Camping Out in Hell

I’ve been reading Hiking Through which is a great book about a man who lost his wife, quit his job, and set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. I so want to do that (sans the losing my wife part).

I have always viewed hiking the Appalachian Trail as a journey I probably will never be able to take. But I’d like to. I love hiking and camping but have never been able to partake much since my family hates it. Oh, they like pitching a massive tent in a state park campsite as long as we have sleeping pads, entertainment, and can get close to the bathrooms. We also can’t “rough it” too long – one night, maybe two max. My wife doesn’t care for it much at all, but has done it for me and the kids. Maybe someday.

The worse camping I’ve endured was during my Army days. I was stationed in Ft Sill, Oklahoma during the summer. I don’t think they believe in shade in that state. I’m not sure if there is a religious opposition to it or an aversion to trees, but the sun has free reign there. And reign it does. In the summer it feels like a preview to hell. The kind of place you don’t stay in (at least in that season). You just soldier through.

Regardless of if we are hiking or not, we are all on a journey. We move, we grow, we push on, we persevere. Everyone’s journey necessarily involves some hard times – they can’t be avoided, unfortunately. In the book, the author talked about being on top of a mountain in Virginia when the roughest storm he had ever seen surprised him. He grabbed onto a tree to wait it out and literally thought he might die. Hopefully, your hard time isn’t that bad. But it might be that bad to you.

I can’t know the emotional depth of your bad time and you can’t know mine. Every one is unique to the person and situation. I know one thing, the only way to get from Georgia to Maine is to keep walking on.

 

WC

 

I stumbled on that Churchill gem recently and love it. I don’t know of another quote so small yet so profound.

Keep going.

If I plop down and focus on the misery of my surroundings, they will engulf me in their flames. I have to keep going.

I am hiking through my hell. If you haven’t seen one yet, you most likely will. They have a way of sneaking up on you. When it gets hot, I encourage you to pick up your pack and keep going. Camping out in hell does no one any good!

 

This is an atypically somber post from me. I feel compelled, therefore, to leave you with my own pearl of wisdom:

It is okay to roast a wienie over hell’s fire, just make sure you have a long stick.

You Are How You Drive?

I’m just curious, do you think someone’s true personality comes out when they get behind the wheel or does the protection of a ton of metal magnify some suppressed aggression?

Everyone knows “that guy” – the one who is too good to wait in line to merge with the rest of us. So he goes as far as he can, perhaps driving in the median or passing over a solid white line before entering traffic.

Do you think he cuts the bathroom line at the fair or knocks down the old lady at the self-checkout line because she is taking too long? I always wonder.

Yes, I have a specific driver in mind. He drives a white BMW and takes the same route as me to work every day (Although I do so legally and courteously). I am a mellow driver and don’t wrestle with road rage often. When I happen to see him cutting people off, I don’t fume. Rather, I have this dream scenario where I am at the perfect angle to wedge my old truck in front of him and seal off his escape. Then I hop out and interview him like Bob Barker on a game show. Oh, I don’t pummel him (probably), I just humiliate him into contrition – showing him the error in his ways and giving him opportunity to apologize to me as representative of all of the drivers he has treated so rudely over the years.

Funny how life plays out sometimes. I was sitting in the exact spot I had envisioned when I saw him coming up on the shoulder. As fate would have it, the line in front of me started to move at precisely the right time and I had what I think was the voice of Ferris Bueller whispering “Do it” in my ear. So I lurched my truck to the right and cut the imbecile off.

mad

He slammed on his breaks and pounded the horn as I got out of my truck. I wish I’d had the skinny microphone and cheesy tie on – that would have been too perfect. I rounded my truck while he sat red-faced in his ultimate driving maching about to explode in rage. This was gonna be good!

Wearing my best disarming smile, I walked slowly toward his door. I wonder what he thought about the 6’, 3”, grinning, bald guy headed his way. Whatever was going through his dense mind, he didn’t feel compelled to roll down his window as he did in my dream.

Not surprisingly, he was kind of a little fella. I felt like I was forgetting something even though I knew my line was,“Tell him what he’s won, Johnny…. Well Bob, This rude driver will be late to work today!”  (cue applause)

I have to say it got a little awkward with me standing there waiting to talk to him and all the rubberneckers around us wondering what was going on.

What had I forgotten?

Oh yeah, BMW’s go in both forward and reverse. They actually go pretty fast in reverse and spit up all kinds of roadside crap on any wannabe gameshow host who might happen to be standing in front of the car. In a matter of seconds, he was gone. He zoomed around me with a final honk and a proper salute while I watched, dirty and alone.

It was too late for me to go home to change and get to work on time. I just told everyone at the office that I had helped an old lady change her flat tire and let them think I was a saint instead of an idiot…

 

It’s better that way.

 

She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

And so, the wheel turns. My eldest has moved to college. Although my Lovely Wife (LW) tells me we have to keep her room intact because she will still come home, I remember that I never lived at home after I left for college. I am somewhat sad about that, but we’ve been prepping for this and hoping she would take flight someday. It’s just hard to watch the baby condor drop off the ledge knowing the perilous plunge that awaits.

I’m taking it pretty well, actually. LW, not so much. Everything in the house seems to remind her that one of her babies has left the nest. Tears, oh there have been tears. I don’t understand tears, nor do I deal with them very well. I remind LW that she’s always got me… forever…  Somehow, that doesn’t seem to help.

After moving our collegian, we had to take our little patient in for treatment where she and mom stayed a few days. While they were gone, I happened into the pantry and realized LW must not have been there since baby condor left. If food packaging could form a face, every piece of junk food in there conspired to draw our missing daughter – even to me and I’m oblivious to the most obvious of things.

This was bad! I couldn’t let LW see this, she would cry for days. It all had to go, but the cheapskate in me said I also couldn’t throw out all of the food. Only one option remained. A 24 hour binge of Munchos and Dr. Pepper.

Have you ever read the nutrition label on those things? DON’T! You can gain 3 pounds just from holding the bag too long. They don’t list things by proportion, otherwise the label would read something like this:

Lard 70%image

Air 27%

Salt 2.5%

Potatoes 0.5%

How they bond the ingredients I will never know. Anyway, I polished off the first bag for breakfast and washed it down with three Dr. Peppers. I checked the remaining inventory and was disheartened to discover that LW must have decided to stock up to try to lure the girl to forsake college and stay with us. Either that or she suspected a Y2k15 disaster and wanted to be prepared. Our pantry was like a saferoom.

This is where having many offspring should pay off! I enlisted the help of the remaining children. When I explained the dilemma, I got more “Oh, Dad” eye rolls than the average game of nine-ball. One took a Dr. Pepper before she left, so I was down to hoarder’s surplus minus one. Alone, I dug in for the day.

In the late evening, I was sure a trip the emergency room was in order. The pantry was reverting back to a faceless state, and my stomach was screaming something in Idahoan. I was sweating a substance that looked like maple syrup, which can’t be good. I put in a call to Poison Control where a kind gentleman told me there was no known toxicity in the combination, but urged me to go to the hospital if I felt light-headed. That’s the last thing I remember before passing out amongst the crumbs of the last bag.

When I came to, it was time to go and pick up LW and the youngest. I used the shower squeegee to remove the syrup-sweat and when I arrived, they were ready to go. The trip home was uneventful, I successfully hid the tick and slurred speech caused by sugar intake. While I was unloading the car, LW stopped me.

“Where are the snacks for the party?”

I shrugged my shoulders and grunted. I didn’t ask ‘what party’, I’m sure I’d been told.

“The pantry was full of them.”

“I dunno,” I replied without making eye contact.

“Well, we need more for the party Saturday. Can you go to the store?”

“Uh, sure.”

They say never go to the store hungry. I went full! And I bought $57 worth of Dr. Pepper and Munchos, feeling bloated and quite resentful. Even after all the sweets, this was a bitter pill to swallow.

image

To Kylie, the Strongest Person I Know

What is strength? I don’t mean muscular strength, I am wondering about the use of the word to describe a mental and emotional strength. Strength of the heart.

The dictionary defines strength as moral power, firmness, or courage.

I’ve recently seen several quotes about strength. This one stands out:

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option.

-Author unknown

We quote scripture to help us with our strength. Beautiful verses come to mind such as:

But those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 43:1

&

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

 

I have been given many more. We read them in times of need and feel their comfort. I don’t mean to minimize the impact of the Word – it is all-sufficient. But it isn’t always a quick band-aid overcoming the darkest struggle. Slap this on and feel strong, as it were. I wish it were that simple. In the best of circumstances, most of us need to be reminded time after time before things sink in.

While the concept of strength might be an easy one for you, it has troubled me of late. You see, I am trying to care for my daughter who is fighting cancer. Actually, to be honest, right now she is fighting the chemo that is fighting the cancer. She is only twelve and should never have to deal with any weight so difficult. This road would buckle the knees of some of the world’s strongest men, yet she trudges on.

She puts on a brave face and true to her nickname, smiles to most. But at night, with her mother, her sisters, and me, she often falls apart. The thing I hear from her most often is that she isn’t strong enough – she can’t do this. I wish there was something I could tell her to change her situation, but I can’t. There is no choice, no option, no plan B. The chemo regimen must go on. I wish I could break her cycle of self-doubt, but it is her cycle. I can’t change it. I can only encourage and hold, assuring her of my presence and love.

That leads me to my present dilemma: What is strength? Does she have it? If not, where can she find enough to continue when there is no other way?

I think back over her history and wonder if she’s had to rely on strength in the past. She has run two 5k races with me and had to reach down deep to finish each one. That took some strength – but not the kind I am looking for. I need her to have strength to say, “This life is worth living and I will fight for it.”

*     *     *     *     *

My wife has been asking me to add a picture CD onto her computer so she can look at them. After putting it off for too long, I finally complied. The pictures I saw reminded me of simpler times and I enjoyed scanning them as they flashed across the screen. They were from our school’s play, Anne of Green Gables, in which Kylie had a part. She barely made it through the performances because of the pain in her leg caused by the cancer soon to be diagnosed.

Wait… what are you showing me, God? Is that strength?

Back up – let me look again.image

I see a little girl who was crying herself to sleep every night due to a growing tumor inside her knee. Yet in these pictures she is singing, moving, dancing, and hiding the pain behind a range of her character’s emotions so she wouldn’t disappoint in the show.

I see a little girl who wouldn’t stop dancing until the director forced her to use crutches in the final two performances – and she was mad about that!

I see a girl who collapsed after the finale and couldn’t attend the cast party because the pain was simply too great.

Isn’t that smiling little girl playing a part on stage the same one who lay in a hospital bed in a medication-induced sleep just a week after the curtain fell?

When told she had cancer inside of her, instead of crying out in anger at God, isn’t this the girl who simply said “God must have a great, big plan for me”?

Is that precious, animated child the same one who, when she began to lose her hair to chemotherapy, decided shaved it herself to deny cancer the pleasure?

That is incredible strength! Undeniable strength.

What about now? If we agree that this girl is a strong girl, has four months of treatment changed her? How would a strong person face chemotherapy? Should she charge in, laughing in the face of the toxins that wreck her little body time after time?

Or is it okay to cry, yet move on?

Is strength found, not in the tears leading up to a hospital stay but in the gritting of her teeth when she allows the nurse to access her port one more time, knowing what will soon flow into her veins?

How much resolve allows a transfusion that scares her to death without saying a word?

What measure of courage is there in quiet submission to a treatment that is nearly as bad as the disease?

An immeasurable amount!

The frail body of my daughter holds enormous strength and when this treatment is over, I pity the boy who would try to hurt her or the obstacle that would stand in her way.

I have always been big and thought myself strong. I have pushed large objects and run long distances. Yet I realize I am weak in comparison to my frail, eighty pound daughter, who day after day pushes on through this hell.

She is my hero.

Every morning that she wakes up and greets the day adds to her resolve. There may be tears, angst, cries of terror, and fits of rage – yet every day also contains smiles, kisses, hugs, warmth, joy, praise, and enough laughter and love to beat back at this enemy on her terms.

Oh, she is strong!

My little girl is strength personified, even if she can’t see it.

 

sometimes

image

The New Phone Book’s Here

In the immortal words of Navin R. Johnson:

image

Things are going to start happening to me now!

Yes, due to life, it took a long time to arrive, but that lovable scamp Virgil Creech is back in Virgil Creech Sings for His Supper.

 Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00063]

 

 

Even the idyllic little town of Portsong isn’t immune to the coming depression. What will our favorite family of eleven do when their chief bread-winner is left without a job? Enter the youngest son, Virgil Creech, who discovers an unlikely talent that may just keep the family afloat.

Meanwhile, half the world away, town grocer Harland Gentry discovers the truth of the ancient proverb, Pride goes before a fall. On the vacation of a lifetime, Harland decides to reinvent himself as a man of means, hoping to leave the small town behind. But he is not prepared for what he discovers on his unpredictable African adventure.

Of course, Virgil Creech Sings for His Supper contains a healthy dose of the lovable Colonel Clarence Birdwhistle, as he and Henry begin to rebuild the Lee family farm. All of these stories come together for another delightful romp through Portsong, the southern town halfway between Savannah and heaven.

 

From the back of the book, here is our new friend, Harland Gentry as drawn by Aprilily.

image

It is always rewarding to have someone read one of my books. But I was particularly excited to get a Five Bookworm Review on the first book in the series because it came from a kid, which is my target audience.  He is also not a family member!

You can read his take here.

 

If you haven’t had a chance to read Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption, the ebook version is going to go free for a week sometime soon as publicity for the sequel. Of course, I’ll announce it here.

I wrote the final piece of the Portsong Series last year hope to release it fairly soon. I am now working on my first piece of adult humor and would love to put it out in 2015. We shall see if life gets in the way of that one as well.