Luckily, the music store selling the band instruments offered a monthly payment plan to spread out the cost. So on to the fridge it went: $15/month – Snare Drum. To some people this may have been a drop in the bucket, but this was money that could be used for groceries or gas for the car.
We would have band rehearsal on Wednesday afternoons, so that morning my mom would drop me off and I would carry my snare drum (in a big case that weighed almost as much as me) from one end of the school building to my classroom on the other side. It was heavy and my back ached. When the school day was over, I couldn’t transport my drum on the bus so I had to be picked up from school, which meant I would be waiting a good 30-45 minutes until my mom was available to pick me up. I would watch as numerous teachers left the building, occasionally one would speak to me asking if I had a ride and then I would have to explain the situation to them. I was extremely shy so I was often embarrassed and awkward as I talked to them. I grew to loathe Wednesdays.
My mom would eventually arrive in a beat up car and greet me with a Hey Kiddo and I would respond in kind, but underneath I was so angry and disappointed in her.
As we drove home I would steal a glance at my mom. She was tired. She spent many hours each day working because she loved her kids. She worked jobs she disliked to provide opportunities for us to live and grow. She knew music would become a passion for me, and her sacrificing some time and effort on her part was totally worth it.
For the rest of the school year, I happily carried that snare drum through the halls, and Wednesday afternoons still found me sitting outside the school, alone, on my drum case. Teachers would stop and ask if I had a ride and I would simply smile and proudly say, “My mom will be here soon.”
Upon entering puberty, adolescent boys and girls undergo several, life-altering changes. In the 4th grade, however, my body was similar to that of a toddler—but slightly taller—and I possessed slightly improved bathroom habits. I was always sporting sweatpants and a t-shirt with some type of baseball emblem (see the Barry Larkin blog entry) or cartoon character ironed on the front.
Recess at our elementary school included all students in 4th-6th grades, which resulted in a smorgasbord of children, as well as those who were beginning the child-to-adult transition. Four girls in particular—let’s call them the Amazon Quartet—found themselves a good 5 or 6 inches taller as they entered their 6th grade year. They towered over my weenie frame and seemed to enjoy how a light shove from their hairy, man-like arms could easily knock me off my feet. One girl had poufy bangs and eyes that seemed to want to jump out of her face; another looked like a red-headed cave man with press-on nails. The other two just had an overall unpleasant appearance—I imagined they were twins of one or more non-human parents.
One cloudy day as we headed out to recess, Bertha and her step-sisters (FYI: I just changed their group’s name) decided they really wanted to unload some insults and shove someone—me. They made the usual jokes about my sweatpants, small stature, and off-brand K-mart shoes. I stood there and attempted to shrug it off and laugh, but my patience was fading and I was becoming angry. Then the shoving began along with the insults and I had had enough. I was sick of their tormenting and I reached my boiling point, so all of a sudden my best attempt at a counter attack left my lips:
“Shut up, you...buncha fat cows!” I yelled.
This was not a good idea because I then felt what seemed like Godzilla’s hand smack my back, and I found myself lying in a thick mud puddle. The women’s biker gang….err…I mean girls erupted in laughter. The bell rang ending recess and they turned and walked towards the school. I stood up and tried to wipe off the mud that was covering half of my body and hair. I looked down and Barry Larkin’s face was also covered with mud. I think he was ashamed of my inability to defend myself.
This is it; I’ve had it with these girls. I’m going to tell on them. Their teacher and principal will be so upset they’ll get suspended and I’ll win. I’ll have revenge.
I began walking back to the school building ready to turn in the bride of Sasquatch and her daughters. I looked and saw the four of them walking in front of five or six boys in their class. The boys were teasing the girls and pulling their hair and I think I heard a “How’s the weather up there?” joke. The girls looked mortified and displayed frowns of stone on their faces.
As much as I fought against it, I felt pity on them, and though I would spend the remainder of the afternoon in mud-caked clothes, I refrained from telling my teacher. It seemed they received their comeuppance and continued to receive it, as these same boys would go on to ridicule them for the rest of the school year—and well into junior high and high school.
They couldn’t change who they were, but I could always wash off the mud, forgive and move on. I could be a better person than those girls—as well as the boys who were teasing them. Later that afternoon, while doing an activity in class, I made a girl who was often the victim of bullying and teasing, smile and laugh—which made me feel about 10 feet tall.
That was a pretty good start.
Ah, the third grade—where a boy finds himself at the first important crossroads of his life: do I spend my adolescence and remaining elementary years as the obedient quiet child so favored by stressed out teachers, or, as the class clown constantly seeking new methods to raise the collective blood pressure of teachers all over the world.
Well I can say, for the most part, I was the former. I was shy, terrible at sports, and cute according to my mom, but not to the girls in my class. I also insisted on wearing sweatpants everyday to school, that is until I realized a daily sweatpants wedgie in the seventh grade was about the lowest social level on which to land, so that stopped immediately—but I digress—that’s another post.
Now allow me to provide a perfect example of the latter.
A fellow third grade student of mine, let’s call him, ‘Petey’, was a large kid with thick framed glasses—the kind a shop teacher might wear because his nice pair always break. Petey took on what seemed to be a daily challenge: to somehow disrupt the class, resulting in banishment to the hall or the principal’s office. Our teacher, Mrs. Morgan, was an older lady who didn’t smile much, especially when Petey entered the room. There were days I thought I heard her swear under her breath.
We all thought Petey was pretty funny, most of the time. Those of us who might begin to display any doubt toward the hilariousness of Petey’s antics, quickly found the capacity to laugh when he would threaten us with bodily harm— during bathroom break for example .Please God, don’t let him open the stall door, my sweats aren’t even pulled up!
When traveling the hallways to and from various activities, it was customary practice for elementary teachers to have students walk in a straight line and remain quiet until returning to the classroom. Mrs. Morgan was very strict with this rule one day as we left the art room and proceeded back to our classroom.
Well, Petey wasn’t having it. He saw no reason to quietly traverse the hallway with his peers in peace. He couldn’t pass up a golden opportunity for introducing some chaos into the order. So he chose to begin beat boxing (this was the late 80’s after all).
Boom-boom-Pssh….Boom-boom-Pssh…Boom-boom-Pssh…snort! (he laughed between musical measures).
As we all filed one-by-one into the classroom, Mrs. Morgan’s voice could be heard cutting through the air, “Petey, I would like you to walk to the front of the classroom and demonstrate your sound effects for the class.” She was holding a 2 foot long wood paddle, slowing lifting it then smacking it down on her other hand. “If you don’t do it well enough, I’ll have to use this paddle to assist you.”
Petey’s face turned as white as a ghost—a chubby ghost wearing Reebok Pumps with the laces untied.
He walked to the front of the room and began a soft, shaky rhythm while staring down at the ground: boom…boom..pssh…
“Louder!” Mrs. Morgan bellowed. Petey began to cry—snot and everything.
Boom-boom-pssh (sniff sniff)…Boom!-Boom!-Pssh! (sniff sniff)
The rest of us just stared in amazement at the scene unfolding in front of us. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry ourselves. I found it hilarious watching him attempt to beat box while sobbing uncontrollably.
A part of me felt sorry for my attention seeking classmate. His inability to heed the rules and guidelines of elementary school placed him in these types of situations on a daily basis, and I should probably mention that I was beat boxing as well, but I somehow avoided the same fate as Petey.
“Have a seat,” the teacher said sharply to Petey, “and from now on, stay quiet in the halls!”
Petey slowly walked back to his seat, resembling Eeyore wearing a torn Bugle Boy hooded sweatshirt. He looked up and caught my stare and his eyes seemed to catch fire and I knew my next bathroom experience would be a terrible one.
Thus the end of my third grade beat boxing days.
We all have people we admire and look up to, maybe even aspire to be. They may be a celebrity, author, or a friend. For a child, professional athletes are a popular role model choice—I was no different—well sort of.
I was 6 years old. One winter morning I was eating some cereal at the kitchen table with my mom while she was reading the newspaper. She perked up and said that there was a professional baseball player named Barry Larkin coming to an antique mall in town to sign autographs. I had no idea who he was, but her enthusiasm was more than enough to trigger my own excitement towards the event.
The following Saturday we all piled into our Gumby green colored boat-of-a-car, and drove the few miles to the antique mall. There was a ridiculously long line filing out the front door and it would turn out to be a 2-hour wait to see this guy, but my mom didn’t seem to be troubled by this. I, however, was pacing in circles, hunching my shoulders and waving the flaps to my hot winter coat because I knew if I took it off I’d have to carry it. And, a six year old has little desire to look at antiques if he’s not allowed to touch them anyway.
I kind of wanted to leave.
What was I going to do with this guy’s autograph anyway? Throw it around with my friends? I had yet to discover my love for baseball cards and memorabilia, so having a signed picture seemed worthless to me.
The line creaked along and we finally came to a small table that displayed cards and photographs of Barry, which could be purchased for him to sign. My mom bought an 8x10 photograph of the shortstop in a batting stance. I don’t remember the exact price, but I know it wasn’t cheap—and we didn’t have much money in those days—so I didn’t really understand her reasoning.
I overheard the dad from the family in front of us say, “Thank you,” and they turn and walked away. And there he was: sitting at a small table in a Cincinnati Reds jersey and matching red hat. He looked at me and smiled warmly. My legs began shaking as I realized I was meeting an actual professional baseball player.
He motioned for me to come forward saying, “Hi! What’s your name?”
My mind went blank and I almost said ‘Barry’ but I finally murmured, “B…Ben.”
“Alright,” he chuckled, “Big Ben!”
That statement, coupled with my rising triple-digit body temperature inside my winter coat, almost made me faint.
He took the photograph my mom bought and signed it:
To Big Ben.
Then he shook my hand, at least I think he did, I couldn’t feel much at that point.
We left that day and for the next 10 or so years I would constantly wear shirts with the name ‘Larkin’ ironed on the back, or request the number 11 (Barry’s number) on my baseball jersey when playing pee-wee baseball. Christmases and birthdays would all include some type of Barry Larkin merchandise. I loved the guy and he could do no wrong.
Over the years I’ve looked back and reflected on my childhood loyalty to Barry Larkin and I couldn’t have picked a better athlete to emulate. In his baseball career, Barry Larkin was one of the best. He also was (and still is) supportive of many charities and remains a faithful husband and supportive father. Thankfully my mom put me in a position to meet him and discover an honest and hardworking role model.
That’s when I realized that maybe Barry Larkin wasn’t my true role model after all.
He was a great athlete and good man, but he didn’t actually know me. My mother knew before I knew, that I needed someone decent to admire. She put Barry Larkin in my life because she loved me and selflessly took a back seat in that respect.
No ball player could ever compete with that.
The buzzing bees enter the room with trendy wings,
hormones are the honey.
Teenagers, victims of the stereotype:
Boys: what do I do with this thing?
Girls: what does he do with that thing?
They stand in small groups of unpleasant warmth
penguins rotating for inner safety.
Children, seeking the who, what, when, where.
Taking a chance,
or holding up the wall.
Boys: take a leap!
Girls: not so fast.
My brother and I shared a room in the first house known to me as ‘home’. It was a medium sized room with pale white paint covering the walls. Our bunk beds sat in the middle of the room; my brother manned the top bed and usually slept with a tattered sleeping bag while my bed was the bottom bunk covered with Sesame Street sheets and probably, boogers. (Hey, a kid’s gotta fall asleep somehow.) Unbeknownst to my brother, sharing a space like this gave his little six year old sibling great comfort knowing his big ninja brother was in the top bunk and would protect him should any dark and dangerous force come through the bedroom door.
There were two drafty windows on either side of the west wall, facing the city side street in front of our house. I would often sit at one of them and either look into the friendly maple tree that towered over our house, or watch the cars and people that made their way down our street. I would occasionally yell out the window to a lawn mowing neighbor or old lady walking to the grocery, and then immediately duck down behind the windowsill as they looked up, searching for the source of the idiotic sound. My adrenaline rushed as I sat there thinking about the confused look on their faces and how my clever prank had completely changed the outcome of their current activity. I was testing unknown waters. A part of me knew I was being a brat—that it was wrong—but another part of me needed to push the boundaries to see what might be beyond my safe little realm.
One day while sitting at my window perch waiting for my next victim, I noticed a group of teenagers walking up the street. Okay, here we go! They won’t know what hit ‘em! I began with a few bird sounds, which didn’t seem to have much effect, so I moved to a few basic Hey you!yells.
They stopped. I ducked down, suppressing a mischievous giggle, heart beating out of my chest.
After a minute or two thinking they had surely continued down the street, I peaked up over the windowsill and noticed them still standing there…STARING RIGHT BACK AT ME.
Their eyes lowered and I watched as they proceeded up the steps to our front porch out of my sight. I heard a knock on our door.
I gasped and my stomach sank. I thought I even saw Bert and Ernie hide behind Big Bird on my Sesame Street sheets.
I heard the door creak open, followed by an exchange of angry muffled voices. The door closed and moments later my mom called me downstairs. I guess I shouldn’t say called, it was more of a demand. I stood and walked out of the bedroom and met my mom’s eyes as she stood at the bottom of the steps. Her face held a look that confused me. I couldn’t tell if she was angry or hurt; disappointed or sad.
“Have you been yelling out your bedroom window at people?” she asked.
Shoot. Where was this going? Who were those guys? Why did they talk to my mom? I’m only six… please don’t come back and murder me and my family!
“Uh…yeah,” I meekly replied.
“Those boys out there said you called them…”
Her voice fell into a soft beleaguered tone as she sighed and finished the sentence,
I immediately recognized that something strange was happening. I had yet to hear that word in my short life, but as my mom uttered it, a sense of confusion and fear fell over me. A new fear, one that made me realize that maybe life was not as simple as I expected it to be. The word was new and foreign, and it made me feel uneasy.
“Wh..what? I don’t know what that word is, mommy.” I stammered as tears began to fill my wide eyes.
“Those boys said you were yelling at them from the window and calling them that name. I know you may not understand, but that’s a terrible and hurtful name to call a black person.”
I could tell my mom hated having to reprimand me for something she knew I didn’t do, furthermore to have to teach her six year old son such a difficult lesson about life, so soon. But she was no stranger to hard lessons, and she knew it was necessary in order to help me successfully navigate this situation.
I nodded and she told me to return to my room and close the window, perhaps sheltering me from certain inconvenient truths my mind had yet to fully comprehend. Maybe all a six year old needs to grasp is that his family loves him, and that the outside world can—at times—be a confusing and complex space. For the time being, security could be found in my bunk beneath my ever vigilant brother.
Later that evening, as I was getting ready for bed and gathering my stuffed animals, my mom hugged me a little longer than usual.
I never yelled from that window again.
When I was a boy, I lived and breathed baseball. I watched it, collected and traded cards and chewed the rock hard gum included in the card packages and cherished it because it was ‘baseball gum’, played pick up games in friends’ backyards, and participated in pee wee league all through my elementary years.
And here my friends, is where our story is set, so grab some grape flavored Big League Chew and find a splintered bleacher seat.
I was ten years old that warm July evening and it was late in the game as I took my position in left field. I wasn’t the best ball player in town and it was obvious that my place on the team was merely a result of a random grouping of area boys into teams. As our team was handed the third out of the fourth inning, my coach, out of guilt and what little heart he possessed, would say under his breath, “Alright Crawford…grab your mitt.”—Which could be translated as,We’re losing anyway, what harm can you do in the last two innings? (In little league, the games are only six innings.)
I stood up and put my enormous hat on my head, grabbed my glove from under the seat, and proceeded to the green grass and huge advertising signs of left field. I felt a knot in my stomach which I attributed to nerves because if a ball was hit my way there was little to no chance of me catching it.
My red and blue uniform was perfectly stiff and clean, save for the light dusting of tan dirt on the my front of my pants from my fellow two-inning players taking turns tossing baseball gloves and Gatorade bottles at one another’s crotches. We were ten year olds after all; a coach can’t expect his players to behave like adults when required to wear a jockstrap and awkwardly sized cup in their itchy polyester uniform pants. We spent our downtime in the dugout testing the strange new equipment’s effectiveness. It just made sense.
First batter: infield fly. “Alright guys!” I yelled, “One down!” I knew they probably didn’t hear me but my hope was they saw my puny finger signaling a one and thus would gain confidence in my abilities as a team player and fielder.
So here’s when my stomach began to gurgle.
Not a hungry kind of gurgle, but a you need to get to a bathroom FAST kind of gurgle. I didn’t know if it was the half pound of bologna I had eaten for lunch or the ‘suicide’ (all of the concession stand’s soda flavors combined in one cup) I had consumed in the third inning, but whatever it was needed to leave my body as soon as possible.
Not one to shirk my responsibilities as a trustworthy left fielder, I crouched down to my ready position as our pitcher doled out fast balls to the kid at the plate, who in turn was hitting one foul ball after another.
The sweat began to drip down my forehead—for the first time in the entire game—and season.
This can’t be happening I thought to myself, just hold on until we get three outs.
In this type of situation, control of bodily functions is somewhat manageable, as long there is minimal movement, especially of the fast running variety. But in the midst of my prayer, “Dear God let my clenching hold,” a foul ball was hit my way. I broke loose from my stance—in more ways than one—and held out my trembling glove in the general area where the ball was falling.
It fell right in.
I opened my eyes, took the ball out of my glove and threw it to the third baseman. I was beaming proudly as I shouted, “Two down!” As I walked back to my spot however, I realized that by running for the foul ball, I had relinquished all control of other important muscles, thus releasing the disaster I was holding back.
I *** my pants.
In the middle of a baseball game.
The third out came quickly and I headed back to the dugout with my fellow teammates to each await our turn to bat. I slowly sat down, so as not to further disturb the monster that was quickly saturating my uniform pants.
I thought to myself, The game’s almost done, if I can just make it through without anyone noticing, it will be okay and I’ll still get to bat.
That thought was interrupted by a teammate (a six inning player) sniffing the air and saying, “Man! It smells like cat **** in here!”
I got up, motioned for my brother and grandpa, and asked if they could take me home. I told the coach I wasn’t feeling well and needed to leave. He looked down at me with disappointment or relief, I’m not sure which, and muttered, “Okay, see ya.”
I walked out of the dugout and past the bleachers holding my glove behind me without making eye contact with anyone, vowing to return for my next 5th inning.
There have been numerous people praising Brittany Maynard for her strength during her battle with cancer and subsequent suicide. Brittany chose to end her life before the cancer in her body incapacitated her so that she could no longer care for her self and communicate with her loved ones. Of course the burden on those same loved ones would be a great one as they cared for Brittany and witnessed her suffering.
"You had a Dame that lov'd you well,
That did what could be done for young
And nurst you up till you were strong
And 'fore she once would let you fly
She show'd you joy and misery,
Taught what was good, and what was ill,
What would save life, and what would kill.
Thus gone, amongst you I may live,
And dead, yet speak and counsel give.
Farewell, my birds, farewell, adieu,
I happy am, if well with you."
- In Reference to Her Children
by Anne Bradstreet
"With You" by LIFT
As iron sharpens iron,
I have trouble taking criticism. I'm sure I'm not alone.
But the past few years have brought me to realize something (maybe because I'm growing older or I'm just making more mistakes resulting in criticism). Criticism, when given and received respectively and properly, can be a remarkable catalyst for personal growth and change. And the word 'change' doesn't imply that we need to become a different person or alter our personality. No, it means we fine tune...we evolve...we become stronger and more effective in our purpose.
Our society is extremely individualistic. We are consumed with ourselves. As a result ,often times we fail to take a good look at our actions and words through the lens of a respected friend or loved one. We think we have all the answers.
God didn't intend for us to do this life thing alone, because He knows we can't. We need accountability and an occasional kick in the tail to keep us on the right track.
Within the church walls, some may argue that to change would mean to degrade spiritual integrity or abandon sacred tradition, but this couldn't be farther from the truth. Healthy faith examines and evolves--repeatedly-- all the while staying true to core beliefs and essential liturgical practices. This can only be done when the brick walls of stubbornness and fear of change, are taken down.
My iron soul could sure use some sharpening. How about yours?
Three priests in a Prius
traveling the New England coast
fresh from taking confessions
and sharing the Holy Host
The driver, markedly older
conveyed a certain misery
while listening to his passenger
relay his personal history
The backseat holds the third
snoring in peaceful sleep
he dreams of falling in love
with the calmness of the sea
The road up ahead is long
Exhaling the angel’s song
We welcome in the flood
While breathing the breath of God
The trio follows the path
The road, its twists and turns
The soft sun in a felt-board sky
Lights the dusk as it gently burns
What is the destination?
What end will be revealed?
It matters not, the three agreed
For our souls took flight
in the love that guides our sails
I began adding a steady stream of Christian artists and musicians to my music collection about 15 years ago. I enjoy the message as well as the level of musicianship of many Christian artists currently performing and recording. Christian music runs the gamut of emotional topics, and usually connects with God in some way, and for the most part, I enjoy it.
Where it becomes frustrating to me, is when I hear a song like this from an artist by the name of Jamie Grace.
Here are the lyrics for the chorus in case you missed them…or wisely opted out of listening to the entire song.
“Oh, I love the way You hold me, by my side You’ll always be
You take each and every day, make it special in some way
I love the way you hold me, in Your arms I’ll always be
You take each and every day, make it special in some way
I love You more than the words in my brain can express
I can’t imagine even loving You less
Lord, I love the way You hold me”
Is it just me, or does it sound like Ms. Grace is longing to sit on a hillside somewhere watching the sunset while on a date with God, staring longingly into one another’s eyes? The song makes me nauseous. Don’t get me wrong, it’s catchy and fun, but it’s barking up a dangerous tree.
This song represents one of the things wrong with the modern Christian music: spiritual intimacy is being misinterpreted as earthly, physical intimacy. “Hold Me” is essentially a Colbie Caillat tune that’s geared towards Christian radio. Christian record companies and their artists (not all of them) are so preoccupied with selling poppy, trendy songs to K-Love listeners that they let the content become boring, unchallenging, and misleading.
I challenge Christian music listeners to pressure record companies and large radio networks such as K-Love to turn the dial when fluff songs like “Hold Me” are played. God has created us to be better; above a record company profit or catchy chorus.
During the first year of our dating relationship, my wife and I would sit outside a local coffee shop in her car and talk and stare at each other and talk some more. We began this little weekly tradition late in November of 1999. It was usually pretty late on a Thursday evening and the air was turning cold as the small town around us began to extinguish the lights of the day and turn in for the night. The car would be running, interior warm, and maybe on certain nights the wiper blades would stir awake every few minutes to clear fallen raindrops or a light scattering of graceful snowflakes; signs of winter returning.
The world was invisible to us in our small mobile bubble. Yet through our conversation, laughter, and dreaming, there was an outside voice that provided comfort and intermission when our words fell silent. This voice came from Phyllis Campbell, known affectionately as “Mama Jazz”. Phyllis passed away this past weekend at the age of 89.
Mama was a wealth of story and background information on the songs she played, but she was also a welcoming and warm presence on the radio. She wasn’t trying to push an agenda or sway public opinions, she wanted you and I to listen to good music and to learn about the amazing musicians that created it.
She lived a full, blessed life and she may have never realized the impact she had on so many hearts and ears; especially two teenagers falling in love while Mama spun the tunes that would become the soundtrack of those special hours.
We’ll miss you mama.
I caught a few minutes of an interview with Francis Ford Coppola at a film festival. During the Q&A portion of the interview, a young audience member asked Coppola what kind of advice he could give to an aspiring filmmaker. He said, and as usual I’m paraphrasing this horribly, “If you’re a man, get married.” He goes on to explain his advice, saying that he loved raising his kids and that they kept him grounded and focused on his work; held him accountable in his productivity.
As a creative individual, one could easily look at his or her family as a roadblock to creative independence and artistic output. But Coppola discovered that supporting a family and having them support him, inevitably bolstered the quality of his art and motivated him to continue his work.
It’s refreshing to hear this from someone in an industry such as film. So often we view the family of a brilliant, creative mind as a distraction from their work. But when we’re surrounded by those we love and love us, we can’t help but create beautiful art and in the end become better, well rounded people.
One of the things I love to do in life is laugh until I cry. This guy gets me everytime.
Please do yourself a favor and click on the link to the video of an interview between Charlie Rose and Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers). Very few people in the media can sum up being a Christian in so few words like Fred Rogers. I was moved to tears while watching this interview.
Why is it so hard for us to find simplicity in our lives? Fred talks about the importance of silence. Everywhere we turn we're surrounded by distraction and noise. I'm so glad we have people in our lives that can re-center our souls and bring us back to our focus on Christ and humble service. Enjoy.
Charlie Rose interview with Fred Rogers
Well I turned on the radio the other night (keep in mind that was Nov. 12) and came upon a station that has officially switched over to an "all Christmas-all the time" playlist until Dec. 26th. When I get to mid-December, I know I'll be kicking myself for tuning into Christmas music that early, but I just can't resist. It's kind of magical.
There's something that happens to an artist when they switch from performing their "normal" repertoire and try their hand at a few Christmas numbers. Even singers I can't stand, for example Christina Aguilera, have a certain innocent, beautiful quality to their voice when singing Christmas music. Could it be the subject matter that changes them?
So many of the songs written in these modern times are done so to play with our basic, animal instincts and desires.
Revenge to an adulterous man....
Sex on a first date, or while washing clothes in a laundry mat!.....
To kill or be killed....
Hate, Hate, Hate.
Why can't we have songs about forgiving that adulterous man and if possible, rebuilding that broken relationship?
Why can't we have songs about loving your body enough to say, "You know what?" "Maybe I should protect my sexuality from a complete stranger or someone that doesn't yet fully understand my heart"
And why can't we have songs about loving someone in jail instead of sentencing them to death, or keeping that unwanted pregnancy, or starting dialogue instead of starting arguments and wars.
Because loving someone is more difficult than hating them. And when that hate is reinforced through the music we listen to, it helps to sculpt our lifestyle. We start to feel that it's our right to fulfill the selfish desires lurking in our hearts. But here's the thing, our hearts empty as those desires start to become fulfilled. We gain nothing from hate and selfishness, but more hate and selfishness.
So what is it about this time of year? What is it about this Christmas music that warms hearts and inspires giving and gathering?
There was a man who was born about two thousand years ago. He wasn’t peacefully born in a cute, little barn.
He was born to a persecuted Jewish couple running from the law. His mother accused by other townspeople of being a whore.
He was born in a dirty livestock barn, most likely a cave-like dwelling, in the cold desert night.
He grew up with little money or material possessions.
As he grew older, he tirelessly spoke and witnessed to those would or would not listen.
He was then betrayed, denied by his best friend, mocked, beaten, tortured, and left to die suspended on a couple beams of splintered wood.
Do you know what he said to the people that did this to him?
He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
In the end he still loved. He still forgave.
Christmas is the time we honor this man’s birth. Maybe we don’t have the exact date, but it’s the time we’ve chosen to honor Him. We honor a new type of peace born into this world. A peace selflessly given to all.
So the next time you hear your favorite holiday tune remember, it’s not Santa comin’ down the chimney, it’s Jesus coming into your heart.
Well fatherhood is rapidly approaching for me. My wife is due in September and it seems like time is flying by. We drove to Indianapolis on Wednesday to have a fetal echocardiogram. There's some history of heart disease in my family (myself included) and our doctor wanted to make sure that this, the least attractive of my traits, would not pass down to our little one.
Before I go any further, I’ll just let you know that the test went wonderfully and at this point there were no signs of heart abnormalities…Praise the Lord!!!!!
But we had the second surprise of this year (the first being when we found out we were pregnant), we’re having a little girl instead of a boy! Our doctor told us early on that she was pretty sure we had a little Benji in there. We started to prepare emotionally for a rambunctious little guy that would keep us on our toes for the rest of our lives, but now we’re kind of re-focusing things a bit. It was probably the last thing Patty and I were expecting during the test. When the technician said “and there’s the feet of your little…girl,” I think we both had some tears in our eyes.
It’s so amazing that just when we feel we have things figured out, God has something else in store for us. We were overjoyed/scared to death to be pregnant in the first place. We had it in our minds that we would have a son in a few months. I started to shape my whole way of thinking behind this….What will I teach him? What kind of man will he be? Will he do the dishes because Patty and I don’t like to?
When we heard the word “girl”, it was such a neat feeling of surprise and excitement, and I think God has a beautiful plan in store for us with the little gal.
And to add to that awesome day, both Patty and I took the rest of the week off and stayed at a cabin owned by our good friends Dale & Paula. And on Thursday, I played in the G101.3 Battle of the Bands…and lost….moving on….
I woke up Friday morning to one, if not the, best breakfast I’ve ever had. We had picked up some fresh bread, eggs, oranges, smoked bacon from an Amish store in Fountain City. Patty had used all of these ingredients to make a ridiculously good breakfast. You know how the women act in those “Herbal Essences” commercials….well that was me eating breakfast.
After that we spent most of the day hiking at Hueston Woods where I got us lost on a trail. We eventually found the car but had hiked about a mile or so out of our way. Ahhh…the great outdoors.
There is a daily NPR show that I try to catch called "Talk of the Nation" hosted by Neil Conan. Today I happened upon a segment where the topic was Genome study and Gene Therapy Research and how it affects our quality of life and modern medicine.
Becoming more popular is prenatal testing to determine whether an unborn child will arrive months later in the arms of his/her parents, healthy and normal….or with a disability such as Downs Syndrome.
One caller shared the story of the time he and his wife had testing done on their unborn baby, revealing a severe disability that would bring about an enormous burden on their family emotionally, physically, and financially.
They chose to terminate the pregnancy. The caller later said that they now have a healthy, happy little girl that was born a short while later.
Children and adults can also have testing done to discover (due to a particular illness common in their family history) whether they will fall victim to a disease or disability similar to their ancestors.
Another caller told of a man who was given a strong, almost definite, likelihood of developing Huntington's Disease. This truth was more than he could handle, so he took his own life. He didn't have an actual diagnosis, mind you.
So is it right for us to know, everything that will go wrong in our future? Is it better to expect or to experience our pain?
I remember when I was little. Being a boy who loved playing outside and in the woods, I would be sporting at least 3-4 band-aids weekly. And the thing that scared me the most wasn't the actual cut or even the pain removing the band-aid…it was the mere thought of ripping the band-aid from my skin and the possible pain associated with it. While deep in my 10 year old brain's crisis of how to go about removing the dreaded thing, my mom would come along and RIP! the band aid was gone. And before I could even open my mouth to scream, the pain had vanished. I was too busy expecting the pain to actually experience it. And when it came time to experience the pain, it really wasn't what I had built it up to be.
Now, I know the pain I describe pales in comparison to the pain of losing someone you love to a tragedy or learning from test results that you have a life-threatening illness. But in the end, pain is pain. We've all been dealt our fair share. We experience it, find ways to heal and cope, and do our best to move on and learn from it.
What good does it do me to know that my gene structure says I might develop Alzheimer's late in life? Could I start now by setting up insurance policies and prepare myself to slowly deteriorate and succumb to the disease? Possibly… but how does that make my life any better when, come 50 years from now, the tests turn out to be false, and I'm void of any life-threatening illness?
What if someone told you that on October 17, 2009, you would be inheriting a sum of money that would make you ridiculously wealthy? You would be excited, right? You would prepare yourself and make plans as to what you would purchase with the money. Your life starts to revolve around October 17, 2009. You start to live for that day. What if you died October 16th? All that excitement, all the planning…would be wasted.
It's the same way with pain.
When we expect pain, we live it and it lives within us, bringing us down and keeping us from happiness. But when we experience pain, we learn from it and move on. Suffering is a tool every human needs to use in order for us to grow. The growth in my own life is due, not to my successes, but largely in part to many painful situations, illness, and unanswered prayers.
There is a reason for the trials we go through. There is a reason for suffering. There is a reason for pain.
There was a reason the first caller and his wife were given a baby with a disability. There was a reason the friend of the second caller was a prime candidate for Huntington's disease. It was to make them each stronger. It was to make them realize the frailty of human life and that we must be grateful for the small amount of time we do have here.
We must accept the tragedies that befall us and learn from them.
But, we as a forward-thinking, developing human race would rather find ways around this experience. We would rather rid our lives of a burdensome baby that could grow to be a blessing to those around her, or we would rather discover we might become sick before it's our time to know, giving us no hope for survival.
Why do you think our prime time TV is saturated with pharmaceutical ads touting a new drug to pull us out of sadness or depression? We don't want to experience it. We want a pill to take the pain away and leave the underlying reason for the sadness, unresolved. But, if we put a blanket over a fire, it appears gone, but it will soon burn through and show itself again.
Human suffering is not a medical condition we can treat. Human suffering is a necessary part of our daily lives. We have to confront it and attempt to heal. For when we avoid it… we miss the opportunity of the beautiful sunrise at the end of a long night.
Original posting from myspace 11-22-07
The small group at my church is currently deep in the middle of a Bible study entitled "Bioethics & Compassion".
It's a thirteen part study that talks about moral and political topics such as stem cell research, human cloning, and how we as Christians can view other humans with disabilities. The overall theme seems to be evident in each study, and it's funny because during each study, a group member will always unknowlingly say "There is a reason that this happens…" or "There is a reason why we suffer from these things…"
There is a reason that we have pain and suffering in our lives. We usually don't know why we suffer and most of the time we have no answers for those who are suffering…but God does. He knows. He has a plan for each of us and it doesn't involve slaying unborn babies, or using every scientific means necessary to prolong our lives 5-10 years, or ending the life of a criminal because we decided they no can longer provide anything good for our society.
We know these issues are deep and complicated. Or are they? With our simple, mere understanding of life, yes, but in the whole scheme of things, not at all.
Everyone has a chance at life. To be born. Even if a young girl is raped, a couple is not ready emotionally or financially, or the child will be born with a disability. This may be the person who will be born to change YOUR life. When we deny life it's like pulling the shades on all the windows in your house and not letting the sunshine in. We're denying light into this world by denying these beautiful babies to be born.
Everyone has a chance at a happy life. To love their life. Even if a child is given 5 years, or we're faced with a horrible life-threatening illness with no cure or our bodies or minds don't work as perfectly as we would want them to. We are meant to cherish the time we have and love those around us…not to destroy future life, work the years away and find a cure and then possibly die before we're able to benefit from it.
Everyone deserves a SECOND chance at life. Even if it's the criminal who rapes the girl, or murders a family, or robs a store killing the cashier in the process. These people are sick. They need help and support. Not judgement from people who may have no idea what past environment shaped their tainted minds.
It's simple. We need to protect life at all costs. This is not done by labeling ourselves Pro-life, Pro-Choice, Republican, or Democrat.
We have a president who claims he wants to protect life. Yet he's all for getting rid of the criminals and murderers by means of capital punishment and war. How about taking the billions of dollars we use on our war efforts and using it for the poor and educating our dangerous neighborhoods. It's not impossible…just hard work. But it's necessary to protect life.
Those politicians labeled Democratic oppose the death penalty yet find it okay to allow a human to be "aborted" out of convenience or "what's best for the mother". What's best for the mother…is to learn from this situation and experience and cherish the life given to her by raising the child or finding a loving family that can. Again, it's hard work, and there is extreme pain involved. But, it's necessary to protect life.
As much as we categorize it, we can't. These are not political issues. Politicians can't solve these issues. And legislation will not stop evil. People can always find ways to have abortions, do underground research, or avenge the murder of someone they loved.
The only way to stop evil is to love evil. That may be a hard concept to grasp for some. We can only love the things that hurt us. Because in the end, we will have arrived in a better place than if we would have responded to evil with evil.
This is pure love. And Jesus is the only perfect example of this. He loved the pain and sin of the world until it killed Him. Nailed on the cross, bleeding from the near-fatal wounds covering his body, he said "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." He didn't say "Father, take the pain in my heart and soul and give it to someone else to give me a simpler way out of this." He stood up to the evil, not with an iron fist or cowardice…but with an open heart.
We should all strive to be so strong.