Saturday, December 23, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Good Ground

It was eight years ago today that Dana accepted a better offer of where to spend Christmas (as her Unkie Jon described it), passing from the land of fake angels on treetops to the land of real angels with Jesus.

On the occasion of the date of Dana’s passing, I thought I’d commemorate a different life passage of sorts that my family has recently experienced, a passage which is somewhat connected to the passing of Dana.

When I was in grade school my folks did something that seemed strange to me: they bought a plot of land. The land had no house. No cornfields like what we were used to. It looked a little scraggly with lots of rocks. But it featured giant tulip poplar trees (which could be seen from miles away), a creek, a bank, and even an island carved out by the creek.

We would visit this land from time to time. Maybe do a picnic or take a hike. Mom and Dad would do some work (clearing, mowing) and Beck and I would explore. It always felt like we were entering an unusual land. We were used to cornfields, ponies, and things you find around an old barn. This was a land of weird crawdad mounds and creek life which included water spiders that could rest on the water surface, tiny minnows, and the crawdads that made those weird mounds.

On several occasions when we’d leave the land of woods and creek to make the 30-ish minute drive back to our farm, mom would say something like, “Someday it will be good to see a nice home with warm, glowing lights nestled back in that woods.”

Within a couple of years, Mom and Dad realized their “someday” dream for that scraggly, wooded, creek-split land. With the help of construction friend Bob Creech and all the friend help they could muster (which was a formidable crew), Mom and Dad built that home with the warm glowing lights.

And for over 40 years those warm, glowing lights welcomed friends, strangers, family, new family, and babies. It became a first stop for couples with news to announce or struggles to share. It was a sanctuary for prayer and rest. We sang. We celebrated. We cried. We laughed.

Its dining room table hosted countless birthday parties, Christmas dinners, and New Year’s Day sauerkraut buffets—the perfect food for the day’s football binge. The legacy of the dining room, of course, is the Sunday dinner: roast beef, mashed potatoes, Grandma Ruth gravy, and vegetable variations which were superfluous to the meat and potatoes. Two things I know about those Sunday dinners: First, Mom seemed to pull those off as easy as pulling a meat tray out of the fridge. Second, of all the weekly dinners stretching over 40 years I don’t think we ever had the same table crowd from one week to the next.

Creek and woods life eventually became second nature to Beck and me. We enjoyed introducing friends and cousins to our woods and creek: catching minnows and crawdads, climbing the bank, and of course, making world class forts. The large front yard, naturally, became our sports arena: football, kickball, softball, Frisbee, whiffle ball, and much more.

It’s been idyllic ground to grow up on and an era that I thought would never end. But as the upkeep of such a place has outpaced the abilities of Mom and Dad, the end of the era has in fact come. Just this week, 44 years since flipping the switch for those welcoming warm lights, Mom, Dad, Beck and I took our final tromp through that woods. We told stories, we reminisced, we paid our last respects to our beloved collie who made the move with us from the farm and is buried in the woods. We tromped with Beck’s husband Rick, their daughter Maggie, and with my kids Reade and Rachel—a fitting patrol representing how that land nurtured the original four and welcomed our growth. A few minutes after all us kids left, Mom and Dad met up with the next owners and handed over the house keys.

In the movie “Gettysburg,” a film depicting the Civil War battle of Gettysburg, we’re introduced to the descriptive phrase of “good ground.”  It’s a phrase I’ve come to use to describe Mom and Dad’s idyllic plot of land in Preble County. It’s the phrase I’ve used to describe Preble County in general. In fact, it’s this ideal that led Dana to say, even before facing a life-threatening illness, “If anything happens to me, I’d like to be buried in Preble County.”

It’s good ground.

If I might find the common ground in all of this: No matter what life might throw our way, if our feet are set on good ground, we will not only survive, but thrive. And of course, when we’ve enjoyed such good ground, whether it be a plot of land or a deep relationship, it’s sad when our feet step away from that ground. But it’s a privilege, and a gift, to have had such a ground. It makes us better people, “grounded” people if I may, who are on a constant search to provide good ground for those we love.

I leave you with some images below. First, the original foursome to inhabit the welcoming lights of this home in front of the tree trunk, and then the tree, of our first Christmas tree in our home of welcoming lights. Yes, for our first Christmas Mom and Dad bought a Christmas tree with a root ball that could be planted. This tree has been the faithful witness to all that was written above. And finally, I leave you with a picture of those warm lights that Mom spoke of 44 years ago, a picture taken the evening of the final tromp through that good ground.

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Rainbow Moment

So I just took a quick end-of-day bike ride that ended up being a ride of dodging raindrops and racing a looming storm. Occasionally the sun would poke out so I was sure I was going to see a rainbow…and I felt strongly that somebody needed to see a rainbow…so I found myself saying “C’mon rainbow!!” But to no avail. My rooting for a rainbow did, though, spark a thought: somebody on this earth, at this moment, is seeing a rainbow. And then I thought, “You know, I bet you can pretty much count on the fact that at any given moment, with all the sun on this earth and all the rain, somebody somewhere is looking at a rainbow. And, according to Genesis 9, God is also looking at that rainbow. And then I thought of a rainbow moment I had a couple weeks ago. So, I share a special picture of a rainbow from a couple weeks ago…and I share it in honor of a few things:

1. The rainbow in this picture was the rainbow that was spotted when I was on a similar bike ride a couple weeks ago…a ride that I took specifically to think about the upcoming wedding ceremony of a dear couple, Alex and Eric, whose ceremony I’d be performing that next Saturday. As I was riding in and out of rain and sun, thinking about their relationship and their families, this rainbow was spotted and photographed by Jessica---confirmation of what we already knew, that God is on the edge of His seat in anticipation of this marriage.

2. Today is the birthday of my mother-in-law for life, Mama Sue. She and I spent a journey ringing every drop of hope out of many rainbows. We now are both living in the redemption that God kept mercifully reminding us of.

3. We are two days away from the heartbreaking two-year anniversary of cousins Mike and Susan in the loss of their dear 3-year old son Will . They are redeeming their loss with color, encouraging folks with #BrightForWill and their newly formed foundation named, Bright for Will.

4. My lifelong friends, Randy and Roxanne, have begun a battle against Roxanne’s recently diagnosed lung cancer. Randy’s nickname, from his high school baseball days and how I still refer to him: Rainbow. (My understanding is that this was one of those “ironic” nicknames in that when he threw a baseball, it was anything BUT a rainbow.) When I found myself rooting for a rainbow today, I found myself rooting for Roxanne and Rainbow.

I was impressed this evening with the thought that somebody needs to see a rainbow (which is why this post has not yet been wordsmithed/edited/crafted). So, maybe this can be your rainbow…an assurance that God is with you no matter what.

Prayers and peace to you!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Clapping for Honor in Our Jammies

Older Dad Note No. 83
Five weeks ago today, we left our DC hotel early morning for an 8:30 a.m. flight out of Reagan National. (Jessica had sung at the Kennedy Center in DC, with family in tow, family being Reade, Rachel, and me.)  This meant waking up solidly sleeping babies before the sun was up (which feels like throwing money out the window, such a waste of good sleep time). But we kept them in their jammies which added to the cute factor. Turns out we needed this cute factor and cashed in on a couple occasions (so maybe it wasn’t money out the window). 

Ticketing and security went relatively smoothly and as we were wrapping up in the security area we suddenly heard applause around the corner. It’s something you hear occasionally in an airport these days and I’ve come to recognize it right away. An Honor Flight of veterans had just arrived. They would be spending the day in DC visiting the memorial of their war. They began to walk by us as we were recovering from our security experience, clapping as we repacked our bags and regained our strollers. And then we saw on their t-shirts from where these vets came…Dayton, Ohio! Sudden affinity and camaraderie took over…several O-H-I-O’s were exchanged. “We’re headed to YOUR airport!” I would blurt out, unable to resist making all possible connections. And then we saw walking along in the flow of veterans a dear friend, Ron Frame, from Franklin, a small town near Middletown. He had served in the Navy in the Vietnam War. Hugs and tears all around.

There is something serendipitously special about being caught up in an arrival or departure of an honor flight in an airport terminal. It’s an opportunity to see humanity at its best. Hurried travelers stop and clap. They create a spontaneous, MacGyver-type of parade, showing celebratory respect with anything they have handy. They give up precious airport time to express appreciation. They push the limits of their boarding time. In fact, we were the last to board our plane, foregoing the coveted pre-boarding for “those with small children.”

It was worth it.

On the Honor Flight website you’ll see a quote from Will Rogers: “We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they walk by.” That was us and several hundred others.

That special moment in Reagan National sparked something in me as a dad. There are some things I want to be sure to teach Reade and Rachel:

1. Clap for veterans. They're heroes.
2. Be comfortable in saying “Thank you for your service.”
3. Honor sacrifice.
4. In between bites of hot dog and hamburger (or “hanggeber” as Reade, and now our family, calls it), give at least a moment of deep reflection on the reason for celebrating Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.
5. Read the Declaration of Independence every July 4.
6. Know where and when your family members served, especially your grandpa, great-grandpa, uncles, great uncles. But go back as many generations and wars as your heart leads you.
7. Cover your heart for the Pledge of Allegiance. Stand for the National Anthem.
8. Vote in every election, the big ones and the small ones.

On a more general note:

1. Be humble and kind (thank you singer Tim McGraw and writer Lori McKenna).
2. Pull over for funeral processions.
3. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice, from the little to the big.
4. Pay attention to the subtler special days in people’s lives: death dates of loved ones, anniversary dates of sobriety, the mark of another year of “cancer free.”
5. Visit cemeteries. Piece together the stories on the headstones.

And finally, set an alarm. Good things can happen when you get out of bed early. Even if you stay in your jammies.