unpublished drafts

Drafts of 16 posts written by my eldest son, William, remain unpublished in the list of posts that I’m able to see as the administrator of the blog I set up for my kids.

William is an excellent writer, and the unpublished drafts include works of fiction, poetry, journaling, and philisophical observations filled with honesty of emotion.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Unpublished drafts give me a window into his thoughts, those he portends with silent, desperate gestures as he drowns in my flood of words, or the expectation of them.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misunderstandings of so many relationships incurred by the inability of one party to gain administrative access to the unpublished drafts of other parties.

So much is left unsaid, unpublished.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.

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.

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.

turning 21

[Caution!  Public Display of Affection Alert!  If you get queasy when subjected to romantic interludes, turn away now or prepare to face the nausea!]

My marriage turned 21 today.  It’s officially legal for my marriage to drink alcoholic beverages now.  After 21 years, you would think a marriage could probably use a stiff drink.

Fortunately, though, our marriage is so entirely intoxicating, no other stimulants are necessary.  I’m already inebriated with love.  You probably thought I was growing senile (or just plain obnoxious) from old age or other influences.  Nope.  It’s the love effect.

I know, it’s kind of disgusting isn’t it.  Well, so is this picture:

Who are those people, anyway?!

Just goes to show how 21 years with Renee have improved me.  Of course, she gets more beautiful every year, despite my influence on her.

But seriously, though, allow me to express my gratitude for being so fantastically blessed:

Renee, you are my best friend.

You know those bumper stickers that say, “I’d rather be fishing,” or “dancing”, or “dead”?  Well, I’d rather be with you.  That’s it.  I need that bumper sticker.  I need that tattoo.  I need that embroidery.  I need that t-shirt.  I need you.

For better or worse, if we could get any poorer, in all the health we have, and all the sickness that may come, for as long as the world keeps turning and God holds heaven high, I need you, and I’m grateful to have you.  Thanks for your commitment to me.  I love you.

Now, for all of you who have had enough stamina to read to this point, I have two things to say:

  1. Thanks for your support.
  2. Let’s do that for each other and our marriages.  Let’s support each other.  Let’s hold out hope that love never fails, in spite of the statistics and experiences.  Let’s spur one another on to hold tight.  Let’s be available for each other.  Let’s celebrate together, and mourn together, and fight the good fight together, for all of the things in life that are worthy of a good fight, and there are plenty.  Let’s be believers.

raising kids is like marinating chicken

Here’s a little window into our lives:  Last Tuesday, when I arrived home from work, my wonderful wife was busily, and proudly preparing another wonderful meal for her family, something she doesn’t love but does anyway because she loves us.

“Honey, sweetheart, pudding pop,” she asked me as she stood there amidst the wafting aromas of goodness in her apron and perfectly coiffed hairdo, manicured nails, rosy cheeks, cute little outfit, and angelic smile, “would you mind cooking this chicken on the grill tonight?”

(Just so you know, this is a dramatization to enhance the story.  Just go with me on this.)

She smiled again and pleaded with her eyes while lifting two gallon-sized plastic bags out of the refrigerator that were filled with marinating chicken breasts.  (It takes a lot of chicken to feed our family!)

I sighed heavily, rolled my eyes, and started to say, “sure, but why do I have to do everything around here?”  Then, much to my relief, I came to the wonderful realization that the propane tank for the grill was empty and hadn’t been refilled after the last time I was forced had the opportunity to make dinner.  Yay!

My wife was deflated, and I was relieved and we spent the next 30 minutes trying to figure out what to have for dinner, before Renee got that determined look in her eyes and prepared two skillets to cook the chicken on the stove top, which I ended up doing anyway because I had a guilty conscience, while Renee just stood there in that cute little apron with those rosy cheeks and a baby on her hip and watched me do everything, while I pouted with as much exaggeration as I could muster.

(A little more drama, here, but only the part about Renee’s apron.)

But anyway, that’s all beside the point.

The point is this:  Marinated chicken tastes like whatever’s in the marinade sauce juice liquid stuff.

Brilliant, right?

Seriously, we had two bags of chicken and each bag had different spices in the marinade.

The chicken tasted like the spices that were included in its own unique marinade.

Chicken is actually pretty bland tasting in its most basic form, just like plain old kids.  I mean there’s some genetic stuff happening that affects the texture and taste a bit, but generally, the spices make all the difference.

You know what I’m saying.

You can stick spices on the outside of the chicken, but that’s pretty superficial, and if you get a bite of the inside without the spices on the outside, well . . . it can be bland no matter what gene pool it came from.

If you marinate that chicken, though, then the inside takes on the strong flavor of whatever’s been on the outside.

It’s like magic.

So, my point is (just in case you’re a guy and you can’t get my point) that whatever stuff you put in the marinade is what your kid will taste like when the world cooks them and eats them, just like the chicken.

Get it?

This takes a bit of forethought.  The longer you marinate the chicken (or the kid) the more flavor seeps into the innards.  You can’t wait until it’s time for cooking to soak them.  For chicken, overnight is good, but for kids, well . . .

Frankly, kids are being soaked in something no matter whether you plan it or not.  They are soaking up their surroundings.  More like sponges than chickens really, but that messes up the metaphor.

So, if you don’t plan it, kids will just soak up whatever you leave them sitting by.  If you plan it, they’ll still soak it up, but then you’re responsible for the planning.  You take your chances either way.

My recommendation is this:  pick your oil and spices carefully, maybe something a little different, but just as savory, for each kid, and let them soak in it often and for as long as possible.

When the world squeezes them, in the case of the sponge metaphor, whatever is in them will come out.

When the world cooks them and eats them, in the case of the chicken metaphor, they’ll either become tasty, nutritional edification for the world (a.k.a. their families and communities), or one of these other things will happen:  they’ll make people sick, or be tolerated as bland and unappealing, or get spit out and go to waste.

(More dramatization there, I hope you know.  Nobody is going to cook and eat your children.  Furthermore, there are probably a few other options about how they can turn out.  It’s not really meant to be taken literally.)

Of course, Jesus specializes in redeeming leftovers and salvaging meals from dumpsters, but that’s another post.

With your kids, you, the loving parent, are the chef.  Own it.  Make it tasty.

a better way

So, Jesus . . . uhhmm . . . Hi, this is Dale . . . again.  I, uhhmmm, I hate to be difficult or anything – I mean, I know there’s a lot going on, and frankly . . . well, sometimes I’m not really sure you’re even listening or . . . capable of hearing.  Sorry.

Sorry, I know I shouldn’t be doubtful – maybe that’s part of the problem, but since you’re supposed to know what I’m thinking, I figure it’s not really a surprise to you anyway.  Ha!  Secrets out, right?  Uhhh . . . ya.

So, anyway . . . ahem . . . I’m just thinking, well . . . that ummm, well . . . there must be a better way or something.

I mean, I’m just saying that, well, I’m feeling like this is just a poor way to go about saving the world.  Sorry.  I know, first I’m doubting, now I’m questioning, and heck, I guess I’m even throwing down judgement on you.  I mean, it’s like the trifecta of bad things, right? Ya.

If you know this stuff, though, and if you are listening, then like I said, it must be no surprise that I’m thinking such things, and besides, if you are who I think you are, then I suppose you’ll be willing to forgive me.  I mean, I hope – really hope! – you’re that guy, ’cause that’s the guy I need.

I mean,  I know you know, well . . . I think you know . . . er, I believe you know, that I know that I’m not really very good at this stuff, and frankly, well . . . I’m pretty sure none of us humans are.

Okay, so, here’s the deal, right?  This is what I can’t figure out.  Maybe just saying it will be helpful.  Maybe.

I just made a list of all the people I feel like I need to talk to, and pray for, and just people I’m generally concerned about.  Actually, I only made a list of the people that have been on my mind today, and there’s like 30 of them.  I mean, those are just the ones that I really feel pressed to engage with in some way just right now.

That doesn’t even include my 11 – YES! Eleven!  Why? – children that I believe you gave me for my benefit and theirs, or my wife . . . or my mother . . . or my sister, and her kids, and husband, or my other extended family, or the next door neighbors, or . . . well, you get the idea.

I mean, I’m really doing a rotten job just with my kids.  It seems like no matter how good my intentions are, I can never say all the things that need to be said, in the right way, and even if I get part of it out in a decent way, some crazy new thing comes up.  It’s like some cosmic whack-a-mole game or something that never ends!

If I really let my mind go, there are literally hundreds (or maybe 150, but a lot!) of other people that I know of or I’m connected to in some way that plague my heart with their needs and grief, plus all of those I don’t know, but the people known by the people I know, ya know?.  I know that sounds like I’m trying to be all pious, but obviously, you know that’s not the case.

On top of that, I mean, here I am at work, spending time thinking about these people that shouldn’t occupy my time while I’m supposed to be doing the respectable thing for my employer and serving them with all of my effort – just like you’ve told me to do.

But . . . by the time I get out of here, I’m, well, frankly . . . exhausted.  My energy level and time availability for even praying for all of those, well . . . much less, actually saying the things or doing the things that are on my mind and heart that need to be said or done for them.  I mean, I can’t control or be responsible for the short days and the need for sleep and the . . . just the . . . general weariness of living, right?

I mean, the parameters, you know, the limitations just seem too tight for success at this to even be possible.  Are you sure?

So, I’m just saying, I’m trying to do everything I can, but I just can’t see how to do it.  So, I’m not really sure this plan you’ve got worked out, about all of us ministering your gospel and loving one another, and meeting one another’s needs, and serving one another and whatnot, well, I’m not sure that’s working out so well.

At least, I don’t think it’s working for me.  Not yet.  Not unless you’ve got some magic thing I don’t know about . . . ummm, like prayer that really makes a difference, for example, or a better way to set priorities, or financial independence or something like that.

So, here I am, just saying that I don’t know how to do this.  I’m not very good at it.  I’m sure of that.

I could use a little help here.  Please show me what to do.  What am I doing wrong?  Well, I mean besides the obvious.  I know I’m doing lots wrong, but I’m not sure what I’m missing to figure out how to do it right.

So . . . uhhmmm, yeah, that’s it, I guess.  Sorry, really, for whining and such.  I know I’m not really supposed to feel like I have to “do” anything for you, since you love me and all already, and that whole grace thing and all, but . . .

Meanwhile, I’m just praying.  I’m praying for myself – as selfish as that must be – and then for all of those folks, and for all of the other folks, and I’m sorry I’m doing that while I’m working.

So, if you’re listening, please help us.  Please.  I hope you’re listening.  You must be listening.  We really need you.

Thanks.

Ummm, amen.