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Acts 12:1-5 “1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James,...

Monday, December 9, 2013

All He Wanted was a Christmas Tree

Sometimes Christmas is about the gifts and sometimes it is about love and giving.  Sometimes it is about both.  And this was the case on a cold night in December long ago.

Some friends of mine were working at our church on that cold night, selling Christmas trees to help raise money for our outreach programs.  The Christmas tree sale was a large event at our church and most of the men were involved, selling trees during the day and at night.

On that particular night a woman walked onto our lot and told them a story that would change the way they would view Christmas and Christmas trees forever.  She was a Teacher Assistant in a first grade classroom.  On that particular day the first grade teacher was letting each child in the class tell their classmates the things they would like to receive for Christmas.

Each child named the typical things; bicycles, computer games, dolls, footballs.  And then the teacher turned to a boy in the back of the class and asked, "And what do you want for Christmas?"

"A Christmas tree."  he said.  The teacher, thinking she did not hear him correctly, asked him again.  "A Christmas tree," he said again.  Some of the other children began to laugh.

"If I can get a Christmas tree then Santa Clause will come." he continued.  Realizing her error, the teacher changed the subject and quickly moved on, but neither she nor the teacher assistant would forget the child's words.

So, the Teacher Assistant stood on our tree lot, tears streaming down her face, the men holding them back.

"We will take care of this."  they assured her.  And on that night they delivered a Christmas tree to a happy first-grade boy and, unknown to the boy, they delivered a truck load of gifts to his mother that they bought at a nearby store.

Whenever I am putting up my tree, I wonder if we don't take too many things for granted and I wonder if we don't realize that we have been blessed many times over.  I wonder if we don't complain too much about things that do not matter.  What I don't wonder about is the power of love; the power of love to transform us;the power of love that caused those teachers to reach out; the power of love that caused those men to shut down their tree lot and respond to a boy's cry for help.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Blackberry Blues

In May of 1992, wild blackberry vines began to grow next to my backyard fence.  For two weeks I mowed them down, regarding them as a nuisance.  The vines were persistent and, by default, I decided to let them grow.  They flourished and began to bloom.

My son, Jeremy, soon noticed them and asked what they were.  Being a person who loves to tell a story, I not only told him what they were but I told him of my boyhood adventures picking blackberries and of blackberry pies; how good they smelled when they were baking in the oven; and how warm and sweet and juicy they tasted when they were served.

Jeremy's eyes widened as he swallowed and licked his lips.  After that, each day I would see him checking the vines looking for the red berries that had turned black.  As we would pick the berries he would ask, "Do we have enough for a pie?"

We didn't get enough berries that summer.  So, Jeremy waited.  All fall and winter we would walk over to the vines and I would tell him about my boyhood blackberry picking and of blackberry pies.

As the spring arrived the vines began to grow and bloom.  We watched and waited each day for the berries to appear.  Each day, as I walked into the house from work, Jeremy would meet me at the door with a blackberry report.  Soon the bloom turned to red berries and the red to black and we began to pick them.  Each day we would pick a small bowl full and dump it into a larger bowl.

"When that bowl is full we will make a pie," I told him.

Slowly the bowl filled.  Each night before going to bed, Jeremy would open the refrigerator and look the bowl; staring at it wishfully.

The bowl finally filled.  Jeremy watched as Melanie, my wife, prepared it and put it in the oven.  He sat in the kitchen, breathing in the smells.

As I entered the kitchen from outside, Jeremy yelled to me, "Mama made the pie!  Mama made the pie!"

After supper, we stood watching as Melanie brought the pie from the oven.  Jeremy was dancing with anticipation.  " I get the first piece!" he shouted to his sister, Erin.

"I don't care," grunted Erin, "all I want is the crust."

Melanie scooped the pie from the pan and into Jeremy's plate.  The smell of it was as I remembered.

"Let it cool a bit before you eat it," cautioned Melanie.

Jeremy blew on his fork then put the contents into his anxious mouth.  The light in his eyes immediately went out.  His face contorted.  He swallowed hard, then drank a glass of milk.

"What's the matter?"  I asked.

"It doesn't taste good." said Jeremy.

I tasted it.  It tasted just like I remembered.  "It does taste good.  Give it another try."

He tried again, with the same result.  "I'll just eat the crust," he said.

After everyone had left the table, I sat alone looking at Jeremy's plate.  It was filled with blackberries.  I tasted them.  They were warm, and juicy, and sweet.  Just like when I was a boy.  And I ate them all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Caring Counts

My dad's favorite movie was "The Hustler", starring Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson, Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats and Piper Laurie as Sarah, Eddie's girlfriend.  About a year ago, I recorded this movie as it played on AMC and every now and then I watch it, hoping to gain some undiscovered insight into my father.

The last time I watched it, the scene in which Eddie (Newman) is leaving Sarah (Laurie) struck home. Sarah asks Eddie "is that your idea of love?'  Eddie answers, "I got no idea of love."  And a conversation I had with my dad years ago floated back to me.

Dad once told me that if he had had someone in his life when he was growing up who had “given a damn” for him, maybe he would have been a different person. His mother died when he was ten and he felt that his father was too busy or preoccupied to care about him.  He "raised himself", as he would say, eating "bananas and candy" for meals.

Caring matters.  I am sure all of us can point to a time in our lives when someone made a difference with a kind word, a phone call, or a visit.  Did you know that when one of your co-workers or friends is out sick or in an extended leave that they begin to feel isolated and alone.  Behavioral studies have found that a simple card, sent by a co-worker or a friend will cause that person to return to work, or church, or to a group sooner than the person who is not sent a card?

In my office, I have the Ten Commandments of Human Relations hanging on my bulletin board.  I do not know who wrote them to give that person credit, but I would like to list them here.  They are interesting to read, and more interesting to think that we have to be reminded to do them:

1.       Speak to people.  There is nothing as nice as a cheerful word of greeting.

2.      Smile at people.

3.      Call people by name.  The sweetest music to anyone’s ear is the sound of their name.

4.         Be friendly and helpful.

5.      Be cordial.  Speak and act as if everything you did were a genuine pleasure.

6.      Show interest in people.  You can learn to like most people if you try.

7.      Be generous with praise and cautious with criticism.

8.      Be considerate with the feelings of others.  It will be appreciated.

9.      Be thoughtful of the opinions of others.  There are three sides to a controversy; yours, the other person’s and the right one.

10.  Be alert to give service.  What counts most in life is what we do for others.

These may seem simplistic.  But every day I talk to people who feel alone, deserted and under stress.  Many of their burdens would be lessened if they knew someone “gave a damn” about them.

Will you be that someone?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Angels Come Down

One sunny day in May, 1977, I was walking back to my office from a downtown restaurant.  I was crossing the street at the intersection of Trade and Alexander streets when a man approached me.

I was relatively new to Charlotte, having arrived in December 1976, fresh out of college, ready to set the world on fire.  I was 24 years old.  I had a master’s degree.  My head was full of new ideas and dreams for the future. 

The man who approached me that day did not have any hopes or dreams.  He did not care about the future.  His thoughts were on the moment.

“Hey, sir!” he yelled to me.  I looked at him, but kept on walking.

“Sir.  Hey, sir!”

I stopped.  He stood beside me looking at me from head to toe. 

“Can you give me 50 cents for bus fare?” he asked.

“No.” I lied.

I started to walk faster, toward my office.

“Hey, you’re a lawyer, ain’t you?  Look at you, all dressed up in a coat and tie.  You’re a lawyer.”  He looked at me looking at him.

“That’s right.  I’m a bum.” He said.  “I ain’t got no job.  I ain’t got no house.  I ain’t go no fancy clothes.  I ain’t got no shiny car.  I ain’t even got 50 cents.  You’re a lawyer and you tell me you ain’t got 50 cents?  I might be a bum but I ain’t no lyin’ lawyer.”

He was yelling.  Passersby were looking.  I walked faster. 

“I’m not a lawyer.” I told him.

“Well, you’re still a liar!” he proclaimed.

“Listen,”I said, my teeth and fists clenched.  “Stop following me.  I’m not giving you any money.

I walked on.  I crossed the street to the overhead walkway that spanned 4th Street. The stranger followed me.  I began to climb the stairs to the walkway two at a time. 

“Wait,” he called, huffing and puffing.  “Wait.”

I reached the top of the walkway and looked behind me.  He was there, gasping for breath.

“Don’t…walk…so…fast,” he puffed.  “Us bums…we don’t…jog…like…you lawyers do.  His hands were on his knees and he was bent over, trying to catch his breath.

I walked away. 

“Wait!”he cried. 

I ran across the walkway to the stairs leading to the County Office Building.  I hurried down the stairs.  I looked up.  He was midway down.

I had had it.  He was going to follow me all the way to my office unless I put a stop to it.  I turned to face him as he reached the bottom of the stairs.  I dug into my pocket and pulled out two quarters. 

“Don’t you have any self-respect?” I asked.

He took the quarters from my hand, his eyes looking at the ground.  “No,” he said quietly.  And he turned and walked away.

I went back to my third floor office and sat down at my desk.  I looked out my window.  From there I could see the new Courthouse, the jail and the police station.  Walking on the sidewalk was the man that followed me, following another man with his hand raised.  I could almost hear him saying “Wait!”  I began to laugh.

They faded from my view as a memory from the deepest part of me surfaced.  I could hear my mother’s voice admonishing me for making fun of an old man walking down the road.  “You should never do that.  Sometimes angels come down and walk the earth testing people’s goodness.”she had told me.

I sat there for another moment, thinking about what she had said and that man who had asked for 50 cents.  Then I took my papers and got back to work.  I never saw him again.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Run and Don't Look Back

Not long ago, I visited a podiatrist.  My primary care doctor had referred me for a problem I was having with my foot and ankle.  At the end of the visit, the doctor recommended that I stop running.

Prior to the visit, I had not been running very much due to the pain, but his insistence that I stop doing something that I had been doing since I was nine years old; something that was ingrained in my existence; something that I equated with breathing and being, struck me the wrong way.  He seemed oblivious to what he was asking me to do.  When I told him as much, he did not blink an eye, saying only that he was surprised that I had been able to run as long as I had.  "We get old," he said, "things fall apart."

On top of this, he told me about a surgery that would probably take care of the problem but would result in me never being able to run again.

"Just give me the word and I will set it up", he said.  I never gave him the word..

I left his office thinking about Satchel Paige.

Satchel Paige was a major league pitcher who was elected to the Baseball Hall of fame in 1971 and was the first player to be inducted based primarily upon his play in the Negro leagues. 

 He was the oldest rookie to play in the Major Leagues at the age of 42. He pitched his last game in 1966 for the Carolina Leagues's Peninsula Grays at the age of 60, although some say he was older.

Maybe more famous than his pitching were his rules for staying young, which were:  

1.  Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
2.  If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3.  Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4.  Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society- the social ramble ain't restful.
5.  Avoid running at all times.
6.  And don't look back- something might be gaining on you.

I believe that Paige was right on the money with all of his rules with the exception of number 5.  If I was given the opportunity to rewrite it, my rule number 5 would read as follows: 

Run whenever you get the chance.  Run when the sun is shining.  Run when the sky is filled with clouds.  Run when the rain is pouring down.  Run whenever it snows. 

Run when you are happy, but especially when you are sad.  

Run and be filled with the wonder of things.  

Run and listen to your thoughts.  Run and feel the movement of your body.  Run until you get that feeling of power and energy and you begin to believe that everything is possible.  

Run to learn about the world around you and the people in it.  Run to learn about yourself.  Run to meditate and to turn inward.  

Run to feel the wind in your face. Run in the hot stillness of a summer afternoon.  Run to the buzzing rhythm of cicadas.  

Run to leave it all behind.

Run to feel the quiet, still peace that comes after the run.

Run; against all rules and despite all rules; run.  No matter how old or worn out you are; run; for as long as you can, for as far as you can, for as fast as you can; run.

And don't look back.

My next race will be the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day.  I will send my podiatrist a picture of me at the finish line.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Thanksgiving Guinea Hen

It was a wet fall Saturday afternoon in 1992 and the kids were inside.  They were complaining about being bored and not having anything to do.

“You are bored because you think you’re bored,” I told them.

“Nuh-uh,” said Erin.  We really are bored.

“Sometimes,” I told them, “you have to make yourself have fun.  And other times all you have to do is walk out into the yard and fun will come right up to you.”

Jeremy laughed.  “Fun can’t do that.”

“Yes it can,” I said.

“When did fun do that to you?”

“It happened when I was about eleven or twelve, somewhere around 1963.  It was Thanksgiving morning.  Mom was baking a turkey in the oven.  The house was filled with the smell of food and the clatter of dishes.  The parades were on T.V.  .  My brother, Keith, and I went outside looking for something to do.  The weather was wet like it is now and it felt like it was going to snow.

No one else was outside.  We walked out to the street.  Two houses down we saw Tommy come darting out from under his carport and start running around and around a tree in his front yard.  We walked closer.  In front of Tommy ran a strange looking bird about two feet tall, with two legs, and covered with feathers.

“What’s that?”  I asked as Tommy took another lap around the tree.

“Dad says it’s a Guinea Hen,” yelled Tommy as he chased the bird.

“Where’d you get it?”

“I didn’t.  I don’t know where it came from.  It was in the yard when I came out.  Help me catch it.”

Keith went to the left side of the tree and I went to the right side.  As the Guinea Hen came around the tree towards me I grabbed for it.  Like a highly skilled NFL running back the hen faked first to the left then dashed to the right.  My feet went out from under me and I hit the ground back first.

The Guinea Hen tore across Tommy’s yard, through the neighbor’s yard and into our front bushes with Keith, Tommy, and me close behind.  As we dove into the bushes, the hen darted out and ran across the street into old man Saunders’ yard.  Old man Saunders was sweeping his carport and he came out swinging his broom. 

The bird dodged the broom and ran into Ricky’s yard next door.  Ricky was playing on his porch and saw the bird.  “Grab it.  Grab it.”  I yelled.  Ricky did his best imitation o Zorro and leaped over his porch rail to the ground, barely missing the hen and old man Saunders’ broom handle.

Keith, Tommy, and I ran to the left of Ricky’s house around to the backyard.  The bird, followed closely by Ricky and old man Saunders, saw us directly in its path and froze; then with lightening speed it whirled to the right.  The last things I saw and felt were a tangle of arms, legs and a broom handle as all of us collided. 

The hen ran through Jimmy’s yard.  Jimmy heard us thrashing about and fell into the chase behind us.  We circled Jimmy’s house, then ran through his carport, and then the bird did what we all feared worst of all.  It ran into the yard across the street; Groucho’s yard.

Groucho was a fat man who smoked cigars and kept his yard green and in perfect shape.  Not one pine needle was out of place.  When some unfortunate, innocent child who didn’t know any better happened to trample his flower bed on the way to Jeffrey’s basketball goal, Groucho would yell like a demon through cigar smoke, “Get out of my yard!  Don’t come through here again.”

The hen stood in the middle of Groucho’s yard, sensing that it was on safe and hollowed ground.  It was wrong.  Jimmy looked at Keith, Keith looked a Ricky, Ricky looked at old man Saunders, old man Saunders looked at me, and we charged, yelling at the tops of our lungs.  Needless to say, the Guinea hen ran through every flowerbed and every mulched area of Groucho’s once well groomed yard.  Still, the bird eluded us.

“Get out of my yard!” screamed Groucho.  What do you think you’re doing?”

“We’re chasing a bird,” yelled Ricky.

The bird ran up the street to Danny’s house with us behind it, plus Grouch, plus Jeffrey who lived next to Groucho.  Danny and several friends were playing basketball in his backyard when we ran by with the bird in front of us, and they all joined in the chase.  There were now almost twenty of us running after this Guinea hen, when it stopped to rest in Bobo’s yard.  This was a big mistake, because Bobo was crazy.

“We’ve got him now!” yelled Jimmy.  He’s in Bobo’s yard.

“Somebody get Bobo.”  I said.

Ricky gently rang Bobo’s doorbell.  When Bobo came to the door, we explained the situation to him, who seemed to understand it all very well.

“Open the gate to the backyard and run it in,” said Bobo.  “Then close the gate.  “I’ll get my shoulder pads on.”

“Bobo’s getting’ his shoulder pads on, y’all,” whispered Jimmy.

We smiled.  Even Groucho smiled, with his cigar in the side of his mouth.  We all knew that anything was bound to happen when Bobo got his shoulder pads on.

We ran the hen through the gate and slammed it shut.  We all piled over the fence into the backyard.  Bobo was standing on the back porch with his shoulder pads, hip and knee pads on.  He was wearing a jersey that said, “Central Restaurant All Stars” at the top and at the bottom it said, “Try our grilled cheese.”

The hen was at the back corner of the yard, standing against the fence, looking at us.  Bobo walked off the porch and we followed.

“Spread out” shouted Groucho, a Korean War veteran.  We spread out across the yard.

“Let me take the first crack at him,” whispered Bobo.

Bobo lunged.  The hen flew straight at Bobo’s head and landed on top of it, flapping its wings wildly.  Bobo grabbed it by the feet.

“I’ve got it!” he shouted.

Then the hen sank its claws into Bobo’s skull.  Bobo fell, shrieking with pain.  The hen flew over the fence, into the neighbor’s yard.  Bobo dove after it and the rest of us followed.

We chased that bird through every yard in our neighborhood, but we never caught it.  We finally lost sight of it near Hammond Street, near the Presbyterian Church.  The twelve o’clock chimes began to play and we all realized that it was time to go home and eat our Thanksgiving lunch.  We were all laughing and talking about that hen on the way back home, and Grouch even invited us to walk through his yard on the way home.”

“Daddy,”asked Erin, “Did that really happen?”

“Well,” I said, “I like to remember it that way.”

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Magic of Falling Leaves

Several weeks ago, my wife Melanie and I attended her Aunt Vera's 95th birthday party.  Most of her family was there to celebrate this milestone.  Missing were Melanie's father and mother and several of her aunts and uncles who were celebrating Vera's birthday in another dimension.  We all felt their absence as we remembered them in our conversations about previous family reunions.  One of those absent family members was Melanie's uncle Ozzie Osborne.  Yes, his name was Ozzie Osborne (he would tell you that he was the first Ozzie Osborne and that the other Osborne had used his name without permission).

As I sat on the porch eating and talking with Melanie's cousins, I watched the leaves from oak and maple trees falling to the ground and I remembered something that Ozzie once said.

Uncle Ozzie was an artist.  His pen and ink drawings of old tobacco barns, old houses, and trees decorate the walls of most of Melanie's relatives' homes and the pages of several books about rural life.  But I remember him most for a notebook that he kept with him. Whenever he heard something he liked or if he ran across an interesting fact, he wrote it down.  Inside the notebook was esoteric information like how to make rope; how to measure the height of clouds; how to build a fire in wind and rain...

Ozzie's drawings were filled with trees with limbs full of leaves or piles of leaves laying in the grass beneath trees.  And as I sat on the porch watching the leaves fall, I could hear Ozzie telling me again, "You know, there is something magic about falling leaves. Look at them... red, yellow, and all the colors in between, twirling and swirling down to earth, enriching the soil and our lives".  He said this as we stood on the porch of a cabin, watching leaves falling all around us.

For Ozzie, all of life, the big moments, the small moments, the insignificant and trivial, were important.  Each moment contained a truth to be discovered.  There were no lost moments and every moment was a chance to be transformed.  Ozzie thought life was an amazing journey and he knew that it was the journey, not the destination, that brought happiness.

Ozzie liked to share this happiness.  At our family gatherings, Ozzie would hug our children and whisper in their ear, "You are so special to me," meaning every word.  Then he would take me aside, his arm around my shoulder, and tell me about his latest discovery.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Fear of Falling

My wife, Melanie, and I visit Virginia Beach once every four years.  This is our favorite beach and we began going there for vacation when our children were still at home.  We like it because the hotels, etc., are built back from the beach, and the beach is wide.  Between the beach and the development is a 3 mile stretch of concrete that is called a boardwalk.  Along the walkway are the hotels, a variety of restaurants and entertainment consisting of bands, magicians, street actors, artists, dancers, and you name it.  There is such a wide variety of things to do along the boardwalk that we never have to touch our car the entire week that we are there.

Needless to say, the boardwalk is filled with people walking, running, biking and skating throughout the day and night.  I like to watch the skaters, especially the good ones who turn skating into an art form.  They seem to float and glide effortlessly as they turn this way, then that way, wind blowing their hair.  There are couples who skate while holding hands, dancing on their skates to music in a nearby park; kids who race by like hockey players; lone skaters listening to their ipods.

So, I decided to try it.  "It's not like I have never been on skates", I explained to my worried wife. "I was an athlete in high school."   I didn't tell her that it had probably been 25 or 30 years since I had laced up a pair of skates, or that I  had never been on a pair of inline skates..

I could barely stand, and, as I was reaching for the nearest something, anything to hold onto, my feet flew out from under me and I hit the pavement of the boardwalk.  Falling at age 56 seemed to hurt worse than when I was 12.  So, I crawled over to the iron railing facing the ocean, pulled myself up, and baby-stepped my way down the concrete path holding the rail.

I could never seem to let go of the railing.  Each time I tried, I could see and feel myself falling and I would grab the rail.  People standing along the railing would see me coming and jump out of the way.  Where was the grace of this?  Where was the beauty?

And then I realized that the skaters I had admired were not thinking about falling.  They were not thinking at all.  They were in the moment; totally present; at one with the motion; not worried about technique or form.  My fear of falling was my foremost thought.  I was ruled by my fear.

And I never overcame it.  I sadly took the skates off and remembered the days I had spent at the skating rink with my sister.  What was different?  Maybe guys my age were not supposed to be on skates, I rationalized to myself.  But then I saw several who were my age or older on skates, gliding along.

Our fears hold us back, not just in skating, but in everything we do, whether they are real or imagined.  Our fears keep us from enjoying life the way it is supposed to be enjoyed.  They hold us back in our relationships, in our jobs, in our friendships, and even in knowing God.

Our biggest obstacles in life are internal; our fears that we are not worthy; fears of letting go of the past (even an abusive or dysfunctional past); fears of being ridiculed; fears of seeming foolish; fears of not fitting in.

The first thing that God asks of us is to "fear not".  When we fear not, we are free.  Free to experience God and life to the fullest extent; free to live in the will of God.  The spiritual life requires that we live in a different way, think in a different way, and see things in a way that is contrary to the material world.  Living a life dedicated to love, hope, forgiveness and peace will often attract the opposite- hate.  Being different requires great courage.

But, once we overcome our fears, anything is possible... even skating.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Only Thing That Matters

Henry David Thoreau was an American writer, naturalist, abolitionist, and social activist, who once described his occupation in this memorable way:
“For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snow-storms and rain-storms, and did my duty faithfully; …. I have watered the red huckleberry, the sand cherry and the nettle-tree, the red pine and the black ash, the white grape and the yellow violet, which might have withered else in dry seasons.”
His message, truer now than when he wrote it, is to slow down and live life; to stop looking ahead and behind and experience the now; “to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.” 

I look at my life and wonder how so many years could have passed.  Where did they all go?  What happened to the time?  What occupied my time?  And finally, when I look at the whole of my life, what has really mattered?

To answer that question, I look at my father’s death.  I was with him the last two weeks of his life.  We had a chance to talk a little that first week and say some things to each other that needed to be said.  The second week he was unable to communicate.  So, I sat by his bed.  And it was there that this great truth dawned on me. 

When it is all said and done, a person’s life boils down to those you love and those who love you.  That is all that withstands the test of time.  And into death you will carry the love of those you love.  And into life your love will be carried by those who love you.

The present moment is where life happens. Let us live in that present moment, fully realizing the wonder and the miracle of it.  Let us be self appointed inspectors of snowstorms and rain-storms.  And in those present moments let us take the opportunity to give and receive love; an eternal, everlasting gift.  The only thing that matters.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Standing Up

 On September 20, 2013, Coach Matt Labrum of Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah, stood up.  In an amazing act of courage, he met with his team and told them all that they were suspended; all 80 of them.  As of that moment, there was no longer a football team in Roosevelt, Utah.  In a small town where Friday night football and the welfare of the local team is on everyone’s mind, this is amazing.

Some parents were upset with the coach, but when they heard the coach’s explanation, they supported him.  Coach Labrum suspended his team because of reports of physical and cyber bullying, and attitude problems both in and out of school.  The coach did not like what he was hearing about his players and decided that there were more important lessons to be taught to these young men than playing football games.  The entire team needed to refocus their priorities.

So, how did the coach do this?  The day after the suspension (a Saturday), he met with his team and explained to them that if they wanted to play for him, they had to sign a contract in which they agreed to do the following:

  • Perform acts of community service such as pulling weeds in flower beds around the school, go to nursing homes to talk with and read to the elderly, clean school hallways, and wash windows.
  • Attend character building counseling sessions
  • Take classes on character
  • Memorize a poem about character
  • Do more things with and for their families

By the end of the week, all but nine players had signed the contracts and were reinstated to the team.  The newly reinstated team elected new team captains for a new beginning.

The Union High players who are going through this experience may not fully understand what Coach Labrum has done.  At a time when they needed him most, he stood tall for them.  When they were at a crossroad, Coach Labrum pointed them to the road less traveled; the road that leads to success not necessarily on the playing field, but in the field of life.  When the going got tough, Coach Labrum stepped up and put his job on the line for them; risking his livelihood and the financial security of his family.

One day each of these boys will know the full extent of Coach Labrum's sacrificial love for them.  And I hope they look him up and shake his hand.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Old Chicken Feet

I recently read a UPI.com article about a shipment of smuggled chicken feet from Vietnam that were seized by the Chinese police, which were 46 years over the recommended sell date.  Not days.  46 years!

Here are the issues that were floating around in my head after I read that snippet:
·         Why do chicken feet have to be smuggled?
·         Are chicken feet so rare, with a demand so large, that there is a black market for them?
·         Can chicken feet that are smuggled from Vietnam into China be sold cheaper than homegrown Chinese chicken feet?  I suppose that chicken feet 46 years over the recommended sale date can be sold rather cheaply.  But why would the Chinese look toward Vietnam for chicken feet in the first place?  Are there not enough domestic Chinese chickens with feet?
·         How do you keep chicken feet for 46 years?
·         Were these chicken feet passed down from Vietnamese father smuggler to son smuggler as an inheritance?
·         How many generations of smuggler family members are chicken feet good for?  Could the son smuggler have passed the chicken feet to his son smuggler?
·         Do 46 year old chicken feet still resemble feet?  Should we still be calling them feet or chicken nuggets?
·         How do we know the age of these feet?
·         Do people eat chicken feet?  Why?
·         Is there any chicken meat on chicken feet or do people just gnaw the talons?  If so, why?
·         If people do not eat chicken feet, why are they kept for 46 years and smuggled into China?

It seems that there is an answer to the last three questions.  According to Wikipedia, the world’s foremost authority on every subject in the world, chicken feet consist of skin and tendons.  No meat.  This gives the chicken feet a “distinct texture different from the rest of the chicken meat.”  As a result, “they are very difficult to eat”.

So, why is there such a demand for chicken feet that they are being smuggled into China 46 years after their expiration date?  Well, they are used as a beer snack, for soup, or a main dish.  They can be deep fried, or steamed to make them puffy before being stewed and simmered in a sauce with beans.

In this throw away world in which we live, isn’t it good to know that there are some things that never get too old or go out of date?

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Night Secrets

It is said that the night holds a thousand secrets.  And that is true for me.  Because late at night, after my wife has gone to bed, I become a time traveler.  My travels begin when I walk up the stairs and walk by the rooms that my children used to occupy when they lived at home.  I enter their rooms and stand beside their empty beds and it is there that I am transported. 

When they were young I would enter their rooms and look in on them before going to bed, just to reassure myself that they were alright.  I would stand beside them looking down on them, sometimes placing my hand on their backs to feel them breathing or I would brush my hand against their hair.

I would be filled with a great bursting of wonder and love.  Here were two people who lived because of me; whose personalities and habits would be shaped in part because of me; whose lives would forever be entwined with mine. Standing there I would wonder who they would become and what they would do with their precious lives; who they would meet and who they would love.

And, I wondered if they would continue to love me as our relationship evolved.  I wondered when they would discover that I did not have all the answers and that I was not a superhero.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, a time traveler such as me must return to the present.  And I always have to return from my travels in the past to those empty beds of the present.  Most of my questions about my children from those days have been answered.  They long ago discovered that I was not a superhero and that there are many things I do not know.  Our love for each other has evolved and it has withstood the passage of time. 

But, sometimes, when they are visiting, I will walk by their bedrooms and quietly open their doors.  And in their sleeping, I see them as they once were and I am once again transported to a long ago time.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Saving the World

There is a saying that "Everyone wants to save the world but no one wants to help mama with the dishes." Saving the world is a good idea, and it would be great if someone could wave a magic wand and do it. But, as we all know, it is not that simple. And that is the problem. The modern world has become vastly complex, yet modern humans demand uncomplicated answers and quick solutions. We love shortcuts and the easy road to success.

I think most of us feel that the world seems to be on the brink of some catastrophe waiting to happen. We are all holding our breath...waiting for the answer to be given to us. But the answer is us; us living up to the teachings of our religions. If only we could show the light of God, or Christ or Muhammad, or Buddha in the way we live and in the way we relate to others- but we are failing in this.

A few days ago I read an article posted on Facebook by a young person who had made the decision to leave the mainline church that she attended because after years of attending she concluded that she would never find the love of Christ as described in the Bible in Church. Another article in the local newspaper noted that "hate communication" on twitter originated most frequently in the areas of the country that have the highest population of churchgoers. Churchgoers may deny sending these hateful tweets, but even if we did not send them, it is a commentary that we have not been effective in leading our communities toward God. We have not saved our communities, let alone save the world.

Yet there is hope.  But there is no easy road to salvation; no shortcut to heaven; and the world will not be saved with the wave of a wand.   A man once asked Christ how he could have eternal life.  Jesus asked, “what is written in the law?”  And the man replied, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your strength, and with all of your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”  And Jesus told the man, “You have answered correctly.  Do this and you will live.”

The road to salvation is long and treacherous; filled with the nitty gritty details of ordinary things that require us to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty- and work really hard; to lose sleep; to put the needs of others ahead of our own; to give up our creature comforts; to get out from behind our desks and actually leave our offices; to hold the hand of and work side by side with someone of a different race or nationality and experience for ourselves the world that we wish were saved.

Our lives are to be a reflection of Christ, or Muhammad, or Buddha to the world.

And if we do this, we will live.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Friday, August 23, 2013

Renting Pigs

I was in a coffee shop this past December, 2012, and the person behind the register said to me, " 2012 was so good that I am afraid that 2013 will be worse."  She was afraid of her future; afraid that her good fortune in life would fade.  So I wondered, how much did she really enjoy 2012.  I wondered if she was always looking over her shoulder, waiting for something bad to happen, waiting for the laughter to stop, waiting for the joy to turn to dread.

Since the downturn of the economy in 2008, I have met and talked with a lot of people who live this way.  They cannot fully enjoy their new job because they fear they will lose it.  They cannot enjoy the stock market gains for worrying about the next market downturn.

While it is advisable to plan and prepare and anticipate, we should not let our fears define who we are.  If we do, then we will become our fears.

One of my favorite movies is Lonesome Dove and my favorite character in that movie is Gus, played by Robert Duvall.  Gus had a sign made for the ranch which was supposed to welcome visitors.  But the sign focused on what the ranch was not rather than any of its welcoming attributes.  The most famous declaration on the sign stated, "We don't rent pigs."  When Gus' ranching partner, Captain Call, questioned why anyone in his right mind would want to rent a pig, Gus replied that that was just the point.  He did not want the kind of person who would rent a pig visiting his ranch.

Too often we define ourselves in the negative.  We think, " I am a person who does not do..."  " I am a person who does not believe..."  "I am a person who does not have..."  In order for us to develop spiritually and to grow in our relationship with God, we have to learn how to define ourselves in the positive.

When Moses asked God's name, God replied, "I am that I am."  Spiritual people are people who are rather than are not.  Moses defined himself as a person who could not answer God's call, but at God's insistence he relented.  When he embraced the fact that he was a child of God, he became the person that God knew him to be.

Spiritual people are always in the process of becoming and God is found in the affirmation of this becoming.  At some point, we can say that "I am God's creation."  " I am a person whose life has meaning and purpose."  And when we see others in this light- seeing them as who they are rather than who they are not- it changes our world view and makes loving others as we love ourselves a real possibility; even the people who rents pigs.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Last Summer of Innocence

Note:  This was written in June of 1992 when my daughter, Erin, was going into the fifth grade.

School is out.  Summer vacation has just begun.  My daughter is a recent graduate of the fourth grade and she is ecstatic.  She is experiencing that feeling of freedom that comes with youth and the beginning of summer.  The days seem endless and the end of August seems somewhere on the far end of eternity.

But this summer is special for Erin.  She doesn't realize this yet.  She will not realize it for a long time, and when she does it will be a bittersweet memory.  This is her last summer of innocence.  Erin is now standing at a crossroad.  When she crosses that road nothing will ever be the same for her and she can never go back.

Erin is about to learn all about one of the great mysteries of humankind; the secret of life.  She will learn what it is to be a woman and to have a woman's body.  She will learn about the role of the man in this process and hopefully she will learn about the importance of love for one special person; the thing that gives meaning to this mystery.

As her father, I have mixed emotions about this.  I want to protect her from this knowledge, yet I want to see her grow up and mature into a normal adult.  I know that I cannot have it both ways.  So, Erin's crossroad has become my own.

On the day she was born I was in the operating room holding her mother's hand while the doctors closed the Cesarean section.  The nurses cleaned Erin up, put a funny hat on her head, wrapped her in a blanket and handed her to me.  Immediately all the love of my being came pouring forth and I thanked God for this great mystery of life and for women like my wife, and above all for this innocent child who would call me her father.

This is the last summer of that innocence.

If I were given three wishes, I would wish

  • to enjoy this summer to the fullest possible extent.
  • To look back on the past with fondness and not regret the passage of time.
  • For the understanding and the courage to move forward.  

This summer may seem like an eternity to Erin.  But I am sure it will pass with the blink of an eye.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Wasted Day

James Boswell was an 18th century writer whose most well-known work was his biography of Samuel Johnson.  Throughout Boswell's life he suffered from depression, a condition that he inherited from his father, Alexander Boswell.

In the midst of his depression, James would often talk about the most special day in his life; a day that stood out more than any other day; a day that was brighter in his mind than any other day; a day that he could point to and say that it was the best day of his life; a day that transformed him into the man he would become.  The specific date of this day, the day of the week, and the year were burned into his brain.

This day was the day that his father spent time with him.  His father, a busy man, took one whole day and went fishing with his son.  As an adult, James would describe this special day as being a day bathed in sunshine; a day of blue sky and cool breezes; a day of joy and peace and comfort, free of worry.  He would quote to his friends the things his father said to him that day and refer to the lessons that he learned while fishing next to his father.  His friends would say that "to know James Boswell was to know about that fishing trip and the significance it held for him."

Long after Boswell's death, a 20th century researcher, who was writing a book about Boswell, discovered that Boswell's father kept a journal most of his life.  The researcher, curious to know the thoughts of Boswell's father about that fishing trip, secured a copy of his journal and opened it to the date of that fateful day.  To his surprise the page was blank with the exception of one lonely sentence.  It read:

"Gone fishing today with my son; a wasted day."

James Boswell's father had no idea of the importance of that fishing trip.  In fact, to him it was a waste of time.  Yet, to James it was the most important event of his life; more important than any of his awards or achievements.

How tragic it is not to know the depth of our impact on others.  How many days have we spent doing things we thought were insignificant?  How many times have we felt inconvenienced by someone else?  How many days have we felt frustrated because our plans for our day were interrupted by someone asking a favor?

From our perspective these days may not have amounted to very much.  We may have thought them a waste of time.  But unknown to us someone's life may have been altered through our involvement or by something we said, or by a smile we gave.  You see, God never wastes a day.  We can be sure that He is using us even on the most ordinary days; days that may be more significant than any other day of our entire lives.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Importance of a Persistent Friend

I once read that people who fall into the ocean at night often become disoriented.  In the chaos and the panic that follows, they actually begin to swim toward the bottom of the ocean instead of to the surface.  Some do not discover their error until it is too late. 

In my work as a pastor and in Stephen Ministry, I have discovered that people in crisis sometimes exhibit behavior that is the equivalent of "swimming to the bottom".  They stop eating properly; they don't sleep regularly; they stop exercising; they cut themselves off from their family, and friends; they separate themselves from the source of their inspiration such as scripture or going to church.  They stop answering the phone.  As a result their crisis spirals downward with an ever increasing speed.

Jesus once told a parable entitled "The Persistent Friend".  The persistent friend was a person who would not stop knocking at the door of his friend no matter how long he was ignored or told to go away.

A persistent friend during a time of crisis is a friend who is willing to intrude; who will speak the truth in love; who can put their own ego and needs behind them and put their friend's needs first; who has a thick skin; whose love triumphs over any slight or insult; someone who will keep knocking though the door is shut; who will walk with you in a crisis; who will not let you forget that you are not alone.

 Such a friend is truly God's gift.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Night of the Day that Would Never End

I was 14 years old when Dad came home with some bad news.  Bud’s son had been shot in an accident.  “I don’t think they expect him to live.” said Dad.  Bud, his wife Ruby, and Bud’s son were at Duke Hospital, about an hour’s ride from Rocky Mount. 

Dad asked me to ride with him and we left around 6:00 pm.  As we rode, Dad told me about Bud and stories of their growing up together.  I never knew they were such good friends.  I could not remember their family visiting us much or us visiting them.  They never went on trips with us.  What I do remember is that Bud bought a rifle from Dad, and I wondered if that weapon was involved in this.

Arriving at Duke, we parked in the emergency room parking lot, found the waiting room, and walked in.  There in the corner of the room sat Bud and Ruby by themselves.  Bud stood up when he saw Dad and they embraced.  Bud’s wife began to cry.

“This is the day that will never end for us,” she said.  “Our circle has been broken.”  She repeated these words in a never ending stream.  “This is the day that will never end.  Our circle has been broken.” 
The doctors were letting Bud and Ruby see their son for fifteen minutes each hour.  It seems strange today that any parent would ever be denied access to their dying child, but no one present that night questioned the wisdom of this.

So, we sat in the waiting room, waiting for those fifteen minutes while Ruby chanted, “This is the day that will never end.”  Bud asked Dad if he would go with him to see his son.  He and Dad went back behind the closed door while Ruby and I sat in the waiting room.  Ruby quietly spoke to herself as I sat staring at the closed emergency room doors, scarcely comprehending what was happening.

I looked over at Ruby who was suddenly quiet and staring at me.  “You look like him, you know.”  Their son was a red-head with a heavy build and I had blond hair and was slight of build.  “You look so much like him,” she said as she put her arm around me.  She pulled me close to her and began speaking to herself again, “Our circle is broken.  Our circle is broken.  This is the day that will never end.”

Dad came out of the closed doors and walked over to Ruby.  “Ruby, you need to go back and be with Bud.”  Somehow Ruby understood the meaning of Dad’s words and tried to rise but could not find the strength.  Dad helped her to the doors and she went through them, walking slowly, as if this would slow down the inevitable.

Dad and I waited alone for what seemed an eternity before a dazed Bud and Ruby came out.  Both were crying.  I am not sure exactly what happened next.  My memory of the event skips from the waiting room to the parking lot.  I found myself walking beside Ruby.  She was telling Bud how much I looked like their son. 

The ride home was quiet; neither Dad nor I felt like talking.  We let the road roll before us in the headlights while the night of the day that would never end turned to dawn.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Waving at the Train

My Dad died in September of 1996.  My cousin Mike, who is a quadriplegic, drove alone from Florida to Rocky Mount, North Carolina to attend the funeral.  The day of the funeral my cousin, Mike told us a story about Dad that we did not know, nor are we to ever forget.

When Mike was a teenager, his Mother and Father let him ride the train alone from Florida to see a friend in Maryland.  As most trains did in those days from Florida, they went through Rocky Mount to arrive at their destination. 

Mike told us that he had never really felt connected to his Uncles and cousins in North Carolina.  He visited us maybe once every three or so years, but we always remained strangers to him.  But all that changed on this train ride.

Mike’s mother called my father and told him about Mike’s trip on the train.  My Dad called the train station to find out the arrival time.  He discovered that the train would not stop, but simply pass through the Rocky Mount station at 3:00 am.  So, just before that time, he went to the station and waited on the platform for Mike’s train.

Mike had asked the conductor to wake him when the train approached the Rocky Mount station so that he could look out the window and see the town where his mother had grown up.  As he looked out the window, the Rocky Mount station drew near.

“I could see someone standing on the platform in the distance and as we got closer I could see that it was your dad standing under a lamp post on the platform waving at the train.  I don’t think he saw me but I saw him- and suddenly I knew that someone in that town knew me and cared for me; cared enough for me to come out to the train station at 3:00 in the morning and wave to a train.  He didn’t even see me, but he waved anyway.”

Love can be found in the most unusual places; on a deserted train platform at 3:00 in the morning; in the wave of a person who does not even see you; in a memory on a long car ride from Florida; on the day of a funeral; in the words of a cousin you barely knew.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Very Bad Day

Sometimes things don't go our way and we think, "I am having a bad day".  But the worst day on record, as far as I am concerned, belongs to a temporary employee who worked in a department in which I used to work.

His day began better than the average day.  He was reporting to work in his new job working as a temporary; he had maneuvered his way around the Charlotte rush hour traffic in his new used car that he had purchased from the friend of a friend; and best of all, he had found the parking spot to beat all parking spots.  And this is what he was telling us about when he walked into the office.  It seems it was only a block away and he did not have to pay anything for it.  In downtown Charlotte, this seemed impossible, so we thought he was not being truthful. 

But, he really had found this parking space, next to the Sheriff's Department where such spaces are reserved for Deputy Sheriffs.  Needless to say his car drew the immediate attention of the Sheriff's Office.  The license number was quickly run through the system and a thorough check was performed of the driver and the vehicle.  They discovered that the temp was driving a stolen vehicle.  The friend of a friend from whom he had made the purchase had promised him the title, but the temp had not yet received it. 

The zealous Sheriff's Deputies spotted a briefcase lying in the backseat of the stolen vehicle and they immediately began treating the car as a bomb.  Now, to understand the mindset of the deputies, you have to realize that this event that I am describing happened shortly after 9/11.  The deputies picked the locks to the doors of the car, grabbed the briefcase with a bomb robot and took it off to be blown up, where nothing but sandwiches and papers rained down.

Around lunch time, the hard working temp walked back to his car to retrieve his lunch from his briefcase.  Standing around his new used car were a half dozen deputies with weapons.  As he approached his car one of the deputies asked him if he was the owner.  When he acknowledged this fact, he was grabbed and slammed against the hood of the car, and told to spread his legs.  He was searched, arrested, and taken away to be booked.  He spent several hours explaining his situation and the reasons why he had parked in a reserved area.

He was finally released from custody, only to find that his car had been impounded.  He rode home on the bus.  Getting off the bus he forgot to look for oncoming traffic as he was stepping out from the front of the bus and he was struck by a car.  He suffered a broken leg.

Since he was a temporary worker he was soon replaced and we never saw him again.  But I often think of him when I am having a bad day.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Friday, May 10, 2013

Two Stories

Two stories were published recently, several months apart, in the morning newspaper that I read.  One story was about a billionaire who wants to build a golf course and luxury hotel on a 100 square mile area of frozen wilderness in Iceland.  Apparently this billionaire has partners and investors who are willing to do what it takes to grow grass in a part of the world that has not seen grass for thousands of years.  One of the Icelanders was quoted as saying, "Golf here is difficult."  Yes it is.

The second story was about a shop owner in India who, while walking to the train station, saw children playing in the dirt under a bridge.  He wondered why they were not in school so he asked their parents.  He discovered that they could not afford to send their children to school and that the schools were too far away in inaccessible places.  So, this shop owner, with no formal training, decided to become the teacher of these children.  But he had no supplies, no books and more importantly no building in which to teach. This did not stop him.  The next morning he came back with a chair, sat it under the bridge and began to teach the children.  Weeks went by and the number of his students grew from just a few to over 100.  People began to see the good he was doing and donated supplies and clothing.  The children now have foam mats to sit on while they listen to their shop owner teacher.

Two stories about two men.  Both men wanting to do the impossible; one man whose efforts will cost millions of dollars and will change a landscape; the other man whose efforts depend on the donations of others but is changing the lives of hundreds of people. 

So, which of these two people are we?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Running with My Heroes

Two of my heroes growing up were Glenn Cunningham, and Jim Ryan.  Cunningham was badly burned in a fire when he was 9 years old and doctors told him that he would never walk again.  Fourteen years later he broke the world record in the one mile run.  Jim Ryan was the first high school runner to break the 4 minute mile barrier.  He went on to shatter  the world mile record in college and some think he was the greatest runner of all time.

These two people inspired me to run, although I never accomplished what they did.  I began running at an early age.  I ran everywhere I went. This concerned my grandmother so much that she stopped me one day and told me "If you don't stop running everywhere your heart is going to burst."  But I didn't stop.  I loved to feel the power in my legs and the movement of my body.  There was a joy in it I could not explain.  And I still have trouble explaining why I run.  But those who run will understand.

Running is the common thread that runs through all of my life.  Running has taken me to different places; on busy streets and deserted trails; to early morning lakes with fog coming off the water; to blazing hot asphalt streets; to college towns; to country roads; to the mountains and to the beach.   I have run in all the variations of weather; in the 90 degree heat of August; in the snow and deep, bone, chilling cold of winter; in the beauty of autumn and spring. I have met many different, interesting people; blind people who hold a partner's shoulder while they run 6 minute miles together; a man who ran the Cooper River Bridge Run with a trained seagull flying just above his shoulder; people who run in costumes.

And there is nothing better than reaching the point in your run where you feel like you can run forever.  You can't, really.  But in that moment of euphoria, you feel like you can.  And in that moment, things come into focus and you hear things you have not heard before and you see things in minute detail.  It is an out of body experience.

So, for 51 years I have been running.  I have had my running highs and my running lows.  But, about a week ago, I had the greatest moment of all of my running days.  Erin, my daughter, and Jeremy, my son, ran with me in the Skyline 5k here in Charlotte.  My wife, Melanie, walked the distance. This was the first time that we had all been part of the same running event.  Erin finished first of us all.  I came in a distant second.  But, as I ran to the finish line, I saw her standing nearby cheering me on and I felt nothing but fatherly pride.  She and I waited at the line for Jeremy and I felt another burst of love for him as he finished.  Melanie finished a few minutes afterward and as I stood looking at the three of them, for one glorious morning I was truly in heaven.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@Gmail.com

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Snake Dancing

My wife's father was a master woodworker.  Using his many talents, he built us a bedroom suit as a wedding gift. He sculpted a grandfather clock that stands in our den.  A set of wooden hurricane lamps rest on our fireplace mantle.  A wooden mirror frame hangs on our wall.  But, I think his favorite things to build were his bluebird boxes.  He had a love for bluebirds and it is impossible for me to see a bluebird and not think of him.

He built the bluebird boxes with love and care for detail.  He discovered that bluebirds would only nest in a box that was so many inches tall, so many inches deep.  The hole of the bluebird box could not exceed a certain circumference. All of the boxes that he built complied with these set of specification.  But his love for the bluebird was so great that he built the boxes with a hinged top, so that he could open the lid and peer inside to see the mother with her babies.  Over the years he recorded the number of eggs in each box, the number of eggs that hatched, the rate of growth of each baby bluebird, and the time when each baby flew away.  He read somewhere that the babies as adults would return to the box in which they were raised and lay their own eggs in them. So, when the box was empty, he would clean the nest from the box, and await their return.

He passed his love of the bluebird to me and he built two boxes for me that I hung in my backyard.  However, he neglected to tell me two very important things.

First, he did not tell me that the mother bluebird flies out of the box at 100 miles per our when you lift the lid of the box.  So, it is important to stand to the side of the hole rather than in front of the hole when you lift the lid.  But, no worries.  After you do this once you always remember to stand to the side.

The second and most important thing that he did not tell me was that snakes will occasionally climb into the bluebird box and eat all the baby bluebirds.  Had I known this important detail I would have asked him to nail the lids of the box shut.  But I didn't.

So, one beautiful Saturday morning I went into my backyard and walked to the bluebird box to check on the babies.  I stood to one side and carefully opened the lid.  The mother did not fly out, so I figured that she was out gathering food.  I lowered my head to the box and peered inside.  It took one nanosecond for me to realize that I was looking straight down the throat of a black snake.  I slammed the lid down on the box so hard that the box fell off the pole on which it was mounted  and the snake crawled out the hole into the yard.

Then I did something that all human beings have done since the beginning of time when they have had a close encounter with a snake- the snake dance.  I can't explain it.  This movement takes over your body and your arms and legs begin to twist and turn and you shimmy and you shiver and once in a while a sound like a whoop or a hoot will come from deep within your throat.  Anyone seeing this from a distance without knowing about the snake will think you have lost your mind.  When you tell them about the snake it all makes sense and your behavior is seen as perfectly natural.

After I recovered and went inside, my daughter Erin was standing in the kitchen by the window.  "Daddy," she asked, "why were you dancing in the backyard?"  "Well, " I said, " I saw a snake."  And she replied, "Oh, OK.  That explains it."

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cleaning Out the Car

A few years ago my wife, Melanie, was on her way home when a car, traveling in the opposite direction, crossed the center line and struck her car head on.  Fortunately, Melanie's injuries were not serious, but her car was totaled.

Before the car was disposed of, I traveled to the lot where it had been towed so that I could clean it out.  Melanie is a teacher so she always carries a car full of "stuff" for her classes and her children.  Her front and back seats are full of treasurers that, until that time, I had called "trash".  Whenever I rode in the car with her she had to clean out a space for me.  Waiting for her to do this was aggravating and she would never let me do it.  God forbid that I rearrange her papers that were strewn about in what appeared to be a random fashion. This caused some arguments about the virtues of a clean car, which I never won.

I arrived at the lot where a number of other wrecked cars sat looking like some scene from a movie about the end of the world.  And in the middle of them sat Melanie's car; crumpled and broken and dented.  And the full impact of her accident began to creep upon me.  It dawned on me that she was alive by the smallest of margins; a few inches, a half a second, the blink of an eye.

I looked into the interior of her car.  Her "stuff" was scattered about.  I pried the door open and sat down on front the passenger seat.  I began to load her "stuff" into a bag.  I looked at each paper, each pencil, each item connected to her, and suddenly her "stuff" was no longer "trash" but had been transformed into treasure.  And I handled each book, each clipping, each rubber band and piece of cloth as if it were made of gold.

I still tease her about her untidy car.  But I now know, after she has cleaned a spot for me to sit, how lucky I am to be sitting with her among her "trash".

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Tree

There is a tree in a neighborhood near where I used to work.  It is a very large, old tree; tall with a gnarled, thick trunk.  Its limbs are long and winding and as thick as the trunks of most trees.  And on these limbs are scars where old branches had been.  There are old carvings of initials encircled by hearts. Further up is a limb with an old chain sprouting out of it.  The chain, once part of a swing, is now part of the tree and the children who once laughed and swung in its shade are now adults with children of their own.  Near the top of the tree are traces of an old lightening strike and I could see where the top of the tree once died and one of the upper limbs took its place.

This may sound strange, but whenever I was under a lot of stress or was dealing with a problem at work I would take a break from what I was doing and walk over to this tree and I would instantly find comfort and calm.  Something about this tree put all of my problems and worries in perspective for me.  This tree actually spoke to me, not in words, but in a way that nature speaks, through God.  This tree had originally grown in a forest surrounded by other trees.  It had suffered and barely survived when the neighborhood was built.  But from that neighborhood had come children who had played in its limbs, and lovers who had spread a blanket near by in its shade. And as the years passed it had survived hurricanes and thunderstorms and lightening strikes.  Old limbs were replaced with new, the neighborhood was replaced with condos.  A new tire swing was now hanging by a rope on one of its larger limbs.  And now I, standing beneath it, was part of its story and it was part of mine.

After these trips to the tree, my problems did not seem so large or insurmountable. I had learned that the problems of work were but one limb of my life; and if I stepped back just a little I could see the totality of my life.  I could see the limbs of the people I loved; the limbs where childeren played; the limbs of home; the limbs of faith; the limbs that had survived the hurricanes and lightening strikes of the past.   And I was filled with a sense of purpose and hope.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com