unpublished drafts

Drafts of 16 posts written by my eldest son, William, remain unpublished in the list of posts that I’m able to see as the administrator of the blog I set up for my kids.

William is an excellent writer, and the unpublished drafts include works of fiction, poetry, journaling, and philisophical observations filled with honesty of emotion.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Unpublished drafts give me a window into his thoughts, those he portends with silent, desperate gestures as he drowns in my flood of words, or the expectation of them.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misunderstandings of so many relationships incurred by the inability of one party to gain administrative access to the unpublished drafts of other parties.

So much is left unsaid, unpublished.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.

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.

a tangle of limbs and polka dots

A two-year-old girl in a navy, polka-dot dress with white tights, and cool Converse sneakers, which in her pronunciation become “cul cumbers”, happily irresponsible on a sunny Sunday morning, as she skips and trots along the sidewalk, absent-mindedly leading her family to the church entrance, trips over a menacing crack in the unforgiving walkway and tumbles forward in a tangle of limbs and polka dots, scraping small spaces of tender, poorly protected skin against the abrasive reality of a gravity-empowered earth.

Her father, walking a few steps behind her with another little girl in his arms, a scowl on his face, and an offended cloud of stormy emotions – self-imposed by the suffering of disappointed, unreasonable, selfishly designed, and entirely unnecessary expectations – brooding invisibly over his mind, while wishing for escape from the frustrating bonds and simultaneously demanding retribution and grovelling from his offenders, watches the two-year-old bundle of the best sunshine the world can offer fall violently and pitiably, pushing the stake of disappointment and anger all the further into his enshrouded heart.

As the inevitable screams, and horrified wails of “owie” begin to flow, inspired more by the shock and offense of such an unfair and so grievously perpetrated surprise attack than the very real sting of the scraped skin, the girl’s father says to her, as he grabs her arm and coerces her flailing, injured limbs and body from the embrace of the concrete, “Okay, okay!  You’re fine!  You can stop with the drama queen act.  We need to keep moving.  Come on!”

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.

sidebar

This is one of those “by the way” posts, just so you know, so don’t expect anything too meaningful.  (I know, you’re probably relieved.  It’s okay to acknowledge that.)

First of all, I just want you to know, I realize that my “breakfast” post from yesterday is too long and bit self-indulgent in that way.  I’ve decide you’ll just have to get over that.  I also realize that getting over that probably means you won’t read it.  That’s fine, too.  But just for my own comfort, I’m going to imagine that you will skim it and pick up on a few key paragraphs about two-thirds through the diatribe.  That makes me feel better.

Second, I haven’t posted much lately.  I’ve tried to quit this altogether, but God won’t accept my resignation.  I’ve determined though, that I should write for my self, and for God, and not burden anyone else with expectations of actually reading this.  That makes me feel better, too, even though I secretly think everyone should read this and tell their friends about it.

I am conflicted, though.  This is tough – how to share, what to share, what not to share, what the hell difference does it make anyway.  Just so you know – that happens.

Third, I want to acknowledge that I write some fairly excellent (and brief) posts in my mind on a regular basis, mostly while I’m driving.  You can’t type while you drive – well, it would be hazardous and it’s outlawed in several states now – and when I’m finished driving, I don’t really have time to write immediately, and I’ve usually satisfied myself by just thinking the post enough to get it out of my system.  You knowing this also makes me feel better, and that’s really what this is all about anyway, I suppose.

Fourth, I suppose I’ll need to write a post about how much I love my wife really soon, with our anniversary coming up and such, but I really can’t wait that long to write how I feel today.  I just want to acknowledge for those of you that think I might have it all together, that first of all, you’re grossly mistaken, and second, my wife is really the only earthly reason I am even moderately of any social value whatsoever.  She literally keeps me from drowning in my own mess nearly every day.  I owe more to her than I can ever express, and I love her more deeply than I would have thought to be humanly possible.  She is admirable and beautiful to me and I need her desperately to be just who she is – strong, caring, genuine, compassionate, tender, steady, determined, authentic, devoted and so many more things that add up to the best thing ever.  I love my wife.

Fifth, my kids deserve some of your attention when you get a minute.  Mostly Hannah and Will, of late, but several of them write occasionally on a blog nearby, which you can visit now by clicking this link:  “there’s just no sense in that”  In fact, Will wrote his first real post just yesterday.  It’s pretty fantastic, actually, and since I could use a little fatherly sense of accomplishment lately, I’d suggest you go check it out and give me kudos for having such wonderful children.  That will do a lot to disband the pity-party of fatherly failings I’ve been immersed in lately, and my kids will be happy, too.

Sixth, and finally, thankfully, I want to say thanks to those of you who occasionally read these posts and especially to those who comment, even if that’s because you feel obligated.  Even when I didn’t write anything for several weeks, to my astonishment, some of you were checking here frequently to see if anything was happening.  I know those clicks were probably coming from my wife or children, or random people looking for peanut-butter cookie recipes called “namesake” or something, but it’s just nice to know that a few folks are actually interested.  I know I should write for God regardless of people’s attention, but it’s hard to sustain the motivation for that mostly-silent, invisible audience of one – his clicks don’t get recorded here.  So, thanks!

I love you, too.

Dale

ghost stories

[For Tim]

“Yes, Ethan, what’s the matter?”

The boy stands, hesitantly,

Back to the door, hand on the knob,

Having just closed it behind him,

An inquiring, uncertain look

Fills his eyes.

“There are ghosts on the TV show.

It’s scary.”

He is not sure he should admit this.

He is not sure his parents,

Having their own privacy interrupted,

Will offer comfort or admonition.

“It’s okay, Ethan.

There are no such ghosts.

It’s only pretend . . . costumes.”

He is unconvinced.

He has seen the evidence himself.

Right there on TV,

And elsewhere, maybe.

“Oh, maybe they’re gone, now!”

He rushes from the room,

Having received unlikely comfort –

Disinterested, and dismissive –

Yet comfort, nonetheless,

From his parents,

By their mere presence,

And from his ghosts,

By their lack of it.