Beloved of God. Ruby Shod.

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There was a post come from the Celestial City, with matter of great importance . . . .

A one time copy center manager, he’d been asked by a neighbor to print invitations to a special, multi-decades-marking natal celebration. “Why not?” he thought. “Just 25 color prints. A small favor, really.” Plus, it would give him the opportunity to kick the tires on his newly installed high quality Oce’ C6550 color multi-functional printer with EFI external raster image processor on high quality 24#, 92-white, letter-size stock. The celebrant was affectionately even if mischievously called “Judy” by her family and closer friends. Apparently she was a Wizard of Oz devotee’ and happened to share a birthday with its star, an iconic and somewhat more celebrated Judy.

The invitation layout was made up of four panels, each a quarter page, containing necessary date, time, location, directions, and RSVP instructions. Two quarter panels were printed on each side, along vertically opposite short edges. The printed pages were then folded in half short-wise and in half again long-wise. Voila! Invitations ready to send. The prominent panel featured a gleaming pair of ruby slippers – a movie moment frozen in time just nanoseconds before a heel click would beam their wearer, Dorothy (and Toto, too) safely back home to Kansas sod.

Well, “Judy” – so called – was a friend of his.

“Judy’s” given name was Grace. In time, she would succumb to the weakening effects of age and infirmity, as we all have, or will. In her final days, he was kept apprised of her condition by her daughter, Bonnie. You see, it was Bonnie twelve years earlier who asked if he would print the special multi-decades-marking natal celebration invitations on the high quality Oce’ C6550 color multi-functional printer with EFI external raster image processor on high quality 24#, 92-white, letter-size stock. And that favor granted sparked his friendship with “Judy.” Through the years, “Judy” would come to visit Bonnie and her family seasonally. And on those occasions he and “Judy” would catch up – usually just 10-15 minutes after church. Each would cheer the other with his and her rapier-sharp humor and wit, general updates, and tales drawn from life experiences and from places lived or visited. She had traveled extensively. He not so much. But he had spent a few years in Kansas. Each would encourage the other in his and her peculiar circumstances.

Still more years passed. He, too, began to feel and be limited by the effects of age, infirmity and the aftermath of one or two poor bicycle steering decisions. The news of “Judy’s” passing came sadly, even if not surprisingly, and was a reminder of the sure comfort they both possessed, and about which they had spoken. His comfort firmly held, had not yet been fulfilled. Hers having been fulfilled, was no less firmly held. They both knew neither was ever truly their own. You see, both belonged, body and soul, both in life and in death, to their faithful Saviour Jesus Christ who had fully paid for all their sins with His precious blood, setting them free from all the power of the devil, and preserving them in such a way that without the will of the heavenly Father not a hair could fall from their heads. Indeed, all things – whether wasting illness or the aftermath of one or two poor bicycle steering decisions – would unfailingly work together for their salvation. They both therefore, by His Holy Spirit were assured of eternal life and had been made heartily willing and able to live, and ready to die, for Him.

How fitting “Judy’s” real name had proven. Grace. A trophy of God’s grace, she gracefully and fearlessly awaited death. Death wielded in feigned absoluteness by the great adversary, the king of terrors, the accuser now defeated. Death, now vanquished and stingless. Dominator turned doorway. Earth-suit failing, her final earth-days would be marked by visits from dear ones and friends, near ones and far ones. Some visiting “Judy” those days sat near her bedside and tuned their voices for heaven, turning them heavenward, singing glorious hymns gloriously – anthems to send her on. And as their ringing voices rang more faintly, she slept and slipped from this life to the next, shedding her earth-suit’s surly shell to don luminescent robes of righteousness given her by the Redeemer, treading streets of gold amongst the great host of heaven.

It was only a few days earlier that his lovely and heroic wife reminded him of John Bunyan’s Christiana:

There was a post come from the Celestial City, with matter of great importance to one Christiana . . . . So inquiry was made for her, and the house was found out where she was. So the post presented her with a letter. The contents were, “Hail, good woman; I bring thee tidings that the Master calleth for thee, and expecteth that thou should’st stand in his presence, in clothes of immortality within these ten days.” When he had read this letter to her, he gave her therewith a sure token that he was a true messenger, and was come to bid her make haste to be gone. The token was, an arrow with a point sharpened with love, let easily into her heart, which by degrees wrought so effectually with her, that at the time appointed she must be gone.

Now the day drew on that Christiana must be gone. So the road was full of people to see her take her journey. But, behold, all the banks beyond the river were full of horses and chariots, which were come down from above to accompany her to the city gate. She came forth, and entered the river, with a beckon of farewell to those that followed her. The last words that she was heard to say were, “I come, Lord, to be with thee, and to bless thee!” So she went and called, and entered in at the gate with . . . ceremonies of joy . . . .

Those cinematic ruby slippers were an amusing but fitting symbol. Recalling her rapier-sharp humor and wit, he knew she would have thought so, too. Equipped from faith’s armory, as shoes for her feet, she had put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. As our iconic and somewhat more celebrated real Judy’s ruby shod Dorothy was spell bound and safely whisked back to Kansas sod, so Christ’s blood red atonement has covered and made sure the feet of pilgrims bound for their heavenly homes. He chuckled, knowing “Judy” would also have quickly pointed out the importance of a string of pearls and a matching purse.

He would see her again – on Kansas sod, perhaps. Yes, Judy was a friend of his.

Five Years On

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A year ago, on my 4th “Accidentiversary,” and just three days after my daughter’s wedding, I wrote a quick ditty because ditty’s should be quickly written on significant annual occasions. On that day (the written-ditty day), I regretted not having done anything that involved precision event planning, caterered sterno-heated foods, lots of people, happy jocular toasting, and tears. That day, friends and loved ones made their post-wedding exits, and work encroached. That night, I resolved to mend my ways next go-round. See:

https://wheeledwords.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/four-years-on/

All of which brings me to today – my 5th “Accidentiversary.”

At the risk of disappointing my host of “followers,” all eight of you, who are all wondering where their invitations are, I regret to inform you there will be no event extravaganza. However, a luncheon with sweet, heroic Alice is in the works.

Feeling compelled to write something – because dittys should be written on significant annual occasions – I do so, but find my thoughts are more than just a bit jumbled. So, in scribbling, let me simply proclaim my gratefulness – perhaps a bit more potently today than at other times – for an immense company of friends who have supported and encouraged me and mine through challenging times in ways, both visible and unseen (both equally significant): Alice, Auntie Sue, Auntie Di, my eight children, one daughter in law, two sons in law, and two grandsons, the John and Betty Marvin extended clan, the Clans Smith, McFadden, and Familj Jaderberg – domestic and abroad, Uncle Sonny and Aunt Chris, the WCHS Bulldogs, Virginia Cavaliers, FCA-ers, Virginia-Beta Phi’s, Cedar Brook Academy, Joni and Friends, Bowie PCA and Wallace Presbyterian families, CRPC family, Shepherd Center and Kennedy Krieger Institute, HCGH Wound Care Center (eewwww?) – Larry and Dr. Leuthke, most notably, Facilities PLUS and Merrill colleagues, Montpelier, Elkton / Trent Road, Sandy Cove and America’s Keswick communities, and so many others.

Thanks for all you’ve prayed, endured, put up with, given, done. Impossible to catalog. Of inestimable value. Especially you, Ooli.

I thank God that He has not broken this bruised reed, He has not quenched this smoking flax. He is with me, at work to banish dismay, strengthen and uphold me with His righteous right hand, and infuse pluck and vigor through the realm. All this, despite my callous, complaining, ungrateful inclinations.

And I thank God for you all. Believe and know how grateful I truly am.

My love to you all.

Betty Rosebud

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They would travel annually to an unlikely destination, whose only marketing channels early on were a P.O. Box (0), a phone number, and a cryptic http://www.zipcode.mountainnet.com. Almost as if the destination was hiding. A strange place. No phones. No room keys. Beautiful, though. Verdant. Shaded. Bubbling fountains everywhere you looked. Unlikely a destination as it was, Betty and John had achieved repeat guest status. For several years, earlier on, they and one or two other church couples would periodically get away from the city. They came to lose themselves in the “holler.”

Birthdays for Alice had always been more than a day marking just another solar orbit, with presents, a few cards, perhaps a party. Much more. You see, birthdays were magical. On the birthday eve, Yellow Rosebud would get busy.

Yellow Rosebud was chief Pixie project manager of magic-infusing Pixie activity in the southwestern US. Moreover, She happened also to be a direct descendant of Tinkerbell.

Disbelievers should leave the room now.

Based out of a small petroleum rich northeastern Oklahoma town boasting three water towers: one Hot, one Warm, and one Cold, with offices beneath the town’s “Warm” water tower, her specialties were bedtime stories, fanciful refrigerator drawings, and birthdays. We’ll leave bedtime stories and refrigerator drawings for another time, but on birthdays, Yellow Rosebud would oversee thorough decoration of the celebrant’s room, as well as the breakfast nook, with carefully selected, themed streamers, balloons, bunting, and glitter. She would prepare sweet breakfast rolls, toast “soldiers,” fancy cereal, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. On Alice’s birthdays this fare would be served on Betty’s fine china and crystal which no one but Betty was permitted to touch, let alone use. No one, that is, but Yellow Rosebud. Pixies and moms had an understanding, you see.

Following birthday breakfasts, Alice would find, in some cleverly hidden spot, an elaborately inscribed map or list of clues to guide her on a hunt for birthday treasures. Around the house she would scramble – attic to second floor, to first floor, to garage, then the basement, out to the backyard, some years even next door through a gap in the hedge row to Marla and Darla Cunningham’s. These treasures, hidden so as to be found, would also be wrapped in keeping with the day’s theme, and once found would be brought to the breakfast table for opening. One at a time. Slowly. Ooing and Ahhing. And only after the celebrant’s official proclamation of her hopes, dreams and aspirations for the coming year.

The extended family began its annual week-long summer migrations to the holler in 1994 when Betty and John had all four daughters and their families as guests, to celebrate fifty years of wedded bliss. Their first visit to this unlikely destination went well enough that a return trip by all was planned for the following year. In fact, the four daughters and their families would return year after year. Over the years, family compositions would change some, but their ranks would often swell to 30 plus, comprised of daughters, husbands and children, beloved aunts, nieces, nephews, a second cousin or two, great grand children, a pair of Kung fu masters, and grafted-in in laws, including a striking ginger, a skydiving mountaineer and a philosopher-Viking. It would prove to be a most fitting venue. A foundry of sorts where cross-generational, cross-cultural, cross-ideological relationships would be forged into decades long lasting friendships.

In time, Alice came to her own understanding with Yellow Rosebud. An instinctual understanding passed down from mother to daughter. A long lasting legacy. She would carefully plan birthday events for eight children. infusing high anticipation, mystery and intrigue. Maps and clue sheets would be secretly prepared. Gifts would be cleverly placed, tucked behind bushes, inside chicken coops, atop play houses, buried in sand boxes – even tied beneath a diving board. Magical breakfasts would appear each birthday morning, although fine china and crystal gave way to My Little Pony, Muppets, Thomas the Tank Engine, or Spiderman paper ware. Ceiling-stuck streamers swung low. The more frequent integration of ceiling fans would later make streamer hanging really exciting. In time, a constellation of Scotch tape adhesive residue spots would bear witness to some two hundred-plus streamer-strewn, Pixie-powered parties thrown in ten homes, across four states. Hopes, dreams and aspirations would be recited. And, presents would be opened. One at a time. Slowly. With Ooing and Ahhing. But only after the celebrant’s official proclamation of hopes, dreams and aspirations for the coming year.

The next trip to the holler was on the calendar. Alice and her three sisters were in unusually close contact with Yellow Rosebud, the southwestern bedtime story, refrigerator drawing and birthday Pixie based out of a small petroleum rich northeastern Oklahoma town. It was their turn to shower felicitous natal recognition upon their mother, Betty, on the occasion of her 90th solar orbit. The arrangements took months and were impressive. The doting crowd was, too. It included daughters, husbands and children, beloved aunts, nieces and nephews, great grand children, a pair of Kung fu masters, and in-grafted in law relatives, including a striking ginger, a skydiving mountaineer and a philosopher-Viking.

What of the present treasure hunt you ask? Well, the Pixie Code – Section 66 – Concerning Birthday Parties for Seniors – is clear. It reads (with a twang) “Hey! Listen up, y’all! No lady-like celebrant with a pink walker named Rosebud shall be suffered to hunt for hidden gifts. Presents are to be placed reverently, smack-dab in front of ’em, with heaps of genuine affection.”

The party was great. In keeping with the Pixie Code – Section 66, the presents were placed, and in great number. The laughter sounded long into the night. And the lady who paid forward such Pixie-powered birthday celebration legacies was herself the celebrated one.

Hail, Queen Granny Cakes! We salute you!
June 12, 2014

God in the Checkbook, or Quicken’s Silver Lining

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May, 2010 — Since my accident, now nine months on, I’ve noticed quite a few times that I lose track of time. I’m not talking about clock time. I’m talking about calendar time. The month. The date. The year. The day. I suppose it could be because I spent quite a few weeks away from home in medical care facilities, and additional weeks after arriving back home in hospital. In many of these places, if I had a view out the window, it was not a remarkable view. An empty sky. A brick wall. An air handler atop a pebbled roof. That same squirrel running across that same oak limb. No longer passing time according to well-established routines.

I was, and am becoming again, a pretty (excessively?) organized person. Used to be, when the mail came, or when I noticed it had been piling up, I would sort it carefully into piles. Junk mail. Bills. Checks. Personal correspondence — mine and theirs. And bank statements.

I would quickly process most of the piles described above. Junk mail to the trash. Bills into the desktop sorter, according to due date. Checks to the desk next to the “for deposit only” stamp. Other correspondence would be sorted (thrown or stuffed, really) into each family member’s stair basket. Contents were to be removed from baskets by basket owners and carried upstairs. The expression, “Out of sight, out of mind,” and the term “black hole,” seem to fit.

Early in my adult checkbook independence, I learned the benefits of the envelope system and the ledger sheet method. Still, with lots of handwritten checks and ledger entries, home finance management was slow going. Enter Quicken! I no longer had to handwrite checks. Sweet! Having set up my paycheck allocations, and my income and expense categories, home finance management became much more streamlined.

Back to the mail. The bank statements would go into a pile that I scarcely could bear to look upon. Were I to see the pile, it was a chilling and demoralizing reminder that account reconciliation afternoons were seldom happy occasions. Missing receipts. Deposits I was sure of, but which the bank seemed to have overlooked. The check ledger’s “miscellaneous” category, with its siren call, “Use me for discretionary purposes.” Deep inside I knew it was merely the much misused ledger account I would deplete to make adjustments necessary to balance with the bank. Sigh. I can’t remember how many times six months would pass before I would tackle and reconcile a half year of bank statements. Upon slaying these multi-month statement dragons, I would sincerely proclaim I’d learned my lesson, and then announce, “I will never let this happen again.” I’ve been making that same announcement every six months for years.

This past week, I gathered all of the receipts, deposit slips, and the almost sacred composition book my lovely heroic wife used to split and track every check-writing atom. My involuntary abdication of the home finance management throne thrust my beloved wife into the role. I daresay she would rather have had weekly root canals. So, back on the throne, I began to work through the past 9 months’ income and expense history.

Quite unexpectedly, it was as though my newer version of Quicken had a AAA Trip-Tic function. Looking at every receipt, deposit slip and check number, it was as though each one was a Rick Steves travelogue stop with its own narrative. Entering each item, I matched transaction dates with transaction locations, picturing in many cases the payee / payor parties involved. I now understood where my wife and kids went each day — Target, Giant, Wal-Mart, the doctor’s office, Muvico, birthday shopping. I now could see who got new shoes, new clothes, a treat at Chick-fil-A, a prescription refill, a fill-up. Many deposit entries evidenced the staggering generosity of friends, family and strangers whose targets for kindness we were.

These bits of data — now all strung together — provided a much needed, much more useful cash flow picture. More significantly, this plodding multi-night exercise evidenced God’s close providential care, and reconnected me with the familiar reality away from which I had been so long, and with — to my eyes — a vast company of caring and supportive people.

And He who did not spare His only begotten Son, how will He not also along with Him freely give us all things?

Fearfully and Wonderfully Broken

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On August 20, 2009, four years and five months ago, I enjoyed my last two-wheeled bike ride and experienced a real life-changer. Now a C7 tetraplegic, paralyzed from the mid-chest down, I have grown in my appreciation for God’s grace and mercy (after all, I could’ve been killed or much more profoundly injured). I have also tasted the richness of family relationships, other relationships established through the years, and the many shades of encouragement and support these friendships have borne. Living in a broken earth suit with limited physical abilities was at first very difficult as my identity, purposes, style, calling, and significance rested heavily on my abilities. I’m persuaded that independence can isolate, and that what amounts to diminished pride can be a good thing. My new normal has been characterized as a peculiar stewardship. My needs and dependence have deepened relationships with those who are close to me. And, they have brought me closer to those I knew well long ago but from whom I had grown apart. I appreciate, and can empathize more genuinely and experientially with, others who have met with deep difficulty. While I hope and pray for improved neurological function, this momentary light affliction is changing and refining me as I look to the Lord, endeavor to trust in Him, and live patiently in the “new normal.” Having once stood 6’4″, life now happens at 55 inches. Life, while at lower altitudes, is still very rich.

Father of the Bride Toast 2 — Heidel-McFadden Wedding Reception

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Heidel-McFadden Wedding Reception
Historic Fairfax County Courthouse
August 17, 2013

Good evening.

I trust and hope everyone is enjoying their meal having a good time.

Alice and I are happy to welcome you, and grateful for your participation in this joyful happy celebration of Allie’s marriage to Kenneth.

This week and at other times, I have thought about Monica, St. Augustine’s mother. Augustine was reputed to be a godless rogue in his youth. Monica was respected as a godly, tireless, stormer of heaven’s gates as she faithfully, over many years prayed that God would mercifully capture, constrain, and conform Augustine to the image and character of Christ — which in time He did. And to no meager result.

Well, I must admit I am no match for Monica in exercise of prayer. Allie’s mom — Lovely and Heroic Alice is a far worthier example. But, I can honestly tell you I have prayed through the years for my children to be captured, constrained and conformed as Trophies of God’s grace, and in due season to be matched in marriage with another of Christ’s Trophies.

I also know ones of you in this room who have labored in prayer for such an outcome among Alice’s and my children. And, I suspect that many of you I may not know well have done similarly.

Well, look what God has done as we have prayed!

This meal, our enjoyment of it, our laughter, our song, our dance, our happiness, our toasts, our hopeful anticipation for them, and our memories of the day in weeks, months and years to come are culminating tokens of the thankfulness that fills us for what God has done.

Kenneth and Allie, we raise our glasses to you both. God bless and keep you. God look upon you with favor. Laugh often. Love each other deeply. Make your home courageously and fearlessly, double check your pitons, and pack your own parachutes, but remember that mountain climbing and sky-diving can lead to higher insurance premiums. And, don’t forget to call your mothers.

Spare Not the Rods — Fishing and Other Capon Musings

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For several years, we have vacationed in West Virginia, at a location beloved by my wife’s mom and dad, which was the venue for their fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration in 1994. That year was our first visit, and we celebrated the occasion with my wife’s sisters and their families. We look forward to these annual reunions, and make the trek each summer (July usually), to rejoin the extended family bunch. My wife, our four daughters, two sons-in-law, four sons, one daughter-in-law, one grandson, my sister, my wife’s mother and three sisters, and their families, and not infrequently a family guest or three. Our destination is down in a secluded “holler” with (to the surprise of the uninitiated) many conveniences and amenities: golf course, hiking trails, swimming (the spring-fed pool is filled with near glacier run-off), good roads for cycling, an adequately stocked pond (bring your own rods, or borrow a bamboo “fish-catcher” at the desk), cool sleeping weather, and good food served family-style three times a day.

It is not impossible to communicate with me while I’m there, but as I begin my break from work, I like to tell my colleagues that while I’ll be in the continental U.S., I may be hard to reach. I tell them the internet runs on “bobbed-war,” and the phone’s a party line up a pole (picture Olivaaaah on Green Acres) where messages can be taken, wrapped around a rock and dropped down to the runner. Any messages brought down from the pole will be removed from their rocks and posted on a whiteboard just inside the dining room. I try to remember to look for my messages three times a day, but only after I dine. Perhaps a slight exaggeration. Oddly enough, they seldom attempt to reach me. If absolutely necessary, I can hike up the first fairway and “summit” the first green where, having climbed to sufficient elevation I just might receive a faint T-Mobile signal. I get a signal boost if I remove and raise the flag stick real high in my off-hand.

It’s an out of the way place we enjoy very much.

Speaking of meals, there are usually 20-25 people at our table for meals. We enjoy lots of good food. The litany below is what comes to mind as I write. At breakfast, eggs any style (two poached soft on toast is my regular), double and triple bowls of oatmeal and seven-grain cereal, buckwheat flap jacks, rashers of bacon, sausage patties and links. For lunch, wonderful salads, watercress with piquant dressing, spaghetti with meat sauce, silver-dollar burgers with grilled onions, Sunday duck and turkey. For dinner, more salads, iridescent roast beef, fried chicken, meat loaf, the fried fish-pork combo, fresh baked rolls and fresh vegetables. Desserts include Whitehouse cherry ice-cream, fresh watermelon wedges, cantaloupe with a scoop of lime sherbet, vanilla ice-cream with chocolate sauce, gingerbread cake with whipped cream.

In the dining room, the waitresses all wear white outfits, and rush around with great precision and efficiency, pushing brushed steel carts loaded with the day’s meal offering. They remind me of nurses in a 1950’s movie, rushing patient gurneys from the ER into the operating room. All food is served on indestructible pastel colored melamine plates, and bowls. The ceiling fans hum. An occasional birthday or anniversary is celebrated table-side accompanied by appropriate music played over a crackly speaker. A cake appears and is delivered on (you guessed it) a brushed steel cart to the celebrants’ table. Tournament results, evening events, and assorted miscellaneous announcements are made, then finished with a concluding trademark “That is all. Thank you.”

Several meals are served on the hill under the first fairway pavilion (beside the fairway, but beneath the “summit”). Hill-dinners are “Chicken on the Hill” and “Steak on the Hill”, both cooked over impressive brick barbeque pits full of glowing charcoal briquettes and attended by various multi-tasking staff personalities. Hill-lunches feature the salad-sandwiches (chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad) all on bread with crust removed, and barbeque pork plopped on a whole wheat roll. Can’t forget the endless sweet hill-tea (for some reason, can’t get sweet tea down below in the dining room).

Meals are also, as my daughter Ginny taught me, opportunities for community, fellowship and deepening friendships. I believe she would say, “Meals should have meaning.” It’s always interesting to see who sits by whom at each meal, and who rotates to sit by different whoms as people take an early leave from the table. Cousins reunite. Siblings banter. Members of the younger generation are cornered by their seniors and pumped for information as to academics and career trajectories. Disparate political, theological and philosophical views can be aired (and are). The ten-and-unders, the eleven-to-fifteens, the legal drivers and collegians, the working class and retirees all intersperse and seem to dialog very naturally. Age-based cliques and silos are dissolved.

Meals here are also opportunities to showcase and satisfy man’s ages-old fisher-gatherer instincts. A visit to the pond, which yields a “keeper,” permits the fisherman an opportunity to enjoy his or her fish at the next scheduled meal, sans head, filleted, egg and cornmeal battered and fried up goo-oood.

This prospect brings me to the point of this narrative.

Over the years, the kids have clamored for me to bring fishing poles. I did that in the past, but stopped, because I grew tired of prepping the rods, stocking the tackle box, picking up the 7-Eleven night crawlers that no one but me would cut, threading them onto the barbed hook, and then having repeatedly to untangle the lines I prepped. Fishing in July had become for me like a warm weather version of winter wear bundling. You spend 20 minutes to get junior all dressed up in his snow suit, boots, gloves and hat, only to hear him say “I gotta pee.” Big build up. Big let down.

Notwithstanding my cynicism, I do enjoy thinking back over one fishing event several years ago. my son, Chip was late to dinner one evening. The cousins last saw him at the pond, fishing. I got up from the table and went to retrieve him. When I got to the pond, he was on the dock, clearly in distress. Seems he’d strung a triple-hook on his line, baited it, drew back the rod and cast. All three hooks were traveling at whip-crack speed, and one (it only takes one) found its way to that sweet spot just below the left rear blue jean pocket, where it penetrated Levi Strauss’s best, and buried itself in Chip’s derrière.”

“Well, well. Interesting,” I said.

Assessing the situation, I removed the fillet knife from the tackle box and cut a quarter-sized piece of stone-washed denim to expose the butt-buried hook. I was now ready to perform a gluteal hook-ectomy. I’m pretty sure those blue jeans are the only thing that fillet knife ever cut. Using the needle-nosed pliers in the tackle box, I cut the fishing line, disconnecting the rod from the hook. I next took hold of the hook and moved it around gently. Despite my gentleness, Chip insisted on howling. I replied, “Shhhhh. You’ll scare the fiwaaaahaaaahaaahaaa . . . . ”

Studying the situation a moment longer, I looked him in the eye, and said, “This is definitely going to hurt you more than it hurts me.” I suggested he put the handle of the rod between his teeth and bite down hard when I counted to three. Grasping hook with pliers, I began counting, “One . . . two . . . (forgot three) . . .” and yanked the hook with lightening speed, freeing him from the snare.

The extracted hook, with denim circle still attached has occupied a spot on our kitchen bulletin board ever since.

This year I brought two rods. Zip tied ’em to the luggage rack. When I got up our first morning and headed out, I met Chip who asked, “Did you hear about Giff ?”

The pond is home to a variety of small-ish fish (perch, sunnies, etc.), and some decent size cat fish. There are also several huge carp. 2-3 feet in length. Lazy bottom-feeders. Never bite. Not interested in any lure. Ever. Been that way for years. Giff got up at 0-dark-30 and went to the pond with a rod for an early morning angling session. Little did Giff know, as did Sir Issac Walton, was that the carp is the queen of rivers (and ponds); a stately, a good, and a very subtil fish. Plus, the American Carp Society in March of 2006 paid out $275,000 to carp anglers. Really. So, Giff stood on the small dock, and floated the line in the water espying his big game fish. He hung the bait just above his intended catch, and waited.

Gnats are a problem at times.The establishment provides punks (hand-held incense sticks without the stink) which are lit and waved to cast a smoky haze around one’s head and shoulders. Wielded properly, these will drive the gnats over to the next punkless guy. We even light seven or eight at a time and stick them in whole wheat rolls at the hill-meals to create a gnat no-fly zone. Well, Giff set the rod down to light his punk . . . .

In a flash, the rod rocketed off the dock and into the pond. That fat, lazy carp had become caught, and was heading for deeper water at high speed with my rod in tow! No doubt a genus cyprinus mistake.

As he returned to the carp academy dragging a rod along behind him, no doubt his fellow cyprinus carpo (the common carp) ostracized him like they would the guy who leaves the men’s room with a foot of toilet paper stuck to his shoe. He was probably branded a carp-leper by the uppity hypophthalmichthys moultrix (the silver carp) and hypophathalmichthys nobilis (the bighead carp) — the pond caste system’s carp-brahmins.

I can just hear him now: “Listen here! I innocently brushed up against a medial-fin-high ball of dough, and it snagged me! Honest! I’m a carp for goodness sake. I eat bottom scum like the rest of you. What do I want with a ball of dough?! That stuff is bait for the bourgeois! Come on, guys!”

As the rod rocketed off the dock, Giff lunged, diving forward and reaching elbow deep into the pond. Alas, he was not long enough of arm. Rod gone.

At breakfast, I quelled my urge to yell at him for losing my rod. After all, were it not my rod, were it some other family, this would be a pretty cool story. I told him so, and we fist-bumped.

To his credit, he spotted what looked like a rod at the bottom of the pond later that afternoon. So, the next morning before breakfast, he, Allie, and I took a row boat out on Butt Hook Pond. And, after 25 minutes of rowing clumsily in circles to hold our position, still in time to make it to breakfast, we managed to fish the lost rod out of the pond.

Both rods are back safely in my garage, snugly hung against the ceiling out of reach. Next July, I’ll be asked to bring the fishing rods. I’ll ignore the question. Then I’ll grumble. Then I’ll acquiesce and tie them to the car roof for another adventure.

Father of the Bride Toast — Heidel-McFadden Rehearsal Dinner

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Heidel-McFadden Rehearsal Dinner
Maggiano’s, Tysons Galleria
August 16, 2013

I was asked by Allie a few weeks ago to offer up the Father of the Bride Toast at tomorrow’s wedding reception, and had already been thinking of what I might say on this rehearsal dinner occasion.

In order to avoid being branded and ill-prepared and unoriginal public speaker, I resolved to come up with something fresh. But, some things, they say, never change and so having borrowed a bit from past rehearsal dinner remarks, I offer up my apologies in advance to those of you who were present to hear those.

Among many immutable laws of nature is this: Chuck in front of a crowd, making remarks = high probability he’ll cry. To those of you who will be unsettled by this I apologize again in advance.

This is the second opportunity I’ve had to attend a Heidel rehearsal dinner and wedding since Chip and Ellie were married and I was only a few months into life in a broken earth-suit. It was splendid to be a virtual participant through the magic of cell phones, video and Skype. Four years on, I find myself not often looking too far ahead with great certainty. So, it is doubly sweet for me to be here with you all in spirit and body, appetites at the ready.

When I first met Kenneth (a.k.a. Ken-Ken, or Ken-Ken McFab-Fab, or K-K McF-F as he later came affectionately to be known . . . even if behind his back), he struck me as a somewhat introspective, quiet man. It could have been that he landed in the midst of the Heidel mob during our mealtime tsunami. It wasn’t long before he seemed at ease, working the crowd warmly — both young and old. I observed him to be questioner and a listener. I was impressed by the range of his relationships, and his ability to dial-in to those relationships on a variety of constructive levels. More than the obligatory surface “Hey — How are you?” As he and I had opportunity to talk, I appreciated these qualities more.

In time, I came to learn Kenneth was a Virginia Tech Hokie. Perhaps not surprisingly and taking some license, in light of Isaiah 11:6 (. . . the VT Hokie laying down with the UVA Wahoo . . .), that proved to be no impediment. He even politely listened to my cover of the Univesity of Virginia Pep Band’s 1979 rendition of a Hokie-fied Ballad of Jed Clampett. See me offline if interested.

I appreciated — if only vicariously — his love for the outdoors, being active, clinging like Spiderman to sheer vertical rock faces, hurling himself out the doors of perfectly fine airplanes, and wandering around the Alaskan bush without enough bread crumbs. I noted these were things he and Allie enjoyed in common.

On one or two occasions we spoke about career alternatives in the Christian camping realm, and I appreciated his wanting to understand and carefully consider that world. I also came to see and appreciate his love for Christ and his desire (put in into action) to influence his many Burke Community Church minions accordingly.

In time he and I spoke about his affection for in Allie and his interest in having that relationship advance. I had some experience evaluating daughter-suitors. One or two of those evaluations went a bit rough early on, no doubt due to my youthful (merely) book-learned zeal and inexperience. When Kenneth and I intersected, we spoke very candidly, openly, and warmly — right? (looking directly at Kenneth) — and it was the case that his interest and intentions were in line with my paternal expectations. His respect and deference meant a lot to me then, and it was plain to see his treatment of Allie was that of a servant, not a self-server.

These conversations weren’t convenient either, as Kenneth circumnavigated the Beltway several times during or heading into rush hour traffic. He had to work hard getting to Laurel to have them.

Our culminating conversation calendared, he secretly met me in the neighborhood and drove us both to Long Horn where we enjoyed appetizers and a beer. I asked him what he wanted to talk about. He told me he loved Allie and wanted my permission to ask her to marry him. I happened to be looking down at that moment (having dropped my nacho), and raised my head to look him in the eye, and I replied, “No (emphasis on “No”) . . . prrrrrrroblem whatsoever.”

Kenneth’s face blanched a bit before regaining its ruddy swarthy color. We laughed . . . OK. Maybe only I laughed.

Our conversation then ventured in a number of directions — all at least semi-serious topics, even the smaller print “In sickness, and in health” possibilities. I appreciated those exchanges (even though he left me with the check), and was again grateful for his viewing this prospect as a servant, not a self-server.

It is sometimes true that you can judge a man by the company he keeps. So might it be said that you can judge a man by the parents and family he comes from. Recognizing the limitations of human agency, but that God ordinarily achieves His ends through means which are sometimes relationships, as Alice and I came to know Bill and Carol better, and have learned of (and now met) the siblings, I appreciate Kenneth even more.

Now onto Allie. When I first met Allie, she was very close to her mother . . . .

It wasn’t long before we were very good friends though, and her creativity, fearlessness and athleticism began to bubble up.

Hair like a Muppet, thunderous thighs, fearless in the face of stampeding chickens, consultatively pushing the envelope in play house, sandbox and dirty laundry closet hygiene, creatively combining free-fall with salad-plate landings. Later a tumbling aerialist with prehensile toes that could wring the balance beam before flipping, spinning, catapulted landings were “stuck.” Able to shag to Carolina Beach Music. A talented car radio in the driveway air guitarist and or lead vocalist (best songs were Don McLean’s American Pie and Elton John’s Funeral for a Friend). Disciplined, hard-working, and a player-through-pain. Able to adapt to circumstances: gymnast and piano student gone abroad, turned ballet teacher and church pianist. Tenacious. Dutiful: surrogate mother to 4 younger siblings while Alice and I were in Atlanta the better part of three months. A lover of Christ and the relationships He finds for her.

Through high school and off to college, her artistic abilities were honed and developed as photo-journalism met Helen Keller, River Citeeziens (Music Man), and Ariel (The Tempest).

Having grown up in a Christian family, many of her presuppositions were put to the test but emerged tempered, not torn to pieces.

And, young men began appearing on the radar.

As Allie’s father, believing I had a role to play in her relationships with these “friend-boys,” I insinuated myself into those relationships. Sadly, my involvement wasn’t always appreciated. Many times I feared that what had been a treasured father-daughter relationship would be hopelessly unraveled. But you know, God is good. He kept both of us soft. And our continuing friendship has proven to be a very favorable climate in which we would later ponder an ever more serious relationship with a certain Hokie.

Kenneth, I appreciate your determination, perseverance, respect and friendship. And I am grateful to the Lord for his work in your life. I trust and believe you will lead and care for Allie tenderly, taking as your model Jesus Christ who gave himself up for His bride, the Church. Ephesians 5:25-32

Allie, I love you and am delighted for you to marry Kenneth. I have no doubt you will adorn him wonderfully. Ephesians 5:22-24

God bless you both.

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.