Dec 31, 2011

Calling All Heroes

Is this you?  You might be surprised by the answer. Not all heroes come dressed in tights and a cape, and equipped with super powers.

A little more than four years ago, I set out to identify and honor some of the most influential people in my life.  It turned out to be one of the most satisfying things I've ever done, both in this blog and in my life.  I kept the spirit of that original series of posts alive in my annual Heroes and Inspirations post which I prepare each summer.  So far I've recognized thirty people who have served as personal inspirations, and that practice has impacted the way I live my life.  Throughout the year, I'm looking for people who amaze, impress, and inspire me--people who make me say "I want to be more like that."  Below are links to the nominees for 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Heroes & Inspirations 2007

Heroes & Inspirations 2008

Heroes & Inspirations 2009

Heroes & Inspirations 2010

Heroes & Inspirations 2011

When I came to Columbus Adventist Academy, I had an idea to share this practice with my students and the 100 Heroes Project was born.  Starting on the first day of school, and going through the 100th day of classes, my students and I shared with each other a hero a day.  In the spring of 2010 my students organized a Heroes Reception to honor their chosen heroes.  We had a shoestring budget but were nonetheless able to create a memorable evening, a gala occasion that the everyday heroes we honored will surely never forget.  Read about the first Heroes Reception here.

After a year's hiatus, the Heroes Reception is back, and this time I hope to make it an annual event.  We've set February 5, 2012 as the date of the reception, and in when we get back into school next week we'll be sending out the official invitations to all of this year's chosen heroes.  A few of my own heroes from this year and last will be in an attendance as well. Ideally I would have liked to invite them all, but my class ended up being much larger than I expected this year, and in order to make sure that my students could honor all of their heroes, I limited the number of personal invitations for myself. After all, this is about them, not me.

 The students divided into committees to plan the program, music, decorations, gifts, food, and all the other myriad aspects of this program.  They've been planning since school began and when school resumes the planning will go into overdrive as we enter the final weeks before the Reception. The only limit on their ambition to create a special and memorable evening for their heroes is their budget.  And that's where you come in.

I'd like to invite you, my readers, to support my students in their Heroes Reception, by making a donation towards the event.  I'd like to thank those readers that have already made donations; I'm not exaggerrating when I say this event could not happen without you.

On Sunday evening, February 5, 2012 we will honor the heroes who have made a difference in the lives in my 7th and 8th grade students.  We will be able to do so because other heroes--people like you--stepped up and helped make it happen.  In advance, I thank you for your support.

Checks should be made out to Columbus Adventist Academy with Heroes Reception written in the memo portion of the check.

Mail your gift to:

Columbus Adventist Academy
Attn: Heroes Reception
3650 B Sunbury Rd.
Columbus, OH 43219



Landmarks: Three Albums That Shaped My Life

Once in a rare while you come across a piece of music that stops you in your tracks.  Like meeting the girl of your dreams, you never forget the very moment when you encountered that sublime combination of melody, rhythm, and words.  It's not surprising, considering that like the girl of your dreams, the music will become a permanent part of your life, a constant source of joy and inspiration.

So far there are only three albums that meet this lofty criteria for me, and in this entry I'd like to share them with you.  This is not about how these are the greatest musical recordings of all time, nor is it a fan's obsessive dissection of each and every note and lyric.  It is a bit of a peek into what makes me tick.  These are more than collections of music, they are windows into the way that I see the world, how I think, what matters most to me. If you want to know me, you'll learn a lot in listening to these three albums, because all three both reflect and have influenced the person I am today.

"I want to run. . . "
February 1992,  U2: The Joshua Tree



I was 18 years old and on the bus on my senior class trip.  Like most of my classmates, I had my indespensible walkman, and searching for new tunes to pass the miles, I popped in a borrowed cassette of Achtung Baby, the hot new album by the biggest band in the land, U2.  I was familiar with a lot of the tunes. "Mysterious Ways" and "One" were topping the charts and all over the radio.  For all of high school I'd been a very vocal hater of U2.  In truth my distaste for the band was rooted in ignorance (I really didn't know much about their music beyond the big hits on the radio) and in a perverse desire to irritate Esther Pierre Louis who was a huge fan of the ban.  Achtung Baby had already begun to wear down this purported "hatred" of U2, but it was about to be completely upended in short order.  When I'd worn out my friend Carissa's cassette, I wanted more of the band, and somehow I ended up with another tape, this one borrowed from Tony Exxon, a guy in my class that I barely knew.  The cover showed a somber black and white portrait of a group of men standing in the desert.  The title of the album was The Joshua Tree.

The album opens like a sunrise.  An almost imperceptible melody and chiming guitar that gradually grows in brightness until it burts forth into golden splendor and I can almost "feel sunlight on my face."  For years to come, on long haul drives between college in Michigan and home in Florida, I would put this album in the tape player right at the moment of sunrise so as to have the visual to go with audio daybreak.  The steady beat and the thrum of the bass are reminiscent of the regular slap of my running shoes on pavement on an early morning run.  I hear it and "I want to run."  To this day "Where the Streets Have No Name" is always the first song on my race day playlist. 

I was floored.  I'd never heard anything like it and I couldn't get enough.  Instantly, The Joshua Tree became one of my favorite records, and so it remains to this day. Socially conscious, rife with spiritual metaphors, and bringing fresh perspectives on timeless matters of the heart expressed in music as big as the wide open spaces and as personal as an earnest conversation, The Joshua Tree has been a fundamental part of my life for almost twenty years.

There are all kinds of versions of this album out there.  Various remasters and bonus discs and such.  The basic version on Amazon goes for around $13 for the disc or a mere five bucks for the download.

Itunes carries it  for $10.



"Saints and children we are gathered here to hear the sacred story. . ."
March 1995, Rich Mullins:  A Liturgy, A Legacy, and A Ragamuffin Band



 I was on spring break from my year as student missionary teacher on Chuuk and visiting friends and fellow student missionaries on the emerald island of Pohnpei in the Micronesian Pacific.  One of those friends,  Missy Morrison, lent me a cassette tape with Rich Mullins' A Liturgy, A Legacy, and A Ragamuffin Band all one one side and most of other. I remember putting it in my walkman for the first time on a Friday night while lying in the darkness on my guestbed on the couch. The tape was half-played and picked up mid-song and mid-album, but it didn't matter.  I was immediately struck.  I'd never heard anything so beautiful in my life. Rich sang that he hoped we'd hear the water falling in his music, and I did--that and so much more. I listened to the album to the end, rewound the cassette and listend to it all the way through again.  And again.  When I left Pohnpei, I had my own copy of the tape, and you might say I've been listening to it ever since.  In the remaining months of my time in Chuuk, Liturgy was my choice of music on Sabbath afternoons.  I'd listen to it on my walkman down at the beach near our school, and let the music play as the sun set and another Sabbath came to ane end.  I'd walk home in the gathering dark listening to "How to Grow Up Big and Strong" and "Land of My Sojourn"--the songs to start a new week.  On my return to America, the opening track became my theme song--a reminder that I hadn't been forgotten by the Holy King of Israel even here in America. 

  Both in words and music, Liturgy captures the beauty, the joy, day-to-day struggle of this journey we call life . Despite the overt Christian emphasis, I felt this was an album that I wanted to share with anyone without any intentions to proselytize.  This was music of the highest quality and lyrics rich enough that they could have stood alone without a melody and been considered poetry in their own right.

I actually don't listen to Liturgy as often as I used to, and yet, the songs are always with me.  When ever I stand in awe of the beauty of creation evident in something as simple as the color green.  When I'm shaking like a leaf and fighting the Lord for somthing that I don't really want instead of taking what He gives that I need. When I wish peace to a friend, or bemoan how hard it can be to be like Jesus, but remember that what I believe is not what I have made but what is making me.  When I remember the songs I learned with my students, and carry on.  When I'm lonely for my home in this, the land of my sojourn, I'm hearing the Liturgy still, and singing it in my heart.

$12 bucks will get you the CD on Amazon.
You can download the album from Itunes for $10 on either Itunes or Amazon.

"Its undeniable how brilliant you are. . ."
July, 2007, Mat Kearney: Nothing Left to Lose



 Springboro, Ohio in the last days of summer vacation.  My best friend J had sent me a burned copy of an album by a new artist he'd discovered, a guy named Mat Kearney.  This is a must-listen he urged me.  And so on a sunny afternoon while I was toiling away at the draft of my novel, I popped in the disc and was promptly blown away.  I'd never heard anything like it.  The hip-hop rhymes, the catchy acoustic guitar strum, the joyful, thoughtful lyrics.  Immediately it was in heavy rotation.

I associate Nothing Left to Lose with Hawaii, because just days after I got the album Babs and I flew there for what, unbeknownst to us, would be our last time there together.  Every year since she'd become principal of the Saipan SDA School, we'd spent the first week of August at the principals' meetings and student missionary orientation which were held most years on the island of Oahu.  It was our ten year wedding anniversary, and Mat's songs seranaded us constantly.  Everytime I hear those songs I see the sheer walls of green mountains rising up around us on the Pali Highway, the verdant tropical landscape of Hawaiian Mission Academy, the sparkle of lights on Waikiki with Diamond Head looming in the background.  Nothing Left to Lose became this kid from Oregon by way of Florida's soundtrack to our amazing life in the Pacific.  Everyday we were out there was unforgettable, unmistakable, an undeniably brilliant blessing from God and each time I hear those lyrics, I still feel the same sense of gratitude for the life we have.

Nothing Left to Lose can be bought on CD on Amazon for  anywhere from $13 to $17.

Itunes has the whole album for cool $8, and it appears you may also get Mat's single "Breathe In, Breathe Out" (made famous on the television drama Grey's Anatomy) and "Chicago" as part of the deal.
Three more songs from these touchstone artists that have resonated with me:

"Lifetime" by Mat Kearney.  My personal theme song and Favorite Song of All Time.
"Zooropa" by U2.  Ironic critique of the world in which we live and the up-side down values of our culture that is "cold outside but brightly lit."
"All the Way My Savior Leads Me" by Rich Mullins.  My daily praise, my daily bread, my daily prayer.

Dec 28, 2011

Crdl Christmas

Or The Year I Grew Up


The Crdl.  The Must-Have Christmas Gift of 1988. .. or so I was told.

When I was fifteen years old, Christmas as I knew it came to an end.  With it, came the end of my childhood and the beginning of a new, grown-up experience of what makes the Christmas season special.

Up until that fateful year, the kids in our family—the three Saliba cousins, Nabih, William, and Yvette, the pair of Thomson cousins Nicole and Landon, and my brother, sister and me—received a mountain of presents each Christmas. Every member of our immediate and extended family bought presents for everyone else and the result was a cornucopia, a jackpot of gifts heaped in a gratuitous mound that spread from underneath the tree half-way across the living room.

This particular year, for various grown-up reasons that the decision was made that it was time to dial down the gift giving.  I was always under the impression that grandma, the family’s fearsome Matriarch had decided that the holiday excess had become absurd, and that it was time we had a more reasonable spread beneath the tree.  In any case, for the first time we drew names, and the word went forth:  This year there would only be one Christmas gift per person.

It seemed like heresy, this idea that we would come away with exactly one present for the entire Christmas (though in truth, I think most of the families exchanged a few more privately.  I know we did.  I received the very nice coffee table book A Day in the Life of America, something I’d wanted for quite some time).  But the decision had been made and no allowance was made for appeal.

That year’s Christmas was unusual in a number of other ways.  First of all, we traveled for the holiday.  Traditionally the Salibas came to us, in Florida, where the rest of the Thomson clan lived.  They escaped the frigid Michigan winter for a little bit, and we all went to Disney World and had a grand time.  But this year we all made the trek north to Berrien Springs.  We kids were excited by the road trip and the chance to have an actual white Christmas for a change.

Another difference was that we opened presents in the afternoon, rather than in the morning, which meant an especially agonizing wait for the kids.  The reason for the delay was that my Uncle Sy and Aunt Patsy were returning from a trip to southeast Asia Christmas morning.  I remember their arrival late that morning and assuming that surely the first thing on their agenda would be to tackle our meager collection under the tree.   Instead they wanted to shower and change.  Then they wanted to eat.  Then there were interminable stories of their trip and home video to go along with the stories.  The afternoon seemed to drag on forever!  How could they be so cavalier about something so important as presents?  How could they bear to wait so long.

Had I known what was waiting for me under that tree I might have relaxed and enjoyed the afternoon a little more.

Ever since we’d arrived in Michigan, there’d been a running joke among the family. Someone would pose a question, with exaggerated gravity:  “What do you want for Christmas?”  The equally solemn response was: “More than anything in the whole world, I want a crdl.”  This would be followed by gales of laughter.  The crdl (prounounced “criddle”) was the object of much professed longing and the subject of much hilarity among my family.  I couldn’t figure out what this crdl was or why it was so desirable (and so funny).   After a while I began to pretend that I had figured out what a crdl was, and that I also wanted one more than anything, and this for some reason produced even more mirth among my family members.  Still I felt that this was a family inside joke that I’d somehow been left out of.

Until that Christmas afternoon anyway.  When at last we gathered around the Christmas tree, and each of us received our gift, I peeled back the wrapping paper to discover that my cousin William had given me. . . . a crdl.  The fabled crdl was a large magnet encased in a black plastic platform.  The platform contained a mound of shiny metal chips which could be shaped into various abstract sculptures.  You could even brush all the chips off the platform and onto the floor or-- even a table!-- and then use the platform to magically and magnetically swoop all the pieces back up.  It could serve suitably as a unique paperweight or desk ornament—just the sort of thing a business executive or sales rep might fiddle with while talking on the phone.  In other words, the crdl was pretty much boring and useless, particularly for a fifteen year old boy.

I did my best to hide my disappointment (which was particularly crushing since this was my only present for the day), and gamely had a laugh at my own expense.  I suppose it could have been worse, I told myself.  I could have gotten the automatic phone dialer my cousin Nabih received (though really even that was probably more useful than the crdl).

For years afterwards the Crdl Christmas served as a holiday low-light for me, on record as one of the worst Christmases ever.  But recently as I prepared to tell the tale of the Crdl Christmas for the chidlren’s story at church, I came to realize that perhaps that Christmas was more significant than I’d realized.  The Christmas of the Crdl was the year that I grew up—it was the dividing point between when Christmas had been all about the presents and when Christmas became all about the people.  Before the Crdl Christmas, presents had been what I anticapted most at Christmastime.  After the Crdl Christmas,  spending time with people I love came to be what I looked forward to most.    

I’ve come to understand that if the Crdl Christmas was the worst one on record then I’m extraordinarily blessed.   Each Christmas that I’ve been able to spend in good health, with all my needs and many of my wants provided for,  that I’ve been able to gather with people I love, every holiday that I’ve been able to look upon with gratitude for the grace of God, is indeed among the most wonderful times of the year.  Each year that I have the luxury of disappointment over a gift that somewhat missed the mark, I have reason to rejoice.

I spent Christmas 2011 with the in-laws, and then on Monday, December 26, Babs, the Feller and I flew out to Oregon to spend a week with Carol Paez and her family.  Already, I’ve had a great week of vacation spending special time with my son.   I find I barely think at all about what I’ll get for Christmas this year. The real gift is in those gathered around the tree, not in what’s underneath it.
All grown-up now. From Left to Right: My sister Dawn with her son, me, Kyle Koenigshof (my cousin Nicole's husband), Nicole Thomson Koenigshof all gathered around the tree at my Uncle Robert and Aunt Diana's house last Christmas 2010. 

Gathered around the tree this Christmas.  With Mom Leen at the Leens, Sunday, December 25, 2011



These two are all the Christmas presents I need! (Babs and the Feller making Christmas cookies at home.  December 20, 2011)


As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely
Wrapped beneath our tree.
 

Well Heaven surely knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul


No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend

And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list

                --“Grown Up Christmas List”, as sung by Amy Grant

PostScript: 
While this grown-up doesn't care too much about presents anymore, I'm not gonna lie:  I got the best Christmas present EVER from my wife this year!   Check it out:

The Samsung Galaxy SII




Traditions


The Feller runs his first race, the 1/4 mile "Gobbler Chase" on Thanksgiving Day, 2011.


This past Thanksgiving was a quiet one.  We didn't travel far. . in fact we were at home for Thanksgiving Day itself, although we did go down to the Leens for the weekend.  There was no need for an added table or even the fold-out leaf at the Thanksgiving table, as there were just five of us this year.


Though we missed our traditional Saipan Thanksgiving gathering, we still had a wonderful time with our family.  The usual holiday traditions were there, just writ-small.


The Thanksgiving Morning Run:  Here's my boy and I  sporting our medals andcomplimentary t-shirts,  post-race back at home. 

 One thing I've missed in the years since we relocated to the States was the traditional Thanksgiving morning race.  This year I was finally able to run in the annual Flying Feather Four Miler in Dublin, Ohio.  It wasn't nearly as challenging as Saipan's Turkey Trot, but I made it challenging by pushing myself for a time of 30 minutes or less.   It was a tough run, and though I finished in 31 minutes, I still felt really good about my effort.  It was nice to really test myself after having held back to support my students during the Buckeye Classic.

Great swag with this race too.   They had the usual technical t-shirt and finishers medal, but also a nice hat and set of gloves, and a bottle of wine (or a box of cookies for the non-drinkers) as well.


The Thanksgiving Table: (Minus the turkey, but since I was raised a vegetarian, the turkey has only recently been part of my traditional Thanksgiving, and really, if the turkey hasn't been roasted by Carol Paez, what's the point, right?)


The Big Meal was a little smaller than we're used to but still more than enough food for five--Mom and Dad Leen drove up from Dayton Thanksgiving morning and joined the three of us for the feast.  We had a lot of traditional favorites: special K loaf, dinner loaf, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes (made using Carol Paez's luxurious recipe including sour cream and cream cheese), stuffing, layerd salad, cranberry sauce, and dinner rolls.  I also added in a new dish of pureed squash with ginger and pumpkin pie for dessert.  Actually, I guess that is quite a bit of food isn't it?  At any rate, we had plenty of leftovers to last for several more meals to come.


Family:  There's no substitute for Mom and Dad. 

We really appreciated Mom and Dad making the drive over to Columbus to spend the holiday with us.  Originally Babs had been scheduled to work both the day before and the day after Thanksgiving, so we had asked them to come to us this year so we wouldn't have to go down to their place on the night before Thanksgiving, come back the next afternoon and then drive back to Dayton yet again after Barbara got off work on Friday.  Well, it turned out that Babs ended up getting both Wednesday and Friday off, but by then Elijah and I were already registerd to run Thanksgiving morning.   So they came up Thursday morning and spent the night, and then we all drove down to Dayton for the rest of the weekend.  It was nice to spend time with them, as it always is.  It's so nice that we live so close and can see them so often.




Black Friday!  Babs and Mom Leen didn't have the presence of mind to take photos of their Black Friday shopping adventures so I snagged this one from the Web via a Google Image search.

This is a relatively new tradition for us--well, mainly for Babs.  I did a little shopping during daylight hours on Friday morning and got a pretty decent deal on some snow boots (which so far it appears I'll get little use from this winter).   We dabbled a little bit last year in Oregon, getting up early to hit some of the stores (a relatively easy feat since we were awake with jet lag anyway).  That's when I bought the laptop I'm typing this on.   But this year, Babs and her mom--avid shoppers year around as it is--took in the full experience.  They left the house not long after the menfolk had gone to bed, around 11:30 A.M. and didn't return until 9:00 A.M. the next morning.  With the stores staggering their openings throughout the wee hours this year, they were able to hit multiple stores.  Babs only bought a few things, but I guess they were out there for the experience as much as for the deals.

They say that Black Friday actually features only a few real deals, and often similar sales are available throughout the year with much less fanfare.  But if you like to shop, and thrill to finding a true bargain as my wife does, Black Friday can be a lot of fun and a real adventure.  It's fine with me as long as the doorbusters don't bust our budget!

So it was a pretty quite holiday, but we still managed a nod to the usual traditions, and we were thankful as we always our for a rich blessed life and people who we love and who love us in return.


Dec 25, 2011

The Die-Hards

Last month Babs, the Feller and I took a long weekend to drive up to Chicago to see the Carlos family.  They left Columbus this summer after J got a new job at Hinsdale Academy.  Our son was quite excited to see his best buddy again and so was I!

We took the trip the weekend before Thanksgiving, which might seem an odd time to visit, but the original motivation for the trip was a Mat Kearney concert scheduled for Thursday, November 17 at the Chicago House of Blues.  Though I'd seen Mat twice already, once just a few months earlier, J had never seen him live.  So we planned the whole weekend around this event.  When it comes to Mat Kearney, we're that kind of fan:

Die-hards.

In the photos above and below you see the first two people to get in line for the concert.  Doors opened at six and the show started at seven.  We left J's house in Downers Grove, Illinois around 2:30 and arrived at the House of Blues in dowtown Chicago around 3:30 P.M.  We figured we'd join the line formed by all the true die-hard Kearney fans, and with two hours or so to wait, still likely get a great spot close to the front.

Well it turned out that we were the die-hards.  Funny thing about being a big fan--you assume everyone else is devoted as you are.  No one else was there and we snapped these pics of us staking our claim as the number 1 and number 2 Mat Kearney fans in Chicago.



It was bitterly cold. . .in the upper 20's and our die-hard fandom was not such that we were willing to freeze to death, so we ducked into the restaurant and gift shop and debated whether we should spend the $20 a piece to eat in the restaurant and get jumped to the front of the line, thus eradicating the need to stand outside.  We weren't really hungry, and heck we already were at the front of the line.  We decided to bounce back and forth between the gift shop and the queue to make sure that we kept our spots.  We browsed the HOB merch and had a nice chat with the clerk who also happened to be the official concert photographer for the night and an itinerant musician in his own right.  I ran across a film crew shooting footage of the opening band, Leagues and talked with them for a little bit.  We even got to eavesdrop on Mat's sound check, which they played over the restaurant and gift shop sound system.
After an hour, we were still the only fans around.  Figuring our place in line was more or less secure, we decided to walk around and maybe look for something hot to drink.  We found an Einstein Brothers coffee shop a block away and relaxed there for a little while.


Nursing a hot chocolate and contemplating the likely setlist



Some shots of the downtown area near the House of Blues.  All photos taken by J Carlos with his trusty Samsung Galaxy SII phone.





Around five we headed back to the House of Blues and found a handful of people now gathered at the entrance.  We decided to forgo insisting on our number one and two spots and happily settled for 7th and 8th in line. 

Our dedication paid off when we finally got in around six and snagged prime spots right at the front rail.  For die-hard fans there's no better place to be!

Mat rocks the House

It was a great show as always.  The setlist was similar to the Cincinnati show Babs and I saw in September, though we were treated to the addition of "Girl America", a classic from Mat's landmark album Nothing Left to Lose and missed "Sooner or Later" and "Chasing the Light" from his newest album (Presumably these songs entered the set list the following night at his second performance in Chicago).  We had a great time, and I have to say seeing your favorite artist in a small venue is an amazing experience.  Lucky for us, Mat tours constantly, so I'm sure there'll be many other opportunities for these two die-hards to see him again.


The rest of the weekend was outstanding as well.  It was so relaxing to just hang out in the Carlos' cozy little home.  It was nice to have Kimo with us too.  She did great on the drive up to Chicago and though she seemed a little uncertain when we first arrived, she eventually got comfortable too.  The boys are growing up and fighting less (The Feller's blog will have pictures of the weekend with Carlos family soon).

On Friday we drove over into Wisconsin to visit the Jelly Belly jellybean factory, and on Saturday night we took the train into the city.  Even though we ended up having to virtually turn around and come right back, the boys had fun riding on the train and cruising downtown Chicago in their strollers (again, check the Feller's blog for pictures soon).

It was a great weekend, and we look forward to visiting again soon.

Dec 11, 2011

The Buckeye Challenge

My students and I at the finish line of the 2011 Buckeye Classic.Sunday, November 13, 2011.  They may not have been among the first to finish, but in crossing the finish line they were winners of my Buckeye Challenge.

What I love about distance runs is that the experience of the slow and the speedy is the same.  In so many areas of endeavor it seems that it’s easy for the pros and a clumsy struggle for the novice.  But not so in distance running.  The top shelf runners may be unbelievably fast, but they work as hard as the first-time marathoner-- if not harder--to do what they do.  Just look at the faces of the runners far ahead of the pack—serious, determined, intense with tremendous effort and the will to keep going.   Running is remarkably democratic. Like many things in life, everyone can do it.  But every-one—Olympic athlete and couch potato convert alike--has to put in the work.
"The Win" wearing the this year's Buckeye Classic technical t-shirt.  The slogan on the back might as well have been our own motto.

  Keep going when it the going gets tough.  Put in the work in order to reap the reward.  Push yourself past what you think is possible.  These are the life lessons I hoped to impart when I gave a few of my students what I now call the Buckeye Challenge.

It all began with a lunchtime conversation I had with one of my students who I will call “The Win.”  This young man is always talking about how he’s going be a basketball player, and I was pushing him a bit on his choice of career.  He’s all right on the court, I suppose, but I didn’t think he understood the level of discipline, effort, and of course talent required to make it in the rarified world of professional sports. 

“Do you realize how hard you would have to work to even have a shot at the NBA?” I prodded him.

“I can work hard.”

“I don’t know, Win.  I’ve seen you at basketball practice.  You’re always one of the first guys walking during laps.”

“I can keep running if I want to,” he replied.

“Really?  Think you could run six miles?”  I challenged him.

“Yeah!” he retorted.

And just like that the Buckeye Challenge was born.  I invited “The Win” to run with me in the annual Buckeye Classic 10K Run, and he readily accepted.   I talked to his parents on the phone that night and they were supportive.  I began to put a training schedule together.

"EK" ( a nickname for this student used by his classmates) on the left   & "The Win" (so named for his desire to do achieve just that.  He's learning what it takes to get there) at the starting line.

“EK” was the next to express interest.  I’d been having the same types of conversations with him—about the value of that which is not easy.  Today we live in a culture of convenience.  We want things quick, easy, and entertaining.  My students have been impacted by the values of our society as much as anyone.  They bow down to the Altar of Easy without a second thought.  If it’s easy it’s good.  If it’s difficult it’s bad.  They love to shout out the right answer, to win the game, get the recognition, but easily become bored or discouraged at the effort and less than exciting process required to truly understand, to develop real skill, to apply themselves in order to earn the accolades.   They see sports heroes and media celebrities for whom everything seems to come easily.   I shared with “EK” this mashup of a Michael Jordan ad and Lebron James footage, Mike’s dialogue epitomizes the misperception so many of us have today about how success is achieved.

“EK” wanted in, and I was ready to take him on, but it took him a little longer to get his family on board.  In the meantime, a student I’ll call “B.SteaLth” became the second member of my little crew.  He doesn’t say much (to me any way—with his pals, it’s a different story!), so I was surprised when he approached me quietly and said he wanted to run too.
"B.SteaLth" at the starting line. He's earned his pseudonym because of his quiet manner around adults which belies a more mischevious side with peers, and also becaue of his stealthy development as a runner!

“SteaLth” and “Win” started running with me a couple of days a week at nearby Innis Park.  “EK” joined us a week or two after we’d begun training, after he finally got the go-ahead from his folks.  At the outset, it was tough—tougher than I’d imagined.   During the weekdays we only ran for thirty minutes, but at first we couldn’t even hit two miles in that time.  I knew the boys might be a little out of shape, but I wasn’t prepared for gasping pleas for a break after just a few minutes of running.  At first I thought we could run straight through, but when I realized that they weren’t up to it, I reduced the time to run 10 minutes, walk one minute.  Even that proved to be too much, and we cut it back to run five minutes and walk one—a (barely) manaegble task for our crew of new runners.

There was much to learn, and not just for the three boys.  I was quickly realizing that talking tough about hard work was a lot easier than actually doing the hard work.  The running at this pace was a breeze for me, but the coaching was proving to be much harder.  It turned out I too had fallen sway to the Hollywood promise of easy gains.  I imagined myself transforming these boys in one fell swoop, as they quickly picked up the lessons of discipline, effort, and focus with me providing Oscar-worthy inspirational coaching.  I realized I needed patience.  I needed to practice the discipline of encouragement and positive thinking even when it appeared we were making no progress at all.  I needed to push the boys, yes, but to achieve their best, not mine.  It was tough, and I realized that I would grow as much, if not more than the boys through this experience.

And it was a growing experience for all of us.  I felt I grew to know the boys better on our thirty minute  conditioning runs after school and on the longer distance runs on the weekend.   I watched the boys grow to learn the importance of pacing and saw their stamina grow as well.  Slowly but surely the boys were finding their groove, beginning to complain less and less about being tired.  They were starting to discover the reward in the run.  All three boys are in great physical shape—“The Win” in particular is quite fast in a sprint.  Kids this age can often do much more than adults can, so with these boys it was all about the head game for them.  They hadn’t been used to pushing themselves mentally, but they were learning and growing fast.  Every run they did better than they had before.   I’ll never forget the day that “Win” ran a full five minutes without once asking when we’d walk.  He and I were  so engrossed in a conversation about an incident at school that he didn’t even realize how long he’d been running.

The last two weekends before the actual race I picked up the boys and we went to run parts of the actual course at Highbanks Metro Park.   They complained about how “horrible” those runs were, but watching them I knew they’d be ready.

Race day dawned dry and chilly, but warmer than expected.  It was good running weather.  I picked up the three boys and we drove out to Highbanks—their families would be there later to cheer them at the finish line.  I was so excited for them to be a part of a real race, complete with bib numbers, timing chips, and complimentary technical t-shirts.  They were excited too.  As “cool” as these guys could be, they couldn’t hide their excitement.  They felt like they were a part of something big, and they were.
The boys ready to run on race day
Mrs. Arthurs, our school principal, got up early to see us off at the start line, a gesture of support and encouragement to me and the boys that meant a lot.

In no time at all, it was time for the race to begin.  With a blast of the air horn, we were off.   “B.SteaLth” and “EK” quickly wove through the masses and soon disappeared from sight.  I shook my head and chuckled to “The Win” “We’ll see them again soon enough.”  I was only partially right.  “The Win” kept a decent pace, and though he struggled at some points, he never quit.  He kept going.  To help motivate him, I picked another runner whose pace I thought he could match and perhaps even exceed, and told him to make it his goal to keep up with her and eventually pass her. He met the challenge, trading leads with her for much of the race before finally pulling into a permanent lead in the final miles.  I was so proud of him.   Eventually, we caught up with “EK” deep into the fourth mile, and the two ran together the rest of the way.
"The Win" getting it done.

A tough course

"EK" and "The Win" running the sixth and final mile of the race.  They're looking pretty good for two guys who claimed to feel horrible.

In the final quarter mile, the boys burst into a sprint for the finish, with “Win” pulling away to best “EK” and I by just a few seconds.    We had finished in an hour and twenty eight minutes, beating our goal time by just over a minute and running faster than they ever had in training.  As for “B.SteaLth”?  This brother outran us all.  He finished almost a full fifteen minutes and fifty runners ahead of us!  “SteaLth had had the most difficult start of all three runners, literally staggering through his first run.  I’d noticed that he’d begun to develop the smooth gait of a real runner during our last few training runs, but this performance exceeded my wildest expectations.

And yet, “SteaLth” had done no more or and no less than his peers.  All three had given their all, all had put in the work, and reaped the rewards.  I asked them all how the race was, and they all said it was “terrible.”  But they said it with a touch of pride.  Not the cocky trash-talk pride one often sees strutting about in the school yard, but the quiet pride of having done something really hard and finished it.

“I feel like I really accomplished something,” “EK” declared at the finish line, a finishers medal around his neck.  And indeed he had.  They all had, and I am so proud of them.
The boys and I at the finish line with Mrs. Lee, far left and Mrs Arthurs, center.  Thanks for your support!


After the race the boys and I along with their families, Babs and the Feller, Mrs. Arthurs and the boys’ language arts teacher, Mrs. Lee and her son “Supremo” (who is a classmate of the three runners) all gathered at Tim Hortons to celebrate the boys’ accomplishment. 

The boys are all eager to run again. Now that they’ve had the unparalleled experience of true triumph they want more!  Perhaps we’ll look for another race next spring, maybe even try for a half marathon.


And come next fall, I’ll issue the Buckeye Challenge again.  I know “The Win”, “EK”, and “B.SteaLth” will be there and I have no doubt there will be more that will answer the call to effort, discipline, and hard  work  and as result to experience the reward of race well-run.



"Let us run with endurance the race set out for us."
--Hebrews 12:2b


Nov 12, 2011

Band of Sisters


In Saipan there was a unique sense of camaraderie among the teachers—particularly the short term ones—that I didn’t think I’d find here in America.  I chalked it up to being so far from family; to not only working but living, playing, and worshiping together; to the shared experience of slogging it out in the trenches.  Most everyone was a new teacher, alternately thrilled and terrified, overwhelmed both by the enormity of the task of shaping young lives and the affection welling up in their hearts for those precious students.  Babs and I were the battle-hardened veterans who’d seen it all and served to comfort, encourage, and instruct those in our charge. While the sacrifices those young volunteers made often (but not always) paled in comparison to real soldiers, they were still very much in a battle where lives were at stake.  Like the “band of brothers” described in Stephen Ambrose’s account of the soldiers of Easy Company in World War II (and in the outstanding HBO miniseries based on his book), the teachers in Saipan shared the unique experience of those who struggled together in the thick of the fight.


When I we returned to the States, I expected that sense of kinship to be left behind on the front lines of the mission field.  And indeed, at first it seemed to be as I had expected.  Here in America the teachers’ lives weren’t defined so much by their work at the school.  We had families of our own, lives quite divergent from the school, and we rarely crossed paths outside of CAA.  Here most of the teachers were veterans in their own right, and if anyone was the newbie on the team, at least that first year, it was me.   It seemed to me that each of us was in our own world, occasionally hailing to one another a brief word of encouragement during staff worship or while passing in the hallways.  Like ships in the night, we shared the same space, but were essentially alone.


But this year, something has shifted.  What I thought was reserved for the mission field has blossomed right here—a sense of camaraderie and closeness, and the rewards of a shared struggle.  Once again, I have sisters in the fight (sisters because, as in Saipan, my fellow colleagues are entirely women; for those that assume such fellowship belongs only to men, I can attest that a man can find solidarity among sisters as well as brothers).  We’ve talked about it some, and we all sense this new unity, though we can’t put our finger on exactly what brought it about.   


As I reflect I see a couple of things that might have brought us together in a special way this school year.  First the enrollment at CAA has skyrocketed, and with the blessings come the challenges of increase.  And as the challenges have increased, so has our individual and corporate sense of need for the grace of God to meet these challenges.  We are all praying more, and sharing our struggles with one another and lifting each other up in prayer.  Lately, morning staff worship has become a lifeline.  On the days that I miss worship, I always feel the weaker for it.  For a little more or less than ten minutes we have church in that circle.  The spiritual insights shared, the words of encouragement, the Spirit-soaked prayers, and just that sense that we’re not alone, that we’re in this with each other and with God serves as a morning pick-me better than any cup of coffee and fuel that keeps me going throughout the day.  Despites the recalcitrant students and the jam-packed schedule these moments of morning watch together remind me that God is on the move in our school, moving in us and through us to reach our students with His love.


Another thing that has bound us together this year is our decision to start gathering on a regular basis outside of the school setting.  On the first Sabbath of each month we gather with our families at one of our homes for Sabbath lunch and an afternoon of relaxed conversation and time together.  Sure, we end up talking about the school 90% of the time, but it’s an agenda free gathering marked by lots of laughter and absence of workweek pressure.  We’ve only had two such get-togethers so far (we’ll be hosting the December gathering), but they’ve become a highlight of the month for me already.


It’s a nice feeling to once again be in the company of sisters; to sense that someone has your back.  I know that I can depend on my sisters to let one of my students sit in her classroom when a kid needs to not be in my room for a while.  I can count on them for a wise word of counsel and an “I’ll pray for you” that I know is not merely a courteous expression but a promise that whatever burden I bear she’ll help me carry before the Lord.  I know that they will be patient and flexible, always willing to make changes to accommodate the crazy classroom contingencies that are forever popping up.  I know that they’ll understand what I’m dealing with, what I’m rejoicing in, what I’m anxious about, because they are going through the same things I am.


This week when I jump back into the fray come Monday morning, I know I won’t be going into battle alone.  I’ll have Ms. Minisee, Mrs. Gray, Ms. Thomas, Mrs. Lavlas, Mrs. Lee, and our big-hearted, passionate leader Mrs. Arthurs right there in the thick of things with me.  In the heat of the struggle to liberate my students, to help them live, learn, love and grow, I know my band of sisters will be right by my side.



The Women Warriors I Work With: From L to R: Janelle Thomas, the newest member of our troop. She was hired after the start of the school year to teach second grade after Ms. Minisee's 1/2 classroom was split due to its size. She has a sweet spirit and so far seems to be holding her own quite well in her first year at CAA.

Brenda Arthurs is our principal. What inspires me the most about her is her passion for our kids--you should hear her talk to the students, even when she's delivering a stern reprimand there is so much love in her voice.

Renee Lee is the 5th/6th grade teacher. She and I work most closely together since we teach each other's classes for part of every day. She is so patient and I couldn't ask for a better team-mate.

Next, the man in the middle; that's me--the "token male" on the team yet again!

Wayna Gray our third and fourth grade teacher is longest serving teacher at CAA. Wayna is a straight shooter, passionate about her God, her family, and her work and determined to keep it in that order. Her words in due season are regular source of encouragement to me.

Alyssa Minisee teaches 1st grade. She replaced me last year as the newest and youngest member of the team. She always appear calm, cool and collected (even when she's not). Fairly often we help each other out with disciplinary situations by letting each other's students take a time out in one another's classrooms.

Not pictured is Lisa Lavalas, our kindergarten teacher. She always has an encouraging word to say, and from my very first year at CAA I always felt she was someone I could talk to. She excels in the classrom despite challenges that would have felled a lesser teacher.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer. . . .Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the Law of Christ. . .Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you are also doing.”

---- Romans 12: 10-12, Galatians 6:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:11.





  

Nov 4, 2011

Late

It's 10:12 P.M.


I was supposed to have been done blogging by 9:00 P.M. and been asleep by this time.


Undoubtedly it will be 11 by the time I go to bed, if not later (and that's assuming that I decide not to finish this blog tonight) and as a result I will likely wake up later than I had originally planned tomorrow, still exhausted, and likely be late for Sabbath School as well.


This is my life. Forever behind, forever rushing to catch up and forever failing to do so. I live in a perpetual state of tardiness. Whether it's work or leisure, bedtime or time to get up, paying the bills, getting to the bank, making a flight, arriving at the movies, or finishing chores, I am late.


I do not enjoy this. In fact, I can't stand it. Yet no matter what I try to do, I can't seem to beat it. One late arrival invariably leads to a string of further tardy appearances that can literally stretch on for days.


Perhaps part of the problem is that I haven't been bored since 1994. My life is full to overflowing. Which is a blessing, I know. But most of the time, there is so much to do that I can't keep up. Against my better judgment I constantly double and triple book myself, foolishly hoping that I'll finally be able to get it all done. I also tend to believe that I can do more than I can in a certain space of time, despite all evidence to the contrary (for example, believing that I could compose and post not one but three new entries in the space of an hour to hour and a half). Another issue is that I rarely have leisure time, and so will often take it when I shouldn't, just because I can't bear the thought of going straight from 16 hours of work to eight hours of sleep.


Something needs to change. I don't know what. I'm not sure how to go about it. I'd reflect on it more now, but as it stands, I've got to run. Yep, you guessed it. . .


I'm late.
 

I began this post two weeks ago. 


I added a lengthy example last weekend of how five minutes late here and ten minutes late there can snowball into an avalanche of lateness that can alter the trajectory not just an entire day, but an entire week.  I apparently never saved that addition because when I opened up the file this evening all I had was the material from two weeks ago.  I just don’t have the energy to rewrite that rather disheartening vignette.  And besides to do so, would send me to bed late yet again and I really am trying to break the cycle of tardiness in my life.


This week past week has been better, though not yet ideal.  I actually made it to work on time for the past two days running.  I’ve been rising earlier (though not necessarily going to bed as early as I’d like).  I’m learning a few keys to moving from running late to being right on time.  I’ve determined not to do any work after 8:00 P.M. in the evening, even if it means leaving crucial things undone.  This reduces the likelihood of me staying up late just to be able to feel like I unwound before bedtime.  I’m also making it a point to never get up later than 6:00 A.M., regardless of how late I go to bed.  This decision is helping with another key to timeliness—seeking God first.  I’ve been able to have more regular devotions this week and having begun with my day with God gives me an added sense of peace throughout the day.  As part of the devotional time I’m making a practice of asking God to “order my day” and help me do the things that really matter, and not stress over the rest.


I’m not there yet, but in the struggle to get a handle on this hectic life here in America, I know I’ll get there, sooner or. . .later.

"Teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom"
                                                                                             --Psalm 90:12

Oct 21, 2011

How I Met Mat's Muse (Almost)

Mat Kearney and his band rock the house at Bogarts in Cincinnati, Ohio, Saturday night, September 24, 2011. Sadly, this was my best photo of the night.   I really need a better camera.

Ah, how I would have loved to change the title of this post by one word.  How I would have liked to have one decent photo from the Mat Kearney concert Babs and I attended in Cincinnati last weekend--perhaps even a picture of the star of the show.  It would have made a nice bookend to our last Mat Kearney show in the summer of 2010.

But to paraphrase that famous line from Top Gun: "I had the shot, there was no danger, so I. . .let it pass."

Babs and I had a fantastic time Saturday night, September 24, 2011 at the Mat Kearney show at Bogarts in Babs' hometown.  We ate at Honey, a great new restuarant in Cincinnati's Northside neighborhood, enjoyed some great conversation that didn't involve being interrupted by our Little Feller while waiting for the show to start, and were treated to an outstanding performance by our favorite artist.  Nonetheless, the evening came to be defined--at least for me--by a great opportuinity that I let slip away: the chance to say hi to the muse behind Mat's most recent work--his wife Annie.

Mat Kearney's latest album entitled Young Love is a triumph of pop songwriting both in terms of its sound--infectious hooks, memorable melodies, and lots of catchy beats--and it's lyrical content. Mat brings his gift for thoughtful, spiritually influenced songwriting to bear on pop music's most popular subject matter--romantic love.  His lyrics provide fresh perspective and a surprising amount of depth to the thrill we've all felt when love is brand new.  The sentiments have been expressed in a millions songs: "you can count on me", "I'm gonna win your heart",  "I love you" but Mat makes those often trite ideas new and exciting again in just the way that a new love can feel like the first and only love there ever was in the world.

As with most songwriters one can never be sure how much of song is inspired by real events and how much is poetic license. Still I get the sense that Mat is exuberantly telling his own stories in these songs.    For those of us who have been longtime fans, we feel like we've been on the journey with him.  We were there when the songs were more brooding and introspective--a single man out in the world with Nothing Left to Lose.  We got hints that someone serious was in his life in songs like "New York to California" and "Annie" on his second major label release City of Black and White, and then joined him in euphoric joy as he reflected on the meeting and ultimate marrying of the woman of his dreams in Young Love.  As a result Annie looms larger than life in his recent work.  We hear details of how they first met in the album's bouncy first single "Hey Mama", get snippets of further early encounters as Mat makes it his mission to win her over in "She Got the Honey",  and a wedding photo of Mat in his brown bow tie and Annie in her gypsy necklace in "Young, Dumb, and in Love."  Lest we forget that young love has its challenges as it matures, we also get "Ships in the Night", a song that deals with those fights that come up between young newlyweds as the honeymoon is wearing off.

With a setlist heavy on the Young Love material, that Saturday night in Cincinnati you could hear Mat's wife everywhere even though she was nowhere to be seen.  Here's my review of the concert and a list of the songs from the Bogart's show with links to videos on youtube when available.

The Review

The evening opened with Leagues, a new band that played a generous eight songs in the opening set.  Eight is a lot for an opening band, but fortunately Leagues earned the goodwill of the audience with catchy pop rock tunes (the early songs especiaqlly were quite good) a tight band, and a lead singer  with a decent pipes, an appropriately self-depracating manner and the disarming physique of a thirty-something teddy bear.  Thad Cockerell's unself-conscious performance and obvious love for the music made for a great start to the night.


Mat opens the show with "Count on Me."  This video was from another show on this tour at the Music Farm in Charleston, South Carolina.

Mat's show couldn't have been more different from the one we saw last summer (Read my review of that concert here).  Last summer the show was quiet and intimate--just Mat, his right-hand man Tyler Burkum, a couple of guitars, and a keyboard.  This time the show was loud--more rock n' roll than folksinger--with Mat backed by a full band.  Tyler was still there, though I didn't recognize him (it seemed like he had a different haircut and may have lost some weight?).  Last summer's show at the Alban Mat was virtually unknown to his audience, this year the joint was packed with fans who sang along to every song, new and old, fervently.  It reminded me a lot of the Mumford and Sons' show I saw last year with Mat and the band similiarly awed by the enthusiastic feedback from the crowd.  Highlights from the night included Mat's performance of "Chicago", an old favorite containing some Cincinnati references that got a big response from the crowd.  Another big moment was when Mat climbed up on the barrier between the audience on the stage during "Runaway Car", and then impulsively decided to jump down among us and take a little walkabout among the fans while he sang.  The crowd was quite enthused about this bit of daredeviltry, and we caught a couple of glimpses of him as he came within a few feet us, lit up by camera lights and being grasped at by hundreds of hands.  I honestly was a little worried for his safety at the hands of overwraught fans but I figured as long as he was still singing, he must be okay.  Eventually he emerged from the crowd and climbed back on stage to finish the song, declaring at the end that the experience was both awesome and frightening.

The impromptu rhyming in "Undeniable" was a crowd pleaser as well, and during the encore the opening band Leagues, joined Mat onstage for a cover of Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks."  Mat closed the show with the lead single from Young Love, "Hey Mama" and left the crowd shouting for "one more song" even after the house lights had gone up.


Here's a video that I picked up from the web by one of the other concertgoers at the Bogart's performance, Saturday night, September 24, 2011.  My videos were again plagued by sound issues that make them completely unlistenable.  This is "Hey Mama" the first single of Mat's new album and the final song of the evening.

It was a fantastic evening.  My only quibble, a very minor one, was not getting to hear my favorite song from the new album, "Learning to Love Again."  Along with "Rochester" it was one of only two songs from the new record that didn't get played.  And given the up-tempo mood of this show, and the quiet, acoustic tenor of those two songs, I understand the omission.  I can't wait to see the show again in Chicago in November with my best friend who was responsible for introducing me to Mat's music.  It will be his first Mat Kearney show and I know he won't be disappointed.

The Set List

1. Count on Me
2. Young, Dumb, and In Love
3. Fire and Rain
4. Down
5. Breathe In, Breathe Out
6. Closer to Love
7. Sooner or Later
8. Chicago
9. Chasing the Light
10. Here We Go Again
11. Runaway Car
12. She Got the Honey (this is a live version from the current tour)
13. All I Need
14. Undeniable
15. Nothing Left to Lose

Encore

16. Ships in the Night
17. Pumped Up Kicks
18. Hey Mama

When the show ended, we headed for the door, looking for the merchandise table where I could do my part to keep the Kearney show on the road and in the recording studio.  We somehow missed it and suddenly found ourselves out on the street.  We asked a security person nearby where the merch table was and she told us that it was inside, but regrettfully she could not let us back in.

I was ready to give up and head for home, but Babs insisted that we should go back to where we entered and see if those security guys would let us in.  She finally talked me into it, and sure enough they let us right back in.

So we're waiting by the merchandise table while they went in the back to get a t-shirt in my size, when Barbara grabs me by the arm and nods towards a petite dark-haired woman with a vaguely bohemian air and one of those backstage VIP badges around her neck.  She was standing apart from the crowd, alone, as if maybe waiting for someone.  "Isn't that Mat Kearney's wife?" my wife whispered.  I looked hard, while at the same time trying to avoid appearing to stare.  "I don't know. . ." I replied.  The only pictures I'd seen of Annie were photos of her and Mat's wedding that I come across on the web, and I just wasn't sure.  "Maybe. . ."

"You should ask her," Babs prodded.  But I was hesitant.  I'm the kind of person who never wants to be a bother.  I won't ask the waiter to fix my dish if they bring it out wrong, I rarely ask to "speak to the manager."  And I feel rude and intrusive approaching famous people (or almost-famous people and most certainly the spouses of famous people).  I worried about feeling embarrassed if she wasn't who we thought she was.  I worried about looking "uncool" and vaguely creepy if she was.  I worried, and dithered and vacilated while my wife continued to give me whispred updates as to where she was in our vicinity.  At one point she was standing right next to us, and I finally decided, "Fine, I'm gonna do it.  Worst case she tells us to leave her alone, best case we get to meet Mat's muse and maybe even get a picture.  How cool would that be?  A picture with Mat at the first concert, a picture with his wife at the next. . .yeah, I'm gonna do it.  Right. . . now."  But when I turned to ask, "Excuse me are you Mat Kearney's wife?" she was walking purposefully away towards the stage area.  The moment had passed, the opportunity had been missed.

Babs, as perceptive as ever saw the whole thing in my face.  "You were about to ask her, weren't you?  I can't believe she walked away right when you were about to say something!"  Later that night back at her parents house in Dayton, we googled up those wedding pictures and confirmed Barbara's hunch.  The woman we had seen was indeed Annie Kearney.

Babs didn't seemed too bothered by it, but it bothered me for awhile.  I wasn't disappointed so much by the missed opportunity itself, but by my own hesitation.  In a way, it made me decide that I've spent too much of my life holding back, being hesitant when it wouldn't hurt to be bold.  For someone who likes to talk as much as I do and who is as opinionated as I am, I have been, on occasion, surprisingly shy to speak up.  There was no moral imperative here, obviously, but I felt that I let a unique little opportunity slide by and I realized that perhaps I've done that a lot with things that matter more in my life.  They say you should sieze the day, but instead I've often been one to let the day go by, worried about what someone might think.

The missed opportunity to meet the muse behind Mat's music made me decide that in the future, I will be more fearless, that I will hesitate less, that I will take more risks, and worry less about how I look to others or what they might think.

Babs and Me, still young (basically) and in love.