Our Daily Bread

I remember when we worked with the builder to draw up the house plans. After having the master bedroom over the garage in our first house, we decided to separate the two when we built our current home. I’m glad of that – especially since we now have teenagers who come and go long after I’ve retired. There might be someone out there who is less than happy about the distance between the two, though.

A humid day brought out the potential flaw in our design.

Two things of note:

  1. Running makes me sweat profusely.
  2. I’ve been repeatedly warned not to drag my sweaty clothes across the house leaving a slug-trail of stench behind me.

That brings us to a recent Sunday. It was a hot day – the kind of day that is so humid you start to leak just from the exertion of crossing the threshold. I tried to beat the heat as best I could by hitting the pavement for a few miles before the sun came up. When I returned home, I entered through the garage and closed the door behind me.

I would like to state that at this point, I am inside my house – the garage being an enclosed extension of said domicile. Having had no cool down, I was still sweating at a champion’s pace. So I removed my hat and shirt, placing them neatly on the hooks provided to allow the moisture to wick in the garage. Sadly, I noticed a puddle still forming underneath me which inspired a moment of brilliance consisting of three observations: Short walk, dark house, family still asleep.

You get the idea. I made a very aerodynamic trek to clean up – through the kitchen, den, bedroom, all the way to the shower. Afterward, I felt much better and pointed my fully-clothed self toward the kitchen for coffee.

I am normally a rather unobservant bloke, but I did happen to notice an obstruction just outside our back door. A table had been moved and something wrapped in foil sat on top. Upon further inspection, it was a loaf of bread. Written on the foil were the words, “You are on God’s Mind. Jeremiah 29:11.”

HMMMM…..

During this past year of struggle and grieving, we have received many anonymous cards and gifts left on our porch from kind and caring friends.

However, on this occasion, I had to wonder at the timing. When was the bread placed on the porch? I know it wasn’t there when I left for my run. I hope it was left while I was out running or showering. But there is the possibility that the kind person with nothing but good intent instantly regretted leaving this gift.

Loaves of bread have been used Biblically to feed 4000, 5000, name the ultimate traitor, sustain prophets, and now…  Maybe this loaf was given as a warning from God himself. It was very good bread! Kind of his way of saying, “I see you – too much of you! I had to make clothes for Adam, but you have retail. Get thee to a seamstress!”

bread eye

 

So if it was God, Thank you for providing me my daily bread.

If it was an encouraging friend, I would like to point out that I was in my own house. And while I might be on God’s mind, good luck getting that image out of yours.

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Our Greatest Fear

What is your greatest fear? What is it for you – that thing that gives you shudders just to think of it? Thunderstorms? Dogs, snakes, spiders? Heights or maybe confined places? Perhaps it is something psychological like public speaking, failure, or being alone. Most of us are afraid of death. Everyone has something they fear in varying degrees – even Chuck Norris.

Your list of fears might be long or it might be short.

While I don’t love snakes, I know my greatest fear is being eaten by a shark. What are the odds, right? I go to the beach one week out of the year and stay in the surf. Oh, I wade out and play. But I always I keep a wary eye on the horizonjaws-poster and make sure there is at least one person bobbing between me and the deep blue. I call him chum and he is my harbinger. When the shark pack pulls him under, I figure I’ll have enough warning to swim to safety.

As a child of the seventies, I blame Jaws. Sharks didn’t exist for me before then. I am not sure if I had yet visited a beach when I saw the movie. In my young mind, the Florida coast became full of twenty-five foot man-eaters that could beach themselves for the right meal. A boy doesn’t just get over that. Yes, sharks are my biggest fear.

At least, they used to be my greatest fear.

As grieving parents, my wife and I are now living out the greatest fear of many – the fear of losing a child. Except when at the beach, I am an eternal optimist. I never in my wildest dreams thought this would happen to us. This sort of thing happens to other people and we are the type who rally to support them. Even when Kylie was diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis hovered at 30%, I didn’t waiver in my belief that we would win. I wish I could take my chances with a shark instead because I can avoid saltwater and remove any possibility of attack. Unfortunately, we fell on the wrong side of the percentage and the resulting grief is much like a shark. It is cold, unpredictable, and unrelenting at times. It uses triggers, but doesn’t require them. It sets traps, lies in wait, and springs at inopportune and random times. Losing a child is something to be feared.

At one point, we sat down and listed the things we lost when Kylie died. We lost joy, sweetness, hugs, our peacemaker. We lost patience, enthusiasm, and energy. Our artist is gone. A lovely soprano and incredible actress has left the stage. We no longer have an affiliation with our beloved school – it was stripped from us early. We lost potential… seemingly unlimited potential. We lost a great deal – yet I find I don’t fear most types of loss much anymore.

In fact, I don’t think I fear much of anything. I still have a healthy respect for the killers of the deep, but even death has a strange allure because my baby will be waiting there.

You know what I do fear?

I fear you’ll forget her.

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I fear that her image will get fuzzy and fade away.

And that is what I believe is the greatest fear of anyone who has lost a child: that he or she will be forgotten. We fear that because their lives were cut short, they won’t matter enough for anyone to remember. Our children didn’t live to accomplish what they were supposed to accomplish – the things that would make them memorable. So how will the world ever mark their short time here on earth?

That is why so many foundations and charities are created in children’s names. It is why songs, poems, and books are written in their honor. In the great search for the meaning of a life cut short, we parents yearn for another soul to share our mission to remember.

Do you remember Kylie? Do you have another friend who has lost a child? I can’t speak for them, but I love hearing stories about her – things I didn’t know before. Not only does it tell me that she was special to that person. It lets me know that someone else is helping to keep her flame from being extinguished… that I’m not alone in this awful vacuum. I just want to know that even though she left her potential unfulfilled, her life mattered.

So here is my point and my charge. If you know a bereaved parent, tell them you remember. It doesn’t have to be much. Just something that will let them know they aren’t the lone bearer of the candle.

Someone saw a play recently and went out of their way to tell me, “Kylie would have loved that!” I later saw a friend of hers who told me how Kylie had made up a pretend brother in the second grade. Both were small gestures, yet meant the world to me. They know… They remember… she’s with them too. Her life had meaning to more than just me because here memory remains clear to someone else.

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Our fears may not be the same, but we all fear something. You can quite possibly allay another’s greatest fear today by assuring them their child will not be forgotten. It may not seem like much, but it may keep them above water for one more day.

And we all should stay above the tide because I know what is lurking down below…

The Demise of my Big Johnson

I’ve had my Big Johnson for as long as I can remember. It was perfect to me and I’m not sure how I will get along without it. While age brings irreplaceable experience, it also can cause damage and wear. Moving parts are bound to produce friction and friction causes tiny chinks in the mechanism. Eventually, one of those chinks grows into a flaw and since everything in a machine must work together perfectly, too many flaws render it kaput.

Things break, expire, and just flat out stop working as we get older.

And so, my Big Johnson broke. It was a precise instrument of measurement and the best tape measure I’ve ever owned. You could ask me why I loved it and I couldn’t tell you. It fit perfectly in my hand. It just felt right – like a graduated extension of me and that is enough. Anyone who builds stuff understands.

We worked together for years. We built furniture, a playhouse, finished a basement, and numerous other projects. My Big Johnson went to Africa with me and it visited Haiti, too. In fact, I took my Big Johnson wherever I built things. If I had a friend in need, I never had a problem whipping out my Big Johnson to help with home repairs.

Saturday I pulled it out with my lovely wife to measure between pictures we were hanging and it wouldn’t go back in. A spring broke and now it is dead. I don’t think she offered the proper amount of concern for the demise of my Big Johnson.

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I feel so utterly incomplete without it.

To add insult to injury, the Johnson Level & Tool Mfg. Company doesn’t make them anymore. Can you believe it? Their new line is called, The Big J… (Insert sigh of disappointment.)

Whoever was the marketing genius who originally named the product must have retired. Try to imagine the board meeting where bell curves showing plummeting sales of tape measures are plastered to the wall. A snickering young executive points out that there might be another connotation to the name causing customer reluctance. I have a mental image of a bunch of gray-haired old men sitting around a long table shocked while this young Johnson brings them up to speed.

I admit that I have the maturity of a 7 year-old. While most contractors and do-it-yourselfers may have giggled and shied away from purchase, the name is precisely why I carried it to the register. How could I know it was a finely crafted instrument that would soon become indispensable to me?

I miss it already. In fact, I will probably make a display case for it and save it for the day when researchers find a way to fix broken springs in tape measures. Kind of like I am cryogenically freezing it until it can be brought to life again.

Until that day, I’ve ordered The Big J. I am thoroughly disappointed yet hopeful that somehow we can work together. It just feels like nothing will be the same again.

A Rather Curious Decision

Life is full of decisions that directly affect us, but are made without our consent or input. In any highly-contested matter of public policy, we are peppered with opinions and bombarded with exaggerated notions of what will happen if a law is made or amended. One side of the argument sees our country moving to a more progressive society while the other warns of the imminent decay of the very moral fiber of our nation. In a stunning turn of political events, I cannot believe the audacity of our government to pervert something sacred.

Of course, I’m talking about the legalization of fireworks in the state of Georgia. A decision that has shattered the sacred peace of every citizen hoping to find sleep a decent hour.

I am outraged! Who would think it was a good idea to give already over-armed, drunk rednecks flammable and wildly unpredictable projectiles that have the capability to set an entire neighborhood ablaze?

Happy Fourth of July!!!

rainbow fireworks

I’m reminded of a 4th of July family reunion many years ago when my people converged on cabin in the hills of Tennessee. My brother-in-law found it prudent to pick up some fireworks on the way. When the big day came, we sought a safe place to launch our fireworks. We surveyed the landscape and found not a single flat spot an appropriate distance from the cabin.

So, what do two bright young men with an insatiable desire for colorful explosions do? Stack up rocks and sticks to fabricate a semi-flat launching pad. Smart….

Let the festivities begin!

Bottle rocket inserted and wick lit, we took off running in opposite directions. Our makeshift flat surface immediately crumbled and the bottle began to spin like teenagers playing the old flirting game. Imagine the odds: 360 degrees in a circle, with my B-I-L taking up maybe five degrees one direction and me taking up five in another. That leaves 350 available degrees for that bottle rocket to point and fire.

I wish camera phones were available then. Because we would have won the jackpot on America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Of course, that thing didn’t go for the other 350 degrees. It launched directly at my B-I-L’s butt and exploded upon impact. Being a field artillery specialist, I was stunned with its accuracy. In fact, I would wager I couldn’t have held it in my hands and fired for the same effect. He was not so impressed. The pain wasn’t hospital-worthy, but hurt nonetheless. We also had a good bit of tamping to do with the ancillary fires caused by our negligence.

* * * * * * * * * *

We’ve both grown out of our stupid ways (for the most part) and become contributing members of society. A society that now can legally aim bottle rockets straight at us.

In these days when staff reductions have hit state and county employees such as our fine firefighters, bully for you Georgia legislature. Now that you have decided legalizing fireworks is a good idea, I hope each of you live next door to a drunk, excited neighbor who celebrated until 3 a.m. like mine did.

I don’t watch the news, have there been any other decisions with such far-reaching implications made lately?

I’m a Stripper

We all have a past. The question is, do we have a future?

I’ve been telling my lovely wife that we needed to start thinking about how we were going to spend our future together once the children leave. We are getting dangerously close now that JB is almost 15. The last thing I want is to send her to college with no plan for us.

I don’t want to be one of those couples who sits down in the empty nest, looks at each other and has no idea what to say or do. The problem is, we are vastly different people. I like things athletic – not watching them, doing them. I like running, exercising, hiking, and all kinds of outdoorsy things. I love camping! The kind of stuff that makes you sweaty and smelly.

My wife? Not so much. She’s a girly-girl, not given to athletics. She won’t run unless someone in a hockey mask is chasing her. I suggested camping where I could go off and hike a day or two and she could sit and read. No dice, she likes the comfort of her own bed and a clean bathroom.

How did we end up together? She’s a really good girly-girl and I’m a smelly but lucky guy.

Okay, but none of that solves our problem.

We both love to read, but I have yet to figure out a way to make reading a team sport.

Then it happened, quite by accident. An epiphany…

I am an excellent stripper!

Magic Mark

Let me share with you just how we figured it out. We bought a desk off of Craigslist a while back and she painted it for JB’s room. Soon after, a few more accessories joined the room including a chair. Unfortunately, all of the new pieces were white, not the freshly-painted ivory color of the desk. Something had to change.

I am reluctant to allow my wife to borrow my tools, because they are the only thing I outright own. They are mine. But she sweet-talked me into my sander which failed to take off the thirteen coats of poly she had applied to the desk.

We needed a stripper.

I prefer making furniture these days. But before I had a shop, I used to refinish old pieces. I hate to be prideful, but I really know how to strip. I even saved some of the really strong solvent from when it was still available. I wondered if it would still be toxic enough to work. I now see why the EPA banned it because even after fifteen years of storage it tore through that poly like a monkey on a cupcake.

* * * * * * * * * *

And so I stripped like nobody’s business. She watched me strip hoping to learn so we could strip together. We talked about all of the stripping we could do once the kids left. I did tell her that we would have to strip for other people because we don’t have room in our home for all of the stripping we plan to do. And now with all of this stripping to look forward to, I’m excited about our future without kids.

(Also, I’m hoping you read the whole post and not just the last paragraph.)