January, the idea for a western trip was spawned. Actually for years we’ve talked about doing such a trip. Well finally we were planning. Research and reservations needed to be made, if it wasn’t too late. We decided to stay in two places, Silver Gate, MT and Signal Mt. Lodge inside the Tetons.
We shoved off 5 minutes earlier than planned at 5:55 AM. We took our usual route north to Portage but then kept driving north and west through Wisconsin’s wonderful driftless region. I told the kids we didn’t need to go all the way to Wyoming, we could just climb the hills we were seeing there!
Crossing the Mississippi River is not unusual to us, but here, in Lacrosse it is. Beautiful palisades of the mighty river invite exploration but with 800 miles still to go, we must press on. And press on we did. Pretty farmland Minnesota and entering South Dakota. When we eventually reached the Missouri River the land seemed to change. It began to look western immediately as we made the crossing into a barren treeless rolling plain. SD’s roads let us go almost 90 MPH so the miles ticked off quickly and we decided we had time for the Badlands. Saw some prairie dogs first, another sign we were not anywhere close to home and then made the drive through the unique park. So many beautiful overlooks.
A disappointing dinner at tacky Wall Drug and we were pressing on to Gillette. We skirted the Black ills and pressed on through really barren Wyoming. No wonder it’s one of the least densely packed state!
We stopped in Gillette after 1000+ miles of driving eager to press on to much better things the next day. Thank you LORD Jesus for many miles of protection and good conversation and for the hints of the beauty to come.
After a nice rest, the LORD’s day dawned brightly. I had been praying a vain prayer that we would see the mountains and that they wouldn’t be enshrouded in clouds. Well today, the tops of the Bighorns appeared brightly, 50 miles away!
As we arrived in Sheridan we, John driving, began the switchbacks up into the foothills Much snow remained in the mountains as can be seen in the picture.
Our descent was just as thrilling as entered Shell Canyon, a spectacular site to us flatlanders!
We viewed Shell Falls and spilled out into the wasteland between Mountain ranges. Soon we were seeing large mountain ranges across the horizon from North to South. One range after another, two highpoints of states visible. On the CD player in the car “How Great Thou Art” was playing. I worshipped with tears filling my eyes as I listened to the appropriate words. Not wanting to diminish what are the best words of the song I sang with great awe, “And when I think that God His Son not sparing sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.” It’s a wonder I kept the car on the road!
After a supply stop in the textbook western town of Cody we made our 2nd mountain drive of the day, Jamie driving this time, the spectacular Chief Joseph Drive. We enjoyed the colorful rocks and the vistas that we were just not used to seeing.
Awestruck once again we arrived our cute little cabin, with the little kitchen and the little living room and the little bathrooms in the cute little town, notice a theme?
Silver Gate is hemmed in by large mountains and sits along the banks of a babbling mountain stream, water which some day would flow just past our house in Louisiana. After a tasty dinner in the cabin John, Jamie, Grace and I ventured into the park for the first time, and found a short trail which turned us around after a storm blew in and blew over a tree 5 feet away.
Time to check out Yellowstone, a huge park supposedly larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, and putting my geography knowledge to the test, larger than 10-15 countries. It’s a big place! A theme of the trip developed yesterday actually as I told the kids “prepare to be amazed” Yesterday was one of those days and today was going to be another. We did a lot today so I’ll just list the events.
1. Hike to Trout Lake. A short hike with a steep climb, the first of many steep climbs. Pretty spot with, aptly, many trout visible in the clear waters.
2. Lamar Valley We will eventually drive through this magical place 7 times in total but this is the first. It is filled with Bison and a few other animals like Bear, Elk and Antelope, all of which we saw with varying success. Today we saw a herd of bison ‘stampeding’ down a hillside. The sage filled valley (instead of trees) allows the driver to see the 10,000 foot peaks lining it’s 20 mile length.
3. One bison inched along a road that had nowhere for him to go except keep walking on the road, cliffs on both sides the road preventing it from doing anything else except keep walking down the road.
4. Old Faithful geyser area. For about 30 miles we had been passing steaming, burping and smelly features. Just an amazing place. The complex of Old Faithful is like a theme park. Stores, restaurants, lodges and of course the main attraction. What fascinates me is looking into a hole in which steam is steam is coming or water is boiling and it feels like you have the rarest opportunity to look into the earth. We explored a lot and then made the long trip back. We did climb up to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook and saw that marvelous sight.
5. Driving back. A ferocious storm approached as were getting ready to drive through Dryden Pass, a sinewy drive we’d do a total five times on the trip. We stopped at an overlook and saw the strong storm off in the distance.
When we’d arrive back to Silver Gate the entire tiny town with the tiny cabin was in the dark. This park was in the process of wearing us out!
It’s always been one of my dreams to climb a tall mountain. Today was that chance. A lot of people are content to look at the hills and mountains, but a lot like to climb as well and count me in that number.
I am reminded of mountain climbers in the Bible. Moses was led up Pisgah to see the Promised Land, Elijah climbed the Mt. Carmel to make fools of 400 prophets of Baal. Jesus dragged a cross up a hill He had created called Calvary, which many believe is the same as Moriah, where Abraham climbed with his son to sacrifice him in that unreal test of a mans faith.
Mt. Washburn is a popular mountain to climb because of its’ access road to the top. So instead of a narrow path with rocks, roots, and other things to trip over and fall off 1000 foot cliffs, there is an old unused road making it more like a walk instead of a hike. So the top 1400 feet of Washburn is a steady climb on a still snow covered trail, packed down by numerous hikers. Not always easy to walk on, but not that bad. But it’s still 1400 feet of climbing and 3 miles of distance to the top. Many times we could see the fire tower on top and it looked very small, and far and high. To add to the intrigue we could see storms building seemingly in every direction. By the time we got to the top, we looked like we were going to get nailed by heavy rain. There were amazing views at every turn. Snow clouds to the west, the Tetons far to the south, the Absaroka’s to the east, the Beartooths to the north. I slipped off a snowbank near the top. While I was in no imminent danger right there, there were some large drop-offs along the way and I was thankful it didn’t turn out worse. The top was as advertised, but with the menacing skies we didn’t stick around long, just like those who climb Everest and turn around after a few minutes.
The way down had us in a short snow shower, and then in brilliant sunshine. It quickly melted the snow on the path making the path a semi quagmire of mud and water.
A semi comical moment was when I arrived last to the parking lot I took a little shortcut. I jumped over to a snowbank and was suddenly chest deep in snow. I was stuck! Bystanders instead of offering a helping hand got out their cameras, but who can blame them! It could have been worse, there could have been a rock hidden under the snow, or a hibernating bear, or it could have been 10 feet deep instead of 6 and no one would have known what happened to me until the snow melted!
We made a dash for the Falls and Grand Canyon area where Janice and I watched a film that Yellowstone is waiting to blow, or if that doesn’t get you, then the bears, moose, wolves, bison and elk will get you, or you could fall into a hot spring. We decided we’d be much more careful after that.
We next hiked to a place most visitors wouldn’t see because it’s too far from a parking lot, like a mile.. Clear Lake is a sulfurous blue lagoon in the middle of the woods. The water was invitingly warm for a swim, but who knew what was in it so I declined. We next hiked past fumaroles and boiling pools of mud, a science fiction type of landscape that we may not see again in our lifetime.
From the ridiculous to the sublime describes our leg through the woods to a most amazing site. After passing a north woods Wisconsin like pond there was a clearing ahead on this longish hike. We climbed the short hill and our jaws dropped. We were standing at the edge of 1200 feet deep Yellowstone Canyon. We were expecting to see this on the hike we were on but it still just blew us away. 1200 feet down, and artist palette of earth tones and an emerald blue spastic river running through it. On upstream the fabulous Lower Falls. Maybe the greatest juxtaposition of falls and surrounding scenery on the entire planet. We were certainly seeing scenes today that were uniquely incredible in both their beauty, and their you won’t see this anywhere else amazement.
We walked two incredible miles along the rim and made it back to the car exhausted. We had hiked 11 miles in one day and not much of it on level ground either!
We made the long drive back to our tiny cabin with a couple of stops to see spectacular Tower Falls which falls sideways into the lower end of the Canyon. It was an extraordinary site that somehow in this park of superlatives becomes kind of ho hum. Look at the picture to see how ho hum this spot is!
Just a few yards down the road and another sign beckons. “Calcite Springs” The overlook down into the Canyon pointed towards a bank of the river with steam pouring out of the rock. And 600 feet above it and a half mile away you could smell the strong sulfur odor. There must have been a lot of that escaping the earth!
Back in the Lamar Valley I spotted with the binoculars a grizzly jump off a bank into the stream. Another ho hum on this amazing day!
This is our lagniappe day for Yellowstone. We’re going to discover what else we can see because we’d covered the highlights of the park.
We went for a hike on the Slough Creek trail in which there was no view of the creek which we were looking forward to and on which there was a grizzly bear which the boys encountered 20 yards away. They followed bear encounter protocol and calmly turned around and walked away and lived to tell us ab out it. I’m disappointed they didn’t snap a picture!
We had learned a lot about going into bear country. Make noise, hike in groups, and in Jamie’s memorable words “carry bear spray so you don’t become bears prey”. We heard a description of a grizzly with a bison kill that was stashed down in a hole. The observer watched as the grizzly pulled the bison out of the hole with one ‘arm’. Incredibly powerful and magnificent creatures.
Down the road a bit, there was a wildlife traffic jam, and I observed a pack of wolves through the binoculars tearing into a kill of some sort. Just another ‘ho hum’ moment!
Heading towards Mammoth Hot Springs we saw a petrified tree, a black bear, and a beautiful overlook. After the overlook we followed a pretty stream along the road called the Gardner River. Suddenly without warning the river was 500 feet below us. This was something I observed frequently in the park. Roadside stream, then it’s lost in a steep impenetrable canyon.
Sometimes steep, impenetrable canyon awaiting reckless drivers who don’t recognize the lack of guardrails!
The spot where this canyon started was called Urdine Falls which barely gets mentioned because it’s not superlative enough I’d guess.
We ended up at the village of Mammoth Hot Springs. It was an old army outpost and thus has historical buildings left behind. There’s a classy hotel, post office and the fort, so it really was like a small village.
As strange as it seems, we were reaching geothermal feature saturation. MHS is an amazing place however and we walked the boardwalks around all of the incredible travertine features, which are formed similar to in caves. Steam, odors, bubblings, boilings, strange colors, odd textures all are evident here.
Part of the MHS area you drive from feature to feature and saw this fascinating dome, with a ‘drinking fountain’ of water spewing out of it. It kind of looks like a melting pile of ice cream with caramel. Didn’t smell like it though.
We drove out of the park to the touristy town of Gardiner, MT beneath a 2000 foot high stream bank across from us. We got 25 cent coffee at a really tacky gift shop and was disappointed that they were working on the Roosevelt Arch, a historic grand arc d’ triumph (sp?) like structure that normally you’d drive through on that entrance to the park.
We made the very long drive back to Silver Gate and our tiny cabin where once again, an amazing sight. Sitting on the porch I scanned the cliffs 1000 feet above our cabin. I saw what I was looking for. Mountain Sheep scampering around where only birds can go. How can they cling to those heights? God knows and He told Job about it when He was describing His power and omniscience. God said, “Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth?” In other words, no one, especially at those days would know because, who besides God could possibly observe these things?
A transition day as we pack up our cozy little place and make the long drive to the Tetons and another cozy little cabin.
John and Jamie woke up early and had another wildlife adventure. They were getting ready to head up on a trail through the sage of the Lamar Valley. A ranger pulled up and showed them a black wolf, coming right up the trail they were heading out on! The boys stood with the ranger and watched a whole pack emerge and begin harassing some antelope. The wolves crossed the road leaving them with another story to tell!
After packing the car we had a long trip through Yellowstone, but first we had to take this picture:
(This was the only time during the trip the kids weren’t excited to do something.)
It’s a huge park with slower speed limits, and narrow dangerous roads and tie ups for wildlife spotting, and people will think nothing of stopping right in the middle of the road leaving you no choice but to wait for them to go or get around them.
At the lower falls of the Yellowstone, we stopped again and hiked down Uncle Tom’s staircase. This is a steep staircase/trail that gets you down into the canyon. The signs give a brief history and this warning:
The view of the falls was worth the steep climb back out, we’re at about 7000 feet so breathing was a bit difficult.
Mud volcano the sign read, and we pulled in to see more amazing geothermal features. At this incredible place there are mud pots, some letting out an awful stinky steam, another hissing and steaming hole in the side of the hill that somehow sends waves of putrid water out. It looked like what an entrance to a forbidden underworld would look like in a movie, but here it is just the opposite, another part of God’s glorious creation!
There were more falls, canyons, and lakes to see as we exited the park, the relatively boring side of the park save for the magnificent Yellowstone Lake.
You leave Yellowstone immediately for the Tetons and its amazing mountain range. We moved into our cabin at Signal Mountain Lodge and then hiked up to beautiful Taggart Lake, right at the base of America’s most famous mountain range. We passed a corral with a moose in it. John lingered to see the moose and the moose suddenly jumped over the fence! We determined it was a wild moose and it would hop into the corral looking for a handout! Another day of awe and wonder completed.
When I first researched the trip I knew I should lead my family on some epic hikes. Mt. Washburn was one and Cascade Canyon in the Tetons was the other.
Today we enjoyed a relaxing morning eating breakfast with a view of the Tetons across Jackson Lake. Then we headed for the trail which starts at a trail along the shore of another great alpine Jenny Lake. Nothing like an alpine lake, especially at the base of the Tetons!
A right turn off the trail took us up steeply to Cascade Canyon. Tallest trees I’ve ever seen in this spruce and fir forest! Not long into the Canyon we were standing between walls that rose to a mile above our heads. A rushing stream added to the experience. Most people look over at the Tetons, but now we had to look straight up to see the Tetons! We really we wanted to go further up into the canyon, but time wasn’t permitting it. After hiking out to Inspiration Point we headed back.
The thrill of being up in that spot will be with me for many years. I praise God that in His Grace he gives us these occasional opportunities to enjoy His wondrous works!
After freshening up we drove to touristy Jackson and had some touristy pizza, then took some touristy pictures of the Mouton Barn and the touristy Snake River.
This wrapped up our time in the two parks. Time to head home. Drove through some scenic country before spilling out onto the Great Plains. Nebraska and Iowa are pretty but it’s very relative when you see what we’ve seen!
Our quirky landlord said something to me the day Lydia was born. “I learned once they come out, you can’t put them back in.”
Thoughts flooded my mind. She, was our responsibility for the next 20 some years. She is totally dependent on us. She needed me now. No more running down to the South Side for a Sox game. No more pickup basketball games at Lombard Chapel. (Actually marriage had somewhat eliminated some of these youthful pursuits of mine) Will I be able to provide an adequate income to feed her/clothe her/house her/educate her/spiritually train her? God, am I adequate for this? He answered, yes of course, “children are a gift from the LORD” scripture says in Psalm 127:3. If He, in His perfect wisdom gave me a child, wouldn’t He also give me what I need to carry out this overwhelming task as a father?
That day was 22 years ago. Three more kids, three more moments of am I adequate? More questions, boys? I hear they’re a different animal. Where’s the instruction manual?
Thursday we took Jamie to college. At least he’ll be close. This morning we took John to the airport to go off to college for another year. Lydia is a working adult, praise God, but far away too. We do have Grace left for another two years unless she decides she would just like to live with her parents. Everything was cool until I walked into what was the boys shared bedroom for most of their life.
The boys still have what I’ll call a bookcase of memories. It contains trophies of athletics (go Antigo little league champion Red Sox!) academics, and some Awana trophies. There’s a picture of a living (well dead) trophy largemouth bass John caught after ignoring my advice of where to dangle his worm! There are souvenirs, a sharks tooth, dinosaurs made of clay, items that would never bring more than a few cents on one of those pawn shows but of great value in this house. There’s a baseball, a game ball awarded to Jamie for “his first homerun”, a classic little league homerun on a batted ball that traveled 3 or 4 feet and then was thrown all over the park.
As I looked through the shelf a sense of nostalgia kicked in, but also a sense of satisfaction. All those day of birth questions have been answered, or at least mostly answered. God in His great and awesome strength had seen us through this process. It’s been joyful, fun, hilarious, (“how bad do you have to go” we asked John in the car during hurricane season. He replied, it’s a category 5 urinecane!) a great adventure. I know our job as parents never ends, but you know when we drop kids off at the airport and watch them fly away for the next 4 months, well, it’s mostly over!
So these thoughts have been rolling through my brain this week. And then I watch the news, read the newspaper and thoughts of fathering shifts. It’s been a tragic week. A 9 year old boy in Chicago, playing in his yard, shot. A 7 year old boy riding in his car with his mom here in Baton Rouge, shot. A five year old, also at home here, beat to death by his father. Three boys no longer with us adding to their own bookcase of memories.
“How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.” These are not my words but of a little known prophet named Habakkuk. He questioned God. God answered him. I will take care of the violence among you. It will happen in a way you may not like, but I will take care of it.
Since my kids have been very little I have prayed for their protection. I pray for protection from serious accidents, illnesses, harm at the hands of others and even protection from the ways of this world. But I have also prayed for God to give us His grace to comfort us and strengthen us should we need it in a case of extreme hardship regarding the children.
Please pray for children. Not just your own. Pray for the children who are in harms way in this dangerous world. Better yet, get involved, particularly with children who don’t have a father, or a mother. You probably don’t have to go far. There’s probably kids in your church who fit this category. Tutor if you’re able. If you’re looking for something to do, go to your local elementary school or high school, and ask. Counsel at camp. Look up the boys and girls club in your town and find out if volunteers are needed. Coach if you can. Teach Sunday School.
But don’t forget these children have parents. When possible, come alongside them, not in an intimidating way, ie, “I’ve got it together and I’m here to help you”, but in a way that maintains their dignity, ie, “I’m a parent too, what do you do that works?” Establishing relationships with people is a scriptural model. Look at these words of Paul and tell me if this happens without relationships: “We urge you brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
As a father of children who are approaching adulthood, I now encourage them to do the same.
When my dad took me to the original Yankee Stadium in 1972 I was hooked. What a memory! I am still hooked. I will forever be hooked, listening to crackling radios trying to catch a Sox score. I used to own a scorebook and watched entire games keeping score of Cubs and Sox games. I wouldn’t have the time to partake in such an activity these days. No one has the time to watch an entire baseball game anymore.
Baseball is in the process of becoming irrelevant in American culture. Just the other day I saw the ratings for a game of the week (on some Fox cable channel) was less than for an exhibition soccer match. Here’s what’s wrong with baseball:
1. The games are too long. There’s a lot of reasons. More commercials, record numbers of strikeouts (which chew up a lot of time), more time wasting batters, slow pitchers who stare at the catcher for a longgg time, and mostly, the overuse of relief pitchers. A baseball game can end in 2 to 2 1/2 hours if they try, instead, games last on average almost three hours. The Cubs played a 16 inning game the other night that took 6:27, which works out to 24 minutes per inning, dreadfully slow. The next day the Sox played a 9 inning game that lasted 4:01, which works out to almost 27 minutes per inning. Neither of these games were slugfests with lots of runs, hits, walks, etc.
2. It’s being shoved off the national stage. Baseball has no one to blame but themselves for this. Baseball is a TV sport. It is currently the only major sport with parts of its regular season not being shown on free TV. Fox showed some games on Saturday evenings, but now they have their Saturday telecast on FoxSports1, their cable channel. If you don’t have cable and/or an exorbitantly priced team package, you’re out of luck. As far as I can tell the next games on national free TV will be the World Series on Fox. Why would Bud Selig (the commissioner who is much to blame for this) allow his sport to not be shown on free TV? It’s continuing to contribute to the ruining of this great game.
3. The national cable outlets that do show games favor east coast teams, and favor other sports. I’ll talk about east coast bias for a minute. There are three networks that show baseball games nationally, ESPN, Fox, and the MLBNetwork. I would probably cash in on a bet that I’d be able to watch every Red Sox-Yankees game this year. The Braves, Phillies, Nationals, Marlins, Orioles and Mets make regular appearances on these networks. It’s to the point that I look forward to the White Sox playing the Yankees because I’m sure I’ll get to watch two, or maybe three of the games. If I miss the action and want to watch Sportscenter to catch the highlights, I’ll probably fall asleep waiting while they cover all of the above mentioned teams.
In 2004 the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since1918. The media went wild. Sports Illustrated put them on the cover three weeks in a row and then made their fans their sportsmen of the year. A year later the White Sox ended an even longer drought, from 1917. ESPN radio the next morning I heard the host a doofus named Colin Cowherd say he’s not going to talk about it because he doesn’t care about it. Sports Illustrated put the Sox on the cover, albeit in a little circle in the upper right corner, while the cover featured Tom Brady, you know, the QB from Boston. Don’t tell there’s no East Coast bias until you become a fan of a team that receives short shrift from the east media.
Baseball not only suffers from east coast myopia, but it also suffers from footballs ascendancy to the national obsession. I do enjoy football, but prefer it more once baseball ends. Football ends in February with the Super Bowl. Spring training begins a week or two later. What does ESPN talk about besides basketball (which I can’t get enough of, at least the college variety)? The NFL draft, which is months away. They talk about what each team needs, which stars and total no names might end up where. They tell us about how fast some no name lineman ran, but rarely mention teams in spring training, except of course the above mentioned teams. Bud Selig has let baseball be shoved to the curb by these media outlets and it’s nearly past the point of no return.
4. A system that favors large market teams. I am amazed at the vision of the NFL to ensure that in an era of free agency small market teams like the Steelers and Packers can consistently compete for championships. If they followed they followed the MLB model they’d have no chance. Baseball does have an exception in St. Louis, a fantastic organization that churns out championships. But small market teams like KC, Pitt, Mil, and a few others basically have existed as a farm system for baseballs richest teams. This is unhealthy to say the least.
Bud Selig’s about to retire. We need a commissioner who will fight like heck for baseball. We need one who will tell Fox it’s not acceptable for you to stop showing baseball games when the pennant races are heating up. We need a commissioner who will stand up and tell ESPN it’s baseball season now, stop talking about football for a minute and notice. We need a commissioner who will tell the managers to stop changing pitchers 3 times for 3 batters and who will tell the umpires to enforce a new 20 second pitch clock that I am proposing. We need a commissioner who will even the playing field so that every team has some hope that someday they’ll play on baseballs biggest stage.
The calendar reads August. Teachers everywhere are resigned to the passing of summer and thoughts are filled with a mixture of relief– no more wasted days, my life has significance again!, dread– wake up at 5:30?, I can’t watch 11 PM episodes of Law and Order anymore because it’s too late?, fear– the kids just seem to get tougher every year, but how can it be tougher than last?, to excitement– staff meetings, and state standards! And then we look at the calendar to the next vacation!
What I really left out of that list was the anticipation of the new school year. All but the most calloused of us genuinely look forward to starting another year. Lessons learned from last years challenging class will make this years challenging classes easier, right? Maybe a different schedule is what we’re looking forward to, sure would be nice to have last hour for planning. New colleagues, new administrators, but mostly new student’s.
Our hard working guidance department has the student schedules lined up as best they can. Administrators have worked out staff schedules.
And on August 11 they’ll appear. Into my classroom will walk approximately 150 students, some eager to learn, some not so, some not sure. I believe they’re divinely appointed. They’ve been appointed to me by God.
And here’s what I mean. Through the years I have had numerous students who I have been blessed to be able to teach. Students like a Frelisha and Brandie and Sherree and Michael and Travis, and Jonathan made going to work easier. They truly touched my life as I watched them for a couple of years.
There was Walter and Jamie and Topeka and Demond and Greg and LaDarrion who gave me street names and Terrance who said yes sir to me 1000 times, each and every time after I reprimanded him for some misdeed.
Who will be the next Cinderella, who was absolutely as wonderful a young woman as her name sounded? Who will walk in my door like Kerry who had a focus and determination to beat the odds and receive that diploma?
Who will make me smile like Carter who copied a paper from a website that was written in German and turned it in? (His severe reading issues were on full display that time). Or Jerome who thanked me for my teaching him with a line I use now, “If you ever need a kidney let me know.” Who will grab me around the neck with his tree trunk sized arms like Big Nick and tell me to give him a better grade?
I want to go on, there’s so many good memories of these children who have enriched my life these last 8 years. Who will be the next Leondell whose infectious smile reflects his love of the LORD and his love and respect for you as a person? Who will be the next Jericho or Terry to laugh at my jokes?
What hour will another Lavar or Shaniqua, or Karry come in and push me to work hard for them so that they will also work hard like they did? When will my next David or Erwin appear and express like they did how much they appreciated their school and my class?
I’d guess in no class ever again will I have three students named Arnesha, Ernesha and Ernisia like I did one year in my 3rd hour. But I hope I have students like them who will give back like they did.
So who will be next? Obviously I’ve left out a couple of names, a couple have been changed. Frankly, I can’t remember a lot of the names, even of those who had a significant impact on me and what I do. I only pray that in the coming year I will be used by God to be a teacher who touches students in the way that I’ve been touched by them.
Update: It’s been happening for a week now!
The couple was growing old together. Routines were settled long ago. They knew each other like their favorite movie. One night she asked him to get her a piece of toast from the kitchen. He went to the kitchen, and brought her back a plate of bacon. She looked at him like he’d lost his mind and said, “you’re getting so old and forgetful, don’t you remember I asked you for a dish of ice cream?”
The old person jokes are getting more frequent at my expense. My students, I guess because of my ‘distinguished’ graying hair frequently think I’m in my 60’s, or even 70’s or 80’s! A friend today commented my age has caught up with my hair!
After an enjoyable day of reflection, old man jokes, just a youngun comments from my older friends, not to mention my free birthday sundae at Culvers, phone calls from family, and letting my family cater to my every need (Janice says this happens every day), I finally am sitting down to ponder a little bit of what turning 50 means to me.
I don’t take it for granted. Like everyone, I’ve known people who’ve died well before their normal lifespan would allow them to live. One of the realities of where I work is that I have more conversations than I’d like with students whose parent, or sometimes even parents are no longer living. The news is filled with stories of death worldwide from all sorts of causes. Why hasn’t this been a reality for me? I’d like to say it’s God’s love, or grace, or mercy, but his love, grace and mercy have been dispensed in equal amounts to dear brothers and sisters who had heartbreaking losses in their own lives or families. And yet it is very true that I am here today, my fiftieth birthday because of His love, and grace and mercy.
Israel used to have a law that was supposed to be practiced. It was called the jubilee. You’ve probably heard about it, and like me, never given it much thought. We have a different economy and culture than what the Jews practiced 4000 years ago. Yet, as part of scripture, we can’t brush it off as some sort of old law that Christ fulfilled (which He did by the way!). We have to apply this living and active word to our lives today.
So in my knowledge the jubilee is the only mention of 50 years in scripture. On my 50th birthday, I’m looking at it as a jubilee of sorts. The jubilee was a law of justice in Israel. You can read all about it in Leviticus 25. The key part of jubilee law was the return of property to people who had lost their property in settlements of debts. Since land was inherited and passed down, the ownership of this land was important to the Jews. The jubilee was designed to prohibit the accumulation of much wealth and also prevent the fall into intergenerational poverty that plagues our world today.
A second aspect of the jubilee was the freeing of servants, sometimes referred to as slaves. This was in no way an American style slavery system. God would never permit such an atrocity to happen. Instead, sometimes people, when becoming poor, would become servants, or slaves to pay off debts. At the jubilee, the slaves were to be freed.
When Jesus died on the cross, he performed the work that the jubilee accomplished. People in debt to sin, enslaved to sin, were set free by that singular act. Praise God for that!
So on my 50th, my jubilee birthday if you will, how do I make this a year of jubilee? Well, to start with, my debt has been paid. My eternal inheritance is secure (I Peter 1:4). So how can I be the one doing acts of jubilee for others?
I imagine, when/if the jubilee law was followed (and there’s some evidence it never really was practiced in Israel) that those receiving their land back, their property, their freedom must have had quite the celebration with their restoration. It must have been an emotional time as people realized what was rightfully there’s being returned. Slaves coming back freely to their families and friends had great reason to celebrate, much more than I celebrated today!
So in my 50th year, I can help bring about the thrill of debts settled by being a witness of Jesus to others. It’s a thrill to be with someone who is making a decision to accept the jubilee that Jesus represents and enter a new life as a eternally secure person. Note to self, pray for others who need Christ. Pray for spiritual sensitivity to the strangers I also meet along the way
In many ways the recipients of the jubilee were given fresh starts. Maybe some who were in poverty were there because of foolish decisions being made. How can I, as a school teacher, be in position to give others a fresh start? Forgiving others is one way. Encouraging others who have been burdened by some sort of struggle is another way. It’s going to mean being more intentional in the way I live.
Thanks to all of you who read this and have made the first 50 years of my life truly wonderful!
March Madness is basketball. Awesome amazingly fun games. Too many memories to bore you with here but two Kansas championships are the highlights!
March gladness. We are to be glad as Psalm 100 has instructed us. “Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.”
March sadness. I lost two grandparents in March. But there is gladness in knowing that with each day I am getting closer to a time that we will be reunited. This is the hope of resurrection spoken of in I Corinthians 15.
March madness. School teachers scramble to prepare students for high stakes testing next month. Here, teachers are evaluated partially on how well those students perform on the test. Madness is when a new student arrives in my classroom from Vietnam. He does not speak English, but he must take the test and when he inevitably fails the state will say I failed in teaching him.
March gladness. Although it’s late this year in Louisiana, it means Azaleas. Never thought I’d look forward to the blooming of flowers but it is a sight to see! Come on down friends and family and check it out!
March sadness. A former student of mine is in the news for the third time since I had him a year ago. Involved in two shootings, one fatal, and then the other day he got shot. Sadness for his life, for the lives he’s affected, and for the life lost in the shooting this past week. A 17 year old is on the run from that shooting, the brother of another student I’ve taught. Who will stand in the gap as Ezekiel 22:30 put it: “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”
March gladness. Psalm 30:11-12 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me; O LORD, be my helper.” You have turned for me my mourning (sadness) into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
Have you ever had the experience of seeing something for the first time that has been right in front of you for many years? I lived in a pink bedroom for a year once and didn’t notice it until my wife mentioned she was surprised I’d tolerated a pink bedroom for that year, granted it wasn’t hot pink, but I was still oblivious.
This has been happening to me a lot lately it seems. In Louisiana we have these wonderful little creatures called Anoles, they’re a small lizard. I’ve enjoyed watching them, getting them out of the house, once with his squirming little tail still left in my hand. As I’ve watched them I’ve seen them do things that I’ve never stopped and said ‘Wow’! Anoles are like chameleon’s. They change color! They can instantly change to blend into the background of where they are. I’m not sure if they’d gotten into our pink bedroom that they would have had that ability. Another amazing ability of the anole is what you can see in the picture. The anole is ‘standing’ on the ceiling of our front porch. I guess hanging is the more appropriate term. Not sure what he’s hanging on. The vinyl is very smooth. If I’d reach up it’d scurry away upside down and change red as it hits the red brick on the house. What we take for granted is truly amazing. God, I believe, had designed these amazing little common creatures to confound us, and I’m sure many have as they ponder how they ‘adapted’ these abilities.
Something else I’ve not thought of lately is the lyrics of words that are on the radio. I recall just out of high school I was driving with some of my high school buddies. A song came on with a chorus of “feel like making love”. Needless to say it wasn’t Christian radio, and really to that point in my transition to adulthood I sure hadn’t thought of what these words are really saying. Well, it’s still happening to me with songs on the radio, now with Christian radio, or songs about Christianity on the radio. A few years back it was a song with a line “I am a flower quickly fading”. Well I hear something about me being a flower and I’m tuning out. Give me songs with words like “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “A mighty fortress…” and my attention is fully engaged, but not some flowery song. Well at youth group this song pops up on the powerpoint. I listened in awe of these words. The song is called Who Am I? Here’s what the song says:
Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt.
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart.
Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are
What had been background noise on the radio as I scurried around in the car was enlightened by the Holy Spirit in my mind as I watched a roomful of junior highers sing these tremendous words. How could I have missed this for years because I hear something about flowers and tune out?
Well I didn’t learn my lesson. It happened again Saturday night. We attended the last session of a wonderful conference called the CCDA. The Christian Community Development Association is an organization that works with underserved and oppressed peoples around the world. The CCDA has some family connections and is at least partially responsible for us moving to Baton Rouge. One of the highlights of the conference are the times of joyous worship. We sang another one of these radio songs Saturday night. Just on in the background of my trips around town or in the house, I never stopped to hear the words. But listen to these!
“Your Great Name”
All condemned; feel no shame, at the sound of your great name
Every fear; has no place; at the sound of your great name
The enemy; he has to leave; at the sound of your great name
You are high and lifted up; that all the world will praise your great name
Hungry souls; receive grace; at the sound of your great name
The fatherless; they find their rest; at the sound of your great name
Sick are healed; and the dead are raised; at the sound of your great name
You are high and lifted up; that all the world will praise your great name
My savior, Defender, You are My KingYou can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCg3HU1jhVAWhen will I learn? I wonder how many times I’ve heard this song before singing it Saturday night? Probably more than 10. A song that extols the amazing love and saving grace and might of Jesus Christ is just background noise? I pray this won’t happen again, although it probably will.
One last realization I’ve recently had. I am beginning my 20th year of teaching students in many challenging settings. 20 years, the number struck me. God has sustained me for 20 years. 20 years ago I would have said I could not do this for 20 years. I’ll just do my time for a year or two so that I can brag that I taught some tough kids for a couple years, then move on to one of the Glenbards or Wheaton schools and settle in for a nice comfortable career. Except that’s not what happened. Now I have acknowledged God’s role in all of this before this 20 year benchmark, but it struck me the other day. 20 years, not by my strength, but by His. I know I can’t go on for another year doing this, but I do know that He will empower me to go on for many more years! I’m young! And I’m learning to see what He wants me to see!