PEEKING FROM HEAVEN

k14638751I wasn’t sure I could do it… It’s been so long since I’ve participated, I can’t remember if we did it intentionally or it just happened by accident, over and over again.

We played the game day and night, it seemed like a completely different game from darkness to light, but the fun was ever present… somewhere along the way I got too busy or too old to play the game that didn’t cost us a penny, which was often more than we had in the good ole’ days.

Kids do it naturally, even when it doesn’t make sense to. It’s not as enjoyable when it’s hot outside, nor is it when the grass is crawling with critters, especially the ones you can’t see. That’s probably the biggest reason I quit lying in the grass, hands clasped behind our heads, palms cradling our empty noggins, while we watched the show in the sky.

I do recall on more than one occasion being targeted for dinner, jumping up, slapping the ants that were swarming me and my friends, looking like a lunatic to the folks far enough away to think we were trying to slap the demons out of us.

Other times I recall gazing and pondering the great expanse of sky with my head lying right against the grass covered firmament. I remember getting slightly dizzy just lying there taking the grand expanse above in.

Like all the other sunburnt kids taking the rare break from playing, even more rare; lying dead still with our eyes facing toward heaven, we’d look for familiar shapes in the clouds as they drifted and morphed across the stage of the atmosphere, pointing and declaring the shapes, as excited as Christopher Columbus discovering the New World.

As awesome as the sky is during the day and the kaleidoscope of color born new each day in the Arizona sunsets, the crystal clear sky made the nights even more magical. We’d lie and study our personal and brilliant moon, focusing and swearing we’d just caught a glimpse of the man in the moon or the cow jumping over it.

We’d imitate the distant coyotes howling at the beaming ball in the sky until we’d nearly perfected the art. Funny how some games never grow old… even at my age now, I don’t need to be lying on my back in the cool grass to enjoy the game of searching, finding, and pointing out with animation, almost like the first time we’d spotted them; the Big and Little Dipper, or the Milky Way, or a shooting star.

I remember making a wish in the millisecond flight of the falling star, or for those of us who were experts, we knew it was really God sending another angel to earth. We also knew instinctively that the stars were really angels peeking through the floor of heaven, and that the twinkling was really just the angels winking to us.

My wife and I were out of town, the grass was cool in the late afternoon. The park was filled with children, God’s children, young ones and old ones, like us. I pushed the blades of grass aside to get a glimpse of the scalp of earth. The coast was clear.

“Lets lay down,” I suggested. My wife and I relived the days of our youth… the days that in some ways we were instinctively wiser, before the ants and loss of innocence, the days of amazed and bewildered.

It’s amazing how a heartbeat slows as we gaze at the sky and realize our humble place in this world.

THE DEATH OF A SUMMER

k15661733Re-post from August 2012… since school is coming around again.

I know that look on her face; it reads like the big “E” on the eye chart. She’s devastated by what she knew was inevitable. She lived the good life; stayed up late, slept in, went to the mall, the beach, the movies, but mostly she relished the time away from school.

She, like we did, learned year after year that all good things come to an end, including summer. She grieves the time being over, it’s spent, never to be relived again… and the reality weighs on her small frame. She had her funeral face on the day I wrote this, hence the title of the post.

Our youngest is definitely a chip off the ole’ block. I remember celebrating the beginning of summer as if it were an entrance into heaven. In fact, that’s exactly what it felt like. I too mourn the passing of summer as if it were the loss of my best friend. The adage, “All good things come to an end,” while true on this physical earth, never made me feel any better, so I spared her that tradition.

The reality is that I mourn the passing of a summer time too, but for slightly different reasons. I know my little one grieves, they are the same reasons I did, but not what I grieve for now…

The reality that life moves on faster than we can comprehend is what settles in the forefront of my thought. I think about the things I didn’t do with not just her, but all of them. I remember how fast the four years of high school went by for her big sisters.

I also think about the innocence that’s close to being gone forever. I remember summers when they were all home and the trips taken, the memories made. Yeah, I miss the summer and summers just like my little one does.

She’ll settle in, she’ll struggle with adolescent issues, she’ll worry about things that she doesn’t need to at the age like all of us did, but that’s part of life and the age. I’ll struggle too, but for different reasons. I’m old enough to know how fast life gets behind us and yet I squander some of that precious commodity of time too, just not quite as blatantly as I used to.

I’m sympathetic to my daughter, I too feel the death of a summer, but I also know that each day and season is a gift from God. There is redemption, forgiveness, and another chance every time we open our eyes to start a new day, not to mention the memories of each gift of summer that lives with us forever.

“You wanna’ come with me?” I asked.

“No,” she said quietly.

“You’re sad, huh?”

“Yeah.”

I smiled that flat-across-the-face-type of sympathetic smile, then whistled the ten note death march tune…

She laughed.

I think it’s gonna be a good year…

WHAT IF?

Some folks bite their fingernails, some their lips, then there are those that bite other people’s heads off, metaphorically speaking of course. Part of living in this world is that there are worries in this life. The Good Book and Jesus Christ Himself spoke of worry and fear often… and for good reason.

My friend and brother, Caleb Suko just released a book titled “What If – How To Kill Worry And Anxiety Before They Kill You.” Caleb knows first hand about worry, doubt, and fear. He and his wife Christina along with their kids who are all missionaries and headed back to the Ukraine this month are no strangers to struggles in life, all parts, including one story of their son who was diagnosed some time back with cancer and found peace through God in the process that led to his ultimate healing.

Caleb shares his insights and heart in ways that bring real insight into a difficult subject that none of us can hide from. We all get a choice to melt like wax on a hot stove when facing our troubles or to choose the straight and narrow that doesn’t always deliver us from trouble, but marches us through the valleys as the world bares witness to He who gives us life and strength.

I hope you’ll check out Caleb’s book along with his blog and support him and tell your friends about my friend, Caleb. You’ll be glad you did.

Click here to get to Amazon.

Caleb, Christina and the whole Suko clan!

Caleb, Christina and the whole Suko clan!

Click here for Caleb’s site.

THE BEAT GOES ON

TheCarscoverGod only knows what the next generation’s going to turn out like, but I wonder about it all the same. I ponder the significant changes in our society, how they’ll never be able to grasp the world we grew up in, just like we can’t truly grasp theirs.

“Turn that thing down!” I remember my dad telling all of us at one time or another when we were listening to music. Sometimes in the house on the cheap HiFi that was available back then. Other times it was in the cars or trucks, his at first, then eventually ours, but he’d always end the demand with an, “It hurts my ears!”

I never believed it really hurt his ears, I mean not much did hurt him. A piece of sheet metal would always cut him while he was at work, some  all the way to the bone; nasty gashes. He’d use duct tape to pull the separated flesh back together and close the bloody manmade valleys by wrapping the grey tape around a couple of times.

Hearing a ringing in his ears, something he hadn’t experienced in his early life, must have felt like it was doing damage. Course, his hillbilly roots and country persuasion didn’t pair too well with the kind of Rock-N-Roll we were spinning.

My generation, well, relative to our parents generation, we were spoiled, we had things our parents never dreamed of having… like loud stereos, and they just kept on getting louder. My first car was a dinosaur by today’s standards, but back then Craig Powerplays were state of the art stuff.

My parents, especially my dad, couldn’t grasp why our generation liked to listen to music so loud that you couldn’t talk over it. I had a truck back in the nineties that had speakers, all types, big ones, medium ones, and little ones throughout the massive four door crew cab. Behind and under the backseat was stuffed full of more bass speakers and amplifiers to adequately drain both batteries in the powerhouse diesel if I dared to play it without the engine running.

You could hear that truck coming from a mile away, and not because the rattling diesel engine either. It was so loud it rattled brains, teeth, quaked the seats and anyone sitting in them right through to their soul.

There have been plenty of occasions where I’ve cranked up the stereos in my truck and the house and none of my girls liked it, I mean not for a second. They’re different than us, well me anyway, they aren’t enamored with fine sounding stereos that have been a part of their entire lives.They have a different perspective than my generation.

If they have a different perspective for something as simple as the sound of a stereo, there’s no doubt they’re gonna have a different perspective for everything else in their lives as well.

The things we bequeath to the next generation will impact not just their generation, but the ones that follow them. Only God knows what technological advances will follow after us, but the true treasures we pass along won’t be stereos or money. They’ll be the treasures that are worth far more than anything money can buy, things like honesty, character, and the love and truth of God above…

And who knows, maybe an old Cars CD that they’ll crank up in memory of the generation that ruined their hearing… voluntarily…

Then again, looks like they’ll be smarter than that… and me…

 

(By the way. Here’s a Cars tune, just in case you have a stereo and  want to crank one up… for old times sake…)

TEACHING THE OLD DOG

k7271391I’m at the age that is often referred to in our rough-around-the-edges-society as “An old dog”. It’s not so much a designated age or number as it is a mindset and enough wrinkles to show the time and the effect of the earth’s elements on a soul cage.

With enough sunrises and sunsets a person lives through it’s easy to begin to take a lot for granted. We get set in our ways, often become opinionated, maybe obstinate, and not really open to anything new. That’s the stuff that “old dogs” are made up of.

I strive not to be like an old dog, but I do struggle with it, struggle with taking too much for granted, even when I know I shouldn’t. And yeah, sometimes I’m grouchy and short with people in my life, including my loved ones.

One thing this old dog has learned for certain while bouncing along the bumpy roads of life is this; work is a virtue and some of the greatest gratifications in life come from things earned. The gift of salvation being the great exception and the wisdom that comes from that acknowledgement is the basis of intelligence that understands the laws of this physical life as well as the heart of the Law giver that isn’t subject to them.

My sixteen year old daughter doesn’t quite grasp the concept of hard work and discipline that we’re trying to teach her. Oh she knows she has to work, but she wants to do it on her terms. When the places she’s applied to online call her back… but the old dog doesn’t wait or play by rules for standards of today’s society.

“I’m gonna take you over to my office, you’re gonna clean it, starting with the bathrooms,” I informed her.

“But I have an interview next week?” the youngest argued… the youngest always argues… I know…

“That’s next week, you need to work this week,” I answered the beginning of the barrage of questions and suggestions.

The office is all men except for one college age girl and more that a half a dozen men, construction type men, share one of the bathrooms… I hate to even go in that bathroom, but the toughest and ugliest jobs do a lot for a person… I know, I’m an old dog… an old dog that hasn’t cleaned one of my own bathrooms after twenty five years in business.

Therein lies the problem with being the old dog that knows humility and leading by example goes a long way. If getting my daughter started by showing her that cleaning up after the guys isn’t below me, even though I don’t have to, it’s certainly not below her.

The toilet was bad, but the floor, especially directly in front of the toilet was even worse… at least we had a mop… that is until I broke it by pulling on the handle to squeeze the excess cleaner and water out of the sponge that wasn’t quite soft enough yet and pushed it from the metal head instead of squeezing the excess water.

I didn’t hesitate, threw the mop in the trash and grabbed the disinfectant wipes and started mopping the floor by hand. Just as we were finishing the floor my daughter spoke up, “I don’t mind this, how come you didn’t let me work here sooner?” she asked.

I smiled and told her I didn’t know.

It’s a good day when an old dog can teach a valuable life lesson… and learn a new trick.

LESSONS FROM LARRY second edition

My dog Larry, half dog, half chicken...

My dog Larry, half dog, half chicken…

Repost from March 2011

I admire and respect people who demonstrate confidence and are willing to bust their backyard’s and endure and toil to get better at whatever they’re endeavoring to accomplish. I believe that drive or make-up of an individual is what eventually propels them toward success.

It’s rare to find any individuals who excel at anything that like to sit back, be passive, and let others do the work, take the risks, and make the calls for them. To be sure, I’m not referring to insecure micro-manangers who aren’t big picture people.

With that said, I’m also convinced that all the desire, passion, and perseverance, can’t always determine an outcome and almost never the first time. All of us have limitations to one degree or another.

Our dog Larry is a pretty good dog, he barks when he hears strange noises, he also barks at strangers in the back yard if they don’t belong there. His desire is to be a good watch dog, the only problem is that he’s smaller than average and isn’t the bravest dog in the world, at least not yet. Lar wants to be and he acts like he is, but he and I both know he’s not.

About four years back I was working in the yard in the middle of summer, I had an old even more beat up than usual sweatshirt on with old worn out tennis shoes. It was hot enough for me to wear my shade hat, you know the ones as big as a patio umbrella without the ball on top.

As I entered the backyard through the side gate I heard Lar bark and it got louder as he was headed towards me, he thought I was an intruder that he’d scare with his vicious barking. Before he got around the side of the house I pulled my sweatshirt collar up over my nose, leaving just my shades exposed under the strange hat Larry wouldn’t be familiar with.

I started to jog almost in a gallop, my left leg leading, swaying my arms like an orangutan and grunting like a gorilla. My brave watch dog? As soon as he spotted me moving toward him he stopped barking, eyes exploding in his little skull, turned and ran with his tail between his legs, howling like he was being stabbed to death in the shower of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Larry’s crying was so loud it brought my wife running out of the closed up house with alarm. Although Lar doesn’t talk, it seemed pretty obvious that he was embarrassed once he figured out he’d been duped. I called him, “It’s okay, Lar, it’s me! – C’mon, you little pansy! – I’m sorry, buddy.” He came with his head hunkered in shame, licking his lips…

I’ve failed at many tasks in my life like my little friend Lar. Larry had passion and desire, he just came up a little short of perseverance that day. We all come up short sometimes. Those failings when used as motivation help us to be a little stronger when the next opportunity arises to test our resolve.

A little over a year ago my oldest brother was visiting with his dog Teddy. Teddy was a Catahoula Heeler, a big, strong, physically intimidating, dog, especially if your the size of Larry.

My wife had three roast bones for the dogs, Teddy got the biggest and Larry and Lola got the two smaller ones. Teddy decided he wanted Lar’s bone as well as his own. When Teddy attacked little Lar, he didn’t realize he was trying to bite into a dog who failed enough times to understand what it took to succeed; Fight back…

Larry didn’t win the fight with the big dog, but he didn’t lose his bone or his pride and dignity this time.

We don’t always get to pick the obstacles that fall into our paths in this life, we do get to choose how we respond to them… In the end, that is the real test…

Take a lesson from Larry…

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

k7839385If  you spend enough time with folks you can get to know them pretty well, make it a stressful scenario and it happens a sight quicker. We get to find out who the chunks of coal are and who’s gonna end up the sparkling diamond.

My wife and I wanted to beat the rush hour in the California metropolis, so we got an early 5:30 am head start. The traffic was indeed ugly, and that’s being generous and an understatement… or lacking prose…

Even after being pushed through the screening and baggage X-ray machines like cattle being led to slaughter, we were still an hour and forty five minutes early for our 10:40 flight back to the desert. The gate was a ghost town, I guess you gotta show up that early to sit in the cushy oversized seats with their own plug-ins in the face off the big oversized arms on the leather chairs.

Slowly but surely, time, which usually sails by at the speed of light, passed like filling a barrel of water with one drop of water from a leaky faucet that’s not quite ready to be repaired yet. The other passengers trickled in like the annoying drops.

A girl in her late teens with a cough you could almost see the germs scatter from talked non stop on her cell phone, alternating between giving her mom and boyfriend minute by minute updates between her hack attacks from the chair next to me.

A tall couple, probably late thirties, early forties, were casually dressed, but couldn’t hide their urban professional reserved demeanor.

A mom, daughter, and granddaughter sat across form us. I couldn’t understand them but that didn’t keep the two year old from wiping her grimy little paws all over my water bottle that was lying horizontally across the top of my suitcase, lodged in place by the handle. The mom talked in a language that wasn’t remotely familiar to me, trying to control the whirlwind of a child, but to no avail.

Another mom pushing her daughter in a stroller packed in and brought the max amount of humans, bags, and  buggies that could be fit into our already crowded aisle. The little girl in the stroller had a video game designed to keep her entertained. It worked. the Disney song played as she played, chorus only, over and over and over…

After the third flight delay and three hours later, the Disney tune was beginning to make my right eye twitch… All the elements were in place and began to overwhelm me, and that’s when the coal started to show through my calm and cool facade.

“They’re lying!” I said to my wife with clear agitation in my voice, and not caring who around me heard it.

I know from past experience that this particular airline cancels flights when they have two scheduled close to one another with the same destination and are able to fit most of the passengers on just one of them.

As soon as I spoke in my coal covered voice something special happened in the process. The little girl quit playing her video game and started talking to me. The tall yuppie husband made pretend glasses out of some wire, then transformed them into a hat to entertain the little girl. We all began to genuinely take an interest in one another. My wife offered to get food or water for the elderly lady parked at the end of our aisle in her wheelchair.

By the time the five hours and a couple more delays passed we were chatting like long lost friends, and when the mad, mad, mad, mad, dash to the other gate was announced, my wife wheeled the lady in the wheel chair at warp speed, inadvertently running over a few toes in the process. “Keep your arms in!” my wife ordered as the elderly lady’s grey locks blew in the breeze.

I wonder why it is we dread things beyond our control, knowing they usually turn out for the best?

I checked the mirror in the restroom when we finally got to Phoenix… Not a twinkle in sight…

THEY WORE JEANS

k7266730They wore jeans. Not like the fancy jeans with the gaudy stitching on the back pockets, or worse yet, the kind with shiny balls, chrome, or fake diamonds, in selected various art forms. I’m referring to back when working men, blue collar guys, wore jeans because they were durable and cheap.

Those were back in the days when there was no hiding your waist size with those types of jeans, least ways not until they got so worn out that the brown tag on the back right pocket got too faded to see the waist or inseam measurements.

There also would be no hiding your waist size with an untucked shirt, that was against the unwritten rules.

While those men didn’t have a lot, they had manners, got taught them along with the ten commandments. They also had combs, not the fancy ones of color that stuck out of the back pocket like a status symbol the way we did in the seventies. We wore the same jeans, but had a different outlook.

No, their combs were your basic black comb that could fit and hide with reverence in the back pocket of the blue jeans that ended up closer to the blue color of a sky and fading to white with age and holes. Their combs weren’t for vanity, they were meant for respect, to look presentable if the occasion called for it.

It was commonplace to see an aging pair of jeans get a remodel, the knees usually would get a rebuild out of an iron  or sewed on patch. Money was tight, but the people I’m trying to describe had pride not in their possessions or their clothes, they had pride in character.

Those folks valued honor above money or anything money couldn’t buy, they knew money could’t buy anything with real value. Value couldn’t be counted or calculated by a generation that didn’t worship idols.

If that generation did have a fault, it would have to be the fact that they wanted more for their loved ones. They worked like mules, traded blood, sweat, and tears to be able to provide a lifestyle that they didn’t have. To give us a world better than the world they’d inherited.

Of course they succeeded, who could have stopped them? Who on God’s green earth would have had the guts to try?

The majority of us got things that our parents didn’t, maybe it wasn’t much, but it was more than what the generation of honor had. Maybe part of the fault by our parent’s generation of marching into the unknown was that they assumed the next generation would cherish the same moral principles as well as the ones that led to honor.

That generation knew the words of Christ to be true, “Tis better to give than to receive.” They just didn’t know that too much giving kills the spirit that we’re designed with.

The best things I got from the man that wore jeans, the man I called “Dad”, were the things he never gave me, the things he couldn’t. The things he did give, I didn’t want, they cost me something that had to be paid from within… I had no way of knowing they were the greatest of gifts a man can give a son.

The things I once dreaded and avoided are the most cherished of gifts… along with the memories of the generation that wore jeans…

 

DRIVER’S SEAT

k5997182I wish I could say I did it with grace, that every time my heart was pure and I was perfect, but I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence, not to mention I gave up lying to myself a long time ago. I have been better than I used to be that last few years though, still not perfect, but I could see the end was in sight and wanted to finish well.

I wonder how much time I’ve spent sitting in my trucks over the years, waiting for daughters who were never ready on time… There wasn’t anyway for me not to count how many minutes I’d sit waiting impatiently for them. Sometimes I’d tell them, sometimes wisdom would prevail, not often enough, but occasionally I’d keep my mouth shut.

After I’d moved us north and a long way from the three different schools the girls were in, that inconveniently started at close to the same time, it was impossible for my wife to get all three of them to school. That’s way past the ten year time frame that marks the beginning of my stint as a daughter hauler.

I knew, even back then, that it would one day come to and end, that they’d, Lord willing, all someday grow up and drive themselves to school. The oldest drove herself back and forth from college, now to work, and just today, her mom and herself to the bridal shop in search of a wedding dress. The middle drove herself back and forth to college as well and still makes the drive to see us from the city she stayed to work in.

But before they were all grown up, we shared the cab of my different trucks over the years, struggled to sometimes sound civil to one another. They would sometimes turn their heads away from me to answer the questions that I knew might make them roll their eyes in frustration.

This week marks the last week of school for the youngest, she turns sixteen in a couple of weeks… she and my days of torment are coming to an end. There have been good days and bad days, silent mornings and others that were filled with  words, music, sometimes singing, and an occasional bet on who could get the closest to guessing how cold the temperature would register by the time we got to school. Then in the warm days of the year, how hot it would get.

Regardless how imperfect the day or the dad, the ritual always ended with a kiss on the side of my daughter’s head, carefully so as to not mess up the hair, and the, “Have a good day, love you, babe.”

“Love you too, dad,” she’d answer, even when she wouldn’t be in the mood to.

I’m truly going to miss that… I think it’s in the day to day rituals that we grind against any and all obstacles and odds that show true love. It’s in the love we show with our actions  in our imperfect world that we reflect our Father’s perfect love.

I would have never been my choice to take my girls to school, but in my imperfect choices in this life, I find God’s perfect love and plans for redemption in my life… glad He chose my girls to show me… I’d have never known what I had missed.

I find it’s like that with most things in this life; our stumbling He turns into a beautiful dance.

DIRTY DEEDS

k2703453There was a time when struggling through the river of life, I never stopped to consider my quest, my obstacles, even my nuisances, but especially my enemy’s perspective. All were to be vanquished and disposed of as quickly as possible and stomped to the bottom of the river, footstools to be used to be first to the other side.

These days, even as I fight to rise above, I find myself somewhat content just to not end up with my skull on one side of a boot heel and the bottom of the river on the other…

It was more of a nuisance, but my first instinct was to kill em’. “Kill em’ all, and let God sort em’ out.” They’re uninvited guests, trespassers, free loaders. They make themselves at home around my house and don’t pay anything like it’s their God given right.

When they first showed up six or seven years ago, I enlisted a gun for hire to do my dirty work. After all, it’s about taking care of  yourself and your loved ones, the rest you just gotta scrape off the bottom of your boots.

I paid the hit man, the boy next door at the time, twenty bucks a head for the lives of my enemies and that got rid of them for five years or so, but then one day their offspring showed up again, unannounced and out of nowhere: the pigeons were back.

I first heard them from my office, breaking my concentration and stealing the thoughts that surely would have been the ingredients for a block buster novel. I went out front, which I rarely do, and discovered all the droppings splattering the mat outside my office doors.

I also found and obscene pile of the big bird doo smack in the middle of the front entry – the hanging light fixture had become their toilet of choice it seemed.

I threw landscape pebbles to shoo the flying rats, but the minute I went back inside they mocked my moxie and went back to the secluded spot outside and above my office windows.

The hit man has grown up and gone off to college so I had to take the dirty deeds into my own hands. I got the most high powered pellet gun they had and enough ammo to fight off a pigeon attack of Hitchcock proportions. I spent half a day trying to sight in the scope, but to no avail.

With almost a complete day shot, nor a pigeon, I tried to shake off the frustration and trudged back to my office to get some writing done. That’s when I saw my arch nemesis on the high window ledge above the french doors in my office peering down on me with pride, mocking me from above.

I jumped up and ran out the doors, scooped up a fistful of gold landscape rocks and hurled them Nolan Ryan style at the pesky house crasher.

A few days later as I pulled into my driveway I scanned the ridge lines and nooks and crannies for my enemy. He stood boldly and defiantly on top of the fireplace stack above my office… That’s when I noticed my adversary was doing it on one leg…

That was over a month ago…

I often struggle to have compassion on anything or anyone in life when I’m too focused on rising above, gaining ground. In the struggle for survival in this river of life we end up with scars, some seen, some unseen, but we all have them, our enemies and us.

Our Father has given us wisdom to know that we all struggle in the river and when we reach the other side is up to Him. In the struggle we’re not called to just survive, but to thrive. And that can only be done when we see others, including our enemies, the way our Father sees all of us.

I don’t like what my enemy the pigeon does, but I respect his struggle…

Now if I could only get him to respect mine…

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