Thursday, August 28, 2014

last first day of school for the year

tuesday was the first day of preschool for our youngest and perhaps most rascally child.  it was a long-awaited day, as he has long been saying that he gets to go to school when he turns three.  well, he turned three in july, and was very disappointed that he didn't go right to school.  then, last week, when his brothers started school, he couldn't understand why he didn't get to go, too.  finally, the day arrived, and he was ecstatic.

he loved it.  he came home able to say all of his teachers names (although Miss Bev became Miss Beb, a change i'm not sure she endorses).  he was energetic in talking about all the things he did and how much he loved it.  he returns to school for his second day today, and looks to continue his journey toward being too ridiculously cute for his own good.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

yes, i did the ice bucket challenge

okay.  i finally did it.

i was nominated by at least three of you, if not more.  i was trying to ignore them.  but i wanted to put an end to it, so here it is.

i had ice cold water dumped on me.

the kids loved it, it was all in good fun, and i am amazed at how much money this has raised for research into ALS (lou gehrig's disease).

but i have to say this.

please don't wait until some crazy trend goes viral on social media to get off the couch and so something radical and passionate for others.  it isn't about attracting attention to ourselves or giving out of some kind of peer pressure.  we really ought to be known as people who are giving all that we have and all that we are to one another all the time.  whatever your "cause" is - whatever it is that God has given you gifts for to meet some of the world's greatest needs - then throw yourself fully and completely into that arena, and serve with everything you've got.  let's not just dump water or give a token to charity.  let's live lives of selfless love.

there i said it.

now, here's my video.

Monday, August 25, 2014

keys to the kingdom (and a 1985 ford tempo)

last week i wrote a little bit about keys.  i had to share that dramatic story of storms, skunks, and shredded screens.  but, in the end, the story was really about a lost key.

i've got another great lost key story.  well, this one wasn't so much "lost" as it was "locked inside my car in the middle of the 'hood in downtown pittsburgh.'  i knew where the key was.  right on the seat.  i also knew where the lock was.  in the down position.  it wouldn't have been that big of a deal, except that we were dressed to the nines, on a night in which i had secret plans to ask shannon to marry me.  on the one night of my life when i wanted to be super-suave, i turned out to be supremely stupid.

she still said yes.

and i still got to drive my 1985 ford tempo home, after the parking lot guy broke into it for me in about 1.37 seconds, not really boosting my confidence about the security of any locked items in my vehicle.

but sometimes keys can cause so much stress.  i have lost my keys more than a couple of times, and sometimes i only think i lose them.  please assure me that i'm not the only one who has had a panic attack thinking that i lost my keys, only to find them either in my pocket or right where i left them.  i am having an aneurysm about losing my keys when the truth is, i've had the keys all along.

that's what i preached about yesterday.  Jesus has already given us the keys.  we don't have to earn them or go to church enough for them.  we don't have to do 15 years of intense bible study or join a monastery.  we don't have to do anything, really.  when we, like simon, son of john (matthew 16) have the courage to boldly proclaim that Jesus is exactly who he says he is (the One our souls have been longing for, and the only One who can save us from ourselves and the broken mess we've made of this world), then we already have been given the keys to the kingdom.  we don't need to search desperately.  we don't need to call some spiritual 911 and plead frantically.  we don't need to make a discovery.  the keys are right there.  you've had them all along.

the keys to what, exactly?  the kingdom of God.  the way of life in which love wins.  the kingdom is here and there and everywhere that love is the guiding law.  wherever mercy replaces vengeance, that is the kingdom.  wherever hope sends despair scurrying away, that is the kingdom.  wherever light dispels the darkness, that is the kingdom.  wherever redemption grows its way through the broken places, that is the kingdom.  you might say that kingdom sounds far-fetched.  and you'd be right.  it is downright crazy.  in fact, it is completely upside down and backwards from most everything you've been taught.  and it is very real.  and not only that, but you've been given the keys to it.  all you have to do is start living like you believe it.  start acting like someone who actually believes that Jesus is who he says he is.  not just the stuff that's easy or that comes natural to you.  but the whole loving your enemies part.  and visiting the prisoners.  and taking up your cross.  and following him.  when you start to live like it is real, you will make the most crazy discovery of all: it is real, and you've had the keys all along.  you're not locked out, looking in, like me in my 1985 ford tempo, all dressed up with no way to get anywhere.  you don't need to rip any screens or break any doors.  you have had the keys all along.

now just live like it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

happy birthday, shannon

happy birthday to my beloved...the girl of my companion and sojourner.  the best in me is always you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

back to school, 2014 (part 1)

as cliche as it may be, i have to begin this post by saying

where in the heck did summer go?

just a couple of days ago, they stepped off the bus for the last day of school.  i blinked a few times, slept in once, and now i am taking pictures of them getting on the bus again.  congress needs to pass some legislation to slow july and august down.  this has to stop.

however i feel about the fluidity of time (i am thinking of you, Dad and Uncle Jim), the cold, hard truth is that i drove away from that bus stop with an empty minivan, now the parent of a 2nd grader, a 4th grader, and (next week) a preschooler.

this really has to stop.

still, as much as the passage of time confounds and dizzies me, i love the beginning of a new school year: the smell of unsharpened pencils and the curves of a clean desk.  there is the promise of wonder and exploration and learning.  this is the first step of a new adventure; an educational road trip with sojourners and trail guides and breathtaking views, punctuating the step-by-step rhythm that isn't so much about getting somewhere in particular as it is about discovering the joy in the journey.  so, in the midst of projects and vinyl bus seats and math sheets and memorization, my prayer for my children is for adventure and wonder; for discovery and a daring to ask the questions that will open up new vistas.  it's going to be a great year!

and maybe, by next year, we will have figured out how to extend summer just a bit.

Monday, August 18, 2014

go jump in the lake

here are just a few pics (of about 740 that we took) from our recent vacation up at eagle rock resort near hazleton, pa.  there was a beautiful lake there where we spent most of our time, and i just thought i'd share with you a couple pics of our fun at the lake, memories which we'll be cherishing even more dearly as school begins this week!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

the case of the missing key

 i love my wife.  no, scratch that...i adore her.  i really do.  she is amazing in so many ways and is so good at so many things that she almost always makes me look way better than i really am.  in fact, i often have to work hard to remember what her flaws are, which is really annoying, by the way.  when i do remember them, they are so ridiculous that i seem petty by even mentioning them (she is a heavy-walker, she loads the dishwasher like an intoxicated blind person with a blindfold and a straightjacket on, etc.).

and then something like this happens, and i just have to tell the world.  and by "the world," i mean all 8 of you who will read this.

a couple of weeks ago i took the kids for a walk to the park.  shannon went for a run.  when she was finished, she met us at the playground, and we all walked home together, only to discover that she had locked the door, and neither of us had brought our keys.  this would normally not be a problem, since we keep an extra key hidden under the sole of a golf shoe kept in our garage (okay, not really, but i can't feasibly tell you where we actually keep an extra key...the golf shoe thing sounds like a pretty good idea, come to think of it).  so i went to the proverbial golf shoe to retrieve said extra key, only to find it wasn't there.  i figured it might have fallen out somewhere, since the kids are sometimes using it to get into the house, so i started searching.  by this time it is getting dark and a summer storm seems to be whipping up.  in the midst of the darkness closing in on us, we turned our garage upside down, searching for this key, but we couldn't find it anywhere.  i found the remains of a dead bird, and what appeared to be a pile of creamed spinach, but, alas, no key.

anyone who really knows me knows that by this time, i am more than a little irritable.  my milinovich intensity (read: temper) has ratcheted up to threat level: something's-gonna-blow.  i directed most of this ire towards my sweet children, knowing that they almost certainly were the guilty parties, even though they claimed complete innocence in this matter.  i doubted it, and continued to rant about the importance of not touching our gosh-darned key, and lecture about the need to put things back where they got them.  shannon, meanwhile, observed quietly while i unloaded chastisement on our children.

as the storm neared, we finally realized we weren't going to find the key.  i remembered that there are a million keys inside a locked closet at the church, and i figured that one of them must be the parsonage key.  so i called someone (thank you, Meg!) to let me into the church (since my own keys were also locked in my house), and into the locked closet.  i couldn't find any key to my house there, but i did find approximately 156 unmarked keys, which i proceeded to carry back to my home, where it had by now started raining ominously from a sky that was steel-colored, like an old padlock whose combination has been forgotten or lost, and just sits there to mock you about what you can't get into.  i digress.

none of the keys worked.  but the futile exercise of trying each of them not only gave us 156 moments of false hope, but also allowed the impending storm to creep that much closer.  i finally realized that i was going to have to break into our home, which meant ripping open a screen and trying to lift a window.  the first course of action would be trying to find a window that we might have left open.  as i was about to embark on this mission, shannon mentioned emphatically that the last time we left on a vacation, she had made double sure that all of the windows were locked.  therefore, i wasn't going to find any unlocked windows.


i knew that one of the windows (which has two locks on it) had one broken lock, so i figured of all the locked the windows, this one had the best chance of yielding to my desperate attempts to break and enter my own home.  i got the ladder, and, standing in the pouring rain, proceeded to ruin a perfectly good screen, and try to wedge open the window.  after several minutes of failure, and with neighbors watching disdainfully, shannon approached me to tell me that she had been looking at some of the other windows around the house, and it looked to her like one of the windows wasn't locked after all.  i reminded her that she had just told me that she knew all the windows were locked.  she wasn't impressed with my memory.  i wasn't impressed with hers.

so i moved my ladder to the aforementioned window, climbed the wet metal steps, and ruined another perfectly good screen, only to find this window completely unlocked and ready to be raised.  i called for my son Jackson, who deftly climbed the steps and climbed into the house.  while i was leaning into the open window to make sure he didn't get cut on whatever glass thing fell onto the floor and broke when i opened the window, i faintly heard shannon whisper-yelling from afar (have you ever heard whisper-yelling? can you think of any situation in which whisper-yelling doesn't spell absolute doom?  in what possible harmless situation would you need to simultaneously yell and whisper?  it says, "i need to yell to alert you of something that will probably kill you, but i need to whisper so as not to alarm the thing that is causing all this trouble in the first place."  whisper-yelling is usually just a way to prolong the inevitable:  death by horrific mauling.).  i could hear the anxious edge in her breathy call to me:  SKUNK!  yes, while i'm on a ladder, breaking into our home, presumably because our children can't put a key in a golf shoe, a skunk sauntered by, seeking refuge from the splashing storm, and looking for inventive ways to add insult to injury.  

i wasn't sprayed.  but the situation still stunk.

jackson opened the door, let us in, and, relieved by finally getting into our home and out of the rain, i released the dam of frustration, and really amped up my lecturing about putting things back where you got them, words spoken with such intensity and conviction that i am sure they made a lasting impact on my children (please read that last phrase with the appropriate level of sarcasm).  suddenly, my nearly-perfect wife said something, almost in passing, about remembering that she might have used that key the week before, and couldn't quite remember if she put the key back in the golf shoe or not.

wait, what?

after all of that.  after my lecture-for-the-ages? after raised-voice and finger-wagging condemnation?  sure enough, she went to look for the shorts she had worn on that fateful friday past, and discovered in the right front pocket a key that opens our door.  skunks and shredded screens and storms and several lectures later, we finally found the reason for our summer evening escapade:  mom.

she apologized profusely, and it only took about 10 minutes for me to transition to a frame of mind in which i could laugh heartily about the whole thing.  i promised her i wouldn't be mad about it, and that i would teach her how to fix a screen, if she'd like to learn.  i also promised her that i would share the story with the world, or the half-dozen or so of you who read this.  so there you have it.  the case of the missing key.  it was in mommy's pocket all along.  i guess we all make mistakes. but if we can learn to laugh about them, we will be much happier.

the moral of the story: please don't whisper-yell to me about the proximity of a wet skunk when i'm standing on a ladder in the middle of a storm.  ignorance is bliss.

the other moral of the story:  please don't come to my house looking for a key in a golf shoe.  we have a guard-skunk who will spray you in a second if you even think about it.