Friday, February 21, 2014

Knock, Knock, Jokes

Our children couldn’t be more different if you had planned it that way. Ariel, is dark-haired, dark complected. Autumn, is fair-skinned with beautiful reddish-blonde hair that frames her face in big, rolling curls.
Shortly after Autumn’s fourth birthday, we went as a family to eat at a restaurant near home. The waitress came to our table ready to take our order and looking at our small group announced, “Remember, the little one is free!”
Autumn indignantly responded, “I’m not free, I’m four!”
We all shared a good laugh.
Up until she was about six, Autumn’s favorite joke was one that her sister taught her, it went like this,
Knock, knock?”
Who’s there?”
Banana who?”
Knock, knock?”
Who’s there?”
Banana who?”
Knock, knock?”
Who’s there?”
Banana who?”
Knock, knock?”
Who’s there?”
Orange who?”
Orange you glad I didn’t say banana!?”

We laughed….at least the first half-dozen times we heard it. Something tells me that when she is closer to forty than she is to four, that joke will come up again at the dinner table and we will all have another good laugh.
Ariel is our oldest. As much as Autumn wishes differently, Ariel always will be the oldest. She has had her moments as well. I can remember when she was about five. We were sitting in the evening service at the church where we were the youth pastors. Ariel was coloring on a picture while sitting in my lap. Then she stopped for a moment and studied the pastor for a long while, with a curious expression on her little, round face. Her eyes traced the microphone cord from its outlet on the platform to the back of the pastor’s buttoned suit jacket. She squinted at the lapel mic, connected to his tie for a moment and then retraced the cord with her eyes back to its origin. With one of her tiny hands, she reached up and pulled down on my neck. Then she moved toward me slowly, her eyes still on the pastor as she whispered into my ear,
How does he get that cord out of his bottom?”
I can’t recall the pastor’s message that night. However, I can remember what Ariel was coloring a picture of.
I can remember because, like Autumn’s favorite joke, Ariel drew the same picture for about three years. It was a picture of a home with a Mom, Dad, and two girls. There was always smoke coming out of the chimney on the house, a blue sky with a “smiley-faced” sun in one corner and a rainbow in the other. I asked her once why she always drew pictures like that, and she responded matter-of-factly, “Because those are the kind of days I like!”
That’s really not bad theology.
“…whatever is lovely…think about such things.” – Phil. 4:8

I learned something from a friend of mine when I was a young Dad. I have used this bedtime conversation many times with my children as they have grown. They complain of the repetition sometimes, but not always, and never very strongly. It goes like this:
Autumn (or Ariel) do you know what?”
What Dad?”
If I could choose from all the girls in the whole wide world…”
Yes, Daddy?”
I mean all the little girls in the United States, and all the girls in Africa, and all the girls in South America and Japan and China, and all the little girls in every country and city and state in all the world…do you know what?”
No Daddy, What?”
If I could choose from all of those little girls, who would be the big sister, (or little sister) in our family, …do you know who I would choose?”
Now, the very first time they both shook their head. In the 748 times since then, there has become a bit less suspense to this line of questioning, but I still think that they enjoy hearing me say, “I WOULD CHOOSE YOU!!!”
Usually this is followed by some laughter, a few kisses on the cheek and the “tucking in” process.

My heart is warmed by this wonderful memory, but even more so by the memory of them doing the exercise with me, “Daddy, if I could choose from all the Daddys in the world…”
There comes between us during this event, an understanding of the many times we have failed in our efforts to love each other to the best of our abilities. They know that I have failed them at times as a Father. There have been times that they know that they have also fallen short in their efforts to obey their parents. But after these kinds of moments together, it is almost as if we begin anew with each other. At that exact moment, all is forgiven and tomorrow is another day. I need that as much as they do. In fact without question, there have been times when they have been the teacher, and I the student. In between “knock, knock” jokes and crayola drawings I have learned a lot from these two.

We were walking alone together, Ariel and I. I was sort of “tight-rope” walking the curb around our block and she was coming up behind me. She was having a hard time and could only manage a step or two and then she would lose her balance and she would have to step off, get her footing and then get back on again. I was breaking the news to her about our upcoming move to a new church. It would be hard for her. A great deal of uncertainty hid in my heart as well. We had been with the same pastor for all of her life except the first few months. The pastor’s family had a little boy that she had been best friends with the whole time. She was only a couple months older than him. We were discussing the leaving of that comfort zone while we walked. Finally, I stepped down beside her and grabbed hold of her left hand and held it tight in mine, steadying her. A great, big smile came to her face as she walked the curbing with confidence now. It was such a wonderfully contagious smile that it flew over and landed on my face as well. We walked together hand in hand and then I stopped and turned to her, “It’s a lot easier to walk when Daddy holds your hand isn’t it?”
I barely had the words out of my mouth when I realized that the Lord was talking to me through this same sentiment. I picked her up, tears in my eyes and tossed her high in the air. (I can’t do that anymore, at least not so high). We hugged, finished our tour around the block and walked into the house.

Thank you Lord for a family that mirrors who you are back to me in a way that I can understand. You know that each one, from the Mommy to the “little sissy” are exactly who I needed that I might become the Daddy and the husband that they also needed…

Monday, February 3, 2014

I Miss Her Most at Suppa Time

The funeral had long been over.
         There was no graveside service.
                The sanctuary was empty but for Clarence.
He sat in a pew about a third of the way back,
        on the left side, completely

It was my first ever service as a real pastor. 
I was 23, he was 73.
I tried to look busy while I gathered together the little sheets of
                                      paper that described the life of the woman,
                whose body lay in a casket at the head of the room.

Clarence leaned his chin forward against his palms.
His elbows rested on his pants.
His face was not sad, 
                  just empty.
He stared in silence at the casket.

Finally I came over to him and sat down in the pew in front of his.
He didn't move his eyes. I looked over my shoulder and then back to him.
                               "Are you gonna be okay Clarence?"
He very slowly turned his face to mine and said,
              "You know, I think I will miss her most at suppa time."

And when he said the words, "suppa time",
                                                          his eyes sparkled.
The corners of his mouth turned upward into a smile.

I knew that he was remembering years of
being together with a woman for far more than sharing a meal.
There were times when there was laughter.
The noise of children…
And the quiet of a setting sun.
There were days of struggle,
Discussions about medical bills, and prayers of thanksgiving.

I could see all of those cares and conversations, 
revealed in the sharing of that one sentence.

I had nothing to add.
So, I nodded my head, patted his shoulder and left the room.

But I have taken with me, one thought that has rooted itself in my life today.
          We think the big things are what we will remember.
          We think that it is the moments that we carefully plan, that will stick with us.
          We think that we can ignore the common days because they will not matter,
          And that as long as we really celebrate the times that are set aside for
                                                                                                                  grander purposes,
Our memories will be full.

But through Clarence,
I have come to believe that exactly the opposite is actually the truth.

May we all search through those common days,
for the breadth of life that we were meant
to find there.