Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Automotive Fruits of My Mechanical Labor

Other than raising his children to the point where they are capable of making their own spending money, perhaps nothing pleases a man more than working on his own vehicles.

Why is that, you ask? Well it’s a combination of factors, really. Of course, testosterone is one factor but there are others. Expense being one (good mechanics don’t come cheap but are worth every penny), scheduling being another (“Sorry, I have to work on the car today” is a great reply to the wife asking “Want to go to the grocery store with me?”). Finally, there is that sense of accomplishment a man experiences when the job is done. And when that job is also done right --- boy oh boy --  he can even experience PRIDE along with accomplishment.

Thus, the reason that I look forward to changing the oil or doing some minor mechanical work on one of my “classics” (classics being used very liberally in this instance).

We are all aware that we live in an age of complex car components and hard-drives under the hood. Because of that, man’s ability to even do a simple oil change has been jeopardized. And that’s why I drive my simpler vehicles (the other reasons being the aforementioned children, spending money and those trips to the grocery store). Simply stated, these vehicles allow me to hang onto a bit of my automotive autonomy.

Take my pickup for instance: it’s been around since the early 1990s, the odometer reads 200,000-plus miles and I have been married to it, I mean together with it, longer than I have my wife. Anyway, not only am I the sole owner, driver and defender and friend of the pickup but I am also the sole mechanic, and have been for a few years now.

And as the sole mechanic, I must say I am very proud of the fact that the pickup still starts when you turn the key (and jiggle the wires under the hood, and say a little prayer and sometimes beat the dash).

Perhaps more importantly than starting though, is the fact that the pickup most always stays running while in motion. And that, my friends, is where the sense of accomplishment and pride come together in a beautiful combination. Sort of like the combination of driving with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake (which is another automotive skill that I have mastered).

What a sweet thing it is to fire up that pickup’s engine, get out, slam the hood shut and slip back behind the steering wheel, knowing that, with my own two hands, a roll of electrical tape and blood, sweat and tears, I have kept it running for yet another trip to the trash dumpster and back. Yes, it is sweet indeed; like the sweet aroma of antifreeze leaking out under the dash.

But even sweeter still are those moments spent under the hood (where the antifreeze aroma is even stronger). In those moments when my work is done, my hands are greasy, my knuckles are bleeding, my tears have finally ceased and my anger has finally cooled, I realize just how very manly I am.

In those moments, I survey my mechanical labors and see, like a glorious lemon, the automotive fruits of all my labor.

Friday, November 16, 2012

You scare her, Santa

Dear Santa Claus:

I hate to start off your holiday season on a sour note, but the sooner I pass along the bad news, the sooner you can accept it.

Santa, it seems the four-year old in my house has decided NOT to meet with you this year. Not under any terms. In fact, negotiations broke down pretty quickly and her refusal to even discuss the matter has been unwavering. I have seen the arms crossed, I have seen the forehead lowered, I have seen the bottom lip protrude and I have heard the emphatic “NO.” Thus, all the classic signs of four-year old stubbornness have now been displayed. Sorry Santa, but the possibility of a one-on-one sit-down prior to Christmas has melted away rapidly, like a November snow in Oklahoma.

Why? Well, please don’t pout and I’ll tell you why (sorry, just a little holiday humor to help lighten the moment). Truth is, you scare her Santa. That’s right: your beard, your belly, your belly laugh, your boots, your bright red clothes – really all of the above – is cause for more than a four-year’s old concern, it’s also cause for fear. In all honesty, the whole “jolly” persona that you have perfected and that has made you loved by millions around the globe hasn’t been embraced by the four-year old.

It’s strange, yes, but I know you well enough to know you’ll work through this. One child’s rejection can’t stop you, Santa. After all, making things happen IS your business.

It’s been a few years but we all still remember what you did for Rudolph? Once upon a time, that poor little guy stuck out like a sore thumb on the sidelines of life, watching reindeer games from the back row. But thanks partially to a foggy night and mostly to your ability to spot talent and point it in the right direction, Rudolph no longer gets pushed in the mud when Donner, Comet and the gang play hoops. Today, the rest of the pack follows his lead, with glee.

You made that happen, Santa.

And that’s just one example of your skills. Who else but you could criss-cross the globe in a single night? Who else but you could convince a bunch of elves to live and work year-round at the North Pole? Who else but you, Santa, could drink that much warm milk in one night and still have the wherewithal to get the job done before dawn? A lesser man would lose his Christmas cookies along the way, but not you. Instead you go merrily along, up on the housetops and right down Santa Claus lane, over and over again. Yes, you make it happen.

Does that help boost your confidence Saint Nick? I hope so, because I don’t want you to dwell too long on the rejection of one fearful four-year old. Surely I don’t have to tell you that there are plenty of other children who look forward to sitting in your lap. I know because I saw them all in the mall. Besides, I imagine you are so busy this time of year, what with the parade appearances and all, you don’t really have time to address your critics. 

But in case you do feel a tiny twinge of rejection deep down in your “bowl full of jelly" I will close this letter with a bit of good news. Although she refuses to meet with you, the four-year old did say she would be happy to supply you with a list of her Christmas expectations (granted, it’s not as good as a full-blown “letter to Santa” but it’s a move in the right direction). Currently, she is still weighing her options to determine the best route to Christmas morning bliss, but I can tell you now she has no visions of sugar plums (I’d lean towards Dora instead). As soon as the list is complete, we will get it to you in a dash.

In closing Santa, let me just say that, despite the four-year old’s problems with you, you are always welcome around our house. There will be cookies and warm milk (you don’t have to drink it) and we’ll leave the lights on for you. We don’t have any shutters and I’m not really sure what a sash is, so you probably won’t see me peaking out the window when you drop by. The tree will be in its usual place and the stockings will be carefully hung on the entertainment center (my how things have changed). All I ask Santa is that you stop by while the four-year old is nestled all snug in her bed, in the midst of her long winter’s nap. 

Otherwise, there could be trouble.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Outdoor friend; indoor friend

It’s about that time of year when I always have to say a tearful good-bye to a good friend. A friend that I always spend a lot of time with during the warmer months of the year; a friend I know very well and a friend I really cherish when the grass is green and the warm sun is high in the sky.

Of course, I am talking about my friend – the backyard.

When dropping temperatures and time changes come together, it sort of signals the annual parting of ways for me and that patch of land which lies just beyond our kitchen window. Cold weather means the grass doesn’t grow much and the little girls don’t play outside as much in the evenings. Of course, due to the time change, my home-from-work commute typically places me in the driveway about the time the sun drops beyond the western horizon, so I don’t even get a good look at the backyard these days, let alone visit it.

Oh sure, I can still see it on cold weekend mornings, but it’s not the same then. At those times, it’s kind of like the Christmas tree on December 27. It’s still there, and it’s still pretty, but let’s face it, the magic – at least for another year – is gone.

Ah, but that’s what memories are for, right? When (if) winter comes to Oklahoma, the blue chill settles over the yard, the ice and snow covers the landscape and the weed trimmer and I become strangers, that’s when I will reach into the memory banks and remember summer in the backyard.

I will remember sweating through our Labor Day picnic; I will remember eating dust and dandelions while I mowed in the ever-present wind; I will remember filling and refilling my daughter’s inflatable pool and yes, I will remember losing my temper a time or two with that weed trimmer.

Such memories will carry me through while the greenery and warmth of my backyard hibernates until Spring.

But until then?

Until then, there’s another friend I have. I call it "College Basketball Season."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hulk, Spidey and Elmo

I saw the Incredible Hulk in downtown Indianapolis last week.

Actually, I did more than see him, I actually got to fist-bump him. That’s right, Mr. Big Green and I, touching knuckles on the street as a sign of mutual respect between two gentlemen. No words were necessary.

Don’t believe me? Well just ask Spiderman and Elmo because they were with him. All three were headed east towards the downtown mall (or maybe the Steak & Shake). I was headed west towards the Marriott. In deference to the Hulk, both Spidey and Elmo walked a few steps behind him.

Yeah I know there are probably a few of you who think Spiderman should have been in the lead but let’s face facts: unless Superman or Big Bird is also on the streets, the Hulk is always the lead dog; sharing that position with no one.  

And I mean NO one. Not even Ironman (is that correct or should I say “The” Ironman?). Anyway, I passed Ironman too – no, really – about a block later. No doubt he was lagging well behind the others, trying to avoid the Hulk’s considerable shadow and status as the chief superhero of Indy.

But Ironman and I didn’t fist bump. In fact, we barely made eye contact (I think they were his eyes anyway). Truth is, he’s not as friendly as he looks on television.

Some of you may think this little episode only happened because Halloween was rapidly approaching and perhaps these were just costumed party-goers on their way to some function in the area.

I don’t buy that theory. After all, Indianapolis is a large city and I while I felt very safe and secure everywhere I went, I am certain there are always plenty of crime-fighting opportunities for an ambitious trio of a hulking green mass, a web-slinging wall climber and, well, a fuzzy red creature who giggles a lot. (Can’t say I completely understand what superpower Elmo brings to the table but the Hulk accepted him into his group and that’s good enough for me.)

So keep your eyes open, America, because you never know who or what you will meet on the streets of this great country of ours. Maybe you will run into the Lone Ranger pumping gas at the QT or maybe Oscar the Grouch will be in front of you at the grocery store checkout (that’s probably happened to a lot of us, right?).

But even if you don’t have the same kind of hero-sighting luck I had in Indianapolis, here’s hoping you do see something that brightens your day a little bit.

I’m sure it’s out there today. Just keep your eyes open.

P.S. If you do get a chance to meet the Hulk, just settle for a fist-bump and don’t ask for an autograph. I hear he has a bit of a temper.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Directions

The motorcycle pulled up beside me in the Chouteau McDonalds parking lot and motioned me to lower my window.

“Can you tell us how to get to Claremore,” he asked as I leaned out, admiring the shine on his helmet and goggles.

“Claremore? Sure,” I replied, nodding my head. “Get right back on 412 here and go west seven or eight miles, then take the Highway 88 exit and follow 88 on north. It will take you right into Claremore.”

After both he and the passenger thanked me, he maneuvered the three-wheeled cycle around the gas pumps and back onto the highway, headed south. But, instead of taking the on ramp to 412 West, they just continued south, until they were out of sight. That road heads to Wagoner, not Claremore.

Truth is, I have no way of knowing if they ever found Claremore but I am confident my directions were plain and simple. Could it be they changed their mind? Perhaps they decided on a new destination. Or maybe they didn’t hear me clearly over the roar of the motorcycle engine (and the purring of my four-cylinder). That could be a distraction, right? Or maybe they didn’t really believe me and decided to go their own way.

Who knows for sure? All I really know is that the directions they asked for would have worked for them, if only they had been followed.

As I thought about the “wayward motorcyclists” later, I realized I am a lot like them, and so are you. We all want to go somewhere in life; to travel with purpose; to make our time and our journey count for something. And even if we say we don't – guess what? --- we’re traveling anyway.

So, why not follow the directions?

Or rather, the real question should be: What do you really expect to happen when you DON’T follow directions? Surely, you don’t expect things to go as planned when you don’t go with the plan, do you?

“Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do the things that I say,“ asks Jesus in Luke 6:46.  He goes on to say that following His direction is like building a house on a solid foundation. As for not following His direction? Well, you might as well build your house on sand, but get ready, because it won’t be there long. And shouldn’t you expect that kind of result if you don’t follow directions?

It seems so many of us know the directions and commandments from the Lord, yet for reasons known only to us (and to Him), we either ignore them or forget them too easily. Do we decide not to believe? Are we distracted by other things in life? Do we think His way of traveling is not as good as our unknown road to who knows where?

If that’s the case, then you can expect to wander. You can expect to watch foundation after foundation be washed away by the smallest of streams. But be ready, because life’s a long road and there are many storms along the way. If you decide not to follow the directions then you must be ready to waste precious time searching for an intended destination that is nowhere close to where you are really headed.

Again the questions: Why not follow the directions? Why not do what He says?

Open the book. Read the directions. Follow the route God has given for your life. Sure, it’s still a journey and the road still has some bumps and unexpected twists along the way, but it’s a purposeful journey.

One that will lead you to where He has always intended for you to go.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Praying For Rain

(I originally wrote this for The Paper almost 12 years ago, but the current drought brought it to mind. We think water is one of the basic necessities of life. But really, droughts (all kinds of droughts) teach us that prayer is just as necessary.

Praying For Rain

I admit that I have prayed for a lot of different things in my life.

I’ve prayed for sick friends and sick pets, for money and for mercy. For material things and spiritual things. For things I wanted but did not need and for things I needed but didn’t really want.

Sometimes the prayer request was just between me and God and sometimes I asked others to pray for me. I’ve prayed for little things; like asking God to allow my pickup battery to have enough juice to start “just one more time” and that that there would be enough gasoline in the tank to get me just one more mile down the road.

One time, I lost a checkbook and spent the better part of the day praying that God would miraculously return it to me or place it where it would be easy to find … He did.

Some prayers requests were lifted for months before God finally answered “yes” instead of “not yet.”

Sometimes the immediate and clear answer was “no” and other times it took months to get that same answer. Of course, not every prayer was a request. Sometimes I just needed to talk and sometimes I needed to say thank you (although I don’t do that enough).

Why all this talk of prayer? Mainly because I was impressed by the pure simplicity of the prayers for rain that many people have been saying during this recent period of drought across the Midwest.

In fact, I saw on television where many congregations and groups have held organized prayer sessions strictly to pray for rain.

What could be more simple and honest than a man asking God to make it rain?

In these modern times of instant messaging, laser surgery, DNA research and space stations, human beings are exploring new frontiers, both internal and external, that have never been tapped into before.

However, it should humble every one of us to know that, without water – without something as simple as raindrops falling on our heads – everything could eventually grind to a halt.

No more online stock trading, no more Monday Night Football, no more trips to the mall on Saturday afternoon. Eventually, without rain, the world dries up. I don’t know about you but when I put that all in perspective, it is a humbling thought.

Ah, there’s the keyword: humbling.

“If my people will humbly pray,” God said in the Old Testament. “Then I will heal their land.” Sometimes we forget to pray and give thanks for rain when the grass is green and the crops are growing, just like we can forget to thank God when our lives are going great and we are happy and content in our careers and relationships. But isn’t it funny how we tend to put a little more emphasis on our prayers and more sincerity in our hearts when we feel humbled by our situation? That’s no accident, you know.

Sure, it would be easy to see the spiritual significance and analogy in this whole episode. The drought could represent a personal struggle in someone’s life while the humble prayer for rain could represent a prayer for renewal or relief from that struggle. Then the rain itself could represent the cool, replenishing miracle that eases life’s hot spots or jumpstarts spiritual growth and confidence.

But we don’t need to make that comparison to appreciate the rain shower that can end our dry spell. Maybe we should simply take it for what it will be: a nice shower. One that begins with the smell of rain through the kitchen window, perhaps on a lazy Saturday afternoon and progresses to the slow pitter-patter of drops on the patio roof and ends with ditches full of water and a lot of soaked people who stood in the downpour just to enjoy it.

In either case, whether you are dealing with a dry spell in your life or a dry spell in your garden, it should still humble you to know that, when relief does come, it will come from above you. From a place; from a Rainmaker and Creator who is higher than you are.

That’s a lesson. The God who heals the spiritual drought is the same God who heals the earthly drought.

We just need to humbly pray.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New Verse Of An Old Lullaby

By 8:30, on a typical Monday morning, I am in my office, in my squeaky brown dress shoes and pleated pants, evaluating the dilemmas and the deadlines of the week ahead. It’s not the low point in my week (for some reason, I dislike Tuesdays more than Mondays) but it’s about as far as you can get from quitting time on a Friday.

But not so this Monday morning; this one was different.

8:30 this Monday finds me at home, in jeans and a t-shirt, staring into the toothless grin of my 11 week-old daughter. Her chin glistens from the slobber she’s been able to manufacture since I first plucked her from her crib two minutes ago and her cheeks are so chubby that it must make holding her head up even more difficult.

Anyway, this Monday, and most of the next three weeks to follow, are going to be filled by such moments. After all, during that time I will be the “stay at home” Dad and primary caregiver for a rambunctious 3 year old and her baby sister (the aforementioned baby girl).

Despite my disdain of Monday and Tuesday mornings in the office, I am certainly appreciative of a job that allows me Mondays like this one too. With the wife headed off to her job for the first time in three months, I now step into the role of the paternal parent on maternity leave (sort of) to change diapers, fix bottles, cook lunch, wipe noses, dry tears, and do the laundry for this precious three-week stretch.

Monday morning starts well and things continue on that way through much of the day. There was that especially unpleasant diaper change for baby girl accompanied by the 3 year old’s comments that nearly ruin cheese dip for me (you do the math) but beyond that, most every out-of-the-ordinary task on day one is handled with ordinary ease.

I am grateful for that; grateful that it goes well but even more grateful that it goes at all. Just four short years ago, our little family of three appeared complete, although our prayers to expand that family had not ceased. The fact that, today, I am home with two of my three children may not mean much to you, but that statement – “two of my three” – was foreign to our lives for so many years.

Things change. At age 41 I am again snapping an infant carrier into the car, just as I did at age 26 and again at 37. I am singing a new verse of an old lullaby; one I first sang 14 years ago.

I hope when the 3 year old is 41 she will remember this time at home with Dad. I hope she will share the memories and tell the stories to the baby girl who, even though she won’t remember, may get to relive the time through her big sister’s stories and recollections.

So, day one of “just me and the girls” goes pretty well. No injuries, no extended crying, no delays, no dilemmas (except for that one diaper incident) and most of all, no regrets on my part for being right where I was today and where I will be tomorrow.