Show Some Love

life can surprise you sometimes.

several days ago i was surprised.

here’s what happened…

i was on “solo duty” (watching the kids on my own) for the night, because my wife was out having some fun with her girlfriends. i thought about making dinner (for a second), then decided we should stop off somewhere to grab a quick bite (there were a few things on the schedule for the night–dinner, homework, showers, etc.). and, my students at the high school had been on my case about the fact that i hadn’t yet been to “cane’s chicken” (like in a relentless, merciless way, like there was no other place on earth to think of getting some chicken)–so, i thought we should try it out.

after picking up the kids at school–that’s where we headed, to cane’s chicken. and, after navigating the winter wasteland of the twin cities area, we made it there. as i approached, i could see that the parking lot was jammed with vehicles–including the drive-thru line, which wrapped around the entire establishment. and, of course, the drive-thru line was where i was headed. i mean, i’m on solo duty, here–got to get this show on the road–no time to go in, sit down, and have a normal-paced dinner with my children.

so, i pull into the parking lot and make my way towards the end of the drive-thru line. as i cruise in, i see a red car parked to my right, as if the driver is waiting for something, but it’s not clear what (at least not to me and at that moment); so i cruise by it (her) and we exchange a quick glance and i settle into to my spot at the end of the drive-thru line. within 2 seconds, i hear a horn blast from behind me and i look around. then, i look at my side mirror. i see the woman in the red car “flip me off” and mouth some swear words at me.

my kids are aware of the horn, but can’t see the woman who is upset — so, I tell them “the woman behind us is unhappy”  🙂

then, i sit back for a moment.

i pause and think.

i’m agitated and annoyed that she’s pissed off at me.

i consider staying in the spot.

it’s what i would’ve done in my younger, more immature days (a couple of years ago 😉 )

[but seriously, it is what i would’ve done before. i grew up fighting. but, over time, i’ve tried to work on that response, that reaction–pick my battles, you know. sometimes i’m successful, sometimes i’m not–sometimes i realize that i still need to work on that shit (but, that’s a whole ‘nother story for whole ‘nother time)]

regardless, it’s not what i do now. at this moment–i don’t escalate, i don’t fight.

[it’s not what i do now because a thousand traffic incidents flash through my mind in a millisecond–times where people have cut me off–and i see myself, my reaction. and, it’s exactly like hers!]

so, i tell my kids, “she’s upset because i cut her off, though i didn’t mean to.”

and then, i do something i’ve never done before. i pull out of my spot in the drive-thru line and slowly go around the entire building. i circle back to the end of the line and come to the spot right behind her.

well, the line moves forward (slowly). after some time, we finally get to the speaker box and place our order. two chicken strip meals for the kids and the “big box” for dad. as we get past the turn we can see the woman in the red car in front of us. she is at the window where you pay. the kids and i are talking a little bit and we’re happy to be getting closer to getting our food. then, i notice something. the woman in the red car is talking to a cane’s employee and gesturing back at our vehicle…it seems like they’re in conversation “about us”. i mention this to the kids and the kids are wondering (like i am) what this could be about. i’m thinking, now what, is she taking up the incident with the staff?!

eventually, she rolls forward to the “pick-up” window and i pull forward to the “pay window”. i roll down my window and reach out to hand the worker my cash for the order. as i’m halfway there, he stops me and says, “you don’t need to pay for your food, she did” (and he points to the woman in the red car in front of us). i’m incredulous-what?!

the worker and i exchange a brief rundown of the situation, then i immediately put my hand up and wave a “thank you” to the woman.

she waves back.

with all five fingers this time 🙂

we get our food, head home, and enjoy some “really good chicken” (the high school students were right)–but, i’m fuckin’ jazzed–i can’t believe what just went down in the drive-thru line.

i know it’s such a little thing, but it’s fuel for life–it gives me hope, you know.

so, send out your love.

you never know what will come back.

love is thicker than water

but nothing lasts forever
your best efforts don’t always pay
sometimes you get sick and you don’t get better
that’s when life is short even in its longest days

-john mellencamp

my cousin died when she was 46…

her name was lisa and it happened last fall…

and i remember walking into the funeral home with my mom, dad, and sister…we came first to an anteroom, and upon entering, my eyes found her three children…one in college, one in high school and one in junior high…and then, i saw her husband coming ’round the corner…and that’s when i lost it…and then her husband lost it, too…and then we all embraced in a messy, tearful, tangled hug…

my aunt and uncle were there, too…bonnie and jay…and though they were visibly broken, somehow, some way they were keeping it together…my cousin john was there, too (lisa’s brother–it was always just the two of them)–wrecked, but holding strong as well…i guess they had all cried enough tears in the previous few weeks…lisa had been in the hospital for a little while before she died…and despite the fact that she had maintained an amazingly optimistic and hopeful attitude, right up until the end, the cancer was merciless and relentless…it would not be held at bay, it would not yield…

sometimes you get sick and you don’t get better…

so, over three days time, we went from the viewing, to the funeral service, to the burial and then to the reception …returning to my aunt and uncle’s place on occasion to regroup…it was weird, it was surreal…being around people who you normally long to see and visit with…our relatives, our family…yet, not having her there…it didn’t make sense…

along with that, i didn’t have a lot of experience being at funerals or knowing people who had died…in my world, it added up to a handful of people….most of them were older…grandparents, even great grandparents…people from “the greatest generation”…people who had lived long, full lives…and while we definitely felt the loss of their passing, their dying made more sense…and their funerals more closely resembled what people commonly call “happy funerals”…where the person “is celebrated” and the funeral is “a celebration”…

this wasn’t a “happy funeral”…this wasn’t “a celebration”…

this was sadness, grief, and pain…

i think everyone felt that it happened too soon…

probably because everyone that was there knew lisa…and if you knew her…you knew what living life really meant, you knew what true innocence and goodness and faith really meant…you knew it because when you saw her, when you talked to her…you would see it, you would hear it…and when you see that kind of life, that kind of life force…in a human being…you think to yourself...nothing on earth can stop that, nothing can extinguish that fire, that spirit…  

and when a light like that goes out, it goes dark for everyone who looked upon it…

that’s the way i felt (and feel), anyways…

and there was something else…there is something more to the story…

something remarkable, despite the utter pain of her passing…something unique about her story…from beginning to end, from birth ’til death…

the remarkable thing is the love that her family holds for one another…the four of the them–lisa, john, bonnie, and jay…now, don’t get me wrong they’re not perfect or without trial or tribulation…they’re like any other family–any other real family, that is, that goes through the up’s and down’s of life…and believe me, they’ve come through their own fires…and yet still remained–a family…a family that they created…in love…especially between lisa and her parents…and, most especially, between lisa and her mom, bonnie…a mother and daughter…but more than that, best friends…i guess it’s significant for me because lisa (and her brother, john) were adopted–early in their marriage my aunt and uncle came to realize that they couldn’t have children…but, they still wanted kids…so, they adopted lisa and john…

as a man, i have no idea what a woman experiences or feels when she’s told she can’t have kids…when she’s told she can’t give birth to her own children…i mean, i know women who have had that experience outside of this story and often think that…

that’s really, really terrible

because

man, she would be an amazing mom (and he would be an awesome dad)

then instantaneously, the same thought always pops into my head…

i wonder if they’ll adopt?

my thinking probably plays out like this because at my base, at my core…i know lisa, john, bonnie, and jay…i know their story…i know what they mean to me…

i know that their family was (and is) closer than some biological families are…

i know that bonnie and jay have always seen lisa and john as their own…their son, their daughter…

i know that we (my sister and i) always saw them as our cousins not our ‘adopted ones’…

i know that, growing up, they were (without a doubt) our closest cousins…

i know that they have been and always will be my family…

not by blood, but by love…

beyond tradecraft

“you do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going…what you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
― thomas merton

one of the toughest kids i ever worked with (he’s on my top 25 list of all-time toughies-coming in at #25) was a high school student i encountered at summer camp…the place was the outdoor lutheran camp called luther heights bible camp (mentioned in several previous posts) and the summer was 1995…

note: just because you’re working at a bible camp doesn’t mean all the kids you meet are angels 🙂

anyways, up until this point, my experiences working with kids included working one-on-one with an at-risk, elementary school student in an after school mentoring program (for two semesters in college) and coaching soccer at sports camps (for four summers)…i had not yet delved into the world of juvenile justice, church youth work, or teaching…

i was an apprentice…

at herding cats

and he was a master…

at defiance 

and he was in my cabin group for the week…meaning, i was his counselor for the week…so, i was responsible for leading him and about 12 other high school boys through each day at camp (at the same time, there were about seven or eight other on-site cabins filled with the same number of high school students and a counselor)…the days would include games, challenge activities, morning/evening worship (a super-scaled down version of what you might encounter at an elca lutheran church on a sunday morning–to this day, i still prefer it to the formal sunday church stuff;), hikes, an overnight, special interest activities, talent show, bible study, etc…

usually, high school week is one of the best weeks of the summer…i mean, you’ve got kids who you can reason with and have relatively serious conversations with…ones who get your jokes…and often, ones who are really engaging and give you hope for the future of the world at large;) …but, this week was a tough one for me…because of carl (his name has been changed for this story)…

and no one could predict or foresee what was to transpire…at the end of our week together (and beyond)…it was unimaginable…it was unbelievable…or, so i thought…

anyways…

right away, when he got to camp, he had a major attitude–especially with anyone in authority–which revealed itself in an edgy tone and (sometimes) harsh language…i got the feeling that he had come through some hard knocks…given this, carl took up most of my time and energy that week…it began on sunday afternoon (that’s when the kids arrived–the typical week went from sunday – friday)…and each day his demeanor seemed to get progressively worse…no matter what we were doing–he opposed it, was non-compliant…and worse, tried to get the other guys in the cabin to follow his lead and join his rebellion against me…interestingly, he was quite charismatic and had a bit of charm–(his face reminded me of a young leonardo dicaprio–i didn’t care for the young dicaprio much either;)…so, he had some influence among the other guys…which doubled-down on the challenges for the week…

funny thing–this was summer camp…about as far as you can get from the responsibilities of work or school or home…so much of what we did every day was really fun…and it was that fact that made the whole week together so much more exhausting…in retrospect, carl’s behavior was a lot like that of my 2 year-old son…who says ‘no’ to just about everything i tell him to do…even if it’s the most fun thing in the world…that’s exactly what carl said to me…’no, no, no, no, no’…for 16 waking hours a day for an entire week…

by mid-week, the rest of the staff knew what i was up against…there were a couple of instances when the program director (kt) met with him and he received consequences for his behaviors…but, he was undeterred…he kept coming…

and all i could think about was friday…when the week would be over…for me, it couldn’t come soon enough…

over the course of the week, my fellow counselors supported me the best they could and i tried to keep a positive attitude…and hang in there with him…but my resolve was fading…

he seemed unreachable…

then, thursday night arrived…

we came to the final evening worship of the week…the one that usually carries a little more weight, because it’s the last one of the week and the kids will leave the next morning…and go back home…

honestly, i don’t remember worship being anything special that night…that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was lacking in any major way–more likely, it was because i was lacking…i was fried-stick a fork in me, i’m done! 

so, worship came and went…and we were dismissed to our cabins…

as i was herding my group towards the trail that led to our cabin, i realized that carl was not with us…so, i looked back to the fire ring where we had been seated for worship…and i could see him in the firelight, sitting there, like a statue…my first thoughts were, what now?! are you serious?!  so, you’re gonna take it to the limit?!

quickly, i caught the attention of one of my fellow counselors (one who was on support staff and didn’t have a cabin that week–all of the counseling staff had to serve a rotation on support staff…where they would help with cleaning dishes, maintenance, meals, leading random games and activities, preparing campfires, etc) and asked him to take my guys back to our cabin…

i watched my guys head back up the trail for a moment, then i turned back to the fire ring…i took a deep breath and walked back to where carl was sitting…and sat down right next to him…

i asked him…

so, what’s going on?

there was a moment of silence…then, i heard him…

carl started crying…it was the full-on, shoulder-shaking kind…

so, i sat there…waiting…

after a while, he said…

i’m so sorry, i’m so sorry for the way i’ve been acting–for the way i treated you…all week…

[i couldn’t believe what i was hearing, i was floored]

after a moment, i said…

it’s alright, don’t worry about it…

we talked for a little while longer…and he gathered himself together…after a while, we headed back to the cabin…the next day, it was like he was a whole new kid…no attitude…we were good…except for the fact that i was in complete and total shock at what had happened…

later that morning…his ride came, we said ‘our goodbyes’ and he headed home…

i thought that was the end of the story…but, it wasn’t…

one year later…

i was walking through camp (i went back again, in the summer of 1996, for tour #2) when i heard someone call out my name…

hey, dett!

[since there was another dave working at camp they called me ‘dett’–short for my last name: dettmann]

in response, i turned around and was surprised to see a face i would never forget–it was carl…so, i spoke up in earnest…

hey, carl, how’s it going?!

we talked for several minutes, he was enthusiastic and positive…then, he said…

good to see you, dett…hey, i’ve got to go…got to get back to my campers…

i was confused by what he said, so i asked…

campers?! 

he responded with a smile and said…

yeah, i’m one of the counselors for my church group that’s up here this weekend…look, i gotta get back (some churches utilized the camp for their own programs at times during the summer-usually when we were running a smaller camp on-site–as was the case this weekend)…

immediately, he took off after his campers…and i stood there in the middle of the trail, dumbstruck…

to this day, i am still struck by what happened all those years ago…by the realization that while we can do great things in the world…sometimes, what happens is beyond anything we can do ourselves…or, beyond any special talent or skill we might have…sometimes, what happens is truly extraordinary…

so, in closing, i would like to share this poem with you…forwarded to me by my friend/pastor katie sanders…i think it comes the closest to capturing what this experience means to me…

a future not our own

[by ken untener]

it helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
the Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

we accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
no statement says all that could be said.
no prayer fully expresses our faith. no confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
no program accomplishes the church’s mission.
no set of goals and objectives include everything.

this is what we are about. we plant the seeds that one
day will grow. we water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
we lay foundations that will need further development.
we provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

we cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
this enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
it may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
we may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.

we are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs.

we are prophets of a future not our own.

joe

joe has been in my class for two years (the curriculum is set up so that you can take four semesters of criminal justice if you want to (and if your schedule “allows”)…

joe is a rarity among adolescent boys in today’s world…

because joe is the real deal; little about joe is a “front” or “false”…he possesses real self-confidence and bearing and maturity…and holds a worldview that, while not perfect, is truly positive…

joe has the potential to be a great man…

a few weeks back, i told the students that we would be watching freedom writers in class as a part of that week’s lesson (as a teacher, it is a truly inspirational tale–erin gruwell did some amazing work with those kids!)…a movie which usually gets groans from the boys, especially in a criminal justice class…and there was a groan that was voiced by one of the guys…but, joe cut it off…instantly…saying…

dang, d….you’re getting all inspirational on me now…it’s a good movie…makes me want to volunteer and donate all my money to the community…

he was saying it in a very awesome way, kind of giving me a hard time…but, mostly lending his positive support to the movie choice…legitimately so…and the other guys got on board with it too…they got on board with it because joe said it, because joe is a leader…to the positive…

not in some cheap-ass, rose-colored, leave it to beaver way…but, with gravitas (a word i’ve never used to describe a teenage boy before;)…and because he can communicate in that way, he can speak with some authority to his peers…in a way that immediately wins them over…

iron sharpens iron, and so one man sharpens another…

it is something that i’ve appreciated all year–and especially, during this year…one that’s been really tough, one where i’ve been ‘on the ropes’ more than not…

but, joe’s been there (many times)…in my corner, and i can pretty much guarantee that i wouldn’t have made it this far without him…

in a couple of months, when he graduates…i plan on shaking his hand and telling him…

thanks for ‘having my back’ this year, i appreciate it…keep on keepin’ on… with ‘what you’re doing’…you’re a good man…you give me hope…

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