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Posts Tagged ‘Remembering’

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Blue Ridge Parkway Milestone

I enjoy the occasional foray into the realm of etymology. Word origin provides insight into the many and varied meanings and connotations of words and metaphors. There is a humorous twist on the origin of the terms mile and milestone. I assumed that since mile is a thoroughly English measurement of distance that the word, though perhaps not the concept, came from bloody ole England. Afterall, the U.S. is the only major country in the world to still be using the English system. But no, when traced back, mile comes from the Latin mil, or one thousand, which is quite base ten, or metric. Milestones then were stone markers called mille passus, meaning one thousand paces (1), along Roman roads. They were first placed every one thousand steps along the Apian Way out of Rome. Even then they would not have actually paced off the distance, but would have used a standard chain or rope length, the stade (eight stades to a mile). (2)

Etymology was only a small part of why I’m writing this blog entry, but it is fascinating. Metaphorically, milestones are visual, emotional, mental, or group markers for significant events or changes. Milestones typically include salvation, graduations from educational institutions, marriage, arrival of children, job changes or promotions, retirement, lifestyle changes, or significant personal goals reached like weight loss or the first marathon. The term can be overused, particularly in the business and education worlds it seems to me, and there is definitely a difference in significance levels from eternal to trivial. Nonetheless, the idea is solid and shows up in Scripture, even promoted by God (Joshua 4:1-7), and used by prophets (I Kings 18:31, I Samuel 7:10-12).

I have been privileged to have many profitable and enjoyable  milestones in my life, and a few significant ones of late. All five of my children are now married and I have just recently retired.

I passed a small milestone in blogging, which I only inadvertently realized while rereading a few blog entries. This very entry is my 500th blog entry. Having written in this blog since July of 2007, it is quite an accomplishment for me to have continued with only a few months in all of that time of not publishing at least one entry. In fact, the average number of blog entries per month over the that period of 13 years has been just over three entries. It causes me to muse upon why I would be so consistent for so long. The obvious answer is a love and a need of the this forum. I need an outlet for my thoughts and love this particular one that is potentially interactive (3). It gives me a voice, an influence, if ever so small, and a sense of not forgetting what experiences and insights God has so graciously given to me, that is, an online journal. It may hopefully be part of my intellectual inheritance to my children and grandchildren.

But a question arose in my mind: Would a milestone be a milestone if we were unaware of it? I don’t think that this is the existentialist argument about a tree falling in the forest (4), because we are talking about a metaphor for the perception rather than a physical mile marker. When I consider this idea, it reveals to me how dull and fickle our perceptions are. They are dull because we do not perceive significant events that have eternal consequences for good or for ill (John 3:7-8), and they are fickle in that we may see them as significant in one situation and for one group or person but not for another or not at another time. What revealing of missed opportunities and privileges may be ours when our lives are reviewed in eternity. I am thankful for God’s grace to test all things by fire and reveal those works which were by and for Him (I Corinthians 3:10-15, 21-13), for I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

So, I conclude this 500th mille passus of sorts with one further testimony to God’s goodness in my life. He has been and will be at work in my life to bring it to a good and completed conclusion (Philippians 1:6), not because I am deserving or always willing or cooperative or able, but because He is good and powerful and has attached me to His riches by His grace. To Him be all praise.

 

1) How our mile got to be such an odd number, 5280 feet, is more complicated, though the origin of the whole measurement seems to have been the Roman’s copying of the distance around a Greek stadium track for running events, and thus the unit stade.

2) I wonder if they had workers who held signs for travelers to avoid collisions in construction zones?

3) Oh, that it were more so, that I had to moderate multiple comments, questions, reprimands, and encouragements on each entry. Alas, life is busy.

4) If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? Being a Christian and a student of Science but not an Existentialist, I would retort that of course it makes a sound. It vibrates air particles, following God’s physical laws.

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From last Thursday until Monday afternoon I either drove or rode in a car for about 35 hours. The reason for the trip was well worth the effort and the company and conversation were stimulating and substantial. But it did remind me of a time when I could aptly describe the a trip as purgatory.

When I was in college I studied spiders.* Deep into a research project, my major professor realized that she needed some DNA samples in order to verify her hypothesis and realization that she was dealing with two different species of spiders. It was not the field research season- Summer- so she decided to send me on a Kamikaze bus trip to collect samples. 

I took a Trailways bus from Knoxville, TN, to El Paso, TX. Wait, it gets worse. I slept overnight in the Trailways headquarters bus terminal in Dallas, TX. I carried a box of the approximate dimensions of 18″ x 18″ x 36″ tall containing a DeWar flask full of liquid nitrogen. The purpose of this container was to quick freeze collected spiders at my destination, Southwest Research Station (SWRS) in the Chirichahua Mountains of southeast Arizona. I could not flip the Dewar flask on its side since this would lose its contents. Bus drivers wanted to insist that I put it in the undercarriage luggage compartment, but it was too tall to stand upright. Much of the trip it sat upright in a seat beside me, but when the long distance bus became a commuter bus from Memphis to Little Rock and beyond, with standing room only, I had to hold it upright in my lap. Drivers and riders alike must have thought I was carrying a bomb. In every little town across Texas we would stop under a street light where the many insects circled around, waiting for a new driver or passengers to board. In El Paso I had to catch a taxi to the airport in order to rent a car for the remainder of the trip.**

My previous visit to SWRS had been pleasant and un-rushed. This trip was during colder weather at a station without heat, quickly collecting and marking specimens and returning to El Paso for another taxi ride back to the bus terminal and more time aboard a bus. The green of the East never looked so good, the Mississippi River so welcoming, or Knoxville so beloved. I felt as though I had escaped the dark tunnel of purgatory for real life again. I like adventures, even those that are spontaneous, but sometimes one gets more than he bargains for.

*That could be the beginning of many of my stories.

**It was not possible to transport a full Dewar flask on an airline.

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I am amazed at times what a little rest and little reflection can allow to come around in our memory. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of challenge by way of time pressure and emotional workout. So, even though today is also full of chores and duties, I had the privilege of sleeping late. But sleeping late for one in the habit of early rising is difficult. Usually 7 PM is all that I can manage, but it was a few minutes past 7:30 when I first saw the clock this morning, and my dear wife slept away. In the unhurried moments I lay musing on random thoughts when one came through quite clearly.

Do you remember the names of your elementary school teachers? Sequentially from 1st grade through 6th mine were Mrs. Denton, Mrs Gaston, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Gervin, Mrs. Tucker, and Mrs. Alexander. I know that a child’s view of the world and the addition of many years makes memories a bit skewed, but I thought of a few things I remember about them.

Mrs. D was a large lady. I don’t mean overweight, just a big person. She was kind but seemed sad. She had gray hair. None of my teachers were young. I always wanted to please my teachers and I wanted to do my best for her. One day during milk break in the cafeteria, I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t finish my milk. Mrs. D would stand at the garbage can inspecting to see if we had finished our milk. I was nervous and dropped the carton, mostly full of milk, just before she took hold of it. It fell and splashed milk all over her dress. She had to go out and change her clothes. She was not happy with me. I don’t feel like that she held it against me after that. I think I remember struggling to learn to read and yet enjoying the new world it opened up.

Mrs. G was a small round woman who wore lots of jewelry and smiled most of the time. She was also strict. The first and last time I ever cheated on a test was on one of her weekly spelling quizzes. I wanted to do well but spelling did not and does not make sense to me. I used a little cheat sheet and she caught me. I was publicly shamed and worse, my parents were told. In this day and time publicly shaming is frowned upon, but I think it only hurts significantly because we tell children falsehoods about self-esteem the rest of the time so that they have “entitlement issues”. At any rate, I never cheated again, ever. I struggled in reading. After a short stint in reading group #1, I was demoted to the second reading group. My mother was told that I was struggling and it was suggested that I read extra at home. Mrs. G had a box of 2nd grade reading level books. I checked out one or two a week to read to my mother at home. I improved in reading, enjoyed the stories, being drawn most of all to facts related books. I am still a laboriously slow reader, but I understanding is good, and I enjoy an encouraging story or informative narrative. We still had nap, or quiet time. Most of the other students giggled and fidgeted on their mats, but I frequently went fast asleep. I distinctly remember several times awaking, disoriented and drowsy, to be given a hard time by classmates and defended fiercely by Mrs. G.

Mrs. H was almost certainly the youngest elementary school teacher I had and I’m pretty sure she was middle aged. She was innovative and energetic. She decided that our study of American History and the Capitol, Washington D.C., should have a visual. So she set out having us make paper mache models of the various buildings in D.C. I made a Washington Monument. By 3rd grade I had a best friend, Andy D. We loved math and did problems together. We liked science and talking about space exploration and going to the Moon. We liked drawing symmetrical shapes with ruler and compass. I grew up with mechanical drawing since my father worked as a draftsman for ORNL from shortly after the war.* So, Mrs. H selected Andy and me to draw out a map of D.C. with streets, bodies of water, and the locations of monuments and buildings all to scale. We did this on butcher paper laid out on the floor of a particularly large, empty classroom down the hall from her room. Andy and I would get to skip classes we did well in to work on the map. My childish memory wants to say the map was perhaps 20 x 30 feet in size. We spent many hours drawing, talking, and reveling in time together, just the two of us in that empty room. After all of the paper mache buildings were completed with white acrylic paint and all, they were placed on the map which was painted with black streets and blue rivers and pools, and large green spaces. The model that I had made was not selected and I thought it was better. Later someone helped me to understand that Mrs. H had allowed me the privilege and limelight of drawing the map. It would not be equitable to also place my paper mache monument on the map. During the next PTA meeting most of the school and their parents walked around the periphery of the map in that otherwise empty room admiring our work. It was probably the most unforgettable thing for me about elementary school.

Mrs. G was a thin, quiet woman. I somehow remember being a favorite of hers and growing in my love of learning new things. I had a vague memory of some written project that I did well on, but for some reason everything about that year is vague. In fact, even the room we were in seems vague, being set back in a corner at the end of the hallway. Mrs. G liked to keep the blinds shut so that the room had a dark, calm atmosphere.

Mrs. T was a fierce, little fireball who loved to raise flowers. She lived about a block from me in a little white house that was unimpressive, but the flower garden because of the small yard could not be anywhere else but next to the street, was impressive. When I would walk or ride my bike by her house, you could see the weedless beds of massive flowers of many varieties and smell them, too. Many evenings and summer mornings, Mrs. T was out weeding and replanting slips or cuttings. In class, she expected her students to work hard and behave, all orderly and well presented like her garden. I wanted to please my teacher so I did both. Good behavior produces good results. I was allowed to help the teacher and do work ahead of my grade. One of my best friends did something one day that set the class off and sent Mrs. T into a frenzy. It was warm and our school did not have air conditioning, so the banks of casement windows were laid open. A yellow jacket flew in and buzzed around the back of the room. Many of the girls screamed and others jumped out of their seats to get away. While Mrs. T was trying to settle the class, Jack jumped up with a new pencil, made noises as he sung his pencil like a sword, knocking the bee to floor dead on his last downswing. The class went wild with elation.

Mrs. A had to be close to retirement. She told me she had been a teacher for some period of time that seemed astronomical to my young mind. She always seemed to be happy and encouraging. I’m not sure if I am remembering correctly, but I think that I heard that she had had some deep hurts in her life, which if my memory is correct, made her demeanor all the more amazing. She liked to have classroom competitions and interclass competitions: weekly Spelling Bees, group math quizzes, history facts group competitions. I dreaded the spelling bees and seem to remember managing many 2nd places, despite my abhorrence of the art form. Mrs. A invited a number of her best students to come to her house a few times to study extra for a math competition that we went to. I felt so special eating a snack in her breakfast room with a few of my classmates. 

This commentary is a very narrow slice of what I remember about my elementary school years. There was baseball and bowling and bike rides and vacations and good grades and friends and chorus and library and safety patrol and playground (woods, swings and monkey bars and merry-go-rounds, kickball) and PE with the principal and plays and promenades and always working real hard to please my parents, my teachers, and make good grades and times with friends. But my teachers had more influence on me than I have previously given credit for in many long years. They may not have been the best teachers by modern pedagogical standards, but they had high expectations, rewarded what was good, punished what was not, and seemed to care about their students and their content. That was enough for me.

* I decided to say it the way we would back then instead of explaining it for the younger set. ORNL stands for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of the Manhattan Project where my mother was secretary and just a couple of years before my father arrived, and much of the focus of anything related to radioactivity studies. The war, of course, was World War II where my father had recently arrived home from when he began working there.

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I live in the present for a number of reasons. I like adventure, even if ever so small, so I seek out new experiences. I have never been able to attach times with events; I have a friend who can name the year, month, and frequently which day an event happened. I have discovered, save a few rare jewels, that few people want to hear about what happened long ago. But today at lunch a definite opening to the past came about and I related a story and asked my colleague to relate a similar experience, “What was the most interesting night you have ever spent backpacking?” She related that it was the first and last time she ever saw a porcupine. Part of her adventure was a lack of understanding at the time of how quills work, that is, how porcupines use them for defense.

I told of a night when it was snowing hard, large wet flakes at dusk and we were looking for an opening with a flat spot for our tent. We came down to a road where a man was checking his mailbox. My friends got into a conversation with him about the weather and camping sites. He offered his barn loft and we jumped at it. The loft smelled of hay but there was none other than a dusting on the floor. We swept the loft so we could start our cook stoves without burning the barn down. Svea stoves sound like small jet engines, so it drown out the windy storm for awhile. Candlelight caste eerie shapes and shadows on the rafters and slats. I took several time exposures with my film SLR. We told stories, read abit and lay down to a long winter’s slumber. It was a pleasant place to sleep not having the tent flapping in the breeze. The next morning it was in the upper teens. My wet boots had frozen overnight and were painful to put on and to walk. I am sure that  up on Whitetop Mtn. there were significant drifts, but there was dry snow here, too. I feel like I have experienced a small taste of what life used to be like when I have done things like sleeping in a barn. Of course, our forebearers didn’t have nylon sleeping bags and packs, or pre-packaged food or white gas stoves or SLR cameras, but they did live simply and sleep hard on occasions.

Telling this memory reminded me of other memorable nights in the woods. Once with another friend we spent the night in a forest of young, straight trees. It was hard to hang our packs with no branches within throwing distance of our cord, so we hung our packs between two small, understory trees with the bottoms of our packs hanging barely above our reach. It had been a very wet day and now set in for a foggy night. We may have napped an hour in our tent when we heard pack rattling noises. Our flashlights revealed three large cubs, perhaps even yearlings, taking turns climbing one of the small trees and jumping out to swipe at the packs. We had left the pockets unzipped so that any mice that managed the climb would simply enter rather than chew holes in our packs. This detail meant that the cubs’ swipes were effective at knocking out our granola and snack bars and meat packets, and so forth. Before they had done much damage to our food supplies or torn open any stuff sacks we were out of our tent yelling and banging tree trunks with sticks, to which they scurried into the rhododendron out of sight. After several exchanges of this kind we could see that they thought it was a wonderful game, but we were becoming more leery at the thought of mother bear being just out of sight ready to attack if our admonitions were not to her liking. Wearily and warily we decided that there was no help for it other than to start a fire under the packs to keep the cubs away and mother hidden from sight. It was the hardest fire I have ever started. My friend collected every potentially dry twig and leaf possible, from under rocks and under logs and in tree hollows. There was only relatively less wet; dry did not exist. With a little of our toilet paper, some white gas from our stove, many minute twigs and needles we somehow got a fire going, but keeping it going and drying wood in the smokey fire was just as hard. Walking most of the day with a pack on requires two things: lots of food and good sleep. We were not getting much of the latter. We took two hour shifts of keeping the fire going and sleeping in the tent. Some time during the wee hours the fog lifted to reveal a moonless, starlit, branch filled sky. It was perhaps the first time that I realized that the sky begins to lighten as early as 3 AM in the summer. What is not perceivable to the eye around light pollution is a wondrous sight to the dark adjusted pupil. We didn’t see the cubs again and can’t say with any assurance that mom was anywhere around, but our packs smelled of smoke for a long time after that.  

Another memorable night I spent on Camp Town Bald, which I think was renamed Viking Mountain. There are few fire towers left in the mountains and probably none used for their original purpose, but one of the larger ones stood on top of the Bald in the late ’70’s- I estimate 80+ feet tall. My most frequent backpacking partner and I camped at the base of it in the tall grass. After dark I mounted the tower to the deck above. The glassed in portion was locked so a sat down, curled up in my sleeping bag, leaning against the wall of the enclosed space. I had a wonderful time of prayer and singing hymns as I gazed over the lights in the valley and the stars above. I began to see flashes of lightning in the far distance, so I moved around to the other side of the cat-walk in order to watch the fireworks. Above the trees and over 5000′ elevation, I could see the storm many miles away. Now that I reflect on it, it was odd that the storm was coming from the East over the mountains moving toward me. Thunderstorms rarely come from that direction. The storm kept building in my direction until I figured that perching atop a metal tower in a thunderstorm was probably not the safest vantage point. Having such a grand view of it I feel sure that I abandoned my post in plenty of safe time, but my friend down below had been getting worried. This story doesn’t make for quite as interesting telling or hearing, but if you can envision the scene with its three kinds of lights and the opportunity to worship the Creator of all that is light and life and beauty, you may imagine the depth of peace and joy the situation brought to me.

For it is this same Creator who has saved me and given me purpose and a future with Him. He commands the thunderstorm and the snowstorm, sets the stars in their places, gives man shelter and provides all that he needs, grows the trees and provides for the bear cubs, and will extend to you grace also if you will acknowledge your sin and His Son’s work to put it away. Glory to God for His goodness and His benefits to those upon whom His grace abounds.

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Sometimes I’m not sure if I have already written a post or just thought about it. So, sometimes I go back into my own blog and search for a post. The post I actually wrote was about 29 years of heating with wood (Click on the following title to read “A Warm Habit“.). I am now heating in my 35th year. I have some unfinished writing I said I would write another day in “A Warm Habit”.

The first year I heated with wood was the second winter of our marriage. I used a wood stove borrowed from a friend. The next year my father bought me a small, cast iron, bolt together wood stove with a nice picture on both sides. It was sufficient for the small 3 room house we were renting. As hindsight now allows me to regret, I sold that stove the next year. I thought that I would not heat with wood again when my wife and I went for a year of Bible School in Chicago and lived in a 4 room house with central oil heat. The next  year we moved to Elizabethton, TN, and lived in the front half of a split house. Ironically, though we had just lived in Chicago, the first winter in Elizabethton was the coldest we ever had in a house. The landlord had a wood stove in the the crawl space with ductwork to supposedly heat both halves. It didn’t heat our half. Our first child was constantly wrapped up like he was outdoors. The next winter we lived in a house on Camp Ta-Pa-Win-Go. I paid a small rent and worked as maintenance man. We heated with the very nice installed wood stove. The next year we moved to the Horseshoe, a small gorge and bend in the Watauga River in that shape. The first year in that little house in the woods with the curtains that blew in the winter breeze, we heated with my friend’s wood stove again while he was building a house.

If you having been following this story, then you will realize that we had now been married 7 winters and heated with wood for five. It was again time to find a wood stove. I started checking the want ads of the local newspaper, because this was in the days before Ebay and Craigslist. I looked at several that were a combination of too small for heating a whole house and too expensive for my budget since I was was in the state of affairs referred to as under-employed at the time, doing odd jobs. I saw another stove advertised for $250 in Bristol, TN, about an hour and a half drive by the roads then available. The price seemed at the edge of my range and it was called a Fisher “Grandfather”, which I understood vaguely to mean it was a larger model stove. I grabbed a friend and we went that way. It was well after dark when we pulled up to the most curious house in the neighborhood. The house was obviously much older than any other in the neighborhood. It was a one story white clapboard house that had a large porch all across the front with disproportionately large white columns one might expect to see on a big house on the plantation. The address matched. The windows were unlit even as the neighborhood was poorly lit. A young couple came to the door. The stove was in the front living room which was almost empty except for the large, two door wood stove in front of the chimney. I sized it up while my friend made small talk. I began to engage with the man in order to try to haggle the price. He referred me to his wife, who he said was the owner of the stove before they were married. One of us made a comment about the interesting house. They began to explain that they had hoped to remodel this post-Civil War house and raise their family there. Instead, they were now going to be missionaries and had already cleared most of their furniture. I told the young woman that my budget was really tight and I intended to heat with wood as I had already been doing to save money. With what I thought to be almost tears in her eyes she explained how the stove was meaningful to her because of family connections and that she hated to part with it. She had already turned down several other people who had wanted the stove and finished her story by saying, “I just want to find a home for this stove with someone who will burn a sincere fire.” I assured her that based on the fact that I was already regularly heating with wood, cut and split all of my own wood, and had a growing family and a limited income, that I could most certainly “burn a sincere fire.” I felt as though I was swearing to always burn fires in this way. Based on my sincere testimony, the woman was convinced and allowed me to give her just $190 for a stove that probably cost $900 to $1000 new. But I was not scamming or playing; things were really that tight. The stove was very hard for us three young men to move, given its size and weight. We laid down boards and mostly scooted the stove across these boards to avoid scratching the hardwood floor and porch. We wrestled it onto the back of my 1970 F-100 with the rusted bed. For the next 30 winters thus far I have burnt the most sincere fires possible, keeping warm a wife and 5 children in three different houses in two states. I think that what most makes the fires in this stove sincere is the enjoyment I obtain from heating with wood and the reflection I have while starting fires. My wife encouraging me to get up and start a fire because it’s cold in the house probably doesn’t hurt any.

As He has so many times, God provided what I needed when I needed it. During those times when it seemed as though He didn’t, really He did, just not in the way or at the time that I expected or requested. He is good.

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Starting a sincere fire during the first snow of the season with wet wood drying by the wood box in the background.

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The sideboard of an old woodbox that my wife stenciled when we lived in the Horseshoe.

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I shared thoughts about 9/11 last year that I think still ring true. If you are interested, see “Has the World Really Changed?”

9/11 was not even mentioned at my school today. We went on as if it never happened. My students were not born until 2003. Two major hurricanes just hit back to back in the continental US. Political wrangling is more contentious than it has perhaps ever been in my lifetime. North Korea makes ever more credible threats with each passing year. Racial tension has again reared its ugly head in these United States. The economy is better and life is good. In other words, life has rendered us forgetful. No, that is a way of saying we have an excuse because some outside influence caused us to do what we would not have otherwise. No, we have either willfully forgotten or passively allowed forgetfulness. We don’t want to think about that event because it demands of us introspection about how we should react and will react. We would have to consider the continuation of dangers in the world which we know no solution for. Even more disturbing, we would have to consider that because of our own complicity we are part of the problem. Not me you say. I in no way caused 9/11. What have you done to make this a better, purer, kinder, stronger nation? Have you cried out to God for mercy? Have you sown peace and goodness in the land? Have you taken heed to God’s law and sought after His grace? I include myself. What have I done to remember the lessons of 9/11 that were never learned by this nation and forgotten by the few that did know them? I have much work to do in my personal life, but tomorrow I will convey the sense of what happened to my students who see it as textbook history, before their time. Allow your memory to lapse no more on this subject.

As to the memory of the events, I think that my daughter does them more justice than I am able just now. Here is what she said:

“My 8th grade English class was in the computer lab typing papers one Tuesday morning, when another teacher came in and told Mrs Ball (my teacher) to turn on the TV. Less than 10 minutes later, I watched in real time with shocked disbelief and trembling sadness as the Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center South Tower. Reports of the Pentagon being hit and speculation of other targets followed soon after. I saw the towers crumble. I saw the people running, covered in dust. I saw the NY police and firefighters. I saw the gaping hole in the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania. I saw the hysteria. I silently cried for those lost and prayed for our president.
The next day was so quiet. All planes were grounded.
In the following weeks however, the burst of nationalism was heard echoing across the country. “United We Stand!” “God bless America!” So many US flags appeared. So many people came together to grieve and hold each other up.
I still grieve. When I think of how easily we forget. When I consider the short lived community support. When I contemplate how quickly the crying out to God for help changed to reliance, expectation, and blame on the government.
September 11, 2001 ushered in a new era in our world. Ideas were shaken. Securities were questioned. Fear is the new normal.

So now what? Trust God.
The only way I have found to deal with truth and reality is to take all to Him who created it and me. Do I still feel the impact? Yes, but I don’t try to carry the burden.”

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Many the comment that comes from students the last few days for school. Many are gracious, wanting to end on a friendly note. It shows a measure of decency on the part of the majority of students. Others are harshly truthful and others contrived, far from truthful, out of some need to right a never done wrong. “I can’t wait until this class is over. Friends told me that I wouldn’t be able to wait to get out of here, but that I would miss you afterward. I don’t see that happening.” It seemed like a complement to me, if not from the student in front of me, then certainly from the ‘friends’. Dealing constantly with people is not easy business. It wears on the emotions, particularly if you care even a little bit. It doesn’t help that you always know that you have failed in some small way with every person you interact with, even though you know you did your best overall and intended the best for your students. It is for all of this difficulty in the midst of trying that the occasional word of genuine encouragement lifts the weary soul. At the end of the last assignment to be graded for one class there was the following statement: “Mr. __, I’m so glad you were my teacher! I learned alot from you! Science and life choices.” That is the way that I want to be remembered as a teacher- passionate about teaching Science and life. Many of my years of teaching have been stressful for reasons inside the class and out. This past year was not the worst for stress, but it did rank. At the same time it was a year of spiritual benefit in my own life and in opportunity to talk to students about eternal things. It sometimes amazes me how often students will bring up the subject of where we came from, or do I believe in God, or how do you solve life’s difficult problems, or what is the meaning of life. Some of the questions relate directly to the subject at hand and others seem random, though I am sure that the underlying thought process that brought them forward was not. I hope that I taught many students science and life this past year and that God will take what I offered for His glory and their good.

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Lord, You give us all good things
To enjoy and praise Your Name
Thanks for Your benefits rings
Always gracious, always the same

Difficulty You allow
Confusion part of what's planned
Hardship brings sweat to the brow
Some gifts are hard to understand

Trusting Your goodness the plan
Resist confusion and pain
Cling to God, unbelief ban
Let His rule and direction reign

Halt all you're not called to do
Do well what He's given you
Make it first Him to pursue
God will work well to see you through

Then peace will reign in your heart
Problems will not overwhelm
Each new day a brand new start
Your joy when God is at the helm

 

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Last week I was asked to film some running and interviews and be interviewed about exercising. After challenging students to come out for a set of couch to 5K training sessions to be sponsored by the track team, I gave them my challenge: “I have been exercising for over 40 years and here is what I’ve learned: Start now, start small, and start again.” Start now, because if you don’t you probably won’t. Start small and progress slowly or you will probably be overwhelmed and give up. Life is challenging. You get injured or sick or you have responsibilities that prevent you or old habits overtake you and you just sit. Don’t give up; start again. And the next time it happens start again and again until the habit makes it hard to quit.

When I walked away from being interviewed I realized that what I said could readily be applied to many areas of life. The spiritual application is one of perseverance and diligence in the pursuit of relationship with God. Our life with God begins and continues by grace through faith, but we are also urged to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. (Philippians 2:12-13) God’s work in us results in us working. Our salvation is secure in Him but our sanctification is progressive. If it is reading the Bible regularly or studying it, or praying, or witnessing, or going to church for worship and fellowship: Start now, start small, start again. You’ve given in again to that sinful urge. Your old self wants it and that’s why you did it, but your new life in Christ wants to please Him and wants to break the slavery to sin. It is not just a matter of stop. You need to replace the sinful urge with a godly urge. Practice righteousness. Start now. Start small. Start again. You neglect the best for the alright and easy. Set your priorities in order which includes the best and down time to recuperate from intense activities. Start now. Start small. Start again. Getting in shape spiritually is not so different than getting in shape physically, though really it is because “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;  for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (I Timothy 4:7-8) And furthermore, though you should “work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” simultaneously “…it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13-14) And “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Other than that (haha!) they are the same, so start now, start small, and start again. Coupled with the many promises that we “can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) and “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1) and “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3), and more, then the least we can do is start now, start small, and start again.

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Oh Father, my heart is heavy
My past failures and troubles, too
Exact from me a stiff levy
Brokenness, regrets not a few

There is now no condemnation
Help me believe that it is true
Act so without reservation
Participate in life anew

Communicate life to loved one 
Keep what is best for him in view
Remembering victories won
Repent, reconcile, and renew

May my life show to all others
That forgiveness makes all things new
Humble in success and failures
Belief in Christ is what is due

Make my heart light with joy and peace
Paint my life with a brighter hue
Christ's life in me a brand new lease
May be seen by all to be true

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Early in 2001 my father passed on to the next life after a slow decline resulting from many and various ailments. I believe that it was a grace that he passed without knowing of 9/11. He fought in WWII receiving a bullet and multiple pieces of shrapnel near the German border. Every 4th of July he would hang a copy of the Declaration of Independence and an American flag on the living room mantle. As the years went on he added more evidence of his love of America and its freedoms, things like a small Statue of Liberty. I used to think how much the world changed during his lifetime. Afterall, TV had not been invented when he was born in 1922. Polio was a major killer; the War to End All Wars was a fresh scar; the roaring twenties had not succumbed to the Great Depression. During my formative years airplanes, bridges, skyscrappers, atomic energy, and space travel were among the top of the list of items and ideas that he talked about and learned about and visited. How the space race had resulted in a handheld calculator was amazing to him. The world had changed so much in one lifetime.

Now we hear that the world was forever changed by 9/11. In one sense, of course it was! We collectively look over our shoulder as a nation, wondering when or if it will happen again. But did it really change the world? Hasn’t every generation had at least one event that so penetrated the minds and hearts of the populace such that each person knows where they were when it happened? If you are old enough, do you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated? For my father’s generation the event that riveted their attention was Pearl Harbor. News traveled much slower the further back you go but there were terrors and plagues and perplexities for centuries. In 79 A.D. when Pliny the Younger described the flaming bombs of Vesuvius sinking ships in the harbor off Herculaneum while Pompeii was covered in noxious gases and pyroclastic flows, the world must have seemed to be at an end.

Do I attempt to diminish the severity and pain of 9/11? Do I not see the ways in which it changed how we do freedom in our land? By no means. But the cause of terror and pain has not changed. Because of sin there is stark evil and natural disaster in the world as there has been since the Fall of Adam. These adversities should call us as a nation back to God. We deteriorate; our nation’s demise is at hand, yet we see 9/11 and Antietam and Hurricane Katrina and Pearl Harbor as totally disconnected from our spiritual condition and God’s call to repent. Evil exists in the world because there have been and are evil people in the world. We must confront the evil in ourselves so that our enemies have no excuse for their evil acts against us and we have no compunction about attacking it when it comes.

I remember where I was on 9/11, watching the screen in my classroom as the first building hit earlier was burning and as the subsequent one was hit and the towers collapsed and students came into my room who wanted someone to make sense out of the chaos. In those first moments during my planning period before that screen I prayed that God would have mercy upon us as a nation. In many respects He has and He is but we must cry for it and act in ways commensurate with receiving mercy now more than ever because we drone on in our mundane, garden variety evils as if 9/11 never happened. God have mercy on us!

The world has changed but not so much.

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Before I ever started rock climbing I used to hike… alot, thousands of miles over the years. In high school and college it was backpacking with day hikes to get in shape. I continued after marriage but increased responsibilities as time went along resulted in reduced overnight trips. Not to worry, because I used to take my green daypack, a child on my shoulders, and go. Summer, winter, it made little difference. About 15 years ago I scrambled into the more vertical sport so that the majority of hikes were approaches. I still climb but I see that climbing may have to be set aside in a few years (not slowing down at the moment, though). The time off from hiking just warms my desire to do some more. I like new places but I’m not shy about visiting old haunts. I have hiked (in a day or overnight) to Hump Mountain on the Tennessee/North Carolina border nearly 30 times since 1977. It has been my go to when someone wants to experience backpacking for the first time. I have hiked several times this summer, once to Purchase Knob (see previous blog entry). Several weeks before that hike I went with some new friends to South Mountains State Park. It has one hike that most anyone would enjoy and is not too overwhelming- High Shoals Falls.

The water was low at the falls, which is odd considering how much rain we have had. I guess the water level drops fast after just a few days of no rain. That didn’t dry our enthusiasm a bit. There was plenty to talk about and plenty to see along the way.

I enjoy getting to know people on a hike. You can talk about nature which leads to many subjects you might not otherwise find out about a person. They certainly learned some things about my spider research in college. I studied Agelenid intraspecies competition in the lab, the woods, and the desert. (Curious side note: As I am composing the number of spiderlings that just left their egg sack and are moving back and forth across my computer screen is growing. They are too small for my unaided eye to discern variety although P. tepidariorum (“common house spider”) is the most likely candidate.) There are about a baker’s dozen of Agelenid species in the US. I remember that most of my study involved the A. aperta from New Mexico and Arizona.

The picnic meal was particularly good- Mexican on the grill. I had hiked with the father and young children several other times to mountain tops. This was a nice change. We played in the creek several places, seeing crawdads and minnows. We talked about plant life along the trail both herbaceous and arborescent. It was an enjoyable day, the likes of which I’d like to repeat. We even left just before it began to rain. God gifted us with a beautiful day and good conversation.

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A pastor friend of mine put this quote on Facebook that he had read from Tim Keller: “For most of us, God hasn’t become our happiness. We, therefore, pray to procure things for our happiness, and not to know him better.” Sometimes quotes are black and white, absolute, and I want to say, no, only sometimes and partially. So I started to respond to this entry but as I tried to think how to respond the depth of my own culpability increased in my eyes. Things procured may not always be material objects, and most frequently are not things I most desire or pursue. They may be accomplishments, comforts, accolades, encouragements, skills, health, entertainments, work, love, a sense of purpose, and so on. They are not knowledge of God. Neither are the bad in themselves, used as tools for knowing Him and making Him known, but I don’t frequently acquire them for that reason. So I retreated from responding to the entry, but the impact of the statement would not fade. I have resolved by the Spirit to confront such idols in the past.

As these thoughts mulled over in my mind I was reminded of the verse in the hymn that goes, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come, and I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.” The Ebenezer comes from a text in I Samuel 7:8-13: “Then the sons of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it for a whole burnt offering to the Lord; and Samuel cried to the Lord for Israel and the Lord answered him. Now Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, and the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel. The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel.”  The translation of Ebenezer is a “stone of help”. It is a monument raised by someone to remind them of help that God has given them. It is very easy to emphasize the act of raising the stone or the resolve that went into the help afforded but that is a totally man-centered dead end. God thundered and confused the enemy and routed and weakened to be struck down. Israel was active: pursuing, striking; Samuel set up the stone, but God did all of the heavy lifting and enabled all of the victory. So too in our victories over the temptation “we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (II Corinthians 10:5) by the enabling power of the Spirit.

At my age and stage of life I have set up more than a few Ebenezers in field of battle. “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1 I know His help, and I know how to call on Him, but in many smaller skirmishes and encampment quarrels and disease I am in great need of revisiting an Ebenezer set up where God enabled victory over evil thoughts, or the other one where victory was won over sluggish spiritual discipline, or yet another one where pride of accomplishment and tendency to show off was overcome. And on it goes. I need to take every thought captive by the power He provides, set up monuments to remind me of His victory and what was won, know Him more, and revisit those “stones of help” before or during great or prolonged battles.

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It is a common response among some Christians these days to say that their faith is not a religion as the other belief systems have it but a relationship with the Creator and Savior. I heartily agree with this distinction  because God has initiated relationship with us through the saving blood of His Son, Jesus. Other faith systems are religions whereby the adherent attempts to acquire some semblance of relationship with a deity by acts of ritual. Therefore, religion is marked by ritual, most notably rituals of appeasement. Any casual observer as well as the skeptic will be quick to point out that Christianity also has ritual. A little reflection will quickly reveal that most of that ritual is human generated. But even apart from that there is the prescribed ritual of the Lord’s Supper and  Baptism. So how is it that I am claiming that  Christianity is different? 

In many respects related to the topic at hand I must confess that it is no different though it is supposed to be. What I ambitiously desire to do in a few words is describe how it should be different, how it is not, and how it may regularly be transformed into different when it falters into same ‘ole, same ‘ole. My thesis is that unbelievers among the skeptic, disinterested, and nominal Christian, as well as the carnal Christian and devoted believer are constantly in danger of practicing religion through ritual because they are deceived (some as a persistent condition and others as a periodic pitfall) into believing that we must appease the gods or God in order to gain their or His favor.

True relationship must have forms and norms, which may be seen as ritual, but the point is not the ritual or any attempt at controlling or appeasing the one with whom you are interacting (for if it is the relationship has problems which will appear now or later). For instance, we say hello and good-bye, shake hands or hug, address our elders as Mister or Missis, and any number of things to be polite and show respect as demonstrations of love in order to build up the relationship.  Formalities keep relationships appropriate and prevent misunderstanding and hurt.

As regards relationship with God, we must approach Him in reverence and in appropriate ways both because He is worthy and because He is not to be trifled with at peril to ourselves. But He has initiated the relationship and provides all that is needed to maintain and grow it. We can do neither and should cease trying both because we never can and because it is an affront to His provision of grace, an act of unbelief.

So as it should look, the Lord’s Supper or Baptism are relationship building activities that draw us and onlookers closer to God, not through appeasement but by focus on Him, listening to what He communicates to us through prayer, and His word and what we communicate to Him through worship and obedience. Other forms of worship like listening to the Word preached, singing or hearing singing, musing on His Word or His beauty as revealed in Creation, confessing sin, interacting with others about the things of God in fellowship are forms for getting to know God better, telling others about Jesus, and serving others.

Here is where the ritual may creep in or always be present. At any point we believe the lie that we must appease or control God or get lazy (complacency!), we counterfeit relationship by doing ritual. The activities we are involved in may be the very ones God commands and may be the very ones that brought blessing by growing our relationship with God last week or yesterday, but we have fallen back on the way that is easier for the flesh, that old sinful nature within, going through the motions- ritual! The unbeliever knows no other way; the carnal believer knows too little of the blessing of relationship with God; the devoted follower is blind-sided by inattention to the things he knows to do and avoid that build or destroy intimacy with God, respectively.

The solution for all comers is the same. Repent! Your sin is unbelief. No amount of ritual will ever draw you closer to God. If you do not know Him, then meet Him through the introduction of faith in what Jesus did on the cross to forgive you for your sin. Getting to know Him is wonderful. If you know Him already quit trying to manipulate the relationship by performing ritual; repent and again seek to know Him. It will bring peace to your beleaguered soul.

Then be alert for the Lie that you can make a go of it on your own, a lie nearly as old as the Garden of Eden where Satan proposed it. Better to pause from spiritual activity rather than continue in ritualistic persistence. Don’t use this as an excuse to continue in an undisciplined way, not pursuing relationship with God. Pause instead to regain passion for the pursuit through the prayer of repentance. Then seek the ancient paths that Jeremiah speaks of  to follow after your God.

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The ability to remember and associate smells is one of the most powerful forms of memory, enhancing a sense of time and place and visual cues. The Olfactory Glands are located in the sinuses very close to a part of the brain that processes and retrieves memories and emotions, the amygdala. Scientists have isolated a thousand different enzymes that bond to odiferous chemicals in the  identification of smells in humans.

 I’m originally from East Tennessee where the clay is nearly as orange as this print and hard enough so that you are not be able to stick a mattock into it more than 2 to 3 inches no matter how hard you hit it. There is abundant clay where I live now but it is most usually infused with muscovite mica (the silvery sheet mineral that you can see through) which makes it much easier to dig in.  My number three son and I are building a deck for a colleague of mine. Where the deck is located there is no mica in the clay (odd) so it digs like East Tennessee clay.  On the way home the other day I inadvertently put my hand on to my face and smelled the clay/dry grass mixture on my fingers. Memories began to flood in from so many times and places that I couldn’t ruminate before the next set of life experiences were upon me. Being dirty is repulsive to many but when it reminds me of things I have enjoyed doing it becomes a perfume. I immediately thought of helping friends and strangers put up hay on a hot or balmy June  or September day. I thought of setting fence posts for a horse training ring and the one hole where the Sassafras root filled our noses. Or the many fences I have built or repaired over lawn and woods when the scent of clay on the posthole diggers is matched with leather warming up on the wooden handles.  I thought of collecting spiders for research and digging in the back yard where I grew up to make a hide-out with my brother. I remember tilling in the garden in The Horseshoe and caving in a number of East Tennessee sinkholes or repairing pipes or foundations for many evenings and nights until a dropped into bed. All of these thoughts flooded my mind in less than a minute. Odors can be very subtle and yet bring back some of the most vivid memories. I was surprised by the sudden onset and pleased by the thoughts of life lived to the fullest.

When I was a youth, I once prayed that the Lord would let me experience life to the fullest. They say you should be careful what you pray for but I believe you should be bold in what you pray for when your heart is right. God is wise and kind enough to sort out how He should answer. God has abundantly answered that prayer, but of course, not in ways I would have ever expected or wanted. With the many good and significantly pleasant memories are the hard and mundane and heartbreaking ones. You can’t really experience all of life without difficulty. I’ve never been afraid to work hard, so many of my good memories are high energy, even difficult experiences, that only later mellow into good memories. I am thankful to God for allowing me to experience so many varied activities and interactions with people over the years. He is good to me far beyond the necessities of physical and spiritual life. I have truly enjoyed life and want to share my love of the outdoors and science and beauty and solid thinking with others. Though read by few, that is the reason I write this blog, to point to the One who creates, saves and sustains so abundantly.

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Worked, played, napped, read, ran, and just now I sat on this cool, exceptionally clear summer night listening to the distant fireworks of my small town. How could freedom not come to mind, but I’m concerned. As the rockets burst 10 blocks away my thoughts went to how freedom is abused and misused:

Always free to do what is right

In dungeon dark or Main Street bright

Don’t take license and act the fool

For righteousness use God’s gracious tool

Or else He’ll take it from us all

And great will be this nation’s fall

Which once so brightly shone for good

Frequently for justice it once stood

Not without fault or blemish there

But most citizens gave a care

Whereas now we say right is wrong

Parade evil in our law and song

Oh, once free land turn back to God

Give freedom more than a yearly nod

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Here are some random funny and profound moments in public education from Tuesday two weeks ago now:

1) As I arrived from my first school at my second school today I could here the chemistry teacher waxing eloquent about highly energetic chemical reactions. So, I went up to the door and said, ” Mr. V, like it not, you’re going to get a reaction out of me.” He replied, “That was spontaneous!” “Yes, totally spontaneous”, I reiterated.  His students sat dumbfounded, not knowing whether to laugh or question my sanity. Several minutes passed while I opened my room and settled in. All the while Mr. V was talking about the energy of spontaneous reactions.  I went back to the door, pointed to my brain case and said, “Mr. V, I just wanted your students to know that I am more stable after that spontaneous reaction.” The students just stared, and one or two began to giggle. Mr. V said later that the whole class broke out laughing after I left. They all thought I am crazy. It may be true, but I’m stable.

2) While I was teaching later in the day my teacher’s assistant (TA) was grading bellwork questions. These are review questions that the students complete at the beginning of class and hand in all together at the end of the week. One girl had written on a bellwork early in the week, “you look nice today.”  The next day she wrote, “you look sharp today, Mr. F”. By now I was embarrassed, but my TA showed me the third comment: “I don’t understand what you are asking in this question”, to which my TA had written in red pen, “What’s wrong, is my beauty distracting you?” It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction I get out of that one!

3) On a bit more serious note, I have this student in my 1st period class that is frighteningly perceptive as to how I am faring emotionally. She almost daily asks me how I am doing by predicting how I feel: “Are you angry today, Mr. F?” Are you having a good day, Mr. F?” Are you frustrated about something?” What are you so happy about? What are you worried about? Did you get some good news or something? Now I am the first to admit that I am the type of personality whose emotions are easy to read- wear them on my sleeve, as the saying goes- but some days I try to hide my emotions because I have a job to do, or because I don’t want to talk about it, or because I want to be encouraging, but she will have nothing of it. Her questions persist. It caused me to realize just how the stresses in my life are straining me, causing me to effectively deny my faith to this perceptive girl who knows when life is getting to me. I claim to be connected to the One Who is the source of all peace, joy, and comfort, and yet I am frequently stressed out. As I thought about this on the way to school the next morning I began praying that God would cause me to experience more of the peace He had made available to me. In the next two weeks up until now I have been making a habit of singing a hymn on the way to school and praying for my students, my family, and whatever fruit of the Spirit seems most lacking in me. The stresses have not gone away but I have a genuine confidence that God is helping me. The next day after I had the realization of what this girl’s questions said about me, I began calling her ‘Thelma’, which is my mash-up of Thermometer Lady. I didn’t explain the meaning of the nickname to her but I meant by it that she was taking the temperature of what the teacher was feeling so that she knew how to react. More than likely she learned this is some situation where it saves her considerable difficulty to know what the temperature is. I decided for my part to let her be the thermometer and I would be the thermostat, regulating the temperature of the room by calling out to my God to be the source of power and heat sink (“cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you” I Peter 5:7) I need before I enter class. I am amazed at what I know to be true can become so clouded by the immediacy of difficulty. ‘Thelma’ gave me a little perspective that I needed.

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A student “set me off” thinkin’ about old sayings yesterday in class when she arrived, sat down and ask me how I was doin’. “Fair to midland”, I replied, “I’m tired from running and not sleeping.” She laughed, “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say that other than my grandfather.” (Regretfully, I’m old enough to be her grandfather, but I left that out of the conversation.) “So is that good?” she inquired. “It’s OK, I reckon.” “Well,” I began, “I don’t wish my life away, but everybody needs a Friday now and then.”

Then I began thinking of some of the sayings I learned from my mother, but I got “bumfuzzled” tryin’. Oh, well, “six of one, half-a-dozen of the other”. My mother was not much for sayings involving “outlandish” people like “faster than a one armed paper hanger” but she could “teach an old dog new tricks”. I wish I could remember more of her sayings; “one will come to me” “every once in a blue moon”. When they do and I voice them, my students think that they are funny or they just look at me “sigogglin'” like I’m “a few bricks minus a load.” My father-in-law was a good one for sayings. He’d “treed more than a few pole cats” “in his day”, been “up the creek without a paddle” on a few occasions, and gone a whole day with “narey a bite to eat” “more times than he cared to remember.” That was because his father was known to “not hit a lick”, working “narey abit” for “as long as he could remember”, better than “a month of Sundays.” 

Youth have sayings, too, but for the most part they lack the richness of the old sayings. I suppose that is because language is far less isolated to regions, changes faster, and is abbreviated electronically down to acronyms and buzz words, the sayings of the day that “I can’t make hide nor hair of.”I wish I could remember a few more of my mother’s sayings but “for the life of me” I can’t think of another one “even if my life depended on it.” I wish you’d “help me out” and suggest a few you know in the comments. “Whewee!” I guess I did remember one more “by the skin of my teeth”. Let’s hear a few of your sayings.

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No, I’m not Buzz Lightyear but I do have a story. I have trouble remembering my age when the following event occurred, eight or nine years old, but I can narrow it down because of the left over beginning writer’s paper I used. One day, probably a Saturday, my father was trimming the English Ivy that lined either side of our driveway and cascaded over the stone wall extending halfway across our front yard. My brother and I were cleaning it up as he cut the ivy, hauling it to the leaf pile in rear. I asked my father, “What is the biggest number that exists?” He replied, “It looks like an eight laid on its side.” That got him off the hook and me in a pickle. I now imagine him grinning to himself about what I would do with that. Afterall, I had expected a name: thousand, million, billion, and so on. It took me several years to realize he had described the symbol for infinity. So I decided to write to the biggest number I could on my leftover beginner’s writing paper from 1st grade, that tan colored paper with dashed lines for forming letters properly. I would write to each 100 on one side of a piece of paper. I vaguely remember knowing questions from my older brother or mother to the effect, “How long are you going to do that?” I remember that I made it to several hundred past ten thousand. I’ve always wanted to understand infinity.

Recently on a hike with my two youngest sons I asked the 19 year-old who is conversant in Calculus and particularly related to my question, limits, “Is it possible to have +∞ (there’s that silly sideways eight: read “infinity”)?”After some exchange back and forth, we agreed that it is mathematically possible. My son then added the insight that it is possible because “we created zero.” Immediately I saw that zero is the center of the mathematical universe. But the question persists: Is it possible to have +∞? Afterall, how is something infinite if it leaves out half of all that exists, namely -∞?

And this contrast is the difference between God’s eternality and our eternal life in Him. He is self-existent always (-∞ to +∞), period. We are finite, existing in Him, having a beginning, and if we be saved in Christ continuing forever to +∞, well past a few hundred over ten thousand. 

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The first poem I wrote this past week is the last one I am posting because I had to reflect on its content abit. It could so easily be seen as insensitive, or premature, but I consider it neither. I think it is just honest in a constructive kind of way. We have questions; we should voice them and find answers rather than silently or violently remaining agnostic about what is real and true. I offer this poem as a balm to many hurting loved ones who are truly asking. The eleven year old girl who died of leukemia and provoked my mind to write it has God’s best as I understand because she accepted God’s solution:

A purpose in life to glorify God
To enjoy His gifts, obey His commands
Accept hardships and the correcting rod
Challenge potential and all life’s demands

What’s the way forward when we’ve lost such life?
Then come tears and doubts and questions abound
Mind and heart struggle with internal strife
About ultimate issues, life profound

How is God good when there is so much bad?
God’s not the author of evil and wrong
Man disobeys, consequences are sad
Overtaking the ‘innocent’ and strong

God provides a way to overcome death
To have peace with Him and eternal rest
Bought by His Son, finished at His last breath
Now and forever have life and God’s best

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