Monday, May 30, 2011

Worth Life, Liberty, & Sacred Honor

On this beautiful Memorial Day I remember the men in my life that I most admire. My father who served in Vietnam, my Papaw Harry who served in World War II, My Pop who served in Korea, and Kellie's Grandfather who served in World War II. We each have uncles who served, and family members who are serving now. Their choice in life is to be respected and honored.

Those of you who view my Facebook page know that I am a highly political creature, and yet I make an effort to keep politics out of my blog. So, this is not meant to be a political statement, although it does come through my overall filter. We all have perspective, and that is the flavor and balance of life.

My path could have been very different. In my graduating year of high school I spent some time on multiple occasions talking with an armed forces recruiter. I was looking at becoming a Chaplain. Ultimately, I became the first member of my family to graduate college when I followed my girlfriend to Anderson University.

I think that worked out pretty good!

I know that we are all here today through the sacrifices of the brave, who put on the line their personal safety, property, and sacred honor to guarantee the freedom we have today. They understood that our ideals and our beliefs are more important than our comfort, security, health, and safety.

Indeed, there are things worth dying for, and I have found truths that are deeper than my own existence. I give my thanks to those who have gone before me, and hope to never put my own benefit before these self-evident truths that were the basis of the greatest country in the world.

The simple beliefs that all men were created equal and given certain rights by God, rights that can not be denied. Simple beliefs that carry the weight of the ages. Rights that were first transcribed by people who have been persecuted as long as history has made record. Wherever there is freedom, it seems there will be those who seek to destroy those who love it.

Whatever your political persuasion, on this day I ask you to reflect on the sacrifices of those who bled, died, and lost family members freely and with full knowledge that their sacrifice was given for a great, deep truth. What we have is truly extraordinary. My soul bleeds when Americans who enjoy these freedoms smear the legacy of the men who gave them the right to do so.

I am an American, and I make no apologies. I have an opinion, and I will fiercely defend my beliefs. Short of the Bible, I believe the U.S. Constitution is the greatest document in the history of the world, and I see the evidence of God in the beauty of our nation. Along with my father and grandfather, I also consider Ronald Reagan to be my hero, and am reflective of his words today. His quote that for me captures the spirit he carried is the one below.

It is my belief that we are all accountable to defend the freedom we posses, and we will answer for how we carried the torch. To whom much is given, much is expected. Happy Memorial Day, 2011.

"Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom, and then lost it, have never known it again."

Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States. First Inaugural Message as Governor of California, January 5, 1967.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Sky Was Never Too Big (for The Incredible Hulk)

My t-shirt was soft and worn. When The Incredible Hulk slipped over my head, I knew that I could conquer the world. The pocket-knife in my frayed cut-off blue-jeans was my weapon that could withstand dragons and whittle spears. I had a tire-swing that could launch me into space and circle the globe. I travelled daily to far away places that I knew, and places that had never been discovered. A sandbox contained an entire city of matchbox cars, complete with a grocery store, a gas station, and a church. Oh, and of course a McDonald's. I mean, you gotta have priorities, right?

And then there was the boundary. A woodpile near the back property line leaned up against the fence that my dad and my grandpa built. By hand, using a rusty, creaky set of post hole-diggers, a tamping bar, a spade, and a wheelbarrow they set fence posts that surrounded my world. Beyond was wilderness. A meandering creek through the forest at the base of a cliff. Rusted and burned out cars lined the creek wall, a fascinating mystery and source of speculation to a developing mind. I was convinced that skeletons still grinned from those overturned wrecks. I would imagine their white bony grip on my ankles as I chased minnow and crawdads around their murky shadows.

The creek was rich with snakes. Both on the land, and some in the water. A misplaced step or an overturned rock would often reveal their rapid slid and my panicked retreat. My dog would always save me, and together we would run to the top of the old dirt pile near the shed where I would flop onto my back and gaze at the shifting clouds. I was mesmerized by both the depth of the eyes of a trusting dog, and the secrets hidden in the movement of the sky.

I knew no limits. The imagination of an only child armed with a pocket-knife, a dog, a canteen, a minnow seine, and a granola bar has more transformative power than the Hoover Damn. It was here that I began a life-long practice of contemplation. The warm sun and the sounds of rural Ohio served as my backdrop as my mind played out countless possibilities and impossibilities.

At times my full-hearted attack led me neck deep into trouble: falling through the ice in a winter creek, shooting the neighbor out of a tree with my BB-gun, skinny dipping in front of guests, flipping my motorcycle into the chain link fence, knocking the privacy fence down with the lawn mower, falling through my bedroom window, falling out of my treehouse, getting stuck in the tree, trying to flush the Incredible Hulk down the toilet, and my parents still say that I kicked in the front storm door (I STILL deny that one).

Life now... well, it's really not so different for me. Roaming The Countryside has deep meaning. As a child this is what I did to broaden my world. Grab my supplies and my dog and trek out for hours and discover the tactile world around me and then lay flat on my back and let my mind take me farther. Now, we roam a broader countryside. Kel and I have travelled to Austria, Germany, France, Belgium, Russia, Guatemala, and soon we hope to find ourselves in China. I still run headlong into things, and at times am met with a painful collision. But, the pain is so worth the journey.

We embrace life. This is our only shot. If you dream of doing something "One Day," then I challenge you that your best chance of doing it is now. Now when the fire is in your belly. C.S. Lewis once wrote that hope is as useless as fear (my paraphrase, for context see The Screwtape Letters, chapter 6, opening paragraph). Both cause you to do nothing. If all you are doing is hoping for "One Day" then you are doing nothing to get yourself there. Too often we view ourselves as victims in the universe when we could simply take the first step and chase our goals.

For me to dream is better than to hold hope. Dreaming inspires action, but hope simply waits on a tomorrow that never comes.

And so, we Roam The Countryside together. We chase our dreams. We scare our families and worry our friends. We put our finances on the line as well as our personal safety. But the risk is measured, and the pay-out is incredible. This life is given to us once, and it is meant to be lived.

For he has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and a sound mind.

It is good that I remember the ah, "sound mind" part, and... does anyone know where I can buy Underoos for adults?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where the Wild Things Eat Duck

She sits in her room, cranking at me and channeling her spunky energies onto a bit of paper. I wonder where she gets this tendency? We had a scuffle at dinner that included a packet of duck sauce leaving my hand, jetting across the tabletop, and contacting her face with a smack! I do not plan on getting a Father of the Year Award anytime soon.

Of course her older brother laughed. Probably not the best thing to teach him. At least not the laughing at other's discomfort part. It's all fun and games until someone takes Duck Sauce to the eye. And, it probably didn't help that I had just finished educating her about how Duck Sauce is made, "they squeeze the duck."

I chased her down and carried her around the house like she was a little angry monkey. She wouldn't look at me and so I caught her eye in the mirror. We spun until we both got a little sick as I kept trying to catch her glance as she kept her head turning to avoid the mirror as we make each half rotation. She had a tough time trying to scowl at me through her suppressed giggles. She recovered as soon as I stopped. She demanded that I put her down, and so I released my grip and allowed her to slip downward a couple of feet before I caught her fall. Again with the escaped giggle, and then back with the declaration, "You're mean!"

I suppose that is indeed true, and so I let her make her exit. I figure that will just have to be today's life lesson, sometimes people are just mean. I sit down to enter some receipts and now she makes her entrance into my  presence. With a squint-eyed, pouty-mouthed determined look on her face, she plopped a half-folded slip of notebook paper on the desk. She exits the room, her bare feet slapping the laminate flooring and whirls around as she enters the hallway. She watches my face as I open the paper to discover her artistic rendering of how she feels about my behavior:

It appears that I am being eaten by a monster. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Key-hole and the Tobacco Witch (1).

The backside of a mule wasn't a great view, but wasn't cause for distraction either. He could only remember the last five or six summers with clarity. This one was like the those few before it. The tobacco plants stood tall, as far as his eyes could see on those rolling Tennessee hills. The sky was hazy today, and yet so bright that he had to squint. Crows were chasing overhead and seemed to mock his labor. His days began before the sun, although not before the roosters. As typical of every morning, he awoke to the sound of his mother's footsteps outside of his bedroom door. His senses would come alive with the reality of the dawning day... breakfast sounds against plates and his mother's voice. He and his brothers would crowd around that old, rough-hewn table and fight for each piece of food.  After the last crumb had been swallowed, they would follow their father down the path and over the fields to where their work would began like the day before, and also like the endless days to come. This was the life of a tobacco sharecropper's son. Work just as hard as it was honest.

The day would end with them carrying the consequence of its labor. The dirt was ground in skin deep over the course of days, clothes would wear ever thinner, and then there was the aching. Simple and unending aching from head to toe. His hands from gripping the leather straps, trying to compensate for his small stature with the harness wrapped around his waist and threaded through his grip. His arms and abdomen were now burning from holding the leather taunt, his legs were stiff from stepping over the broken earth all day, his shoulders still hot from the sun, and his feet swollen and numb. His mind floated in between keeping the tip of the plow straight down the row and thinking of the evening to come. The small frame house would be crowded and hot with his mother, father, and 13 siblings. He looked forward to the small relief of when sleep pulled the cover over his body and mind.

But for now he felt the sweat gather and hang on the tip of his nose, blasted it away with a puff from his lips. The mule seemed to feel the drag of the day along with him, slowly planting each hoof in the hard ground before straining his haunches to break the earth. He looked toward the top of the hill and could see the scarecrow silhouetted by the waning sun. One of the crows defiantly lands on one of the outstretched arms and mocks him with loud defiance. In the distance he hears the ringing of the dinner bell. He can hear his mother calling him to the house. The day had finally come to its end.

Dinner was spent in the kitchen with the hot evening air slowly moving through the doorways. Candles cast  their movements on the four close walls. The meal was typical and very filling. Heavy fresh baked biscuits and a few pieces of salt pork, along with boiled potatoes and fresh green beans plucked from the garden. Father would maintain order with spittle-flecked shouts and the occasional thrown fork. He had his fill and washed it down with a very thin tea. His mind was far away, thinking of the cool water of the creek in the spring, and the deep shade that could be found in the holler below.  As the shadows lengthened, the family began to quiet and they made their way to the beds.

Wil wasn't the youngest, and he wasn't the oldest. He was smack in the middle of 11 other siblings. He shared this room with his four brothers. The other two had bunks, but his bed stood alone, nearest the bedroom door. The room had only two small windows, barely large enough to allow the air to move, and high near the ceiling. If he tilted his head just right, he could see the moon for a few hours each night. He fell asleep.

He didn't know why, but suddenly his eyes were open. The moon was reflecting directly onto his face. The light seemed to consume him as he tried to focus. In a house full of 13 people, it was never quiet, but at this moment he noticed that he could not hear a sound. His heart began to race and he felt his throat tighten with fear. Something was not right. The air was so hot and thick it felt like liquid pouring down his throat. He had never felt so threatened. It was then that he noticed the smell. It reminded him of the old scarecrow, a dank wet smell of decay and putrid remains. The images of the crow laughing on the arm of the staring scarecrow cascaded his mind with revulsion. He started imagining the scarecrow unhinging himself from the pole and crawling towards his bedroom door. He heard a faint click from the door and spun his head away from the moonlight. He could see the beam from the moon focused directly on the keyhole. He couldn't stop staring at that keyhole.  He thought he could see a shape slowly pouring from the bottom of the keyhole. He strained his eyes to see through the darkness.  The air was getting thicker, and heavier as his eyesight began to blur. His chest and head felt compressed while his fear built. Adrenaline shot through his body and his stomach seemed to jump up his throat as he opened his mouth to scream.

The room went black as the blanket was ripped off his bed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Surface Tension of the Heart

Walking on water is not so much an act of faith as it is an act of abandon. To abandon the status quo, abandon logic, abandon your own memory. In fact, it requires full abandon of self. After everything that you know has failed you, you will cling hardest to what you realize is your last hope.

Journal Entry: May 1, 2001

Desperation of a drowning man, clinging to a life raft. Not considering the obstacles... gripping with a force that tears out fingernails. Reckless abandon. Admitting our weakness and forgetting our pride, we now see only one thing.

The water disappears in His gaze.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Papaw and the Bear

"Did you know that Bears used to have a long tail?" No they didn't Papaw! "Oh, sure they did... let me tell you a story."

My Papaw Harry. The toughest man I ever knew. I reckon I was about 5 years old on that day when I sat sideways on his leg and watched him draw a picture of the full-tailed bear as he told me...

I was coming down the side of the mountain, down the footpath on my way home from school, barefoot. There was this root that stuck out just above the trail as you rounded the bend to go down. Next to it was a pile of toe-nails from where everyone tripped on it.
I jumped over the root (I had long-since learned to do so, since one of the toe-nails was mine) and rounded the bend. Right there in front of me, the path was blocked by this big ole bear.
He  opened his mouth and growled at me, growled so loud and so strong that I felt his breath blow my hair. Without even thinking about it, I shot my arm down his throat, grabbed the inside of his tail, and I pulled that bear wrong-out-sidewards! (He even showed me the scars on his arm to prove it!) And then I pulled out my knife and I cut off his tail. That is why, to this day bears only have a little stump of a tail.
If you don't believe me, check them out next time you are at the zoo. Those bears know that if they mess with a Shepherd, they'll get what's coming to them.
He even drew me a picture of what bears used to look like with their long tails. I was spell-bound. I was convinced. This man, my Papaw, had turned that ole bear Wrong-Out-Side-Wards.

As we all grow up, we yearn to discover who we are, where we came from, what is our story in the grande story of life? I learned that he fought in World War II, and that he worked as a welder at Black Clausen in downtown Middletown, OH. I learned that our family came from the Hollers of Kentucky, and that my dad had grown up with a brother and 3 sisters in a house that was heated by a big buck-stove in the basement that made the floor so hot you couldn't touch it, and the pump on the kitchen sink had to be thawed with water from that stove-top in the morning before you could get a drink. The walk to the outhouse on a cold winter night was thick with fear as the wind chased your feet down the path.

My family was tough. We are authentic. We found our way through the hard way. My Papaw could not be stopped with a tough life, or even by a bear. He passed life lessons down to his children and grandchildren by way of stories. Much like generations of old infused value into their children.

When things get difficult in life, I remember that day and I remember that when that old bear stands in your path, sometimes you have to roll up your sleeve, defy the odds, take the teeth, and pull that ole bear Wrong-Out-Sidewards. Our scars give our lives authenticity and help us remember who we are.

I have a couple of things that I treasure from Papaw that my dad handed down to me. Each item has its own lore that I tell my own son on late evenings as the day grows quiet and the sun slips beneath the horizen. But the stories he told me... those are the most priceless things that I have, and I see the sparkle in my own son's eyes as I tell him The Story of the Bear.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Darkness of a Soul

The sky rolls heavy tonight
My mind is pulsed by pull of the moon.
I am choked by the rain as it presses down on the clouds.

Time as I wait forces dead air against my mouth
My soul is heavy tonight.

Eternity watches closely and mocks.
My sanity knows the pursuit of the darkness.
I taste the fear as it grits in my teeth.

Wings beat foul and un-ending against my brow.
Death watches closely tonight.

Hope seems a cruel dream, as empty as fear.
My heart cries as its' flame burns cold.
I hear my voice die in the void.

My existance bleeds down my face.
Life seems a cruel crimson dream.

Reflections dance like ghosts
My promise runs from preachers and saints.
I know they're disappointed as I hide in shame.

I suffocate as I fall into the abyss.
Demons dance in the storm tonight.

My eyes are closed as the darkness snuffs out the light.

-Midnight: April 15, 2006

I sort out my thoughts with writing...a pen in my hand and a tablet in the darkness.  The words I write in these postings are taken from those journals. Typically I am shocked when I read them, they are consciousness escaping my mind as it reconciles reality in the night. I write furiously, and then it is forgotten. 

Most of my writing is positive and reflective of a spirit that can not accept fear... but at times, as you read above, I have yielded to dark thoughts and been enveloped by my weakness.   

We are none of us as strong, nor as weak as we think we are.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 
John 1:5, KJV 

An Angry God

I rest in the hands of an Angry God.
I fear Him and He is my refuge.
He may crush me and yet He is
my certain salvation.

He blesses my destruction and yet
by Him I will be healed.

He is with me in my struggles
and he fuels my debate.
He reassures me with turmoil...
for by this fight, I know I have not yet lost.

Sweet is this battle and joyful is this journey.
I cherish this blood, sweat, and tear filled life.

I breath his countenance deep into my temporal lungs
and I taste his eternity,
and I long for that which I fear.

I am cradled by the hands of an Angry God.
And I find peace.
And I feel His Anger.
And I realize His love for me...

and weep.

-October the  Fifth, 2003

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Effects of Moonlight

The sky is clear tonight.

So much unknown hides in this blanket of pitch and glass.

Held to the surface of the earth, my breath is
surpressed by the wonder of the expanse.

The air of the ancients inflates my lungs.

I howl like a lunatic under the evanescence!

Curtained windows part as I spin in the driveway.

December 3rd, 2001 

Memories of My Infant Son

Journal Entry: 12/15/01

Where Does Eternity Reside?

Yes, I suppose we will arrive at the day when he rides a bike, skins a knee, and ruins his pants in the mud. He'll want the hot new robot/soldier that's half animal and half man from outer space toy. He'll like bologna and PB&J sandwiches. He'll think it's funny to pee from high places and throw paper-wads at girls. He'll want to smash his cheeseburger and dip his fries in his milkshake. Maybe he'll even think his father is a superhero!

But, for right now we're all perfectly happy with snugly bottles, fresh diapers, and the smell of baby cleanness right after a warm evening bath. We adore those smiles that display all eight proud teeth, and nothing is more precious than a pure laugh shared as we exchange a moment-held glance.

Its hard to understand... but eternity resides there.

I like the smashed bananas and the incredible wonder of a word being spoken from his shining face for the first time. I love to get patted on the back by him when I pick him up fresh from a nap and nuzzle into his infant embrace.

If time must come, then at least for now we will embrace each day and notice eternity in the details.

Journal Entry: 5/29/02

The Finding of Simple Treasure

Life has simple treasures that are greater than the world. Little yellow tractors that talk and son smiles. Shared moments. Laughter making an appearance unexpected among days of worry. Small realization of the pleasure of this living. The warmth of blankets on chill-bumped limbs, or the wonderful fragrance of a flower just before the sneeze... I love contrasts such as these. 

The duality of life.

Is this moment heaven? When did I die? If so--please let me stay. This is home and my soul is settled. The search for reality is no longer my goal. This finding of simple treasure has brought me home.

Journal Entry: 8/15/01

Silent Applause is Best

The quick patter of palms
rapidly from side to side.
Only escaping the torrential
flood of joy to hide.

Journal Entry: 10/1/02

He Sleeps with Dinosaurs

He sleeps with sharp-tooth and long-neck.
He dreams of eating star-fruits and finding Big Water.

My dreams are comforted by his calm sleep.
Finding realities' truths in the comfort of his crib.

His life, given freely...
freed to live, lived to dream

And...suddenly my soul is freed
as I remember that I once slept with dinosaurs.

Journal Entry: 11/8/02

The Perspectives of Dinosaurs

My life is consumed by dinosaurs.
My nights are blanketed by lullabies.
My eyes drift closed as prayers float upward.
The night engulfs my dreams.

His reality is ruled by dinosaurs.
His nights are held safe by our love.
His eyes drift closed as prayers float upward.
Angel protections surround his dreams.

He created the dinosaurs.
Our nights are spent under the shadow of His wing.
His eyes never leave us as our prayers float upward.
He is the author of our dreams.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

GUATEMALA Top Ten Travel Tips

Some Real-Life Advice from our 2010 Experience!

Number 10
Only Americans order the large Coke at McDonald's.

Number 9
Eat fresh made guacamole and pico in moderation or be ready for a long night.

Number 8
Fireworks are a nightly occurrence (all night, every night).

Number 7
Roosters actually can crow at all hours of the day (and do).

Number 6
Goats can climb trees (who knew???).

Number 5
Bring the BIG trowel. 
(A heavier suitcase is preferred over small tool ridicule).

Number 4
ALWAYS carry a machete (a large butcher knife will do in a pinch).

Number 3
When you think you are tough, try carrying 200 lbs of cement on your shoulder.

Number 2
A family of four can indeed ride on a small 200cc motorcycle.

And the Number 1 Travel Tip IS...
When visiting the Black Market it is wise to avoid wearing your PJs! 

P.S.  Looking forward to Guat 2011, Team B.A.!