Uneasy…with a Smile

“If you haven’t time to respond to a tug at your pants leg, your schedule is too crowded.” – Robert Brault

Last week Amy and I were covering our plans for taking the kids to school and arranging pick-up.  Amy had a field trip the next day so it messed up our normal schedule.  As Aleck, Emma Grace, and Ella listened, we finally hatched out a plan.  Then a little voice piped up, “Daddy, how about I just go with you?  I can go with you to work.”  Normally I would have probably ignored the request, but I had cleared the afternoon so I agreed.  “Sure…You can come with me,” I said, smiling at Amy and then Ella.  Her face lit up as if she had just received the Christmas gift she had been waiting on for the last 11 months.  She ran to her room to pack her bag and pick out her clothes.  Aleck skipped to the bathroom to brush his teeth.  Emma Grace collapsed as if she was standing on a beach and a powerful wave knocked her legs out from under her.  “It isn’t fair…This is terrible!!!  It is…not…fair!” she sobbed…until she fell asleep(and continued without missing a beat when she woke up….all the way to school Amy told me)….And people ask us if Aleck and Emma Grace(twins) have different personalities…uhhh slightly.

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” – Stacia Tauscher

It is no secret…I work a lot.  It may be a secret…I tend to worry a lot…about my children.  I want to be a good Father.  I want them to be ok.  When you put the two together…a lot of work hours and worry…It makes for an uneasy life.  Not a terrible life…just somewhat uneasy.  One summer my father bought an aluminum boat with a 15hp motor on it.  My younger sister and I were told to bring the boat to my parent’s house from the marina where he bought it…by water.  I don’t know how many miles it is between the two points, but it’s a pretty good distance.  We were going from the Camden Causeway, down the Pasquotank River, to Newbegun Creek into Weeksville(just to give you an idea if you are familiar with where I grew up).  This was not an unreasonable request from my father…I actually felt honored to be assigned the task.  I’m not sure how my younger sister got roped in….but there we were cruising down the smooth glassy causeway…until we went under the bridge and headed down the big part of the Pasquotank.  Clouds came from nowhere and whitecaps appeared.  It got darker and darker.  I tried to steer in a way to minimize the spine crunching wave impact on the small boat.  This meant I had to concentrate on each…and every wave…for a long long time.  And we took a beating…a real beating.  Finally we turned into Newbegun Creek and into calmer water.  As we pulled into my parent’s dock I remember thanking God.  When I stood up I felt like collapsing because every muscle in my body had been working so hard…including my brain…my eyes…my mind(I have to admit…my sister Annette was a rock…she isn’t known for her calmness or sense of adventure…but she was awesome that day).  I worked so hard for hours…trying to steer that boat…and fighting and fighting…focused on nothing else…one wave at a time…and it…wore…me…ouuuut.  It seemed like hours of fear…calmness…then anxiety…then quietness…then more fear…but really…a plain and constant uneasiness.  And so…. for me, that’s what life can be like.  Believe me I know we aren’t supposed to feel that…I know we aren’t supposed to have anxiety…and that having anxiety may be a bit of an insult to God..because we know he will take care of us right?…Always.  But…when you’re getting the mess beat out of you…whether it is nature, people, or other circumstances holding you down and smacking your head over and over and over….it’s hard not to feel uneasy…and just plain tired.  It is at this pointI believe God understands…and quietly slips into our lives… a person…a quote…a sunset…a book…a song…a sunrise…a pet…an article…a snowfall…or in my case last Tuesday…a little 5-year-old girl who wanted to go to work with her Daddy. 

“There’s nothing that can help you understand your beliefs more than trying to explain them to an inquisitive child.”-Frank A Clark

When I opened the gym that morning, I knew it would be a different kind of day when Ella asked me not to punch the code in for the alarm so we could set it off and see how loud it would be.  We set up and waited for the first clients to arrive.  She helped me all morning…training, timing, and cleaning.  It was wonderful having a special little helper.  When everyone left, we went to Biltmore Park to have lunch and shop.  Ella ordered macaroni and cheese from the kids menu at Hickory Tavern.  When it came out we burst into laughter because it was the biggest bowl of mac and cheese either of us had ever seen.  Seriously, it looked like she could have jumped in and had a cheesy pasta hot tub swim.  We went to Barnes & Noble bookstore and she came around a corner carrying a stack of books so high I could barely see her little eyes trying to look at me.  “These are for Emma Grace and Aleck” she said.  I made her pick one book for each and put the rest back on the shelf.  We went to the O.P. Taylor toy store where she picked out a little hand massage ball(even with baby dolls everywhere).  The lunch and shopping were great, but the best part was holding hands with my little girl, answering questions and talking along the way.  The next stop was TCBY(my kids love love love TCBY)…Ella fell asleep on the way there.  I picked her up and carried her in….where she fell back asleep in my arms while waiting in line.  I took her back to the car…where she woke back up…and asked to go back in to get ice cream…and so we went back in and stood in line…she giggled the whole time about our back and forth zig zagging effort to get a little ice cream.  We returned to the gym and she played.  I collapsed on my back on the mat and watched her set up a cone obstacle course.

“While we try to teach our children all about life, Our children teach us what life is all about.” – Angela Schwindt 

After about ten minutes, Ella looked up, sprinted to the mat, and jumped on me.  She rolled to the side and we sprawled out on the mat…flat on our backs…as if we were in a field looking at animal shaped clouds.  She said, “It was busy this morning. It’s fun here.  You have nice people in your gym.”  I said, “Yes I do.”  She then said, “Daddy, this was the best day ever.”  I said, “Yes…it was.  It was the best.  Thank you for giving me the best day ever sweet Ella.”  “Yeah…now let’s go get Aleck, Emma Grace, and Momma,” she answered, while hopping to her feet..  We started the drive home and Ella fell asleep before we got out of the gym parking lot.  As I looked in my rearview mirror at the exhausted little girl sleeping, I began to think about the day.  I thought about how wonderful my morning had been.  I thought about how I wasn’t as tired as usual.  I thought about that little girl speaking to our waitress, the bookstore worker, and the toy store worker.  I thought about how she smiled and said thank you to all the people we passed who told her how cute she is and how beautiful her curls are.  I thought about how she wanted to buy her brother and sister the entire bookstore.  I thought about how not once…had I checked the time.  And I thought about how she wanted to share her ice cream with me.  And then I thought….We are doing ok.  She is going to be ok.  And just like I did that day many summers ago when I finally got my feet on my parent’s dock,  I took a long deep breath…thanked God…and smiled. 🙂

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“Pausing to listen to an airplane in the sky, stooping to watch a ladybug on a plant, sitting on a rock to watch the waves crash over the quayside – children have their own agendas and time scales.  As they find out more about their world and their place in it, they work hard not to let adults hurry them.  We need to hear their voices.” – Cathy Nutbrown


The Pothole…

One day last week I was able to leave the gym earlier than normal.  It sounds great, but it actually put me in the middle of rush hour traffic(well…rush hour for Asheville…which I know doesn’t even begin to compare to what some of you go through in Atlanta, Charlotte, or any other big city you may be living in right now).  I was heading home on Interstate 26 driving over the bridge before merging onto Interstate 40.  This bridge abruptly goes from two lanes to one and as a result is often the scene of an accident.  I had already escaped no less than two accidents at this point and had noticed how aggressive and downright mean people are to each other during this busy commute time.  I had forgotten because I have worked late for so many years, but this was not fun…or safe.  On the bridge I slowed allowing another person to merge into my lane(with a tractor-trailer riding my bumper and honking at me).  It was either that or let him run out of a lane and force him off the road.  Just as he pulled in front of me I looked in my rearview mirror to see the trucker about an inch from my back bumper.  Exactly when I returned my eyes to the road in front of me, a pothole appeared and I hit it.  It made such a bone chilling noise and jolted my body so hard, I was sure my front wheel was gone.  I just knew I was driving a three-wheeled jeep and was about to be flattened by the big rig behind me.  Instead, to my surprise, I was able to keep driving and nothing appeared to be wrong with my car.  As my heartbeat began to slow, the nauseous feeling subsided, and traffic began to thin, I thought about the pothole I just hit.  It wasn’t there yesterday.  There weren’t any warning signs…no chunks of concrete…no gravel…just a big stinking hole.  How does a hole so suddenly end up in the middle of the road?  And where is all the displaced concrete?  I started researching potholes as a result of these two questions.  Of course cars and trucks weaken the concrete, but it seems the real devil in pothole creation is moisture.  Combined with chemicals and temperature changes, the moisture weakens the concrete from within.  And of course, I found a simple wonderful lesson in this experience.  I would like to share it with you.  I know what you’re probably thinking…another “pothole in the road of life” lesson.  There are great well-known “pothole life lessons”.  For example : Avoid the potholes on the road you’re travelling in life…or : Make sure you are skilled with “anti-pothole maneuvers” in your journey…Swerve around the potholes that may bring you down…or : Patch your potholes to make your trip better…or finally : Choose a different road.  Great lessons….but I don’t want to talk about any of those because my obsession became…Where in the world is the displaced concrete?  How can a hole appear and we don’t see the concrete, gravel, or rocks that once filled it?  It just disappears…is that right?  Further research explains : The material gets broken loose…it gets crushed….or thrown to the side of the road by tires…it gets blown away…it gets washed away.  So what’s the lesson?  BE KIND…BE KIND…just please…BE KIND.  What?  Why?  I bet you’re wondering how this makes sense…Follow me:

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We all have potholes right?  We get beat up by life…we get ran over…stuff happens to us that absolutely…leaves holes in us…potholes all in us…in our minds…our hearts…our souls.  Now let me ask you…what happens to potholes?  They get patched right?  This is important :  Just because you don’t see the broken concrete, rocks, gravel in a pothole…just because you don’t see the pain, recovery, tragedy, darkness, and sadness in a person…doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  It didn’t just disappear…it may have been overcome…crushed deeper into their soul…blown over…washed away…or patched…but it did not disappear.  So…BE KIND.  How can we be kind?  Just as you drive to avoid potholes, drive your thinking in a way that makes you a kind person.  Use your own “stuff” to inspire empathy and compassion you can share with others.  Many times people only need a kind and special hearted person to LISTEN to them…you will be surprised at how it can change their world.  Make a kind phone call.  Send a kind e-mail.  Let someone merge into your lane(watch for big potholes and crazy truck drivers though).  As much as you can’t stand a person…ask yourself “What kindness can I do for him/her?”   I once read : “Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something.”  How true is that saying?  BE KIND…BE KIND… because we all have…or have had potholes in our lives.  They may be new, old, or even patched…but kindness can only help make them a little smoother…and sometimes we’re put in people’s lives to do that…and thankfully people are put into our lives for the same reason.  So let’s do a little roadwork this week…  Mother Teresa said it perfectly : “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.  Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”   🙂

Big shout out to my girls for riding with me on the pothole picture hunting mission :

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It’s Not About The Rims…

A few years ago I traveled to the coast to my boyhood home.  As I pulled into the trailer park, I noticed a group of boys parking their bikes and heading to the basketball court.  I made my way through the trailer park(I have written an in-depth story about that day and may post it in the future…it was an amazing experience for me to travel back to Wedgewood Lakes 30 yrs later) and as I pulled back in front of the park, I saw the boys playing basketball.  I drove into the park, rolled down the window, and cut the engine.  As I watched and listened to the boys playing, I took notice of the court.  It looked slightly better than it did when I left so many years ago.  It was the same old court…except the concrete rectangle had been extended all the way around by about 12 inches.  At least the goals were now the same height…the rims weren’t bent or as rusty…but of course…the they still had no nets.  I listened to the boys razz each other as they were playing and I thought about how we used to play on that court almost every day.  We had mastered where not to step to avoid breaking an ankle on the tiny rectangular raised concrete court…we had perfected the speed and agility needed to avoid fishing the ball from one of the “lakes” in Wedgewood Lakes…which was really a pond…after someone made a shot or dunked on the netless rim.  We had skillfully learned to adjust our shots depending if your team was shooting on the short extremely bent goal…or on the straight rim but entirely tilted goal.   The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. I couldn’t help but think I…my friends…deserved better. Why hadn’t any adults taken care of our court? Why didn’t they look out for us?  I was snapped out of my flashback by a boy’s voice “Hey..Hey you!..Come on..We need you to play!”  I hopped out of the car and made my way to the court.  It was a hot hot hot Eastern North Carolina day…and humid…You guys in Eastern NC know what I’m talking about…It’s so hot you see birds pulling worms out of the ground using pot holders…and when a breeze finally hits you in the back, you turn around to see where the dragon is…Anyway, I made my way onto the court and was quickly assigned to the skins(shirtless) team.  My nickname became “Muscleman” even though I told them they could call me “Old Man”.  We played and played….and joked and joked.  Toward the end of the game the ball rolled toward the pond(which I was at this point thankful for because I needed the rest)…and I stood with my hands on my hips…soaked with sweat…gasping for air.  I looked around at the boys, the court, and the trailers in the background and felt an overwhelming  joy and peace in my heart…and I said out loud “It’s not about the rims…”  One of the boys asked “What?”  “Nothing” I said, “Let’s play.”  And this is the lesson I learned…and would like to share with you :

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Sometimes in life we get focused on the wrong things.  Sometimes in life we think we need something to make us happy…to get a job done…to accomplish a goal or task…or to even start a task…to even begin to pursue a dream.  Sometimes in life we focus so much on that something, we MISS the important lessons in what we’re doing…and it can be a miserable…regretful…painful…MISS.  As I played basketball with boys who reminded me of myself and my friends that day, I realized it wasn’t about the rims.  We never even noticed the rims…and certainly didn’t care about the size of the court.  We had each other…we had the game.  Those boys were just like me 30 years ago…getting around everywhere they needed to be on their bikes…taking care of each other…making the best of their circumstances each and every day.  We didn’t need any adults to fix our court for us back then…and they don’t need it now.  It isn’t about the rims for them.  And it shouldn’t be for us. Don’t lose the value of the relationships you have with each and every individual in your life by looking at the negatives…stop looking at the rust on the rims.  Don’t miss your kids growing up because you think you need to work long hours to give them a big house or more stuff…stop focusing on the size of the court…they don’t care…they just want you to play with them.  Stop being afraid that if you shoot and miss on a netless rim that you might have to chase down a loose ball…Just shoot!…Go for what you want!  Lastly, it’s OK to feel stress…about being poor…being unhappy…being overwhelmed…being out of shape.  It’s OK to feel anxiety about an addiction…a perceived failure…a problem forgiving…a tragedy…an abuse.  All of this is Life.  It’s Ok to feel…It’s not OK to sit around and be angry because no one is taking care of your problems.  You decide what you need to see in your life.  And I suggest Prayer…Pray for clarity and vision…then move forward…focus on what you can control…and stop looking at the bent and rusty rims.  Get in the game!  Move forward and enjoy the game!  Enjoy your life.  It was a blessing to return to my childhood trailer park basketball court.  It was a blessing to be reminded by those boys what life is really about.  We have one game…one life…no matter where it’s being played…that’s it-only ONE…It’s up to us to appreciate it and to live it fully.  Now go play!!! 🙂

“The secret to having it all…is believing you already do.”