Why Two Days Changed My Fussbudgetness.

Lucy, from the comic strip Peanuts, was often referred to as a fussbudget. Over the past few years I have become a fussbudget, my heart traipsing around the landscape of complaint, unbelief, and fear. Recently I described it to someone as brooding. I can’t seem to nail down a solid description of my state of mind. Needless to say, my silent grump grump aint helpful to those in my proximity.

Then two days, one right after the other, a couple of weeks ago, shook me out of my inward sourpuss self. May 17th two of my children decided to take a giant leap…out of an airplane. Be honest, what do you think of first when skydiving come to mind? Exactly. What if the chute doesn’t open? I don’t see this thought as pessimistic, but realistic. Planes have wings to keep humans up there in the wild blue yonder, unless some zealot or deranged person uses one as a missile of mass human destruction. My son and daughter fell to earth with hardly a thud, safe, exhilarated, and the determination to do it all over again. (They’re adults, what can I do? I know what I can do… Give them an Applebee’s gift card for their birthday next year. Yes, they jumped on our dime right into their bucket list.)

The next day my longboarding (i.e. big skateboard for riding hills, not do stunts) daughter took two of her brothers to surf a local neighborhood. She was merely 3 to 4 inches off the ground and fell to earth with a thud. She dropped and rolled, but in the dropping she sustained quite a blow to the basil part of her skull. 911 was dialed, and an hour or so later she was in a medically induced coma for a closed head injury. She had a basil fracture, broken cheek bone, but no other broken bones. There was hardly a scratch on her otherwise. Barbara and I were beside ourselves with concern as the first twenty four to thirty six hours were a roller coaster of emotions and worry as the doctors came and left with assessments.

I said short prayers to God.

Not today. No funeral today God. Help!

            Other people said the longer prayers. Lots of people said the longer prayers. Our entire family is grateful for the longer prayers, and all sorts of other support through this reality. Today our daughter is in a state of the art rehab facility called Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids Michigan. Today she is. Today she is the same captivating daughter after her chute didn’t open on that hill. Today she is a self-proclaimed “safety nerd” as she deeply regrets not wearing a helmet. She is not finished healing, but is coming along much faster than predicted.

Thank God.

That is the reason I am writing about these two days. This is why I confess to the world and God my own fractures. Just because we are human, we flake out sometimes. Come on, admit it. God went looking for Adam and Eve in their nakedness. Why would God not look for us? I know this opens up the Pandora’s Box of why many things don’t make sense, all the way from 9/11 to a weak baby chick not surviving. I, for one, need to hop off my little private, arrogant self, and admit I have a lot less control than I thought.

Today, I thank God for those who continue to hold us through prayer, presence, and embraces. Life is mysterious. God is mysterious. So, if you find yourself in a fussbudget frame of mind, that’s okay, no judgement here, but consider the possibility of coming out from hiding. God is looking for you, along with some human humans.


God, thank you for all the loving people in my life. You show up when they show up, whether I admit it or not. Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Amen.


Thanksgiving Thoughts 2014

Seeded grapes, marbled purple, had to be sliced in half and the seeds removed. I think this was the most labored part of making the fruit salad. The marshmallows were quartered and soaked in the pineapple juice. Dates were added eventually. I miss the fruit salad. There was more to it. I’ll have to ask my sisters and make some this year.

There was always more to Thanksgiving. Our house sat on a hill at the dead end of Grand Avenue, next to Valley One Dorms of Western Michigan University. One Thursday out of fifty two, set aside, set for more. More people around the table with mix matched chairs.

I remember the foreign students and the varied colors of their skin. Their voices were colorful too. They talked, and I tried  hard to unscramble the words to fit in my brain. My Mom had eyes on a middle-eastern student named Afiff (pronounced Ah-feef) one year. His name would come up each Thanksgiving thereafter.

I sure would like to see the little kitchen again. Same size as the bathroom above it. Two vital rooms of a house with ten children. Calls of nature they were…eating and eliminating, and the rooms for each call weren’t big enough. The electric stove with swirled coils on top, when on, reminded me of the Hitchcock movie Vertigo. In the belly of the stove the bird was basted periodically. Inside the belly of the bird, home-made stuffing, incubating.

Cranberry sauce in a can. I recall the sucking sound as it slurped out onto the serving dish while I tried to suppress a childish red faced smirk. I poked at it like it was the plump little white guy in the Pillsbury dough commercials. Cranberry sauce from a can didn’t giggle when you poked it. It jiggled, but didn’t giggle. The burgundy blob was sliced like hard salami. Each slice would flop over like someone sticking out their tongue.

As I sit here plunking the keys I wish there was a way to pluck up each of my siblings and bring them back to Grand Avenue to sit around the table and eat mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. If sentiments could move mountains, I would tilt the ranges so each brother and sister would roll towards the end of Grand Avenue, next to the valley. I would call my Mom and Dad. They would sit at opposite ends of the fully leafed table. We would hold hands and thank God for the gifts we were about to receive and these our guests.

We would see us, be us, the ten of us before we broke out into lives of our own. We could hold our breath again waiting for Mom to spill something down her front to mumble “fiddlesticks” or something more colorful. Dad would toss in dry jokes and his crooked smile. John would fall out of his chair laughing after Marge spewed a mouthful of milk on the buffet table. We would say “pass this” and “please pass that” over and over like a scratched Beatles White Album.

Then space and time pulled us to our destinies. The good God gave us free wills to choose roads on which to travel. Can’t we double back? Why is there so much separation? The physical distances, the emotional disconnects, while dysfunctions thread in and through us. Time has severed the memories, thinned them out. What once was, shall not forever be, for we aren’t who we once were.

Oh so dramatic!

We have reunions now. Every three years we bring our presents to squint at our pasts. At our reunions a song of thanks and reclamation is sung when we gather to eat. “Oh, the Lord’s been good to me, and so I thank the Lord.” It’s a song that stirs the tanks of remembrance. It’s a song that brings me close to crying the hand-picked tears of reunion, and separation. Hello and goodbye tears brim and roll down and pinch eternity into a single moment. Sometimes that is all we have, moments of eternity sliced and flopped over. Right now, that is all I desire. To be right where I am, squinting in the now, making eye contact, and thanking God.


[My Mom and Dad had ten children. Barb, Ellen, Rob, Pat, Mary and Margaret (twins), John, Jerry, Peter, and Carol.]

Worry, a Gift From God

Around this time last year the season of disorientation began. I got off the roller coaster, more like pulled off. My counselor recently described my life as one of going round and round on a roller coaster. When the coaster came to the end of the line I didn’t get out. I sat and waited for it to roll again as my family watched. They watched me ride and ride and ride. Church involvement, writing seminars, retreats, parts in drama’s and musicals, and my family grew without me. They watched me come home and give them a nod and head for the books and poetry that protected me.

I asked God years ago if he had a nickname for me. The answer was John-boy from the T.V. show The Walton’s. At first I didn’t get it, but considering it further, the name made sense. I was an observer, sometimes a silent one, other times not. I wrote stories and poems about what went on around me. For me it was easier, more natural, to make observations instead of engaging in the myriad of present moments of a large family. The true John-boy observed and wrote, but was also present and engaged in the rudiments of family life during the great depression. I haven’t put down my pen as it were. I have hope to become a full-fledged John-boy, engaged, present, and writing in the cracks of silence afforded me.

A slow deliberate reorientation is taking place. Grace and forgiveness is eroding the self-contempt of the years the locusts have eaten. New rules of engagement are being formed, for my family, for God, for the world. I look for more clear and present moments. It ain’t natural, but it’s coming along.

One sign that I am heading in a good direction is worry. I told my wife Barbara that I haven’t worried this much before. She didn’t even blink and said it was because I am engaging with my family. I know God told me not to worry, but in an odd sense I am grateful for the ability. I now have the opportunity to respond to the “be anxious for nothing” verse. Just this morning I awoke and my son Nathan was gone to work. He works for a snow removal and landscaping place. The roads were icy and I prayed “keep him safe.” That’s all. Simple anxiety removal, even if I have to pray it over and over. God told me it was okay to keep asking for the same thing anyway.

I am thanking God for worry today.

Fire and Ice. A Poem.

Field fire by the pond,
and I set a glass of water down.
“Grab your shoes and a bucket,
there is a fire in the field.”
“Right Dad.”
“Look out your window.”
“Holy crap.”
There was no fire pole to slide down,
but those who could help slid on shoes
and within minutes the creeping low lying flames
were surrounded and doused.

“Let’s make a memory.
Go get your snow gear on and
grab a shovel.”
“But Dad, shoveling the driveway
in a blizzard won’t be a good memory.”
“Did I say a good memory? I just said memory.
Whether it is good or bad will be decided afterward.
Fifteen minutes, that’s all I ask.”
The work crew spent an hour throwing
snow up into the wind like salt over a shoulder.
I heard laughing.

Why wait for fire or ice?
It is best to drink room temperature water.

Could Silence Be Redeemed?

I slept too, slouched,
head propped in hand.
I take blatant naps in the chair.
Only God pulls words from the air.

I am escapist, scared,
ears covered in music.
Eyelids pulled down over the heart,
a search for an inner head start.

Can silence be redeemed?
Will hard work and sleep speak
loud enough to wake their future?
Shall I pass on the hereditary torture?

I heard it from my dad in sign languish.
He quietly walked after waking.
Off to put out fires he didn’t start,
while he smoldered from the heart.

I sleep too, slouched like my dad,
my head propped in my hand.
Only God pulls words from the air,
while I take blatant naps in the chair.

Vacation, Power Out and Powered Up.

Vacation week. Family week. Family weak. I mean, I feel weak concerning my connection with my wife and children. This time of year it only gets worse. Christmas and the cultural material grasping intensity have a direct effect on me. The Big Brown and its elves get all the truck shelves filled like a sardine tin.

This year will be different because my eighteen year old daughter will be jumping for me. Jumper is the UPS term for driver helper, its version of Two Men and a Truck let’s say, only this time one man, one woman, and a truck. How about one dad, one daughter, and a truck? It shall be fun and bonding moments I am sure.

Anyway, this week I have taken over the chauffer duties for my wife Barbara. Tuesday I watched some children hit the gymnastics floor. Simply observing my children, really observing, has gained me further insight into what is relayed to me from Mom in the evenings after a long days work.

The beginning of this week a storm knocked out our power. Sunday night the singing by candle light began. Sunday night the screens entered into a coma and everyone gathered in the common area to play games. The big table wasn’t for eating, but for shouting across the eighteen inches at each other. Laughing at nothing (Don’t you think that kind of laughing is the most contagious?).

I got to work with my son Nathan too. The generator was working fine but the cord that led to the auxiliary breaker box didn’t jive with the outlet of the generator so he fetched the right plug from Menard’s. I watched him cut and strip the wires and begin to replace it with precision. He studies stuff before attacking a project. I left to figure out how to transfer the power to the auxiliary box and when I returned he needed a third hand to thread in the wires. We also spent some time putting up some insulation together. Then I taught him how to play rummy and he beat me hands down. Simple things really, but I felt connected to him in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time.

Yesterday I took the kids to Battle Creek all day for co-op classes. I saw two little girls of mine in their ballet lesson. Lots of smiles exchanged. Two other children had a fencing class and I heard the soundtrack to the movie The Mission in my mind and imagined Robert De Niro lunging with sword in hand. I saw seventeen year old Elisabeth poke an opponent in the chest. Her first time scoring and she smiled and let me know. Then off to the ranch for horsemanship to watch three daughters ride and trot and circle horses. The two little ones were so proud they rode alone with the reigns in hand.

I am thankful for the first-hand, real time look into Barbara’s busy life. Her every waking moment is an investment into family. A line forms right from the beginning of the day, usually with a child snuggling with her. If someone were to ask me what my wife does for a living my response would be she lives life, transfers life, and shows life to our community called family. We have a code we use to touch base. It’s called the EMP. I ask her how her Emotional, Mental, and Physical state is on occasion. Yesterday, after spending all day with a portion of my children I found my EMP was near EMPTY. More understanding for her depleted evening EMP will be there when I get back to the Christmas rush at the Big Brown.

Emily and Zoe happy to be near horses.

A Toast to Life. When Situations Pop Up.

“Don’t move. Wait right there and when they pop up immediately slather butter on them,” I instructed Cecily a few days ago.

Butter is for melting, especially on dry toast. The butter needs to melt fast and run deep into the porous surface. This morning the butter for my toast was as hard as marble. I stood guard as the wires inside of the toaster glowed. As soon as the pieces resurrected I laid them on a plate, grabbed the stick of butter like a pencil, and rubbed the end like an eraser. The white/yellow scraps disappeared and the toast glowed all greasy. Perfecto.

Life feels like dry toast lately and the butter is frozen. Sure seems like situations are taken one crusty bite at a time and hard to swallow. In our house situations pop up like toast all the time. Often I am not there to apply the butter before the pieces cool. That’s a good thing, because I would be rubbing the frozen butter on the toast situation like a cheese grater and slivers would be everywhere. What a mess. Barbara spreads the butter while I am off working and I hear about the toast in the evening.

I am on a huge learning curve when it comes to conflict resolution or situational situations. My answer would be to avoid the stick altogether. Buy spreadable margarine for crying out loud (We only use real butter now). Or better yet, let’s have oatmeal instead.

Occasionally I engage and the butter melts and the situation is glowing like grease and easier to swallow. Most of the time Barbara is on it and her experience is evident. What I have learned can be accredited to observation and coaching from her.

The ideal would be to always have room temperature butter. Yielding yellowness on the ready to soften what pops up around here. We need a greasy grace to slather over situations.

God help us to be ready to make a toast. Cheers!

This is the way, see the melted majesty?