A Minor Tragedy

            Life is full of little disappointments. Every one of us have enough real problems in life to deal with, so we try not to add any unnecessary worry to life. But when I saw these M&Ms on the side of the road, I couldn’t help but feel sad. Not a deep sorrow, but a compassionate pity for their previous owner.
            I’ve been there too many times. I’m anticipating the first bite of a slice of pizza or a cookie, then, in my clumsiness, I drop it or someone bumps into me and before I know it, my food is on the floor. The disappointment that one feels in this moment is visceral. The anticipation of a sugary treat replaced with solemn awareness of just how imperfect the world is.
            Normally this is where you have a dilemma. You look around to see if anyone can see me, who might look down on you for eating food off the floor. I’m a frequent practitioner of the 5 second rule, given the food in appropriate. Chips, cookies, or pizza are normally fine, but one must be careful with any moist foods that collect dirt easily, such as oranges, pasta, or a scoop of ice cream. In almost every circumstance, M&Ms will be fine off the floor, due to their famous hard candy shell. But not these M&Ms. The 5 second rule is practically null and void outdoors. You just have no idea what been on that sidewalk, lawn, or road.
            And it’s not bad enough that some M&Ms got spilled on the ground. But, this was likely most of the bag, if not the entire thing! At least if you spill a few, you’ve got the rest of the bag to console you. But just imagine if you will the moment when your 5 minute chocolate break is completely stolen from you by a foul trick of gravity. This is a deep personal tragedy if ever there was one.
            It goes without saying that there are much greater tragedies than a simple loss of candy. We are continually reminded of them day in and day out, in the news and sometimes in our own back yard. Someone spills a their coffee or drops their cheeseburger and the world will barely notice. But that doesn’t make it stink any less when we’re robbed of our life’s little joys. All we can do is remember the old idiom about spilt milk and keep things in perspective, knowing that we still must get through the day and there are a lot more bags of M&Ms out there.


In Loving Memory…

Author’s Note: Several months ago, I had a dream about my late father. I don’t remember many details, only that I saw him and spoke with him; however within the dream I still knew that he had passed away. I awoke in the middle of this dream, blurring the lines of reality; I felt as though I had just spoken with Dad and he was simply in the other room. Once I was fully awake, I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down the thoughts and feelings that were stirring in my head and heart.

Today is my father’s birthday, and I cannot think of a better time to share this piece, which is nearly verbatim what I wrote that morning after waking from the dream.
If I saw my dad again…
 First I would give him a hug, maybe even a kiss on the cheek-
the kind of expression that would have embarrassed me before.
I’d ask him where he’d been and how long he was staying.
Then, I’d ask if we could go see a movie, like we always used to.
No. Dinner first, then a movie. We’d have so much to talk about.
I’d tell him about my friends and my jobs
and all the things I’d learned from him, without even realizing it.
I’d tell him I finally learned how to tie a square knot,
after the years he spent trying to teach me how.
“Let’s go on a trip,” I’d say.
Maybe Chicago, like we did when I was 6.
We’d go swimming in the lake, and I’d show off how good of a swimmer I am now.
Then go to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game – something we never did.
We’d go downtown and eat at that place where he and Mom ate all the time.
 I’d ask him about his life and listen to his stories about college and how he met Mom.
We’d talk for hours. I’d try to listen, hanging onto every detail,
then anxiously eye the check, hoping that he’d pay.
I would tell him everything I never said.
That I wished he could have been around longer,
and that I’m heartbroken that my kids won’t meet him.
I’d apologize for all the times I acted like I didn’t care:
“There were plenty of times when I secretly hated you, just because it felt good.
I didn’t think you cared or I didn’t care if you cared. I just didn’t like you.
But now I see your heart; that you loved me so much that it hurt.
Nowadays I sometimes remind myself of you and I thank God that I do.

“You taught me how to talk to people, to let them know they matter.

The way you joked with the bank tellers and Mom’s co-workers, never too busy to chat.
I know that I talk to kids the same way you did,
 always down on their level, always with a smile.”
I’d ask about Grandpa and how things were when he died.
“Were you on good terms? What things did you not get a chance to say?
Did you know that he loved you? Did you know if he respected you?”
I’d sit and wait for him to answer, trying to catch every word, every emotion.
We’d get home late, but I wouldn’t be ready to sleep:
“Let me make a pot of coffee…or I could cook you something.”
But Dad would insist that it was time to go to bed.
He would sit down at his desk, saying “I’ve got a little work I need to do.”

“Dad…I have so much I still want to talk about.”

“Don’t worry, A.W.” he’d say, more stately than he did in life. “I’ll be here in the morning.”
Happy birthday, Dad.

My dad, Walt Swearingen, on his 60th birthday with his grandson

My dad and me, when I was in high school, working on a combine.

An alter to Saint Steve

I seriously didn’t mean to do this.
One of my pastors made a joke recently about Apple Founder  Steve Jobs being recently “sainted” and “having performed at least three miracles”. He was just teasing, of course, but this week as I was cleaning my living room I noticed that I had inadvertently mixed Steve Jobs’s biography in with a stack of Bibles.
Coincidence…? Of course! But it’s funny none the less.

I Dared to Discipline

             A couple sundays ago I was teaching Sunday school in our 4th and 5th grade class room. I started teaching this age group during the summer and they’re a lot of fun. The kids are smart enough to talk and interact with, but they haven’t gotten to the social anxiety stage of Jr. High.
            However like any large group of kids, they can be tough to manage some days. Our childrens’ pastor, Mike, has lately been encouraging me to lead the kids with a stronger hand, saying “You do a good job teaching the Bible and you’re funny, but you can’t be afraid to take charge if the kids are acting up.”
            Not long after Mike told me this, I got to practice this new discipline.
            The lesson was on Psalm 23, focusing on God’s provision. From the time we sat down, a group of boys in the back were causing trouble and I kept having to quiet them down and get them back on task. I asked the question “Who is someone who provides for you?” One of the boys, who I’m pretty sure was at the church for the first time, raised his hand.
            “Yeah, you in the back.” I said, eager to hear what he had to say. “Who is someone who takes care of you?”
            He grinned and said “Your Mom.”
            This was the last straw. I puffed up my chest and pointed my finger to let him know that I was not okay with him cracking wise during discussion. I was halfway through telling the young man that he needed to quit messing and grow up when I realized that when he said “Your Mom” he wasn’t making a crass “Yo’ Mama” joke, but he was in fact answering my question. I graciously allowed him to finish what he was saying but by this point the whole class was laughing and I struggled to maintain my composure, shaking my head at how foolishly brash I had been.
            The eventually class calmed down and I was able to continue with the lesson without doing or saying anything else. I ended up having to separate the boys, moving the most talkative of the group to isolated corners of the group. I even moved one of them up to where all the girls were sitting, which still counts as punishment at that age.
            Such are the growing pains of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. I survived the class and had a good laugh at myself. I don’t regret coming down on the kid. I did what I thought was best and I willingly admitted when I was wrong (even though it was dramatically obvious to everyone else). And next time, before I lay down the law with one my students, I’ll probably take an extra moment to think before I speak, just in case.

Psalm 23

Proverbs 13:24 😉