Tuesday mornings are a time to take stock, a time to consider and to wax philosophical. With a long weekend under my belt, Tuesdays are in some sense the quiet after the storm, the beginning of a new week. My musings tend gloomily, though, because I am almost always very tired, invariably having failed to get to bed at a timely hour.

I certainly have nothing to be gloomy about, though, except lack of sleep. Last Monday Kathy and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary, truly a cause for joy and pride. Of all the accomplishments of my life so far, I take most satisfaction in the family that Kathy and I founded back in 1992. By the grace of God, we have built our house and through His precepts our children are established … call me biased, but I am extremely pleased with what we have built.

On our anniversary day, the kids got up early and made us breakfast … painstakingly (nearly) following a recipe for a blueberry cobbler that was approved under Kathy’s eating plan, with (ahem, somewhat less ‘approved’) cinnamon rolls for me. They made some decorations and cut a few roses to lay on the table … cute kids. I tremble to think of what would have happened to my children if Kathy and I had not married … would they exist in the mind of God until being assigned to some other body in some other family, or would they never be at all? That’s one of the questions I plan to ask, when I go to be with the Lord.

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Sarah and David ride like eastern potentates whenever we go out with our bikes.

Daniel and I headed over to Grandpa’s house early to work for an hour to make reparations for an incident of disrespect on Daniel’s part. Typically, Daniel enjoyed it, making sure to tell me so. Fortunately, I had already exacted a less-pleasant punishment for the offense, and the work was merely icing on the cake, as it were.

Rachel had a tooth problem over the weekend, her jaw swelling up and complaining of considerable pain … we made a dentist appointment for her first thing on Monday. Kathy took her to the dentist where Rachel dissolved in tears, fearing the pain somewhat more than the occasion warranted. The dentist was fortunately well-skilled in the calming of little girls, and Rachel returned home triumphant, her tooth in a little baggy and having avoided a nasty abscess. She even got a helium balloon out of the affair, which pleased David and Sarah.

Taking advantage of the girls’ absence, I sneakily wrapped a bunch of presents I had purchased and placed bouquets of irises, tulips and roses strategically around the house. My parents agreed to come over to watch the kids and Kathy and I went out to lunch and watched a movie at the local multiplex. The matinee showing was empty except for us … “How sweet of you to rent out the theater for our anniversary!” Kathy gushed jokingly.

While we were off at the movies, my folks took the kids to the lake to see the baby ducks, and assembled a covered porch-swing they had purchased as an anniversary gift for us. The children immediately adopted it as their own, although Kathy managed to get some time on it later in the evening. It is a fun and thoughtful gift and will be well-appreciated, I expect.

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One of these days I’ll manage to sit on the swing myself.

We’ve been using our grill quite a bit lately … I had wanted to grill for our anniversary … we enjoyed steak and shrimp while the kids had hamburgers. So far Joshua is the only one of the kids who likes steak, leaving (Oh, darn!) more for me. I finished mowing the lawn … always a major accomplishment with the MOGL (Mower Of Great Laziness). We settled in for a quiet evening, Kathy catching up with her e-mail and I playing a new computer game.

It was a good day — very typical of our happy thirteen years of marriage.

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Fun Proverbs

I’ve been reading in Proverbs lately, and came across a couple of cool ones in chapter 27:

For the man who loves to stay at home:

Like a bird that strays from the nest is a man who strays from his home. Proverbs 27:8

A warning for those overly-cheerful morning people:

If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse. Proverbs 27: 14

And later in the same chapter, I came across this interesting proverb:

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives. Proverbs 27:21

I would have expected that a man is tested by adversity, not by success … it made me stop and think for a little while. How do I react when I am praised?

I suppose I am of two minds about it. One part of me laps it up like a man dying of thirst in the desert. Like many people, I desire the approval and accolades of my fellow man, however I might try to hide or suppress it. Another part of me is embarrassed and recoils from praise, since generally the praise is more than I deserve. More often than not, I am praised for the small or easy things I do, while the larger and more difficult things are overlooked. This has the benefit of giving me a healthily skeptical attitude toward the approval of others.

One way a man could fail a test of praise would be to puff himself up. Do I love the praise of others so much that I fail to act in proper humility? Or one could take credit where credit was not due … if I am praised for someone else’s accomplishment, do I shift the praise to the proper target? A man could also be ungracious … rejecting praise so vehemently as to offend a well-meaning person. We mistrust and despise people who allow their desire for fame to drive them, and we hold in contempt a man who steals honor from another.

Ultimately praise of men is a lot like money … there is nothing wrong with a little praise or a little wealth … but a man who makes one or the other his god cannot be trusted to do the right thing. As a child of God, I should seek His approval … I should be driven by a desire for His praise.

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Here is a little girl who loves to play to the crowd.

One of the things that has discouraged me about my job over the past year is that there is little opportunity for pats on the back or accolades. If I do my job well, software rolls out without any negative fanfare, and the credit accrues to the developers who built it. The only time I come into the spotlight is if I do my job poorly and a major defect is found in the software.

I am reminded of the scriptural injunction to work as though I was working directly for God himself:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24

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Hotdog Boat Racing

In April we celebrated my Mom’s birthday, out at the Duckabush at her request. We tried to get an early start, but (as usual) didn’t manage to leave the house much before 11 am. Mom had asked that we have a hot-dog roast instead of the formal 7-course meal we had planned, so we reluctantly acceded to her demands and canceled our arrangement with the caterers and the troupe of musicians. Fortunately, we were able to get our deposit back on the ice sculpture swans, since it was still within the cancellation window.

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Although it was raining nearly everywhere else, we enjoyed sunshine throughout our visit to the valley, which made the whole experience a lot more fun. We ate lunch outside, happily devouring potato salad and chips. Kathy brought a tasty green salad and we took turns charring our hot dogs over a small fire. Mom seemed to enjoy the presents we brought, and we all adjourned to the ravine for boat races along the stream. The little plastic boat I selected was measurably less stream-worthy than the others, or perhaps I just had a run of bad luck … my boat seemed to spend most of its time hung up on rocks or at the bottom of a little pool.

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I tried to give my boat some needed character by sticking a piece of grass through the hole in the smokestack as a sort of a flag or mast, but it broke off the first time my boat capsized and left only a small stump. I thought it had a rather jaunty look, though, and it helped me identify my boat. Some snidely commented that I could easily identify my boat … it was always the last one. I thought this displayed poor sportsmanship and was rather unkind … relatives can be so cruel, sometimes.

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I had to keep careful watch on my children to prevent cheating … despite the fact that no prizes were offered, the desire to win was very strong. Eventually, we raced enough so that everyone had a chance to win (or come close) except for my little red boat. I consoled myself with the knowledge that, as a mature grown-up, I had no special need to win. I don’t think anyone saw me when I went back later and raced my boat by itself, apparently the only way I could be sure of a win.

Boat racing is a surprisingly fun activity, though, and we ran up and down the streambed shouting like maniacs as the kids took turns falling into the water. Kathy had cleverly packed extra clothes for everyone, although Daniel’s spare pants never did turn up until we were on our way home. Mom seemed to take genuine pleasure in having her birthday remembered in this way, so a good time was had by all.

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It was strange, though, to have Mom and Dad all to ourselves … perhaps next year there will be more cousins around at such gatherings.

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Kept the Faith

A few weeks ago my wife’s Nana died, and Kathy flew to Texas to attend the funeral. At the age of 87, Nana’s death was not unexpected, yet in a strange way we were surprised by the suddenness of the end. It reminded me, in an irreverent way, of a scene in the movie Fletch, in which the character played by Chevy Chase pretends to have known an elderly man who has recently died:

Doctor: “You know, it’s a shame about Ed.”
Fletch: [hesitantly -- has no idea who Ed is] “Oh, it was — yeah, it was really a shame. To go so suddenly like that.”
Doctor: [casually] “He was dying for years.”
Fletch: [scrambling] “Sure, but, uh, the end was very, very sudden.”
Doctor: [surprised] “He was in intensive care for eight weeks!”
Fletch: [snaps irritably] “Yeah, but I mean the very end — when he actually died — that was extremely sudden.”

Some of us expected Ida May to pass away some years ago, yet she held on to life in spite of her own vocally-expressed desire. Having lost her beloved husband in 1991, Nana wanted nothing better than to go to sleep one night and wake up in the presence of the Lord, and to “play on those golden streets with Jim Clarence”.

Nana had lived in Rochester, Minneapolis for much of her married life, but retired to Fort Clark, Texas, some years after her husband’s death. I think we were all a little surprised at the impact she made in that community in such a short time, particularly in light of her limited mobility and hearing ability.

David and Nana, 2001

I didn’t know Nana very well, and I knew her only in the twilight of her life, but there are a few things that I can offer in tribute, in no particular order:

  • She was generous. Over the latter portion of her life, she distributed lump sums of her wealth to her children and grandchildren, helping many with the purchase of homes and substantially easing financial strain. She frequently bore the cost of travel and accommodations for those willing to visit her in Texas, and was always ready to help with tuition costs for a variety of degrees among her grandchildren. She routinely gave away her cars to family members who needed them and was often eager to help out with unexpected expenses.
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    Daniel, Nana and David, 2004

  • She was opinionated. One of the things she liked to do best was to argue … not in a hostile manner, but in a calm, measured exchange of ideas. Her years of experience and depth of scriptural knowledge made her a worthy adversary on nearly any topic, and she really seemed to enjoy the thrust and parry of an intellectual discussion. One of the things I learned from Nana’s example is that it is possible to sharply disagree with someone on an important matter, yet still communicate love for that person.
  • She loved the Lord. Throughout her life, Nana remained committed to loving Jesus, relentlessly studying the Bible and faithfully serving the Church. She attended adult Sunday School and helped to start Bible Studies, even though her loss of hearing made it difficult. Nana was not shy about evangelism and cheerfully would talk about Jesus even with family members who did not believe. You could not be around Nana for very long before you would hear the name of Jesus on her lips … over the course of her life she accumulated a large store of spiritual wisdom and a calm assurance in her place in Christ.
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    Rachel and Nana, 2002

  • She loved her family. Nana used to sign her letters and e-mails, “You are all my favorites.” She would seize on anything unique about each of us so that she could truthfully say (as she did to me), “Dear Favorite Grandson-in-Law” (since I am the husband of her only grand-daughter). Somehow those humorous words had power, and she made me feel as though I really was especially loved.
  • She was committed to marriage. She passionately believed that the job of each married person is to make their spouse happy, and she loved to give advice about building a good marriage (although it made her sad, after Jim Clarence had died). After many years of practice and discussion, she and Grandaddy came up with Cain’s Axioms of Marriage, shown below:
    1. Vocally and frequently declare your love.
    2. Make your spouse happy — this is your most important job and function in life!
    3. Never even look at another man or woman.
    4. Never do anything that you anticipate will be fun without including your spouse.
    5. Plan and do extra and unexpected things.
    6. If away from home, contact your spouse every day.
    7. Beware criticism of your spouse.
    8. Eschew gossip and unilateral advice.
    9. Plan and arrange time alone with your spouse.
    10. Beware “money” problems.
    11. Never compete with your spouse.
    12. Go to the same church — go regularly.
    13. Read the Bible and pray together each night.
  • She exercised self control. Although she, like many of us, struggled with her weight throughout her life, she gained some measure of victory over her body and kept faithfully to a healthy lifestyle in her last years. She swam every day when her health permitted. Many visitors will remember the thick brown bread she made and ate … yet she also knew how to enjoy a Dairy Queen blizzard from time to time. She had a strong will and knew how to apply it.
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    Nana and Sarah, 2003

  • She was a faithful communicator. Where many her age would not take the trouble to master e-mail or other advantages of modern technology, Nana learned to use e-mail early on and helped to found the ‘E-Mail Family’ (EMF). I remember teaching a week-long computer class (complete with T-Shirts) in our basement in Michigan for her and Mamie and Aunt Kate about ten years ago … Nana made such things a priority. Each morning Nana would retrieve her mail and would send out responses to yesterday’s mail, sharing her love and wisdom to her scattered friends and family. Over time the EMF grew to include a number of friends and forged a close bond among its members … it lives on as a sort of legacy to Nana.
  • She was kind. Although we inevitably disturbed her tranquility when we would visit, I never heard her speak a harsh word to any of my horde of children. She was always very affirming in the things she would say about our family, and even her rebukes were tempered with gentleness.
  • She knew how to laugh and to enjoy life. In spite of the pain of her body and her failing health, Nana lived with gusto and joy, laughing and chuckling over the antics of her great grandchildren and participating in the witty banter around the card table. Some of my best memories of Nana are of sitting at her kitchen table in Fort Clark and playing “Seven Ups and Downs” (a simple card game) with others in the family. Nana’s acerbic wit and extensive vocabulary made discourse with her a pleasure to be savored.
  • I loved her. Nana and I disagreed on a lot of things, especially in the political and social arenas … but somehow she managed to make me feel as though she still liked me, even if I was a brash young punk who didn’t know what I was talking about.

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    Cindy, Nana and Kathy, 2004

    And now Nana is with the Lord, and I can’t help feeling a little jealous. Like Paul, Nana could say:

    “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day … and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” II Timothy 4:7-8

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Sickness and Health

Tuesdays creep upon me unawares. Each week I ride the train north from Tacoma with an expression of mild bewilderment … how did another weekend pass so quickly?

Thanks to the provision of the Lord through the generosity of my employer, I have Mondays off, enjoying the luxury of a three-day weekend nearly every week. I generally spend Saturdays catching up on errands and Mondays on field trips with my kids, with Sunday stuck in between to worship my God and relax.

Last weekend I attended a planning meeting for Day Camp at Wilderness Northwest, held in the valley where I used to live, about 90 minutes from home. I decided to take the kids with me for an overnight at our old house, planning to watch movies and eat popcorn late into the night as a fun treat.

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Everyone was very impressed with the progress being made on the main lodge of the retreat center.

After the meeting I fed everyone macaroni and cheese, and then sent them outside. The kids reacquainted themselves with the old homestead and played happily on our swingset … David and Sarah in particular enjoyed the slide and the swings, while the older three joined with a neighbor girl in an elaborate game of dodge-ball on our spacious deck. My mom took them all off with her to feed the fish in the pond, and Rachel and Daniel rode the zip line a few times. When the gnats and mosquitoes finally drove us indoors, we settled in to watch a couple of movies.

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In spite of Rachel’s enthusiasm, David could not be persuaded to try the zip line again. As I recall, he holds the distinction of being the only child to fall off … a memory he apparently holds in disfavor.

After the traditional charring of the microwave popcorn, I managed to make several batches with less smoke and flames, and everyone hailed Daniel for his selection of a popcorn flavor that was buttery AND sweet. Finally I put everyone to bed, Rachel having skipped off with her friend Leanne for a sleepover. I stayed up and played a computer game and got to sleep a little after midnight, leaving the door open so I could hear if anything went bump in the night.

Around 4 am, I awoke to the distinctive noise of vomiting — a sound that strikes fear into the heart of any parent. Remembering that Sarah’s appetite had dropped off (she uncharacteristically couldn’t finish her ice cream cone) I found her sitting up in bed amidst the regurgitated remains of her dinner. Without descending into further graphic detail, an unpleasant twelve hours ensued, as Sarah demonstrated an amazing ability to vomit at the tiniest provocation. We went through all three changes of extra clothing that Kathy had thoughtfully provided, as well as two baths and innumerable sheets and towels. Hoping desperately for a little more sleep, I made the mistake of taking her into bed with me — I ended up washing even the mattress pad on my bed. Sarah lay around the house listlessly, clutching her water cup in pathetic misery, while I cursed my generous impulse to take the kids on an overnight without Kathy.

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It was some 36 hours before she was back on her feet, hands on hips, running the world again. I don’t know how we muddled through without her steady hand on the helm.

Eventually we sterilized the house as best we could (the dryer still doesn’t work, so we had to carry the many loads of wet laundry over to the cottage for drying) and made a run for home, hoping to reach the safety of our home before Sarah needed another set of clothes. Sadly, we had not even reached Hoodsport before Sarah’s stomach once again rebelled … I did the best I could with wipes and paper towels, and we continued homeward.

“Tag, you’re it!” I thought to myself as Kathy met us in the driveway, mentally consigning Sarah into Kathy’s care. She bravely stepped up to the plate, washing Sarah up and changing her into a new outfit. I was sent off to the grocery store for some Pedialyte popsicles and Seven Up, since we had begun to fear that Sarah was becoming dehydrated.

I find that I am facing work with considerable ambivalence this morning … part of me bewails the end of the weekend and the beginning of a work-week, yet another part of me breathes a sigh of relief. Sarah slept through the night without mishap (we brought her into our room in the Pack ‘N Play portable crib) but, if yesterday was any indication, Kathy could be facing an interesting day. Sitting in a clean and fresh-smelling office at a safe distance north may be exactly what I need this day.

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