22 Days and Counting – Missed

In 22 days, our team will take to the skies to travel first to Amsterdam and then to Kigali, Rwanda. As we fly, we will undoubtedly have thoughts about the adventure ahead. It is our hope that we never have any regrets about what we might have missed along the way. This is a somewhat peculiar post. First, even though it is being posted 22 days before the trip, it’s a little out of order since I am lagging 4-5 days behind on posting due to technical glitches– glitches that I now hope have been resolved. Those delayed posts are still coming, by the way. Second, because of the server outage and then the website feed issues, many of my email readers have missed all of the posts since August 15. So, at the bottom of this post, I am providing links to each of those posts. Finally, this post is a little peculiar because I want to assert a point of personal privilege to write just a few thoughts about someone I’ve missed.

Jack Lawrence Agnew was an extraordinary man who, if he were still with us, would be 100 years old today. Born in 1914, Jack was a native of Rising Star, Texas and a member of one of the founding families of that little community. His father, E.F. Agnew, operated the local grocery store and both Jack and his older brother, Ray, worked in that store for years. Jack married Ileta McWhirter and, when the economic necessity arose, moved his family to Lubbock, Texas where he continued in the grocery business.

If you had known Jack, you would have loved him. He was one of the kindest individuals I have ever met. And, even if he wasn’t lovable and kind, he would have been special to me because he was the father of my lovely wife, Nancy.

I didn’t always know what to think of Jack. In my early days of dating Nancy, he worked late hours, often coming home long after I had said my goodbyes. I recall vividly the time that Nancy accompanied my family on our vacation to the lake. On our return, I helped carry her bags to the front door. Jack answered the doorbell and, on seeing Nancy, grabbed her, hugged her and said, “I had no idea that you were going to be gone this long!” He whisked her away to see her mom and promptly closed the door in my face. I waited a few minutes and, when it became evident that it might be a while, I opened the door, placed the bags in the entry hall, and walked slowly back to the car. “I’m pretty sure her dad will never let me see her again,” I told my parents.

That, of course, did not prove to be the case. Nancy and I have been together ever since. And our families have been a huge part of our lives. Because I worked for Jack for a couple of years in the grocery business while I was in college and then spent hours with him at the farm in Rising Star after he retired, I have some powerful memories of him. Jack didn’t waste time on politics or celebrities or anything that might be negative about other people. Jack was, in a word, pleasant.

Jack could be a handful. He was stubborn about some things. When many husbands would have sought help caring for sick family members, Jack cheerfully and dutifully cared for Ileta during her last difficult years. No matter what, Jack’s love for her was evident in all that he did or said. He was also determined to keep working on the farm, even though he could hardly walk. Jack had reluctantly agreed to move to town and leave the farm. We moved his things to Abilene to a retirement center nearby and took delivery on one of those scooters. Jack only asked to stay for one more weekend so that he could oversee the workers coming to harvest his last pecan crop. On a Saturday morning, before the crew arrived, Jack was out in the orchard and fell, breaking his hip. Complications from that fall and the surgery eventually claimed his life on Christmas Eve of that year.

I have missed Jack, just as I have missed Nancy’s mom and my dad. When I see pictures of Jack I can almost hear his voice and I wish that we could sit and talk again. He would talk about baby calves and the need for rain and how he needed to get into Brownwood to pick up this or that. But, it was the things that he didn’t say that made those conversations so appealing. I never heard him talk about anyone else in anger. Occasionally he might express disappointment, but that was the extent of it. He spent his time pointing out the good and beautiful things of life. He loved his wife, his daughters, and his son. And his grandkids. And baby calves, of course.

As I think about things I have missed, I have become increasingly aware that I have missed meaningful times with genuinely beautiful people. Growing older, I am also more aware that most people are genuinely beautiful when you give them a chance. Jack knew that. And that’s why so many people would drive miles out of their way to spend time with him.

This trip to Africa is presenting unbelievable opportunities for our team to spend time with people and to give them a chance to be beautiful. None of us can afford to miss that. You don’t have to go to Africa to make that happen.

I miss you, Jack. Happy Birthday! Thanks for seeing the beautiful!

 §§§§§§

So, if you missed a few posts, here are the ones that didn’t make it out to my email subscribers. Just click on the links and you’ll be magically taken to each and every one.

36 Days and Counting – Songs (This one was emailed out but the video links didn’t work. So here it is again.)

35 Days and Counting – MITS

34 Days and Counting – Difficulties

33 Days and Counting – Excitement

32 Days and Counting – Anxiety

31 Days and Counting – Dependent

30 Days and Counting – Shots

29 Days and Counting – Compassion

28 Days and Counting – Recognition

 

The Brotherhood of Fatherhood

We all like to belong. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, old or young, rich or poor. Skin color doesn’t matter. Nationality doesn’t matter. Political ideals are inconsequential. Every single one of us wants to fit in. For boys and men, we want a brotherhood.

We loved being part of a team or a troop or neighborhood “gang” of tousle-headed youngsters playing cowboys and soldier. We felt comfort in the fact that our comrades had our backs in times of threat and danger. Our smiles were ever-present when our friends showed up to load the moving truck or rebuild the fence.

We’ve aligned ourselves around service to country and community. We sport team colors and have gone to extreme lengths to make sure we’re together in the “sacred moments of the game.”

We’ve consoled each other in times of loss.

Yet, for all of these moments, I hope that we will invest in yet another, vastly important, brotherhood — the brotherhood of fatherhood.

I hope and pray this will be a goal of my young friends who have little ones and even teenagers still at home. But I also want this for the older dads — like me — with grown kids and even grandchildren who gather at their knees.

As fathers, we need the support and the encouragement of other fathers. They will recharge us, encourage us, instruct us, and even provide us with a swift kick when we need one.

Being a good father is hard work. It is easy to lose sight of the goal and look only to the daily physical needs. We miss the self-focused days of old when everyone around us encouraged us to push forward as individuals. Now, we must push forward holding hands with our progeny, guiding them or dragging them toward their own futures.

We need others in similar situations to shout out encouragement or to sit close by in times of struggle. We need others who can see from our unique place.

A good number of us remain in awe of our own fathers. We were blessed. They encouraged us, sometimes purposefully and sometimes by sheer accident, to be good fathers. Now, that image needs to supplemented and fortified by other fathers who want us and our children to be all they can be.

We need a brotherhood of fatherhood.

Red Feathers

I hope you enjoy this post from an earlier era. First published in April 2004.

I could hardly believe my ears.  We were sitting in church on Easter Sunday when our children’s minister, Shelley, invited all of the children to come down to the front for a special time.  Landrye, my 2-year-old granddaughter, was sitting between Nancy and me.  I leaned over asked Landrye if she wanted to go down front with the rest of the kids.

“Yes,” she said.

Nancy asked her if she wanted Grampa to take her.

“Yes,” she said.

This was unheard of.  As a rule, Landrye didn’t venture very far away with just Grampa alone.  Perhaps she didn’t understand how far the front of the church was.  Nevertheless, we inched into the aisle and I walked proudly with her little hand in mine.

Landrye was wearing her new Easter dress with her pearly, pink shoes.  Her hair was done-up special with a big bow.  She was a real beauty and I was her proud grandfather.

Once we reached the stage, we took our place.  As Shelley began to talk to the children, Landrye looked back to our seats of origin and said, “I’m ready to go back.”

“Let’s stay just a little while longer,” I whispered.  Landrye crawled into my lap and patiently indulged me.  She was beginning to fidget just a bit when Shelley pulled out a big yellow feather and placed it on her flattened palm.  As she talked about the invisible ways that God works in our lives, she gently blew and the feather began its slow, floating descent to the floor.

I looked at Landrye, hoping that this demonstration would distract her a while longer.  She returned my gaze and spoke clearly, “Red feathers.”

Her little voice was soft but loud enough to be heard by a few.  The woman next to me, holding her little boy, turned to us and whispered, “Yellow.”

Landrye waited until she had turned again and repeated, “Red feathers.”

“Are you talking about the little bird you and Meemie helped yesterday?”

“Yes,” she said.

I knew the story well.  About the red bird that had fallen into a candleholder on our back porch.  How our beagle, Tipi, had alerted Landrye and Nancy to the little bird’s misfortune with her constant barking.  How Nancy had donned gloves and carefully plucked the frightened fowl from its tiny prison.  How they had placed this creature with red feathers on a close-by branch.  And how, with scarcely a look back, this little bird had flown gleefully to freedom.

“Red feathers,” Landrye whispered.

As I carried Landrye back to our waiting family, I couldn’t help but think that Landrye had discovered her own Easter story.  About creatures who fall into traps that seem so inviting.  How a greater being is ever-sensitive to their plight.  How a gentle guardian takes the captive beings into his hand and restores them to safety.  And how, with scarcely a look back, they fly gleefully to freedom.

Red feathers, indeed.

The Perfect Father’s Day Gift

Through the years, men have made great deposits in the emotional banks of their families by pretending to really like what their daughters and sons give them for Father’s Day.

“A tie! How thoughtful!”

“A magnetic screwdriver! And it’s even a different color from last year’s!”

And people around us think that we are, indeed, magnanimous creatures because of our kindness in accepting what appear to be the worst gifts ever.

I did some browsing for Father’s Day gifts on the internet today — just to see what’s hot.

For office-bound dads, you can choose from the wireless dolphin mouse, the Rubik’s Cube pencil holder, the fish-shaped sardine paper clips in the sardine can, or the little pens that look like tools or golf clubs.

Apparently it’s okay to encourage your father to drink these days. From the ginger syrup “for your bar cart” to the leather 6-pack holder to the “make your own whiskey kit,” these gifts are certain to get dad pickled.

Of course, dads like to eat. Rebel Rocky Road Candy is hyped as a bold twist on an old favorite. I was particularly interested in the handcrafted salami gift basket. I’m not a salami fan, but I am intrigued with what a handcrafted salami might look like. I think my favorite in this category had to be the Chip-Zel-Pop Pail. Imagine this . . . a metal pail of potato chips, pretzels, and caramel popcorn drizzled with chocolate and caramel! Obviously, this is a creation of some dad who, after a long day at the office with his wireless dolphin mouse and sardine paper clips, has a little too much of his homemade whiskey, and then is left to his own designs in the pantry.

There are upscale gifts out there, as well. The book of classic quotes from The Godfather provides entertainment and a little something for bedtime reading to the little ones. And then there are those silk cuff links — appropriately fashioned from old neckties.

We, as fathers, can laugh about some of the things that land in our laps on that wonderful Sunday in June.

But the truth is, any bit of remembrance or acknowledgment from our kids is priceless. Whether it’s a hug or a phone call or a card or an email. Even a nod in our direction will suffice.

You see, the perfect Father’s Day gift is that special ingredient that made us dads in the first place — our kids!

What We’ve Got Here Is Failure to Communicate

In the classic film, Cool Hand Luke, shortly after the prison warden punches Luke and sends him rolling down the hill, he lets loose the 11th most memorable quote in movie history:

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate!

It might also be the most misquoted quote in movie history. Most of us add an article and aver, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” I’m not sure why I thought you would be interested in that bit of trivia, because the movie has nothing to do with this post.

Indeed, this famous line came to mind this morning as I was feeding our 8 month old wolf-husky, Togo. If you follow my tweets or have friended me on FaceBook, you know that Togo is the given name for that larger-than-life canine, Wonder Pup.

In recent days, I’ve been thinking that Wonder Pup probably needs another super-hero name. I’m thinking Destructo-Dog . . .

In the 5 months he’s lived with us, Togo has:

  • Shred six old towels that were originally part of his bedding. In truth, he is so gifted at reducing them to small, uniform-size strips that I’m thinking he has a promising career ahead making bandages for the American Red Cross.
  • Eaten the pillow cushion in his igloo.
  • broken porch swingRipped up the porch swing cushion. For good measure, he then chewed through the webbing that the cushion rests on — twice. (For the record, I was against repairing the webbing after the first incident, but other family members insisted that he had learned his lesson.)
  • Torn out all the fuel supply tubing on our propane grill AND, after knocking the whole thing on its side and removing the cover (which he also chewed a hole in), chewed off most of the wooden handle to the lid.
  • Totally decimated at least 4 puppy chew toys that were claimed to be virtually indestructible. I suppose that “virtually” indestructible means that it would be next-to-impossible for a computer-animated dog to tear them up.
  • Discovered the secret of gaining entry into an enclosed hose reel. Once that was done, he pulled out 75 feet of heavy-duty garden hose and tied what appears to be something like a bow hitch to the leg of the swingset. And punctured the hose in the process.
  • Randomly dug holes throughout the back yard.
  • Chewed the insulation off the pipes to the heat pump compressor — twice. (Okay, so I was the one who thought he wouldn’t do it the second time. But in my defense, I did think that the jalapeno pepper spray would deter him. Who knew that he has a predilection for spicy food?)
  • Gnawed through the conduit with the electrical wires to the heat pump compressor.
  • Slowly and methodically removed every single living branch to a bush in our hedge that’s function was to supply him with shade.

And he’s only 8 months old . . . and upwards of 50 pounds (I’m guessing more like 60) . . . and one of the happiest fellows you’ve ever seen.

Except when he and I have to have a talk.

denuded bushWe had one of those talks on the day he completed his denudation of the bush. We sat together and surveyed the carnage. I said those words that every dog hates to hear: “no” and “bad dog” and “you should be ashamed.” Which, of course, to him have the same meaning as “yes” and “good dog” and “you are such a smart boy.” But let’s face it, despite what all the dog training books say, Togo knows he’s done wrong. He may not be certain exactly what it was, but he knows he has messed up.

So for a few minutes, he ducks his head and refuses to look me in the eye. As I continue talking sternly to him, he eventually extends his paw to signal his repentance and to assert his covenant that nothing like this will ever happen again.

Minutes later, I re-enter the house to announce that I believe that Wonder Pup and I have reached an understanding. Within the hour, though, new evidence appears that would lead any sane person to believe that

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate!

In those moments, I think about finding Wonder Pup another place to live — a place where he can run and play and chew to his heart’s desire. Then he ducks his head and extends his paw.

togo & killAnd I pick up the severed branches and shredded towels, pay the serviceman to repair the heat pump, call for a bid on a fence to keep Togo away from the heat pump, carry another 20 pound sack of Puppy Chow to the back porch, and dutifully throw his ball.

Even failure to communicate can’t keep us from loving dogs and people who try our patience some times. There’s just something about that outstretched paw . . . or hand.