Trouble Letting Go

“Wanna walk side by side a while
Just a few blocks up 7th Ave
By the time we hit the park
You’re gonna be too old to wanna hold my hand
It feels so good I’ll have trouble letting go”

Trouble Letting Go, The Avett Brothers                                                              Songwriters: Scott Yancey Avett / Timothy Seth Avett / Robert William Crawford Jr.

I am sitting in a hospital waiting room before dawn listening to the Octonauts theme song blaring from the wall-mounted television. The bright fluorescents are almost profane at such an early hour. I close my eyes hoping when I open them the brightness will subside.  It doesn’t. 

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My youngest son is having surgery. Countless forms and signatures, check-ins and waiting before he’s in a hospital bed, his tiny frame lost in a tangle of monitors and IV.  The nurse gives him some red liquid to drink, a mild sedative to calm him before he leaves.  A few minutes later, he is smiling but his bright eyes have a dull, heavy haze to them.  Finally, the nurse comes and unlocks the wheels to the bed with an authoritative stamp of her foot.  We hold his hands until the last moment, and he is pulled down the hall toward the operating room. With heavy hearts and worried minds, his mom and I both let go. 

That is always the hardest part, the “letting go.”

And lately, it seems like parenting is various stages of letting go.  When he was a baby, we only let go long enough for him to sleep.  Then we were letting go at daycare, at overnight stays at grandparents. But soon it will be letting go of the bike, letting go to elementary school, sleepovers with friends., middle school, high school.  Letting go to drive, work,  date…More and more letting go, and to be honest, I have trouble letting go.

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In the end,  I realize there is some good in letting go.  I understand life is sometimes like a paper boat on a river, it only moves when we let go.  So even though I have trouble, I will eventually let him go to dream, to hope, to be his own man. I will be letting go so he can make his own path down the river and I will hope he doesn’t let go of the memories, the laughter,  and the lessons as he does.

For now, though, he is still young enough to wanna hold my hand, so I am not letting go just yet.

Learning

“The years teach much which the days never know.” –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have always loved learning.  I love finding some new amazing piece of information.  In school, I loved the feeling of accomplishment that came when mastering some new topic or challenge.

Learning doesn’t stop as you become an adult.  It simply changes. As an adult, the lessons I learn are not about Mitochondria, Colonialism or Algebra but most often about myself.  And take it from me, it is not easy to learn about yourself.

It’s not easy because sometimes you don’t like what you learn.  Recently, the years have taught me that I can be selfish, moody, angry, lazy, hurtful, impatient and unwilling to change.  They have taught me that I am not as creative, smart or talented as I sometimes think I am.

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So what do I do with the knowledge I have gained about myself?  Do I accept that the years have made this of me? Or do I take what the years have taught me about myself and use it to make my days better?

I choose the latter.  I choose to acknowledge my faults, failures, and shortcomings over these past three decades and do my damndest to be better today.  Does that mean I won’t act selfishly today?  Of course, I will be selfish, but I will also strive to be generous.   I will still be angry but I will try hard to deal with it in positive ways.

I will work at learning from the years so that my days are better.  So that in decades ahead the years find that I am generous, kind, caring, hard-working, patient and accommodating.  I hope they find that I am a good parent, husband, and person…. in spite of myself.

Hand-me-down (a short story)

shoes-1560610_1920Koda waited anxiously for his name to be called, his feet tucked tightly under his desk.  It was something he did, almost a compulsion. He did it to hide his shoes. They were hand-me-downs, like nearly everything else in his wardrobe, and at least a size too big. They used to be white with a long blue stripe down the side but now were yellow from age and dirt. Even when they were bright-white and new, they were ugly shoes. They were the cheapest, blandest, sneakers you could buy at Walmart. He knew because he was there when his parents bought them for his older brother.  

Koda looked down at his shoes as he repositioned them under his desk. The left shoe had a new lace, white and clean which looked out of place on the worn shoe, especially compared to the right shoe with its old frayed lace. Why his mother hadn’t replaced both laces he could never understand.  He had asked her to, she simply smiled, gave him a curious look and replied very matter-of-factly that he only needed one.

The first day of school was always the hardest for Koda.  Everyone came in their new clothes. Brand name jeans with strategically placed rips, t-shirts with famous logos, and of course, their new shoes.  Koda noticed shoes. All of the unblemished, new shoes shuffling down the halls made his yellowed hand-me-downs all the dirtier in comparison.

The first day also meant ice-breakers, introductions, and stupid little scavenger hunts for things around the classroom like the recycle bin and class rules chart.  He hated the thought of standing up in front of the class, mumbling his name and an interesting fact about himself. At least he had gotten a seat at the back of the class, thanks to a little bit of understanding from his dad.

Koda begged his dad the night before to drop him off extra early.  His argument had been that their car was old, loud and ugly. His dad had laughed and insisted he liked the ugly old car but Koda persisted, and even though his argument hadn’t been eloquent, it had worked.  When they pulled up to the school, Koda thought his dad looked sad. As he reached for the door handle, his dad had put his large hand on Koda’s shoulder and looked him in his eyes.  Koda could tell it was important because his dad wasn’t smiling and his dad was always smiling. Smiling, laughing and telling stupid jokes that made him laugh and smile even more. Koda wouldn’t admit it but he loved his dad’s stupid jokes. But in that moment, his dad looked serious.  He pulled Koda toward him just an inch, still staring directly into his eyes like he was going to tell him a secret. After a moment, his dad took a deep breath and said, “Koda, you matter.  Not the car you drive or the shoes you wear. But you, you matter.”  His dad had poked the middle of his chest with his large index finger as he said the last two words.  

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Now, sitting in the back of the class, hiding his shoes and waiting for his name to be called, he remembered his dad’s words, “you matter.”  His chest began to pulse where his Dad’s enormous finger had poked him. He could feel it growing warmer with each pulse until it was radiating from his chest and spreading slowly through his body.  The warmth had reached his knees when his name was called. He passed neat rows of plastic desks and didn’t even notice the shoes beneath them. By the time he stood in front of the class, the warmth had reached the tips of his toes, filling his whole body.

He stood at the front of the class, smiled his dad’s smile and said proudly, “Hi, My name is Koda.”

Wiener Dogs and Traffic Jams

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It’s over 100 degrees outside but feels much hotter sitting in rush hour traffic.  I’m busy rapping along with Macklemore and tapping the steering wheel when I see something in the road ahead that stops me mid-verse.

It’s a dachshund.

A black and tan wiener dog is running down the middle of Highway 75 straight toward me.  He’s wagging his little black tail and smiling, oblivious to the dangers around him.  Cars slow or swerve around the little guy, creating a parting of cars where he rushes down the highway.

As he gets closer I realize not only is there a wiener dog running down the highway, there is a wiener dog owner running down the highway.

Far behind the little dog is a gray-haired maerda-estremera-581452-unsplashn in jeans and boots chasing after him.  The man is already sweating from the heat, swearing and yelling, “Peanut!” over and over.

Peanut ignores him and keeps running.

Other people get out of their cars in attempts to grab Peanut but he is too smart for that.  He simply dodges, then ducks his tiny little body under the nearest car and keeps running.

It takes several minutes of chasing and some helpful commuters but finally sweaty owner and panting wiener dog are reunited.  Peanut is safe.

*   *   *

I’ve been thinking about Peanut ever since, and how much I relate to him.

Too many times I rush headfirst through life, ignoring the calls of my creator as he tries to pull me from the chaos of my world. I feel him at my heels and hear him shouting, “Justin!” and instead of allowing him to reach out and pick me up, I dodge. I run. I fall. I fail.

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But God is diligent.  His love never falters or fails.  He never stops chasing me.  He doesn’t tire from calling me, get exasperated with or give me over to my own stupidity.  Even when I run into oncoming traffic, he is close behind calling my name.

But Just like Peanut, I don’t realize how much better life would be if I stopped running.

Hopefully, I learn to stop running before an unwitting commuter, busy rapping along with Macklemore and tapping the steering wheel, runs me over.

Your beauty and love chase after me
  every day of my life.
  – Psalms 23:6

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.

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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

 

 

 

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

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.