Summer Camping

The campsite was laid out in our usual Sears family way. The tent had been set up on the highest piece of ground my Dad could find in the rented campsite, far enough away from the fire area that no one had to worry about embers hitting the tent and far enough under trees as to provide much needed shade. My Dad would always bring extra stakes and ropes to secure the tent and rain canopy –  experiences of camping in heavy rains had apparently taught him to do this – which created a ready made obstacle course for my two brothers and me.

It was my birthday, but I don’t remember which one. Truth of the matter is that Dad’s vacation fell on my birthday so often in my early years that I thought camping was something you were required to do on your birthday. That is, until I realized that we were always home in February and October for my brother’s birthday celebrations. But this was normal for me.

It was still light out but we had eaten dinner and even a cake of some sort and were really just relaxing for the evening. My younger brother was making use of the obstacle course. Mom, my older brother and I were sitting at the picnic table playing a game of “Sorry!”. Why we took board games on camping trips was beyond me at that time. I’m guessing it cut down on the number of times Mom had to yell at us for chasing one another around the tent or fire. It was also a good time waster. Dad was working on getting a fire ready for the evening.

I don’t recall what we were snacking on, probably chips or pretzels, and soft drinks. It was my turn to move in the game and my older brother was getting impatient but my attention had turned to a squirrel in one of the trees near us. I had been watching a lot of squirrels simply because I was hoping to see a “flying squirrel”. To that point, I’d just seen a lot of acrobatic ones. Still my attention was in the trees when my Mom suddenly began slamming the table, knocking the “Sorry!” game pieces all over the place and spilling her bright pink can of TaB. She wasn’t really making any noise but it looked like she was coughing. Truthfully, I had no idea what was going on at the time.

Now, just to put this in it’s proper historical time, this was taking place before the widespread implementation of the Heimlich Maneuver. Heck, it might have even been before the maneuver itself was introduced. I don’t recall the exact birthday but it had to be around 1975. I might have been ten years old, but I doubt it.

So, here we are, a family of five, with one in obvious distress at picnic table in some state park in WV. One boy running around a tent and jumping over and crawling under the various sets of ropes holding down a tent and rain canopy. Two other boys looking stunned, glancing back and forth between a ruined board game, a dripping diet soda, and a mother acting very strange. And a father getting a campfire ready for roasting marshmallows.

My Dad stepped away from the fire building, walked up behind my Mom and said, “Do you need a hit?” and then without even waiting for answer, hauls off and smacks her in the back with the flat of his hand with so much force that she went sprawling across the table, the Sorry! board, and the spilled TaB. I don’t know if the pretzels fell victim to the sprawl or not.

Mom came up from the “hit” with just about the same force she had taken – proof to my young mind that every action has an opposite and equal reaction – and screamed at my Dad, “Well, what did you ask me for if you weren’t going to wait for an answer!”

Somehow, the whole thing became outrageously funny at that moment and both Mom and Dad began laughing and the rest of us stunned observers, who were still not sure what had happened joined in.

The evening went on. I got to have the first S’more of the night because it was my birthday. We sat around the campfire as always and were told “once, if not a thousand times” not to get so close to the fire. We laughed and sang and sometimes just got quiet. But every once in a while the breeze would snatch up enough smoke and billow it towards someone that they would cough. Inevitably someone else would say, “Do you need a hit?” and the coughing person would yell “NO!” and everyone would crack up.

In fact, it became such a joke in our family that I can remember my Dad, coughing in a hospital bed during his last week of life, smiling and shaking his head “no” when I asked him, “Do you need a hit?”

That little phrase seemed to carry us back to the woods, the tent, the sticky s’mores the squirrels, the wood smoke, and the fun.

Some words are like that. They evoke such powerful memory that they take us back to something that is more than just a memory, more than just a fading thought. They evoke time, place, event, with such Gemüt that reality itself is evoked anew.

In my family, “Do you need a hit?” still does that.

My other family, the one that I journey with towards that “home” we do not know yet, has a few too.

“This is the body…broken…”

“I was glad when they said to me…”

“Peace be with you.”

“He is risen…”

“In the beginning…”

And I thought it was just going to be another summer camping trip taking place around my birthday. Who knew?

Ash Thursday

ashwednesdayThe imposition of ashes was yesterday – of course,
I know that much.
The calendar said so…
The liturgy dictated it…
I even carried out – despite a snow shriveled congregation huddled in a sanctuary being renovated – carpets removed, chalk lines on the floor and walls, electric lines dangling like tongues from the wall.

I thought about the dust swirling about us…
Of course, it was carpet fiber…
Of course, it was wood dust and plaster.
But perhaps, just perhaps, among the sixty year old carpet ripped from its resting place
there were the long ago deposited cells of saints now in glory.
It took my breath away, this thought, and tempted me to breathe deeper still.
We talked about that.
Listened to a reading about dust and ashes, ashes and dust.

And thirteen times
I dipped my index finger into the oily black mess
of burnt palm branches and
God only knows what else that settled from our place of worship.
(Yeah, I’m different that way…I use my thumb to push back stray hairs.)
I made the sign of the cross on foreheads.
I said the words, “You are dust, to dust you shall return.”
We prayed.
We sang.
We stared at the different crosses one pastor/artist could create on the canvass of skin.
We laughed and we left.

But today is “Ash Thursday” for me.
I look at that paintbrush which is my index finger
and I see it.
The ashes,
the dust
that has embedded itself deep into the quick of my finger.
Only a painful cut with the nail clippers will erase its presence.

Yet before I pull out the eraser,
I am reminded
that this is the first time,
the only first time,
that my Dad is among those saints remembered as dust, celebrated as ash.

He is embedded deep too.
Not just in the quick of my finger but somewhere quite deeper…
in the ganglia of my nerves…
in the composition of my cells…
in the foggy clarity of my memory…
in the power of my family system.
Cut off from the family – but present still.

I can cut out the ashes on my recognition of Ash Thursday,
almost as easily as I wiped the cross from my increasing forehead.
But some dust, some ash will remain deep.

Maybe that is why we were told not to look for the living among the dead –
We can easily find the dead among the living…
Look in a mirror…
Listen to a laugh…
Talk to a child…

It’s Ash Thursday for me…and I thank God I am happy for that!

#RunLikeaGirl

#runlikeagirl

#superbowlcommercials

Okay, it is quite safe for me to admit that I am not that great at getting out timely posts. Perhaps I think about them too long. Perhaps I procrastinate on the writing part. Perhaps I just find other things that I think are more important at the moment. Perhaps…well, this could go on for a very long time.

So this post is a bit on the late side. The Super Bowl is almost out of everyone’s memory by now and so are the commercials that so many people looked forward to watching. When I saw the “Always” commercial “#likeagirl” I immediately began to think about this post but alas, I am just getting around to it.

If you haven’t seen it, watch it here.

Thank you, “Always” for getting this message out and making a part of our social conversation. You are so very right.

I am the proud father of three very wonderful young women…

My oldest has had a harder life than many would imagine. She came from a broken home – her mother and I divorced before her second birthday. She spent most of her life going between homes and trying to figure out the different boundaries that came with those homes and the changes that took place in them. Sometime in her teen years she became addicted to pain killers and carried that addiction through a couple of relationships.

But she kicked it. She survived.

Now, she is a stay at home mom to five children and the supportive wife of my favorite son-in-law. (Okay…I only have one but he’s a great one – great with the kids and good to my daughter.) She is surviving day by day and has recently become very active in a local church that is made up of families a lot like hers – where someone in the family is fighting “the” fight. I am so proud of this young lady who #kickeditlikeagirl and #survivedlikeagirl . We could all wish to do so well.

My middle daughter is finishing up her first year at Marshall University as a Voice Major. We moved right after her sophomore year of high school and this young lady had to navigate her last two years of high school in a brand new community. She did it with style, excelling both academically – top ten in her class – and in music – just too many accomplishments to mention. I can’t forget that she not only sings, she speaks, she preaches with boldness and conviction.

She also navigated the decisions surrounding college and college financing on her own. Her mother and I were there to support and talk, but we left the decision up to her. She chose a school that she could both love and afford to pay on her own.

I am so proud of the way this girl uses her gifts.

She #thinkslikeagirl , #preacheslikeagirl and #planslikeagirl . We could all hope to do so well.

My youngest is still navigating the landmine that is known as high school. I don’t envy anyone in that position. But this young lady paves her own path. She recently returned from a twenty day mission trip to India. It was her first time in an airplane and she decides to fly half-way around the world! She sings, she is teaching herself to play the ukulele and she is asking the hard questions of her faith that many don’t get around to asking till much later in life. I am proud of the way this young lady displays her love for all people. I am proud of the way she follows in the footsteps and shadows of her sisters and yet find her own journey to take.

On top of all of this she has the wit and humor of one twenty years older than herself. A sharp wit. A polished use of sarcasm. A laugh that infects all around her. She’s just funny!

She #discoverslikeagirl , she #loveslikeagirl and she #bringsjoylikeagirl .

Several years ago, I had a couple of colleagues that made the obvious observation that I suck at basketball. In their effort to make their observation funny they began saying, “You run like a girl.” And yes, I laughed and joined in by returning the favor.

I get it now.

“Like a girl” needs to mean AMAZING THINGS like I see in my girls. We do need to rewrite the rules. (Okay…admit you haven’t seen the commercial yet…here’s another link.)

I can only hope to be as strong as my girls!