unpublished drafts

Drafts of 16 posts written by my eldest son, William, remain unpublished in the list of posts that I’m able to see as the administrator of the blog I set up for my kids.

William is an excellent writer, and the unpublished drafts include works of fiction, poetry, journaling, and philisophical observations filled with honesty of emotion.  His mind engages his environment with insightful and introspective clarity.  I’m sincerely impressed, and not just as a parent-fan, and I’ve told him so.

He has a litany of reasons for not publishing his thoughts.  “It’s all crap,” he says.  “I can assure you it isn’t,” I reply.  He laughs.

I have had difficulty conversing with William, always, but more lately.  Arbitrary, superficial, tyrrany-of-the-urgent stuff usurps a dominating role in our lives, but that’s not the full explanation.

In the flash-flood of my all-too-often, anger-fueled lecturing tirades, he has struggled  to keep his head above the water.  I heard somewhere once that in spite of theatrical evidence to the contrary, it’s impossible to cry for help when you’re drowning.  Apparently, you can’t gasp for breath and verbalize your need at the same time.

William and I are quite alike in so many ways that I’ve often belly-ached to God for his cruel mockery of my weaknesses by having them appear so obviously in my son’s predisposition.  Of course, William also has been gifted in ways for which I’ve only wished and prayed.

I love him fiercely.  I’m often caught unaware by the depth of the emotion of it.

Unpublished drafts give me a window into his thoughts, those he portends with silent, desperate gestures as he drowns in my flood of words, or the expectation of them.

I wonder about the misunderstandings of so many relationships incurred by the inability of one party to gain administrative access to the unpublished drafts of other parties.

So much is left unsaid, unpublished.  So many misunderstandings persist, and become historical fact, under the constant pressure and pace of time, and our passive-aggressive ability to assume and impose motives and rationale on the empty spaces of conversations.

Imaginations run wild, offense is taken, defense is mustered, assumptions make what they will of us.

After going to bed last night with misunderstandings busily building mountains of molehills, it took 2 calls and 45 minutes this morning for me to hear my wife clearly, and to explain myself adequately to draw out her typically gracious response to my shortcomings.  “Thanks.  That helps,” she said.  That was an understatement of abundant grace akin to Jesus saying, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Lives become past-tense with unpublished drafts of real words divulging truth only to audiences who remain perpetually unaware of their existence.

God forbid, please God, that precious gifts and their days are wasted without notice on misunderstandings borne and sustained by silence.

God, please, make me a listener, especially to the silence.

And grant me, always, please, administrative access to unpublished drafts, or at least to the knowledge of their existence, so that I might, with love and grace, persuade their publication.

And thanks, God, for the depth of the well dug in William’s earth.  May it be a fountain of living water.  May your grace be sufficient for us both.

May your grace be sufficient for us all.

poking a hole in this barrier just to see if anything happens

I just decided to post something here to this long-ignored virtual reality.  Sometimes you just have to break a rule, or run through a wall that has gradually encroached upon your life through some unintended habit or omission, just to see if it matters.

I’m pretty sure this blog thing doesn’t need to be some mental mountain, imposing itself in my brain-space like Mordor.  Poke it in the eye, and I think it will whimper and slink away.

Welcome to the dog-days of summer – middle August.  (I read a story recently about how August got that “dog-days” moniker.  I don’t recall the details, and it really doesn’t matter, anyway.  But I did.  It’s always interesting to me that we use phrases that we don’t really understand just because they’ve always been used, and they have a story that we don’t know.)

The mornings are darker later, and the evenings are getting shorter.  The days are still hot, but the nights are cooling.  The kids are excitedly dreading the start of school, and in some cases, so are the parents.

I’ve hit the August lull in workload – just after finishing July reports, just before beginning budgets for next year – and I’ve got a few days with few meetings and few deadlines and I feel like I can catch my breath.  Breathe in, breathe out.  See a little more clearly.

It won’t last, so I need to milk it while it’s producing for me.

I had a vacation in Vermont with my lovely wife:  6 days and 5 nights in a town with no cellular service and no restaurants, sleeping in a house built in 1846 with a 10-step walk across the grass lawn to the front door of a church also about that old, like every other church we saw in every tiny village of Vermont back-country with white clapboard siding, black shutters and a steeple reaching to the high heavens.

Raspberries and blueberries were at their peak.  We purchased fresh raspberries from an untended roadside stand in some friendly stranger’s front yard by putting a few bucks in a can, and ate them with our fingers as we drove, and we ate fresh blueberry cobbler in a gourmet restaurant in a tiny town in which we just happened to find ourselves along the way.

I read good books in bed until my rear-end was sore from lack of movement, rolled over and took a nap without even glancing at the clock, then stretched and slipped my flip-flops on and took my wife for a drive on what the map shows as the little gray unidentified roads with no numbers to find our next adventure.

Have I told you lately how much I love my wife?  Of course not, since I haven’t told you anything lately, so let me say it plainly here:  I really love Renee.  Really.  After 22 years, she’s still the person with whom I’d rather spend my time, bar none.  We laugh, we cry, we share and just hold hands for the comfort of knowing the other is near.  She’s God’s pain-reliever gift to whatever pain is vexing me from day to day.  Thank God for her.

Speaking of giving thanks, I read a book recently called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, and let me say I just highly recommend it.  All the more so if you’re struggling a bit with finding eyes of gratitude amongst what can often seem monotonous and futile daily-grind kinds of days.  In response, I’ve been praying for God to improve my eyesight, to let me see the trail of him in my days, and to appreciate the colors he’s sprinkled about to keep them from blending into some gray soup.  Guess what?  He’s been answering my prayer with unexpected enthusiasm.

Seeing him more regularly is almost as gratifying as holding Renee’s hand.

outweighing the contrasts (by Hannah)

I thought Hannah’s recently posted poem from there’s just no sense in that deserved at least a little more attention (which is all I could hope to offer it from this sorely neglected site) so I’m re-posting it here.  Feel free to send her accolades.

a wink later:
a cartoon
may best explain the theory
that the similarities
outweigh the contrasts
between the religious community and THE WARREN COMMISSION
considering that:
a glance took place,
as we moved on.
i believe you may be great!
if such a thing could be real.
really REAL.
my vocabulary is small
my thoughts are blunt and bland and come pre-punned.
a turn took place:
placing me in another room
still eating
always consuming
trying for considering
pros and cons and
objects of affection
lost in all of it.
prescribing none of it.
the similarities
outweigh the contrasts:
a tired body, a ruined car
a scribbly mess, a patched up relationship
a list of accomplishments, a list of requirements
but for a grin later:
i spun around and found something.
something lovely.

baking in the heat of the moment

The heat necessary
to bake the ingredients of our lives
into something worthwhile
out of all of its well-beaten batter
comes from the friction
created by the moments
flying by us
and pushing past us.

 

We ought to seek to embrace
their slippery substance
more forcefully
to take advantage
of the friction more desperately,
so that we become edifying earlier
rather than living most of our lives,
if not all,
as half-baked messes.

 

Given an adequate awareness
and sense of desperation for life,
we are supremely capable
of having well-baked,
warm, and nutritious offerings
harvested from the ovens of our hearts
not just once in our lives,
as if only some grand opus
were all that mattered,
but several times a day;
here a little, there a little,
but always good
and comforting
and nourishing.

 

These thoughts were inspired by a conversation in an orange-vinyl-covered booth in a diner over a table covered with eggs, pancakes, gyros, french toast, sausage, coffee, and little pitchers of syrup surrounded by foil-wrapped rectangles of real butter with my friends Seth and Max, who happen to be wonderfully tasty treats of inspiration, of whose substance the world is scarcely worthy.

 

These thoughts were written in an email message to my lovely, soon-to-be-seventeen-year-old daughter, Hannah, who happens to be someone I aspire to be like, someday, of whose substance the world shall surely never be worthy, in which I apologized for the pitiful and grievous mistake of squandering moments which were offering opportunities to hear the overflow of her heart’s music.

 

I could write a thousand words, or two, more and hardly exhaust my longing to relate all that stirs here, but I think I’ll go home instead.

goodbye Papa

I wasn’t with my father when he died.

He was in a hospital in Bakersfield, California.

I was at my sister’s home in Brush Valley, Pennsylvania.

It was the 5th of May, 1995.

The memories are vague now.

I awoke to my sister standing at the basement bedroom door.

The light was on behind her and it pierced the darkness of our room.

She was crying.

I took the phone from her, and walked out of the bedroom where my wife and children were sleeping.

I remember feeling awkward that I was wearing only my underwear.

It was my mother on the phone.

She said, “He’s gone.  Papa’s gone.”

She wasn’t with him either, and she was crying, too.

It was three o’clock in the morning in Pennsylvania, maybe.

Midnight in California.

Mom was in her apartment in Arvin, California, straining to get rest.

Only nurses and maybe a doctor, the night crew of strangers, were with Papa.

Maybe the night janitor was pushing a dust mop across the cold-tile floor in the hallway outside his room.

In some ways, except in his best moments, we were all strangers to him then.

He knew us, when he remembered us, but he was mostly forgetting.

He spoke mostly of his mother in the days before he died.

He spoke to her.

I didn’t know her, but I wish I had.

Her name was . . . well, I can’t remember.

I wish I could remember.

He always spoke her name with such affection.

I remember the affection, but not the name.

Perhaps she was with him when he died.

I wish I had been there.

I wish I could have said goodbye.

I wish I could have looked in his eyes, and held his hand, and said a proper goodbye.

I hope he was not lonely, or afraid.

I didn’t know, then, that I would wish I had been there.

the instinctive desires: nourishment and reproduction

Recently, I’ve been puzzling over this question, raised entirely anecdotally, rather than scientifically, as part of my perpetual efforts to make sense of this crazy life:

What should I understand about God when I recognize that he has seemingly made only two instinctive desires common to every living thing – both plants and animals, as far as I can tell?

Those two things:

  1. The instinct to pursue food, the sustenance of life, at all costs and at great lengths.
  2. The instinct to reproduce.

Now, recognizing that chuckles and smirks are running rampant among my few readers right now, partly related to the fact that I’ve just typed, and you’ve just read, the word “reproduce”, and mostly because this is all coming from a guy who has 11 children, I acknowledge the risk in “going there”.

Don’t worry, I’m not raising this question with regard to any agenda about reproducing excessively.

Furthermore, I’m not really raising this question to open the door to an avalanche of sheepish innuendo, though that’s bound to happen.  (I wish I had a quarter for every time someone has asked me if I know what causes babies.)

And furthermost, I’ve predetermined that I won’t offer a full-blown answer to this question – partly just because I don’t know if I have one and what I’ve got would take too many words for a single post, and mostly because I’m curious to know what you think about it.

So, let me just offer this brief primer:

Various and sundry creatures will migrate great distances in a seasonal cycle, sometimes once in a brief life, or multiple times over a lengthy life span, to do two things:  eat and reproduce.

Plants offer extravagant schemes to both seek nutrition through roots and leaves, and to reproduce.  Have you ever taken an up-close look at the elaborate mechanism a dandelion uses to harness the wind and scatter its seed abroad?  It’s fantastic!

If you’re God, and you’re using those same concepts over and over again in your creation with so many variations, you must be really convinced that this is a good thing, a critical thing, a prerequisite thing for whatever it is you’re planning to accomplish.

Of course, we humans tend to think highly of our sophisticated, emotionally complex, dating games.  We hold love – the desire to love and be loved – in highest esteem.  Love is a many-splendored thing!  Seriously!

And, maybe you can say that all of our love games aren’t about reproducing, and I can buy that, but isn’t it part and parcel the same instinct, at its core?

So, that’s enough of a primer.  You tell me, if you dare.  If you dare not, I’ll just continue to contemplate solo.

What’s God driving at?  Is he using these instincts to take us somewhere?  Where?  Is he aware of all the ways we’ve corrupted those instincts and the damage we’ve imposed for their sake?  Does he still think that’s a good thing?  Why?  How?

Thanks for playing.

a little man in a little house in a little town with a little family

Earlier this week, I was struck (not literally, but figuratively slapped, you might say) by the thought of my insignificance.

Maybe it’s just a guy thing, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s just a general human thing, to consider ourselves fairly significant from the deeply rooted perspective of ourselves.

But, forget about all of you; I’m talking about me.

You have to understand, that in my mind, I’m of paramount importance.  I’m a big deal to me.  No kidding.

I earnestly care about everything that matters to me, and sincerely believe that what matters to me is of great importance, in general.

I’m fairly well convinced that my opinions are right because as soon as I think they might not be right, I change them to what is right, so they’re always up to date in terms of what’s right.

I’m not saying I’m always right.  I’m just saying that as soon as I realize that I might be slightly wrong, I change my mind and become right again, at least until the next rare moment when I’m notified of an error in my thinking.  I mean, I do know that I’m not perfect because no one is perfect, except Jesus, right?

Furthermore, the things that worry me from time to time are truly important things to me.  I think others should be worried about them, too.  The problem is that other people have minds of their own, and they think their own worries are also important, even when they conflict with mine.  So, I’m on a life-long mission to help people see the light and get all of us on the same worry page:  mine.

They just don’t get it – those people.

But beyond all that, I’m relatively positive that the purpose that God has intended for my life – the reason that I’m here – is for the benefit of a great many people.  For certain, it’s intended for the benefit of far more people than those who currently realize my value.  So, I’m always recruiting converts to my value-recognition project.  People need to know.  They need to know that I’m available – even sent – to help them, and that I can help, if only given the opportunity (under terms and conditions that are acceptable to me, of course.)

If people could only realize how much closer I am to having everything right than say almost everyone else, then they would come seeking my help.  But people can be so self-centered sometimes that it’s just sickening, isn’t it?  Sheesh!

So, what I’m trying to say is that I’m always carrying around this expectancy for something big to happen that will change my stars and exalt me to the position in society which God has always intended me to have, in his perfect timing, of course.  When he does that, I’ll be able to exert the positive influence in the world – not the whole world, of course, but the portion in which he’s destined me to have sway, a portion which I’ve always been certain is much greater than the current portion in which my potential has been only slightly realized – for which I’ve been destined.

It’s kind of like knowing you’re going to win the lottery, but not being completely sure which week the numbers will come together.

I wake up every morning with anticipation.  Any day could be the day!  Any day could be the day I break out and become all that I can be.

The mailman could bring the letter to my mailbox.  My boss could ask for an urgent meeting.  The perfect idea for that book or movie or business could pop unexpectedly into my head.  A friend could call and need me to talk to another friend that is having trouble, and that friend could be famous, like the President, or some celebrity.

Any day, it could happen.  Someday, it will.  I’m sure of it.

At least, I was sure of it.

Then, earlier this week, as I said before, I was struck by a deviant thought.  I was hit by a metaphorical bolt of lightning, if you will.  The lightbulb of clarity flickered on just long enough for me to see my surroundings, and impose its haunting vision upon me.

I was just innocently driving along my typical route home from work, amidst a throng of thousands of other cars carrying what I suddenly realized were thousands of equally important people on their various ways to equally important places to do equally important things, while waiting for their equally important and eagerly awaited ships to come in.

I’m only one of 6-billion people on this planet.  I’m a middle-aged male who lives in an insignificant American, declining, middle-class suburban neighborhood in an obscure town in a rural part of a middle state.  I have a low-profile job in a giant corporation.  I have a circle of friends who are pretty cool, but are not celebrities and not likely to become famous any time soon.  I do some good things, occasionally, and some less good things more often, but generally, I don’t do much that’s extraordinary.

All this time, I’ve considered myself as a sort of covert operator in some grand scheme to save the world.  An unknown, sacrificially biding my time and developing critical experience and societal tools, waiting in obscurity for the call to the bull-pen of my life, from the dugout where the General Manager of the world is looking for some relief in the bottom of the eighth.

Then that thought struck me.  That heinous thought invaded me violently and vehemently.

I’m a little man, living in a little house, in a little town with a little family.

And the world is very big.  Very, very big.

I’m like a drop of water falling into the ocean.  Like drool dripping from the lips of a sassy five-year-old boy leaning over the railing of a cruise ship on the Pacific, making a tiny, inconsequential splash.  Or something like that.

My potential impact will likely only ever be realized in my immediate surroundings and upon the people who are very close to me now – those within hugging, texting, phoning, emailing, blogging, praying distance.

The second thought that struck me, then, was that I should probably be more attentive to those folks:  more caring, more compassionate, more of a servant, more humble, more willing.  A little less focus on me, maybe.

The truth is: I think I need them more than they need me.

Ouch.  That’ll leave a mark.