Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 31 – “Handyman of the Year?”

Since our retreat center coordinator moved out of town I have been trying to bring myself up to snuff on the ins and outs of the facility.  Chris and I went out there yesterday because we have been getting calls at all hours of the day and night (the latest came at 1 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.) from the fire alarm monitoring company.  They haven’t been getting a response code from their regular testing.  They thought there was some kind of telephone failure, so our secretary called the phone provider before she left for vacation.  They ran some remote tests and told her that they were reading that there was no power of any kind getting to the phone lines.  They recommended that someone make sure that something didn’t get unplugged somewhere.  And so we were the designated “Checkers of Unplugged-ness.” 

Since all the lights came on, our first step was to check out all the plugs – the most obvious.  They looked to be fine, so I went on to the boxes that receive the cable and phone signals.  Sure enough, not a single light was on.  I traced those lines backwards and found that they were hardwired behind a wooden panel screwed into the wall.  Great.  I went back downstairs to my office for the tool kit to unscrew the panel.  But while on my way back a strange, random thought occurred to me.  When you hear it you will realize why I am not the best choice for handyman of the year.  I pondered simply, “Hmm.  Wonder if I should check the breaker box?”  Yep.  That’s where I should have begun this whole process.  And sure enough, one breaker was tripped – the one providing power to that particular section of the wall.  And amazingly enough, all the little lights immediately began to flicker and return on the cable boxes.  Success.  Just call me handyman of the year. 

Well, wait.  You might want to hold off on that designation.  See, I forgot to mention the other situation.  It actually took me quite a while to even get into the building because the door handle on the one door I have a key to just doesn’t work.  The key unlocks it just fine, but when you turn the handle … nothing.  Obviously I managed to get in, but as to how that happened … perhaps it is better that I not divulge such information at this time.  I searched for a key to a different door, but never found one of those either.  I know they exist, though, and I now have another lead as to where they might be.  I talked to a contractor friend of mine last night about checking the door for me.  We’re supposed to get together sometime this afternoon if he can get a break in his schedule.  He’s also going to let me know what is involved in replacing a hot water heater in our other building.  Sometimes a cold shower can be refreshing, and there is a setting on the washing machine for cold water, but for the most part it would be nice to have hot water going to those two key areas. 

Oh there are more issues as well.  One of the air conditioner units isn’t working, but we have an AC contact person, I’m pretty sure.  Chris suggested we write up a little addendum to the welcome sheet that we give our groups that includes things like the address of UTMB ER and the minor emergency clinic, and a questionnaire to get feedback.  Great ideas that we discussed over a Sonic coney island and a cherry limeade slush.  And, you know, somewhere in there I still need to go over a teaching for Sunday.  And touch base with the fire chief.  Ah, it has been a while since I have tasted the full measure of a small-church pastor’s life.

Psalms 63:7 says, “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.”

Father, I’ve been doing some singing in the heat of the sun with all this stuff going on at church.  I look forward to the coolness in the shadow of your wings.  Amen.

Friday, May 30, 2014

May 30 – “Baby Day”

Yesterday turned out to be baby day for me.  No, not my own baby.  We have enough of those for now.  Although, we are always open to expansion on the grandchildren front.  These two little guys arrived from some different points.  I just got to meet them for the first time yesterday. 

The first one I met was born on the 28th.  I had to drive into Texas to see him.  Ezekiel Rhett Magness (Zeke) made his appearance about a pound lighter than his big brother Ben did, but he was plenty healthy just the same.  At least that’s what his Grandma and Grandpa assured me.  They were doing just fine, “suffering through” the grandparently tasks of … holding him and taking pictures.  Mama was doing really great as well.  Daddy wasn’t there at the time.  He’s a fire fighter for the City of Galveston, hence my connection to the family as chaplain of the department.  The plan is for them all to be home sometime on Saturday.

The second youngster arrived under somewhat different circumstances.  Cedric Ethan Geswender’s Mom and Dad adopted him immediately after his birth.  They have been going through the exhausting process of adoption for several years now, so his arrival was quite special as well.  They have had him for almost two weeks, so honestly, Mom and Dad looked the part of new parents of a newborn.  A convoluted mixture of bleary eyes and tired smiles that says, “We can do this” and “It is so worth it” and “I could sure use a nap.”  They have been a part of Seaside and our home group for many years, so we have walked with them through a lot of the process.  I’m sure Chris in particular is looking forward to being “Mama Chris” yet again. 

Gotta admit, the whole welcoming a baby thing is right up there at the top of my list of favorite parts of being in the ministry. 

John 16:21-22 says, “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

Father, thank you for Zeke and Cedric.  May they both grow to discover and love you as they learn more and more about your world around them.  Amen.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

May 29 – “The evil interloper”

We had a major revelation concerning 40 Steps yesterday.  That’s the name of the vacant lot next door.  We have no idea why it is called 40 Steps, though.  Our young grandson Josiah named it quite some time ago out of the depths of his imagination, so there is really no telling what his motivation was.  He is the one who had the revelation as well.  He and Chris went out into the front so he could ride his bike.  As they passed the oleander bush that is in full bloom, he stopped dead in his tracks.  “What happened to 40 Steps, Nana?”  Slightly confused, Chris responded, “It’s right there, where it’s always been.”  Now a bit frustrated, Josiah pressed on, “But what happened to it?  It’s … it’s … it’s … full of grass.”  And the word “grass” was spoken like it was foul and evil and corrupting.  For the first time we had a sense of what he might have meant in his original christening of the site.  Actually we still have no clue where the name itself came from, but now we know that it has something to do with the sand that covered the place originally.  The grass is a major interloper that is ruining his entire concept.  Actually, we are excited to have that particular interloper.  As long as the stickerburs stay away. 

What a great picture of the sociology of a community.  There was a major change when the house was finally torn down.  The lot became 40 Steps, a brand new designation.  And the new became the norm, sand and buried treasures and all.  But now there is a new change that actually brings it back closer to the way it used to be, grass is growing.  And that new change is now the evil interloper.  Sounds an awful lot like the way things work in a neighborhood.  Or a church.  Or among any established group, I guess. 

Matthew 18:2-4 says, “He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”

Father, thank you for what we have.  Sometimes it looks different.  Sometimes it … changes.  Thank you for the change, too.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May 28 – “Late night, early morning”

Wow.  Sure didn’t need an alarm clock to wake up today.  Around 5:30 a.m. we were greeted with a major thunderstorm.  A major, noisy thunderstorm.  Complete with flashes of lightning and claps of thunder so close that we were glad we had turned off the computer the night before.  At least the winds didn’t seem to be as high as they were with yesterday’s version.  I did my best to just stay in bed and enjoy listening to the rain on the roof, but that was pretty close to my regular time to get up anyway, so I got bored quickly.  Early mornings are my favorite times anyway.  I get a lot done between the hours of six and ten a.m.  Not so much for Chris, though.  Those particular hours are her favorite time to sleep, so she just snuggled down deeper under the covers and buried her head under part of a pillow.  I’ll see her sometime shortly after seven.

I got a call last night around 10:30.  That usually means some kind of crisis that I need to respond to.  My initial reaction is always to pray for whoever might be on the other end of the line as I gather my head and shake out the bedtime cobwebs.  This time I happened to notice the caller ID, though.  It was an 800 number.  Now that usually means a sales call of some kind, never something from a human being.  I pondered what politician would be calling so late at night when the polls for the voting runoff elections closed several hours before.  Actually I pondered a bit too long and the call dropped.  Before I could settle back into my crossword puzzle, though, the house phone began to ring.  Sure enough, it was the same number.  This time I went ahead and answered right away.  Now I was curious.  The caller was from the company that monitors the fire alarm system at the church.  Now they had my attention.  They had called earlier in the week and left a message that they weren’t receiving some kind of coded message from our system.  And that was the same thing this person reported.  After she told me that it seemed that she was ready to hang up, her job done, but I stopped her to ask, basically, “So what?”  What did that mean, anyway?  She went through some kind of canned speech explaining their procedures, but that’s not what I was asking.  Had to let her finish, though.  Finally she paused to take a breath long enough that I could ask, “So does that mean a battery is dead?  Is there a fire burning right now?  What is it that I’m supposed to do with this information?”  She hesitated a long time before answering.  Guess I threw her off track in her speech.  She finally managed to say she would connect me with the service department so they could set up a time to come check out the system.  That was a bit much for now-11:00 at night.  I asked if this wasn’t something we could do in the daytime.  She seemed genuinely surprised that I wouldn’t want to follow through right at that moment, but she finally gave me the phone number.  Guess I’ll add a fire alarm check to my day.

Jeremiah 6:10 says, “To whom can I speak and give warning?  Who will listen to me?  Their ears are closed so they cannot hear.  The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.”

Father, I know this verse has nothing to do with our fire alarm system, but together they did remind me that you have gone to great pains to warn us of the spiritual dangers around us.  Help us to pay attention.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 27 – “Real army men”

So how did you celebrate Memorial Day? I guess ours started Saturday evening over at the Jamaica Beach Park.  At the annual picnic and fund raiser they did a very moving ceremony where a veteran read off the name of a soldier who died in each of the major wars the United States has participated in in our history.  He began with the Civil War, reading the name of a soldier who served in the Confederate army as if he was doing a morning roll call.  In reply, a veteran in the audience responded that the man named had been reported as killed in action.  He continued through the other wars, each time yet another veteran responded for the missing man.  He then had all the veterans stand and be acknowledged.  Finally he had anyone stand who had ever been one of the families of one who has served.  It was quite moving.  They also served some incredible food (barbeque and crawfish) and even had a live band for dancing.

On our part, we also went over to Nathan’s party that afternoon, but yesterday we had a little family party of our own.  Christina brought their kids over.  Kel was at the final day of the comic book convention in Houston.  Nathan and April and Cailyn came, too.  Oh, and George Foreman was our other guest.  Well, at least his grill was.  Chris cooked up some burgers for everyone.  April brought a salad.  Christina made some brownies.  We prayed and thanked God for all the people who fought really hard to protect us.  I think the highlight of the whole affair from a kids’ point of view, though, was … the water balloon fight.  Nathan and April brought over a huge carton of balloons and a special water hose attachment for filling them up.  It took a while, but they managed to fill up a big bucket with water balloons before the youngsters began grabbing them and tossing them in every direction.  We … er, I mean, they … well, OK, we got pretty drenched, but it was great fun. 

I gotta say, though, that the best Memorial Day tribute I heard all weekend – maybe ever – came this morning when April dropped Cailyn off so we could take her to school.  As she got dressed she started talking.  Well, she started talking pretty much the second the door closed and her Mommy walked away.  But let’s say she changed gears a bit.  Out of the blue, Cailyn paused reflectively, then, all in one breath it seemed, told me, “I saw some real army men on TV.  Not just TV army men.  Real army men.  And there were army girls, too.  Girls can be army men.  And they were holding flags.  And did you know those army men really care about us?  And you know what else?  God has an army, too.  And girls can be in that army.  You’re in God’s army, aren’t you, DadDad?  And I can be in God’s army, too.  And God really loves us, too.”  Whew.  I had to catch my breath on that one.  I think she has a handle on the deepest level of motivation for serving in the armed forces – they “really care about us.”  And that “God’s army” comment is not a bad assessment of the calling of a believer.  Great Memorial Day sermon, Cailyn. 

Joel 2:11 says, “The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command.”

Father, I do want to be counted among those who obey your commands.  Especially if I get to serve with children.  They are the ones who really seem to understand them.  Amen.

Monday, May 26, 2014

May 26 – “The Real Stan the Man”

I had a great surprise Sunday morning.  First of all it was great to be back at Seaside after our vacation.  Jimmy Stone did his usual great job of filling in for me.  But the surprise was that Christina, Micah, Josiah, and Noa came to Seaside.  They joined the 50 or 60 others in the Memorial Day weekend crowd.  And they came over for lunch after the service, so we got to spend some time with them.  And they brought the lunch.  Can’t beat that.  It was Kel’s week off from his church, and he and Jachin had tickets to the Houston version of Comic Con.  I think they were waiting in line to see Lando Calrission from Star Wars.  Kel had already been the day before with Micah.  They got to see Agent Coulson from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  And at some point Kel posted that he was shaking hands with, in his words, “Stan the Man.”  I think he was a little confused.  I know he wasn’t referring to my little brother.  This Stan Lee guy he was greeting was an interloper of that particular title.  The real “Stan the Man” Musial died early last year.  One of the best professional baseball players ever.  Never be another quite like him.  Maybe they can come up with another moniker for the comic book guy.  In fact, how about that one: “Stan the Comic Book Guy.” 

It was most assuredly a gorgeous day in Galveston.  Weather was perfect.  Problem was, somebody must have told Houston.  The beaches were so crowded you could barely turn around.  Not that I went to the beach, of course.  I went home after church.  Not interested in fighting holiday crowds around here.  I really did want to go fishing, though.  But wade fishing was out of the question.  The beaches are solid with seaweed right now.  And not just the stinking, brown, rotting on the sand, three feet deep kind.  Fresh stuff is washing up all the time.  Looks like islands of the gunk are floating around.  Oh, that means there are plenty of fish out there, all right.  Lots of bait exists under those patches of grass.  But getting a hook under there is very difficult, if not impossible.  So, sadly, I chose to wait it out and enjoy the gorgeous day from my living room couch. 

Well, our flag is up to honor the servicemen today.  And we do plan to cook some burgers for the family.  That is if they can get here through the sea of tourists. 

Psalms 22:27-28 says, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.”

Father, on this day of remembering, help us to remember as well to turn to you and bow before you.  Amen.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 25 – “Back”

Well, yes, we are home.  I have to say the vacation was much needed and as usual far too short.  But we are glad to be back in our own bed.  Now we can get on with the business of see what life will be like with just the two of us.  Empty nest and all that.  Well, except for when Cailyn is over.  Or when Jachin, Micah, Josiah, and Noa come for a visit on their library days.  Or when Caleb and Zak and Luke come down.  I guess there will be some days when we’ll be alone.  But bring ‘em all on.  We’ll take whatever comes and embrace it.

Yesterday was sure an interesting one.  We had a wedding on the beach that was scheduled for 3:00.  Memorial Day traffic coupled with a pretty bad wreck on I45 near the new Buckees caused a virtual shutdown of traffic, so we had to wait for several key guests (grandparents.  And you can’t start without the grandparents).  They also were searching for a site that was relatively secluded.  That was an impossibility.  They did manage to come to an agreement with some homeowners that allowed us access to a somewhat less-trafficked site, though.  Once we got started (around 4:00) the wedding went off without a hitch at all.  They all returned to the church, where they had done all the preparations.

Meanwhile, the group that was scheduled to stay in the retreat center had arrived and discovered that one of the air conditioners appeared to be on the fritz.  Shouldn’t be a real problem, since the other three should carry the load.  But communicating that was difficult, since English was obviously the second language for everyone the group.  They did understand that the Alcoholics Anonymous group would be coming to meet in the other building, though.  Should be an interesting weekend around Seaside.

Our other two places to be were a lot more fun.  Nathan and April were hosting a crawfish party at their house.  Always a lot of fun to hang around with fire fighters and their families.  Some of April’s co-workers from UTMB were there as well.  The other party was also in Jamaica Beach.  Every year the community has a Memorial Day celebration and park fund raiser.  Lots of folks this year.  They also had crawfish, but their menu included barbeque.  My stomach doesn’t usually handle the spiciness of crawfish, so we grabbed some of the barbeque instead.  Lighthouse Charities did the preparations.  Always a great job.  It was good to see a lot of the folks from Seaside there, and to hear their “welcome backs” and “glad you had a good times.”  And I have to confess I got a little choked up when they did the ceremony honoring veterans.  I guess my emotions are still hovering pretty close to the service.

Everyone has been really encouraging about our vacation.  I didn’t realize so many had taken the time to go on that adventure with us by following our FaceBook picture posts and my blog notes.  Thank you to everyone for that.  We loved reading all the comments and suggestions as we drove along previously untraveled (by us) roads. 

Psalms 22:23 says, “You who fear the Lord, praise him!  All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!  Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!”

Father, thank you for giving us a place here to call home.  I know our real home is there with you, but it is sure good to have a place to come back to where people actually know you have been gone.  Amen.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

May 24 – “Last Leg”

Well, after helping Josh put up a basketball backboard in their back yard, and in the process willfully exposing myself to the myriad of evil pollens lurking in their back yard, it appeared to be time to depart the wonderful city of Waco.  Of course the thing that makes it wonderful is the presence of my grandsons there.  I must admit, though, that we had to reboot our backboard installation efforts a time or two due to operator error.  It is amazing how well things fit together when you follow directions.  Thankfully Josh did all the heavy lifting when it came time to install it on the pole.  He was the one sore the next day.  I was just the one with a nose full of pollen. 


So, about the departure.  We were talking with the boys about how it was time for us to go to continue on our adventure heading back toward Galveston.  Caleb wasn’t so sure he was OK with that plan.  He first wanted us to stay.  When that didn't work, he had a Plan B.  He said “Well, just remember.  It's almost June and that's flood season and you might HAVE to come stay with us.”  Indeed, Caleb.  Thanks for reminding us. 


We decided that with a few more days available to us, we might just make a swing through East Texas and see what the small towns there had to offer.  After all, we found some great treasures in the Hill Country.  Surely …


Well, not so much.  Did you know there is just not much to stop and do in East Texas?  Maybe it was just the route we took.  How about I let you judge for yourself.  Besides, the names of some of these towns are great, even if there was nothing to do or see there.  We left Waco and traveled East through the grand towns of Groesbeck and Buffalo.  We lost phone service in Flo, and then the GPS lost us somewhere outside of Russell. We didn't take the side road option to Nineveh. Scary place, that Nineveh.  Besides, Eunice just sounded more quaint.  From there it was on to Malvern and Leon.  In Crockett we had to make two trips through the downtown traffic circle because we couldn't find the one restaurant mentioned on their website.  Apparently it no longer exists.   Berea was next, followed in rapid succession by Kennard, Nogalus Prairie, and Centralia.  We had high hopes for Apple Springs, because it actually was listed on the road signs.  But no.  From New Hope we turned south to Burke.  Finally in Diboll we found a Dairy Queen, so we at least got out there and had some lunch.  Then it was East again.  Shawnee Prairie.  Zavalla.  And then over a big bridge crossing the Sam Rayburn reservoir.  Most notable thing there?  No boats or swimmers or much of any traffic.  Guess it was too early in the season.  Broaddus.  Pine land.  McElroy.  Brookeland.  Browndel.  New Blox.  In  Jasper we were getting kind of desperate, so we determined to stop an at least look through some antique stores listed on their web page.  We found one.  Kind of small.  Very nice lady.  Back in the car and a bit west to Science Hall.  Emille.  Woodville.  We used to have some relatives who lived in Woodville.  There we turned south to Hillister.  Warren.  Village Mills.  Kountze.  Old Hardin.  Little Rock. Wait.  Little Rock.  That’s in Arkansas, isn’t it?  Sour Lake.  Nome.  Winnie.  OK, now this was getting kind of ridiculous.  We know these places.  High Island.  Gilchrist.  Caplen.  Crystal Beach.  Well, we’re in Crystal Beach and it’s suppertime, so why not stop at the Stingaree Restaurant?  Pretty good seafood there, and you get to sit overlooking the ship channel.  Port Bolivar.  Galveston Bay.  On the ferry.  And back home … Galveston.  Pretty boring second half of the journey, as I said.  But the trees were different.  Lots of trees.  Closing mileage: 71584.  Total miles traveled: 1,440.  It’s good to be home.


Psalms 84:3-4 says, “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young — a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God.  Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.”


Father, thank you for the chance to get away for a while.  We needed it.  But thanks for home as well.  Nothing quite like the feeling of coming home.  Amen.

Friday, May 23, 2014

May 23 – “Lunchtime clash”

It was great fun to hang out with Zak and Caleb, even in the “routine” situations of life.  One time I was watching a video of some people swing dancing.  Caleb joined me and watched over my shoulder.  I mentioned to him that his Mom and Dad used to dance like that all the time when they were in college.  In fact, they even did a swing dance on stage in front of a lot of people.  He looked long and hard at his Mom as she moved about the house, feeding Luke here and picking up some clutter there.  I guess he saw some potential there, because he finally convinced her to dance with him.  Now that was a video I wish we had taken.  Especially when she tried to do that twirl thing under his arm.  Not an easy thing to do when your partner is only three feet tall. 

I know that was a really sweet moment.  There were “others” as well.  One of my favorites came during lunch.  It wasn’t one of those everybody-sit-down-at-the-same-time affairs.  Josh was already at work and for some reason Christi wasn’t at the table.  She was probably off being the consummate hostess or the ever-caring Mom.  I don’t remember whose idea it was.  But come on.  Put a seven-year-old and a five-year-old together at a table, add to that the fact that they are brothers, and sprinkle in a dab of DadDad, and you can never tell what madness may erupt.  This time it was … Grape Fight.  They each had plenty of ammo.  Mom wasn’t around.  They looked nervously at Nani, but I don’t think she realized what they were up to.  Then their looks turned to DadDad.  Now, I’m not saying I encouraged anything.  I never said a word, in fact.  And I couldn’t see my own face, but sources say there must have been a twinkle in my eye that somehow – without my knowledge or ability to resist – cried out, “Do it.”  And “do it” they did.  Zak got in the first lick in typical big brother fashion.  He only threw one grape in the whole fight, but he made it count.  Bounced it right off of Caleb’s head.  Then it rolled back across the table to him and he grabbed it up and ate it, completely destroying all evidence of his participation.  And Caleb retaliated in typical little brother fashion.  He let fly with six or seven rapid-fire shots in a row, all of which hit their target.  It all happened so quickly I had no time to accumulate any weapons of my own.  Er, I mean, I had no time to even encourage them to stop this madness.  Caleb already had more grapes loaded and ready to fly when the unthinkable happened.  Mom walked in.  To her vast credit, Christi didn’t automatically assume that all the blame lay on Caleb.  In fact her first instinct was to glance over at me, but I can’t imagine why.  She stayed calm and collected, quietly insisted that the barrage stop, and patiently waited until the cleanup was well under way.

Psalms 24:8 says, “Who is this King of glory?  The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.”
Father, thank you for fighting the toughest battles for us and the minor skirmishes with us.  Amen.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 22 – “Living Room Hockey”

The game of the day.  Living Room Hockey.  Gotta love it.  All the furniture was pushed to the walls.  Chris and I were issued tickets and took our places in our courtside seats.  Official scorekeeper and time, Christi, took her position across the court from us, scoreboard in hand.

And then the players came onto the court.  The two Torches came out first, arrayed in their green and gold uniforms that looked strangely similar to those worn by another, lesser-known local team.  To the delighted cheers of the crowd, Zak and Caleb went through a regimen of exercises, jogged around the court and disappeared into the locker room.  Their opponent, however, refused to appear for his pregame warmup.  Something about “not needing a warmup.”  After seeing him, however, I think it was more about conserving all the energy he could.  The Flame’s Josh was much bigger, but also much, much older than his foes.  He wore a uniform as well, reminiscent of a similar one worn many years ago by an obscure team known as the Jazz. 

Torches versus Flame.  Pool noodle hockey sticks.  A soft ball as the puck.  Cries offering “Free Hot dogs, Hockey sticks, and uniforms, all for only $29.”  And finally, the call from the scorekeeper, “Are you ready to rumble?”  And the game was on.  Zak scored on the very first play of the game and the Torches took the lead.  The Flame followed with a goal on a juke shot.  Not to be deterred, Caleb added a quick score with his famous Dropped Britches Shot.  Another goal by the arrogant Flame, accompanied by his patented cry, “Flame on.”  But the young Caleb countered with a cry of his own, “You’re gonna pay for that one.”  The first period ended in a 2-2 tie.  In spite of vehement argument from the Flame, Caleb was named MVP of the first period for his goal and for his unrelenting defense.

The second period was a blinding flurry of non-stop action.  Save by Caleb.  Goal by Flame.  Goal by Caleb.  Goal by Zak.  Goal by Flame.  The action was dizzying.  And just as time expired Zak let fly with an incredible shot that flew the entire length of the court and dropped into the Flame’s unguarded net.  Goal.  Score at the end of two periods: Torches 5 - Flame 4.

Next came the final break fan participation moment.  Zak called up two volunteers from the crowd.  I was beyond excited to be named one of them.  What creative nonsense would happen this week?  We gathered at mid court and none other than Zak, himself, announced the contest.  “I will toss this flag into the air.  Whoever catches this gets to be the next one to die.”  (I think an editorial note might be appropriate at this point.  Remember that he just attended a funeral a few weeks ago, and then last weekend he caught the garter at a wedding and heard that tradition explained for the first time, so this was a display of amazing creativity).  Of course after the announcement the entire stadium erupted in laughter.  Tears came to more than one set of eyes from the uncontrollable mirth that welled up within all of us.  No one saw the actual toss from Zak.  And because of all the frivolity … I managed to recover briefly enough to grab the victory banner and wave it above my head.  Caleb assured me I would indeed win the wonderful funeral, but in the meantime he presented me with my very own basketball to take home.  Whew.  After that I didn’t think it could get any more exciting, but the show wasn’t over yet.  Bear crawl races were next on the agenda.  Thankfully they didn’t call for more volunteers.  Instead Zak and Caleb squared off.  No question of the victor in this one.  Caleb was off like a shot, mimicking the movements of a bear in hot pursuit of … whatever it is that bears pursue. 

And then it was time for the grand finale.  The last period of the game.  Once again the action was mind-boggling.  We could barely keep up with the goals in the midst of all the bumping and jostling that make up such an intense contest.  We heard the intermittent cries of the players: “Stop it, Caleb.”  “Flame on.”  “He whacked me in the peanuts.”  “Way to go, Zak.”  Our heads were spinning by the time the final buzzer blew.  It took a few moments for the score to come into focus … Torches – 7.  Flame – 7.  A tie game.  That meant overtime.

And during overtime we saw the most incredible display of heat-of-the-moment sportsmanship I have ever witnessed in a Living Room Hockey game.  Goalkeeper Zak appeared to have made yet another unbelievable save on a shot attempt by the Flame.  But wait.  He stopped play and declared to the scorekeeper that the puck had, indeed, entered the goal.  What unrivaled honesty and sportsmanship.  And as a result of his integrity, the Torches did lose the game, for time ran out as their final shot died just short of the goal.  Caleb immediately shook hands with his opponent, showing the crowd what a true sportsman looks like.  What a man, that Zak.  What a player, that Caleb.  In the final announcement the scorekeeper let the crowd know what the awards would be for the participants.  For the winning team … a kiss from the scorekeeper.  For the valiant losing team … free ice cream.  Now that’s the way to play some Living Room Hockey.

Ephesians 4:2-3 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Father, thank you for the learning that takes place virtually every time children play.  Give their parents/teachers a special anointing of wisdom.  They’ll need it.  Amen. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

May 21 – “The Attack”

Now this was an interesting day.  Our trip to the zoo.  I gotta say up front, the Waco zoo is one of the best I have ever visited.  Lots of shade for the humans as well as the animals.  Most are in natural habitats rather than just cages.  We even got to “swim” with the otters.  They had a clear plastic slide that went right through the water.  You could join right in with them in their aquatic antics without getting wet yourself.  And yes, by “we” I mean Zak and Caleb … and me. 

When Caleb and I were watching the tigers, Caleb was slowly moving up and down from a crouch to a standing position so he could get a better look at the beast.  At one point he moved a bit more quickly into his standing position and the tiger, who had been mesmerized by his motion, leapt up onto the screen right in front of us.  Now that was unexpected.  Believe me, we both jumped.  Zak came over to see what was happening, so the three of us started the same very slow, up and down rocking motion.  Then I said “Up” and the four of us jumped up.  That’s right … the four of us.  The tiger leapt again, and this time even climbed a few feet up a pole.  And once again, the three of us humans jumped backwards as well.  Can’t be too careful, you know.  That was enough for us and the tiger.  A large group of school children arrived about that time, and the tiger slowly walked away to find a quieter spot. 
Just around the corner, we were standing with Zak.  We noticed a vulture perched on the little hill nearby, not enclosed be netting or anything.  We tried to be very still to see how long he would stick around.  Finally, though, Zak moved a bit too quickly and apparently startled the creature.  It spread its wings wide and took off like a shot … right at Zak.  Then it zoomed over his head and briefly touched against the netting behind us.  Not satisfied there, it quickly soared back to its original spot.  Meanwhile, it took Zak a second or two to register that this bird, almost as tall as he is, was streaking right at him.  He ducked to avoid the attack, and then in one smooth motion screamed and streaked himself over to where his Mom was standing.  We all had quite a good laugh over that one.

After a hearty lunch with Josh at Rudy’s Barbecue, we sat around outside in the back yard and watched the boys play in the water.  Little did we know that all this activity was leading up to an event that proved to be the highlight of the day … The hockey game.

Genesis 1:25 says, “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.”

Father, thank you for the opportunity to see more of those amazing creatures you invented.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 20 – “Day of the Stray”

Sunday.  Church day, of course.  And in this case, also the Day of the Stray.  A stray cat has been hanging around Josh’s house pretty much since we have been here.  Caleb put out a bowl of water for it.  No food, though.  That’s where Josh drew the line.  His attitude is, “The cat can stay around – outside - as long as it finds its own food.  That’s what cats are for – to keep down the rat population.”  Maybe not those words exactly, but I think that says the gist of it.  The thing must have been somebody’s pet.  It is very lovable, clearly not afraid of humans, and desperately wants someone to pet it constantly.  I have not yet succumbed.  It is also very loud when we go back inside at night.  And long into the night.  I’m not sure how it has escaped the clutches of the local coyotes or the hovering monster owl that uses the forest behind the house as its hunting grounds.  They usually take care of small loose animals that make lots of noise. 

The guest speaker on Sunday night at the church was, I guess you could say, a “stray” of a different sort.  The pastor of the First Baptist Church in West, Texas told about his personal experiences during the explosion there.  Actually he was on his way home from his daughter’s high school track meet in College Station when it happened.  His house was among those deemed uninhabitable, though, and he won’t be moving back in until later this summer (Hence the “stray” connection).  He had quite a few tales of how people came through for them with financial, emotional, and medical assistance.  Josh’s church was one of the key providers of that assistance.  They even brought in a sound system and someone to operate it for the first worship service after the disaster.  They had to meet outside.  For those of you Seasiders out there reading this … Doesn’t it sound eerily familiar?  Like … almost exactly what we experienced after Hurricane Ike?  Even down to the outdoor worship service where we were all hugging and wanted to just be together for a few minutes before facing the daunting task of sorting through what was left of our homes.  I talked to him briefly after the service.  I just wanted to encourage him from one disaster survivor to another.  I told him to embrace the excitement of the time as well as the grief.  Look on it as an opportunity to be part of developing something brand new that will not be like anything they have ever experienced before.  His wife connected with the idea right away.  She said they are already operating in the realm of “new normal.”  Such an appropriate catch phrase.  I stopped short of telling them that Galveston is still in the process of that development, and probably will be for a very long time.  They’ll find out.  And my God be with them as they do.

Jeremiah 24:6-7 says, “My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them.  I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”

Father, may this be the end result for the people of West … and of Galveston.  Amen.

Monday, May 19, 2014

May 19 – “Creating surprises”

Our hotel was right on the freeway, and every road around it was under construction.  As a result, when we left to go explore beautiful downtown Solado, we ended up on a circuitous route through the countryside.  I followed my short cut instincts and Chris tracked us on a map (a map made out of paper, mind you), and we finally made our way back into town.  Not sure what we were looking for other than antique stores, we actually drove through without stopping the first time and ended up back at the hotel we just checked out of.  Since we were there anyway, I went in and asked what there was to do in Solado.  Best move we could have made.  The receptionist pulled out a town map.  Should have asked before we left in the first place, I guess, but then, where’s the fun in that? 

We discovered that the frontage roads under construction were actually two-way roads.  Kind of confusing, but we avoided the winding countryside this time for a more direct route.  The first antique store was pretty high class.  Very high end furniture.  Lots of oak. Some walnut, though.  Pretty stuff.  Pushy owner.  The next ones were more my style.  Just a bunch of stuff all crammed into a small space.  It was all carefully marked and very clean, though.  Chris discovered and purchased a few of those corning ware dishes.  I scored an unopened pack of baseball cards from 1988.  Gum still included.  Haven’t opened it yet.  Don’t really plan to.  I’ll leave that to my kids. 

Driving back through town we noticed a sign for the wedding Josh was doing.  On a whim we decided to follow it and see if we could find Josh’s car and take a picture of it to send him.  Or maybe we could find the Winkle’s car and tag it somehow.  Follow it we did, but apparently not far enough.  That wedding was way out in the country.  We found out later that it was beyond the dirt road we turned around on.  Ah, well, we had some more country to see.  We had some lunch there in Solado at The Shed, a tavern in town, and headed out for our next stop.

Somewhere out in the middle of nowhere (That’s beginning to sound like a broken record, I know, but that’s the whole point.  Everything is out in the middle of nowhere when you don’t know where you’re going) was a town called Rogers.  Several miles outside of that town was a bee farm that made and sold honey and honey mead.  I did some honey tasting, but we avoided the mead.  We did learn all about how the way a honey tastes is determined by the type of flower the bees frequent.  Makes sense.

Next we went on into Waco, perhaps our only real “ultimate destination” of the trip.  After all, we have to see some grandchildren every week or so or we will explode.  Chris scanned through her new smart-aleck phone, and we decided to go tour two of the historic houses there.  We pulled up to the first one and discovered it was only open on Sunday afternoons from 2 to 5.  On our way to the next one we saw the Dr. Pepper museum so we stopped there.  Kind of interesting, but honestly the one in Dublin was much better.  Besides, in Dublin they gave you free samples.  After the quick tour we went on to the other house, but no one answered the doorbell.  So much for old homes tours in Waco.  We went to eat at Texas Roadhouse. 

That key task completed, we then drove by Josh and Christi’s to see if we could find a hotel near there.  The original plan was to surprise them at church the next morning.  But plans change on a vacation like this one.  I texted Josh and asked how the wedding went.  He assured me it went well, and asked where we were landing that night.  I replied, “We haven’t decided.  Looking for a short cut.”  He then encouraged us to stay the night with them if we were anywhere close to Waco.  I told him to watch what he wished for, then said “Now, if I can just figure out where we are …”  I really wasn’t sure in the grand scheme of things.  We were already in Waco, just not sure where, but I didn’t tell him that.  So revisions were made, and we decided it would still be fun to surprise them.  We stopped at a Hobby Lobby and walked around, and then killed some more time at WalMart.  At some point in there we texted them a picture of the sign we saw to the wedding.  That was to establish that we were in Solado.  Finally we drove over to their street and parked to wait for them to arrive.  I texted them and said, “Well, we’ve found a spot to land for the night.  How about y’all?”  I didn’t mention that the spot we found was their house, though.  Christi said they were just landing as well.  About five or ten minutes later, just as we decided we better move before the neighbors called the police, they did indeed pull up.  Apparently Zak saw us right away.  Josh didn’t believe him, though, until we pulled into the driveway.  Lots of fun. 

Psalms 17:7-8 says, “Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.  Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.”

Father, thank you for surprises, especially when I can be a part of creating them.  Amen.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

May 18 – “Jesus Shaves”

Finally.  One of the main attractions for going on vacation has been found.  Our Kerrville hotel has those make-your-own waffle irons.  I love those things.  And to top it off, these were in the shape of the state of Texas.  Can’t get any better than that.  Nice job, Kerrville.  Oh, there is the one thing.  As we were leaving town we noticed all the construction going on around the high school football stadium.  And then we noticed the team mascot.  Fighting Antlers.  Really?  You can do better than that.

Our goal for the day was to do some browsing at antique shops.  First stop was scheduled to be in Comfort, Texas.  The drive was really pretty, and we even saw an entire field full of jackalopes, just lying around resting.  No, really.  They were too short to be deer, but they all had antlers.  Can’t convince me otherwise.  We ran into a problem in Comfort.  No one is awake until after ten o’clock.  I can understand the shops not opening until ten, but there was nothing going on when we arrived around nine.  Not even a coffee shop to wait in.  Sadly, we missed all those antique shops.  We headed on to Boerne.

Of course you know that the name of this town rhymes with Ernie from Sesame Street, right.  Strange.  The antique shops in this town were open, though.  And they were the kind I get a kick out of.  Piles and piles of junk strewn about a big room in no particular order.  I saw a few baseball cards they were particularly proud of.  They were from the 50’s, but they weren’t anyone famous.  Couldn’t tell it from the price, though.  I also found some old comic books.  Texted Kel to see if he was interested, but they weren’t old enough either. 

After Boerne we headed for Gruene.  Now understand here that our GPS voice pronounced this as “Groon.”  Fortunately, we had already been informed that in reality people in the know pronounce it to rhyme with lean and mean and fighting machine.  Yep.  “Green.”  Like the color.  Go figure.  On the way we drove through part of New Braunfels.  The part that has a high school with the mascot Unicorns.  Wonder how the Unicorns would fare against the Antlers?  And how would you cheer?  “Go, Antlers.  Gore the mythical beasts.”  Or “Break the Antlers.  Hang ‘em on the wall.”  We did like Gruene, though.  Very quaint town.  Definitely tourism driven, but they seem to have embraced their tourist-ness.  We did take on another passenger from Gruene.  Dashboard Jesus joined us.  I really wanted to buy one other odd Jesus representation for my collection.  The “Jesus Shaves” coffee mug.  The beard on the picture of Jesus disappeared whenever you put a beverage in the cup.  That one proved a bit much for Chris to handle though. 

Next we headed toward Wimberly, but it really didn't look much different from where we've been all day so we kept going.  I showed Chris a short cut through Dripping Springs and Bee Cave that took us near Lake Travis.  I thought that would be a nice sight.  I guess it was, except for the fact that much of Lake Travis was dried up because of a drought.  Oh well.  We bravely forged on to look for a hotel room around Round Rock.  Thought maybe we could do some stuff in the Austin area.  And that’s what we get for daring to think ahead.  Virtually every hotel room in Round Rock was booked for the night.  Something about a convention for high school girls dance teams.  Rather than backtrack, something we had determined early one that we didn’t want to do, we kept going north looking for a room.  We finally found one in the little town of Salado, just south of Temple.  And it looked like a fun place to walk around in.  New plans.  But wait a minute.  Salado.  That’s where Josh was doing a wedding this very weekend.  We didn’t want to crash a wedding or anything, but it would be fun to accidentally run into them.  Tomorrow could be very interesting.

Psalms 25:6 says, “Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.”

Father, that’s the kind of antique to focus on – your mercy and love.  Amen.