Thursday, May 27, 2010
A flag that bore witness to the growing pains of a great nation.
I found myself there with my youngest son on an adventure of sorts-part birthday trip, part history lesson, part expedition into self-discovery. We made the two hour trip to Manassas, Virginia the night before. We dined on his favorite cuisine of lasagna at the Olive Garden.
We drove to Fairfax the next morning and hopped the metrorail for downtown Washington D.C. The Smithsonian Institution, these museums which have captivated Thomas for several months now, served as our ultimate destination.
We walked to the Air and Space Museum first and wandered its floors, taking time to watch an imax film about black holes. Next we walked across the mall to the Natural History Museum and finally finished at the Museum of American History.
This final stop housed the famous flag.
I felt drawn to it; compelled to inspect every inch of its antique edges looking for history in the decaying fibers. I thought about Mr. Key and the emotions of that day so many years ago. I thought about the blood spilled by real people with real feelings just like me.
Mostly, I contemplated where faith fit into it all.
As we left the doors near closing time, the ironic juxtaposition was stark. A natural history museum whose inner walls honored the Darwinian theory of evolution stood next door to the American museum, honoring a country forged by settlers who mostly believed in something altogether different.
We walked out to the grassy mall with the Capitol building in clear view to the west, and the more obscure Lincoln Memorial on the east horizon. We stood in the middle of arguably the most powerful place in the entire world. Two competing world views consumed the ground around us.
And suddenly, I remembered a few, lesser known words from the last verse of Key’s poem I had read inside the museum a few minutes earlier: “And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’ "
I wondered hard.
Do we really?
And even harder...
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The endorphins flowed early. I felt relaxed and refreshed when I finished. I couldn’t, however, have prepared myself for my wife’s heinous act of marital treason.
She used my newest razor to shave her legs.
The hot water felt good. I lathered up taking great care to cover every inch of my stubbly neck and face. My first warning something had gone awry was finding the razor on the bathtub ledge beside the soap and loofah or whatever that thing women exfoliate with is called.
She didn’t-not my shiny, sharp, never touched an epidermis before razor?
Oh yes… she did.
I mean, what is all that stuff in the cabinets used for anyway? Talk about oil spills. We have a disaster waiting in our powder room. I found tea tree oil, sweet oil, fresh and fruity x-virgin olive oil, and some other oil looking liquid/solid whose label I couldn’t read. That doesn’t even account for whatever all that other stuff is that I was too lazy to inspect.
Our bathroom looks like the old counter from the Sears and Roebuck women’s department.
During my investigation I did see an interesting bottle that seemed to have an identity crisis. It looked like some sort of cream, but the tag said warm vanilla sugar hand soap with green tea extract and shea butter. I didn’t know whether to eat it, drink it, or rub it on my newly formed facial abrasions.
It’s like corporate American got in an ingredient war.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife’s silky smooth legs and young looking appearance. In fact, she still revs my engine after twenty three years of knowing her and the three children she bore. She doesn’t look a day over twenty-nine and I wouldn’t care if she did anyway. And, I don’t mind sharing anything with her. She learned that early in our relationship when she never would order any food or drink, but would always eat or sip mine.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
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Lisa left the house about 6:15 this morning with our daughter for a girl's only breakfast date. I normally wake up every morning between 6:00 and 6:15 just like clockwork only I don't need the clock. I stirred as Lisa showered and dressed, knowing I would need to get the boys going soon for our 7:30 a.m. departure time.
The next thing I knew 7:18 stared me in the face from my nightstand.
I jumped up so fast the sheets and comforter twisted around my legs causing a most ungracious fall onto the floor below. I bellowed all the way to the boy's room as I begged them to awaken and get going.
Their reaction reminded me of what the beginning of the apocalypse will probably look like.
I frantically showered, brushed my teeth, and dispensed with the shaving, leaving my prickly whiskers intact for one more day. When finished, I rushed into the hall to check on the boy's progress. Thomas had taken up residence in the bathroom, while Luke sat on the bedroom floor putting on his shoes.
"What are you doing in there, Thomas?" I asked.
"Using the bathroom."
"Have you brushed your teeth yet?"
"No, but I will."
I screamed the same question at his brother.
"No, Daddy," Luke said. "I couldn't get into the bathroom because Thomas has been locked in there."
My agitation level hovered around def con 3.
"You boys need to get the lead out. Get your teeth brushed, get downstairs and take the dog out," I ordered. "Do it now. Understand?"
"Yes, Daddy," they both replied almost simultaneously.
The clock said 7:32 a.m. I had five minutes to get myself dressed and them fed.
At 7:37 a.m. I entered the kitchen where the two stood.
"Did both of you brush your teeth?"
"Who took out Ruby?" I asked, knowing there was no way they had time to do both.
"Uh, I'll take her out now," Thomas said. Def con 2 came fast.
"Hurry up," I replied in a loud and abrasive tone.
Of all our children, Thomas is the most concerned with doing right and pleasing his parents. He's the most sensitive with an equilibrium easily upset by conflict. I knew the anxiety was building in him, but found myself momentarily uninterested in softening my stance.
While he took out the dog, I filled a bowl with dry cereal he could eat in the car on the way to school. Luke gobbled down his toaster treat, and as soon as Thomas came back in I aggressively coerced them both out of the front door toward the waiting car.
The ride was a bit strained and neither muttered a word. I spent the time trying to gather a bit of composure and dignity. As we approached the school, I looked in the mirror and noticed a red-faced Thomas fighting back tears trickling down his cheek.
"What's wrong now, Thomas?"
"Tell me what's wrong now," I said.
"Uh...uh...I left my folder on the table with my homework in it."
Def Con 1.
"When did you realize you had left it at home?" I asked.
"Well, I knew when we got in the car, but I was too afraid to say anything."
I angrily turned around ready to deliver my diatribe. Suddenly, however, a massive wave of guilt stopped me dead in my tracks.
I slept late. I was supposed to be the responsible one. They depended upon me and now my boy was too "afraid" to tell his own dad in the driveway that his homework was on the table?
And, I'm supposed to be a Christian on top of it all?
"After I drop you guys off I'll go back and get it."
"No, you don't have to. You'll be late for work."
I finally summoned enough of what I needed to tell the truth. "It's my fault we were late. I shouldn't have yelled at you guys like that. I'm sorry."
My most sensitive child proved to be the most forgiving.
"It's alright, Dad. Sometimes people just have a bad day."
After I dropped them off, I called work to let them know my predicament. I went home quickly and returned to the school in about half an hour. When I walked into the classroom his face lit up, as a big smile replaced the tears that had consumed him a few minutes earlier.
The affection in his gaze was well worth the lost time at work.
Guess he just needed a little grace today...
And so did I...
And so do we all...
For more about grace go to: http://www.bridgetchumbley.com/2010/05/grace-blog-carnival/
Sunday, May 9, 2010
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Baby dedication Sunday should be a joyful time and perhaps it is. Mostly. But, I couldn't stop the thoughts about her and the father of the young man she held close. Who was the dad? What kept him from being there beside her like the other fathers? Why couldn't he be there holding the child as she held the gift offered to them on this special occasion?
How did she feel with all those eyes fixed upon her?
Maybe a good explanation waited for those who cared enough to try and know. For my part, I left quickly.
A Mother's love summons uncommon courage. She had it and it humbled me.
My mind left her for a moment. I thought about the pain many suffer on this day dedicated to honoring the women who birthed us; those whose moms were sick or gone; those whose mothers left little to fondly remember.
I thought of my own mother and remembered the first time I understood that she really didn't like the back and neck of all those chickens she ate while we were growing up.
I thought about the wife God placed in my path at just the right time; my affection infinitely multiplied by the way she loves our children.
Uncomfortable thoughts consumed me briefly-something that rears its head every now and again. I felt a sudden flood of guilt for my charmed life; for the love of two parents, who despite their faults loved each other and me too.
For a Mother who saved the better parts of a chicken for her children.
I wondered about those so deficit in love...those longing for the love of...
And then it occurred to me that time can't heal some things-that a mother's love fills our cup like nothing else. And it's a great sadness for those, who because of time or space or circumstance, long for that intimacy.
But, for those that know Him, there may be some comfort.
Because, our God is greater...our God is stronger...our God is...
I John 4:16
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love...
I John 3:1
1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
Friday, May 7, 2010
I hate coffee.
My beverage of choice: sweetened iced tea with an emphasis on the sweet and ice. Don’t put splenda, truvia, nutra-sweet or any of that other fake stuff in it either. No lemon and no straw. I want it straight...and in a mason jar if possible, but not necessarily.
If it ain’t got lily white sugar just throw it out as far as I’m concerned.
Evidently it’s sort of a southern thing. Did you know you can’t get sweet tea for breakfast in some fast food establishments? Especially those north of the Mason/Dixon line. I first discovered this regrettable fact about ten years ago when I stopped early one morning at a McDonalds in Harrisburg, PA. When it was my turn at the drive up window, my voice rang clearly as I pronounced “sausage biscuit and large, sweet tea.”
“Excuse me, sir,” she said.
“Sausage biscuit and large, sweat tea,” I said again, and little more slowly believing all the background noise from the nearby interstate the source of the distortion.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand what you said last.”
“S-w-e-e-t, i-c-e-d t-e-a.” I said it slower this time, which my yankee friends say (and I use yankee in the fondest sense I can) makes it worse. The slower it is the more trouble they have in deciphering it. Their ears are waiting for three words in the time it takes me to say three syllables.
Oh, and please don’t tell any of my Alabama family that I have yankee friends. Some things are best left in the brutally secret category.
“Oh, you want tea? We don’t serve it until lunch and all we have is un-sweetened anyway." Was it really necessary to add the insult to an already aggravating injury?
Maybe my wife has just been trying to help me get through life more easily with this coffee stuff-this beverage transcending all geographical boundaries .
I realize I’m not what one would call a world traveler. I mean, Mexico, Canada, and New York City are the only foreign countries I’ve ever been to. But, what’s so romantic about all that? I think they spelled schedule wrong anyway, because everybody on this side of the pond (which really is much bigger than a pond. What’s up with that?) says “skedule.”
I’ve also heard people in Europe don’t put sugar or ice in their tea.
Think I’d just as soon drink skunk spray…or maybe even coffee.
There can’t be coffee in heaven…not in my section anyway. I bet there will be plenty in hell, however. I can just see old Sisyphus now. When he finally gets that ball to the top, Lucifer will be waiting with a big old cup of Joe.
By the way, who is Joe, and I wonder if he knows they named a beverage that tastes like motor oil after him?
Never understood the point in drinking something you have to “develop” a taste for anyhow. Why waste so much time and money doing that? There’s plenty of stuff I’ve already got a taste for and it took no investment to “develop” it. Beverages should be consumed from a clear glass container so you can see what the heck it is you’re drinking, not some decorative receptacle you have to hold with a handle. Besides, they taste better like that anyway.
But, on this upcoming Sunday, I've decided to show the mother of my children that she really is special. I’m going to make a sacrifice of monumental proportions. I’m going to sit quietly with her and choke down a cup of that hot, brown, bitter stuff she loves so much. I might even try to stretch my limited dialect and do some European pronunciations. If I’m feeling really adventurous I may throw some French on her too. I still remember how they say “I love you” in Paris. Saw it on a foreign film once when I was trying to develop my taste for that.
Didn’t work either.
Come Monday, though, I’m going to sit back on the porch, pour a big glass of sweet tea, and toast all the other “skedule” pronouncing, real Americans like me who like their beverages cold and sweet.
Here’s to you guys….Bottoms up!
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Wednesday, May 5, 2010
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Thankfully my own father never forced this abhorrent, child abusive plague on me or my siblings. In fact, I first discovered the extent of my aversion while dating my wife in high school. Her parents and brothers planned a weekend trip to a nearby lake and decided to include me in the misery.
The whole bunch of us jammed up in a tent on some hard, lumpy ground sleeping right atop what felt like the rock of Gibraltar.
My kidney hurt for weeks.
To make matters worse, after we finally fell asleep, the heavens unleashed a torrent of rain, wind, thunder and lightning. Of course, I slept downhill with my head perched precariously in the lowest corner of the leaking tent. I awoke suddenly when one of my desperate, asthma induced gasps sucked in a heinous mix of rainwater and tent refuse which had collected near my mouth.
I suddenly felt overwhelmed with a fear induced anxiety born from a past experience with an Alabama tornado during my early childhood.
Did I mention I hate mosquitoes too? Always have. Those little suckers find my blood just way too appetizing. I swell up like most people do after a rattlesnake bite. Even the campfire couldn't keep them away on that muggy, July night.
So there I lay, all wet, swollen and asthmatic (smelling like smoke), taking one for the team in the interest of true love. I wasn't sure her father would let me marry her after this trip- this sickly boy, so allergic to everything, taking constant hits on his inhaler (so un-real mannish behavior), asking for his only daughter's hand.
Luckily for me, his memory failed five years later when I begged him to let her marry me.
Unfortunately (or maybe not) however, my children love to camp. We have occasionally camped together, though I've always tried to steer them toward other (more pleasing to me) family activities.
I couldn't stop them this weekend.
As we cleaned out the garage, Mary noticed the tent stashed high in the rafters (intentionally high). She submitted her request. I begrudgingly agreed to pitch the tent in the back yard and sleep the night with them. The wife I had swooned over years earlier in a brave act of flagellation amongst the foothills of the Blue Ridge, decided to stay inside the house.
It just wasn't fair.
Anyway, I built a fire in our backyard pit using a most excellent accelerant (gasoline), and cooked some hot dogs on our propane camp stove. There in the dusky humidity of an early May evening we hurriedly ate and gathered up all the other camping stuff necessary for a successful sleep under the stars.
I inflated the air mattress while the children fetched their sleeping bags. Next, I fired up the lantern and we entered the tent ready to go gently into the good night.
Or so I thought.
Almost immediately Thomas began having trouble with his gastrointestinal tract. Evidently, my frankfurters offended his normally peaceful guts. At once, he decided to go back inside with his mother. Shortly thereafter the camping mystique wore thin with the absence of two team members and so I made the executive decision we all return to the house.
Luke and Mary agreed, thrusting an abrupt ending to our first camping excursion of the year.
And so, it came as more than a little surprise, when gathering up the tent the next day with my daughter, that she claimed to have had fun anyway. I thought for a moment about how I somehow missed the fun she so easily recognized.
For her I suppose it was a memorable snapshot in time, a piece of good history which might sustain her through future fears and uncertainty.
I had a funny feeling standing there with this new woman remembering that camping trip with her mother twenty one years earlier. It occurred to me that, for better or worse, we all carry for many years the things of our past and memories from long ago.
And suddenly, I remembered some advice stored within the archives of my own memory. I was keenly aware and understood with a new clarity that the best things in life...
aren't really things at all...
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
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Last night we all completed our bedtime routines and my two sons jumped under the covers with me. I heard Lisa brushing her teeth in the bathroom, while unfinished homework occupied Mary's final waking minutes. I wrestled around with the boys letting them practice various holds, chokes and flips on me and each other.
I knew Lisa couldn't hear the bed cracking from our aggressive activities.
The boys knew our slumber party tradition might be a possibility.
We were both right.
There's just something our kids (probably most) love about sleeping with their parents. Once every month or so we acquiesce and allow them the privilege. We decided long ago to make the most of opportunities that would likely disappear as they got older.
This is one of those things that can't last forever.
I sleep with the boys and Lisa sleeps with Mary, though what bedroom we inhabit varies greatly. Last night the boys and I got the "big bed" as we call it. It's really not that big, but compared to the twin beds in the other rooms it makes sleeping three much more comfortable.
A disagreement soon arose between Luke and Thomas about who would sleep in the middle. Both wanted the cherished spot as Luke quickly flung himself into it despite the pleas from Thomas who claimed it was his turn. I did the only diplomatic and fair thing a father could do.
"Call it in the air," I announced to Luke as I flipped the penny high.
"Heads," he said.
"Heads it is."
Thomas immediately dropped his own head, while a broad smile consumed Luke's countenance.
"Fair and square," Luke said. "Fair and square."
I have to admit I was a little relieved. I love both boys, but Thomas just has a way of mauling others he sleeps beside. I think he's even defied the physical law that says two separate pieces of matter can't occupy the same space at the same time.
Anyway, after a few minutes of hearing various sporting exploits from Luke and Lego projects from Thomas, we said our prayers and tried to sleep. I turned over on my stomach and immediately heard Thomas breathing heavily. Then suddenly, Luke put his arm around my back and draped his leg across mine.
He didn't say a word.
He just laid there.
His unsolicited kindness gave me a soothing peace. It made me feel a special kind of joy-a joy born from knowing the love of a son who doesn't have to love me back, a joy born from love reciprocated.
He used his arm and leg in a quiet way so different from our earlier wrestling. He used them to tell the story of his love for his father.
And then it occurred to me. That's probably how God feels when I submit to Him. Love born from my own free will, expressed through obedience gives Him peace. When I obey His commands, when I live a pure life, when I practice what I preach, He likely feels my arm reach around Him and my leg atop His own.
He doesn't need it to survive. But, I bet it feels really good.
I bet it brings Him...
For more about joy go to: http://www.bridgetchumbley.com/2010/05/joy-blog-carnival/