Hamelot: The Court of Common Kings

 
 

Where the trees grow thick, and the hills lead to earthen kettles, and those kettles then fill with fresh water...that’s where the cottage lies. Even in the dark, the forests feel familiar and welcoming. Freedom and comfort are shaped from an idea into a tangible thing there.  The cottage is simple, even a bit primitive, but by my father and grandfather’s hands it was built without flaw.
Unpaved, unmarked dirt roads are laid out like veins through the unchanged woods.  Seemingly abandoned shacks and one seemingly hidden shrine wait for their next visitors.  During my summers as a child, I soaked up tales of ferocious beasts and unsavory characters that sought refuge in the very same labyrinth of tangled brush and timber.  I was inclined to believe, and I still relish the suggestion that the trees framing Lake La Fave kept secrets.
The water is clear and deep and it’s lined with pale sand.  I know of no other lake like La Fave.  Just off its shore, at the point where feet can no longer touch, a pile of waterlogged trees are tethered to the bottom. Sometimes they give the illusion of a capsized vessel when seen through the rippled water’s surface.  The “log pile,” as it has become known, shelters schools of bass and minnows and supposedly an uncatchable fish. 
Daisies, purple irises, and blueberry bushes grow along the shoreline.  Countless frogs hide among them waiting to be caught by the next child, youthful adult, or enthusiastic dog.  Roots, exposed after decades of erosion, are carpeted with moss. The shore has been deemed a worthy fairy habitat by the new generation of make-believers.  The small beach is perfect for sand castles and the reeds make perfect drawbridges.
I shot my first bow, caught my first fish, roasted my first marshmallow, rowed my first boat, built my first fort, swam the width of my first lake, and saw my first shooting star at the cottage.  There is no telephone or television, there is no reception for cell phones, and there isn't a motor boat or jet ski.  The closest store sells groceries, hardware supplies, and gasoline.  The closest church has a sanctuary filled with timeworn pews.  The closest farm still has roosters that crow every morning and can be heard from a mile away. 
Conversations last a little longer at Lake La Fave. People take the time to row out into the middle of lake at midnight just to watch the Northern Lights.  Swimmers don’t just swim during the heat of the day, but they swim right after breakfast, throughout the afternoon, and before the sun sets. Then they dry themselves and warm up next to the bonfire.
My imagination was born within the pine and birch forests of Northern Wisconsin, and it was matured by the scents of wood fires and moss covered shores.  There was no adventure left un-had in the sanctuaries of spring-fed lakes and quaint cottages.  It was once called Chickopee- the land of the birches- then it was named Hamelot, but to all it has always been Lake La Fave. 
 ____
“If heaven is like the cottage on a beautiful summer’s day, then you can keep your streets of gold; I’d rather be here.”
-Peter Cornelius Hamel
 

 

Sing Like Never Before


The heat of the day remained on my skin even though the sun, exhausted by its effortful grating, had retreated hours before.   The steady hum of the generator was accompanied by the occasional light flicker.  The room’s floor was tiled and its parameter was lined with furniture that had been pushed there in an effort to create space.  Cushions covered the floor and children, shoulder to shoulder, sat facing forward with feathered hearts and eager minds.  They spoke in different tongues yet they gathered together independent from their parents to practice the faith that feathered their hearts and made their minds so eager.
The music started. The oldest children, on the verge of adulthood, led worship with a piano, violin, guitar, and their voices.  I could hear myself singing along and I could feel my body swaying back and forth, keeping time. In processing each detail I fell further and further into surreal contentment.  Regardless of tradition, these children proved mankind could be unified under a God that knows no boundaries of language, distance, or political opinion.  I was encountering a real God; one that chose the humble things of this world to upstage the grandiose.
People heal in Africa; at least that’s what I was told.  There is much brokenness, poverty and corruption there, but in the dysfunction there is a necessity to believe. So people find healing. The developed world basks in the conveniences that developed it and forgets its own dysfunction; it forgets its need to believe in something greater.
There is no biological explanation for the pleasure found in music or the joy found through dance, but humanity uses both to communicate the condition of its soul. The children I met that night in the oppressive heat of Burkina had access to fewer conveniences than some, so in the end they forgot less and remembered more.  They sang and danced because innately they knew there was nothing more natural than using unexplainable joys as a means to worship an Almighty God.
 
Video taken during a service trip to a local village with the Wired Youth Group out of Ouagadougou


The Consent of Ignorance

 
Lindsay was a guest at a wedding.  The couple’s reception followed the ceremony and the festivities continued.  Lindsay, an attractive, energetic, friendly woman, began talking to a fellow wedding guest.  She had never met the man before, but he seemed nice enough.  She had a casual drink with him. Things slowly progressed throughout the evening and conversation was followed by a kiss or two.  Lindsay had no intentions of moving any further with a man she just met and she told him that.  The man offered her another drink and she accepted.  Soon an unnatural paralysis traveled through her body.  Away from the rest of the wedding guests, Lindsay could feel the man removing her clothing.  Everything went blank.  Minutes later, Lindsay woke up and the man was on top of her and inside of her.  She was being rapped.

Lindsay left the wedding a changed woman. At home she scribbled any intelligible thoughts down in her journal and she cried.  No amount of scrubbing in the shower removed the filth. She felt powerless and unclean.  Lindsay, like many other survivors of sexual assault, did not go to the hospital to get medically cleared.  And like many survivors, she did not report the assault to the police. Lindsay hid away her secret from many of the friends and family members she trusted most. 

While in college, Lindsay and I became friends.  We lived in the same residence hall, had a few classes together, and shared similar values.  I didn’t know about Lindsay’s past assault history until one afternoon she admitted to having questions about the event.  I’m not sure what led her to ask me, but she described a conversation she had with a mutual friend.  This friend stated Lindsay was responsible for the rape.  This friend, an educated woman, believed that Lindsay’s choice to drink and socialize with the man passed the blame to Lindsay, not the man who assaulted her.  Lindsay asked for my thoughts. Infuriated and with more conviction than I expected, I reassured her that she was not the cause of another person’s violent choice.

Your opinion of me may change after you read this post.  You’ll likely believe you’re not a part of the problem.  With that said, I rarely write on hot topics.  For the most part it’s because I’m not enough of an expert on any of them to spout off opinions based on mirrored facts.  Today’s exception has been made after years of observations that both anger and embarrass me.  Today I’m writing about rape.
Tony Campolo, a sociologist and pastor once wrote, “The United Nations reports that over ten thousand people starve to death each day, and most of you don’t give a shit.  However, what is even more tragic is that most of you are more concerned about the fact that I said a bad word than you are about the fact that ten thousand people are going to die today.”   For the sake of my argument, that quote could easily refer instead to the roughly 600 women who are assaulted every day in the US.  Like everything else, unless we are personally affected, the vast majority of US citizens won’t touch the topic unless a celebrity or a politician is somehow attached to the debate.
Lindsay’s story isn’t unique, and Lindsay’s friend’s reaction isn’t either.   Therein lies the problem.  The US fosters a rape culture. Survivors of sexual assault, both male and female, have not only been forced into a violent sexual act, but as survivors, they are being forced to defend their status as a victim. 
She drank too much. It’s not rape.
She was dressed to impress.  Clearly not rape.
She knew the guy.  He couldn’t have raped her. 
She was just looking for attention. There’s no way he raped her.
She eventually liked it. It wasn’t rape.
She kissed him first. That can’t be rape.
She didn’t fight back. Not rape.
She was walking alone. Of course she was raped.
She wasn’t carrying pepper spray.  That’s why she was raped.
The point is, in a country that honors the constitutional right to be viewed as innocent until proven guilty, the victims are often put on trial by society instead of the perpetrators. 
 
You can argue the facts and argue against my opinion, but that only proves one thing; you’re missing my point. Sexual assault, on a global scale, is an immensely harmful problem.  If we can justify rape in the US, a country built on civil liberties, how are we in a position to respond when countries like Yemen justify the rape of child brides or when Congolese soldiers justify the gang rape of fifty women?
In the political season of 2012, sexual assault has become a political issue.  Rape is not a political issue; it’s a human one.  Too often politics are used as a platform to talk about issues that people are otherwise uncomfortable discussing. This is a good thing you might think. Yes, there are certainly positive things about making certain issues public, but Western culture (a rape culture, mind you) convinces us that only with political intervention can we solve the problem. Politicians can establish stronger laws and harsher punishments, after all.
I am telling you, the problem will not be solved at a podium, or on a platform hung with banners, or behind Senate walls; it will be solved around the kitchen table, in the classroom, on our own personal soap box. We have to teach our peers and our children what it means to respect each other, a lesson not learned in politics.  We need to teach our children about sex and healthy relationships even when it’s uncomfortable.  We need to teach our men and women about accountability and consequences.  We can’t wait for additional bills to be passed and we cannot wait to take our cues from the President.
Lindsay shared her story with me and she gave me permission to share it with you.  She explained that she rarely provides details because people often blame her for the assault.  Lindsay believes people are more comfortable labeling the assault as a mistake on her part rather than a mistake the perpetrator made.   She told me, in doing so, these people feel like they have more control and are, for that reason, less likely to make the same “mistakes” Lindsay did. 
Lindsay was not misguided when she attended the wedding. She didn’t wear a dress designed to attract perpetrators. Lindsay was not being unreasonable when she decided to socialize with other wedding guests.  Lindsay did not ask for her drink to be topped off with a drug. She didn’t mistakenly give permission to be stripped naked.  Lindsay didn’t accidentally consent to being assaulted.  She was not at fault. I stand with Lindsay.  
 
Information was sourced from both the Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010 and the FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010
I intentionally did not tackle the issue of abortion in rape cases. There’s little about that topic I’d personally want to put a political stamp on.  It’s an issue with two very determined viewpoints.  There’s no better way to make enemies than by declaring a political opinion, and I don’t want my political opinions to stop someone from hearing my very human opinions on sexual assault.




A Workbench Like His

Losing a loved one, regardless of the cause, requires a proper shedding of old.  We hold onto old trinkets and some of us hold onto old wardrobes.  We fear by letting go of these possessions we are somehow welcoming the loss and forgetting the person that made the loss so great.  I am no different. I am a survivor of loss.  And though I have shed much of the old, in my fear, but more importantly in my love, I have stored away trinkets. 
***
Every inch of his workbench, and each surrounding inch, was covered in tools, hardware, contraptions, and junk (at least to the untrained eye).   He kept a cabinet and tool chest nearby, and they too were filled to capacity.  My dad spent hours at that bench tinkering, sorting, repairing, and creating.  His hands were always coated in a film of grease, dirt, and sometimes even his own blood.  My dad’s hands impressed me, especially as a child; wide and powerful, yet nimble enough to fit together the smallest mechanical pieces. 
Until a few days ago, I left my dad’s workbench untouched. I couldn’t put names to majority of the objects found there, and I didn’t know if I’d have the courage to upset the altar of his resourcefulness.  Nonetheless, I began to sort and discard.   At first I was careful about keeping my hands clean, or at least as clean as could be managed.  But as I recognized the futility of my efforts, I allowed the grease to stain my fingers and the dirt to collect under my nails. 
The sheer volume of screws, bolts, nails, and washers became a daunting Everest.  The shelves where they were stored bowed under their weight.  Because my dad saved so much under the guise of practicality, I tried my best to be objective in my task, but there’s nothing objective about working in a space so encased in memories.  

It started with a large, hexagonal washer.  The symmetry and unusual weight of the washer tempted me, and it soon found in home in my pocket.  Before I gave much thought, a keychain, a perfectly untouched nail, and a few other odds and ends neighbored that washer inside my pocket.
After I finished, I went to my parents’ laundry room and reached for my dad’s abrasive, citric-scented soap.  My hands have never been dainty or delicate, and I’ve always seen them as flawed, but as I scrubbed my short, flat nails and the heavy creases in my palms I saw my dad’s hands in my own.  Smaller versions perhaps, but they were his.
***
So a few washers, a three inch carpenter’s nail, and a greasy key chain were empowered as the talismans for my father’s magic.  Void of hocus pocus or abracadabra, he instead mastered the magic of ingenuity and parenthood.
 


We Sail at Break of Day: A Disjointed Look at Job Searching

Here are the facts about job searching in today’s arid climate:
  • 86% of managers will reportedly hire someone they like rather than someone who meets all the job requirements.
  • Based on information gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it takes an average of 24.9 weeks to get hired.
  • Generally the first person to follow up with a company after submitting an application has a 95% chance to be offered the position. However, many companies include disclaimers discouraging follow up calls.
  • Statistics reveal 50-90% of all jobs are not posted online or listed in print.
  • Based on some calculations there are roughly 100 applicants for every posted/listed job.
  • Many companies no longer use humans to review applicant information; rather, they use software to detect specific job descriptors.



Here are the facts about my personal job searching ventures:
  • My confidence in finding a job depends entirely on the songs that shuffle into my iTunes’ playlist.  John Legend’s “If You’re Out There” guarantees an “I’m-going-to-be-the-first-female-president-of-the-United-States” kind of motivation, Smash Mouth’s “All Star” fosters confusion and a renegade spirit, and the US Navy’s “Anchors Aweigh” tempts me to abandon all plans and enlist in the armed forces.  
  • I signed up for LinkedIn in order to network more easily, but it has become the bane of my existence.  LinkedIn is the awkward third cousin of the social networking family.  Its job recommendations are impossible to take seriously.
  • I have considered applying for the doctor and/or lawyer positions that have shown up in my online search results. If the internet database thinks I’m qualified, maybe I am.  I could be selling myself short by not applying. Catch me if you can style.
  • In the debate about relocating out of state, the availability of Packer games on network T.V. has been added to my pro/con list. Also, the availability of cheese curds that squeak.
  • I spend about as much time looking up apartments on Craigslist in prospective communities as I do looking for jobs themselves. 
  • I have fantasies about being the hip new employee—the one who brings the tastiest treats to the break room and tells the funniest jokes.  “That Melanie.  She’s the greatest.” they would say.
  • At one point after several discouraging days of searching, I stopped job searching all together and started looking once again at graduate schools.  The problem with that plan has always been the fear of committing to one program.  It’s one thing to get bachelors degree you don’t use; it’s entirely different to earn a masters degree and then decide that field is just not your cup of tea.
  • I have had several phone interviews thus far.  The interviews are most often conducted while I sit on my bed in lounge wear, grimacing every time I give a less than succinct answer. I have sold my skills and talents sufficiently enough to secure on sight interviews and additional contact in a few cases.  I can’t help but wonder, though, do they suspect I’m wearing lounge wear? Maybe they can hear it in my voice… the sound of comfortable waistbands echoing through my responses.
  • I drove to Memphis for an interview, and during my trip the check engine light flashed red on my dashboard.  I was six hundred plus miles from home as I desperately sought the help of two mechanics who told me my car’s transmission was bad. So now, in attempts to further my professional career and expand my bank account, I am instead emptying my pockets to pay for car that is mocking my efforts to be responsible.
  • My degree qualifies me for specific types of therapy positions and my experience qualifies me  to work in the non-profit social services world.  In other words, I'm a professional mutt; I might have the best of both "breeds" but I'm no pedigree winner.
________

The Good Lord is going to need to speak pretty loud for me to hear His directions. 


The Ghost and the Darkness/Call Me Val Kilmer



I don’t believe in karma, but I do believe in humbling situations.  During my last Burkinabe’ hurrah at Nazinga Animal Park my innate warrior-like ego was bruised.  Let me begin by saying my twin sister, Megan, is one of the bravest people I know for moving to Burkina Faso three years ago without knowing the language or a single soul.  Her boldness and fearless creativity are admirable. But in the same breath I can say with confidence, Megan is also one of the biggest scaredy cats I’ve ever had the privilege of loving. For example, if the lighting is dim, an exaggerated breath is enough to make her jump and grope for the nearest body.  And at our family cottage she doesn’t dare to walk to the end of the driveway past dusk for fear a bear might be waiting for her there.  You can see how it was easy for my pride to get in the way when I learned I’d be staying solo in a bungalow in the middle of Africa. I made sure to point out the fact that Megan wouldn’t survive a night alone with a sound mind under the same circumstances.  My story thus begins…

Megan, her husband Matt, and I arrived at Nazinga’s gate mid-afternoon.  We took an afternoon tour of the park, and we planned to wake up unsuitably early to tour a greater portion of the park before the heat consumed any bit of adventurous spirit.   Our goal was to see the elephants.  They roam in herds at the watering holes of Nazinga.  Unfortunately for us, our timing was poor and the heat was too intense, so every last elephant had apparently crossed the river into Ghana.  Our trip wasn’t in vain, however.  We saw plenty of warthogs, baboons, monkeys, assorted birds, several deer or elk or antelope species (I can’t quite be sure which was which), and I even spotted a Timon (as in the friend of Pumbaa).
The evening of our arrival we ate some sort of wild deer or elk or antelope (again, I can’t be sure what it was exactly) that the local staff graciously prepared.  After our fill of gamey, but tasty meat, and oiled potatoes, we retired to our separate bungalows. The bungalow was lit by one light bulb and the windows were covered by wide, metal shutter blinds, but there were gaps along the windows and in the door.  I opted to leave the outside light on to distinguish my bungalow from the darkness that swallowed up everything else.  It was in this decision that my mind started to conjure up unpleasant questions.  What would happen if I instead turned the light off and simply blended in with the black of Burkina?  If I kept the light on, who or what could see me…all alone?  Those questions led to doubts about the structural security of my bungalow. Anything with any bit of motivation would be able to break through that door or crawl through those windows.

I tried my best to shake those thoughts from my mind, I said my prayers (with an extra emphasis on personal safety), and I settled into bed.  I was hot and my skin was sticky, but I wasn’t willing to take any risks in the midst of my uncertainty.  I covered myself with the sheet and trusted in the protective powers of bed covers.  Within minutes of lying down, I heard the first bang. My heart leapt, but after a moment or two I reasoned myself back to relaxation. Then it happened again.  BANG! BAM! BAM!  I needed no additional confirmation; it wasn’t just my imagination. There were unholy creatures running amuck outside.  I didn’t dare leave my bed. Maybe they could sense movement. Maybe my movement would send them into a frenzy.  I shallowed my breath.  BAM! The creature, or creatures, hit the window right above my head. BANG!  They were on the roof.  BAM! BANG! They ran into the door. It was a full on attack, and all of my warrior-like courage had been flushed out through my pores alongside the profuse amounts of sweat. 
I realized I needed a plan. There were no phones, so I couldn’t call Megan and Matt for back-up.  Even if I could call, I couldn’t expect them to risk their safety during a beastly attack.  After several minutes and countless more bangs and bams, I had yet to come up with a functional plan.  Though, as a reaction to the incessant clamor I developed a paper thin tolerance to the noise.  With a bit of tolerance and all the gumption I could muster, I ditched my need for a plan and sprang into action.  (By “sprang into action,” I mean I tip-toed into lesser amounts of inaction.) I cautiously removed my humid sheets and slowly walked to each window and listened.  No sound.  In equally slow steps I made my way to the door. Through the cracks I could see light seeping in and just then a thought popped into my head. What if, like moths are attracted to light, these fearsome beasts were also attracted to the light outside my door?  At the risk of being devoured by the dark—or much worse, a nocturnal monster—I flipped the light off and then I waited. I continued to wait. There were no bangs.  There were no bams. It was quiet.   

After two terrifying hours I was able to finally rest.  The morning came with no additional incidents and I woke up unsuitably early as planned. When I met Megan and Matt for breakfast I asked if they too experienced similar disturbances.  They hadn’t.  I described the harrowing tale and humbly admitted to Megan I was bear-at-the-end-of-the-driveway scared. 
I still can’t be sure what type of animal haunted my night outside of Nazinga.  I suspect they were lizards now that I’ve had time to apply some logic to the situation. In my defense, if they were in fact lizards they certainly were the fierce, ferocious, dinosaur-like lizards…the kind worth being afraid of.     

Don Juan Olivier

There were nine hours to go. The plane had one quick stop in Bamako and then I’d finally be in Ouagadougou.  I was stifling my excitement and nerves as best as I could while I pretended to wait patiently as the plane sat idly on the tarmac. I was becoming hopeful that I no one was assigned to sit next to me as more and more passengers passed me by.  Then it happened; the event that changed the rest of my flight.  A man, between the ages of 32 and 57 if I had to guess, paused next to the empty seat on my left. Trying to remain polite even though my dreams of having a row to myself seemed to be quickly fading, I asked the man if his ticketed seat was the one next to mine. He looked confused, and that’s when it dawned on me, he probably didn’t speak English.  So, naturally wanting to prove that I wasn’t the typical ethnocentric American, I prepared myself to communicate in a foreign tongue…12th grade Spanish.  Fortunately for me, my ignorance was quickly humbled when he responded in broken, but quite understandable, English. He explained his seat was further back on the plane.  Crisis averted.  Or so I thought.  That initial, seemingly insignificant interaction would lead to nine hours of vigilant avoidance.

I was gingerly paging through the on-flight magazines before takeoff when a familiar gold-embroidered tie grabbed my attention. I turned and smiled at the man who threatened to take away the comforts of my empty row just moments before.  Without invitation he sat down next to me and introduced himself as Olivier. He leaned in closer than any amount of social awareness would advise and asked my reason for visiting Burkina.  I answered in vague details. A smile of both purpose and determination crept across his face.  Olivier, a Burkinabe, continued on by telling me he has lived in Florence, Italy for 20 years and was visiting family back home in Burkina. Once again, I gave an apathetic response.  With each spoken syllable it became clearer and clearer that Olivier’s determined smile was the result of his determination to win my affection.  My suspicions were confirmed when Olivier, without reserve, told me he wanted to give me happiness. He spoke of owning his own car and being able to show me all the sites of Ouagadougou.  He promised me a “funny” time, which I couldn’t help but find funny.  His tone and facial expressions became expectant. Leaning forward, Olivier ripped a page from the very magazine I was innocently enjoying earlier and wrote his name, address, phone number, and email on it and handed it to me.  My tepid grasp on the torn page went unnoticed as he reminded me of our plans to celebrate Easter together by drinking wine and whisky.
To my relief the fasten seatbelt sign flashed and the announcement to prepare for takeoff was made.  Olivier stood up and remarked that if no one took the empty seat next to me he would return and give me company for the remainder of the flight. Olivier interpreted my grimace as a smile. I bluntly told him I was probably going to be sleeping the majority of the flight since I was quite tired.  (This, I assure you, was not a lie.  I was genuinely tired and my exhaustion had only increased tenfold in the 45 minutes since meeting Olivier.)  In the hours that followed I used every technique I could think of to ward off welcome.  I put my jacket on the empty seat next to me.  I sat with my arms intimidatingly crossed.  I lowered the neighboring seat’s tray and used that for my drinks and snacks instead of my own.  I slept, and pretended to sleep, as often as it seemed natural to do so.  I also watched the in-flight movie with as much interest as I could muster up for a film like “Happy Feet Two.” (The first “Happy Feet” would have been a different story.)
The plane landed in Bamako for what was supposed to be one hour, though it slowly stretched into two.  When the first 30 minutes passed without incident I became cheerfully confident that my contact with Don Juan Olivier was no more. Before my next thought, before my next breath, Olivier appeared next to my seat and resumed where he left off eight hours before. He told me he had checked on me during the flight and didn’t want to bother me.  Small talked ensued and Olivier asked if I would call him after I settled in Ouagadougou.  I gave a non-committal reply and tried to smooth the conversation over. Olivier then asked why I hadn’t given him my email address or phone number.  This was my chance to break this thing off once and for all.  I simply explained that I don’t give my personal information out to strangers- a lesson I learned and have held dear since childhood.  Olivier looked at me with surprise and made a noise that I could only assume meant he was disappointed. And just as all good relationship end, Olivier asked me for a piece of gum and left. 
The final hour of my flight to Ouagadougou was peaceful and flew by (pun intended).  Olivier’s sincere effort was flattering, but his aggressive and entirely inappropriate approach made me thankful our contact was limited to the confines of a Brussels’ airbus.

I Pray the Lord His Soul to Keep



His hospital bed was angled in a small room, framed by oxygen tanks, folded linens, and medical tubes. With tears freely flowing and arms reached out toward their patriarch, his four children and devoted wife laid their hands upon him and cried out in prayer. They never questioned the reason for his suffering; they never spoke out angrily toward God. Instead they voiced words of thanksgiving and confident praises. The prayer was continuous. Unearthly words flowed from the tongues of children to mother, all the while he labored for every heartbeat and every breath.  His body was worn.

The oldest twin was first to speak out in prayer. The steadiness of her voice was breached by the conflicting emotions of sadness and joy. Her many similarities with her dad historically produced the perfect storm in the heat of an argument. Never accepting the damages as done and valuing the importance of reconciliation, he wouldn’t allow anger to harbor. As he neared his end, she couldn’t remember the cause of these conflicts from their past, but she remembered the way in which he lovingly treated her to lunch in order to mend what was hurt and communicate respect in the midst of disagreement.

Following her twin sister’s prayer the youngest twin gazed at her dad, seeing his weakness but remembering his strength. She trusted him implicitly. Whether in need of directions or in need of an honest opinion, she turned to him. Even when lost in thickness of the north woods at Lake LaFave, she put her trust in her dad- the driver of the antiquated jeep, the explorer of unexplored woods, the “man who could fix anything.”
He relished his time with his dad as the only son. Praying by his side, he spoke of Biblical truths and testified his assurance in God’s timing. He desired to emulate so much of what his dad represented. Growing up, time was often cut short when his dad had to leave for work days at a time.  Despite the limitations of the conventional 24 hours, his dad used every Sunday to show his son that his son was uniquely molded in his likeness. Halftimes in the backyard was their chance to live out dreams of throwing that touchdown pass in the shadow of Title Town’s greats.
As the oldest child, she had the privilege of paving the way for her siblings and the privilege of calling him “dad” for the greatest stretch of time.  She desperately prayed prayers of reassurance next to his bed. She remembered the value he placed on her individuality. When it came to trends, like ear piercings or contact lenses, he insisted she made lists detailing the valid, or perhaps invalid, reasons for joining in on the trend. He refused to let her get lost in the trivial things of this world.
The tears had slowed and the voices that once faltered in the midst of sadness regained their strength.   Apart from his body’s fierce determination to stay alive, he appeared at peace. His wife, the woman he made his intentions clear to after only their second date, remained faithfully at his side. She thought back to his claim that he could “get stuck on [her],” and expressed her gratitude to the God that gifted her 38 years of marriage. Then with immense courage, his bride, with her dewy cheeks and reddened eyes, bent over and whispered in his ear, “It’s okay to go home.” 

Brave and fearlessly, he held on for a few more hours. In his life and especially in his death, he demonstrated how earthly fathers only make their children more eager to see their heavenly father one day.  He did not “pass away” because he is not gone; he is simply waiting for his children and his best friend to join him in paradise. 

Run Like the Winded

I have come to believe there are few people who genuinely like running long distance, and there’s a plethora of people who talk about running like it’s second nature only to despise the activity in their private thoughts.

I willingly admit that I fall into that second category. I respectfully despise running.  I, however, fall into a third category of running folk as well; people who run because they don’t know how to “exercise” creativity when it comes to exercising.  I turn to running because I don’t know where else to turn.

Then comes the topic of winter running. Crazy, you might think…and you’re right.  There is nothing logical about running in cold weather. In fact, even a body’s cells argue against it.  So for your enjoyment and my need to process things in writing, I’ve compiled a list of unpleasantries associated with winter running.

·         First of all anything below 15 degrees is too cold, in my opinion, and anything above is fair game. This rule of thumb, unfortunately, has never considered variables like wind chill.  So on a day like today the thermometer may read 20 degrees, but it feels like six.  That makes for a chilly run. Chilly enough to make stopping to walk an unrealistic option. If you stop, you’ll develop a case of hypothermia instantly, along with cholera, anthrax, and leprosy. (I am NOT exaggerating.)

·         Breathing becomes a problem when running in winter weather. (Anyone who has spent time exercising, or living for that matter, understands the importance of being able to breathe.) Let me explain what happens if you try to breathe deeply in the cold.  Your throat already feels like it’s freezing shut, mind you, and your mouth tastes like iron, so when you take a deep breath through your mouth an instant chain reaction of never-ending coughs begins.  If you choose to breathe deeply through your nose, you’ll experience the joy of forming miniature icicles on your nostril hairs.  I affectionately call them nostricles.

·         There’s no point in trying to save face when running in the winter. You can buy the cutest running gear available, but by the time you’re finished layering up you’ll look ridiculous. There’s nothing attractive about an adult wearing a turtleneck with stretchy pants.   If you’re still thinking there’s hope, consider this: if tears aren’t running down your face, snot surely is.

·         The first mile of a winter run is miserably cold.  Cold to the point where turning around and not completing the run seem like the responsible choice. But after about mile one, something strange begins to happen.  While it’s too cold to actually get a good sweat going (that doesn’t happen until after you get back inside), you’ll start to get hot. You’ll want to push up your sleeves or take off your gloves, but you know better. Any skin to air contact leads to those awful diseases I talked about earlier, and no one wants to contract typhus.

·         Running in the winter poses another challenge, which actually presents more like an obstacle, or obstacles.   If you’re not dodging the ice patches you’re certainly climbing the snow banks.  (Apparently the tickets written for refusing to shovel one’s sidewalk isn’t much of a motivator for 50% of the population.) It forces you, the runner, to flair your arms and hands out as if you’re about to start tap dancing.  This may not be a truly effective running stance, but when you hit the inevitable patch of ice, you’ll sure be happy you had those dancin’ hands ready.

·         After you’ve completed your run, your body goes through several stages of shock. As soon as you hit the warm air again you’ll start sweating profusely, to the point where you’ll need to strip down all your layers.  You’ll also go through a brief period of nausea, and I mean brief.  Sometimes it only lasts a matter of seconds.  I equate the sensation to jumping from a regular pool to a hot tub several times in a row. Soon enough you’ll begin experiencing the post-run chills.  Then for the next hour or two your lungs will feel tingly and itchy all at the same time. Truly remarkable.
As you can see there are added complications when running in the winter. There are times when I picture myself in a scene from The Edge or Alive just to motivate myself to move.    (There’s no better motivator than being chased by a grizzly bear or avoiding cannibalism.)

Though the winter has been mild so far, harsh weather is impending for sure, so I thought I’d share my sentiments with you, my eight patient readers.  

Happy New Years!  Blessings all around.