Summer as a Verb

Summer means different things to different people. If you are a kid, it means no school. If you dig the water, it means game on. If you are in Maryland, it can mean eating steamed crabs, rockfish season, river swimming, and/or lightning bugs. Maybe it means family vacations.

Winter and spring this year were fully scheduled. Events and programs at the community center; three different evening small groups at Christ Church Easton; lacrosse season and school for the girls. All great things, which drove where and when to be and what to do.

Summer right now is an opening up of the schedule. But in some ways, I can already feel this notion of chaos taking over from order, or inactivity as a response to hyperactivity. So it’s time to create fun and balance and challenge all at the same time.

Yesterday morning, I found Paul’s Letter to the Galatians staring at me:

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (Galatians 5, 22-25)

That is a great reminder, note to self, and guide for how to approach summer, or life in general, every day.

With all that as backdrop, I like making fun “to do” lists. Here’s one for the summer months.

1. Summer reading – read three unread/unfinished books from my bookshelf. My “to be read” stacks of books grow and books I have started or wanted to read get cast off. I started yesterday by picking back up T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” White’s wild take on the King Arthur legend, an imagination-shaping story for me as a kid, a favorite book of my brother-in-law, a book I have started and not finished. I am giving myself to the end of June. Other likely contenders are James Hillman’s “A Blue Fire,” Richard Rohr’s “The Divine Dance” and Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions.” Every summer should have some Vonnegut.

2. Regular running – as a 5-mile run yesterday evening can attest to, I have some work to do. I let my running slide this winter/spring, and it is one of the habits that rights my body and mind.

3. Paddleboarding – at least 50 miles of summer paddleboarding. More than doable without being a stretch goal at all. I’ve just written about stand-up paddleboarding on the Shore, I live walking distance to the water, make the miles happen.

4. It’s called Natitude – go to five Washington Nationals home games (September counts). When I worked in DC, it was a habit. The girls are Nats fans and enjoy live baseball, and we haven’t caught a Nats home game the last two seasons. Time to change that.

5. Prayer – My deepest connections and most meaningful moments are when I can feel the Holy Spirit at work, when I “let go and let God” to quote a friend and small group leader. That happens more frequently when I silence and open my mind. Making time for prayer is an integral part of being guided by the Spirit.

6. Life’s a Beach – we’ve got our annual Ocean City pilgrimage on the map for July. But Assateague Island is easy. Boat and paddleboard beach exploring. Make more time beach time.

7. Go new places – I’m going to keep this broad. It could be trails, small towns, road trips, scheduled or unscripted.

8. Grow things – summer mulching has begun. I need to plant tomatoes again and regain that connection to the earth, even potted flowers and plants and the habit of watering in the mornings while drinking coffee.

9. Make a skateboarding adventure – there are a few folks who I think will be on board with this. We’ve pondered the Western Maryland Rail Trail before. I don’t know what this might become or where, but I want to recapture the feeling skater Jason Adams talks about here.

10. Live music – summer and live music are meant to go together. In June, we’ve got Josh Ritter at the Avalon Theatre and The Specials in Baltimore on the books. The Avalon has outdoor music on Harrison Street, the community center will be having Philip Dutton and the Alligators, just to name a few.

This list is hardly exhaustive, but it’s a way to shape thinking about the summer. A way to carpe the diem. John Eldredge wrote something that resonates with me: “We are created for adventure, and if we cannot find one, we start blowing things out of proportion so it feels like we have one.”

In the case of adventure, or summer, it can also be a state of mind. Be guided by the spirit, and approach these days, weeks, and months for all that they, and we can be.

Notes for Spring

The Eastern Shore is not known for cherry trees or Pablo Neruda, but with his line, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees,” watching, smelling, being outside in spring on the Shore, I think he was describing here as well. Blossoming, coming to life, opening into the fullness of what we can become.

Spring belongs to those who go out into it, who look for it.

Spring belongs to those who go on sea glass and treasure hunts on beaches at sunset.

Spring belongs to those who are mulching gardens and planting flowers.

Spring belongs to those who are paddleboarding in cold water, before it is sensible to be on the water.

When we were younger, spring belonged to the kid who got the nerve up to be the first to jump off the ferry dock on a warm day in April and re-open the river for the season.

Spring belongs to kids and coaches playing lacrosse and baseball on newly cut ball fields until the sun goes down.

Spring belongs to those who wake up camping on cool mornings.

Spring belongs to Jack Kerouac when he writes:

On soft Spring nights I’ll stand in the yard under
the stars
Something good will come out of all things yet
And it will be golden and eternal just like that
There’s no need to stay another word.

Spring belongs to those who walk outside on a clear, starry night in short sleeves and look up and wonder.

Spring belongs to William Wordsworth and his walks through the Lake District.

Spring belongs to those who plan epic trips for April birthdays.

Spring belongs to dogs running into rivers.

Spring belongs to those who look forward; those who get out and breathe in. Spring belongs to those who show up.

On Vocation: Five Golden Things

“It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure,” was an ad slogan the U.S. Navy used in the late 1970s and early 80s. It must be pretty good since it still sticks in my head. What if we could go through life like that? What if we felt that way about our jobs? Our lives?

Not all jobs feel that way. But for the life adventure attitude, we’ve got to dig deeper than just a job and look at vocation.

A man knows he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live, and begins to live. – Thomas Merton

I don’t claim to be in that space Merton describes, but I am getting closer, and I am getting a pretty good lay of the land for what that looks like. For our purposes here, let’s think of vocation as a hand; as the work we do in the world with our lives. Our hand, like most hands, has five fingers. The fingers are all part of the hand, and the hand is made up of the interconnecting fingers. You can’t separate them from each other, they are all part of the same thing/work/life/vocation.

Disclaimer: I am a work in progress and things change and evolve over time. In describing these things, I am putting words towards things I have found in life to this point to be the things that seem to make up aspects of vocation/calling. Check back frequently.

1. Fatherhood. This is the one role in life I am least prepared for, it takes improvisation, winging it, frustration, questions, blood, sweat, and tears. And it’s the role that means the most, rewards the most, defines the most. Nothing else I do, or could ever do, compares to it.

2. Writing/Reading/Learning. This has been a part of me, a defining part for 30 years or more and counting. From the notebook in my back pocket, to grabbing a book with coffee in the morning, it is a part of me that never turns off. For the past six months, Tidewater Times has been a great outlet for me to write about everything from nature to history to incredible people and cool goings-on in our community. I hope to make this more and more a part of my life over time.

3. Being outside. I feel most alive outside, in nature. I can be running (preferably trails), walking the dog, hiking, paddleboarding, kayaking, bird watching, skateboarding, but being outside is where my soul feels both most alive and most at peace. Recognizing that and making sure to recharge that way and make the time for it is a daily practice.

4. Building/connecting community. It’s not a coincidence that when I was at a major crossroads in life and career, it was the Oxford Community Center that needed a director. When I think about my family being in the area since the 1600s; the evolution and changes in the town and the community; the players and personalities that have helped shape this place in the past and during my lifetime, it seems like a place I am supposed to be, involved in work that I am supposed to be a part of. I can look around and see and feel a connection to the town and the Eastern Shore in ways I have never seen or felt anywhere else. I’ll just leave it at that for now.

5. Spirituality. I saved this for last for a reason. This is where the change has been taking place and the reason for my reflection on vocation and for this post. I have been a lifelong spiritual seeker. My path has taken me in wonderful, rich, and unexpected directions at just about every step of the way. Over the past year and a half especially, that direction has revealed itself more through a deepening relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the love that flows through the Trinity, through our hearts (my heart), and into the world. I’ve never felt anything like it, and how could I have?

It’s when I have let go and allowed God to work that I have felt most free, most driven, and the most connected. On an October Friday, I put a gameplan out into the Universe, which I have no other way to describe then that I just knew those things were what I was supposed to be doing. The three parts of the plan are: 1) writing/sharing, 2) learning and studying, and 3) helping to create a community of Christian small group study. That Sunday, Father Bill Ortt stood in front of the Christ Church Easton congregation and said that they were looking for someone to lead small groups. He said you don’t need any experience, he had more than 30 years worth and that he would look to help train/mentor the right person.

That began a conversation that has helped reveal a calling (of sorts) and that has turned into a part-time job as Assistant for Small Groups and Christian Education with Christ Church Easton.

Vocation is the big picture. It is doing the work that you feel called, charged, fulfilled to do. It isn’t necessarily connected to a job, but it can be, and when it is, then you know you are doing the work you should be doing.

As God has revealed life and vocation to me, and helped me see what those things are that charge me and that I can give back, I have Frederick Buechner’s words in my head a good bit, “The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I don’t know about the world, so I’ll start with myself, my family, our community. And we’ll see where it goes.

A Journey with Fire

There are a few times in life where I have felt my heart and soul consumed by fire. It’s an incredible feeling. One that I am starting to feel again. It is wholly overwhelming. It’s a stirring of the soul, a call to action.

I am laid back, I tend to go with the flow and enjoy where the ride goes. That’s a tendency I like about myself, but it’s also one I can let get taken to the extreme. It’s a good thing until it becomes passive. Then it can lead to complacency. I am not a fan of complacency.

I’ve come to recognize that my whole being needs challenges; needs adventures; I need to be roused. Woken up. I’ve been feeling that in crazy ways of late. Fire is the best metaphor I can offer. It feels like flames.

Thursday was bookended by soaring thoughts. In the morning, it was from reading John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart.” Eldredge flies in the face of the notion of Christian men and women as simply “nice” and “good” people; he sees the church today as being too full of bored (and thereby boring) people and points us more toward living a life with passion, adventure, not playing it safe, and finding our true name, our calling.

The history of a man’s relationship with God is the story of how God calls him out, takes him on a journey and gives him his true name.

It strikes me that it different key points in my life, books have found me that bring up and work through the warrior spirit. The year Anna was born it was Chogyam Trungpa’s “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior,” from which I have a tattoo on my upper back, and now it’s Eldredge calling me back to that energy with God. It has stoked more inner fire, seeded more prayer, and roused a renewed energy at a time when I need it.

My other Thursday bookend came from watching “The Shawshank Redemption” at the Oxford Community Center’s movie night.

shawshank-bus

I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope. – Red

The team of Andy Dufresne and Red stir my soul every time. But here we are with the journey again, at it’s beginning.

I fractured my skull during Sunday School at church when I was three years old. That should have been all the indication I needed that my journey was not going to be easy, or boring, or safe. Our walk with God is a full contact sport.

This morning’s sermon ended with a prayer from Thomas Merton, which the minister found during college. He claimed that Merton helped save his life. I feel the same way and have written plenty, and will continue to write, contemplate, and quote Merton.

thomas-merton-train-tracks

This morning’s prayer came from the book, “Thoughts in Solitude:”

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not know the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Our journey, our road is ours. It’s not like anyone else’s. It’s wired into our unique DNA, and we have the Holy Spirit in that same DNA, a compass to help us find our way. The Holy Spirit, is also that fire in our hearts, which gets stoked in each of us after our own passion, our own calling. The closer we get, the more it gets stoked, the higher and brighter it burns. We have to find what stokes us, and how to sustain it. We are given maybe a spark, which we have to help grow and light us up.

I’ve got all this dancing around in my head, walking up to communion with the girls together for the first time in our lives. I’ve got deep joy welling up, as the closing hymn begins playing.

The song? “Light the Fire in My Heart Again.”

Amen.

Growing Up Goonies

A 20-pound Siamese cat slept in the crib with me when I was a baby. I didn’t seem to mind, and neither did my parents. I don’t think it sucked the life out of me, as wives’ tales go.

I spent a good part of the summer days of my first 10 years in a several-acre marsh behind our across-the-street neighbors’ house. We built trails, forts, bridges, found rusty muskrat traps, played war, and brought home mud, sticks, cuts, and ticks.

When my world expanded beyond the marsh and our dead-end street, it was into Oxford by bike. And once I got the okay to ride uptown, I don’t think my mom saw me from morning to dinner. There were no cell phones or text messages. It wasn’t a far bike ride home, and if I needed anything I could call from a friend’s house. I don’t think she was particularly worried.

I watch my girls growing up now, in Oxford half of their time, and 14-year-old Anna riding her bike uptown to find friends, to go swimming at the Strand or hang out at the park, or go to the creamery for ice cream. It’s a newer found freedom for her, one I had already known for a few years at her age. It makes me feel good to see her coming into her own.

Girls Biking BP

This spring, The Washington Post ran an article that got me thinking a lot about how many of us grew up in the 1970s and 80s. The author’s reminiscences come after a question by his eight-year-old son while watching the movie, “The Goonies.”

“Where are their parents?” the kid wondered.

It sends him into a reflection on the differences between what it was like to grow up then versus now. How now all play time is scheduled, whereas our group of friends in Oxford would just ride our bikes and see who we could find. Our days were mostly unstructured and largely up to us.

When I hear, “I’m bored,” from one of the girls, my preferred response to give is, “So what are you going to do about that?” At 14 and 11, they can unseat their own boredom. They can use their brains and bodies to come up with adventures. At their ages, we were largely put outside and told to go play.

Having said that, I have always been and am still quick to play–ride bikes up town, play bocce in the yard, pass the lacrosse or field hockey ball, put the paddleboard in the river. I love sharing that time with them.

There are about as many different parenting styles as there are parents. I don’t think one is better or worse than another, just different. I am far from father of the year (though I have seen winners of that distinction based on their t-shirt or coffee mug), I struggle, second guess, worry, question, and frequently don’t get it right. But I see the people the girls are becoming, how they treat people, the grades they get in school, how they laugh and have fun, and I am grateful that sometimes things sink in for them.

One of the goals of being a parent, at least for me, is to raise girls who grow up to be good, thoughtful, caring, compassionate, passionate, independent, creative people. Among the most valuable things my parents gave to me, was/is being able to fall down, get bruised or scratched, get the wind knocked out of me (figuratively, but sometimes literally), and to be able to get up, dust myself off, put myself back together as best I can, and keep going or get back at it. Unfortunately, I still seem to fall down plenty.

Some of that resilience comes from having to figure things out for yourself/themselves. Learning that their own creativity is the key to getting rid of boredom. And learning that sometimes boredom is okay, resting, and not having every day over-scheduled with ten sports teams, music lessons, scouts, and whatever else can be fit into waking hours.

Maybe a lesser examined idea of parenting is the notion that parents should also show their kids that there is more to being a father or mother than simply parenting; that grown-ups (and parents) have jobs, hobbies, passions, adventures, many of which involve kids, but some of which don’t. We are unscrewing a whole new can of worms with that notion, so let’s leave that be for now.

As a father, there is no greater pleasure than watching, and being a part of, Anna and Ava succeeding at something–whether making Principal’s Honor Roll, or scoring a goal, or being there for a friend, or creating art, or making a good choice, or being all smiles and laughs and making new friends on the dance floor at a wedding.

Growing up is different for the girls than it was for my grandfather (the dude sitting amongst the oyster shells above, circa 1905). Oxford is a different town, parenting is different, and being a kid is different. There are worries now that hadn’t taken shape 100 or 50 or 25 years ago.

But I’d like to think that there is still some magic and adventure that the girls can find for themselves. And while I hope that doesn’t entail running from criminals, getting stuck in underground caves, or involving the police; maybe there are figurative treasure maps and One-Eyed Willy still smiles and winks at kids today.

goonies-pirate-ship1