Apple Peels

apple-apples-background-583841Every once in a while I think about death, usually when I am peeling an apple.  It sounds odd I know but let me explain.  There is a scene in Sleepless in Seattle when Tom Hanks’ Character, Sam, is talking with his young son Jonah.  Jonah tells his dad he is starting to forget his mom, who recently passed away.  Sam begins to tell his son things about her, to help him remember.  One of the things he says is, “She could peel an apple in one long, curly strip.”

For some reason, that scene has always stuck with me.   Now, every time I peel an apple, I think about Death. And even more specifically, I think about my own death. I wonder, what my sons will remember about me when I am gone.  I wonder what my wife would tell them to help them remember the little things about me.

Will they remember me as kind, compassionate, loving, affectionate, honest, trustworthy?  Will they think of me and remember my smile?   Will they remember me reading to them at bedtime or chasing them on the playground, teaching them to ride a bike or play guitar? Will they remember Nerf battles, hide-n-seek, and pillow fights?

I worry instead,  they will remember me as distracted, distant or disconnected.  I worry they will remember my face in a cell phone, or more recently, a video game.  I worry they will remember my flaws, my faults, and my failures because there are so many.

I worry that, like Jonah, they will forget me, and that is even worse.

Sometimes I need these little reminders.  I need to peel apples so they remind me to make the most of my time here.  To live so that when I am gone, my family will remember me, remember adventures, smiles, and laughter.  To impress upon them everything I can now, and maybe when I am gone those impressions will last.  Maybe they will laugh while they reminisce about my quirks and idiosyncrasies.  And maybe one day, they will even remember the pensive look on my face as I peel an apple, in one long, curly strip.

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” -Ernest Hemingway

 

Bedtimes and Roller Coasters

I’m standing in the hallway watching my wife tiptoe into our oldest son’s room.  Her hair almost glows from the deep gold light of the Minecraft lamp on the dresser.  She leans low, one hand pulling her hair away from her face while the other steadies on the edge of the bed.  As she bends to kiss his rosy cheek, I stand in awe.  It’s a beautiful moment.  A mother expressing her affection for a son who is completely unaware.

Twenty minutes before this sweet moment I was exasperated.  I had spent the better part of an hour arguing with a six-year-old about bedtime.  No matter what time our routine begins, it inevitably goes off course.  Bargaining for more snacks, one more video game, more time playing Legos, additional bathroom breaks, and of course at least one attempt to sneak from his bed into the living room and hide behind the sofa unseen, all bring the bedtime routine from a relaxing wind-down to an all-out battle.

There is a roller coaster at Six Flags over Texas called The New Texas Giant.  Before it was known as The New Texas Giant, it was simply The Texas Giant.  “New” was added to the moniker in 2011 when the enormous coaster underwent a remodel, replacing the old wooden tracks with steel.  I was fortunate enough to ride the coaster before the remodel.  The coaster was boisterous, to say the least.  As the car ascended the first hill, chains clanked, wooden beams creaked and the car shook violently.   The wild ascent would culminate in the car reaching the top of the first hill and stopping for a split second before smoothly gliding down the hill at breakneck speed.  After a few moments of flying effortlessly down the track, the coaster would turn violent once more.  It would shake, rumble and roar as it attempted to climb hill after hill only to glide silently and smoothly down each hill.

roller-coaster-1209490_1920

There are moments as a parent when I feel my world is shaking violently.  Kids scream, argue,  and fight.  They are messy, stubborn, irrational and loud.  Some moments I wonder why I got on the rollercoaster, to begin with.  Then, there are moments like last night.   Moments when the ride is smooth and my face is plastered with a smile.  Moments when I forget about the commotion, the noise and I am reminded of why I took this ride.

I hope in the crazy moments, the loud, boisterous, annoying moments, I remember how worthwhile it all is.  I hope I can remind myself of the smooth descent ahead.  I hope I remember that, eventually, the ride will be over and not only will I miss those smooth moments of quiet joy, but I will miss the loud, wild, world-shaking moments as well.  Because eventually, wooden coasters become steel, children become adults and I become too old to ride the roller coaster.

“How many times have you noticed that it’s the little quiet moments in the midst of life that seem to give the rest extra-special meaning?” – Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers

 

 

 

Unpublished.

One of the many blog posts that have been sitting unpublished in my drafts for almost two years.  It’s incomplete but as I read it, I remembered the moment and it made me smile.

Fireworks.  July 2016

It’s just past dusk on an unusually cool July night.  The dark green grass is covered by a small blanket beneath us.  We sit, eyes toward the night sky expectant.  Finally, there is an explosion of light in the sky above us followed by a chorus of  “Oooh” from the crowd around us.  Everyone stands in awe of the sight as one after another, fireworks breblast-bright-celebration-666988ak the starry night sky.  Everyone except for Emerson. His fragile arms are wrapped tightly around his mother’s neck, gripping tighter and tighter with every thundering blast. As the show wears on, slowly his expression changes from horror to amusement.  Even though his face beamed with a smile by the finale, his arms still clung tight to his mother’s neck.

But when I am afraid,
    I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
    I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?

Psalms 56:3

 

Life

54950030It’s been nearly two years since my last post.  There are nearly a dozen blog posts sitting in my drafts incomplete that I have failed to finish while two years of life flew by.  Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, vacations, jobs and more have passed since my last post.  As my life settles into a routine, I feel as if I have failed to notice the stars again.  I am overlooking those amazing moments in day to day life that should inspire me.  My son welcoming me home with open arms and a smile, my wife sitting in the car next to me and placing her hand on mine, or any one of the million magical little moments I dismiss as mundane.  I think it’s time I begin to find excitement in the everyday again.

In the Storm

I haven’t posted in a while.  It’s not because I haven’t wanted to, it’s simply a matter of time.  I’m in my final few months at Iowa State University, finishing an Undergraduate Degree in Biology. I’ve busied myself with classes, prepping for and taking the GRE and applying to Graduate programs.

The path has been long and sometimes I lose sight, not only of where I’m going but of how I got to this point.   The past few months have been especially difficult, filled with uncertainty of the future, but I was reminded yesterday of the beginning of this journey. I decided to read through the CarePage entries I wrote during Emerson’s stay in the hospital.  As I read through them, one stood out.  It was written five days before we made a gut-wrenching decision to remove Emerson from life support.  It reminded me to trust God, even when the path seems uncertain.

August 24th, 2013

“The wise man in the storm prays God not for safety from danger but for deliverance from fear.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The early morning light hasn’t yet reached the dark woods. I can hear my dad’s boots crunching in the fallen leaves ahead of me and my brother fidgeting with his bow behind me. Occasionally my dad will turn and whisper directions to us, “Watch out for this low branch” or “be careful, the path is steep here” otherwise we walk in silence. Somehow in the pitch black morning, my dad knows where he is going. It doesn’t make us any less afraid of thback-light-conifers-dark-164018e darkness. It doesn’t keep us from jumping at every owl that hoots or every pair of raccoon eyes we spot near the path. We are both afraid, at 10 and 12 years old though we would never admit it. We are afraid, but still, we follow deeper into the woods. We trust somehow Dad can see into the darkness. We trust that he knows the path so well he doesn’t need sunlight illuminating it. We trust him, and despite our fears, we walk through the pitch black woods.

Emerson is doing better today, not much change which is a good thing. With all of the problems, he has had it’s amazing how tough and resilient he is. Most of us wouldn’t do so well considering he is now fighting a bacterial infection, a viral infection, meningitis, and pneumonia in addition to Chronic Lung Disease.

We were able to cradle him a little today. Not pick him up out of his bed but at least put a hand on his head and belly. We stood there watching his chest move in and out to the whir of the ventilator amazed at the life God created and placed in our care. We are doing our best to trust God through this, but sometimes its hard to trust. When the path is dark and the woods are frightening it’s easy to lose faith. I have to remind myself to trust God knows the path, he is the one who laid it in place after all. And every once in a while, if I walk quietly, I will hear him whisper, “be careful, the path is steep here”.

Proverbs 3:5
Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track

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.