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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Momentary Connections

A movie is playing on the DVD. In our cramped living room our children have plopped wherever they can find room: on the couch, in the worn-out banana chair, on the floor, in the old wooden rocker, and one on top of the unfolded laundry. I take my gaze away from the TV to look at each of my children. I was there at each of their births, but at this moment I suddenly feel how independent of me they are or will be. I study the face of each child wondering at what I have had a part in creating. How can this be? How can someone ignorant of life's secrets be allowed the privilege to help create a human soul—a soul with the potential of becoming like God? None of my children notice my wondering scrutiny and instead stare at the scenes on the TV. That is until I come to twelve-year-old Cory. As I am studying his face he must sense my gaze. Without warning his head turns and his eyes meet mine. He doesn't know why I am looking at him, but it doesn't seem to bother him. I don't know what he is seeing from his view point as he looks into my eyes, but he has the grace to smile at me before he turns his head back to the TV. His smile is simple, sincere, and beautiful. His smile says to me, “I am comfortable with you, Dad, and I love you.” That instant of eye contact, that selfless smile, they were a gift of God from a soul we had created together, but they looked to me to be from the part that God created.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Suddenly Glory

The workings of a household with many children can be mysterious. As a father I am aware that there is a world of which I am not a full member—a world where I am an outlawed creature, but tolerated on the edges. As a caring father, one who really enjoys spending time with children doing the things they like to do, this baffles me a little. My children love me. They seek out my company often each day. And yet there is a place “Dad” cannot come. The world is for children and I am an adult. My children did not make up the rules for this world; they and I are just living under a law of reality.

I had been working in my office all day, neglecting even to come in for lunch. Around three o’clock, when I realized I was a little hungry, I left my project on my desk and came into the house for some food and a break. In my home, when everyone is home, there are ten people—Mom and Dad and eight children. My home is small and the presence of others is easily detected. On this day as I entered the back door I detected nothing but silence, something that is very unusual. One son is on a mission in Canada. Two other sons, although living at home, were at work. That accounted for three children. As I walked through the kitchen into the sitting room I found my three-year-old, Story, sprawled out in nothing but his diaper asleep on the couch. So there was the fourth. I recalled my wife telling me she was going to step out on an errand. She sometimes takes Clory, my twelve-year-old, with her. That accounted for my wife and a fifth child. So where were the other three?

Then I heard little voices. I followed their soft melody to the back bedroom. There I found the other three all sitting on the top bunk. Lory, ten, was lying at one end looking up at the ceiling as she talked. Jory, seven, was at the other end sitting up and pressing the bottom of his bare feet against Lory’s feet and giggling about something. Glory was sitting in the middle, to the side of the other’s legs, against the railing.

I strode into the room and rested my head on my hands on the edge of the top bunk. The children were aware of me, but they were in that world I could not enter and said nothing to me. After a minute of listening to their comments and laughter that mean nothing now I ventured some words to see if they would recognize and communicate with me.

“Did you guys have lunch yet?”

Lory glanced at me and nodded. “Peanut butter jelly sandwiches,” she said. She immediately looked back at the ceiling, kicked Jory’s feet and laughed at some continuing joke I was not privy to.

I felt a little lonely standing there in the presence of three of my children. But then I noticed Glory, 5. She was looking at me from across the bed with those big, brown eyes. I felt like I, an outsider, was in a jungle and some creature of the jungle had taken notice of me. Glory presently is the most mysterious of all my children--at least to me. She needs me as her father, but only at her convenience. Her world is quite independent. I see her and hear her during the day, but she calls on me only when it is in her interest to do so. For instance, I will be watching a movie in the evening. I will make myself comfortable on the love seat with various family members in various seats and positions throughout the room. I will suddenly become aware that my once empty lap is now occupied by Glory. She will have made herself quite comfortable as if I am a lounger. I didn’t notice when she arrived in my lap. Suddenly Glory was just there because it suited her. After giving the movie my attention for awhile I will look down to find my lap empty again and Glory nowhere to be seen. I didn’t notice her leave. Suddenly Glory is just gone.

On this day Glory’s eyes lock on me. She says nothing and I raise my eyebrows in wonder. Then Glory, who is sitting Indian style, leans slowly across the bed and presses her lips against my cheek. Next she presses her cheek against my lips. Then she withdraws back across the bed and back into her world. I try to follow her, but run up against the barrier no adult can cross. I realize Glory has given me a gift from her world. Knowing I have been favored, but can expect no more, I withdraw in search of a peanut butter jelly sandwich.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Climbing to 12,000 Feet With My Girls

On the last Saturday before the snows arrived at the higher altitudes I took two of my daughters, Clory and Lory, and a friend and climbed to the North Peak of Mt. Nebo. The hike consists of a ten mile round trip and an altitude gain of 3000 feet. Let me tell you of my adventures with my daughters.

I am still overweight, but have worked out hard these past four weeks. I had hopes that with my workouts and two knee braces the journey would come off all right. We got up at 5:00 am. We at half a bagel and a pop tart and began the drive up that windy road. The sky was clear and it looked to be a beautiful day. Supposedly snow is coming in a few days up on the mountain. We started up the trail at 7:00 am. My workouts proved effective and I didn't have any undue trouble getting to the summit. I was so proud of myself! But then my gas ran out. Coming down about killed me. We ran out of water and I was so dehydrated it took some focus and faith to make it to the car. Dang. There were all these other hikers who pretty much skipped to the top and skipped back down again. For them it is a pleasant day trip and for me it is a life or death adventure. But I did it—again.

The hike was quite an adventure for 11-year-old Autumn also. I can tell you right from the beginning she was a trooper. Autumn is skinny, somewhat girlish, and emotional, but she does have determination. She hiked without complaint. My only complaint was that she wanted to stop and view the scenery in her enthusiastic way.I teased her and every time she looked up I would say, “You are looking at the scenery again!” She would reply, “Daaaad!” She had such enthusiasm and joy. While in the pines she exclaimed again and again how beautiful it was and that she expected to see fairys and elves. You remember the two very steep, sudden climbs, one about 800 feet and one about 1200 feet. She scooted right up these.

After the second steep ascent we arrive at 11,500 feet in altitude. The peak is just about one mile away across a narrow ledge of nothing but sharp, broken shale and scree. The slopes fall sharply away to cliffs at strange angles and make a person dizzy. As you might imagine the ridge was a little more difficult for Autumn. She used the word “treacherous” several times, but she wasn't complaining, just observing. Up and down, over and around we went picking our way and pricking our hands on sharp rocks. At one point we had to work our way back up to the top of the ridge using our hands along with our feet. I felt the fear well up inside her before she said anything. “She said simply, “I'm scared, Dad.” I thought that maybe we had reached the end of the hike. I didn't want to push her up something she couldn't come back down or force her into tears. I encouraged her without trying to push her so that she could make up her own mind. She made up her mind to go on and up to the top she went. She showed great courage. She didn't let her fear make her decisions for her. I was proud of her.

Coming down proved difficult for Autumn. She didn't trust her feet and slid down a lot on her bottom or else moved very, very slowly on her feet. So did I. We both had holes in the bottoms of our pants when we got down. After that 1200 foot decent to the saddle we stopped for a rest, a drink, and a bite to eat. Autumn and I felt quite sick when we got up to go. I was barely holding back vomiting and so was she. But she trudged along silently behind not complaining at all. About a half mile from the car we stopped for a moment to rest. She walked over to me, leaned against me and cried just a little, very softly. She was so thirsty and tired. Her face was flushed and I was worried she might collapse from heat exhaustion. I was feeling it too. I mentioned this quietly to Clorinda and Clorinda took my keys and broke into a run to go get some water that was left in the car. What a girl. She met Autumn on the way back to give her a drink, then Misha brought it on back to me. While Clorinda and Misha were gone Autumn and I had a little prayer and we walked hand in hand for a bit.

Clorinda, 13-years-old, was a trooper also, not because she went on when she wasn't expected to, but because the whole thing was easy for her. She was in the lead the entire trip. She wasn't showing off, but she was just faster than me and Autumn. Clorinda never left me behind, though, like my boys had on previous trips. She would always stop and wait for me, on the way up and on the way down. And always she had a smile for me and words of encouragement. “You're doing great, Dad!” For me she was the most beautiful thing on that mountain.

When we got to the ridge she led the way. This wasn't her “taking charge” in some grand way. She was just in front and faster and had no fear of what had to be done. She showed no sign of fatigue; she just worked her way across the ridge methodically. At one point she made, in what was my judgment, a mistake. She crossed a itty bitty ledge hanging on above them with their hands with a toe hold on the rock below. It was a 12 foot drop to the first sharp rocks below. I voiced my concern over that route choice. Autumn and I went over the top and on the other side where it was much safer. On the other hand I looked ahead to see Clory climbing something very steep with her hands again. I yelled that that couldn't be the way (I couldn't remember having to use my hands except near the summit) and that they should go to the next colur. She looked at me questioningly, but did go to the next and work her way up. When I got to the route I had told her to go up I looked and gulped. Autumn and I weren't going up that. We went back to the route I had warned her against and climbed that way. Clory had had no trouble with the harder route and just shrugged when I apologized for my misguidance. Clorinda was magnificent!

The climb made me physically ill. I don't think it was the physical exertion as much as it was the altitude. I reach 10,000 and I start to have headaches and then nausea comes on. Every time I make this hike (this was my fourth time) I swear I will never do it again. This time was no different. I remember telling my wife after I got home, "Never again!" I repeated myself three times. but now, looking at these pictures and thinking of the wonderful time I had with my daughters and their friend, I'm not so sure I won't go again when my 9-year-old son is old enough. And then there is 6-year-old Glory after him. And then 4-year-old Story after her. Clory and I figured out I would be 56 in seven years when Story is able to go. With full confidence Clory said, "You'll be able to do it, Dad." I hope so. I hope so.

More Pictures

The ridge at 11,500 feet.

Looking back down at the saddle. Steep climb.

Up on the ridge with Autumn