Some Days…

Are Better than Others

 

Some days you wake up and you’re at the ranch. You poke your head into Evan’s room and he’s already looking out the window toward the rising sun. “PoP! PoP! We’re at the ranch!”

Some days you have to decide what to do first – go hunt for arrowheads on Arrowhead Hill, go for a ride in the Old Gray Jeep, go for a ride in the Beef (our 1976 Chevy with 40,000 original miles, no AC, no radio, barely a clutch), go up to the ruins of the Lasater House and look down the rock well to see if we can see the bottom this time. Or we could walk down to the CCC (Colorful Christian Clubhouse) to explore the big crack in the floor and jump up and down on the rusty scale that makes the coolest screeching noise.

Some days you have big decisions about food. We might go into Three Rivers to visit the “Chinese Food & Donuts” bakery for breakfast.  Later on we’ll make a run to Dairy Queen for Blizzards and a Peanut Buster Parfait which PoP! will share with Mommy, as he has since she was Evan’s age.

Some days, chores await! So we climb onto the tractor and do a little mowing or just ride around making all kinds of noises. Or we go find a hammer and find something that needs hammering. Like a big sheet of rusty tin.

Some days, the river calls us and we climb up Treebeard toward PoP’s! old treehouse.

Then we sit by the river and throw sticks into the slow current, and look for alligators and dinosaurs.

Stories follow. PoP! starts them, and Evan serves as script doctor, adding his own storylines.

Some days we go down to the Oakville Town Square where we find an old truck and go for a joy ride to the moon and back.

Some days are good.

Some days are better.

And some days, I get to be with Evan on the ranch.

 

Slow Ride, Full Heart

Finding Joy with Evan in First Gear

 

“Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy —

to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work,” — Kierkegaard (1843) 

 

When I go to the ranch it usually takes me a day or so to loosen up, to let go of the death grip I have on my busy life. That’s when I don’t have Evan in tow. When Lauren and I are down there by ourselves I have a little too much time to think about—and feel guilty about—what I’m not doing. I actually have to work at letting go, relaxing. Maybe you can relate.

On the other hand, when Evan is with me, our busyness is play. Just ask my nephew Wes (pictured above). He gave Evan his very first ride on a tractor.

Joy is the serious business of heaven.

C. S. Lewis

While I’m pretty good at juggling anxieties, keeping those worry plates spinning, I find it next to impossible to balance time on the tractor with Evan and my worries over the budget for my department back at DTS. Climbing the windmill, or tossing a line in the river to try to snag a catfish, or “going on explores” do not comport well with my gradebook, or my next committee report. My “professional life” takes a temporary back seat and I let Evan drive.

Great masses of people these days live out their lives in a dull and loveless stupor. Sensitive persons find our inartistic manner of existence oppressive and painful, and they withdraw from sight…I believe what we lack is joy.

The ardor that a heightened awareness imparts to life, the conception of life as a happy thing, as a festival… But the high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.

Herman Hesse

May I suggest, as I have before, that we take time for the little joys. They will, unless you stop to offer them a ride, allow you to pass them by. They will outgrow you. It isn’t the other way around. Look in the rearview mirror and they are gone. And once those unattended joys are grown and out the door, and the neglected opportunities lay discarded along the side of the road, you will be left with the sure knowledge that the thing you were pursuing all along went missing somehow — and it was standing right there, right there, all along. Waiting for you to say, “climb on up and let’s go shred some brush.”

Here’s a link to a very short movie clip—first time I’ve tried this, so let me know if it doesn’t work. It’s of Evan and his uncle Wes going for Evan’s first ever ride on “Max the Trac.” Max was Dad’s name. We spent a lot of tractor time together.

2017 3 March iPhone .MOV 3119

So Long

Why 10 Miles Feels Like 10 Light Years

Ranch Sunset Windmill

 

I knew this was coming. I’d been preparing for it for a few months. In some ways that made it harder.

When the day finally arrived, I wasn’t home. I was in Tahiti trying not to think that, as Lauren and I were snorkeling for the first time ever off the coral reefs of Bora Bora, Evan was being tucked into his carseat and transported to his new home down the road a ways.

Our wise and kind daughter, Rosalyn, had planned it this way. So we wouldn’t have to be there to see them go. She knows how much PoP! here loves to get Evan up in the morning – every morning. For 2 1/2 years I’ve tiptoed up to his door and listened for him to stir, or talk to himself, or sing the Evan and PoP! song. It was the same every morning. I would say, “Hey!” Evan would respond with “Hey you” and then I would go in for hugs, kisses, prayers, the Apostle’s Creed (yes!), and maybe a story.

I love my kids. But it’s different with grandkids. Joy. Freedom from some of the worries that haunt first-timers – also known as parents. I don’t know. I do know that when he looks up at me he sees his PoP! and not a parent. That when he asks for a “combination” (conversation) he prefers more of a monologue – about riding down to the ranch on a big red firetruck with a silver light made out of a magic peach that lights up the magical windmill rocketship with blades that spin so, so fast and sparkly (red, blue, green, yellow, and vermillion) that it takes off for the moon where we meet green moon-men and drink green moon-juice and then fly back through the stars and down through the clouds to land just as Mommy steps out on the back porch with a plate full of warm cookies and ice-cold milk and vanilla ice cream.

His room is empty. The bed is gone. The toys are packed away for the most part.

I walk out onto our deck that juts out into the back yard and I notice a couple of tennis balls hiding away under the sweet potato vine that blankets the rock fountain – two that Evan swung at and missed. He always swings. No such thing as taking a pitch. And I notice the bare spot where he always stood, bat in hand, is starting to grow over with fresh Emerald Zoisia.

The grass, the bat and balls, the bedroom. The house. The front porch rocking chairs. They are reserved for visits now. Now Evan and Ollie (my nickname for Rosalyn) live in her newly renovated home.

Just down the road a bit.

Ten  light years away.

 

For Evan on Father’s Day, 2016

My Pop and the Time we Talked

Reg's first Buck

Evan, you didn’t get to know your great grandpa—my Pop—but he was a great man in my eyes.  Pop taught me, among many things, to hunt. There wasn’t a lot of talk about anything. He was a man of spare words, so in that regard (and in many others) we were pretty different. We didn’t talk about life, or football, or why I was deathly afraid to kiss my first girlfriend, LU. With Pop it was all about what was going on right then and there. In this case, the hunt—how to stalk, how to track a wounded buck until you found him, how not to let noisy thorn bushes scrape your jeans. How to walk ten slow steps, pause and look. And wait. And then to hunt until you got back to the truck, because if you stopped before you opened the truck door, that’s when a big one would jump and run.

Falling asleep—though it was 5:30 a.m. and still dark as a javelina den at midnight—was strictly forbidden and besides that, it was unprofessional. By the way, the rules changed a little over the years. When Pop was about my age now, we would take naps on the shady bank of the Nueces. Most things, including all sports and any curricular or extra curricular activities were to be approached in the same all-or-nothing, do-the-very-best-you-can professional attitude. But winning wasn’t everything to Pop by a long shot. In fact, doing your best while losing showed more character than an effortless victory. Pop didn’t talk it. He lived it, day-to-day.

But there was this one time, Evan, when Pop and I talked on a hunt. This poem is about my Pop and me, but it’s for you. Because what my Pop held in his hand on that hunt, I hold in mine. I held it for your mom. I held it for my boys, your Tio Niko and Giaccomo. And I hold it for you for the all the days ahead.

Love,

PoP!

“Things to Come”
You sat with me while hunting deer
Beneath the big oak tree
You cupped a secret in your palm
And wouldn’t let me see
“You know what I have here?” you asked
“A bug? An arrowhead?”
You looked again and smiled a bit
And “nope” was all you said.
“I don’t know, Pop. Can I see now?’
You held the secret near
You nodded at the whisperings
I wanted so to hear.
“I hold you in my hand, my son,
I hold your dreams unbound.”
Then with a wink, you showed to me
The secret small and round
“Now here’s a forest in my palm
A thousand trees I hold
Ten thousand promises to keep
And stories yet untold.”
“This mighty oak at riverside
Began smaller than you
But God has blessed and God has grown
This oak as He will you.”
Now if you want to grow up tall
And straight and strong and grand
Remember that you started small
In God our Father’s hand.

Merry Christmas – Even Though…

Some Days, the Bed has Two Wrong Sides

"Merry Christmas!" – even though...

“Merry Christmas!” – even though…

It all started when I dropped my “Boppy” blanket over the edge of my crib when it was still way dark. Then, when I said “Uh-oh,” my “Paci” fell out and landed on top of Boppy! Way down there on the floor!

Thankfully, it was closer to getting up time than I thought, and PoP! shows up right on cue. It’s the same every morning. I hear him waiting on the other side of my bedroom door, then the password – a soft, “Hey!” from PoP! I counter with my own “Hey!” to which PoP! responds, “Hey you!” I say, “Hey you!” back, and then the door flies open and in comes PoP!

“Merry Christmastime, Evan! So, how’s my boy, this morning? Did Jesus give you sweet dreams?”

I’m understandably upset over the lost Boppy/Paci fiasco, and can only whine a half-hearted, “memmy cizmuzzz”. And to complicate things, my diaper is so full, PoP! has trouble carrying me to the changing table where SOMEONE forgot to put on the coverlet, so it’s just ice cold plastic. The butt paste is like ice, the talcum powder makes me sneeze, and the sticky part of my new diaper didn’t quite close the gap.

OK, I tell myself, it’s time for breakfast and – and… I can’t make up my mind. Cheerios? Pankcakes? No, I decide on chocolate and peanut butter cookies! PoP! doesn’t understand. Lolly tries to explain that chocolate and cookies are not on the breakfast menu, and Mommy says, “what am I, crazy?” So, it’s Cheerios.

Then – surprise! I get to go to Mothers Day Out for a special Christmas Program! And I’m thinking, “A change of pace would do me good! I’ll bet Miss Sarah and Miss Tara will give me some cookies once Mom is out of sight!”

But no.

They have these conformist “Christmas T-shirts” they want me to put over my comfortable green shirt. “C’mon, Evan, you’ll be so cute!” Ugh. I thought, “I march to the beat of my own little drummer boy. Plus I’m feeling a little overwhelmed – maybe a little performance anxiety plus another full diaper. I don’t know.”

Then, it’s time to sing! And it’s loud! And, well, as you can see from the photo, I kind of lose it. All the kids are singing about Jesus in a manger, and I’m wondering if He ever had a day like this. I wonder if He ever had to wear something that wasn’t fun. Or if He ever cried, or felt like he didn’t fit in.

One thing, I know because Mommy, and PoP! and Lolly say so – Jesus loves me no matter how I feel. Plus, Christmas is only 4 night-night times away. And tomorrow, my uncles, Giaccomo and Tio Niko get here from their home in Brooklyn!

It may be Monday, but Friday is coming!

Plus, cookies!

Seeing Eye to Eye

Why Conversations are Way Better than Digital Connections

PoP! & Evan - Face Time

PoP! & Evan – Face Time

Evan and I have stopped something and started something. What we’ve stopped: “doing pictures.” Well, not completely, but mostly. In Evan-speak “doing pictures” means pulling out my iPhone or iPad and looking at pictures in my photo software. Sounds harmless, right? You could even say we’re sharing time together. Not really. “Doing Pictures” is a second cousin to watching TV “together.” The only real thing we are “sharing” is a screen.

I started taking note of the time we spend face to face, looking one another in the eye while “doing pictures.” The ONLY time we looked at each other was when I said, “OK, Evan, look at PoP! I’m going to count to 10 and then we are going to put away the pictures for awhile.” He glances at me and (usually) says “OK.” Then it’s back to the pictures for the final countdown. Total Face Time: 2 seconds (maybe).

What we’ve started: “conversation.” In Evan-speak it comes out “combination,” which is close to what happens when we converse. When we look each other in the eye, we “combine” in ways that even the best high-res Gorilla Glass won’t accommodate. When Lauren (“Lolly”) or I (PoP!) do something nice for him we tell him to say, “thanks, Lolly!”

It didn’t take long for “Thanks, Lolly” to slip into a perfunctory and obligatory monosyllabic grunt, “tayayee” – I know it looks like three syllables, but trust me – it’s barely one. So now I say, “Evan, look me in the eye and say, “thanks, PoP!” He turns his head to face me, puts his face about two inches from my face, opens his eyes as wide as the world and says in a strong, clear voice, “THANK YOU, POP!”

At this stage of his development, that little exchange is still pretty efficient. But the time will come when Evan is capable of carrying on complex, messy conversations that will be anything but tidy. That’s the nature of human relationships. You need face time to explore the rabbit trails, to read the inarticulate messages in your partner’s eyes and body language. Our iPhones reduce the uncomfortable  verbal wanderings and the pregnant silences into editable text that allows us to avoid the wrinkles in our relationships. Everything comes out smooth as a plastic plate.

According to Sherry Turkle, the insightful author of Reclaiming Conversation: the Power of Talk in a Digital Age, 

When we clean [human relationships] up with technology, we move from conversation to the efficiencies of mere connection…. In the past 20 years we’ve seen a 40% decline in the markers for empathy among college students. Most of it within the past ten years. It is a trend that researchers link to the presence of digital communications.”

ReclaimingConversation_3d

Her book is worth a long, slow read. Turkle will encourage you to return to (or establish) relational oases of conversation. You’ll find yourself combining with your partner in ways that will surprise and delight you! And you will discover not only the lost art of conversation, but the deeper, richer relationship that waits on the other side of the digital divide.

September Joy…

Evan's First Rangers Game with PoP!

Evan & Mommy

You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time. – Jim Bouton

I’ve been waiting for yesterday for a long time. Yesterday, September 11, 2015 I got to take Evan to his first Rangers Baseball Game. Lolly (Lauren/Grandma) and Mommy (our daughter, Rosalyn) completed our little family team. The weather dipped into the 80’s, which qualifies as a norther in Dallas in early September! If you click on this link (Evan’s First Rangers Game!), you’ll see our happy dance at the end of the game! It was a little iffy taking a 2 1/2 year-old to the game, but I thought, “We’ll chance it and see what happens.”

An older gentleman sitting behind me noticed I was teaching Evan to pound my old leather baseball glove – the one I had played with when I was 12-going-on-Bobby Richardson. I had my nose buried deep in the pocket breathing in the memories of a thousand line drives – when I heard, “Sir? Excuse me?” I looked behind me and this white-haired fellow asked, “I was just wondering how old that glove of yours is?” I had to think for a minute. Then it hit me. “Over 50 years,” I said.

50 years. Goodness.

My glove isn’t very big. But it has been big in my life. I was in the gospel of Luke this morning, reading one of those passages you’ve all read a thousand times: the parable of the mustard seed growing rapidly into a large “tree” in which birds of the air alight. Nobody, looking at a not-so-big mustard seed, could predict what it would become – a 12-foot tall plant! The Apostle Paul makes a similar point in 1 Corinthians 15:37, 40 where he contrasts our earthly bodies with the resurrection bodies to come:

And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare seed—perhaps of wheat or something else… And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly body is one sort and the earthly another. (NET)

The kingdom of God had humble beginnings. Likewise, we share the imposed humility of being human, which is part of Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15. And nobody living in Luke’s day – decades after the death of Jesus and the birth of the church – could have imagined the exponential growth of the church as an expression of God’s kingdom over the course of those years.

I thought of Eliot’s Four Quartets, “East Coker” in particular –

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility. Humility is endless. – T. S. Eliot

As I held Evan, I drank in the coolness of the evening, the smell of the green diamond, and felt the torn leather texture of my old baseball glove. I thanked Jesus for His kindness. For His humility in life and death (Philippians 2). For His resurrection, and for the gift of eternal life.

Evan isn’t very big. But he’s big in my life. I wonder at the potential, the kingdom-life that is bound up in his heart. I’ll coach him in baseball. I’ll coach him in life. And one of these days, a few years down the line, I’ll give him my glove.

And we’ll see what happens.

 

Young Owls – Herbert and Evan Share the Wonder

2015 4 April 6 Baby Owl at Home

A couple of days ago, Rosalyn came running in from the front porch saying, “Dad, dad, come quick!” I ran outside with here and looked to my right to see a baby owl perched on our porch rail, staring right at us, and appearing to be perfectly at peace. After a mutual and friendly exchange of looks, Evan wanted to get closer. I grew up on a ranch and have seen a lot of wildlife in various stages of growth – from birth all the way to death. But I’ve never seen or been this close to a baby owl, so I was a little apprehensive about letting him get too close. Those talons were sharp, and that beak looked lethal! But beyond clacking his beak a couple of times, it never demonstrated the least bit of fear. We were all fascinated and stayed with our new owl friend for a good half hour. Lauren dubbed him “Herbert, son of Hooty and Hazel” the two permanent residents of the hollowed out tree in our neighbor’s front yard.

Finally, Lauren, Ros, and Evan went back inside, and I was left alone with Herbert. He jumped/flew over to the small pecan in front of the porch, and then sailed down to the flower bed. His mom (I think it was Hazel) flew in to perch above him. I thought, how in the world is he going to launch off the ground and get all the way up to his mom? Well, he didn’t fly – he climbed! I’ve never seen an owl climb a tree before, but, as you can see, Herbert is quite the little Owl-sherpa! Glad I was there to witness it, and to share it with you.

2015 4 April 6 Baby Owl at Home

It made me wonder about the relationship between innocence and wisdom. Neither Herbert nor Evan are mature enough to have attained the kind of wisdom based on experience, but their shared innocence can instruct those of us who cherish wisdom. We can learn that there’s something precious, and fearless, and welcoming in the unfettered curiosity of those who have yet to be burned. While I don’t want to be naive in my exploration of new things, neither do I want to lose the childlike innocence, and that primal impulse to embrace the unfamiliar,  to welcome it and to share the wonder of a new discovery.

2015 4 April 6 Baby Owl at Home

Haiku for You

I’ve been celebrating our grandson, Evan with you via prose. Here are a few little haiku verses that cast our relationship in a more poetic vein. Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that requires a 5-7-5 syllable structure (5 on the first line, 7 on the second, 5 on the third). Traditional haiku follow a theme of the seasons or nature. Mine expand on those themes a bit!

 

2015 3 March Lauren, Ros, Evan, Reg

PoP! and Evan Hunting for Treasures on the Ranch

“PoP! Come on, let’s go!”

“Go where, Evan? ‘Let’s go’ where?”

“Let’s go everywhere!”

2015 3 March Lauren, Ros, Evan, Reg

Evan’s Fave Ranch Ride: the OGJ (Old Green Jeep)!

“Jeep! Jeep! Jeep! Jeep! Jeep!”

Evan on my lap: “Contact!”

Turn the key, aaannnnd – GO!

2004 11 November 28 Fellowship Class Moon Sunrise 18 - 2004-11-28 19-55-42

The World Famous Magical Windmill Rocketship

Evan: “Hi Windmill!”

Again, louder: “HI WINDMILL!”

(He might not have heard)

2015 3 March Lauren, Ros, Evan, Reg

From Here to There (and Back Again)!

Evan: Earth Mover!

Excavates joy and laughter

Treasures all around!

The Art of Heartful Living

image

Being on the ranch is always good. I enjoy getting out of Dallas and picking up a chainsaw or a grubbing hoe; one or both are always waiting for me here on the ranch. It’s a different world – a different kind of work – from my teaching at DTS, and it’s good for me.

But being on the ranch with Evan, our nearly 2-year-old grandson, is a different story. Work takes a back seat as the Nueces River becomes the “Great Gray-Green Greasy Limpopo” from Kipling’s, The Elephant’s Child. The ancient river oak takes on the visage and voice of Tolkien’s, Treebeard. There’s treasure buried under one of the great sandstone boulders at the bluff; and the rusty old windmill becomes a magical rocket ship with blades spinning so fast that sparks fly, and it takes off to the moon, where we eat green cheese, drink green moon-water, and return home in time for warm chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies, and cold milk before night-night time.

Yep, the ranch is a different story when Evan is riding on my lap in the OGJ (Old Gray Jeep), turning the wheel, yelling at the top of his lungs, “HI WINDMILL!” and waving as we pass by (every time), then looking up at me and putting his hand on my face.

He will ride ANY vehicle with wheels attached. He will walk up to ANY truck, tractor, car, or jeep on the place, joyfully point out the lug nuts and then ask to get inside. We will sit in my silver Tacoma (named HiYo!) as it is parked, engine off (in view of the windmill) pretending to drive, with me making appropriate engine noises and shifting sounds (the gears tend to grind) – for 45 minutes! Then, when we get out (“Evan, PoP’s going to count to 10, then we have to go inside to eat supper!”), he will stand beside the front fender, patting it gently and saying, “By-by, HiYo!”

Where does this fascination with all things “truck” come from? I haven’t a clue. Nor do I care. Because it’s time spent holding Evan in my lap. Making truck noises. Spinning yarns as we watch the spinning blades of the old windmill. Teaching him to climb up into the welcoming arms of Treebeard. And just sit. And be.

That is the art of heartful living.