23 years ago yesterday

Growing up in Cincinnati, you cannot help but get pulled into baseball – at least in April. I was born in the middle of the Big Red Machine era. The Reds from 1970-1978 have been considered one of the greatest teams assembled in baseball history.

Unfortunately by the early 80s the wheels had fallen off the Big Red Machine. Most of the key parts had moved onto other teams. But still, we were only a few years removed so there was always that hope.

For a boy, going to your first baseball game is a rite of passage. More so than football or basketball. There is something about that first game! I took my son to a minor league game last year. Just wasn’t the same so I still consider him not having been to a real baseball game yet

One evening in April 1983 my dad came home with two blue “things” sticking out of his shirt pocket. I heard him mumble something to my mother, then he said “These are tickets to a Reds game next week – want to go?” Want to go? What kind of question is that to a third grader who has never been to a game! Heck yeah I want to go! The tickets were for Friday night April 22.

Reds Tickets 1983

Reds TIckets – 1983

The school week drug on for years. I distinctly remember that day at school. My teacher, Mrs. Rudisill was as excited for me as I was. And it was a gorgeous spring day in Cincinnati. Picture perfect for baseball.

It was home. Wait for dad to get home. Then onto I-75 South towards downtown. My dad had this “thing” with finding a meter to park at instead of paying for parking. I never understood until I started driving on my own and realized that paying to park was insane!

Riverfront Stadium was one of the classic 1970s “bowl shaped” stadiums that was built with astroturf and designed to host football and baseball. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Atlanta had very similar venues. I remember walking across the walkway going over Ft Washington Way with glove in hand. Our seats weren’t shabby. We were in the blue seats – this was the lower level and we were about 20 rows up from the Reds dugout and on the aisle. I mean these were outstanding seats!

Riverfront Stadium

The pitchers that night were Steve Rogers for the Expos and Frank Pastore for the Reds. Steve had a few good years in the 80s, while Frank was an average pitcher – nothing spectacular. Unfortunately the night belonged to the Expos. Gary Carter hit two 2-run homers (both with Al Oliver on first after drawing a walk). The Reds – never crossed the plate. Steve Rogers pitched a complete game shutout 4-0

Gary Carter – catcher

Here is the actual box score from that game:

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/box-scores/boxscore.php?boxid=198304220CN5

As it turned out, I was as close to catching a foul ball that night then ever. I did have a friend once snow cone a foul ball of Barry Larkin’s bat in April 1989. He was sitting two seats down from me

Frank Pastore would go on to become a Christian radio personality on the west coast. He had a very large following in California. One day in November of 2012, he wrecked his motorcycle and would ultimately succumb to his injuries on December 17

Gary Carter would go on to win a World Series with the Mets in ’86 and get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. In May 2011 he went to the doctor due to experiencing headaches and memory loss. While running tests they discovered he had four malignant tumors on his brain. He would die in February 2012 – not before becoming very public about his faith in Christ. Much of his biography was written about his faith.

I wrote last year about my mom dropping friends and me off for Reds games. I literally grew up in Riverfront Stadium. I had a view from a nearby building the morning the imploded it in December 2002. Great American Ballpark was constructed but I will always miss Riverfront (***the naming rights to Riverfront was bought out by Cinergy in 1994 and thus became Cinergy Field during its last years)

I have been to many, many sporting events, but few will stand the test of my memory like the Reds vs Expos on Friday night April 22, 1983!

 

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Beauty

There is a lot of buzz this week over the court case involving Erin Andrews and the hidden cameras in her hotel room a few years ago. Erin is a sideline reporter for various sports networks. A few years ago while covering college games in Columbus and Nashville a guy (with insider information to where her room was) planted hidden cameras in the peephole of her door and captured naked videos of her.

Erin is by all accounts a good looking woman. Tall, blonde and knows football….the perfect trifecta!

The events were being discussed here at work and someone mentioned how she is one of the “hottest” women he can think of. This (in typical guy fashion) developed into a “who is the most beautiful woman you can think of”.

Who hasn’t had one of these kinds of conversations? My favorite one of these types of talks happened about 4 years ago at an event at church. An older widow was leading an event for area homeless. I was up there with my daughter helping out when somehow we got on the subject of best looking Hollywood men. She is in her 60s, so we discussed men from 20+ years ago. I mentioned Paul Newman, then Marlon Brando – of course all got thumbs up.

But then I mentioned Robert Redford, and she made a one-liner I will never forget. She said “Oh my….Robert Redford can eat crackers in my bed any night!”

Nothing can top that one!

Back to my original topic. I wasn’t in the conversation the guys were having but I was in earshot. Maybe it is because my heart is in communion with Lord’s, but I didn’t go straight to physical beauty – I went for biblical beauty. Now, the bible doesn’t for a moment deny outward beauty. The bible quickly points out flowing hair, tanned skin, curves – God knows that physical beauty can’t be denied. But it doesn’t stop there. In fact biblically speaking physical beauty is only a speed bump, a mere pull off on the side of life’s highway

It is inward beauty (male and female) that Scripture repeatedly says is worthy of praise. Let’s face it, some people are just genetically gifted and are thus – beautiful! But for most of us, we are at best average. Nothing great, nothing abnormal.

But inner beauty isn’t given. It is developed through choices of the will. Things like patience, sacrifice, honor, longsuffering, compassion, esteem and encouragement are cultivated by choice. But it is these things that Scripture always points to as beautiful and worthy for our pursuit.

So while my teammates ogled over this blonde and that singer, I got to thinking “Who in my life has exemplified TRUE beauty.”

Answer: my mom.

However, it was in a way that Jean Vanier (Catholic Philanthropist and creator of L’Arche – 142 communities worldwide focused on loving and giving dignity to the mentally disabled) discusses beauty

My mom began working with the mentally handicapped fall of 1980. This was at the edge of a time when the mentally handicapped were often institutionalized. Words like “retarded” or “looney bin” were tossed around with common language. She was employed at a school that specialized with the mentally handicapped. This was not simple learning disabilities. These were kids with great pain in their lives. These were the people Jesus talks about in the Beatitudes. These were the poor and meek.

The pain was real that my mom experienced as well. She has been to more funerals for students than many of us have been to total. There have been times that I reflected on the challenges she and the rest of the staff had – and when I occasionally feel sorry for myself and complain how hard my week has been (which usually means the internet wasn’t working correctly) I feel quickly humbled. I don’t know what a tough week is.

The children my mom worked with were those that society feels sorry for. “Poor pitiful thing”. Not my mom. She gave them dignity! We all know what dignity is like. Like Jesus my mom would touch those who society didn’t want to touch. The Gospels are filled with Jesus’ being intimately personal. Jesus touched, Jesus wept, Jesus ate, Jesus taught, Jesus was in the boat, Jesus forgave, Jesus with children, Jesus healed. Jesus didn’t love from a distance. He was in the midst of the individual. He was at the well, he was at the pool of Bethsaida, he was in the home, he was in the synagogue. Born in a dirty manger, and lived his life getting dirty with broken people.

That was my mom. She got down and dirty with people. Feeding, helping use the restroom, cleaning breathing tubes, cleaning vomit, cleaning tears, wiping up spills, fixing hair, telling them “It’s OK. Don’t worry about it.” My mom, like Jesus, saw these students and sacred and beautiful. She saw through the exterior into the heart of each student. That is what biblical beauty does. The eyes of the beholder don’t stop at skin, eyes, hair – but penetrate into the heart and soul and sees that all people have beauty in them. That the true person is on the inside.

In the mid-80s my mom became a nanny for two girls with cerebral palsy. The girls were sisters and 10 years apart in age. It is one thing to love the mentally handicap in a school. After all, you are protected from society by the walls of the school building. But that wasn’t the case with these two girls. My mom would take these ladies to restaurants, to the park, shopping, friends’ houses, festivals, concerts – there were no limits.

Snow, 100 degree weather, rain, wind – didn’t matter. She got those girls out for decades.

Many summer days while school was out, I would join my mom. I recall back then, as a teenager, admiring her utmost love and affection to these girls. It was a love that ANY child would long for, and these weren’t even her girls!

The greatest challenge for our society when it came to these two ladies was dining. Because of CP, eating was a challenge. The mechanics from using utensils, drinking through a straw, and swallowing were each a hurdle for them. Of course there was a mess! And I would see grown adults (the powerful of our society) at nearby tables, struggle, struggle to feel safe. The roles were reversed: the weak were actually the strong, and the supposed strong were all of a sudden shown to be weak.

Regardless of the world around them, my mom would joyfully tend to the girls and then take care of herself last. Fast food or a nice restaurant – the routine was the same. And all the while, my mom gave them the attention that says “I love you”. Only the beautiful can leave your presence and make you feel loved or important.

Jean Vanier says that to love someone requires you to understand them. This seems obvious, but have you ever stopped to think about it? How many of us understand the world of the mentally/physically disabled? My mom does. She understands their fears and angst. She knows what makes them feel strong, and what makes them feel….well…..different.

What may have been so beautiful about my mom was her ability to receive love from the handicapped. As a culture we are more apt to humor them, or laugh at their acts of silliness (which can actually be nothing more than a cry for acceptance), pat them on the head and so on. Because we see ourselves as those having power, it can be difficult to receive this love. The love of the mentally disabled is a pure love. It is not structured on performance or conditions. It is raw and honest, and this can make the strong of this world uncomfortable – after all much of the world is built on a fat lie, a façade. I would see these girls reach up and yearn for a hug from my mom and she would authentically receive it. That is beauty! Such love is hard to look at given the kind of silly, artificial love we see on TV or in print.

Those who are strong feel a need to prove it. There is a hidden need to validate myself in front of others which naturally leads to oppressing others (Vanier). The handicap can’t do that. The only weapon they have is their heart. THEY ARE THE OPPRESSED! Yet they joyfully give their heart, but the world struggles to receive it. My mom didn’t.

One of the girls went to the Lord a few years ago. My mom continues to work with the other every week. This has been an ongoing relationship of love for three decades.

The bible says that God looks upon the heart – this is the center of our personality. My mom, spent her whole life reaching into the hearts of the mentally disabled and giving them joy and dignity. Good luck finding someone more beautiful

Refusing To Join The Party

 

I recently read a book that I couldn’t put down. We have all been there. For whatever reason a book lands in our hands, we begin reading, and simply can’t part from it. The book was loaned to me by Roger, it was Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Henri was inspired to write about it after being transformed by Rembrandt’s painting of the same title. The story of the Prodigal Son is taken from the 15th chapter of Luke’s gospel. He is the only gospel writer to document this profound story. The 15th story is a string of 3 parables, all similar in nature (something being lost, then found) and each increasing in value. The first being the lost sheep, then the lost coin, then the Prodigal (lost) son. Regardless of whether or not you are a believer, chances are good you know the overview of the story.

Younger son goes to his father and says I want my inheritance now (in short, “I wish you were dead”). The father goes ahead and gives it to him. The younger son leaves home and for years lives lavishly until he is completely broken: spiritually, physically, socially and financially. After some mental jockeying he decides to swallow his pride and return home. He is immediately greeted by a joy-filled father who immediately calls for the son to shed his rags and put on clothes worthy of a prince and for everyone (this was wealthy family) to prepare for a huge celebration that night. Sometime that evening the elder son returns from a day of work and sees all the commotion. He inquires of one of the servants as to what is going on. He is told that his younger brother has returned home and the father is throwing a huge party. Everyone is happy…..except the elder son. The father after a period of time sees that someone is missing from the party – his oldest boy – and he goes outside to find him. When he does find him he invites the eldest son into the celebration, but his son refuses. Instead he basically unloads on his dad:

“But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” Luke 15:28-30

I have heard plenty of sermons and teachings on this story, but for some reason Nouwen’s close examination of the elder son was convicting.

“This son of your…” the elder son was so heated, so angry that he wouldn’t reference the younger son as his brother. He didn’t see him worthy of a title. This level of disgust didn’t happen that evening, it was something stewing for years. But what is maybe hidden, is the level of disgust he has been harboring against his dad for years. “Yet you never gave me even a young goat….” The elder son has been quietly keeping score against the father as well as his brother. In his mind dad was guilty of playing favorites.

What do we know about the elder brother? Well, he was in many ways a classic first child. Overachiever, loyal to the family, sensitive to image, walks the straight and narrow, disciplined and so on. Life was all about tasks and being dutiful. But, his response to the father seems to indicate his loyalty and obedience was actually a burden. A burden he didn’t want or like. I would guess that deep down the elder son was jealous of the youngest. Maybe he wishes he had the courage to leave home and sew his wild oats. What was it like to eat, drink and be merry? He would never know because his obedient to obedience.

Was it possible that the elder son was just as lost, even though he had stayed home? The younger son’s “lostness” is obvious. He lived lavishly and literally was lost! But the elder son kept his lostness internal but was equally distant from the father. How many hours had he spent in the fields allowing his inner-lawyer to tell him how innocent he was? How the father was probably missing his younger brother more than he wanted to be around him? How many hours did his spend in pity-filled jealousy of his younger brother? Not hoping he was safe and would return home someday – but that he was missing out on all the sensual fun.

Nouwen states “The more we analyze a problem (chew on it), the more reason we find to complain.” I say “AMEN!” to that.

The elder son had to be a miserable person to live with. He hated his brother, filled with resentment towards his father. The lostness of the elder son was deeply rooted in his soul. And the heart cannot contain both joy and resentment. Resentment will always win out. That is why the Lord says to settle a dispute with your brother before attempting to worship, and to avoid going to bed angry. Resentment is a powerful, powerful force.

What is unfortunate about resentment, is that if you point out I am resentful towards someone, I will probably get resentful at you, and get more resentful at them! It is the perfect snare.  No tree in this world has a root system like resentment. And we seem to make sure that the trees of resentment are constantly watered and fed.

Healing must come from the outside. And healing begins with a broken but honest view of self. It is a painful move that begins by going into the heart and saying “There it is. This is why you are so sad.” No excuse finding, no blaming, just living up to the fact your heart is in need of healing.

Amazingly the father doesn’t meet the elder son’s words with scorn. He doesn’t slap him, he doesn’t say “Oh shut up and get inside.” The father probably hurts for his boy. He understands and sympathizes with his pain. What good would shaming do? What good would forcing him to suck it up and “act like a man” do? All he says is:

  “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

 The father has no favorites. Understanding the sensitivity of the moment he doesn’t try to build a defense on how great a dad he is. All he wants is for the son to join the party – but the elder son refuses.

The Prodigal Son is a great story, until you realize that you’ve spent much of your life as the Elder Son. I am in a process of learning just how sensitive the human heart is. It is frighteningly fragile. It retains hurts, wounds, negativity, loss, defeat, failure with such precision. And we try so hard to make other think we are OK. The elder son did this through disciple and loyalty. Externals. But internally he was a broken boy. The world doesn’t make it safe to say “I am hurt, will you love me still?”

We don’t know what happens with the rest of the story. Does the elder son go in? Do the brothers heal their relationship? Does the younger son leave again to pursue the world of pleasure? The bible doesn’t say.

Rembrandt shows the elder son joining the party. But he stands in fierce judgment. He is on the right hand side with a  clear separation from the father and younger son. Straight and erect, just like his life. Rembrandt also adds a stick in his hand. Probably representing someone with discipline and punishment in their mind.

What is also striking is how Rembrandt showed their age. As the elder son, he was probably not much more than maybe 10 years older than the younger. If that much. But Rembrandt shows the elder show much older. Could it be that a sour, resent filled heart can age you more than hard living and decadence? A hard life on the inside is more stress to a person than a hard life on the outside?

I suppose I have spent a lot of my life as the Elder Son. Though I am an only child. Harboring anger, and jealousy. It weighs on you, and I guess indirectly it ends up weighing on others. When I begin to talk about how someone else has it better, or how I have been slighted, when everyone is seen as a competitor, or how I was a victim, lamenting about the past, or how great I am yet I am not noticed – all I am doing is being the Elder Son. Low self-esteem is not a virtue

Maybe someday I will be like the Father. A person who understands that relationships are messy. That as I make myself available to the world that I am going to get hurt (often by those closest to me). Like the father I hope to be loving, forgiving, able to celebrate, patient, longsuffering, humble and welcoming.

We have a choice to listen to the father (God) and come to the party or stay resentful like the Elder Son

FG

It is Super Bowl week. And I live in the market of one of the two teams. Unfortunately though I am not excited. Not one bit. If anything I am rooting for Peyton Manning to go out a champion. He has been a great ambassador for the game, and for him to win his last game (Super Bowl 50 no less) and to announce retirement in the post-game interviews would be great.

Football fans know that “FG” stands for field goal. Those pesky 3 point attempts that essentially say “We are not good enough to score a touchdown, so we will settle for 3 points instead.” I have often made the comment that field goals lose games.

But for this blog “FG” represents forgiveness and grace. Two items that are not the lessor of two options (like a field goal) but something even greater than a touchdown. As for me, I am horrible at both. In fact, I am miserably horrible at both. If the New Testament is right (and of course it is) that forgiveness and grace are signs of Christian maturity, then I am a mere embryo, I am not even out of the womb yet. This June will mark my 15th year of being a servant of Christ. I have a lot of head knowledge, I have served on the board of a Christian ministry, I faithfully served Christ in many capacities, I have lead small groups, I have lead children’s Sunday school, I have lead mission trips, I have read the bible front to back several times, I have debated and won, I have knocked on doors, I have fed the poor, I have tithed, I have brought my children up in the ways of Christ, I have read COUNTLESS books, I have lead people to the Lord, I have a solid prayer life, I live (by all accounts) a solid moral life, I am known by my co-workers as a follower of Christ……but I fail at forgiveness and grace.

It wasn’t until the past few years that I realized just how impotent I was in these areas. I thought I had forgiven people for past hurts – in fact I was positive. But the older I got, and the more I realized the symptoms of an unforgiving heart, the more I realized just how unforgiving I was. I first recognized it in other people. I have never been a big fan of gossip – just a waste of time in my opinion. But I recognized this was a sign of someone unforgiving. Passive-aggressive behavior, browbeating, never letting an issue go, intentionally withholding good (or its twin sister, intentionally doing evil) were all signs I saw in other people of unforgiveness. It was like a neon sign across their forehead. But I was ignorant of my own guilt.

As for grace….oh my I have been horrifically bad. And no, I am not exaggerating, I have been flat out bad at this! I must admit a bit of frustration with God for not addressing this a decade ago. However, for all the good on my resume, I have been a man with little grace. I get an “F” in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). Grace is at the core of Christ’s redemptive message. Even the skeptic of Christ will admit the beauty and strangeness of grace. It is utterly nonhuman.

The beginning of becoming a person of grace is first recognizing your absolute need of it from God. That your relationship with God through Christ is rooted in grace alone, not merit. You never earn it – yet you never fumble it away. Grace isn’t acting like bad things don’t exist, and it certainly isn’t simply sweeping things under the rug. Grace is a constant desire to see a person become who Christ desires them to be. It is a humble reminder of how broken I am, and outpouring the same patience God gives me in my moments of weakness, and to in turn give that kind of love and patience back to others. It is all about putting other’s well-being ahead of my own. Other’s status, accomplishments, desires, time, and needs ahead of mine. It is all the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) into action….24 hours a day.

My life has been filled with score keeping. Especially in the areas of how people have wronged me. My ability to recall in great detail a moment of being let down by someone is frighteningly accurate and vivid. My “inner lawyer” (that voice in your head that is always telling you how you’re being mistreated, and to be careful, and remember how this person treated you that one day….) is phenomenal. My inner lawyer could’ve been on OJ’s defense team. He can argue my position and build a case in two minutes. Really he deserves a raise. Only problem is he hasn’t had an hour off in 35 years. My inability to be a man of grace and forgiveness has kept him working every day I am alive. He is constantly reminding me of my hurts. He is in short constantly reminding me that I haven’t forgiven.

Last month I began seeing a Christian counselor. Some on the outside may think it is for marriage, but in reality it is to work on me. One other sin I have been guilty of is the sin of self-sufficiency. I have always been self-sufficient. I have always felt in my heart, no matter the challenge – “I will beat this.” Well, the issues of forgiveness and grace are two areas I can’t beat. Try as I may, I only get worse and worse. I think my getting worse and worse is God’s grace towards me. He essentially has to let me fail miserably before a U-turn is made.

Later today is my third session with the counselor. Part of me is humiliated. My self-sufficiency says that “asking for help is a weakness”. But part of me is extremely proud, because it takes a lot of courage to go to counseling. I am also a very private person (nothing sinful here) and I know how folks love to gossip and make assumptions, so I am sure I am part of the occasional group discussion.

As the Christian message often is – there are a lot of paradoxes going on. While I am at my lowest (since cancer) I am at the same time experiencing Christ in a fresh new way. I haven’t been this “alive in Christ” in years. While on one hand I am exhausted, on the other I am full of energy. While part of me sees Satan working through people I would’ve never guessed, I also see Christ working through people I would’ve never guessed. While part of me wants to crawl in a hole, part of me wants to dance in the streets. While part of me is uncomfortable with the rest of 2016, part of me hasn’t been so excited to live life.

Because forgiveness and grace are heart issues, the road to victory is going to be long and full of peril. I am frustrated when a Christian message gives a one, two, three formula to dealing with heart issues. BS! And the opportunities to quit will be plenty. Quit and run back to what I am used too. Those things I am used too are what Jesus called idols.

I shudder at all the people I never forgave. Our world isn’t one to forgive, we simply move onto what appears to be something better. People are like socks (whether family, friends or lovers), if you don’t like it, get a new one. And trust me, the world is full of people that will encourage you to do what is easiest. Very, very few people (including Christians) will encourage you to take the long, hard road, which is primarily not looking at the person who has wronged you, but taking a strong look at yourself.

Last week I told my counselor that I was fearful of what Satan had up his sleeve. His comment “That’s nothing, you should also be fearful of what God has up his sleeve as well.”

Well said.

 

Stuck

This past week we had a winter storm roll through. We don’t get many here in NC but this was a big deal, and for once the meteorologists were spot on. There wasn’t much snow (3-4″) but there was a considerable amount of ice. I had never seen so much ice fall in a day. Maybe I am weird but I love the sound of ice falling. The “tink tink” noise against a window is very similar to rain. So on Friday evening I took a lawn chair out, put it under our covered patio in the back and enjoyed the ice falling as night time started to approach.

We live in a new development and the next building phase is behind our house. They started clearing trees (about 15 acres) in early December. It is one slippery mud pit back there. Just last week, they installed a culvert and piping for a small (very very small) creek, that runs through the area. Dotting the cleared area are piles of mulched trees. I love the smell the piles give off – just like freshly laid mulch in a garden. Also the steam pouring off of the piles is a neat sight to see in the mornings.

So, there I was relaxing to the sound of ice falling, when I saw through the tree line behind our house, a vehicle in the new developed area. Now understand, all they have done back there is clear trees and lay culvert piping. Otherwise it is all mud. Red, thick, NC clay mud. So I watched the vehicle through the trees figuring it was nothing more than a quick inspection by the builder.

I went inside and headed upstairs to take a shower before dinner and saw out the bathroom window that a large vehicle was stuck in the valley where the creek ran. I looked for a few seconds and told my wife I better go outside to make sure everything is OK. So I bundled up (it was in the 20s) and headed out. After a few minutes trekking through the thick mud I approached the vehicle and saw it was a teenage boy and his dad. The boy was running to the front of the vehicle, then to the back…repeatedly. The dad hopped out and I said a bit firmly (after all they shouldn’t be back there in the first place) – “So what brings you two back here?” The dad said his son wanted to take the H2 (a Hummer for the general public) out for a drive in the bad weather. Their drive took them to our neighborhood, and unfortunately for them they found the construction entrance to the new phase. When they were on top of the hill the dad asked the son to go out and see if the mud down by the creek was firm enough to drive on. The son said it was, the dad drove the beast of a vehicle down the hillside….THUD…it was stuck. And boy was it.

Though I didn’t share my initial thoughts, I could tell these guys weren’t going anywhere. The huge tires were spinning in place and had dug ruts so deep that the tires (about 30″ in diameter) were completely submerged in the mud). The H2 had a winch on the front. On the other side of the creek (with water flowing, not frozen – but thin enough to hop across) there was a stump. On the left was a few trees, and towards the right was the concrete wall to the culvert piping. Clearly the goal was to get the strap around the stump and pull forward. But that didn’t work because the strap kept coming off the stump. Then for the next 40+ minutes we’d tie onto the trees and winch, then over to the culvert and winch – but all that was accomplishing was dragging the vehicle left and right and unfortunately creating a deeper and deeper hole for the H2.

Finally the dad agreed it was time to call mom and have her meet them at the entrance of the neighborhood. They lived about 3 miles away in a neighborhood known for affluence. In fact this family lived on a golf course, has season tickets for football, they own the H2, an Infinity, Audi and Honda Odyssey. In other words (at least on the surface) money is not a problem. As I walked them back to the street, I told the son that he should be proud of his dad. The dad never threw his son under the bus, never lost his cool, never cussed, never yelled, never appeared impatient. If anything, the dad appeared to be having a great time. And I was impressed.

Early the next morning I saw the dad walking through our backyard with another adult. I got dressed and headed down there. The goopy pancake batter (mud) had semi-frozen overnight, but it was still a mess. As I walked down the hill, his buddy (also into offroading) gave me a look of “this isn’t good” He said that when Steve (the dad) called him that morning he simply said “Hey buddy, I got the H2 stuck last night, can you help” – but he wasn’t prepared for this. So together for 90 minutes we tried everything we could. Our last attempt was tying the winch to a tree located behind the vehicle to try and get the truck to pivot in the mud and face the other direction.  We tied it, cleared the area and Steve began to tighten the winch. A few seconds later POW the line broke. That was it, there was nothing else we could do – Steve needed someone to come help him.

His buddy had to leave early to do something at the house. I hung out with Steve, who through some strange way, still laughed and made lite of the moment. And he was sincere. This wasn’t some fake artificial attempts to look relaxed…..HE REALLY WAS RELAXED!!! Before leaving, his buddy said “You need to get this out of here. If the construction guys return Monday to see you here, they could nail you for trespassing.” In private I asked his buddy “So how much do you think this is going to cost him to have a professional wrecker come pull him out?” His reply “At least two grand”

Steve finally called AAA and they sent out a guy in a flat bed dually to see if he could pull him out. After 15 minutes of thinking about it, he finally said he wasn’t comfortable bringing his truck back there. He felt the soil, even on the hilltop was too soft and he would probably get stuck. In my mind, Steve was out of cards. He was going to have to wait for the construction guys to show up during the week and pull him out with a Caterpillar. I said I was sorry to Steve that we couldn’t get him out. I offered a coffee or sandwich to him but he declined. He walked back to my house where he had parked his minivan. Me, I went back to my day doing some woodwork in the garage. After 30 minutes he came over to me and said “I called an offroad shop I go to south of the city. I told them my situation and they posted something on Facebook and Twitter. Within minutes I got several replies from other offroaders saying they would be by immediately to help.” I was stunned. And Steve…well he was laughing.

Then about 20 minutes later this jacked up Jeep came around the corner. Bright, shiny, gigantic winch on the front, HUGE mud tires (that looked absolutely brand new). He hopped out, a fireplug of a guy – he just looked like an offroader). Steve pointed to where the construction entrance was and the guy drove down. Then came another Jeep….well, I sure as heck wasn’t going to miss this, so we walked back down the scene of the crime. By the time we got down there three Jeeps were at the scene. After several minutes of discussion (and the arrival of a couple more Jeeps and a huge Hummer) it was decided that one Jeep would back down the hill, tie onto Steve’s stuck H2, then that Jeep would tie his front winch to the jacked up Jeep which would stay on top of the hill. The jacked up jeep was strapped to a tree in the back….so it went Jeep, tied to Jeep, tied to H2…then it began – with winches pulling, H2 going in reverse and everyone in 4-Wheel drive….the H2 started to move backwards in the mud. After a few minutes the action had to stop because the winches were overheating. Then they would go back….stop….resume…finally the H2 was out of the ruts, but it still had to go up the hill (about a 30 foot climb). I had nothing to offer other than talk to Steve as he was approaching victory. By now there were about 9 vehicles that came to rescue. And these guys knew what they were doing. Finally after about 30 minutes of slow grind – Steve was back on top of the hill. He got out and laughed. He offered to take everyone to a local restaurant for burgers and beer. I just slipped back home. In minutes, everyone was gone, including the 30+ spectators from our neighborhood.

Later I heard someone call Steve an idiot. He “supposedly got what he deserved.” But I got to thinking about it, and completely disagreed. This was a dad, out having a good time with his son. They weren’t drunk, they weren’t vandalizing, they weren’t causing trouble – they were being adventurous males. I am and adventurous male. Steve never got onto his son, never got impatient with the help he was offered, never lost his cool. Yeah, maybe he was a bit of a knucklehead to get into the situation in the first place – but this is a guy with a story. Anyone can stay home and throw rocks at those making mistakes in life. Anyone can sit on their throne and belittle those living life to the fullest – which always has embarrassing moments in it.

As my dear friend recently said “I like the idea of flying a plane into heaven when I die. But I want it to be a dustcropper plane, and I want it beat up, sputtering, flying erratically as it approaches the runway towards God. I want it to bounce along the runway, and when I get out of the plane I want to yell “MAN WHAT A RIDE!!”

Steve will be the type of guy that will be able to yell “MAN WHAT A RIDE!!!”

 

No Longer Useful

My apologies for completely dropping the ball with blogging. I suppose I have legitimate excuses (parenting, work, Christmas….), they would be merely that – excuses.

One of my most recent blogs was regarding a bench I had made for my garage. I made it out of recycled wood (pallets and building materials being discarded). Given my desire to save money wherever I can, find my building materials free is great! So not long after wrapping up the bench I began my next project, building some organization shelving in my garage along with a workbench. This was far more challenging because shelving will be in constant use. It will be constantly bearing some form of weight, while my bench is only holding weight every once in a while. It took the better part of two weeks, but here is the final product

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The wife was happy too which makes it  a homerun.

Then the flurry began. I couldn’t stop thinking about other things to build. So I made a Christmas tree out of a pallet

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 Then I made some Halloween decorations out of scrap wood

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Then I made a wine rack

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 Then I built a painting pallet and painted this

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 Then a neighbor was throwing away some lattice so I took it and painted this

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 Then I made this mason jar craft

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 Then a neighbor asked me to make them a coffee mug rack

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 But my masterpiece is this hutch I built

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It took a few weeks, but  i did it! I was very proud. And, I was able to see it to a young girl that fell absolutely in love with it. She claims she is going to send me photos of other pieces of furniture she might want me to build! A little pocket money never hurt anyone.

 My daughter especially likes my new hobby because she understand this wood is considered useless. Much of it I dig out of construction dumpsters. She understands that the next stop is the dump or a furnace. It is deemed useless. But dad comes along and gives it new purpose and meaning. It goes from worthless to having a lot of personal and financial value.

God does the same with humans. Just when we think we are useless or don’t have the purpose and value we once had, he comes along and says “I have a new role for you. Follow me”

I am bilingual

Compliments are few and far between. Not sure why, but our culture is hard pressed to give a good, sincere compliment. A couple years ago, I received a great compliment (at least it was to me). After the incredible upset of Auburn over Alabama, on the missed field goal taken back for a touchdown (see clip below) and the end of regulation, I shot a string of texts to SHR celebrating with him. He is a graduate of Auburn, and Auburn/Alabama are bitter rivals – right up there with Ohio State and Michigan. I don’t even like Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss….I simply don’t like the SEC – but the nation couldn’t help but celebrate that most unlikely ending. On into the next day I was sending high-fives to SHR, when he shot back a great compliment. He said “You know what I like about you? You “get” football. You understand the passion and excitement about the game.” Now as a die hard football fan that really did mean a lot to me. And he was right, I do “get” the game

Earlier this week I wrapped up a six week men’s study at church on marriage. The leader of the sessions asked that I be a table leader, which essentially meant leading the discussions at our table each night. Each table had six guys and it was my role to make sure discussions flowed and stayed on topic. One morning the group leader sent me an email praising me on how well I keep conversations going, and manage to make men feel comfortable talking about very, very touchy subjects.

Then it dawned on me. I am bilingual. I am fluent in English, and Guy. Yes, “guy”. I speak Guy very well. I get men and understand fairly well how they tick and where boundaries are often setup. I know how to bust a guys chops, make fun of his favorite sports team, tease him about a particular habit – but seconds later have him confessing is moral failures and frustrations with various temptations. I also know how to praise and lift a guy up. I have been doing this for years. I can see emotions in men’s eyes, and can tell what is sacred to them in a single meeting. More importantly, I have never used this skill for selfish gain or harm. It is a talent, and as far as I am concerned, a God-given gift

This week a 63 year old buddy of mine has been living at our home. He is going through some very serious health challenges – nothing that needs to be discussed on here. He will relocate to a new home about 10 miles from here on Monday. He will share it with three other guys.

He has no family. Never been married, no kids, his sister live in Texas. He is alone and scared (his own words).

Never has my second language been so useful. All week I have been speaking guy to help ease some of the stress that he is going through. He is laughing a lot, and I am doing my best to make him feel strong and manly. He has told me repeatedly that he appreciates it.

I am uneasy about the near future for him. Hopefully a few years from now I will look back on this post and say “Silly, what were you so concerned about.” Regardless, I will continue to bust his chops, tease him and tell him to quit going to Hooters and using my credit card

Enjoy this “answered prayer”

September 11

It was September 11……..1985. Cincinnati was buzzing because their hometown hero Pete Rose was one hit shy of breaking Ty Cobb’s longstanding hits record of 4,192 hits. Pete had returned to play for the Reds the year before as a player-manager. He was the heart-n-soul of the famous Big Red Machine. He grew up on the west side of Cincinnati, played for the Reds, lead them to multiple world series, was the hero of the 1970 All-Star game played in Cincinnati – then in the late 70s he was traded to Philadelphia. After a few years with the Phillies and a short stint with the Expos, Pete was back home.

The hits record was a monumental achievement. Ty Cobb had set the record when baseball was still in its infancy. Now Pete, some 70 years later was about to break his record.

Pete had tied the record on Sunday afternoon in Chicago, but instead of taking himself out of the game, he stayed in, and almost broke the record had the Cubs shortstop (Shawon Dunston) not made a brilliant play.

The Reds returned to Cincinnati to play the Padres. Monday night the Padres sent LaMarr Hoyt to the mound. Pete went 0-4 with two pop outs and two ground outs.

Tuesday night Eric Show (pronounced “ow”,like ow, I hurt my hand) took the mound. I was sitting at home just like much of Cincinnati when Pete, batting second came up. Marty Brennaman’s call says “he levels the bat a couple times…” then he smacked it into left field for the record breaking hit. It was euphoria! For what seemed like an eternity there was celebration on the field. But there was one scene that did somewhat steal the moment. It was Eric Show sitting somewhat dejected on the mound. There was instant buzz about his reaction to Pete’s moment. Obviously he knew that he would be forever remembered as the guy who gave up “the hit”. Even team mates scorned Show for his reaction

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Eric Show after giving up Pete Rose’s record breaking hit

Finally things settled down and the game resumed. In fact later in the game Pete would get a triple with a shot to center.

What a magical night, right? Right?

Pete Rose, the hit king, would eventually be banned from baseball. After a 1989 investigation found him guilty of betting on the sport, he accepted an offer from baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti to be permanently banned from the game. This included no induction into the Hall of Fame. On August 24, 1989 Pete was officially banned from the sport where he was king

8 days later Bart Giamatti would die of a heart attack

One year later the Reds, who Pete had been manager of, won the World Series. Pete watched it from home

As for Eric Show. He would continue to pitch for a few more years with San Diego before finally ending his career in 1990. Not long after retirement Eric fell victim to substance abuse. He checked himself into a rehab facility in California in March 1994. On March 16 he was found dead in his room due to an overdose of crystal meth, heroin, and alcohol

The warm late summer Tuesday evening in Cincinnati will forever be etched in folks mind. “Where were you when Pete got his hit?”

In the end though I don’t think anyone “won”. Pete will probably never see Cooperstown. He has spent much of the past 25+ years going to trade shows and signing autographs. Giamatti died and Eric Show overdosed. One could even argue Cincinnati didn’t win either. The shame and frustration surrounding Pete over the last couple of decades has removed much of the magic from that Tuesday night.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday as well.

Me and Twitter – have our own thing going

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I have a Twitter account. I’ve had it since March 2011, but rarely tweet. In fact I have only tweeted once since April. It is especially hard since I got rid of my IPhone. Want to know something funny? I have 900+ followers on Twitter. No joke. Out of the 900+ only 5 would know me if I were in their presence. I have a parody account (I don’t use my real name, and everyone knows it). My “specialty” is tweeting during NFL games. I use dry, witty and clean humor throughout the game. I no longer have NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV, so as a result I don’t get my home town team’s games, I have to rely solely on Twitter for live coverage. There is a tight community that is tweeting each Sunday, and I am part of that team. Just this week I had a follower send me a private message that read “I miss you so much! Can’t wait for the season to start.” That is the reason why my account exists

What I have to be careful of is enjoying it too much. I have been guilty of tweeting for several hours on a Sunday. Like all parents, I don’t want my kids to see sensuality, violence or profanity – but seeing their dad flopped on a couch staring at an IPad for several hours isn’t good either. My plan this year is to only tweet during one game on the weekend – that is it.

I enjoy tweeting because A) I am good at what I do. I am good at making people laugh, and B) I try to help people not take it too seriously. After all, it really is a game. Mike Brown doesn’t know me at all. Mike Brown (or Roger Goodell for that matter) have no interest in what’s going on in my life. With that said, I am not going to ruin my health over a game.

My humor is good. I have a couple of Steeler fans that follow me, and even they will send compliments regarding my humor – even when I am blasting Pittsburgh. I try to be honest: I am not a homer, and I am not a doomsday person. I really enjoy making people laugh. Maybe I am compensating for an internal flaw and weakness that I don’t want others to see – I don’t know – but I enjoy knowing that I helped bring good, hearty laughter into someone’s life

As for point “B” – I went through the 90s with the Bengals. I know just how damaging bad football can be to emotions and psyche. I spent HOOOUUUURRSSS watching a pathetic organization completely humiliate the city. My emotions were a wreck week after week. I don’t want others doing that. So what I try and do is lighten the atmosphere with some witty humor. Sometimes it is hard and you need to be extra creative. I just don’t want other guys falling victim to what I did in the 90s (and many other weeks/years). It is a game. Being a husband and father require my best (including my emotions and creativity) – not the NFL.

In two weeks the season will start and I will be on Twitter “doing my thing”. I look forward to it. I really do. At some point mid-season I will go over 1,000 followers. And still less that .5% will know who I am. That is OK. Mike Brown doesn’t know who I am either.

Makes me remember…

A couple of weeks ago we hosted a cookout at our house. We invited three other families in our neighborhood – all with kids. In total I think there were 8 adults and 10 kids. I was the maestro at the grill! Cooking hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, metts, and brats all at the same time. It really was an impressive sight to behold

After everyone had eaten, all of the adults gathered in the kitchen for some small talk. Somehow the conversation turned to the movie Field of Dreams. The 1980s classic starring Kevin Costner. The movie centers around the sport of baseball, and one of the guys at our home that night is a big baseball fan. In fact he got a college scholarship to play baseball.

David is a good guy. Easy going, appreciates a good joke and has a very sentimental edge to him. While on the subject of Field of Dreams, his wife noted that there is a scene in the movie (towards the end I believe) where Costner is tossing ball with his deceased dad. This scene always moves David to tears because his dad would come home every night and play catch with him. Even though his dad wasn’t much of a baseball fan. This fond memory is etched in David’s mind forever. It is lodged in that area of the brain that brings us legitimate happiness. I wondered if his dad is aware just how much joy those hours of playing catch meant to his son?

That night I got to thinking. What was my “Field of Dream moment” with my father. What sound, smell, scene…takes me back to a happy time. Then I realized – I was in the middle of it – summertime.

My father and I spent countless hours fishing during hot summer evenings. Those humid, muggy evenings where no air is moving. Even the fishing stream (often Todd Fork in Morrow) would sit still because the water was so low. I recalled the joy of him letting me venture off by myself to find a better fishing hole up stream (which usually resulted in my getting my legs chewed up by a weed called nettle or being the like discoverer of the largest swarm of mosquitoes in SW Ohio).

We weren’t good fishermen. We tried like the dickens, but our catch was usually measured in ounces, not pounds. I would sometimes catch more tree limbs than fish. But dad was cool with it. He would usually find someway to get my line undone while I used his fishing pole to catch….nothing.

Some point during the evening I would usually fall down on the mass of rocks that made up the creek bed. This portly elementary school kid would at of course be reduced to tears. River rocks on the right butt cheek don’t feel good.

This fisherman’s diet was usually a bag of Funyons and Pepsi…..don’t judge.

But what I vividly remember most is the sound of Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall. There was nothing like Reds baseball on radio. Even though the mid-80s were not kind to Reds fans, the sound of Marty and Joe still had a way of getting you to tune in. My dad had a small black transistor radio that we would use to fill the air at Todd Fork with the call of the game. I would always listen more intently when Mario Soto was pitching. It could be August, the Reds could be 15 games out of first place, but we had to listen to the game.

Once fishing was over, we’d load up the truck, hop in and tune to 700WLW. And listen to the game all the way home. Which often included a stop at UDF.

A few years ago, my dad and I took a small road trip to visit some of our old fishing holes. A lot has changed in Morrow over the past 2-1/2 decades. The drive out 22-3 isn’t as rural as it once was. The bait shop we would stop at in Foster is long gone. As for the fishing hole, a good portion of the flow has been rerouted to prevent soil erosion near the road. Across the stream was a cleared off area where people do some night fishing now. The small tributary to the right is bone dry. Doesn’t look like water has flowed down it in a long time. The pull off we would park at was grown over with weeds and dense brush. Though for the most part it was the same – it still wasn’t 1984

But like David who recalls those years of tossing ball with his dad, I will always be able to recall the hours that add to days, that add to weeks of fishing in that small town in Warren County. No worries other than doing my homework when I got home, and making sure I took a bath first thing.

Joe Nuxhall left us in 2007. I am confident he now resides in the Kingdom. My dad is still alive and still roots for the Reds – who believe it or not are 15 games out of first place.

I am sure David will someday watch Field of Dreams with his son and explain that particular scene. Maybe he still owns the glove he had as a child. My son is 6 and someday during a trip back home I will take him to Morrow, to the same creek, to the some part of the bank, and explain it to him.

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