412. Unfriended Progenously

 

You have likely been unfriended before in the FB world, right?  It happens. You get busy with your own self absorption and fail to pour into one of your face book friends’ self absorption.  Maybe you don’t even realize that your 608 FB friend count is now 607. However, when it’s your own flesh and blood daughter, well, it’s pretty noticeable, and devastating. Yes, bloglings, my daughter unfriended me, and if you hang around I will tell you how in excruciating and humiliating detail.

By post 412 you must know that I am a joker, gadfly, comic, teaser, bear poker, a smoker, and a midnight toker. Okay, I’m getting carried away with Steve Miller’s song cycling in my hamster wheel of memorized songs. Wherever that hamster wheel stops, there’s a song to be sung. OOh, oooh, Sunshine Daydream by the Dead comes up on my shuffle. I’ll be right back. You don’t buy coffee; you merely rent it.

Anyway about a year ago, yes almost exactly at this time of pre-holidays, my lovely lawyer daughter sent out a FB post about employers being liable for their party goer guests if they served alcohol and their guests got in some smash up later. Liability is a big scary word to legalists. Now it was very well written and professional as a gold plated fountain pen. However, I failed to distinguish her professional FB account from her personal account when I  responded foolishly, thinking “She’ll get a laugh out of this response.”

I replied to her warning. It was a Friday as I recall… the last Friday for my already blemished dignity.

“Dear Ms. MCHammer,

I read your article with much interest. Now, I am self employed and work on the second floor of my building, up a flight of 15 steps. My legal question for you is this:  If I have a holiday party and get myself drunk, and then if I should fall down my stairs and injure myself, can I then sue myself? Can I be both plaintiff and respondent? How would that work? ”

My real name was attached.

Never hit send, bloggidos, unless you have thoroughly checked out your global liability. Of course, I hit send and chuckled about the anticipated funny response. My daughter is a funny girl, by the way. Oh, but it was not a funny reply I got.

Monday morning she was called in to her boss’s office. The company CEO was on the phone. They asked what the FB message was all about…. “And who, pray tell, is this guy?”

Horrified, she read the message for the first time under their glare, imagining the end of her brief career in law. “Uh, he’s my dad.” Gulp. Shamefully she looked down at her cute suede mauve shoes. They were comfortable and would be kind to her feet as security escorted her off the campus, she thought. Later on, these shoes would give her steps bouncy energy as she walked from interview to interview, hopelessly trying to escape this professional disaster.

Stunned, the two bosses waited for the other one to say something. Finally the big boss said, “It must have been hard for you in high school.”

She laughed out all the nervous energy that had been building up in her organs like steam.

“You have nooooo idea!”

It is a little known scientific fact that many people laugh spontaneously prior to their own executions. Apparently it helps them relax and die peacefully. It’s an autonomic reaction just before one voids his or her bowels.

“Jack, what do you want to do with the message?”

“I don’t know, Jim.” Pause. Smirk. ” Just leave it up. Hell, it is pretty funny. It’ll show we have a sense of humor here at Litigation Nation.”

My daughter sighed a deep sigh of relief. “Oh, thank you. I’m sorry. It will not happen again. I promise….”

“We know because you are going to unfriend him. Block him from any attachment to this company. Disenfranchise this clown. Cut him off….”

“Yes, sir. I will. I was adopted, by the way. We are nothing alike. I’ll bring in my birth certificate and take a DNA swab if you like.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

Later that day I got the upset word from my daughter. Man oh man!!  Have you ever felt like your body is melting away? My feet melted, then my legs, as my stomach dropped to a pig farm in China where, coincidentally, pig stomachs were being harvested on that very day.  Shame, like ice cold formaldehyde pumped through my vascular system, embalming me in that moment, naked in my sin, on display for all to mock in the Norwegian wedge of Antarctica. I felt like I’d killed her dog, which is the best dog ever. It hurt in a hollowed out way, not sharp local pain but all consuming galactic pain that burst out into deep space. I hate to hurt others, but hurting my daughter felt like instant lung cancer. Breathing suddenly hurt, as if shards of glass were in every breath.

Image result for arabian desert pictures

I was exiled. Sent into the desert of social media to wander aimlessly till the end of my useless, shame filled life. Only ghosts and specters, slivers of shattered humanity inhabit that wasteland. Unplugged and unfriended, they hide by day and watch distant fires by night, knowing they may never approach. Modern day millennial lepers. I’m the guy on the left in the picture below.

Never lose hope, my one-humped blog camels. Forgiveness may show up one day like rain in that arid wasteland you are wandering through. It did for me. As I painted my daughter’s house this past month, she asked me how she could ever thank me. I saw an opening and took a shot. “Refriend me on Facebook. That’s all I want. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“That’s all? You know I’m resigning from Litigation Nation in two days, right?”

“Yes, I know. Please reinstate me. I will not be improper ever again.”

“Deal, Daddio.”

Suddenly my leper chrysalis fell away and a forgiven butterfly slipped out to float away on a breeze of mercy, never to fart in the wind again.

 

 

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352. The Most Wonderful Time

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, goes the song, etching an idealistic Currier and Ives lithograph over a Norman Rockwell world inside a Martha Stewart silver picture frame. For many folks, however, it is anything but the most wonderful time. It’s the undiagnosable health disorder, or a loved one’s dementia, or a marriage that is out of gas, or a parent who won’t show up yet again. It’s the first Christmas without the child who died. It’s unemployment again. Loss. Fear. Angst. Unfathomable darkness that holds no sleep… only terror.

Andy Williams sang it…

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
It’s the hap -happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap – happiest season of all
 
Well, even Andy Williams had some heart aches, as I recall. As popular and successful as he was, his ex-wife accidentally murdered her then boyfriend, and Andy showed up to defend her and pay her legal fees in 1976. I don’t think that was the hap-happiest season of all. More likely it was the awk-awkwardest season of all. She got 30 days in jail, which she served on weekends that she was not vacationing with her defense lawyer, whom she later married. Hey, this is starting to sound like a Kardashian movie where crème cheese cocaine cupcakes are served to celebrity guests on gold plated china at a brothel and no one ever goes to jail or work. They just go shopping. But with all those gay happy meetings and holiday greetings, who has time for consequences? Party on!! Consume, consume, consume.
All of that reality t.v. noise holds a certain appeal for the masses– curb appeal, sex appeal, surfacey marketability appeal, buzz and sizzle. But it holds onto nothing when the winds of purpose blow. It’s a silky tumbleweed somersaulting across a desert, dribbling seed pods of emptiness.  All the glitz and good cheer are no more anchored than champagne bubbles in a flute. Ever wonder why the bubble streams originate at certain points?
It happens when microscopic fibers ­– left by a kitchen towel or often just an airborne particle –  stick to the side of the glass, allowing molecules of dissolved carbon dioxide to coalesce and form bubbles.
In short, imperfect surfaces and dirt particles are the source of the fizzle. At a certain level we know this intuitively, but we lust for that fizz anyway. I suppose it’s always been like this because human nature is the same today as ever it has been.
In the pre-Christian era when Abraham parted ways with his nephew Lot, we know how that turned out because the word sodomy is still with us unfortunately, to remind us of the perverse depravity that was on the loose in the cities of Abraham’s time. Lot seemed to be thrilled with the glitz of the material world and was drawn to the fizz of city life. He chose the well watered plain of Jordan for his flocks.  On the other hand, Abraham was holy and stayed in the still wilderness near the trees of Mamre, near God. As you likely recall, he pestered God to intervene and save Lot and his daughters from a horrible encounter in Sodom. God complied. He blinded the Sodomites, allowing Lot, his wife, and kids an escape as he fireballed that perverse city.
Something like this theme appears in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart. The sappy sentimentality of this movie gags me as an adult, but it does demonstrate the difference a good man can make. The saccharin gag response comes from the ridiculously shallow spirituality of a Hollywood angel of God earning his wings. George Bailey is saved from suicide by clumsy Clarence, who shows him how life would look without his presence. What brings up my bile is the false focus on a man’s goodness, i.e., giving the credit to the messenger that belongs to the author of the message. George did not redeem himself. Clarence did not redeem him. Nor did the people of Bedford Falls redeem him. The savior of mankind redeemed him, but that does not work well on film. Instead we get a curly haired little girl,
spouting the predictable warm and fuzzy platitudes. Thus, sugar poisoning. Lot did not reform Sodom and restart the savings and loan. He barely escaped the depravity.
God is unpredictable, folks. You can’t get ahead of Him, so you might as well get behind Him. Problem is in our materialistic culture, when things are good, we think we are awesome, smart, sexy, precious, etc. The more stuff we give or get, the better we are. Ga-ga-gag. Time to reframe. Strip away the tarnished gilt and see your putrid guilt. Test your futile strength by feeling your awesome weakness. Reject your dying flesh and accept your God-given beauty. Blessings come in all shapes and sizes, even in silences and absence. God often works paradoxically, by pruning us of material things so that we can flourish in our faith. A pruned down grape vine is about as ugly as a wildebeest, but Jesus used it as a metaphor of Himself and His followers. Humble, thoroughly humble. Not sexy, popular, glitzy, stunning, or provocative.
Loss can sand down what is left behind, enabling us to accentuate and celebrate life’s broken beauties. We can still love what’s left after the stroke, the accident, the divorce, or the relapse. Even after life knocks the wind out of us, God can breathe for us and through us; that’s what spirit means, after all, breath. It’s more than bubbles of carbon dioxide. If we are God breathers, well, what a wonderful malady that would be, spiritual tuberculosis. .. to be infected and consumed by the breath of God.
So my jingle belled javelinas, it comes down to this:  consume more inflated emptiness or be consumed and saturated by your Creator.

351. Christmas Songs Like Cookies

Favorite Christmas songs change as you age, I think, just like childhood cookie choices and Christmas activities. And every year one or two are added to the standards list.

As a kid I could gorge on oatmeal cookies, Oreos, or even plain old sugar cookies, or ginger snaps. My favorite was chocolate oatmeal no bakes, which really are candy not cookies. Also a good bowel super charger. As my triglycerides float higher in later life, I have to pass on these sugar factories, fatty foods, salt, and useless white flour products. As I get older and wiser, I have to choose healthier foods… and songs.

The Christmas song book goes on forever with hymns and old standards that go back a hundred years. Some are sad and slow, and some are joyful. It takes a lot to wiggle into this musical encyclopedia.  John Lennon’s So This is Christmas is sort of an anti-war Christmas tune.

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

By the end of the song he slips in the War is over line. Maybe that’s why I don’t get the Christmas spirit out of this song.It’s political.

When you think of traditional Christmas songs, Silent Night and The First Noel saturate the sad and slow market. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Oh Holy Night are still home runs in my book, but I decided to research the most popular Christmas songs. After an exhausting 10 seconds I found a list of the top ten without any explanation of their metrics. I thought I’d share and seek your feedback as I offloaded mine.

The source is About Entertainment, if it matters to you. I can’t argue with their #1 The Christmas Song by Nat king Cole. One of my faves also.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos

How many songs mention our Indigenous Arctic Natives? I challenge you to name one other song with Eskimo in it. So far, so good. Love that saturated silky smooth calf’s skin voice of Nat Cole. Soothing. I bought one of his records at the grocery store for 99 cents when I was a kid. Still have it.

#2 is a sad one from a sad time… World War II days. It’s Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, made famous by Judy Garland

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on
Our troubles will be out of sight (my Lord)
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on
Our troubles will be miles away
Note the focus on troubles. Sad as it is, this was a rewrite of the original because the movie producer of Meet Me in St. Louis thought it was too depressing. I appreciate the song, but I have a hard time endorsing it in the top ten. Tying Christmas to historical times or politics, well, misses the point, I think. Which brings me to #3, Lennon’s So This is Christmas. I’ve already addressed this above. The message of Christmas, the birth of a redeeming savior, ought to override the blues of the day, the wars and the human failures.
#4 I think should be #1. Oh Holy Night, a tough song to sing, is transforming when sung well on Christmas Eve. It’s the first one in this list that mentions Christ or Savior. I am biased toward the original reason, the pre-commercialization purpose of Christmas: to re-create and commemorate the original epic story, before it became Santatized. I have no problem with gifts and Santa and the familiar myths that have sprung up alongside the original story of a savior redeeming mankind. I just want the original to have its place at the center of history, minus reindeer and Santa and elves. The God of the Universe met humanity in the humblest of places. He did not fly in on a sleigh full of presents.
#5 is Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Okay, I like the Boss and it’s fun to rock the holidays. I like to hear this once per Christmas. That’s it.
#6 Baby Please Come Home For Christmas. Baby, please don’t. What the heck is this doing on the list? So  wrong.
#7Jingle Bell Rock. Again, contemporary Yulishness. It belongs in the secular song book of early rock and roll. Not this high, folks. Not worthy.
#8 Little Drummer Boy. No, no, no. Parumpapumpum. No, no, no, no, get outta here son.
#9 Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. Get outta here. Kids, okay. Adults, no. Sing this at the kids’ table.

#10 White Christmas by Bing Crosby. Hard to dis. The man could croon. What if he and Nat Cole did a duet? Liquid cheesecake. Heroin addicts would stop to listen. Good juice.

So, everyone has their favorites. What are yours? Joy to the World, needs to be up near the top of my ten greatest. My buddy Eric loved this song and I loved him, so it’s a safe top three in my book. I’ve always been partial to The First Noel and Silent Night, so we’ve got a top four. I’ll throw down with Nat Cole’s Christmas Song to round out my top five.
Sure there are many others to debate, but that’s for you to do. I’ve already chiseled my choices in stone.
Have yourself a Merry Christmas, big, little, medium, secular, sacred, commercial or not.  May your days be merry and bright, and may all  your Christmases be white.

 

350. Wizardry

funny drunk people, dumpaday (37)Here we are, just you and me, blog drunks. Truly, though this same message is out there for anyone to read, it’s just the two of us at the space bar now, Joe. The lights are low. Pandora plays the old classics softly behind the screen.  “Bartender, set up another post for me and my friend. Make mine a double.”

Why do you come back?  I ask you, why? Surely there are better things to do with your time than hang out with an old rambling dude self-named for a Mexican lunch special.  If I were you, I would not hang out with me. Can’t stay away, huh? Have you no self respect? The guy behind the cyber screen is troubled. Remember the Wizard of Oz? He was just a lost illusionist. He was the same guy in the carnival wagon in Kansas before the tornado hit. You knew that, right?  A good man but a bad wizard. I’ll appropriate that description. I’m a bad, bad wizard, Joe.

If Harry Potter called me out to a wizard magic dust off, I’d lose. Snap!  No question. But if that little jerk knows what’s good for him, he won’t or I’ll skewer him syllabically. Oh, but misery loves company, eh my drunken friend. What’s that? I’m miserable? No, I was sitting here with you, dude, nursing your pouty pout. You came to me. I did not come to you. Oh yeah. You logged in to my synapses not vice versa.

This muddling reminds me of a lady who came to see me because her coworkers told her I could help her. She had a short fuse; hated people; broke into panic without any warning; and was generally an endearing but totally frustrating smartass. From the first session she let me know that she did not like me and that I sucked.

“Is that all you can say, ‘How do you feel about that?’ C’mon. That’s pretty lame.”

“Yeah,  so it seems. You are really angry.”

“Oh, ya think?!! Nice, blame me because you can. And I’m paying you for this. Thanks.”

“Wait a second. You called me, remember? I didn’t call you and plant issues in your brain.”

“I just called to get my coworkers off my back. They told me how wonderful you were. Wrong.”

Laughing, “Definitely wrong. I suck.”

“Okay, laugh it up, you smug bastard.”

“I can’t help it. You keep  punching at who you think I am. I am amazed at the difference between your image of me and who I think I am.”

“Oh, sure. I know how therapy works: you get me to believe I have deep problems that need sixty sessions to fix, and then I have to come back week after week. Meanwhile you can’t see me cuz you’re on a cruise in the Mediterranean.”

“Actually it’s up to you to reschedule, which I’m thinking you’re not going to do. And I cruise the Caribbean.”

With utter contempt, “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? If I never rescheduled. But I’m not gonna give you the satisfaction.”

“So what do you want to do?”

“I don’t want to, but I’ll be back in two weeks, same time, same day. You’re not getting rid of me that easy.”

“I’m not trying to get rid of you.”

And so it went. Tina would crack a bit and then defend the crack.

“Damn you! I told you stuff last week that I should never have shared. I haven’t told anyone that crap in 40 years. And now you have the control. I hate you.”

“You know as well as I do that I can’t do anything with your confidential information. It is toxic, for sure. How about leaving it here with me. Think of me as a toxic waste dump.”

Laughing, “That won’t be too hard.”

Laughing back, “I gave you a beach ball to hit. I thought you would.”

“See, there you go again being the smartest guy in the room.”

“Uh, unless you have a gender swap secret, I am the only guy in the room.”

Guffawing, “Okay, no. I mean I am not a dude, which leaves you. God, I don’t know how your wife puts up with you.”

“I don’t either. She is a saint.”

“Don’t agree with me when I slam you. That takes all the fun out of it.”

“I’m just rollin’ with the punches.”

Slowly this very angry oyster opened and flushed out her septic secrets. One day she told me she was pissed off at me.

“Well, that’s not news. You’ve been busting my butt since we met.”

“You took away my sarcasm. I used to be really good at it, but I can’t pull it off anymore since you told me it was passive aggressive back biting anger. God! You take all the fun out of life.”

“I am a party pooper, loser, pathetic guy in a sweater.”

“That’s all true, but… uh, I’m only gonna say this once… (sotto voce) you are good at this.”

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.”

“I’m not gonna say it again.”

“I thought I heard you say I was good at this. Is that right?”

“Yes, smartass.”

“I prefer intelligent donkey.”

“You would”, chuckling.

We worked faithfully and Tina got better. The super-guarded angry woman began taking risks, telling folks no, and making herself vulnerable. She revisited old guilt inducing memories and reconfigured responsibilities. Some bad folks had hurt her and convinced her adolescent self that it was her fault, always her fault.

Somewhere along the therapy journey she found herself, the part she loved and did not blame. That was a glorious day. Eventually this dark, angry female funnel cloud came in smiling and weeping tears of joy.

“I can’t believe how happy I am. I never would have believed it was possible. I pushed back the curtains at home. I don’t care if some pervert looks in my house. No one is going to steal my joy again.”

“That’s awesome. I am very happy for you.”

Then in her inimitable fork tongued way, “You really are good at this, but I’m still praying for your poor wife. I don’t know how she puts up with you.”

“I don’t either.”

Image result for woman walking into the sunset picture

 

221. The wall of excrement

In the movie Slumdog Millionaire there is a scene early on where the main character’s abusive and jealous brother locks the Slumdog boy into a public outhouse to prevent him from experiencing the arrival of a Bollywood movie star in the slums.  Hundreds of poor kids run to meet the movie star as he arrives by helicopter like a divinity descending. All the slum children clamor for his attention and autograph.  Slumdog is desperate to meet this celebrity, so desperate that he takes his only available option to freedom…he plunges about 8 feet into the poop tank below the outhouse. He comes up covered in human waste and runs headlong toward the crowd around the star. Because of his repulsive appearance and stench, everyone moves out of his way, allowing him to meet the star and gain his autograph. His brother is incensed by this stroke of fortune and sells the autographed picture in the next scene, thus stealing his little brother’s joy. This theme of jealous power and resentment versus innocent love and forgiveness continues throughout the film.

However, the excrement covering the Slumdog is not his own. It really just reflects his older brother’s sin. His brother knew exactly what he was doing to the innocent Slumdog. He did not want Slumdog to have this extra-special experience. Instead he greedily sought the whole thing for himself only.  Good old human nature does not vary by culture. Whether it’s Jerusalem in A.D. 29 or Calcutta in 2009, people behave badly. We may recoil at the caste state of India and the hierarchy of Jewish culture in Jesus’ time, but we have our own pecking order in modern America. The great melting pot ideal still excludes the poor, the tired, the huddled masses, and the wretched refuse of teeming (foreign) shores that are welcomed symbolically by Lady Liberty. They can come in the back door, thanks very much, just to do the dirty jobs and then leave quietly.

As I’ve thought about human sin, I’ve thought about excrement. Our sin is like that—repulsive to God and boiling in its own stench. It creates a barrier between us and God, who would love to embrace us. Unfortunately, in our stench and mess we simply add to the barrier with anger, jealousy, resentment, envy, hopelessness, etc. We smear sin all over our spirits, then layer sin over sin like icing on a decadent, poisoned cake. God wants us to abandon the barrier, to disengage from sin. By turning toward God we are cleansed. He wants to autograph our hearts but sin gets in the way. We don’t need to be perfect to approach God, but we cannot continue to sin and gain access to His holy Presence. We must repent.

Salvation is free never earned. Like the movie star’s autograph, salvation is a gift, a sign that the Slumdog met his movie idol.  How great it is to have Jesus Christ’s autograph on your heart!  Others may try to steal or destroy your salvation. Demons may attack you, but they cannot destroy or steal your salvation. Ever. It’s tattooed onto every cell of your existence.

Later in the movie the Slumdog appears on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?  He moves through each round’s question by recalling memories from his life, during which he finds the answers to these obtuse questions tattooed on the folds of his cerebral cortex.  He does not have to provide the movie star, just his name. He does not have to produce a U.S. hundred dollar bill, just the name of Benjamin Franklin. He does not have to produce the gun that was aimed at his face, just the name Smith & Wesson. Likewise, just calling out the name of Jesus Christ is enough. His name protects you, completes you, and advances you. It’s tattooed on every cell of your existence.

 

Slumdog advances round by round and becomes a national phenomenon while the girl he loves seeks him, and his prodigal brother finally repents of his sins. Simply naming someone or something by faith keeps Slumdog alive while his brother sacrifices his own life as a sort of guilt offering to free the Slumdog.  The movie’s plot is told in this fashion, through random questions whose answers create a linear narrative. The driving force throughout the movie is love. Love triumphs over seemingly insurmountable evil, including the rigged t.v. show and its greasy host.

Salvation is free not earned.  Though a greasy Prince of Darkness would cheat you out of your reward, he cannot. Why? Naming Jesus Christ is the key to each moment, each round, the entire contest of life. Jesus has called us to an exuberant, abundant life with Him not to millions or celebrity. He wants us to run boldly in our faith and not to cower in fear. Understanding that sin is our own hardening excrement is the beginning of wisdom. Repenting and washing it away is the critical first step for us to embrace God’s Holiness and to reflect His Glory.

Satan attempts to condemn us as Slumdogs who are hopelessly covered in excrement, while Jesus redeems us as His precious children, pure and simple. And we each have a choice as to which voice we will believe: the excrement of sin or the sacrament of love.

 

 

 

196. contractors and incompleteness

I know I’m not the only one out there who has trouble finding and nailing down handyman contractors. It’s been the same story as long as I can recall… contractors don’t communicate well if at all. They might come if the job is interesting, i.e., has potential for a big payday. But the truth is that I’m not gonna talk about contractors. I changed my bloggin’ mind at church today, well sort of. The issue of not getting a guy to call me back about a bathroom vanity switcheroo or a laundry room sink disaster is not such a big deal. Plus, the garage door opener chain broke while I’ve been waiting for two floor jobs to be addressed at my workplace. Okay, there is plenty to gripe about with construction incompleteness, some of which I can do myself. The problem is that I can earn more money per hour and be happy with my work than if I try to use my clumsy hands to lay a floor or edge carpet or replace a sink. These are sinkholes for me to fall into and I don’t need the stress of my construction failures laughing at me from my daughter’s bathroom mirror as I cut another hose or pipe or board too short. I have done a lot of the work that surrounds me here at my home computer. I see my construction flaws daily, and no, I am not a perfectionist. So, I’m willing to pay $40 and $50 an hour for a crafty guy to bring some of my mess back to functionality, cuz living with physical incompleteness gets annoying in the First World. You know, you just want the mess or inconvenience to go away.

But today as Pastor Kyle spoke on James 1: 1-4, he focused on the trials in our lives that produce perseverance. I happen to like perseverance, tenacity, even stubbornness. Today’s post is the result of me destroying a finished blog I had written on legacies, complete with three photos. Somehow I clicked the wrong tag and blew up my first post 195. I took that as a sign to go in a different direction. It was a bit pompous and presumptuous. I go there often, I’m afraid. Anyway, Kyle’s second example of a trial was that of losing a child, how that can destroy one’s faith in Christ and be a faith wedge. I was struck emotionally and spiritually because almost 30 years ago my wife and I lost our second daughter at birth.  Her name was Lisa Ellen. She would be 30 next month, but I guess that is a pleasant redundancy for an old father who never held her.

It was complicated. She had a diaphragmatic hernia, which means that her lungs had no space to develop in utero. Her abdominal wall was perforated and her viscera pushed her lungs into submission. That’s okay in the womb, but you need lungs once you are born. Literally her birth was her death. She could not get that first gasping breath when she was delivered. She didn’t cry; she couldn’t. As she struggled to live in a breathless world, the delivery room turned into an E.R. code blue. My wife and I turned numb… and stayed numb for a year, maybe two. Yeah, that was a rough time in the silent valley of the shadow of death. Even thirty years later we get a dark feeling whenever we drive by the old farmhouse we lived in at the time… the baby’s nursery was set up across the hall from our bedroom. The crib with a mobile on it sat empty. I remember waking up next to the crib one night, having dreamed that she had cried. We had to take it down and pack all that stuff away along with our hopes and dreams for that little girl. I was 28. My oldest, and only daughter at the time, Erin was 2.5 years old.  She gave me Michael Jackson’s album, “Friller”, a week before Lisa died. I was so devastated that I don’t think I ever processed her young grief. It was all a blur. I just recall an insensitive nurse asking how we wanted to dispose of the body. She was impatient to be efficient and could not give us any grace.

For two years we were unfulfilled. The holes in our hearts were the size of little feet and tiny hands we could not touch.  We languished in anguish. We cried a lot and fell into a dark blue funk. It was not just grief but hopelessness as the barren months went by. It had been way too easy to get pregnant when we weren’t trying; now it seemed tragically impossible. I felt sad for Erin as a lonely only child. However, in this bleak space we found a closer place with God. I am sure that if we had been in charge of the script of our lives we would not have lingered in pain and hurt for so long. But that’s how God scripted it. Finally in 1986 we did get pregnant. We were filled with joy and trepidation. We knew how great and how awful a delivery room could be.

There was no debate on the name once we knew that it was a girl. Grace, it had to be Grace, undeserved favor of the Lord. A gift. An unearned blessing or reward. In late December of that year our Gracer the Eraser showed up, healthy and spunky and funny. Her presence healed the deep wounds that we had suffered. It felt like we had been crawling across broken glass for two years, shredding ourselves as we attempted to solve the problem of infant absence. Suddenly all that disappeared. We were complete.

So, Lowe’s might call next week and we could have the vanity by Easter, maybe. My floor tiles remain stacked at my office waiting for someone who wants to deal them like a deck of cards. We lift the garage door for now. It’s all good cuz it’s all meaningless stuff  that doesn’t matter.  My completeness is not sold in any aisle anyway. Life is a gift, Blog friends.

189. cruel renewal

Making all things new again. That’s a tall order, I think. Just making one simple thing new again is hard enough. Refinishing a piece of furniture, for example, requires five times the effort than the original finishing took. Think about it:  you have to strip the varnish or polyurethane with some solvent and a wire brush and fine tools to get into the grooves. Then you have to strip out the stain with more stain remover/solvent. At this point you have to sand the remaining stains or patches of finish to smooth out the original wood grain. Finer and finer grits of sandpaper need to be rubbed carefully with the grain. Then you wipe away the fine dust. Finally you are back to the starting point of new, bare furniture. But that’s what you do to restore the old wood to prime condition so that its luster and deep grain can be seen and appreciated again, or maybe for the first time.

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My buddy Clark knows a lot about wood and renewal. He learned about trees as a kid in Patton, PA., walking through the woods to school cuz he’d been thrown off the school bus again and again for being a hyperactive ne’er do well. He was rejected frequently as a kid by humans but not by trees or pieces of wood. He learned about oaks and maples and birch and beech and box elder and walnut and cherry simply walking by them twice a day. He saw pines grow to their fullness and die in his lifetime. However, dead trees simply cross over to lumber for him. He eyes up  trees and looks for unique features that he can use in tables or bowls or just long runs for boards. And then he gets to work creating with saws and planer, lathe and chisels.

A couple of years ago I helped him saw up a spalted maple; that’s a downed tree which has been decaying with fungi but hasn’t rotted yet. The result of spalting is a beautiful array of discoloration, waves and rivulets of brown, red, and black paint spilled throughout the wood. Clark turns hunks of this stuff into gorgeous bowls that appear to be fired ceramic. You have to touch them to believe they are not ceramic but wood, not paintings of deserts landscapes but infected wood transformed into marble. Beauty birthed from death.

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He learned about renewal by living a life full of zest and curiosity… after he was down and decaying like a fallen maple in the leaf mold.  Alcohol was the lightning and tornado that slew him. By age 35 his doctor told him he had a year to live if he did not quit drinking. He said, ” Thanks, Doc. I ‘m tired of living,” and went to the closest bar. He got so polluted on Yuenglings or Iron City beer that the bartender asked, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”  “Hell no,” he bellowed and order another. He had one more angry sip and announced, “Now I’ve had enough.” He stumbled out of the bar and right into the path of his beloved daughter and her best friend. (Timber!) No details remain except the pain of shame he saw on his precious girl’s face. Something transformative occurred in that one second. Clark grew on the level of consciousness even as his angry pride fell down face first. He recalls it like Paul falling off his horse on the way to Damascus. Clark went to rehab the next day. That was almost 35 years ago.

Since then he’s been sanding off the old varnish of youth, adolescence and early adult life. The mess of foolishness, the lacqeur of addiction and scars of selfishness. As he does this consciousness raising on a cognitive level, he’s finding more and more to like about himself… compassion, loyalty, a modicum of patience…and an artist’s heart/head/hands package. Late in life, to be sure, but there it is: beauty born from pain and suffering. He is spalted maple through and through, washed by the rivers of alcohol, rejection and rage that are dry riverbeds nowadays.Image result for spalted maple lumber pictures

One story of thousands will have to suffice. Ironic, of course. Up the road from his childhood house was a substantial estate owned by the Five Farabaugh sisters. They were well off spinster sisters. Clark’s dad agreed to be an informal caretaker of the property when the only male child left to run part of the A&P store chain out west. One by one the old ladies died off until there were no more. Still Clark’s father “Bunny” continued the upkeep of the property. When Clark went along to help, his father would say, “Don’t even think about stealing anything. We might be poor but we’re honest, by God.” There were many objects and knickknacks all over this grand Victorian house. In the attic the sisters had a miniature classroom where they had played school as little girls. He remembered thinking, “I could learn here. They would not beat me for being wiggly. They would favor me somehow.” In the old days the sisters had given his dad oranges at Christmas, which was unheard of by working class folks. Only the wealthy could afford citrus fruit in winter. Clark’s family not only ate them but his mom made marmalade from the peels. Then one day that fine house and every object in it burned to cinders and ashes. Nothing survived but memories. Nothing.

Nothing worked out in his life.  By age five he had developed a sense of doom. The spalting had begun. He wondered about the loose ends and unfairness of it all–

“Five old ladies, never had sex or got married or had kids or grandkids. What’s the point? They had wealth and it all disappeared. Just a waste. I shoulda stole something but the Old Man woulda killed me.”

Actually it did not disappear. Rather, it was breathed into Clark’s lungs and memory, spalding his soul. I’m sure if surgeons could extricate his soul and sand it down, it would radiate like his hero George Nakashima’s table tops. Renewed for all to see and appreciate. Nakashima was interned during WWII for being Japanese. That was his sole crime. Poetically, tragically,  or ironically that is where he learned to master woodworking under the tutelage of a master Japanese woodworker. More beauty born from pain and suffering.

So  often we screw up the unstained and painless new and have to claw our way back to a renewal that is soaked in barrels of liquid pain. But that is the difference between grapes and wine, sand and pearls, knowledge and wisdom.

 

 

174. Shadows across the parking lot

PictureOutside my second story office window is a charcoal parking lot that holds maybe thirty spaces. Beyond that is the unspectacular three story beige southern wall of a large church. It looks like a rectangular cruise ship stuck in asphalt and concrete. A rusted green dumpster sits at the left side of that wall where the alley runs through north/south behind the church for easy trash pick up on Monday mornings. There is a utility pole exactly halfway between my window and the wall, with utility wires running horizontally across the townscape framed by my square window. Traffic rumbles up and down the poorly paved alley and zooms by the opening of Route 30, between the end of the church wall and what used to be the Salvation Army store. It’s the sort of view that only a New Yorker could love. In the upper left quadrant, blue sky completes the picture. Two streaks of grey-bottomed clouds stretch diagonally northeastward this October morning.

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Before noon the shadows run right (East) to left (West). They straighten out and move backwards as the day wanes. I look out on this intersection of boxes planted around the black macadam streets, trying to supply the missing beauty. It could be beautiful in an urban sort of way, but no one seems to want to put on shutters or hang a nice sign in front of their building. No plants or flowers are evident. The paint choices are tedious– white, beige, green. Not that it’s worth the effort, but I think a hipster urban decorator could easily jazz up this boring patch of boro.

In the left third of my view is a narrow opening between two buildings that reveals a green patch of unpaved ground. It’s a little gem of a park in the middle of downtown Chambersburg where a branch of the Conococheague Creek tumbles past the remains of an old mill wheel. I think of a cherished ruby presented in a stained old cigarette box; the heart of our town deserves better presentation. Instead, the prettiest spot in town is surrounded by parking lots and the backs of sad buildings. Poor planning, I think.

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That beautiful spillway was a primary reason for the rest of the town’s existence. But now it’s just an afterthought, after the streets were paved and lit. After the industry had come and gone. After the money had been extracted from the intersection of Commerce and Greed streets. Still, it remains defiantly beautiful, like a prisoner who grows younger and more vibrant behind bars, wrongfully convicted by impatient, aging jurists.

It’s a funny thing, beauty. It seems to be reborn every year if not every season. Take that rusty dumpster, for example. Last fall I was walking by it and noticed an intense bluish-purple dash of color against the beige background wall. Growing up out of the gap between macadam parking lot and concrete block wall was a purple iris which had somehow taken root. I imagine that funeral or wedding flowers had been dumped sloppily and a single tuber had found its way into the sheltering gap. I took a picture of it with my cell phone. This accidental drop of beauty spoke to me of hope.Image result for purple iris growing out of concrete pictures

Then there is the stream that cuts through our town. I walk by it every day and wonder why it is not esteemed. It could be and should be so beautiful, except locals dump mattresses and shopping carts in its pure waters. There is your basic littering and then there is raping and scarring a landscape. I think willful polluting of a pristine stream deserves more than a civil citation. But then, we’d have to jail the strip mining companies, wouldn’t we? I wonder what the land would look like if it could be returned to the First Nation folks for one hundred years. That stream would be honored, I’m sure, because it provides water and fish and game and direction and transport, i.e., life. But we don’t see that any more. It’s just that wet thing below the bridge.

Again, we have jewels, pearls buried in the excrement of swine. Like old relationships that are taken for granted, we don’t even see the beauty of our blessings. We are a faithless bunch. This town owes its birth to the Falling Spring that feeds the stream that nurtured it… and we have literally turned our backs on it in the pursuit of speed and greed. Now the town fathers look to the torrents of Interstate 81 for more. Prime farmland is paved over for gaudy strip malls and convenience stores. No expense is spared to grease the path of the big chains who promise concrete jobs and progress. We are now a mecca of box warehouses that supply box stores along the arteries of rail and roads. And this display of beauty is the equivalent of a bleached blonde Hooters waitress. Alluring? Yes. Real? No. Come back in ten years and check it out when it will be as sexy as a cigarette butt.

I’m thinking about trees in planters out there. Heavy pots full of flowers. Window boxes spilling out petunias and ivy and such. Spots of beauty that say, “I see. This matters. I am renewing this urban desert.” Now I’m wondering about setting these signs of hope outside my office. I can’t stand vandalism, but I can’t let vandals stop beauty and hope. Yes, I could certainly add two more flower boxes, two potted trees and a whiskey barrel of flowers. These will not be accidents or after thoughts, not prisoners but free exclamations of life being lived. Isaiah 55:

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

I need to go to Lowe’s.

120. Hope

In the mental health business hope is an indicator of health, optimism, and faith. The opposite of hope, hopelessness, is an indicator of bad times and often correlates with suicide attempts. “I’ve lost all hope” is a pre-suicide cliche. So by extension hope correlates with life, and hopelessness with death. I’ve known a few unfortunate souls who suffered from intense chronic pain. Not surprisingly they thought of death as a reasonable pain killer. They did not want to die, just to end their suffering. They had lost hope of their pain ending; lost faith in their painkillers; and decided to kill the pain receptor, i.e., themselves.

It’s a hard sell to try and persuade someone back into their pain wracked body. It’s comparable to encouraging a battered spouse to go back into his/her marriage. I would never try to persuade a battered spouse to return to a battering partner. Yet, I would try to walk and talk a chronic sufferer back into their pain dump. Not because I am a cruel sadist and derive pleasure from another’s pain. No, my position is more rooted in the value of life and,of course, the hope of cure. I believe in better times and have walked through many dark valleys with folks who were ready to cash out their chips. So far, no suicides have occurred on my watch. None of the credit belongs to me; all of it belongs to the concept and practice of hoping for better days, and the strength of the hoper.

Years ago I recall a conversation with my one good buddy who was swatting at the flies of suicide in his mind. “Been this way for fifty years, Man. No chance. Gotta face it.” I argued a bit that the past is not the ruler of the future. He disagreed. “The past rules. No, once the bell is rung, you can’t unring it.”

“True, but you don’t have to march to the same cadence to the end of your life. What if Act Three of your life is all about redemption and joy? You’ll miss it because you bought the message of the first two acts of your life.” Fortunately for him, the love of his life was just around the corner. He is one of the happiest guys I know now, except when he bosses me around and I won’t cooperate.

Today I am back in Arizona with my daughter and brand new granddaughter, Leah Grace. It’s a surreal experience as I feel and hear my granddaughter’s little kitten breaths while she slumbers on my chest. She curls her little hands together and clings like a baby possum to its mother. The circle of life is complete, and something very satisfying is rising up in my core. I suppose it is joy. Eight pounds of gentle quiet joy. She resembles her mother whom I can barely remember cradling in my arms 26 years ago. The old photos show a svelt young me with full black hair and big 80’s glasses. Wow! A full generation has passed. Back then I am sure I hoped and prayed for a healthy and wonderful life for my baby at that time, Grace Marie. My wife and I were so grateful to God that we could have another child after losing one in 1984. We hoped all the more because of the deep pain we had suffered through with the loss of baby #2, Lisa Ellen. It’s funny: you don’t hope for what you have. Hope is the thing that keeps you going when you are at the bottom of an abandoned well, calling for help, hoping a Good Samaritan passes by. You don’t practice hope if you are securely standing beside the well. Still, I hope and pray for this precious child, that she will have a healthy and wonder-filled life. I can realistically hope to hold her child one day, God willinng. I can cast my hope out there another 26 years… I’ll be 82 and teetering on the Grand Canyon of life. What a blessing that would be!

For the moment I will content myself with hope for a good night’s sleep for her devoted mother and father.  Ever wonder what your life would be like if your kids were your parents? In some faint reflective way, they are. The DNA may commingle and dilute, but there are traits of my parents in my children. My wife is adopted, so the trail ends with her. My folks were odd people, let me tell you. They married late for their generation due to the Big War. My mother wrote to many GI’s during WWII because it was the patriotic thing to do. Plus, there weren’t many men available in Boston in the early 1940’s. My dad wrote back. He returned in person and hung out with my uncles. Amazingly none of my uncles was killed or injured in the War, though one was held for two years in a Nazi prison camp. Think he needed some hope?  And his family who faithfully sent him packages that he never received. Hope might have been an empty box, but it still contained a loving spirit if not cookies and bread and chocolate. However, what if he had received every package sent and never made it home? That would have been the empty box, the coffin. Instead he was liberated and made it back to Boston. Bob fathered nine kids, by the way. He lived a full life and was much loved when he died a  timely death a few years back.

The old saying goes, “Be careful what you hope for. You might just get it.” Well, thus far my life has exceeded my hopes and dreams, and there is more ahead. Amen.