Since today is actually All Hallows Eve, a time Christians of an earlier era celebrated the “rising of the souls” in anticipation of All Saint’s Day tomorrow, I thought I would adjust my storytelling for today, and share a Halloween story I wrote a number of years ago. Its not scary, and can actually be used to read to any grandchildren (or spouses) you may have around. Here goes:
Once upon a time, as most stories go, there was a village known for the most amazing thing. The folks who lived there had the talent for growing pumpkins. Now, these were not just nice-sized pumpkins, or even very large pumpkins like you might see at the grocery store or in your backyard, if you grew them. These were not even huge pumpkins – they were GIANT pumpkins, that grew as tall and as wide as a house! In fact, over the years, folks began to actually use their pumpkins to live in. Each Fall, they would pick the nicest, biggest giant pumpkin, and put it in place in their yard, cut a hole for a door and for some windows, and one for the chimney for their fireplace, and dig out all the goop inside, and move into their new home for the year. The old pumpkin they had lived in for a year before had started to get kind of squishy and wrinkly, and smell like a pumpkin that had lived its best year, and so they would drag it down to the pumpkin dump and let it, along with everyone else’s old pumpkin, rot away.
Now – and this brings us to our story – when I said that everyone in the village grew giant pumpkins, that wasn’t quite the case. There was one fellow who lived there whose name was Jack, who simply could not grow a giant pumpkin. He would borrow seeds from his neighbors, and fertilize and water and do everything else to make his pumpkins grow, but in the end, what he grew were nice-sized pumpkins, like you would see at the grocery store. They were round and orange – and not giant.
This was a problem for Jack, because when everyone was moving into their new giant pumpkin homes, he had nothing to move into. Instead what he had to do was to wait until folks had dragged their old squishy pumpkins down to the pumpkin dump, and then he would try to find the least squishy one, and drag it back to his yard, so he would have a home to live in for another year.
To tell you the truth, he didn’t enjoy it one bit. Everything he owned smelled like old pumpkin, and the roof was usually kind of caved in a bit, and plops and glops of pumpkin would fall from the ceiling onto his supper, and his bed pillow, and his recliner, and his television, which made everything kind of squishy and icky, but that was his home.
Even worse, there were some folks in the village who had kind of mean streak to them, and after they moved into their new homes in the Fall, they would tease Jack for having to live in such a smelly old place. It was very mean, and made Jack very unhappy, as he watched another plop of old pumpkin land on his laptop computer…
One year, however, as it always happens, a huge problem came to the village. The day before Halloween, a giant storm, even bigger than the pumpkins, started move into the village. It rained very hard. And then it hailed. And then the wind blew almost like a hurricane. And then, it even started to snow, but not the nice snow that kids like to play in – it was cold and icy and froze all over everything in the village, from the cars to the playground, to every single giant pumpkin home. It was a mess, to be sure.
And then, even worse, all the electricity in the village went out. All the lamps, the lights, the stoves, the phones, the front door lights, and the street lights all went dark. People stumbled around in the dark, bumping hard into the corners of their furniture and into trees and rocks and caused very big black and blue marks on their knees and shins. It was very bad.
It was also very bad because the next night was Halloween, when all the children would normally go from giant pumpkin to giant pumpkin, trick or treating, and have a wonderful and happy time. However, with no electricity, there were no lights, and so the children did now know which house to go to that had treats to hand out, and even worse, with no street lights, it was dark, and kind of scary and kind of dangerous for kids to go across the street. This was an even worse kind of bad.
In fact, it was so bad that the leaders of the village met and decided that they would all have to cancel trick or treating for the year. No candy, no goodies, no dressing up and certainly – no fun. When the news went out, you could hear across the village the crying and sobbing from both the children and the parents who always loved Halloween because it was so much fun. However, to be safe and sound, there was nothing anyone could do. It was perhaps the saddest day the village had ever known.
When Jack heard the news, he was very sad too. He didn’t have any children of his own, but he looked forward to having the kids of the village stop by his squishy house, and at least for one night, be happy to see him, and yell “Trick or Treat,” and he would give out the handfuls of candy that he had gotten to share. Without them coming around, all he could look forward to was to have glops of pumpkin land on his bowl of candy and ruin everything.
As Jack sat in the dark in his pumpkin, he began to think of how he might help. He thought and thought and thought, and then a bright idea came to him! He went out to his backyard, which was full of normal-sized pumpkins that he had grown that year. Careful not to bump his own shin, he found a nice, normal-sized pumpkin and brought it inside. He spread out some newspapers, and put it on his kitchen table. He then carefully took a sharp knife, and cut the top off the pumpkin. Then he used a big spoon, and scooped out all the goop from inside the pumpkin. His hands and arms got all sticky from reaching in to get the goop, but this was more important than not being sticky! When he had the goop and shoveled out, he then took a candle, and put it inside the pumpkin, lit it, and put the lid back on the top.
The candle went out, and with the lid on, no candlelight could be seen. Jack sat and thought and thought, and then came up with another bright idea! He carefully took his knife, and cut two holes in the side of the pumpkin. He then lit the candle again and put the top on, and sure enough, a little bit of light came shining through the holes. It wasn’t much light, though, and so Jack thought again. Again, he took his knife and cut another hole below the first two, and then cut an even bigger hole, wide and deep below that one. He lit the candle again, put the lid on, and sure enough – there in front of him was a bright glowing, normal-sized pumpkin! In fact, as he looked at it, it almost looked like a smiling face looking back at him – not too scary, but fun to see.
Jack put his pumpkin in a sack and ran fast to the village hall, where all the village leaders were sitting, holding their heads in their hands and crying because Halloween was cancelled. Jack started speaking: “Listen my friends! I have a way to make things all better!” They laughed at him, because how could someone who lived in such a squishy pumpkin have any idea on how to fix something so bad?
Jack reached into his sack and pulled out his carved pumpkin. He put it on the table, lit the candle, put the lid on, and suddenly the room was filled with light, glowing out of the holes on the pumpkin’s carved face. Everyone oohed and ahhed and realized that Jack indeed had a good idea! Jack went on to explain that everyone could take a regular-sized pumpkin, scoop the goop out, carve it, and put a candle in, and use it to light up the front steps of every house, and to carry along to brighten up the streets as the kids went from house to house, and that indeed, they could have trick or treating after all that Halloween night.
The people applauded and cheered Jack for his great idea. He then invited everyone in town to come to his backyard and pick out a regular-sized pumpkin to carve, and in a little while, the streets were filled with children in their costumes, going from house to house in the glow of a pumpkin candlelight – and indeed, Halloween was saved, and everyone had a marvelous time, and the children ate way too much candy that night, and the parents managed to sneak some out of the kids trick or treat bags, and enjoy the night as well.
The next day, Jack had a knock on his squishy pumpkin door. He opened it, and there in front of him was the entire village! The leader spoke, “We have not been very nice to you, Jack, as we made you live in a squishy second-hand pumpkin all these years. But you saved Halloween – and we want to be better neighbors to you.” They then dragged the biggest, nicest giant pumpkin in the village to Jack’s yard, and fixed it all up for him to live in.
Jack was very happy. No more goop. The village promised that each year they would make sure that Jack had a nice new pumpkin to live in, and in return, Jack continued to grow nice, regular-sized pumpkins in his backyard. Each Halloween, folks would come and pick out a pumpkin to carve, and to use as light as they went trick or treating. The village was a happy place to live, and Jack was perhaps the happiest of all.
Over the years, people began to call the lighted pumpkins each year by a special name: Jack’s lantern. After a while, it was even easier to just call them “jack o’lanterns,” and that’s why we have them today.
Have a happy and safe Halloween – and think of Jack as you go trick or treating. With no more goop in his house.
I hope you enjoy the day, and avoid the icky horrible stuff that some folks want to inject into what could be a fun time for all. See you tomorrow.
Word for the day: haunted. Pronounced – oh, you know how to say it… the word comes actually from a Middle English verb, haunt, meaning “to frequently visit.” This isn’t just coming around now and then – it’s like one never leaves, like “haunting” a drinking establishment night after night.
Of course, the natural progression was to think about those things that never seem to leave, and for superstitious folks, that pertained to spirits and ghosts that “haunted” a place, never going away. It then began to mean as a verb something that had a troubling effect on someone, like an experience that “haunted” them for years.
Today, the word always seems to summon up some kind of spooky something, or uneasy feeling as though we are not safe. I hope this definition doesn’t haunt you too much today…
Yesterday was truly one of those glorious late fall days up here in the Northland. It’s hard to imagine, but the wind didn’t get above about 4mph, and the temps were scraping up onto 60 degrees. Lots of sun, and just right for sitting out on the back patio, until the riding lawn mower cavalry went on the move, mowing down a good 1/16th of an inch of grass since they mowed last week. It’s the end of October, folks – nothing is growing here anymore, even if it looks green… we even grilled some great ribeyes, and pretended it was still kind of summer.
I awoke this morning to the sound of what I could only imagine was an ice storm, pelting at our windows. Since this was definitely NOT in the weather forecast, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter… what I found was not ice, but instead, our huge maple tree, which during the summer produces a good half million green leaves, deciding that today would be the day to drop the leaves. Of course, the wind having cranked up to 25mph with 40mph gusts did help loosen the grip of the leaves, but they all seemed to hit our window like poor travelers pounding on the door, asking to come in from the cold autumn weather. And indeed, where it was 60 yesterday, we awoke to 25 degrees, with the hopes of maybe getting up to 45. Of course, the wind chill helped bring it down further, so that at our high point, we managed to scrape out 35 degrees. Of course, it is October 30, and this is where we live. It just changed so quickly.
And so, as is always the case it seems, we wait until AFTER the best day of fall, when the wind is biting and the air more than whispers that winter is on the way, to take care of a critical autumn task. Now, where you live, you might have screen doors in front of your other doors to keep all the flies and other bugs out of your beloved home. We have those too, but it’s also necessary up here to have a bit of a hybrid storm door, that changes over to a huge pane of glass to protect you from the wind and snow blowing in as you open the front door when the winter winds howl at you. This requires a significant bit of homeowner calisthenics, as you need to remove the door-sized screen, carry it downstairs, and bring up the door-sized huge glass insert that will then keep you safe all winter.
All I can say is that it is a real pain in the rump to have to make the changeover. Twice a year, and it doesn’t matter which is being taken out, and which put in, it’s always a struggle, which brings out my dad’s spirit in me, as I lecture to the world that there must be an easier way, and it’s amazing that no one is seriously hurt moving that huge piece of glass around and trying to jam it in place in the frame of the storm door… everyone in the house loves that time…
You see, some door engineer decided that the best way to seat the insert was to have a tiny track all around the frame that would/should hold the screen or the glass, which then is secured in place with long plastic edging that is crammed in between the frame and the glass/screen. Brilliant – they probably got a Nobel Peace Price in Door construction for it.
Except – our house, as lovely as it is, is celebrating its 25 year of existence. Lots of things have been updated and changed out… except for the storm doors. That is, except for the long plastic edging. Now, if I were a long piece of plastic edging, called on to hold things in place, as a barrier between the inside of the home and the summer heat and the winter cold, about after 15 years or so, I might tend to become a bit brittle, and obstinate about fitting into that slot season after season. In fact, just for spite, I might break off a piece or so, just to make it a bit more of a challenge to the person trying to cram me in place. I would do that.
And that’s just what happens. There is no flex or ability to seal easily and nicely – it’s just a fight to put it all in place, that comes after trying to change out the panels themselves, which also have decided over the years to not quite fit in true, but instead to either warp or bend a little. It’s a laugh a minute. I’m not an engineer, but each time I do this, I wonder why some door scientist didn’t come up with some kind of silicone edging material, that would stay flexible, and tuck right in and hold things in place, until the next season rolled around. I would buy that in a heartbeat!
And so, on one occasion, I went to the storm door website, to see about replacement edging. Sure enough – they had some! Granted, it was supposedly the very kind we were using, but 25 years younger, so there was hope. I ordered a set, believing the cost was worth the drop in frustration. Imagine my surprise, then, when the edging came, and the time to change the doors out came, that although it promised to be answer to my door prayers, the stuff was way to fat and big to even come close to fitting our needs, or the door. That happened during the pandemic time, so my only recourse would have been to try to mail back a huge long cardboard tube to the manufacturer, and try to get a refund… Anyone want some long plastic edging?
Well, after using a screwdriver to get the edging out, and then using a hammer to try to put it back in with this season’s insert (always fun to hit a hammer along the edge of a six foot piece of glass, that you know is not tempered…), we managed to get both the front and back doors in place for another season. As I sat on my chair in the living room, looking at the front door, and thinking about those infuriating storm doors, I succumbed to the temptation that always arises. How about – next spring – when it’s no longer cold – that we go around to various home improvement places, and see for ourselves what the new generation of storm doors might be like, and perhaps, just perhaps, take the plunge and buy two new doors, that someone else could install, and kick us off properly for the next 25 years?
The biggest shock about that idea was that when I actually expressed it out loud, my beloved wife heartily agreed that it was time to do that. I think after watching the spectacle for the last number of years, she knew it was just a matter of time before the neighborhood would be witness to large panes of storm door glass getting shot putted into the street. We should probably avoid that, I guess.
So, for now, we are all nice and sealed up for the winter, and visions of new storm doors are dancing in my head. It could be a very nice spring…
We humans are often pretty patient and tolerant, even when things don’t go quite the way we want. It’s also true that there are those times, when patience ends, and change must happen. The key, of course, is knowing when that should happen, and how it should happen, so that the best result should… result. It’s just another example of each one of us finding the path to living intentionally, instead of haphazardly or accidentally. It does no good to thrash about in life – we are better than that.
I invite you to come up and see us next year sometime – please be sure to admire what I hope will be new storm doors… and a smile on our faces. Life is good, and our job is to make it better. Peace.
Thought for the day: The first step to success is not to give yourself any other options. It’s not that we can’t be flexible, but cooked spaghetti has never made a real leadership decision…
Well, that was interesting. In my last column, written Tuesday, I talked about all the fun I had getting blood and urine drawn for my lab tests in anticipation of a couple of different clinic appointments. No biggie – nothing unusual. Except…
At about 11am, I got a text to call the clinic, which had gotten the results of my tests. My first assumption was that they were contacting me to run yet another test about something, but when I called, the clinic nurse told me that I needed to go to the emergency room right away! I tried to clarify things: “You mean go over to Urgent Care?” “No! You need to get to the emergency room at the hospital as soon as possible…”
You don’t hear that very often from your medical providers, so I obediently got in the car and drove over to see what the big deal was. After a two-hour wait, which always thrills me to no end, I got in to see the doctor, and the whirlwind began. First off, of course, I went from being decently dressed to being given a hospital gown to put on, sans clothing, which had a tie at the top, thankfully, but nothing after that. Just to digress for a moment: I am very private person, especially when it comes to my own body. Moving into any part of the medical industry threatens that position in a big way. For the next couple of hours, the folks in emergency seemed to have found a chance to use all their toys, and I got stabbed, poked, squished, scanned, ultra-sounded, ekg’d and everything else you can imagine.
The doctor then came in and very nicely told me that they were going to admit me to the hospital so they could get to the bottom of why my blood seemed to be down a couple of quarts, and my kidneys were deciding to go on vacation. I won’t go into any more, since you don’t need to know, but that began the epic saga of “spending time in the hospital.”
They finally found a room, and so I took the equivalent of a taxi ride through the old city of Quebec, as the orderly apparently held the value of success in being able to create the equivalent of a wind tunnel as I flew through the corridors to my new temporary home. The next best thing was that I did contact Cheri, and asked her to bring me some pajama pants since it appeared the medical industry was only interested in my life above the waistline, fortunately. It’s amazing what a sense of confidence you feel once you put pants on in public.
The “room” they found for me was not one of the hospital’s finest, by any means. I was moved into what they call “overflow,” which means the room was pretty much a glorified closet, with no window, no bathroom – nothing. On top of that, while they were trying to figure out my condition, somebody came up with the great idea that I didn’t need to eat or drink anything – for about a day and a half. Oh, I got fluids from my friendly hanging bag of saline, which was only one apparatus that required stabbing my body. Such fun. They also took my “vitals” which consisted of checking my temperature (which stayed at a flat 98.4 degrees), and my blood oxygen (which stayed at a 98%), and my blood pressure (which held at just about 117/75). In many circles, that information would lead one to say things were perfectly normal.
There then began a string of folks coming in to say hi, and listening to my heart and lungs, and then pushing all around on my stomach and abdomen, asking if I had any pain. Now, given the fact that a few hours earlier I was blissfully at home with no pain whatsoever anywhere, I of course had no pain just because I was lying in a closet with a fancy tied up shirt and pj pants on. That didn’t matter – they pushed and squished, like a big brother sitting on top of you, slapping and pinching and asking, “Does THAT hurt? Does THAT hurt”
I can’t really describe the look of disappointment on face after face when, as they pushed and squished, I continued to tell them that nothing at all hurt, and that I felt fine. I think a few them thought I was faking, and so they would try a surprise attack – it tickled, but no pain. One doctor even told me I supposed to have pain, due to the particular condition they discovered with a CT scan. It’s like I wasn’t playing the game fair or something, by not moaning or crying. I just laid there, getting pushed on.
Of course, the next favorite thing they like to do in the hospital is to try to incrementally suck out all your blood through your arm. I went back and counted, and from noon on Tuesday until Thursday morning, I had 46 different blood tests run. I can’t wait to see the bill. I can tell you that today, my right inside elbow is a wee bit sore from the multiple stabs (ok – this may hurt – it will be a little stick….).
The other thing they like to do is to constantly ask you your name, and when you were born. I know it’s a security thing, so they know they are stabbing Randy Cross in the arm, in the same bed he has been in for 24 hours, instead of, say, accidentally taking blood from Marge Simpson or something… and don’t go joking around – they will just stand there, looking disgusted at you until you tell the truth. I am pleased to tell you, however, that I now know my name, and when I was born. An accomplishment for the week.
So, they found out that I needed blood for some reason, so I did get the chance to experience two blood transfusions. It’s kind of weird feeling to have something pumped into your veins that not too long before had been pumping through someone else’s veins. I thought maybe if I got lucky, it would have given me the ability to speak German or something, but I guess blood doesn’t transfer skills very well.
They finally moved me to another room on a different floor after another race through the halls, wind blowing through my hair. They also said I could actually have something to eat and drink, which given the state of the coffee that must have been made 12 hours earlier, and the interesting menu to order from for a meal, I might have been better just have a nice glass of water.
By the time Wednesday night rolled around, I began to think a nice night’s sleep would really help. I shut things off at 9pm, and closed my eyes. Unfortunately, I had not closed my door, and I discovered I was on the hard-of-hearing floor, and could easily enjoy two or three different television shows blaring at the same time. Finally about an hour later, I did get up and shut the door, and fell asleep.
What fun, then, it was to be awakened at 2am to the sound of constant beeping in my ear, and realize that the bag of stuff being pumped into my veins was almost empty. I laid there for a while, certain that someone would come and hear the beep. Apparently, the sound was only perceptible to my hearing, since it continue for another good ten minutes or so. I finally decided I would push the all important “nurse-call” button to get some action. To do that, I had to sit up and fumble around to find the apparatus with the call button that was buried under my left shoulder blade. I pushed it, and waited.
And waited, and waited. Fifteen more minutes later, the nurse came and asked what I needed. Over the sound of the beeping machine, I helped her figure out that I was out of juice and needed another quart. She manage to do that, and then of course decided she might as well take my vitals too, and so with all that done, I was able to drift back to sleep.
Imagine my surprise, then, when at 5:15, I heard a voice saying, “I need to take your vitals…” For some reason, I guess, this needed to happen when I was sound asleep instead of, oh, another hour later… It’s fun to then be awake at 5:30 – there is so much to do at that time of the morning…
Well, so it went, until finally late yesterday morning, the doctor’s gang (they all come in groups of four or more), told me they thought I could go home, with all sorts of pills and after I made the promise to submit myself to another set of outpatient tests in the next couple of weeks. Two and a half hours later, they finally let me go, and it’s been great to walk around on carpet and not have things stabbed in my hand and arm.
So, I end the week on a cautionary tale: like the scripture says, “Let the one who thinketh he stand take heed lest he fall.” I fell this week, I guess, and now I have a new hobby for the next number of weeks, of figuring out and getting healthy, because I didn’t know I wasn’t healthy already. Seriously, I guess it is important for each of us to approach our own lives with humility and with care, and not assume that simply because nothing hurts that nothing is hurting you somehow. It’s the self-awareness, and intentional living that helps us focus and find true health, and hopefully avoid what I went through this week. I can’t wait for the medical bills. Merry Christmas..
Take care, and may you be filled with health and wholeness as you live today.
Word for the day: cunctation. Pronounced kungk-TAY-shun. A rather interesting word, from our friends in Latin, of course. The earliest word is cunctare, which means, “to hesitate.” Cunctation is the state of lateness, or hesitation or delay. This is different than “procrastination,” another Latin word that carries the sense of intentionally delaying or putting something off until some future time. Cunctation carries some of that, but with the intention of better finding the best time or conditions to move forward. The Roman general Fabius Maximus was called the “Cunctator,” (granted, not a great title) because he was known for holding back on entering into battle until he had the upper hand. Cunctation is thoughtful – procrastination is rather more cowardly or lazy.
Well, late yesterday afternoon, I took the big step into becoming a true senior citizen. Now, it’s not that I dislike the title, or that now I have to find myself to a rocking chair and a crocheted shawl over my shoulders, destined to sip tea and have ginger snaps soften up – it’s just that I have way too much to do, and when in the past, I recall thinking of “those old folks,” now that I am one, I heartily repent for my earlier way-too-casual judgments.
Still, I do guess I am getting older, because on January 1, I begin the new and exciting world of Medicare. Yesterday I actually received my card in the mail – actually, it’s a pretty plain piece of heavy stock paper that looks very similar to the social security id card I got when I turned 16. When I turned 10 as an Air Force dependent, and got my own ID card – now that was a cool looking card, and actually gave me access to places I could go – by myself. Just flash the card, and the doors swung open wide. It was a card with power, to be sure.
The Medicare card – not so much. At least that’s what I thought. However, I spent about an hour or so with some nice lady from somewhere back east, and she walked me through the signup for the absolute bestest, most wonderful health plan I’ve ever been part of as an adult. It almost makes you want to get sick, just to be able to whip that card out and have everything free come pouring in. I do have to wait until January, however – my current health care, which is still pretty good, costs me over $1100/month, since I am no long actively appointed as a UM pastor. Too young, you know – and so we are paying through the nose at least for a couple more months.
Well, even if all that comes to pass in January, I still have some clinic checkup visits to make this year. This Friday, I get to break in a new cardiologist up in Grand Forks, and then at the end of November, I get to break in a new primary care provider here in town. For some reason, after medical folks meet with me for a few times, they mysteriously disappear into the mist, and I’m forced to start all over again. Now, I’m not sure if I have mentioned before how much I hate, loathe, and despise having to actually ever go to the doctor, and especially so when it means I have to completely reintroduce all the “stuff” of my life, and go through their fiendish schemes of trying to explore and try all sorts of new and different tests and procedures. You see, even as a senior citizen, in my mind I have pretty well used up all the “slots” that exist in terms of medical stuff I have to, or want to do. It’s kind of like when you take your car in for the periodic oil change and tire rotation, and the service rep starts to talk about finding a rare, almost unheard of crack in both your water pump and your fuel pumps, and some rattling in the engine mounts, and for some reason, you have liquid in places where the liquid should not be, probably as a result of Covid in the engine… Just a few minutes before, you had blissfully been driving your car all over, recognizing the “service soon” light, and making plans, and now they are talking about major operations. Can’t we just go back to the oil change?
The good news, of course, is that 2021, with all the other mess going on, has somehow brought about what appears to be a healthier me. Since January, I have lost about 30 pounds, and my blood sugar is down to normal, and my blood pressure runs low normal – a good 50 points or more down from a more troubling time. So, in one sense, I am looking forward to going to the doctor, just to show off for a little bit…
That means, of course, that in preparation for the visits, the powers that be have decided that they need to peer into my blood, just to see if there is something new they could find. It kind of reminds me of the scene from Robin Hood, with Kevin Kostner, when the old witch pours some blood into a shallow bowl, throws some chicken bones in and stirs it all around with her long-clawed fingers. Suitably gross for the movie, but since I’ve never had a tour of a clinic lab, how am I to believe it’s something different?
Whatever the reason, I guess I needed to give blood today, or at least, have it taken from me. One of the things the lab people enjoy when I come to visit is that apparently I have “great veins.” When they wrap their little tourniquet around my arm, the veins pop out like they are jumping out of a surprise birthday cake. More than one lab worker has remarked over the years that they could take the blood with their eyes closed, they were so good. Each time that was mentioned, I replied that that would be an experiment that I really didn’t want to try at 7:15 in the morning – with MY veins, thank you!
So, this morning the lab fellow wrapped, stabbed, and then filled about 150 vials full of my life’s essence. Not sure what they planned to do with it all, but it being only five days from Halloween, I surmised it had to do with a vampire, or the building of a new monster by Dr. Frankenstein. Well, the blood was taken and gone, and I certainly didn’t need it back, so I thought I was pretty well done.
Oh no – not quite. To cap off the morning’s festivities, after my right elbow and arm were wrapped up in a pressure bandage, the lab worker then handed me a small plastic cup. “Go the bathroom over there,” he said, “and fill this up.”
I was transported back in time to 1979, when a group of us in seminary all had to go and have brief physicals at the University clinic, I guess to prove that as we were entering the ministry, we weren’t carrying with us any untoward infections or diseases. That’s fine – another one of those “check under the hood, change the oil” kind of visits. Except – the nurse that was taking the labs for us had an odd procedure. She would stab each of us in turn with a small blade in our middle finger, draw out blood, and then hand us a cotton ball to try to stop the bleeding…and a small plastic cup. “We need a urine sample.” That was fine and all, except she didn’t really understand male anatomy, and how we go to the bathroom. Each one of us looked at her, looked at the cup, looked back at her, and then with our heads drooped down, went into the little bathroom to do what we needed to do. Any man will tell you that you need two hands for that procedure, especially since you have to hold the cup in one hand…
Well, I won’t go in to any more detail, except to say that more than a few of the guys ended up with sort of wet pants by the time they were done…
My blood was taken out of the inside of the elbow, but the bandage made it kind of hard to bend my arm. We will just say it was an interesting way to start the day, and I’m glad it’s a rare and occasional task.
Now, my morning, I guess is to be spent waiting for them to post the test results on the clinic restricted web site. It’s kind of strange way to spend the morning, but I do hope I passed, and hopefully did so with honors!
I am glad that we are no longer living in the age where we have to swallow the eye of newt, or have leeches attached to us. I wouldn’t, however, turn down the ol’ Star Trek medical tricorder that could just scan a person in sick bay, and tell Dr. McCoy exactly what was wrong. Until then, I guess we are committed to a stab and a cup, and hopefully nothing worse than that…
I do hope you are healthy, and that your days can be given over to other than this business. Still, whatever you have to do, do so knowing that your prayer can certainly be for God to direct and inspire who medically care for you. We are all in this together, right?
Word for the day: hector. Pronounced HECK-tur. Today’s word is Greek in origin, and became a verb that arose out of a proper noun, and then was corrupted. Hector, as you will recall, was the eldest son of King Priam of Troy, a brave, nearly ideal son to have, who among other things became the one who encouraged the Trojans to fight against the Greeks, until Achilles killed him. The original Greek, hector, meant “to hold fast.”
In London in the 1600s, gangs roamed the streets who called themselves “Hectors.” They saw themselves as young aristocrats, but in truth they were noisy, belligerent, blustery thugs. Their actions become more than their titles, and so “hectoring” became that negative term.
But wait, what about “heckle?” The word is akin to hectoring, but over the course of years, it was more focused on being a persistent and annoying interruption, especially interrupting a public speaker. It’s a long ways from the encouraging, brave figure of Hector, isn’t it?
I’m not completely sure if I have mentioned this before, but after waking up this morning at 6am, having my cup of coffee, getting dressed, and taking Cheri to work at about 7am, all under the cover of darkness, I guess I am drawn to talk about light for a little bit.
In all the years of my growing up time, and into adulthood, it seemed that an unwritten, yet firmly held regulation in life was that every garage we had would always be lit by one – and no more than three – bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling somewhere. When I say “bulb,” I really do mean those 60 watt beauties that were suspended 15-20 feet in the air, nudged within the exposed rafters of the garage, who sole purpose, it seemed, was to cast large dark shadows over huge swaths of the garage. A round, fairly dim beam usually hit the top of the car, again leaving a shadow all around, as you tried to find that right screwdriver or wrench at 8pm on a freezing cold evening. And heaven forbid if you were to turn on the garage light, and the bulb would blow! That of course meant that you would have to raise the garage door, drive the car out onto the driveway, fumble around and set up the ladder – we had two sizes, one that was pitifully too short, and one that was probably used to paint the Sistine Chapel – and then go inside, find a light bulb – always 60 watt, as Dad was careful to say, “Don’t waste electricity with a 75 watt!”
Then, the treacherous job included climbing up the ladder, reaching over to try to unscrew the light bulb, which, being screwed in for eons, was always stuck and half corroded in the socket, that if you put just the right pressure, you could break off the bulb from the metal screw, which required a whole other set of tools and the threat of electrocuting yourself, 20 feet in the air in a dark garage, holding a flashlight while trying to grip the metal screw and encourage it out of the socket. Ah, such are the things dreams are made of…. Just in time for Halloween.
Finally, you could take the new bulb, screw it in, and bring light once again – dim as it was – to a dark garage. Even though you just went into the garage to get a screwdriver, you ended up spending a good half hour in garage renovation. Heaven help you if the new bulb you put in somehow had been shaken a bit too much, because then you would have the glory of repeating the entire process the next night you had to go and find something in the garage…
Now prior to 1969, we always lived far south, where at that time, we never had a garage – only an asphalt slab to park the car on. Moving to Omaha, we did get a two-car garage, with two 60 watt bulbs, and then to Grand Forks (one bulb) and from that point on, for some reason, my folks decided that garages were simply attached storage sheds, and they never parked a car in them again – ever.
However, by that time, around 1983, Cheri and I were appointed to churches that actually did have garages that we decided not to fill with most of the house’s leftovers. It was to be a garage, given over only to cars. And tools. And lawn stuff. And those kinds of things. And yet, sure as God made little green apples, we always had those trust 60 watt bulbs, giving us just the right shadows where spiders and mice could find their homes.
Fast forward to 2015, and our current domicile. This was our first three-car garage, which was immediately filled with cars, tools, two large shelves full of “stuff” that we might need, and a garbage can on wheels. We also moved up in the world, and actually had FOUR 60 watt bulbs hanging from fixtures in the ceiling. Over the course of a couple of months, however, two of the bulbs gave up the ghost, and we found ourselves once again with a garage that had lighting suitable for an Italian restaurant, or somewhere else where mobsters might decide to have a confab. It also was going to require backing out two different cars to get to the ceiling bulbs…
I don’t exactly know where the message originated, as I was working up the courage to tackle the garage bulb project, I stumbled across one of those ads that popped up on my computer. This was before the different “as seen on TV” ads that fill the airwaves today, that talked about “super bright,” “like daylight itself” lighting that you can provide for your very own garage… This ad was really more down to earth, and not showy at all. It kind of read, “Look – you hate a dark garage. We make these bulbs that are both freakishly bright, and freakishly long lasting. After you screw them in, every corner of your garage will look like Formula One repair place, with complete wall-to-wall brightness. Better yet, the bulbs only cost $25/each…”
Now, my devoted wife will be first one to say that I am a sucker for these kinds of ads. Where she doubts they will ever work, I always doubt that they won’t! And since for some reason, I am kind of the one in charge of light bulb purchases, I quietly sent away for four bulbs – I mean, what’s $100 between friends?
When they came, I opened up one of the bulb packages. It was about the size of a flood lamp, but the bulb part consisted of a huge number of little bulbs, looking kind of like spider’s eye. I quietly pulled out the ladder, climbed up the 20 feet, and unscrewed the old, and screwed in the new. What I had forgotten was that I had left the light turned on, even with the burned out bulb. When I finished screwing in the bulb, only about half way, suddenly I found myself staring at the surface of the sun! Holy Moley – this was a bright bulb!
I made my way around the garage, to the other three bulbs, and by the time I was done, the huge room was filled with incredible $100 illumination – Indeed, every little corner, nook and cranny, was as bright as day. The wattage was just about 60 watts/bulb, just like their tired old dark relatives, but these boys could shine!
For that first week, I would find my self just stepping out into the garage and turning on the light, to see how bright and beautiful things were. Now, even four or almost five years later, they are just glowing like the sun, happy as little bright stars in my garage universe. I’ve told all my relatives, and I even like to show off to the guy who comes to adjust our sprinkler system – I just flick the switch and it’s like noon on the Sahara.
I know it may be a little silly to get enthralled with something so basic as a light bulb in a garage, but it’s just neat. It seems so many things in our world today are set up to disappoint, or underwhelm. Promises made really play out to be idle hopes, or just wishes, and when challenged, the response is, “Well, we did our best, sort of …”
How nice it is, now and then, to be able to rely on something that truly does play out to be what it says it is, and even more. No apologies, no conditions, no explanations of why not – just a great performance that pleases and amazes.
Don’t you wish we could live our lives that way? Jesus called us to be lights to the world. His command and his description included no caveats, no parentheses of potential failures. He just said, “This is who you are! So shine!”
When we are able to fashion our response to life this way, so we are completely dependable, and truly honest, what a different and significant way we might live our lives. If we would only take seriously the call to love – and to do so without conditions or clauses in the contract --- our world, and our lives would so much more reflect Christ to the world that… well it would be like lighting up a garage or anywhere else where it seems darkness takes over. When we are there, living as God calls us to live, then our world truly can be an amazing place. Try that this week, and enjoy the light of the world shining on you.
Word for the day: tutelary. Pronounced TOO-tuh-lair-ee, or too-TELL-uh-ree. (Depends on if you are British or not…) Of course, we swing back to the Latin tutor, or tutela, both meaning “guardian,” or “protector.” Now, today we use the word tutor to mean someone who teaches another, but it’s original intent was to be the guardian of one’s future. The individual’s job was indeed to protect the dependent from a future in which they would be unprepared to live. More than teaching someone how to read or do math, the tutor in the classical sense helped grow the person into someone able to live and function and thrive in their world. So, “tutelary” is to have guardianship of a person, or also of a thing. Who has tutored you in your life? Who do you serve as tutor to today?
It’s a great word because it full describes most of American culture today. We are a preoccupied society. Again, it reminds me of, lets say, a box of valuable items that we need to carry/transport somewhere. As soon as we lift the box, however, to move it, someone comes along and fills it with a gallon or two of melted chocolate milk shakes. Now, we were doing pretty well with the box full of stuff, but with milk shake poured in and around all the items, and starting to ooze out of the bottom of the box, and sloshing around on the top, our goal becomes more than just moving the thing, but also trying not to get the sticky messy drippy ice cream all over our shirt or pants – and we can’t set it down anywhere, because it will just ruin wherever we set it down…
Now, imagine the box being the symbol for all things we need to move around in our lives – those normal, workable, sometimes heavy but manageable pieces of “stuff” that make up our regular life. We can handle that, right? And if we get tired, we can always set the box down for a moment and rest, right? Okay, now fill our full life up to the brim with sticky, messy Covid. It just makes things so much more complicated and just harder, from grocery shopping to seeing friends and family, to whatever it takes. We thought we had the mess contained with a nice tightly sealed jar of vaccination – two of them in fact, but somehow, as we are carrying the normal stuff of our lives, it starts oozing out again, and it gets all over our clothes, and runs onto our arms and into our armpits. Yuck. And we really just don’t know how to fix it – and it seems no one else does either.
What happens when that happens, is that even though we are still tasked with carrying our life’s “stuff” around, our pre-occupation of our minds and lives is caught up with messy, oozing mess of a pandemic that just won’t go away. And on top of that, we end up caught in the trial of wanting to go from one place to another, but we are just sticky – and exhausted, and don’t want to play anymore. All the fun and “normal” things we do get shoved to the side while we work to just stay with as little mess as possible.
And that means when we are asked those questions by others that should be fun questions to think about, like, “What do you want for Christmas?” or “Are you dressing up for Halloween?” or even, “What size turkey do you get for Thanksgiving?” Our answers quickly become, “Oh I don’t know – I haven’t thought about it – I’m just trying to move this sticky mess of a life from one place to another right now…” And what should be lots of fun becomes almost more of a burden that’s buried under the dripping mess of CoVid.
I think that’s why, with only a week to Halloween, we had still not bothered to pull out the one bin full of fun little Halloween decorations – the stuffed jack o’lanterns, or the little prizes from McDonald’s past or even some smiling and pretty benign ghosts that can sit on our mantle. We have always loved to put them out, which signified the beginning of an entire three-month cycle of decorating for all the holidays. We’ve done this since the boys were in footie pajamas. It’s just that this year, the effort to do so seemed to require almost more energy than we had, and so we put it all off, for way too long. Of course, add to that the death of Cheri’s mom this past summer, and the work of clearing out her house, and… I’m tired just thinking about it.
However, humans are not created to live in exhaustion and helpless ness. It’s just not who we are! Yesterday, we made a list of the big tasks to get done. We needed to dump the summer flowers, since the freeze has hit twice, and the portulaca plants were all turned to mush. It was time. As it was time to cover the wicker furniture in the gazebo, and put it to bed for the winter. We actually got it all accomplished, and felt pretty good about it, so as we were sitting in the living room, we remembered we had still not moved the antique cherry tall cupboard in from the garage that we brought back from Grafton. Of course, to do that meant that we were going to have to rearrange the living room. We took a deep breath, wiped off the dripping CoVid from our arms, and went to work.
We used to often get “rearranging fever” when we lived in parsonages. It just seemed when we were getting either tired of, or dissatisfied with where we were living, that instead of actually moving, we could just move our inside world a bit, and make things feel pretty new. So we made the changes. It took moving tables, and lamps and couches and arm chairs and shifting the rug and of course, as we moved everything it was a good chance to vacuum up the areas that had been covered by furniture for so long.
With most everything in place, we commandeered the sons to haul the cupboard inside and place it in just the right spot. We moved a framed print on the wall over about three feet, wiped the beautiful thing down with lemon oil, and the entire living room was transformed. It almost seemed like for the first time in a while, things actually worked out very well! That of course led to bringing up the Halloween bin, and filling the upper level of our home with a wonderful festive Halloween spirit.
Late yesterday afternoon, Cheri and I sat down in our living room, and felt that not only was the room rearranged, but our lives as well, for the good. It was the first time in a while when we seemed to be able to agree that something really good and positive happened – nothing was dripping out of the bottom of the box.
Will that all stay? Can’t say for sure, but there sure felt to be a bit more joy and burden when it was all done, and that’s hopeful as we recognize the certain change from late summer to almost mid-autumn. I can expect that we are not done yet with the mess of this pandemic, but at least for a while, it felt like we once again put the lid on it, and hopefully can look at our lives and our world, not as drudgery, but with a sense of joy and anticipation for what’s ahead.
I’ve quoted before that, “Your life is what your mind in full of.” At least for now, at least for us, it became full of some actual fun and some hope. My hope and prayer is that you will also find that breakthrough of joy for your own life and for your family. We are not simply the sum of what the world throws at us. That other great quote is “It’s not what happens to you that matters – it’s what you do with what happens to you that counts.”
Have a great Sunday – and a good week to come.
Word for the day: redintegrate. Pronounced ree-DINT-eh-great. It’s a simple word that unfortunately finds little use today. Of course, it’s Latin, re “again,” and integrare “to make complete.” When we seek to redintegrate, we seek to make things whole again, or to renew, or even to reunite. Some will say it means to bring things back to a perfect state, but I imagine most of us would be satisfied with repairing or restoring, so that what once was, exists again.
When in the course of moving all sorts of stuff around to make room for other stuff that we recently brought back from Cheri’s mom’s place in Grafton – dressers, bookcases, tables, trunks, pie safes and etc. – you know, the typical stuff that at our age we need/want to bring into our home that is already nicely full with everything we have accumulated for over 40 years, it of course meant, especially downstairs, that things that were nicely in place needed to be moved. Some things, like furniture already taking up prime spots, had to shifted and carried across the room, so as to not make the place look like a furniture store (one of Cheri’s most hated descriptions…).
Of course, in order to move some things, it required unloading drawers and cupboards and shelves of tons of things (literally, tons) that, when we moved in the place in 2015 we stored in the most convenient places we could “for now,” truly believing we would go through them at some later point and find better places to stash them. What complicated things even more was that Cheri moved from her townhome that we rented as the first unloading, and then I came along about a month later, after she had nicely put things in place all over the house, giving no thought whatsoever as to where the houseful of “stuff” that I had would find its place through the front door. I actually think that’s where the “put it there for now” mentality took hold. We were reasonably satisfied that the things were mostly put away, i.e., out of sight, and went on to live our lives for the next six years.
Well, after Mom died, and we cleared out her house, I did manage to put as much as possible in the back of my Mazda CX-5, where I carried a marble top dresser, a shaker stand, an old shelf, and piles and boxes of truly valuable – hard to actually estimate – items like some of the wooden blocks I played with as a boy and a metal cookie tin from Australia. Truly valuable. As those things made their way into the house, most of them took a right turn and ended up in my office, which went from nicely appointed to “holy cow! Look at all that stuff!”
So, when we brought home the items from Cheri’s life, it was similar to filling a glass to the rim with water, and then deciding that it certainly could take another cup or so, which then gives one the opportunity to get out the absorbent dish towel and mop up the mess.
The overflow from Cheri’s family’s contribution for some reason ended up in my office. Hmmm. Strange how that happened. I even ended up with a great 8-drawer dresser being deposited where my file cabinet used to be. The propitious (great word that I love to use… it means favorable or fortunate) occurrence, however, meant that I now had 8 more places to put things. Yippee.
One of the items that traveled north out of basement into my room was a huge box of DVDs that we had pretty much forgotten about, that we used to watch nearly continually about 10 years ago. We are now reconsidering whether to take another turn at them, if I can get Cheri to actually stop moving for an hour or so when she is home from work…
The other interesting item that was piled on top of the DVDs was a heavy, solid state portable cassette player, circa 1979. I know it was 1979, because that’s when I bought it. I would tape and replay my sermons as I was starting out, and the used it for any cassette that came along. It had a power cord, of course, but it could also run on four giant “D” batteries, which made the thing weigh twice as much. I stood there holding the player, and then without thinking, I pushed the play button. There was no cassette in the thing, but to my surprise, it started running. Those huge batteries had gone without being tapped for I’m sure a good 20 years, at least, and here they were, running as strong as the day I put them in the player. Amazing.
All of that brings me to today’s issue. When “they” say, “They don’t make things like they used to!”, I can fully concur. On one hand, exhibit A – the cassette player. On the other hand, exhibits B, C and D. Of course, those are the up-to-date, modern powered devices that have swallowed up my time in recent years. I’m talking about my cell phone, my IPad, and my Apple Watch. They are all very nice items to use, except for one thing: they all have weeny little batteries inside, that have no guts, no lasting power and need constant… and I mean constant… recharging for them to work. Usually, they peter out and warn me that their little baby batteries need to be plugged in right at the time when I am needing to rely on them to be big boys and girls and just gut it out, and give me power right now…
At this very moment, all three of the devices are “plugged in,” which is code word for unable to be used until their teeny, weeny batteries get some juice flowing back into them. Now, it’s not that I am one of those 24-hour device user – no, in fact, I’ll spend most of my days not even paying attention to them, which is probably why they decide to start crying and complaining that they have no battery power left in them…
I’ve begun to call them “the disappointments,” and I know I can’t rely on them for much of anything. Living in our world today, I know I need at least one or two of them, but I almost want to place them next to the cassette player, and say, “SEE! This is how you do battery! You don’t hear it complaining! It’s not getting recharged! You should model your life after this big boy and stop wimping out at the drop of a hat!”
Of course, these are all inanimate objects, and they frankly could care less about what some other thing is doing. And I know that the manufacturers tell us every year, when a new model comes out, how the battery life is so much better and so much longer, and it will only cost you another $1000 to not have to plug it in so often…
So, let’s move from inanimate objects, to us. The truth is, I must confess that there are times in my life when I guess I act more like the disappointments, than the old workhorse of a cassette player. Like all of us, so often we “can’t” do something until all the dials are turned on just right in our lives. A friend of mine once said, “If you don’t want to do something, any contingency will do.” We often shy away from the significant, yet hard things we are called to do in life. In an argument, are we the first to offer our apologies? In a project, of whatever it is, do we usually take the path that is more difficult, but creates a better outcome, or do we perhaps cut corners, let fundamental things slide because “it’s too hard…”?
You and I both know that life can drain our batteries, leaving us nearly powerless and too tired and without imagination to carry on. Yet, it is in that moment, when we are able, and willing to reach down deep and pick up the hard work, shoulder the yoke and be the one to make the path through a murky and messy time, that we show our true character, and our true reliance on the power of the Spirit to not just get by, but to thrive and do what our world needs, and what God invites us to do, whether we feel like we have enough energy or not. In that moment as well, we find significance in what we are called to do, and in that significant life, we come to know joy itself in a deeper and more powerful way.
I guess recharge when you need to, but don’t get seduced into the talk of having to always “take care of self first.” What happens with that, is that the person often will stop at that step, and forget the world around her or him needs so much more, that we have the power to offer.
Have a great and significant day.
Word for the day: gossamer. Pronounced GOSS-uh-mer. We’ve heard this word before, and perhaps used it, too. We’ve heard the poem that refers to “gossamer wings” written by Jude Kyrie. The word has Middle English roots, and is defined as the filmy cobweb that floats through the air in the country especially at autumn. It is light, delicate, extremely fine and almost tenuous. Some believe it comes from the two word, gos, meaning “goose” and somer, meaning “summer.” It reminds the person seeing it of the way that goose down floats on the breeze, sort of like the feather in Forest Gump. However, we want to describe it, it is one of those most ethereal of things, that only captures our attention because it is so fine.
I’ve mentioned before in weeks past that besides getting to write to you every day, in my retirement, I have also been given the opportunity to write a variety of pieces for the United Methodist Publishing House. Most recently, I was tasked with writing a month’s worth of daily devotions that would be a companion piece to the weekly Sunday School study.
That’s all fine and good, and actually kind of fun, and an opportunity to use my brain a bit, and to think theologically in working to explain scripture in a way that not only informs, but hopefully, helps inspire the reader for the day. I should tell you that, like so much of our scripture, some pieces are simple, and seem to almost write themselves, where others are real – stinkers – in terms of discerning the truth of what is being offered… in 75 lines or less.
Well, a couple of weeks ago, I finished the project, and sent it along to my editor and expected it was all said and done, and put to bed. This morning, then, I was curious to get an email from her. Everything was “mostly” okay, but for some reason, on the September 19, 2022 daily devotional, I wrote the piece using verses from Romans 5, like I was supposed to, except the verses I used were from the section preceding the one that I was supposed to write from. I have no idea how that happened, and frankly the devotion I wrote was pretty good, if I do say so myself. It also was a devotion from a much easier set of verses than the one I was supposed to use. Arrgh.
So, I wrote back and said I would write a new devotion. No problem, right? Except, when I read the “new” scripture, it was a dickens of a piece. By the way, the phase, “dickens of something” is actually from The Merry Wives of Windsor, act 3 scene 2, by William Shakespeare just around 1600, in case you were interested…
So, I was faced with the TRIPLE issue of, 1) having to rewrite, and do it quickly; 2) having to explain a pretty dense and difficult scripture; and 3) write in a way that makes things more than just a scholar paper, but indeed, could be something that would help inform someone’s spirit. When you do that, or at least, when I do that, I end up sitting in my office chair, staring out the window, and trying to bubble up some thought from deep within my brain, whether that’s a memory or some other kind of word/object that I can use and expand on to frankly fill 75 lines…
After a while – and it was a while – I finally got the smoldering bit of an ember of an idea in my mind. So, the only thing left was to start to write. It’s at this point that I just turn it over to another power. I have written hundreds and hundreds of pages of sermons and stories and lessons and such over the last 40 years, and each time that I start to write, it almost feels like I have just given up my own imagination and allowed the Spirit, if you will, to take over and use me. Now, it’s not to the level of Holy Scripture, but there is a real sense in my mind and heart that I’m not the one in charge of writing the piece. In fact, often when I have gone back and read some pieces from years ago, I can’t remember writing the piece, and actually the piece sounds much better than what I have ever thought to write. There’s no boasting in this at all – it’s God working through me.
So, after a good hour, I had the devotion done, and fired it back to my editor, who was pleased that I got it written so fast. I too was pleased that I didn’t have to write it for a third time and so that assignment, as we say, has been put to bed.
But it has set me to thinking, and so I’ll ask you today: where, in your life, does it feel God just takes hold of you and leads you to an excellent… whatever? Sometimes it’s writing, and sometimes it’s speaking, or acting or a conversation or even some other creative gift that you have within you. I’m no artist, but I often stand in awe when I see some piece that is truly a work of art. I believe then, that God’s hand is in it. I remember reading about Handel, when he wrote the Messiah, that he did so in only 3-4 weeks, writing, and at times doing so furiously, as though the very Hand of God was working through him.
So, today, as you take on a task, or a project, or just some idea that is starting to burn within you – let go. Allow what is inside, and what might guide you, to do so in an exciting and joyful way. It’s then that we come to understand “inspiration,” and God’s presence with us.
Saying for the day: Stop saying I wish. Start saying I will.
I learned two things concerning Christmas during my having-little-sons era: one is that about this time in October, it was critical to start asking the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” Of course, the answers that came were as numerous, as the Bible says, of grains of sand on the beach. Basically, if you were to take a giant chainsaw, and carve off all the dolls section of any Toys R Us store, the remaining piece would be the answer to our question. Any and everything that even remotely smelled like “boy” was fair game. Cars, trucks, planes, action figures, Lego sets, dinosaurs, anything that makes a significant amount of noise and distracting light strobes or can turn into a world-class dramatic story for boys under 10 years old was all included in the “ask.” And there was no reason to go into the silly question of, “Ok – but what do you REALLY want?” The question had already been asked, and answered. Everything…
However, it was always at this point in the season that parents are required to fine-tune their radar pickups, to begin to discern that, although everything would be a great present, the boys’ attention seemed to be focusing more and more on a few truly treasured items. For instance, I remember the year that Aaron began to mention the Lego set of Forbidden Island… I’ve talked about this before, but that Christmas really did seem to hit the ball out of the park, present-wise, as Santa sifted through everything and loud and clear, kept hearing about pirates and sharks and trap doors on Lego prisons. When that special morning came, the rest of the toy store didn’t matter – Aaron got what he truly had hoped for. A few years later, when things got a bit more expensive, and impossible to find, Adam asked for a special video game platform, that simply didn’t exist in our known world. Unbeknownst to him, “Santa” had found and secured one about this time in October, and simply stashed it away. This of course was the riskiest of moves, because something asked for in October could very well become something that is just boring when something else new came about in November… Still, “Santa” trusted his gut, and while for nearly two months we carefully and pseudo-mournfully kept telling Adam that, “Well, those are really just impossible to find –maybe something else would be worthwhile…” You could see Adam’s countenance fall (it’s a great biblical word that means everything you hope and dream about, that becomes a long-term goal to make life sweet…), and he did mention some other, far-lesser things that would make Christmas that year more than likely not stink…
I have never seen an offspring of mine go through such cheers and screams as we did watching Adam open that one gift at that one moment in time, as he fully believed he was not going to receive one, and there it was, sitting in his hands. I think the words, “No way!” were spoken a good 500 times… good Christmas.
So, the challenge has always been to carefully listen and screen out the “yeah, that would be a good present I guess…” from the “Oh, man – among all the things I could receive, THIS one is the top of the pile…”
The boys of course have changed their strategy as they moved to adulthood. We never hear the word, “Hot Wheels” or “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” anymore. No, instead, over the past few years, they have taken to sending us via email “the list” of possible gifts that they would enjoy. Unfortunately, the lists have included items that have grown in both complexity and cost. I mean, when you are staring at a list of things like outdoor propane pizza ovens, or ten terabyte hard drives, or fine art, it becomes a bit more challenging to make wishes come true, and not have to mortgage the house a second time, just for Christmas morning. That, combined with my beloved’s yearly statement of, “Well, we don’t need to go crazy this year – let’s just get a couple of things and let it go at that…” a statement that is made AFTER we have invited, and received the lists from the boys who still can imagine and dream of a fantastic Christmas present experience. The key to it all? Never let your wife know exactly how much “Santa” has spent on sons this year…
One more wrinkle has developed in the Christmas gift experience, starting about two or three years ago. I’ve mentioned before how Cheri and I don’t give Christmas presents to each other, and that’s been a good workable arrangement. However, now that we have adult sons, who have relatively good incomes of their own, the question has been raised, “Well, what do you two want for Christmas?” For decades, this hasn’t been a question I have had to worry about – but now, it haunts me, and Cheri, like a long finger-nailed hand scraping across the door… Oh, sorry – that’s Halloween – but it’s about the same thing. They are relentless in their pursuit to have us answer that question. EVERY night as we tune in to watch a show, the question comes. I frankly have no imagination about “wanting” something, either for Christmas or for birthdays or for Father’s Day, for that matter. Sure – who doesn’t want or need some gold coins, or antique whatever – but especially now, after the deaths of three parents, and the assembling of heirlooms in a house that is already full, what we really need is a significantly large addition to the home, to display and enjoy all the things of our childhood, or even our parents’ childhoods…
But that doesn’t stop the “ask.” “We need those lists… we are going to continue asking you until you tell us…” Cheri is absolutely terrible about all of this. Her answer, nightly, is “Well, I don’t know – let me think about it… I just want everyone to be happy…” Sons are not interested in happiness. They are busy trying to figure out what they can put under the tree…
So, we trudge through October – it will only get worse as November comes. I hope we can think of somethings, big enough, but not too big, that we haven’t already just purchased on our own, since we can do that as adults. In the meantime, if you have any ideas, please feel free to send them along…
You see, I guess it boils down to what sounds like a very noble and selfless approach: I love to give just the right present, but I have real troubles in thinking about whatever it might be that I might want or enjoy myself. What I have to realize is that if the joy comes in giving, then I have no right to rob someone of their own sense of joy by blessing me with something in my life. I just have to find the right thing…
In the meantime, maybe I’ll look around for some action figures, or a new Lego set, just in case they end up on the boys’ list…
Word for the day: mammock. Pronounced MAM-uck. Not “hammock” – that’s a different word. Actually today’s word is purely southern American, possibly from some of the American tribes in the region, but certainly in use in early settler times. The word has no real etymology, coming from Latin or Greek. It’s just one of those words that is useful in describing something without shading. It means “to break, or to tear or to cut into fragments, or to shred.” In the American South, when something is mangled or mauled (one example talks about a bull that was hit by a train…), it is said that the item has been “mammocked up,” completely ruined. We have all seen things that are best described as “torn to shreds” – if we had only had today’s word handy, we instead could say it is just mammocked…
Sixty-seven days until Christmas morning. Of course, we still have to fly by Halloween, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving before we even hit the Advent season, but living in this strange period of time that we find ourselves means that we are already being warned/cautioned/threatened/alarmed with the specter of waking up Christmas morning, and the cherished, dreamed of packages of joy that we wanted to share with each other (not even considering Santa’s big project) are all missing, the victims of the evil “supply chain” foul up, which promises to leave the aforesaid dreamed of presents stuck on a container ship moored 5 miles off the coast of California. Oh, the humanity! Not enough dock workers, not enough storage facilities for the thousands of containers that made their way across the ocean from China – and worst yet, not enough semi-truck drivers to move those presents to the stores and shopping malls so I can take my carefully earned money and blow it all on items for Christmas that I “might” think everyone wants. I mean, who doesn’t need another Slinky toy? When we were little and got Slinkies for a present in the stocking, their life-expectancy was about two hours, which was an hour and a half before we opened them, and a half hour to have them become hopelessly tangled on themselves, which, when you carefully worked to untangle, meant that somewhere along the way, part of the metal coil got a little stretched, and so instead of a perfectly crafted Slinky that could do all the things you ever wanted it to do – like go down stairs – you ended up with a kinked, stretched out, horribly disfigured metal disaster… but hopefully you were smart enough to leave your own Slinky safe in its box, and played with your little sister’s Slinky for those few moments before disaster struck.
Ok – setting the Slinky aside, estimates are that this year, there will be a choice of more than 80 BILLION different toys on sale, including, but no limited to the Disney Princess Raya and Sisu Dragon water toy, or the WowWee Got2Glow Fairy Finder… Yeah – I know – I have no idea what they are either, but they exist in the toy buying kingdom, just around the corner from where you live. Again, understand that ALL of these are threatened endangered species because SOMEBODY screwed up in the management of the supply chain. By the way, it also means a better than even chance you’ll be having hot dogs instead of roast turkey for Thanksgiving… Now, if you thought the experience of having to slap face masks on your tiny little toddlers, raising an entire generation of kids who don’t quite understand the English language because they spend most of their time at school and other activities trying to learn how to talk with the equivalent of a down pillow shoved in front of their mouths for hours at a time, well I can tell you it’s nothing compared to the thought of waking up on Christmas morning, and having your sweet little angels running down to see the tree all lit up, and there, under the tree are dozens of little white envelopes instead of presents, all carrying the message: “To be redeemed when the supply chain opens up, and the toy you wanted today will be available sometime in April..” That, along with three pairs of socks. We almost hope for a pandemic relapse, just as an excuse.
So, what are we to do with all of this future handwringing? Well, the best solution, of course, is one that always sits in front of us. All we have to do is to trust the Federal Government to step up and save Christmas, and make our lives simpler and more wonderful than ever – right? I mean, that’s the role of government, isn’t it? To make sure that little Anthony or LaTicia gets their heart’s desire? I mean, that’s who I always count on to make my life happier – the Federal Government, of course!
And the solution that our wise leaders offer to all the families across America? Here it is – get ready to write it down…. Their recommendation: Shop early. Instead of enjoying a walk through rustling leaves on a cool autumn day, or going to a football game or even using one of those last non-freezing evenings to grill some steaks or hamburgers – NO! You must get to the store TODAY! Bring all the money you have and the credit cards and two or three carts, and start filling it up with those toys and other gifts that by next week will be swallowed up in the “supply chain,” never to be seen again this season. For some reason, apparently right now, we may have enough – but it you dare wait until after you have enjoyed your turkey (which you also may not get!), when you make that drive to Walmart or Target, it will look like Stalingrad at the height of the siege, with fights and napalm and shredded toy aisles… but your government warned you, didn’t they? Shop early! Slide that panicky, battling pre-Christmas spirit up into October, but certainly no later than Veteran’s Day, and you will be guaranteed the outside possibility of finding at least one or two items on your list…
Well, it is said that the best way to show absurdity is through talking about things in an absurd way. So, now that we have done that, let me offer another option: Don’t. Don’t let yourself or your family get caught up in the frenzy of reacting to what “might be.” Don’t make this the end of the world, or even a contest. Instead, take this external mess that seems to be amassing on the border, and set it all aside. What? We couldn’t possibly do such a thing! Let me ask another question: can you name five things that you received as Christmas presents last year? How about three things? Nope – that special gift came a couple of years ago – the fact is, most Christmases are kind of blurs on the landscape, where we spend too much, worry too much, and create a “holiday” (ready holy-day) that consists of getting and giving stuff.
Cheri and I stopped giving each other Christmas presents back in the mid-1980s. The stress and the cost just made it no longer fun, so we instead just filled our stockings with stocking stuffers of a silly nature. There hasn’t been a Christmas is more than 35 years when I have been disappointed. Sure, we provided a nice Christmas for the boys as they grew up, and that was tons of fun, but even today, we are considering simplifying things even more, and letting special gifts and presents be part of birthdays, or just other good days of the years. I don’t need the Federal Government to run that part of our lives – that’s for sure.
It’s something to consider, in these 67 days before Christmas. In fact, there is a better than even chance we won’t even have to worry about the supply chain, if we do… It’s called living intentionally, on purpose, with a focused and reasonable life. Just don’t forget the Slinky.
Word for the day. Alembic. Pronounced all-EM-bick. If you do a lot with chemistry and such, this word may be familiar to you – if not, then it’s a helpful new way to express something. “Alembic” is actually from a number of different roots, including Arabic, al-anbik, or even Greek ambix, both of which mean a certain kind of cup. In medicine or chemistry (or moonshine making!), an alembic is actually a distillation vessel. It describes something that either transforms, purified or refines. As a substance is heated, and evaporates, it distills and is accessible as a purer and stronger substance. Every good Frankenstein movie will have a scene with alembics bubbling and steaming, just prior to the lightning bolt being zapped into the monster’s neck bolts….
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.