Friday, August 23, 2002

The trashcans grated across the concrete as I drug them down my driveway last Monday night. They had wheels on one side but it was dark and I obviously was pulling on the wrong handles. No matter. In just a few more feet I would have them resting on the grass and all ready for tomorrow mornings trash pick-up. The cans were full to overflowing. A variety of pizza carryout boxes tipped my neighbors off to my new “sausage and pepperoni diet.” The Rubber Maid cans had no lids. Early on in their careers the 6:00am remover of fine refuse decided that the lids had no business on his route. He evidently threw them into the back of his truck. They are beginning their 2,000-year process of decomposing and returning to mother earth in a landfill somewhere tonight. I have often wondered what possessed that guy to throw my lids out. A few years ago I tried to throw an entire garbage can away. It was nearly impossible. I left it empty next to the full cans hoping they would get the hint. They did not. The next week I spray painted “garbage” in big red letters on the can and left it at the curb again. Evidently it was not clear enough and the can remained on the lawn when I returned home at the end of the day. I waited another week. I spray painted the words “take this” before the word “garbage” and “can” after it. That ought to do it. Uh uh. The can stood its ground. I thought about sitting outside on the curb in a lawn chair the next week when the guru of garbage showed up but I wasn’t yet ready to sacrifice a couple of hours of sleep just to accomplish my purposes. I tried stomping on the can and leaving it for dead next to the good cans. Nothing doing. After about a month I gave up. I ushered the can to the church dumpster when I unceremoniously sent it to trash can heaven. For some reason perfectly good lids are garbage truck worthy but old trash cans must live forever. Must be a local ordinance.

My dog Bear, (better known as “The King of Canines, The Prince of Puppies, The Duke of Dogs”) walked with me on my bi-weekly excursion to the curb. Bear is my best friend. He behaves better than anybody I know. If obedience would get you into heaven, Bear would be the first one in the door. We started our walk back up the driveway together when I noticed that the front passenger window was open on our little green Neon. I opened the door. The dome light did not come on. As the owner of three (count ‘em… 3) Neon’s, I have learned a few things. Neon’s do whatever they want to do. They need neither rhyme nor reason. On this particular occasion the car just decided it was not worth the effort to light itself up for me. No matter. I reached down and began turning the crank. The window inched its way up. Bear sulked in disappointment. When I reached for the car door he immediately concluded we were going for a ride. Bear lives for car rides. He loves to stick his head out the window. He keeps his mouth closed but the wind rushes up his nose, fills his cheeks, and eventually his lips pop open to allow the air to escape. This happens once about every 10 seconds and every time it does, drool runs down the window. Bear doesn’t take many car rides anymore. As I looked through the darkness into the car I noticed that the drivers window was down too. Darn kids. So Bear and I walked around the car. I opened the driver’s door. Again, the car decided I would work in the dark and the dome light stayed dark. But this time, as I reached for the window crank, something hissed at me. Something dark… shadow-like… swiped at my hand, narrowly missing me. I pulled back quickly. Bear took my place. He shot into the open car door like the defender of the family that he is. I pay him perfectly good Milky Bones everyday of his life for moments like this one. I heard another hiss and then a thud as the shadowy object slammed against the far window. Bear lunged again and threw his head to the right. As he did another thud echoed from the rear window. Something inside was taking a serious licking at the jaws of my 79-pound puppy. As Bear began the climb over the seat toward the back window I suddenly got this image of the mess I was going to have to clean up if I let him finish the job. My heart was still pounding, wondering what demonic entity he was fighting. If it had blood coursing through its veins I would be scrubbing upholstery for weeks. I yelled at the top of my voice, “BEAR!” He froze. (I pay him Milky Bones to freeze too.) He looked at me and slowly backed out the door. I could tell he was not happy. As he got all four paws back on the pavement he gave me that, “Oh please, can I kill it” look. I decided quickly that my decision would depend upon that blasted dome light. I reached back and opened the back door of the car. Finally the car cooperated and it’s interior lit up, revealing a relatively small gray kitty cat. A very, haggard looking, small gray kitty cat. I left the doors open and Bear and I walked toward the house. I let him in and handed him two bonus Milky Bones, scratched him behind the ears, and pledged my undying love. By the time I got back outside the cat was gone and probably halfway to Litchfield.

I am certain there is a moral to this story. Probably several. “Don’t cheap out on Milky Bones” comes to mind. So does “keep your car windows closed when you are not in it.” And then there is the ever important, “The only good dome light is a working dome light.” All of those work. But here is the one I decided on. “If you want to live a happy, safe life… find a good dog. The bigger the better.” You know you have a good one when he looks at you like you single handedly are responsible for all of the joy in his world. Bear got sick recently and had to go to the doctor. My kids took him. On the way home they took him into PetCo and let him pick out his own rawhide chew. It is 3 feet long. No lie. The first time he walked through a doorway in our house with it in his mouth he hit the wall on both sides. So get yourself a dog that absolutely worships you. And make sure he goes with you when you take the trash out.

Ok, I could give you a deeper meaning, a theological lesson, for this little event. Call me up if you feel like you need one. But sometimes the simple is better than the profound. For Bear, life is about Milky Bones and me. For me, life is about relationships. And they don't come any better than ours.

Monday, August 19, 2002

She was blonde and she was beautiful and we sat together at Burger King 25 years ago today. She reached into her purse. The new diamond on her left hand ring finger caught the light and dazzled me once again. From her purse she pulled a small "card type" calender. The year was 1977. I was 22 years old and a full time theology student at Trinity Christian College. I also worked full time at Panduit Corporation near my home. I was a hated "inspector" on the evening shift. If I felt the product, nylon straps used to hold wires together on many objects including the space shuttle, was not up to par I had the authority to trash them. That invariably made the man running the machine angry because his pay was determined by his production. As you can imagine I didn't have many friends at Panduit. The beautiful blonde worked at a day care and was an education student at Prairie State Community College. She was way to pretty to hang out with me but she chose to anyway. As a matter-of-fact this beautiful blonde only had one flaw.... bad taste in men. You see, the reason she pulled that calender from her purse was so that we could choose a date for our wedding. We ate Whoppers and fries. We consumed Cokes. We made a decision that would alter the course of our lives forever. Three more months... November 19. We set the date.

She is still a beautiful blonde. She still has bad taste in men. She still loves Whoppers with extra ketchup. I hit a home run that day. She didn't do so great. But all in all... I would not change a thing.

I've got this buddy. He lives in suburban Denver. One of the nicest guys I've ever known. Smart. Good looking. He has a family that, by all appearances, could have fallen out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Two beautiful daughters and a wife that I call "Betty Crocker" for her cooking prowess, live in his house. Top it off with a yellow labrador retriever and it's a real "Hello, Ward. When will the Beaver be home?" atmosphere. He and I don't get to hang-out often enough. There is 900 miles of Kansas and it's cousins between his front porch and mine. But still we keep in touch. We email once or twice each week and occasionally I'll ring his phone up and see what's happening. It use to be, when we lived closer together, that our conversations would revolve around important things like.... golf. Jobs. Going out to dinner with our wives. But now that we have aged a bit and we have tasted of the frailty of life our discussions, whether e-d, phoned, or in person, have taken on a new hue. We have become more concerned with pleasing God and honoring Him with our actions and words. It is not like we were heathens and did not love God and desire to honor Him before, but it is different now. It is like we have given up on chasing the things that we previously thought might be worth chasing. Somehow we have realized that nothing temporary counts. At all. The lesson has been painful for both of us but I have confidence it will serve us well in the long run.

My friend revealed to me in an email this morning that his oldest daughter left for her sophomore year at college yesterday. Betty Crocker drove her down. He is left at home with their youngest, attending to her needs and keeping a major American corporation happy. There was a sadness in his brief email. It is a sadness that I understand. We are both watching cars drive away more and more often these days. Late summer and early fall are the worst. Oh man. I use to love this time of year. The kids get new notebooks and pencils and we get our lives back. It's all different now though. Instead of buying them rulers and erasers we buy them computers and meal tickets. When school starts we use to send them to bed earlier. Now we send them to places like Waco, Greenville, or West St. Louis County. I feel my friends pain. Everything has changed and we have to find our joy in the new seasons of life. I think that is why guys like us sometimes discover a renewed passion for knowing God. We've begun to realize how short life is and that when this "sneeze in eternity" is over... what else is there? I'm putting ALL of my eggs in God's basket, and I know that my friend is as well. I'm going by faith on the claims that it's a pretty cool basket to be in. I preach it and teach it but i can't see it. And then 12+ hour days make me into someone i don't want to be and if you string many of those together just call we "Saskwatch" and point me to the forests. But I'm rambling. It is Monday and I'm just going to sit and stare at the Weather Channel for a couple of hours. it's all the excitement i can take. but i'm praying for my friend from my side of the great prairie. I am praying for ours kids that are increasingly venturing out from the "home bases" that we have built around them. I'm praying for Betty Crocker and her long, lonely drive home. We need her safe. The future of Italian Beef is at stake. And I'm praying for that cold front moving in from the upper mid-west.