Tag Archives: Life

Forever learning

Mask

The hot humid days that we have endured for so long have finally relented to cooler days and crisp nights.  Another autumn season is upon us with all the sights, smells and tastes that our senses relish.  School is once again in session, but it is anything other than a normal school year for most; the pandemic has changed the complexion on even how teachers instruct and how our children and grandchildren learn and interact.  It’s within that realm of change that I find myself in the role of teacher, instructing our new Kindergartener granddaughter on Wednesday’s in abbreviated studies of learning sight words and correctly writing her ABCs and numbers, as well as basic math skills.  This whole impromptu educator role has me reflecting more on how we learn and grow, beyond our formal education to our life experiences that make us who we are as adults.  Some of those experiences were possibly birthed from embarrassing moments, while others perhaps were more informal in structure, driven home by adults or others we respected that loved us enough to teach us the intangible life lessons that make us who we are.  May I share a couple of embarrassing learning moments that I’ve experienced?

The first occurred around the summer of 1982.  Jenny and I had been married about three years and had a one year old to watch after.  We stopped at the Dayton Mall to visit our JC Penney, the reason why not as important as the lesson I was about to learn.  We got out of the car and I removed the “fold up” stroller that seemed to be a simple chariot for young Alison to ride in but was quite temperamental at times to set up or fold down.  I was pushing the empty stroller toward the curb, lifted the front wheels and proceeded to lift the rear wheels when the stubborn contraption decided to fold up on me; evidently, I hadn’t been a good new dad and made sure everything was locked into place.  Well, the apparatus made a sudden stop but I, however, did not, sailing over the thing like a super hero but landing like a tossed misfit toy.  About that time, two young men had seen what had happened and walked up, not knowing quite what to do until they saw my young bride laughing hysterically which caused the two men to erupt in laughter as well.  They didn’t seem to care that my pride was just lying there, in need of mouth to mouth resuscitation!  Lesson learned: make sure a contraption is in complete working order before using it…

Another “learning” moment came while Jenny was expecting.  Jenny and I had gone to a local steak house in Middletown, which was a rare treat indeed for a couple that seemed to survive on Franco American Ravioli.  I felt really “special” as I waltzed up to the salad bar and proceeded to fill my plate with all kinds of incredible edibles.  One thing I always liked to top my salad with was grated parmesan cheese.  I perused the salad bar until I found what I thought must have been the shaker, so I immediately picked up what I thought was the container and gave it a squeeze, at the same time thinking it was kind of strange that I would have to “squeeze” it.  Immediately, I heard a “whooshing” sound and stood horrified, as I had just sprayed off my salad into the salad bar and half the restaurant!  Lesson learned: be more aware of the tools you attempt to use and understand their intended purpose before using…

For those of you that really enjoyed a taste of self-deprecation at my expense; you’re welcome!  For those of you that are thinking to yourselves, “your mama must have dropped you on your head when you were little; you don’t have a lick of sense”, no she didn’t but yes, common sense is acquired, not inherited.  Which brings me to my next section of life learning: common courtesy and common sense.

Common courtesy should be pretty easy and straightforward but in this day and age, not so much.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines common courtesy as, “politeness that people can usually be expected to show”, thinking of someone else first in a situation, i.e. holding the door open if you see another person coming behind you, etc.  For example, did you know that the turn signal in your car is actually to be used to visually communicate to others of your intentions when you’re going to make a turn? (I’m hoping YOU already know where you’re headed…)  Of course, I do understand that it’s more difficult now, since your hands are either occupied with texting, eating, and such but still, make the attempt!  Another example could be that you have a cart full of groceries and you see someone with two items in their hands; let them go first. 

Or here’s a new one; to mask or not to mask, that is the question.  After all, aren’t my liberties in jeopardy?  Isn’t my personal health at risk more if I wear a mask rather than if I go around maskless; you know, my oxygen level and all?  Believe me, there are times when I’m wearing a mask that I feel more like a hefty carp that’s been tossed up on the river bank, gasping for every desperate breath!  To be perfectly honest, I hate wearing a mask! But then I read, 1 Corinithians 10:23-24 which reflects, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.  That scripture pretty much explains why I do personally wear a mask in public areas.  I wear a mask because it’s a common courtesy to others who don’t know who I am or what kind of risky life choices I may have made, but it’s more than that.  I do it for my wife, who has an immunodeficient system due to medications she takes to combat the effects of Lupus, which she has battled for over thirty years.  I do it because I love her; we’ve been a team for over forty years and we both want to keep going strong; together! It’s only my own personal opinion that wearing a mask just makes sense, common sense; that a person would want to try to protect themselves and their families from something unseen, unwelcome and for some, deadly.  I certainly can’t speak on behalf of everyone; we all have to do what we feel is right on this hot button topic and go forth with our own convictions.  I know I’ve probably just stepped on a lot of toes and if you’ve just tuned out, I understand.  And if you think I’m sharing out of fear, you would be wrong; just trying to be cautious and use a sound mind.  In fact, 2 Timothy 1:7 reflects, For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  It’s the same kind of common sense that urged me to pursue a gun permit and subsequent pistol; not because I’m afraid, but because our world has turned upside down in the past six months and therefore, I’m going to make sure my family is properly protected, through our second amendment rights, while we can still exercise that right…

While we still have breath in our lungs, hopefully we are still learning, still growing in Christ, still adding to our common sense and common courtesy lists, still laughing and learning from the mistakes we’ve made, still listening to that still small voice, urging us on to think of and love others as much or more than we love ourselves, to learn to listen more and judge less, to learn to trust God explicitly in all things, not just the easy things in life.  For as long as we’re alive, we should forever be learning and growing.  Now if I could only learn to navigate down the one way grocery aisles…

He Knows My Name

Closer to God

Have you ever watched toddlers and children at play? With all seriousness, they engage their imaginations and become anything their little minds can dream up!  Their minds are little sponges, absorbing information and experiences at an alarming rate.  In fact, by the age of five, their brains are pretty much ninety percent set!  That’s why it is so very important that we instill in these young minds, all that is vitally important; from the basics like what is hot to the touch to their spiritual foundation that God lives in Heaven and made the world and everything in it, that Jesus loves them, to instilling in them the awesome love from their parents.  And don’t underestimate the child’s capacity to understand; for even now, they are interpreting everything they see and hear; perhaps, even what is unseen.

As I look back on my own life, I definitely had a blessed childhood.  We didn’t have all the modern conveniences that most folks already took for granted by then, like running water and an indoor bathroom; if fact, the only running water was the Hocking River that meandered under the black bridge behind our house.   However, we did have clean clothes, good food on the table and there was always an overabundance of love to go around.  And what a playground!  We had the freedom to roam the hills in front of the house, explore the railroad tracks and river behind the house or walk down the dusty gravel road to pay our respects to the neighbors down the way; thus was the enchanted life, living on Robbins Road.

However, when I was around eight years old and in the second grade, my parents purchased a house on Dorr Run Road which was definitely an upgrade from our faded clapboard house, having both running water AND indoor facilities.  By then, it was only the three youngest children out of six that moved with our parents into the two bedroom house.  Dad built a partition in the largest bedroom to separate the “boys” from our sister; the only problem was that the new room was only about four foot wide and could only hold a set of bunk beds and one dresser!  Being the youngest, I had no choice but to take the lower bunk and privacy meant tucking a sheet under the top bunk mattress and draping it over the entrance to the lower bunk.  The one and a half lane road was definitely more populated than the old one with a sprinkling of houses on either side and made complete with a new cast of characters to get to know.

Once again, the area was full of exploration possibilities; from hills and creeks, to strip pits and slag piles, our local “playground” was a child’s dream and a mama’s nightmare.  This is where I learned how thick the creek ice should be to hold my body weight, discovered that baby copperheads could actually swim, that a sulfur creek can turn your underwear orange.  I learned that the much cleaner creek water was upstream from the little creek that spewed raw sewage, that if you wanted to slide down loose sandstone on your backside, you better make sure there weren’t objects sticking up out of the ground first.  This was also the place where I first sensed God’s presence…

I was about nine years old and on one of my “explorations”.  Mom didn’t really seem to care where we were or what we were doing outside as long as we came home for meals and before dark, which varied as Mother Nature changed out one season for the next.  I was climbing up a hill behind John Stufflebean’s property, walking through a stand of tall majestic old growth trees toward the top of a ridge.  It was late spring and the sun was streaming through the trees, illuminating the forest floor below.  As I stood there, absorbing the warmth that the sunrays provided on my face, I felt a presence; not the feeling you get when it seems as if someone is watching you.  No, it was an acute awareness that I was fully known and at the same time, totally loved, enveloped in a peaceful embrace.  There was no audible voice, no angel brushing up against me, no burning bush in front of me; just my soul reaffirming what it already knew.  God was in fact, the almighty Creator and I, his beloved creation.  It was virtually impossible to explain this then and even difficult now, but it happened.

It wasn’t long until the feeling passed and I went on with my life, knowing in my heart with certainty that God was real; He indeed did actually exist and loved me explicitly!  Until recently, I told no one about my experience; instead, I nestled that moment into the recesses of my mind, like a cherished treasure that needed to be protected.  Who would actually believe this tall tale from a nine year old anyway?!  So, life went on and I grew and became a young man who wasn’t necessarily bad but felt lost and knew there was something lacking in my life.  I knew from years of going to Sunday School and infrequently attending church services that I was indeed a sinner and needed to surrender my life to Jesus as my Savior in order to be made complete as God had intended.  I knew that God loved me but that just wasn’t enough; I had to be spiritually restored as his child through His gift of salvation, Jesus Christ.

So, on an evening in May, 1978, at the age of twenty, I attended a revival service with a friend of mine at my home church in Nelsonville Ohio; The First Church of the Nazarene on Adams St.  I don’t remember who spoke or much of anything else that evening except for the relentless tug by the Holy Spirit on my miserable convicted heart.  I went forward to the altar and prayed a pleading prayer of forgiveness; feeling a hand on my shoulder and uttering a supportive prayer was Max Pitts, a longtime member of the church.  I got up and went back to the pew where I had planted myself several moments before but something definitely had changed!  I felt the same but brand new; the colors seemed brighter, the sounds seemed crisper and I felt like laughing and crying at the same time.  After the service, I literally levitated to my car, the lightness of my heart carrying me up the hill.

Once I got home, I immediately told my mom what had happened; she had a pensive, if not, sad expression on her face as she tried to gently tell me that the life I had chosen was a hard one and there would be sacrifices.  I knew that mom was reflecting back on her own life and past, when she accepted Christ and subsequently faced the alienation of family and friends as a result; the constant struggles between her desire to be faithful to God and at the same time, enduring spiritual battles within her own home.  Mom eventually backed off her church responsibilities before I came into this world so I didn’t get to experience that side of mom.  I just know that peering back in hindsight, she was right; I did experience some rejection.  Some friends and family members didn’t know quite what to think of this new Steve or how to interact with me; some chose just not to interact at all anymore.  But I knew in my heart and soul that I was now what I was always meant to be; in a completely restored relationship with my Lord and my God.

Several years have passed and I’m still holding true to my faith in God and cherishing my relationship with Jesus.  It hasn’t been an easy road; there have been many temptations, bad attitudes and blatant sin that had to be dealt with all along this journey, but it has absolutely been worth the trials to experience the joy and peace that sustains me even now.  For the God that knew my name before I was a “sparkle in my father’s eye” as they say, is the same God that met me on the hilltop so many years ago and strengthens me yet today.  So my advice, as time and experience has taught me through the different seasons of my life; if your child comes to you some day with a story that seems farfetched or unbelievable, just listen intently to them, hold them close and pray for wisdom and discernment.  For you never know if/when they might encounter the Eternal in THEIR everyday; for He knows their name as well.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!  How vast is the sum of them!  Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you. 

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24

Staged

Staged

Note From the Author:  Even though this piece was written over five years ago, I don’t think it’s relevance can be overlooked.  Life is full of change; some of which is fully embraced and other change, not so much.  If you are familiar with obedience under the Lordship of Christ, you are quite aware that life change is inevitable as God transitions us from where we are to where we need to be…enjoy the journey!

The Merriam-Webster definition of the word TRANSITION is: passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another: change. Transition is an important part of life and can be both exciting and scary simultaneously.  If we are fortunate enough to live for any length of time, we will go through many “transitions” through our lifetime; from childhood to adulthood, from student to teacher, and if we are truly blessed, from child to parent to grandparent.  As for my wife and me, we are soon transitioning into the grandparent mode.

What makes this transition even more “fun” is the fact we decided to make a physical move to another state which involves my finding other employment.  Since we both have felt a great sense of urgency for some time to make this move, the Saturday after Christmas was a complete tear down, inside and out, of anything that screamed Christmas and/or wasn’t necessary to keep around for the “staging” of the house to prepare it for market.  The word stage seems so innocent but packs a punch as anything that makes a house a home disappears as every room is “staged” to highlight the positive attributes and accentuate the room size as well as to minimize any negative or problem areas.  What was once our safe refuge, our haven of rest has quickly become a sterile model home.

At the same time, my resume has been updated and polished so as to gain the “WOW” factor.  I guess you could say I’ve also been “staged” as I look for employment.

We all try to stage ourselves from time to time, to mask the “real” us from the prying eyes of the public or the hearts of those we love, or even God.  Just ask how someone is doing and you’ll probably have a four letter “F” word flung at you so quick, you’d think a fast ball was thrown at your head.  “FINE!” they would say while deep inside, they were far from it; for inside their hearts the rooms weren’t swept, the beds weren’t made and there was half eaten pizza tossed on the counter top.  It is so easy for clutter to accumulate in the recesses of our soul; but instead of dirty floors it may be resentment, and instead of unmade beds it could be betrayal, and instead of that stone cold stiff piece of pizza it might just be unbridled anger eating away at the peace you so desperately need.

But fortunately for us, Jesus is in the renovation business and he loves fixer uppers.  Jesus doesn’t want us to wait until we are perfect (which we’ll never be in this world) to come to Him, He wants us just as we are; a broken down shack full of cracked walls, leaky pipes, uneven floors and drafty windows.  God wants to make our hearts His home but we have to give Him the permit to do a remodel on us.  And don’t think this will be a painless process; there will definitely be some pain involved as our “stuff” is thrown in the trash bin and walls are blown out to make room for perhaps more love and compassion.

While we allow God to change our hearts and minds, He knows we are a work in progress and it takes time.  Only God knows how much change we can actually take at one time but one thing is certain.  God isn’t “staging” us to impress anyone else.  He IS changing us into what we were meant to be in the first place…an object of His affection.

Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ              Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)

A Father’s Love

Daddy and Alison

June is a time to celebrate the fathers in your life and being a dad certainly something to celebrate.  There is something about having a daughter that is very special, especially if you are their father. There is such a special bond between a father and daughter that only grows stronger as the years go by. Recently, I was reminded of the importance in telling your children how you feel about them, regardless of how old they are. You see, we men sometimes have a difficult time in sharing our emotions particularly at a deeper level. We may grunt “I love you” from time to time but it seldom if ever goes deeper than that.

I may sound a little biased about having a daughter, yet it’s the only experience I’ve ever had as a dad. My two brothers and I all had girls so we can’t really relate to having a son and heir. But the same sentiments hold true for a father and son as well; and if you have at least one of each, you’ve got to be blessed beyond measure! I guess what I’m attempting to drive home is if you love your kids, and I know you do, tell them! It may be by the nonverbal wrestling around, playing catch or going to their game or school play. It’s all about being available as much as possible; to make the moments count. And if you find no other valid lesson from this Coronavirus quarantine we’ve been living in, it’s this; tell them you love them in your own unique way, but don’t wait! For we never know when that opportunity to demonstrate affection will evaporate like vapor in the wind.

I wrote the following simply to convey to MY daughter how I actually felt about her. If you are a daughter yourself, try to imagine your own father’s voice reciting these words as you read on. I am sure they love/loved you just as much as I love my daughter but perhaps couldn’t express their emotions adequately in spoken words. And just think how much more our Heavenly Father loves us! So as you read through this poem, be thinking about how you can convey to YOUR children how much you love them; they need to see, hear, feel and know that you do…

 

You Will Always Be My Princess

Written by Stephen R Wilson

 

I fell in love with you before you were born

I always knew God would perfectly form,

A little baby girl with brightness and light

That would burst our hearts with complete joy and pride.

You will always be my princess and I’ll be the one

Who will always be your champion to keep you from harm,

Who will always fully love you through whatever life brings

You will always be my princess until the last breath I breathe.

With your tiny fingers wrapped around mine we would walk to the park

“Swing me higher Daddy” you would giggle and bark,

Watching you grow was the highlight of my life

Where did the years go, you are now a beloved wife.

You will always be my princess and I’ll be the one

Who will always be your champion to keep you from harm,

Who will always fully love you through whatever life brings

You will always be my princess until the last breath I breathe.

 

You are now a queen with a princess of your own

And my joy is complete as I watch you move on,

You have a kingdom to rule, a household to run

But if you look over your shoulder you just might see

Your gray haired champion, full of pride and cheering.

You will always be my princess and I’ll be the one

Who will always be your champion to keep you from harm,

Who will always fully love you through whatever life brings

You will always be my princess until the last breath I breathe.

One day when we’re older and my eyes close in death

I ask you’ll remember my ongoing bequest,

That even though I didn’t always say it, I loved you still

And even from Heaven, I always will.

You were always my princess and I was the one

Who was always your champion to keep you from harm,

Who always fully loved you through whatever life brought

You were always my princess, my love will never. ever. stop…

Restoration Day–An Easter Story

Praise

It’s finally spring once again; a time of rebirth and the hope of warmer days ahead. It’s a time when new life bursts forth from the cool damp ground or from the branches of once dormant blossoming beauties. Pollen aside, I love to take in all the newness that envelops our world, transforming our once gray world into a kaleidoscope of colors. Truly, hope blooms alongside the tulips and daffodils, the azaleas and the forsythias! For it reminds us that once, we were wondering around in the icy grips of winter, where there was more darkness than light, where optimism seemed to be swept away by the frigid cold winds of despair. And then one day, the sun came out and restoration began…

I have a confession to make; I’m kind of in to restoration and the shows that are offered on cable, whether it be the popular This Old House reruns or more current shows dealing with taking something old, be it an old Victorian house or an antique gramophone, and restoring it back to its’ former glory. I must look plain silly, sitting there in my recliner, mouth partially gaping open as I’m completely transfixed by these craftsmen who take an old unwanted house and start peeling back the layers, each dusty layer representing one or more decades until they finally uncover the original foundation and floors, the beauty that once was, yearning to be rediscovered once again. Then with painstaking efforts and unique God given talents, these craftsmen begin to restore, brick by brick, wall by wall, the decrepit house into the way it was originally meant to be when it was erected by the builder so long ago.

Did you know that God is in the restoration business as well? What do you think Easter is all about? I know most of you know or even have John 3:16 memorized: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. But what about John 3:17? For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. I’ve always thought that hope was born on Christmas Day, and I still do. For Jesus entered this world, our world, at a very dark time; God knew we needed a Savior because we needed to be saved from ourselves and our sinfulness. And so Jesus began his ministry, recruiting his disciples, simple humans like you and me, ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of the least of these; the poor, the elderly, the handicapped, the downtrodden. Jesus obeyed his Father’s will, up to and including death. They treated Jesus like a common criminal and hung him on a roughhewn wooden cross to die a horrific death and then, to be forgotten. Those who loved him, took his body and laid it in a borrowed tomb. The Romans sealed that tomb and placed soldiers to keep watch, lest his followers attempted to take the body and make unfounded claims. Jesus’ disciples scattered across the winds. While the Romans breathed a deep sigh of relief and the Sanhedrin was doing a happy dance, triumphantly giving each other “high fives” over Jesus’ death, for the bereaved followers of Christ, hope was also sealed in the tomb. And then Sunday came…

And the stone was rolled away, and Christ arose, and everything changed for humanity, and HOPE was restored; for it was Resurrection Day, but I would like to call it Restoration Day; let me explain.

Luke 19:9-10 reflects Jesus coming to Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Zacchaeus was a despised man; a tax collector who, because of his diminutive size, had to shimmy up a tree to even see Jesus entering Jericho. Jesus saw something in Zacchaeus that no one else could see; a soul in need of restoration. That’s what Jesus sees in all of us; potential and a need for renewal. All we need to do is trust Him enough to let Him; to ask forgiveness for our sins, our wrong doings, and our bad attitudes, to surrender to the fact that we, indeed, are nothing more than a shabby, neglected and worn down bungalow in desperate need of restoration. And Jesus will do just that! (He IS a carpenter you know…) He’ll strip out the walls of deceit, strip the floors of shame and tear out every unnecessary piece of worn out despair until He lays you bare, to your very foundation on which He can build what you were intended to be all along; to be a child of God and obedient to do His will, not your own, to live with Him forever. 2 Corinthians 5:17   Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!

And so here we are, in the present and in the presence of a mortal enemy we call the Coronavirus or COVID19. It’s a virus that has crossed over every continent; across the borders of countries, oceans, neighborhoods, and not unlike Satan himself, is relentless and does not discriminate in its’ victims, despite their color, creed or socioeconomic status. This sinister nemesis has filled humankind with a paralyzing fear and has stripped away our false sense of security we once held on to so tightly, as if it was nothing more than vapor in the wind. Everything mankind has held in importance for so long, whether it be wealth, material possessions, entertainment, social activities or even food consumption seems to be threatened.

But there is still hope! Maybe this is just the wakeup call our world needs today; to help us strip the unnecessary and reset our priorities! Perhaps this is the largest restoration project this world has ever seen since Noah’s time! Nevertheless, it’s time we reevaluate our lives and allow our lives to be stripped of whatever is of little value, until we stand before God, our souls laid bare and ready to be fully restored! Are you prepared to have YOUR own Restoration Day?

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Finding the Thanks in Thanksgiving

laughter

Every season seems to evoke its’ own set of memories which reflects perhaps that same time of year so many years ago or possibly a not so distant past. For many, the Thanksgiving holiday triggers the feeling of warmth, of family, of pumpkin spice and football games, of fun and food and thankfulness. Unfortunately, however, this holiday has often times been reduced to a well-worn speed bump, as folks rush toward the Christmas holiday; just a Black Friday Eve, a commercial high jump into the commercially charged holiday season.

As a kid, growing up in my parent’s house in SE Ohio, Thanksgiving was an unwritten commitment on the calendar, an assumption made that if mom was cooking, you had better be on your death bed rather than miss Thanksgiving dinner! I never really thought too much about being thankful during this time, unless you count being thankful when the event was finally over; when the last sheet of saran wrap was finally snapped off the roll and carefully wrapped over and around the last dish of left overs. It seemed to me to be a very stress filled time, consisting of a whirlwind of activities, all culminating into one feast laden smorgasbord laid out in the middle of a large table surrounded by elbow to elbow humans, passing around dishes of delicacies and plates of plenty with the intricacy and synchronicity of a well-choreographed dance. But I digress; let me take you with me to a time when life seemed simpler and mislaid worries of a young lad was unwarranted and unnecessary.

The Thanksgiving season in Ohio varies from year to year in regards to what type of moisture falls from the sky but there remains one constant; gray skies. Like dove gray colored cotton batting that hung over the surrounding countryside, possibly for the next several months to come, the gloomy gray heavens seemed to blend with the browns and tans of the bare trees and dead leaves dispersed throughout the landscape. Often times, the cool crisp breezes were accompanied by an occasional flake of snow, dancing and floating lazily downward. Inside the house looking out the front window, the desolate scene was made complete by the condensation hugging the single pane windows, giving an official nod to the chilling temperatures outside.

The turkey made its’ appearance a couple days in advance as it hung around in the refrigerator until the lifeless carcass was deemed thoroughly thawed. The night before Thanksgiving, mom would lay out several pieces of bread so they could grow stale (dry out), to be used in the dressing the next day. Mom made two types of dressing: regular sage dressing with celery, egg and other ingredients and the other, the same sage dressing enhanced with oysters. I always interrogated mom regarding which was the “enhanced” dressing, lest I get hold of a slimy surprise within my portion of goodness. Very early on Thanksgiving morning, mom would get up, prepare the dressings and proceed to have her way with the celebrated bird, cleaning it and giving it a little dance before filling the cavity with dressing, providing a deep tissue Oleo massage, seasoning the ample fowl and throwing it in the oven. It always struck me with a sense of wonderment how mom could actually create such a feast with a regular four burner electric stove with a two rack oven. All I knew was that it smelled really good, while I was content to lie on the living room floor, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

The time for the feast finally arrived with the presentation of turkey, dressings, mashed potatoes, candied yams, rolls, cranberry sauce (canned of course, shaken out of the silver vessel into a crystal bowl and sliced evenly with a butter knife no less), green beans, corn, sweet gherkins and deviled eggs. After a request was made on who wanted what to drink, everyone filed in around the wood grain laminate table, capable of extending out with not one but two leaves, depending on the crowd for that year. There was an unofficial seating chart or more like pecking order that ensued; Dad at the head of the table, mom on one side of him so she could get up and down to meet the needs of guests, older siblings and their spouses or friends filled in from eldest to youngest until all of the high backed, vinyl green floral print chairs were filled. The overflow landed at the “kid’s table”. Being the youngest of six, I was very familiar with the kid’s table. In fact, after I got married and we had a child of our own, we would at times, find ourselves back at the kid’s table, with knees touching the bottom of the table top! Before we ate, we always said a corporate prayer that we had adopted as our family prayer; “God is great, God is good and we thank Him for our food. By His goodness all are fed, give us Lord our daily bread. Amen”.

After the meal was finished and the desserts were handed out, (pumpkin pie was the staple dessert followed by some kind of cake) folks would start migrating to other rooms. The men would naturally gravitate to the living room to watch the game but would ultimately end up snoring like bears in a den. That left the daughters and daughter-in-laws to perform a visual game of rock-paper-scissors to see who would wash and dry the large stack of dirty dishes. Mom was exempt of course, since she prepared the feast. After that, it was an afternoon of playing table games (five hundred rummy, dominoes and Aggravation being the favorites), talking and perhaps taking a walk if the weather permitted until finally, the leftovers were divvied out and the families left, one by one.

You may be asking yourself why I would go into such details to describe an event that took place so long ago and the answer is quite simple. It’s to remind you of what’s important, to trigger similar memories and experiences of your very own and to think once again upon the many blessings God has bestowed on you these past however many years. We take so much for granted, that those we love so much and hold so dear to our hearts will always be with us, but that isn’t necessarily true. We need to learn to appreciate each moment more, whether it be just a regular day or something pretty spectacular with those around us, to cherish the sound of a giggling child or the wisdom wrapped up and presented to you by a dear old friend or loved one. Thanksgiving is not all about the food, football games or how clean your house is; rather it’s about counting your blessings and allowing these present times to become the blessings you will count tomorrow.

Many changes have occurred since we once sat around that old table. Beloved faces no longer grace us with their presence; so many family members have scattered across this great land of ours. But one thing still remains; Love. The love we have for one another binds us through both the times of celebration and those moments of grief. God’s greatest blessings are all around us if we only take the time to look. And the act of being thankful is to be exercised every day, not just on one holiday. This year, take the time to find the “thanks” in Thanksgiving. Try looking around your own table of family and friends; breathe a prayer of thanksgiving to God for your own many blessings, both big and small.

Family Thanksgiving

Fall’s March Madness

Springboro Band 1999

Even though I wrote this twenty years ago while our own daughter was in marching band, this reflection still holds true today.  For there are thousands of band parents and family members that embrace fall as their time; when their own beloved teenagers transform into musical warriors…enjoy!

Along with brilliant colors and cool crisp nights, autumn ushers in activities that have long been anticipated. Football games, fall festivals and pumpkin patches are each eagerly welcomed with enthusiasm as multitudes of folks try to take advantage of the last remaining weeks of good weather. However, there is one spectator sport that is usually overlooked at this time of year, even though it is just as exciting as the other fall events. High school marching band competitions have more to offer the public than just a pleasurable experience for the eye and ear. A marching band can be a source of pride for a local community, county or even a state. For the supporters of the marching band, a high school marching band invitational can be more thrilling and rewarding than the proverbial, Friday night, high school football game. The 20th Annual Troy Invitational was a perfect platform to prove this point.

A very cold, stiff breeze from the North swept over Troy High School stadium, converting the aluminum bleachers into what seemed to be cold, marble mausoleum benches. Mother Nature’s treachery had turned this early October weekend into a frigid preview of the oncoming winter’s wrath. Squirrels scampered about on the green just north of the stadium, trying to locate last minute morsels that could be stored away for the long haul. The sun was just setting, playing hide and seek behind drifting clouds. The sun’s rays warmed the face and gave a temporary reprieve from the cutting wind. The aroma of popcorn and hot chocolate mingled together as it wafted past the nostrils of hungry patrons waiting to be seated in the stadium.

Parents, relatives, friends, and music lovers representing different school districts began to fill the stands. The entourage, wearing the school colors of choice, carried everything necessary to cheer on their band as well as an ample supply of blankets, hats, and gloves to help combat the numbing cold. As individuals began making their way into the stadium, the school colors they wore became an instant identifier, attracting other like members into their self-proclaimed cheering sections. These colorful groups of spectators made the stadium appear as if it were draped by a giant’s patchwork quilt. Trophy laden tables were displayed in front of the spectators; the trophies served as laurels given for a battle well fought. The anxious crowd fidgeted with anticipation as the first band prepared for war.

The first ensemble meandered onto the field and began to perform a “fingernails across the chalkboard” rendition of “Hooray for Hollywood”. The field commander fought for control of the unruly mob of musicians but reluctantly resigned herself to follow the laboring beat of the bass drum. The color guard cautiously pranced around while watching one another, unsure of the next routine. Tonight was not the night for this unit to clinch a victory; another weekend perhaps. All eyes were already staring at the next band to engage in musical combat.

The Springboro High School marching band stepped on the field with a confidence and self-assurance worthy of their reputation as a tough opponent. The musicians wore royal blue and black uniforms accentuated by a silver sequined sash across the chest. The performance began with a dramatic fanfare, followed by an intricate African beat. The color guard moved and gyrated to the music, transforming bright, colorful flags into spinning, hypnotic dervishes. The band continued moving from one complex formation to another, horns resonating melodies and exchanging fluent harmonies with the woodwinds. The performance ended as it had begun, with the same addictive fanfare. In the stands, the cold lifeless spectators sprang into animation as the crowd stood to their feed in applause. For a brief moment, the stadium belonged to the one hundred plus teenagers on the field. But only for a fleeting moment, for as in real life, there always seems to be bigger and better competition to battle against.

As the competition came closer to the finale, the largest marching units prepared to perform. The full, rich sounds that radiated from the field could only come from a band with over two hundred plus instruments. Grove City would be the easy victor tonight, take the Grand Champion award. In actuality, all of the performers were victorious; they were true winners.

The next time you are at a football game and the band marches out on the field during the halftime show, remember this. They are not actually there to entertain you; it is just another practice. The real competitive performance occurs every weekend in front of family, friends, and others who give up their fall afternoons to become band supporters.

This dedicated group of encouragers will cheer with enthusiasm whether or not their band is the best or worst. They will sit in the stands through sun, wind, rain, or snow just to offer one more, “YOU CAN DO IT!”. And their favorite band will gratefully respond back with a melodic, “THANK YOU”.

The Christmas Box

Christmas box

The holidays are once again upon us and all of the old memories come flooding back as we place precious moments, cleverly disguised as Christmas ornaments, so very carefully on the twinkling light laden evergreen.  Some memories bring a smile to the face as you reflect back on a different time, perhaps a long forgotten place; the memory, once lying dormant, nestled deep in the recesses of the mind until a sight, smell or event once again revives the remembrance in vivid details.  Thus is the case when I see a candy orange slice or old fashioned hard candy.

I grew up in the sleepy town of Nelsonville Ohio, tucked in the Hocking Hills of Zaleski State forest.  My family went to the Church of the Nazarene on Adams Street where my spiritual foundation was birthed.  The church itself was a blonde block split level building with stairs both leading up to the sanctuary and downward to the Sunday school classrooms.  The windows in the sanctuary were all made of stained glass with names of those who donated to the building of the church, etched in the bottom of each window.  Back behind the pulpit and the choir loft was a very large, round stained glass window with what appeared to be curious and perhaps mischievous cherubim peeking out from and around puffy white and gray clouds. Those same angelic faces also gave many a child an impressive fright as they seemed to stare and follow your gaze if you dared to look too long.

Our family mostly went to Sunday school and seldom attended church unless there was a special speaker or possibly a visiting missionary.  The exception came during the Christmas season.  Every year, I would be involved in the children’s Christmas program in some way, whether it be a small bible verse to say or, as I got a little older, a speaking part in the Christmas pageant.  And every year I would fuss and fret over my insignificant part, not wanting to go up in front of “those people”; the congregation which looked to me as scary as the angels in the windows.

There was only one thing that kept my eye on getting through this hideous, inescapable ordeal; the Christmas box.  You see, on the Sunday before Christmas after the pageant was over and everyone was dismissed from the service, everyone received a treat box.  I know Mary and Joseph had the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh presented to them by the Magi but we had the treat box and piece of fruit, which seemed of equal value, given to us by the big guys, men from the church that seemed to tower over us kids and would many times have to stoop down to hand us our treasures.

Unable to curb our enthusiasm and curiosity, as soon as we clambered into the back of the car, my siblings and I removed the scotch tape that bound the box and carefully opened the lid, like a treasure hunter investigating his discovery.  Aside from the choice of a Red Delicious apple or navel orange, the box contained an assortment of incredible edibles that would sure to satisfy the taste buds for days to come. Coconut bonbons, peanut clusters, chocolate drops, walnuts, sugar coated orange slices would greet you as you opened the box as well as an assortment of old fashioned hard candies which made up the majority of the candied treasure chest.  My favorite was the raspberry hard candy that was filled with a juicy center and would burst in your mouth as you clamped down.

I would always choose the Red Delicious apple which I could quickly devour and toss the core.  My sister, Jennifer however, always chose the navel orange as we headed down the church steps and to the awaiting car.  Jennifer didn’t just eat the orange; it seemed she held a ceremony for it as she celebrated the citrus in her hands.  Jennifer would carefully lay out a paper towel and peel the orange rind, piece by piece until her orb resembled a raggedy softball.  Then she would separate the orange segments and isolate just one, where she would slowly and painstakingly remove all of the membrane until the orange nectar was exposed.  She would then stick half of the orange segment into her mouth, close her eyes and bite down, orange juice running out of her mouth and down her chin.  At times, there would be a soft moan of gratification and the process would repeat itself until the fruit was completely gone; it was as exciting to watch as watching paint dry…

As I look back on those times and reminisce, I have to smile and shake my head, for something as small and insignificant as a treat box in an adult’s mind, was so special and anticipated in a child’s.  But I also have to shake my head at us adults, who constantly need to be reminded of what the true meaning of Christmas actually is; that Hope was born on Christmas Day and the possibility now exists for us to live eternally with and for the One who gave His life so we may never truly die.  Like the child of my past, anxiously waiting for that treat box, we need to daily wait with great excitement and anticipation what blessings our Lord has for us as well as what service, task and/or ministry He needs for us to carry out.

As I entered adulthood with all the different responsibilities it entails, I was able to take part in ordering the contents and filling the treat boxes for that same local church.  I learned that we had far fewer chocolates in the box as opposed to hard candies because of cost and that it really was a financial struggle for the church to continue providing the fruit for the congregation.  But I also knew that everyone involved felt it was well worth sacrificing from another line item area to ensure everyone had a special treat in their hand.  And nothing else felt more rewarding at the time than bending down and handing a special treasure, the Christmas box, to a child who had just performed their heart out for a very gracious loving congregation…

Jennifer’s Ashes

Today marks the end of the Thought of the Day.  One year ago today, I started to post these on my blog post. These “Thought of the Day” statements were created for my sister, Jennifer, to attempt to temporarily get her mind off of her daily struggle with stage four melanoma; I would call and leave them on her answering machine or text them to her.  I hope you have enjoyed reading these thoughts as I have felt these were God inspired and it was my privilege to be the presenter of God’s “thought provokers”.  Reflected below is a final tribute I wrote for my sister, Jennifer…may God richly bless your lives and may you truly appreciate every heartbeat of life…

 

Jennifers headstone 2

 

Jennifer’s Ashes

Gone are the happy go lucky days

Where days went on forever and forever we played,

When I had your back and you had mine

We were just siblings, but how our lives intertwined.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

Wishing I could somehow turn back time,

Back to when you were healthy and happy

Back to the days when laughter chimed.

 

You taught me to drive and I pulled you through hell

From the torture of Algebra, we worked through it well,

I must confess, I teased you too much

But you got me back with your screams and your pouts.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

Wishing I could be anywhere else,

My head knows you’re gone but my heart’s in denial

Time heals all wounds but I still have an aching pulse.

 

We both grew up and became adults

We both had families and bills and the lot,

And even though we didn’t see each other very often

We made up for it, on the phone or in person.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

Hating myself for the guilt I feel,

For I’m still alive being healthy and happy

And your life is over, a life gone too soon.

 

Standing here on your birthday, May 23rd

Barely listening to the Pastor, his words scarcely heard,

For my mind continues to wander and I kind of worry

That this date will be forever stamped with a bittersweet memory.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

I’d rather be celebrating with you still alive,

You often stated that your birthdate meant time for spring planting

But none of us knew just how your words would now be implied.

 

I know your soul rejoices for where you reside now

Among the angels and the Son of God,

Please be patient with me big little sister

As I try to cope with placing your remains beneath the sod.

 

And now I’m leaving behind Jennifer’s ashes

Moving ahead with the rest of my life,

Yearning for the day when I once again get to see her

Where the heavenly realms is flooded by God’s Holy light.

Jennifer 1958 2