Voice Activated

It’s a warm spring day.  Sunlight filters through the tinted glass windows of my truck onto my face as I stare through the windshield, navigating a sea of traffic.  In the seat behind me, my four-year-old is immersed in the world outside the truck. He sits and silently watches the scenery fly by.  His characteristical porcelain cheeks are now rosy from the warm rays and his bright blue eyes flit back and forth alonadorable-animal-canine-134392g with the changing landscape. It’s a rare quiet moment in the bustle of our daily life.  Suddenly the quiet is broken by a command from my son, “Langston’s window, go down please!”  As he finishes the line, the window begins to lower, warm air rushes in and he smiles.

I’m about six years old.  It’s a dark night in central Louisiana. My Dad has spent the last hour warning me and my little brother about the armies of alligators waiting in the darkness to eat us if we venture outside of our home.  Once we are fully convinced there is no way we will ever go outside at night again, my Dad decides Mom needs her purse out of the car, parked in the driveway.  Of course, we immediately object.   “Trust me,” he says trying not to smile, “you’ll be fine, just cluck like a chicken and the alligators will be confused and leave you alone.”

Trust is an amazing thing.  On a whim a few weeks ago I decided to convince my son the windows in our truck are voice activated.  My Dad convinced his sons that clucking like a chicken will keep you safe from alligators that stalk Louisiana suburbs. Children have no life experience to jade them. They haven’t been lied to, deceived, hurt or betrayed enough to corrupt their young hearts.  Sometimes I wish I was more like that.  I wish I could trust enough to believe even the most ridiculous things just because someone I love said them.   I wish I could trust there is a father in heaven who loves me and only wants the best for me, even though my 33-year-old heart has been corrupted.

Trust is beautiful, and so off I go into the darkness. Clucking the entire way.

 

If you wake me each morning with the sound of your loving voice,

I’ll go to sleep each night trusting in you.

Point out the road I must travel;

I’m all ears, all eyes before you

Psalms 143:7-9

Glass Beach

In 1906 an Earthquake destroyed many of the buildings in Mendocino County in Northern California.  One of those hardest hit was Fort Bragg, Ca.  When the townspeople began rebuilding they chose to dump the enormous piles of rubble onto the beach.  For the next sixty years, the beaches around Fort Bragg remained a dumping ground. The beach became an ugly wasteland of trash and debris.  Bags of trash, old appliances even entire cars were tossed onto the beach.  The beach was now no more than a foul-smelling dumpster. Finally, in the late 60’s, the dump site was moved away from the beach and cleanup projects began.  Metal, concrete, and plastics were hauled away to a new dump site, anything that could be moved away was moved.

Once everything else was hauled away, all that remained was 60 years worth of broken glass.  Coke bottles, car windshields and every other stray piece of glass tossed onto the beach had been left behind.  Surprisingly though, after years of being tossed by the waves and storms of the ocean, the glass had been reshaped.  Instead of large shards of sharp glass that would no doubt frighten off the most adventurous beach-goer, what remained of the glass was small, round and smooth.  This beach, once foul and ugly with refuse, now beautifully glistens with smooth, colorful glasglass-beachs.

Sometimes life is ugly.  Sometimes it downright stinks.  I know because I have been there. I comforted a wife for nearly ten years who could not have a child.  Then after the miracle of two children, I was once again tossed onto the rocky shoreline.  I stood at the bed of my one-month-old son and told a doctor it was okay to take him off of life support.  Life is difficult.  It can beat you down and leave you feeling like nothing more than broken glass and refuse in the sand.

What we don’t know is we are being reshaped.  Every wave that crashes squarely on my shoulder, every storm that rocks my idyllic shoreline are actually the hands of a craftsmen doing what only he can do.  Turning my ugly mess of a life into something beautiful.

Sometimes life is beautiful, even when it stinks.

 

Tee Ball

My oldest son plays Tee-ball.  Well, he’s four years old,  he doesn’t so much play Tee-ball as he does draw in the dirt with six other boys wearing the same color shirt. I decided to help out and coach the team this year considering it’s his first time in organized sports.  Although the word “organized” should probably be in quotations and taken very lightly.

I’ve never coached anything in my life so it’s been a new experience for me but very balls-baseball-close-up-1308713rewarding. As the coach, one of my responsibilities during the game is to walk the kids up to the Tee when it’s their turn at bat.  I help them with their stance and then yell, “Run!” when they hit the ball.  Then I immediately follow that with “No!  Other way!  Run to first!” as they take off in the entirely wrong direction.

It’s the middle of the second inning of our second game.  The infield is filled with impatient four-year-olds and the stands are filled with beaming parents and playful siblings.  The sounds of bats cracking, parents cheering and coaches yelling carry over from adjacent fields.
I’m standing at home plate motioning for one of our younger players to come bat.  It takes a moment but soon he saunters from the dugout, bat in hand.  As he walks toward home plate, he carefully scans the stands behind me.  Suddenly his eyes grow wide and he sprints the final distance.
“Coach Justin!”  He exclaims as he tugs on my shirt, “My Nanna is here! Can I go say hello and give her a hug?”   He grins and his focus alternates between me and the stands as he waits on my response.
At that moment I have two choices.
Option 1:  I’m the coach and this is a ball game.  There are 10 other kids on the field waiting for us to hit so I say, “Why don’t you just wave at her and then after you hit you can see her.” This is the practical choice the responsible adult choice.
Option 2: I’m a dad and this is simply a four-year-old boy who wants to hug his Nanna, so I say, “Of course you can! Run out there!”
Let’s just say Nanna did not have to wait for her hug, instead, two Tee ball teams stopped in the middle of a game to let a little boy hug his grandmother.
Sometimes the world is beautiful, especially through the eyes of a four-year-old.

Baggage Claim

I’m at the airport.  I’m only waiting for someone to arrive I’m not
actually going anywhere.  It’s a unique perspective, waiting. Typically at the airport, you’re hurried and anxious.  You have security screening and
baggage checking, you have to locate your gate and pray the screaming
baby you pass is on another flight.  Today, however, I am onlairport-architecture-dawn-227690y a spectator.  I’m an outside observer and what I see is beautiful.

Cars pull up to the curb and families step out.  Travelers with their
baggage smile broadly and hug their loved ones.  They lean down and kiss the
small children and caress the infants.  An elderly father extends his hand to his grown son for a handshake only to be pulled in for a hug as both men laugh.

Ahead of me, people are arriving.

They walk out of the baggage claim all
smiles to world outside filled with outstretched arms.  At the end of the roadway, a
young girl holds a small bouquet of flowers for her grandmother.  She
is patient at first as her grandmother slowly makes her way
toward them. Soon her excitement overcomes her and she rushes
towards her grandmother.  Tiny legs eliminate the distance between them in seconds and
she wraps her arms around her grandmother.  They too embrace.

I wonder how many times I’ve passed right through this same display without
blinking.  I sit and think how amazing these moments are and how
wonderful that I’ve caught a glimpse.  A window into a world filled with love and care, excitement and hope for the future,  well-wishes and hearty greetings.

In the moment, I smile. I recognize my wife pulling her too-large suitcase and
smiling through her exhaustion.  And so I too join the cast in this familiar expression of humanity.  I smile and embrace my wife.  As I release her I hope to myself that someone else is waiting for a loved one and notices our embrace, sees the beauty in this
unconventional place and smiles.

Solitus Sum

Solitus Sum: I have been accustomed.

It’s 10:45 am on a Tuesday.  I’m standing at yet another park watching my rambunctious toddlers race through a maze of colorful plastic playground.  My oldest son flies down the slide with a scream and wood chips scatter as his feet hit the ground.  He looks over at me for approval.  I smile and then look back down at the screen in my hands.  A small brown and yellow bird lands next to my youngest son who exclaims, “Buud!” as he shuffles towards it with arms outstretched.  I smile at him as the bird lifts into the sky and then I once again look down at the glowing light in my palm.abandoned-grass-light-571249

I have become accustomed to my life. I assume these moments are ubiquitous, when in reality they are unique.  I am not intentionally ignoring life as it blows by me in a flash of color, it’s just that I have become accustomed to it.  It happened over time.  Little by little amazing moments became routine.

One of my favorite excerpts is from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on Nature.  “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!”

It’s easy to become accustomed to seeing the stars every night and miss their beauty.  This blog is my attempt to force myself to notice the beauty in every day moments.