Sitting in my office for a few minutes after the end of the day, my head spinning from getting used to a new job, I felt glory of the work I was to do fade quickly as I realized that a big cut in pay set in. I opened up good old Microsoft Excel and decided to crunch some numbers… The good news was that with what I had in savings, I wouldn’t go into the negative for my budget for at least 9 months….
Yep, I had to figure out how to pay what were still big paycheck bills on a little paycheck budget.
I was thankful that I had some time to figure out a better budget and maybe even get an extra job so that I could afford my new career calling. When I finally left the office and went outside I saw battle line being drawn in the sky. Half was roiling and angry thunder clouds, black like coal smoke, the other was bright and blue with the sun brightly holding back the clouds. I chose to face the sun and feel the warmth on my face. Closing my eyes I felt thankful for the sun and reminded myself to be thankful for my job. A job where I could make a difference if not a mint.
A cute little beep/clunk sounded as I clicked the fancy little button on my keychain and my car unlocked itself, I got in just as the first heavy drops splattered on my windshield. The Dark clouds had won the day and were celebrating by releasing their purchase upon the land.
My drive along the freeway was uneventful with the windshield wipers not quit keeping time with the Christian music on my radio. I used the voice activated blue tooth in my car, “Siri, remind me to call my new insurance company to ask about benefits.”
“O.K. here’s your reminder….” her cheery response didn’t take the edge off of my frustration that my insurance wasn’t as good as my old job and my deductible would be big.
The storm had brought a slight chill to the Texas summer and even though 71 degrees isn’t cold, it feels cold when it’s the result of a 30 degree drop within fifteen wet and rainy minutes. I clicked the seat warmers on as the exit came up for my neighborhood. Some frantic activity to the side stole my attention for a moment. A group of the transient folks who live in a vacant lot were racing for cover beneath the overpass. A few of them tugging and puling shopping carts full of their belongings trying to save them from the deluge. Black or grey hair slicked down on brown faces, clothing clinging to bent frames, they struggled to help themselves and each other to escape the rain.
I turned onto my street and made a mental note to really make the time to make care packages for the small community of homeless on my corner. It was nagging me to do so for as long as I’d been in the neighborhood.
Walking up to my apartment I saw my upstairs neighbor with her umbrella walking her three little Boston Terriers, the youngest was excited by the weather and ran up and jumped up at me to get her pats and attention.
“Crazy how cold it got so quickly,” I said as I bent down to scratch little ears that were bouncing about my legs.
“I know it wasn’t even supposed to rain, at least we get a break from having the ac on.” she was struggling with the umbrella and leashes as she responded.
A few more trivial pleasantries and we went our separate ways. The coolness of my apartment was a contrast compared to the usual 85 that I faced when I got home. I never leave the ac on when I’m out to conserve energy and money, I was thankful that it was cool enough inside to keep the ac off for another night. Normally I had to sit and sweat for a half hour before my place cooled off in the evening.
I went to the fridge and opened it and let out a short, silent stream of curses as I realized that I’d have to settle for PBJ because I forgot to defrost a fish fillet. A cold sandwich dinner would cap off a day that I struggled, with only minor success, to be thankful for
My head was still a little clouded with doubt about my future finances so I figured I’d numb it with a little Netflix. I clicked through trying hard not to pause on the bikini movies that are the artifact of my old watching history.
Unfortunately I was week and when the “Because you watched…” row came up it was filled with temptation I scrolled along. It must have been some documentary I had watched because the whole row was documentaries. Something caught my attention right away, but not what you think. “Living on One Dollar” is a documentary about some college kids who decide to go to Guatemala to live just as the Guatemalans do. On one dollar a day.
I don’t really know why but I clicked watch and my jaw dropped….
Less than an hour after I frantically tried to figure out my budget for a salary that is higher than the national average I watched four college kids try to budget money that is the equivalent of earning an average of one dollar per day. They even created a spin wheel with different amounts to simulate the native experience of not knowing how much or when they would get actual cash. Some days they had plenty.
Some days, just like the natives, they didn’t get to eat.
10 minutes after cursing about having to eat what is surprisingly complete nutrition in the form of PBJ, I was watching people who sometimes didn’t eat at all. I watched the boys as they learned from natives to buy lard (my mom hates that word but it’s full of calories, the lard not the word) to supplement their beans and rice. The lard is cheap and is high in calories to keep you going for little money.
The second night the boys stayed in their little shack the Guatemalan Rain Forest lived up to its name and opened up on the little tin building. Water poured in through several holes in the roof and, I guess to break up the cliché, even poured in from some holes in the walls.
25 minutes after I was clicking the little seat heater in my car I watched as the boys like the natives shiver in the chill of the downpour.
The next day for the little group the sun was back out and boiling away the water from the soggy ground. As the boys were sweating in the shack as they decided to walk to a neighbor to ask about a doctor for one of their ranks who had taken a fever from the rain and chill. The neighbors told them through a mix of Spanish and a native Mayan dialect that they would have to go try to get a ride to town and have money to see the doctor. Of course the boys’ daily allowance of money wouldn’t cover the doctor visit so the next piece of advice was to ask for a loan from the “Mayor” of the little village.
35 minutes after I was using $600 dollar technology to remind myself to call to complain about the deductible for my coverage that would basically take care of any and all of my medical needs I watched the struggle to pay for and then wait in line for hours for very limited medical care and even more limited pharmaceutical availability.
The kicks to the gut of my emotional thankfulness kept coming, I was whining about my ac bill and having to sweat at 78 degrees mere minutes before watching villagers have to live through extremes of temperature between 60 and 100 degrees. I watched a young girl who was crying because she wanted to be a nurse but had to quit school around 7th grade to take care of her little sisters while only a little over an hour earlier I was worrying about my student loan bill.
I realized how lucky I really was, and that I should be someone who could distribute the benefits of that luck. I was caught up in the spirit! I decided that I would go on a mission to Guatemala and help build a school and help make farms and build hospitals I would… I…. I would never be able to go to Guatemala, not in the near future.
I sat back on my leather couch, watching my big, flat screen t.v. eating my PBJ (actually my favorite meal if I’m honest) and realized I couldn’t reach as far as Guatemala. With a new humility I watched the remainder of the film. An honest and eventful telling of poverty that we in the U.S. can barely comprehend. I wanted to help but flailed about for a way.
Suddenly in my mind popped an image of souls drenched and dejected, frantically saving their possessions. Rejected from society living in a field and under a freeway. I didn’t have to reach all the way to Guatemala to make a difference, I only had to go about a block.
So many lessons learned in that short time.
God sent me to find thankfulness and attracted me to what I needed to see with the very weakness of my sin.
The best way to be happy is to be thankful, for there are those who would love to have your troubles.
And, a great way to not worry about myself is to decide to help take care of others. Right after watching this I started my work at a place called Community First, a village that provides housing for those wishing to end their homelessness. I’m not in Guatemala but I’m doing what I can.
When I worry that it’s still not enough I remember this verse from Matthew
Matthew 6:25-27 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
He paints the sky in bold bright hues
No need to wait in hallowed pews
But trees like days begin to blur
While background images hardly stir
Rush through life so frantic so fast
Let beauty last
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
I’ve been working on a project at a place called community first. It is a community of formerly homeless folks who are living together in houses built with love and devotion. The current project is to build a timber framed outdoor pavilion called ‘Community Table.’ We are using only hand powered tools and 2000 year old techniques. The guy who is running this project said that timber framers will sometimes avoid the heart wood. You can see that it has imperfections and that all the brokenness goes right to the heart. But… that’s also where the rings radiate from and if your careful you can work around the brokenness and even with it to bring out the strength and the beauty that can only be found in the heartwood.
the Lord is nigh unto them that are of broken heart
Killing Norman Rockwell….
I remember the smell of Turkey so it must have been a holiday… Thanksgiving or Christmas… funny that I don’t know which, but it was a holiday with all the family and all the smells, and all the stress. I was in the living room, the smells and sounds of holiday cooking barely tickling my consciousness enough to irritate and distract me from watching a random football game.
A holler broke through the general din of kids playing/fighting, football announcers describing how team x would really have to outscore team y if they wanted to win (brilliant by the way!), and the music that She always had to have on during holidays, ‘Honey!” she was still calling me honey back then….
I turned down the announcer describing how “it’s all about the defense today” and answered nicely, “Whhhaaaattt?!?!?”
“Can’t you hear the bell? Someone is here!”
“Of course, I’m getting it now!” I got up from the couch wondering how I hadn’t heard the bell… the three kids had beaten me to the door of course and were arguing about who was going to open it and their excitement for the currently unknown holiday visitor yielded to the need to win the fight.
Youngest was calmly proclaiming her right to open the door, “I got here first I get to open it!”
Oldest was pulling rank, “I’m the oldest… I’m almost a teenager, so I get to!” she stomped her foot to emphasize her claim even though it belayed the maturity she was trying to exercise.
Meanwhile Middle (who at 7 already knew that he didn’t have a chance arguing with his two sisters) was peeking through the window, “Grandma! It’s Grandma!”
I parted the screaming sea of blonde curls in order to get to the door.
“Hi mom…” I saw her beaming face, cheeks rosy with the cold, and she looked so happy to see us. Neither of us had any way of knowing what my wife had just found out…
Before she could even get in she had a belt of blonde hair as all three kids ran out to give hugs. Two pies were lifted high into the air so as not to get knocked down. Of course in the process Mom’s 70 year old body got overbalanced and she began to topple forward… her smile never faded as she fell… a product of pure joy of basking in the love of her grandkids. I had a split second to decide; grab her or the pies. I split the difference and wrapped her in one arm and caught one pie with the other. A mass of grandkids and grandma lay giggling furiously on the floor with a splatter of peach cobbler adding a golden halo around the three cherubs with their Angelic leader at the center.
To add to the mayhem the geriatric dog came shuffling in to distribute licks between the faces and pie that were now within his reach.
“Jake! Get outta here dog!” Jake the dog took two more big dog bites of the pie with eyes wide in equal parts pleasure and panic before he ran (well… he waddled… he was 12 and arthritic but it was as close to a run as he could muster) out of the hall.
“Wow what a welcome.” Mom said still giggling as she got up from the floor. The kids got up and scrambled off as they saw their mother standing in the entryway with a scowl. The scowl faded and was replaced with what I knew was genuine love for my mother. At least I knew I didn’t have to worry about the wife vs. mother-in-law cliché.
“Hi mom,” my wife said, as she smiled, and as my heart smiled the way it always did when I saw them together.
I offered my non-pie holding hand to my Mother as she said to my Wife, “Hi hon, the turkey smells amazing. And look at you, so beautiful, haven’t changed a bit since I first introduced you two.”
My wife did a sarcastic girlish curtsy that was still cute and graceful at the same time. An exchange occurred between them in an instant that was below (or more likely above) my understanding though not my perception. Were Wife’s eyes watering? She must have been cutting onions.
During a warm hug I saw a tear streak down Wife’s face… onions must have been really strong.
We shuffled to the table where the holiday meal was spread out when we noticed the three kids had peach cobbler stuck in their hair. Just as I finished picking peaches out of three curly headed kids hair when Wife came in with the turkey, golden and glistening, smelling like… wait, a little like rotten dog food mixed with peach cobbler. Every human in the room looked at each other in disgust and the dog under the table looked up with guilt.
“Oh my God! Ulp, that’s awful! What is that?” Wife was trying to hold her nose and her gag reflex at the same time.
“Jake ate the peach cobbler that Mom dropped hon… oh it must not be agreeing with him.”
I looked to my mother and saw that she had put her shirt up over her nose and was laughing to the point of convulsions, the kids were mimicking their grandmother and sharing in her uproarious laughter. Wife wasn’t sharing in the mirth and was looking at me as though it was my fault….
“I’ll take him for a little walk hon… let him… um.. air out.”
I quickly got the leash on the dog and the dog out the door before he could drop another olfactory bomb.
The crisp air felt good in my lungs (especially compared the stale-dog-stink I was leaving) and the steel in the grey, wintery sky matched my resolve to have a good holiday. The dog was happily sniffing and then watering everything within range of his leash, his arthritic body transforming into that of a younger dog with the excitement of the walk. As the dog walked he would periodically lift his tail and audibly relieve himself of the gas problem he was having (although with perspective the humans were the victims of the problem) so we turned around and went back inside.
When we got in I saw that the family was at the table and ready to eat. I attributed the tightness in my wife’s eyes to the fact that a mild fight was brewing about who would say grace, once again Middle stayed out of it and just waited staring at the turkey. Youngest was providing intriguing evidence why she should say grace, “I should talk to God because you stayed up late last night reading even though mom told you go to sleep and then I saw you pick your nose and wipe it on the wall and God doesn’t like liars.”
Oldest of course could not let such accusations go without a healthy dose of ironic denial and retribution, “No I did not stay up and besides I was reading a school book and I don’t pick my nose but it’s better to wipe them on the wall than to eat them!”
Middle was giggling softly to himself and I glanced at my Mother and she was trying to recover from the knowledge that her grandkids may or may not have been booger eaters. Wife cleared her throat and shot Mom glances at all three kids and me (I guess she thought my slight cough was a giggle), and then she said, “God loves all of us, he loves liars, but hates the lie.” Why did she look at me when she said that?
Wife asked Middle to say grace and he did a great job, “God, thank you for the food and please save us all from Jake’s farts, Amen.” At this Oldest and Youngest forgot their differences and joined together in peals of laughter that rose like tiny bells indicating the start of dinner.
Dinner went off without much more drama besides a little bickering over the last drumstick… but I conceded and let my Mom have it. The forks finally slowed and we all started leaning back with bellies full of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes and minds full of worry that there’d be no room for pie. Wife announced that the kids would clear the table before the cousins showed up for family desert at just about the time that Jake let go with another assault on our olfactory senses. Just the quickest of looks from Wife indicated that I needed to take the dog for a walk or Jake and I would both be sleeping outside.
When I got back outside the steel was gone from the sky and a brownish, blackish grey was taking over. My senses were slowed by the digesting food and my mood started to once again match the sky, this time the gloom rather than resolve. I just had a warm and wonderful meal with a family that was truly a gift from God. So much joy was between the lines of the arguments and so much happiness filled all my days. Why then, was it not enough for me, why did I have my deceptions and lies?
A sick feeling grew in the pit of my stomach that had nothing to do with the smell coming from Jake, I hated myself… for so long I’ve hated myself, and now especially. Back inside that house was everything I thought I had always wanted, everything my friends envied, but I still pushed for more, for little sinful secrets to feel good about myself, I had always justified myself with the knowledge that it was never physical. I always told myself that since it wasn’t physical, it wasn’t cheating. I was deceiving myself as much as anyone else. I decided I was done. A bitter rain started to fall on me and the dog but I could hardly feel it. I hated being a liar for such selfish reasons and I decided I was done. My resolve was back and I turned to face the sleeting sky and headed back to my house. I was going to send a text to end it all. I was going to be true to my Wife and to who I wanted to be. I reached in my pocket to find my phone but it wasn’t there. I felt a wave of heated panic go down the back of my neck and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see steam coming from the rain wet sides of my neck or from behind my ears.
I hurried home, but not fast enough. I saw my Brother’s car in the drive and could hear the kids with their cousins playing in the back yard despite the drizzle.
I walked in and found my Mom and Wife alone at the table. Between them was my phone as well as hard looks of accusation. Wife’s eyes were filling with tears despite the anger on her face. “Who’s Jessica?”
*The preceding was a fiction, but like good fiction (I said like good fiction… y’all can decide if this is good or not) there are several truths weaved in. This story could have played out several times in my life, I’m not proud to admit it but it could have. I won’t share the real stories of my endings because I love and respect the people involved in those endings and those stories don’t belong to me. I don’t believe I have the right to share them with anyone else.
So now I find myself trying to figure out why I continue to make the same mistakes, trying to understand why God lets me happen to wonderful people, and I realize, it’s not for me to understand, it’s for me to pray that God will change my heart.
I really do want that Norman Rockwell life, but you know what’s funny? Norman Rockwell didn’t have a Norman Rockwell life. Maybe that’s why he painted such beautiful visions of the American family, he was trying to recreate something he never got. I do love all of his paintings and I feel like I can see the longing in each.
I can’t make it up to those that I’ve hurt other than to continue on a path that will keep me from breaking another heart.
When I find myself asking God how he could let me hurt people I remember and pray Poverbs 3:5,6 and trust Him to keep me on a straight path.
Proverbs 3:5,6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
*Jake the dog was actually based on a real character he was my dog in high school and my dad took over his ownership when I joined the Army. Once again my sisters can attest to this and to his famous and formidable flatulence that could clear a holiday table faster than any political or religious discussion. RIP Jake the dog.
Suffering with silence
Secret sweaty violence
Stains the young soul
Dingy dark rooms all forgotten
In the mind storing guilt
But Brightness shines on
The Battle fought and won
A few staggering steps
In from the night
Dirty souls gain beauty
When shown in the light
Damage done to children can live on and grow in silence and the cycle continues, only by going against our intuition and admitting that we are victims and admitting our weakness can we find healing and hope to lean on God’s strength. A conversation with a long lost friend yesterday reminded me to always look at myself through God’s eyes and shine light into the darkness. I can’t say I have righteousness, but what whatever is in my heart needs His light.
When I’m feeling like I can’t trust the world or even myself I pray Psalm 37:3-6 and I ask for the His light to shine into those dark rooms.
Psalm 37: 3-6 “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this; He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”
Once again I have to point out how scary it can be to post these little windows into my pain. Fear of judgement and ridicule is so strong. Every time I pray about it though the same though sounds in my head, do it for them. If you are hurting remember you are not alone, we all have dark corners of dark rooms in our heads and hearts. Every single person does, we are all broken and in need of healing so don’t be afraid to step out of the night and seek help.
p.s. I promise I’ll get back to the funny stuff with my next post 🙂
Did you know that the plural for Platypus is Platypodes? For real, trust me, I have a BS in Zoology… of course my sisters know exactly how much BS comes out of that degree…
So why the heck would I even be talking about Platypodes? Well to explain why you have to come back with me about 41 years or so…. Hang on folks, another flashback!
At 5 I was already facing the struggles of being “the sensitive kid” I didn’t know what sensitive was, but I knew I just couldn’t let stuff go, and teasing set me into rages or crying fits or temper tantrums or on a really exciting day my family would see the synergistic effects of all three (I didn’t yet know what synergy was either, but I knew I was easy to melt down.)
My 5 sisters, also being sensitive, picked up on this quickly… depending on the sister or even the day I would be subject to teasing for entertainment (watching me implode, then explode, then re-implode may not have been worth getting bitten but we only had three channels back then so…) or sometimes I would be very nurtured or cared for by one or more of my sisters. A skinned knee never went unattended and I actually didn’t learn to tie my shoes until I was about seven….teen because someone always did it for me. I really had 6 mothers growing up and I know for sure that without that care I would not have survived some of the things I’ve faced in my life. (I gotta put in props to my sisters and not only because they follow my blog… but mostly because they follow my blog)
So 6 mothers…. one dad. I don’t know if there is any boy who didn’t grow up wanting more from his dad. Some boys grow up without any dad at all so I have to really say how grateful I am for the time that he gave me. As a toddler he had this game. Usually on Saturday mornings I’d be watching cartoons or playing with my Spider-Man and having him beat up Superman. (it actually happened in a huge cross-over comic in 1976, Spider-Man was radiated with energy from a red sun at the time rendering Superman vulnerable but still…)
Whether I was playing or watching tv or whatever my dad had this whistle, I still remember exactly the tune, when I would hear it my heart would just bubble with happiness that came out as a toddler giggle and I would race to his room. When I’d get there he had a saying, “Beware the Duck Billed Platypus!” and I’d dive on the bed to get tickled by the Platypus and laugh and giggle. This is the fondest memory I have of my dad. It made me feel wanted and loved and valued by him.
One day the whistles stopped.
I read a post on the facebooks the other day, (that actually wasn’t political) it read, “One day you will put your child down and never pick him up again.” Ouch.
I remember the exact year my dad put me down, never to pick me up again.
I guess he thought I grew too old for tickles and I get that but, it was never replaced with anything. I almost hate to keep writing because it sounds like I’m demonizing my dad, that’s not what this is about. I know he did thousands of things for us kids that we never even knew, I know he cared, and I know he sacrificed and worked hard to provide for us. So please, please understand I realize how lucky I was to have him.
This is just about that feeling of loss when something wonderful in your life is over. I’ll never forget that feeling of pure joy and happiness when I’d hear that whistle, and there is still a little boy wandering around in my heart waiting to hear it again.
My dad had another little running joke with me, the Johnny Cash song, “The Boy Named Sue.” He would tease me and call me Sue and I don’t remember really knowing that song was about, and I liked the attention, but I didn’t miss the implication that his only boy might have been a little too sensitive and girly. I went along with the joke and he had other nicknames for me that were better. He did call me “Speed,” all the time and I thought that was awesome because I loved Speed Racer. But when the “Sue” came out after one of my tantrums or when I’d be crying, I’d try to stop crying and try to stop feeling so that dad would go back to calling me Speed.
It wasn’t until I was an adult and my dad lost his 15 year battle with lung cancer that I figured out what, “The Boy Named Sue” was all about. On February 26th, the day after my birthday I was on my way to work and got a call from my sister, “Daddy died this morning.”
Did not feel a thing, the businessman in my head took over and I mechanically did the things I had to do to get a Substitute at work and call my wife etc. etc. I felt nothing.
Not until a week later when a radio announcer told the airwaves that Johnny Cash had died and then he played his favorite Johnny Cash song. Y’all are smart so I’m sure you’ve guessed it…
“Boy Named Sue.” I got a little choked up, once again I was on my way to work, but I turned up the radio to listen to the song. Near the end, after an epic battle the father of the boy named Sue sings,
“Son, this world is rough
And if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough
And I know I wouldn’t be there to help ya along
So I give ya that name and I said goodbye
I knew you’d have to get tough or die
And it’s the name that helped to make you strong”
A flood of emotion crushed in on my heart, my dad was gone, he had passed, and I finally realised what he was telling me when he called me Sue. I had to pull over and stop to let it all out. The prophecy of that song played out in my life.
There are men who had it worse, there are men who had it better. I’m just a man trying to figure out my dad so that I can be a better dad to my son and daughter. I don’t want them to have to show the world a tough face to make up for my absence or to end up with a little child in their heart listening for a whistle that will never come.
So I pray to Our Father, God grant me the wisdom to see opportunities to teach my kids about your unfailing love, and how you are here for us always, how we can rely on your strength and let me be an example of your love and grace.
A verse that helps me see the God is the Father to the fatherless and inspires me to better fatherhood.
Psalm 46: 1-3 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and mountains quake and with their surging.”
p.s. I love you dad…
First of all, if you reblog this post you help me, I help you and you help your readers, so everyone wins. Hey everyone. Quite a boring day for me over here😕. But, yesterday, I took a little break from writing poems and I gave out blogging tips which I hadn’t done in a long […]
*I’m not really trying to turn this into a poetry blog… (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I obviously love poetry) I’ve just been feeling more poetic that prosaic…
Watching dark clouds the midnight crows
Black spots line up in their expectant rows
Spectating specters to the coming storm
Dividing the depth of billowing forms
Carefully they preen inky feathers
though this is not vanity
Rather work to withstand the weather’s
Storms will always come folks (like the storm I may face from my Zoology friends for writing about crows under a picture of Texas Grackles… it’s called poetic license!) Yes there will always be another storm and they may look dark and foreboding, but if our houses are built on rock we will survive, if we study His word and preen the feathers of our souls we will survive.
Whether a storm of conflict, temptation, sin, or even getting caught in sin (right?) I remember that I can’t rely on my own strength, I remember that I have a Higher Power to call on, and that if He is before me, then His power is between me and the storm.
Psalm 16: 8 “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”