Monday, October 31, 2016

A Halloween Story

His name was Lon.  Looking back, he was a rather pathetic fifth grader with a big mouth who got a feeling of power by terrorizing younger kids.  But at the time, he was the Lord of the Neighborhood.  His word was law, and usually, his word was something frightening and humiliating.  He was a Big Kid.  And he had two big, dumb buddies to back him up.

My dad didn't know about Lon when we made Jack O' Lantern Man.  It was just a fun thing to do:  Stuff a set of his coveralls, set the resulting body in a lawn chair, and put a pumpkin on top for a head.  It was my dad's creativity and love of taking things a step further that made him prop the old car speaker up behind Jack's head, with a wire hooked in that led up to a microphone in our upstairs window.  We could sit up there, in the dark, and give Jack a voice.  To the little ones, his voice was friendly and happy.  To the bigger kids, the ones who enjoy being scared just a bit, his voice was menacing (but still funny).  It was a beautiful thing, good for lots of laughs, jumps, and Halloween cheer.

Things had pretty much wrapped up for the night, and the porch light had just been turned off--the universally understood signal for "We're out of candy and we don't want any more trick-or-treaters"--when the three Big Kids came up the sidewalk. Even in the dark, I recognized Lon by his swagger, and his two buddies by their knuckles dragging on the ground.  It was obvious that they were too cool to wear costumes, and they were just out causing trouble.  And, in a brazen breech of small-town ethics, they ignored the darkened porch light and rang the door bell.

Dad wanted to know, "Who are these clowns?"  I told him this was Lon, and he and his buddies were not nice guys.  I might have mentioned the fact that he was mean to younger kids.  I might have, oh, possibly whispered a few details about how he had threatened to hurt me and my friends.  Fatherly wisdom dictated no candy for such scum of the earth, so the doorbell went unanswered.

Lon rang it again.  And again.

No answer.

Jack's candle burned, casting an eerie, orange glow about the yard.

The tension mounted.

Convinced that no one was home and the house was undefended, Lon began poking around, looking for some petty damage he could do, and his attention almost immediately turned to the jack o' lantern. Backed up by his smirking buddies, he strutted over to Jack, preparing with an exaggerated wind-up to knock Jack's head off.

And at that moment, out of the darkness, in the thundering voice of my father...Jack spoke.

YOU TOUCH ME AND I'LL RIP YOUR ARM OFF!

I don't think, up to that moment, I had ever seen what utter terror looked like.  Lon's eyes bugged out and his mouth gaped as he leaped several feet up and several yards backwards, landing flat on his back in the grass.  Lon's Neanderthal buddies, who were standing several feet back and thus only mildly startled, immediately saw what had happened.  The guffawing from the upstairs window might have tipped them off; I don't know.  But in a moment, they were laughing too.

At Lon.  The Big Kid.

Lon, of course, picked himself up immediately and feigned bored disdain for the whole thing, but the damage was done, the armor of Big Kid invincibility cracked.  And somehow, the next day, all my friends at school knew what had happened.

I guess that in a perfect world, Lon and I would have become friends.  I can't say that happened--his scare sure didn't cure him of being a jerk.  But I sure don't remember him seeming all that scary after that, or having quite so big a mouth.

I guess it was a learning experience for both of us:  A bully's humiliation was a scrawny third-grader's liberation.

Happy Halloween!


Sunday, June 12, 2016

45 Things I Have Learned

Today, I complete my forty-fifth trip around the sun.  If the numbers pan out, I should be about halfway to the finish line of this race we call life.  I'm happy to announce that some of the aid stations in this race have bacon.  And I'm pretty sure I'm on my way to a PR. 

I've tried to keep my eyes open and pay attention along the way, and I have picked up a few lessons that I try to live by.  Here are 45 of them--just one per year, because that's about as fast as life-lessons can penetrate my skull.

1.  Determining the right thing is seldom complicated.  Doing the right thing is seldom easy.

2.  A person who will not ask for help in time of need is just as morally screwed-up as a person who will not offer it.

3. If you ever hear yourself saying, "God wants me to be happy," beware.  God wants you to be faithful.  The happiness will follow.

4.  Here's the cure for boredom:  Find something that needs done.  Go to it.

5.  There's really no point trying to change anybody but myself.

6.  If you really want to fight for your family, quit fighting with your spouse.  In the long run, peace is often more important than vindication, and winning is seldom worth the damage.

7.  Depression is real, and it is true what they say about it:  You cannot just "get over it;" you cannot just will it to go away.  All you can do it fight it, with every spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational weapon that comes to hand.  When that crushing, unreasoning despair comes down, just finding the courage to fight is a major victory.

8.  Always accept when someone offers you a breath mint.

9.  Being a Christian isn't about being right; it's about submitting to Jesus, because he is right.

10.  There are very few obstacles in this world that cannot be cut down to size by love, hard work, and perseverance.

11.  Make kids laugh whenever and however you can.

12.  No matter how badly I want it to be otherwise, very few things are about me.  The more I make peace with this truth, the happier I am.

13.  "But" is one of the most powerful words in our language, and it gives its power to whatever comes after it.  "I'm sorry, but..." is a pretty poor excuse for an apology.  "This is hard, but..." are the words of someone on the verge of overcoming.  Don't ever say "I love you, but..."

14.  Act like a kid when you can.  Act like a grown-up when you need to.

15.  Sometimes God answers my prayer by changing the situation to suit me.  Sometimes he changes me to suit the situation.

16.  "The Golden Rule" doesn't go away when the other person is wrong; indeed, that is the only time it really becomes necessary. 

17.  If the person across from you admits that they were wrong, that doesn't necessarily mean that you were right.

18.  The more important and complex the topic--politics, religion, parenthood, ethics, the environment, that sort of thing--the more important it becomes to approach it with calmness, open-mindedness, and humility.  Bring your best spirit and your best thinking to these topics; approach them to learn, not merely to win; don't bother engaging with those who do not do likewise, especially if they agree with you.  The implications are too big for anything less than your best.

19.  Aging gracefully has a lot to do with learning one's limitations without being imprisoned by them.

20.  The Bible tells us to confess our own sins, so that we may be healed.  It's a whole lot easier to confess everybody else's sins.

21.  No matter what you see in the movies, angry outbursts almost always make things worse, not better.

22.  There is nothing that happens--Nothing--that God cannot redeem and turn into something beautiful, if we just trust him.

23.  Gratitude is the great stabilizer of the soul:  It contains the remedy for arrogance and shame, for laziness and perfectionism, for despair and over-confidence.  Thankfulness brings humility without humiliation, contentment without apathy, confidence without pride, and great riches without greed.

24.  There is always something to be thankful for.  Always.

25.  Don't be shocked and outraged when life is hard.  It's supposed to be.  If hard times take you by surprise, you haven't been paying attention.

26.  If someone offends you, it probably isn't worth taking it all that seriously.

27.  It takes great courage to love and serve in the face of injustice, heartbreak, pain, brokenness.  Those who choose to do so are worthy of recognition and great respect.

28.  Sometimes it's easy to ignore the acre of wild flowers and focus in on the dog turd over in the corner.

29.  We cannot teach our children to be creative risk-takers by forcing their teachers to play it safe, teach to the test, and go with the flow.

30.  There's nothing like a long rainstorm in the back-country to make people hoist their true colors.

31.  If you don't know what to say, there's no need to open your mouth and demonstrate.

32.  Being a parent frequently feels like grabbing the child's hand and leading them on a tight-rope walk between adventure and safety.  Sheltering and equipping.  Confidence and humility.  Work and play.  Independence and respect for authority. Compassion and toughness. Moms and dads tend to come down on opposite sides of these extremes.  I guess that's why kids need both.

33.  Faith is a journey, not a destination.  When you start thinking you've arrived, you can be pretty sure you've lost your way. 

34.   Pride and shame are the same problem.  If you are stuck looking in the mirror, focused on your own self-image, you are just as enslaved whether you like what you see or not.

35.  "Struggling with sin" is a good thing.  It's when we quit struggling that we're really in trouble.

36.  If the scenery doesn't match up with the map, go back to the last place that looked familiar, and just relax for a while.

37.  If you're going to make threats or ultimatums, you'd better be good and prepared to follow up.

38.  Worship isn't just something that happens on Sunday morning.  Worship has to be a way of life, if it's to be worth anything.

39.  It's pretty hard to feel stressed while running up and down mountains.  It's pretty hard to feel angry with a fish on.

40.  You really shouldn't do yoga in a kilt.

41.  When in doubt, put down the phone, turn off the computer, and get in the real world with  family and friends, sunshine and wind.

42.  Love people for who they are, not for what you need from them.

43.  "Weep with those who weep" means just that.  Sharing another person's suffering is very uncomfortable, and it is all too easy to minimize or explain away the suffering, not so much to comfort the sufferer, but to diminish our own discomfort.  But consider how God deals with us in our suffering:  He seldom makes it go away and he hardly ever explains it to us; he walks with us through it.  He expects us to do the same for each other.  It isn't supposed to be comfortable.

44.  A person who has stopped learning has no business teaching.

45.  Growth takes time.  Learning the right way, and learning to walk in that way, is a long process.  If you're a friend of mine, you've probably had to be patient with me at some point. Thanks.  I'm getting there.


Monday, May 23, 2016

NC-217's Dream: A Short Screenplay

Setting:  An empty cafeteria, with a large window looking out upon a starry sky.

Two armored Imperial Storm Troopers walk into the room, chatting amicably, carrying lunch boxes.  They sit down and remove their helmets.  NC-217 is a young, blond man in his late teens.  PG-8115 is a few years older, with dark hair.  They open their lunch boxes and begin to eat.

217:  [Around mouthfuls of food] So, I had the craziest dream last night.

8115:  Yeah?

217:  Yeah.  You were in it, too.  There was this big rebellion against the Empire...

8115:  [Snorts loudly] Like that's gonna happen.  I'm telling you, kid, this Death Star is the key to peace in this galaxy.  Once we finish welding those blast grates over the thermal exhaust ports...Nobody's gonna make trouble now.

217:  Yeah, but in this dream, there was a rebellion, and get this--you and me were in it.  I think we were even some kind of leaders.  It was awesome--We got to fly around in fighters, be big heroes, and kiss pretty girls, and...

8115:  [Laughs]  Wishful thinking, kid.  Wishful thinking.  Just once I'd love to get behind the controls of one of those Tie fighters.  Lemme tell you something about pretty girls, though...

217:  [Laughing] No, no, no!  I was flying a fighter of some kind and brought down an ATAT...With a HARPOON!  

8115:  [Snorts and nearly chokes on a mouthful of food; grabs a thermos and takes a drink]

217:   We had civilian names, too.  Check this out:  I was...[with exaggerated drama] Luke...SKYWALKER!

8115: [Spits coffee across table]  Oh, that's beautiful!  Suits you.  How 'bout me?  Do I get a name in this dream universe?

217:  Han Solo.

8115:  Hmmm...I like yours better.

217:  Oh, but the name of your ship--get this:

8115:  I had my own ship?  This gets better and better!

217:  Yeah.  The Millennium Fahlcon.

8115:  [Snorts again]  Well, that's more like it.  Millennium Fahlcon. 

217:  It could make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs!

8115:  [Glances at clock on wall, stands and begins rapidly repacking lunch box]  Hey, kid, we're gonna HAVE to run if we're gonna make it to target practice on time.  Come on!

217:  [Stands up and begins packing box]  Target practice!  So in this dream, you and me?  Rag-tag rebels with no training?  We couldn't MISS with our blasters.  But the Imperial Storm Troopers?  Couldn't hit anything.  It was crazy--like they were missing on purpose or something.

8115:  [Pulling on helmet and walking off stage]  Yeah, that's great, kid.  Next you're gonna tell me we got massacred by teddy bears, or something.  Come on!  [Exits stage]

217  Stands staring longingly out the window...

Voice from Off Stage:  NC-217!  Your nourishment interval ended 30 seconds ago.  Why are you still here?  Are you ill?

217 Quickly finishes loading lunchbox, looks out window again, heaves a deep, regretful sigh...then grabs helmet and rushes off stage.

The End

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Solstice

Those who claim to know say today is the first day of Winter.  Those of us who live in northern climates, who have been bundling up and plugging in our block heaters for a couple months now, often get a good laugh out of that.

I went outside early this morning to do a couple quick chores.  Early:  Still dark, the stars still burning, the blue-silver just starting to touch the eastern horizon.  And I could smell magic crackling in the cold air.

Not goofy, Harry-Potterish, turn-kittens-into-mushrooms magic, nor fluffy, New-Ageish, dance-barefoot-in--the-rain magic, but the kind of magic grounded in hard science and certain hope:  Today is four seconds longer than yesterday.  Today, the sun begins its journey back north.

First day of Winter?  Heck no.  Today, Spring starts coming.  It takes a long time, and there are still storms to endure, but it's coming, and nothing will stop it.

Happy solstice, my friends.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Christmas Story

Sometimes it’s painful to turn on the news this time of year.  It seems like there is something about the Christmas season that brings out the worst in people.  Or maybe the selfishness that is endemic to humanity is thrown into sharper contrast against the ideals of “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”  Sometimes it seems as if the whole season is nothing but greed and guilt, disillusionment and broken dreams, wrapped up with a pretty ribbon.

But sometimes, things work out just like they should.  Sometimes, the simple kindness of a complete stranger reminds you that the Christmas spirit is alive and well, in ways that can’t be bought with money.  This story, told in the emails below, is about Christmas.  Enjoy.

______________________________
Thomas Wilson
November 17, 2014
To zoo info

Dear Denver Zoo,

I have a request with a story behind it.  If you aren’t in the mood for a story, feel free to skip to the last paragraph for the request.  I know how busy you must be this time of year.

Three years ago, my wife was very sick at P/SL Hospital, trying to recover from a burst appendix and the loss of our son (she was 23 weeks pregnant when her appendix burst), and I was staying at the Ronald McDonald house just down the road from you.  Over our two-month ordeal, Sarah suffered many complications, many of them life-threatening, all them extremely painful.  In addition to all that, we were separated from our then-two-year-old daughter for almost two months.  It was a lonely, dark, painful time for my wife.

I had promised Sarah that I would not go to the zoo without her, even though I had a free pass from the RMH, and I frequently passed by on walks around the park.  I would go back to the hospital and tell Sarah that I heard birds screaming or lions roaring.  Sarah’s favorite animal is the giraffe, so on one of my walks I stopped in your gift shop and bought her a stuffed baby giraffe.  For a person in extreme pain, who couldn’t quite bring herself to believe that she was ever going to get out of that hospital room, this gift meant a lot.  Sarah would snuggle with that baby giraffe to comfort her in the loss of our baby.  We would talk about how fun it would be when she got better and I could take her to see the real thing.  It was something to hold onto, something real, something to hope for.  And almost a year later, I finally took her.  We have been there twice since then.  The giraffes were awesome.  

Recently, as happens in a house full of children and animals, that baby giraffe was torn apart by a playful puppy.  Sarah cried—that little stuffed animal had some serious memories behind it.  It isn’t something that can be replaced, but I would like to do the next best thing.

I have looked around your site and can’t find a link to your gift shop, which makes me think that you don’t sell gifts online.  Still, if it is possible, I would like to ask if you could send my wife one of those baby giraffe stuffed animals.  I know I could find one online, but that wouldn’t be the same—I need one from the Denver Zoo.  I would be happy to pay for it and the postage, of course, and whatever packaging fee for your trouble.  Please let me know if this is possible.

Thanks for your consideration.
Tom Wilson
Lander, Wyoming
______________________________

Marlina Schleuger
December 1, 2014
To me

Hello Mr. Wilson,
I can only imagine how sad your wife must have felt when the baby giraffe was torn apart.  I would love to assist you in the purchase to help replace the baby giraffe.  Do you know what size the giraffe was, how much it was and who the company who made the giraffe is?

We have a $9.99 fuzzy giraffe from Aurora that is approx. 6 to 8 inches and I have a 12” cuddlekin that sits and neck stands tall that is $16.99.  And I also have a large stuffed giraffe that is on promotion normally $30 for $17.99.

Please email me back or call the store and we would love to help with your purchase and replace your memory.  

Happy holidays to you and your wife Mr. Wilson!
Regards,
Marlina Schleuger
Retail Operations Manager-Denver Zoo
Service Systems Associates, Inc.
______________________________

Thomas Wilson
December 1, 2014
To Marlina

Marlina, thanks for your kind reply!  I believe it was the 6-8 incher that Sarah had before.  I don’t know the brand.  It was very soft and sort of floppy.  Do they have a Denver Zoo logo or tag on them?  I want her to know it’s the real deal.

Tom
______________________________

Marlina Schleuger
December 1, 2014
To me

Hi Thomas,

Yes we have the super soft giraffe somewhat floppy and I would be happy to put a Denver Zoo Medallion and Holiday ribbon that says Happy Holidays from the Denver Zoo.  Where would you like it shipped?  And because of your touching story, I would love to buy it for you and your wife.  Please let me know; thanks!
Regards,
Marlina
______________________________

Thomas Wilson
December 1, 2014
To Marlina

Wow…I don’t know what to say.  That is very sweet of you, and that would make it mean even more.  If you don’t mind, I will have you ship it to me at work, because if Sarah sees a box from the Denver Zoo in the mail, she’ll get suspicions.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tom
______________________________

Marlina Schleuger
December 1, 2014
To me

No, thank you for the touching story and I am so sorry for the loss of your baby.  I hope the baby giraffe helps to comfort and bring joy.  I wish you both happy holidays.

Marlina
______________________________

Thomas Wilson
December 5, 2014
To KMSSA info

Dear KMSSA,

I am writing to request contact information for the supervisor of Marlina Schleuger, Retail Operations Manager of the Denver Zoo; I would like to inform said supervisor about a recent interaction I had with Ms. Schleuger.

I have searched your website and am not sure whom I need to contact.  If you could point me in the right direction, I would be most grateful.

Thank you.

Sincerely, 
Thomas Wilson
Lander, Wyoming
______________________________

Mark Kathman
December 7, 2014
To me

Hello Mr. Wilson,

My name is Mark Kathman, and I have management oversight responsibilities for the Food and Retail Operations at the Denver Zoo.  I was forwarded your email request that you submitted to our info email on our website.  Let me thank you for reaching out to us—feedback (positive or otherwise) only helps us improve and work towards achieving our “EXTRAordinary” service goals.  That said, it is my responsibility to receive feedback and to address accordingly.

Please feel free to contact me at your convenience to share.

Respectfully,
Mark Kathman
Regional Vice President
Service Systems Associates, Inc.
______________________________

Thomas Wilson
9 December, 2015
To Mark Kathman

Dear Mr. Kathman,

Thank you for contacting me so promptly.  Far be it for me to tell you how to do your job, sir, but you need to give this person a raise.  If people like this are normal for your company, you have a remarkable company indeed.  I have attached our correspondence below.

Merry Christmas—
Thomas Wilson
Lander, Wyoming

[I attached my conversation with Marlina, which you have just read]
______________________________

Mark Kathman
December 9, 2014
To me

Mr. Wilson,

Thank you for sharing this heartwarming story.  I am deeply saddened for the tragedy that your family went through.  As a husband and father, I was quite touched by the story—I definitely held my wife and daughters a little longer after reading this last night.  And, as a man who strives to be a servant leader, I was even more touched by your story, and extremely proud of Marlina’s response.  

I do believe that I am part of a remarkable company, and stories like yours only validate this.  With your permission, I would like to share this story with the entire company for a couple reasons:  to recognize Marlina with her peers for making the extra effort and doing the absolute right thing; and also to share this as an example with all of our employees to never take any guest interaction for granted.  For some, a stuffed animal may just represent a simple souvenir of a (hopefully) fun day, but to others it could represent a priceless symbol of remembrance—as is the case with your wife, Sarah.  What a remarkable opportunity we would have to utilize this as a mechanism for training.  Please advise if you would allow us to share.

And as for Marlina—rest assured, you can bet that the recognition I mentioned above is not the only thing she will receive for this.

Thank you again for sharing, and Happy Holidays to you and your family!

Mark Kathman
Regional Vice President
Service Systems Associates, Inc.
______________________________


A few days before Christmas, I received an elaborately wrapped box from the Denver Zoo gift shop.  On Christmas morning, we were delighted and shocked to find not one, but three different stuffed giraffes in the box, all wearing “Happy Holidays from the Denver Zoo” ribbons.

Next time you are saddened by news stories about people getting trampled in the rush for the latest fad toy, remember the kindness of a complete stranger in a big city gift shop (whom I really hope is enjoying a big raise).  Remember, this Christmas season, that there are still people out there for whom “Peace on Earth, good will toward men” is not just an ideal.  Remember that there are still people out there who Get It.

Remember that you have a choice, every day, to be one of those people.

*******

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Footprints

One of my most treasured posessions is a set of hand and foot prints.

Four years ago today, when we lost our son, the beautiful nurses at P/SL Hospital made an impression of David's feet and hands in plaster--a keepsake to remind us that he was a real, flesh-and-blood person. This plaster oval sits on the piano, largely forgotten in the business and beauty of getting through the day. Once in a while, though, the prints catch my eye, and I run my fingers over them. They are so tiny.

Footprints are the perfect symbol for loss. The print itself is not an object, but a lack of one--an empty space left by something that was here, and is no longer here.  

Occasionally I indulge the urge to think about what life would be like if he hadn't died.  I imagine what it would be like to raise a son, to teach him how to be a man, even as I continue to learn myself.  I watch Katie taking such meticulous care of her dolls, and wonder what she would have been like as a big sister.  I ponder,  and sometimes even smile at, the craziness that would result from having not one, but two young kids in this tiny house.

But not often.  None of those things can be, and there is no point torturing myself with things that I can't have.   So most of the time, I try not to think about him.  Sometimes it seems wrong, this choice I make to forget what should have been.  Sometimes it seems like I am doing my lost son a disservice.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that he is beyond my reach or influence:  My being happy does not hurt him in the slightest, nor does my being sad help him.  Might as well be happy--We don't get  extra credit for being miserable.  The only good I can do in this world is to the living--my wife, my daughter, my family and friends, my students.  Doing my best for them means trying to dwell on what I do have, what I can do.

The other day I tried to literally count my blessings, you know, like that song we've all sung?  Ever try to do that?  I highly recommend it as  a spiritual exercise.  I had to stop after an hour and get ready for work, but I was nowhere near done, there is so much to be thankful for.  Life, overall, is pretty good to me, here in this fallen world.

And not a day goes by that I don't feel that fallenness.   Every day I feel that loss in some way.  I have heard it said that grieving parents never get over it; they simply learn to get on with it.  This is true.  When I look around, it is sobering to realize that I'm not special.  Everyone experiences it, somehow:  A lost child, spouse, relationship, opportunity; regrets, hurts, bad decisions, bad health...nobody gets out of this fight completely unscathed. And that, of course, is the very reason that we have to keep fighting for the good, that we need to keep "getting on with it."  We need each other.

God has blessed the garden of my life with soil that is is rich and deep, and there usually seems to be a bit more growing here than I know what to do with--a fairly good problem to have.

And under it all, permanently pressed into the soil of me, is a deep, David-shaped set of footprints.

***

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Jesus Did Not Have Pets

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place to pray.
Mark 1:35

I often get up at first light to go sit in the yard, read my Bible, pray, and watch the sun rise.  Life is wonderful but exhausting, and this "mountain top" time is very important for me to get my head on straight at the start of the day.  Jesus often did the same thing, we're told.  And of course there are all those song writers who come to the garden alone, and who love to live on the mountain top, and who rest them in the thought of birds and trees and skies and seas...so I feel like I'm in pretty good company.

Six a.m. finds me fixing myself a cup of tea in the dark kitchen, being very sneaky so as not to wake up my wife and daughter.  The Puppy hears me moving around and asks to go out.  She is not trained to stay in the yard or come when called yet, so I take her out and slip her leash over the garden fencepost.  Then I go back in and finish making my tea.

Having accomplished this, I head outside, put the Puppy on her tie-out so she has some room to run and play while I study and pray.  We have an unfenced yard, so for now the tie-out is a necessity.  I set up a lawn chair for myself near the Puppy--she barks if I don't keep her company--and go back inside for my Bible and cup of tea.  Before I can make my escape, our Hunter Cat appears and loudly asks to be let in.  I oblige, then grab my tea, head outside, and settle comfortably into my lawn chair.  The sun is just starting to touch the mountains.  The beauty is soul-enlarging.

I get up and go back inside to retrieve my Bible, which I have forgotten on the table.

Arriving back outside, I untangle the Puppy's tie-out from the the lawn chair.  I set the chair back up, sit down and open my Bible.  Today's reading is a particularly rich passage that I have been anticipating digging into.  The mountains are glowing, as with an inner light, and my tea tastes even better than usual as I take a deep breath and begin to read.

From inside the house, I hear the Hunter Cat letting me know that she is out of cat food.  This is nothing short of pet black-mail, and I'm pretty sure she knows it:  If the pets aren't kept quiet, my wife and daughter will wake up, and in addition to three crazy pets I'll have two grouchy girls on my hands.  So I rush inside, fill up the food bowl, express a few quiet but heart-felt opinions on the the Cat's vocal performance, then go back outside to my quiet time.

I untangle the Puppy from the lawn chair.  Most of my tea is all over the lawn.  The Puppy looks very sweet and innocent with tea dripping off her nose.  But my Bible is unscathed, the mountains are still beautiful, and the birds are in full voice.  I get comfortable and begin to read.  So much to unpack in this passage of scripture...

Our Special-Needs Cat arrives at the back door and clamors to be let in.  His finding the house on his own is something of an occasion, so I rush open the door, cringing at the noise.  The Puppy, upset by all this coming and going, begins to whine.  I go inside with Special Needs Cat, who is now complaining that he can't find the cat food.  I place him next to the bowl, and he happily begins eating.  I express a few quiet but heart-felt opinions about both his ancestry and his mental capabilities.

The Puppy is yipping, in that shrill, peel-paint-off-the-walls voice that can only be made by a puppy at 6:15 in the morning when the family is sleeping.  I rush back outside and untangle her from the lawn chair.  

I sit down to read, just as the Hunter and the Special Needs Cat both decide they want back outside.

I get up, put down my Bible and what remains of my tea, and get out of my chair, careful this time to place everything outside puppy range.  I thoughtfully eye the .22 rifle hanging over the door as I let the cats out.   I return to my lawn chair, get set up with my Bible and remaining sip of tea.  The dog is still whining, so I put everything down, throw a few sticks for her, scratch her ears, and tell her in a quiet but perhaps less-than-heartfelt way what a great puppy she is.  

About the time she finally calms down and I get set to read, the Cats--first Hunter, followed by Special Needs--begin parading back and forth just outside the Puppy Perimeter.  The Puppy, who loves chasing cats more than she loves life itself, goes berserk.  It takes me every ounce of Christian patience not to follow suit.

Five minutes later:  The Cats have been chased out of sight, the Puppy is happily eating dirt or chasing bugs or whatever puppies do.  And I, having expressed several less-quiet but no-less-heartfelt opinions about the possible origins and eventual destination of our pets, am once again settled down in my chair.  The sun is high now, and I am ready at last to enjoy some focused quiet time.

"GOOD MORNING, DADDY!!  CAN I COME OUT AND PLAY?"

Jesus didn't have kids, either.

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