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Posts Tagged ‘Remembering’

I am amazed at times what a little rest and little reflection can allow to come around in our memory. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of challenge by way of time pressure and emotional workout. So, even though today is also full of chores and duties, I had the privilege of sleeping late. But sleeping late for one in the habit of early rising is difficult. Usually 7 PM is all that I can manage, but it was a few minutes past 7:30 when I first saw the clock this morning, and my dear wife slept away. In the unhurried moments I lay musing on random thoughts when one came through quite clearly.

Do you remember the names of your elementary school teachers? Sequentially from 1st grade through 6th mine were Mrs. Denton, Mrs Gaston, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Gervin, Mrs. Tucker, and Mrs. Alexander. I know that a child’s view of the world and the addition of many years makes memories a bit skewed, but I thought of a few things I remember about them.

Mrs. D was a large lady. I don’t mean overweight, just a big person. She was kind but seemed sad. She had gray hair. None of my teachers were young. I always wanted to please my teachers and I wanted to do my best for her. One day during milk break in the cafeteria, I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t finish my milk. Mrs. D would stand at the garbage can inspecting to see if we had finished our milk. I was nervous and dropped the carton, mostly full of milk, just before she took hold of it. It fell and splashed milk all over her dress. She had to go out and change her clothes. She was not happy with me. I don’t feel like that she held it against me after that. I think I remember struggling to learn to read and yet enjoying the new world it opened up.

Mrs. G was a small round woman who wore lots of jewelry and smiled most of the time. She was also strict. The first and last time I ever cheated on a test was on one of her weekly spelling quizzes. I wanted to do well but spelling did not and does not make sense to me. I used a little cheat sheet and she caught me. I was publicly shamed and worse, my parents were told. In this day and time publicly shaming is frowned upon, but I think it only hurts significantly because we tell children falsehoods about self-esteem the rest of the time so that they have “entitlement issues”. At any rate, I never cheated again, ever. I struggled in reading. After a short stint in reading group #1, I was demoted to the second reading group. My mother was told that I was struggling and it was suggested that I read extra at home. Mrs. G had a box of 2nd grade reading level books. I checked out one or two a week to read to my mother at home. I improved in reading, enjoyed the stories, being drawn most of all to facts related books. I am still a laboriously slow reader, but I understanding is good, and I enjoy an encouraging story or informative narrative. We still had nap, or quiet time. Most of the other students giggled and fidgeted on their mats, but I frequently went fast asleep. I distinctly remember several times awaking, disoriented and drowsy, to be given a hard time by classmates and defended fiercely by Mrs. G.

Mrs. H was almost certainly the youngest elementary school teacher I had and I’m pretty sure she was middle aged. She was innovative and energetic. She decided that our study of American History and the Capitol, Washington D.C., should have a visual. So she set out having us make paper mache models of the various buildings in D.C. I made a Washington Monument. By 3rd grade I had a best friend, Andy D. We loved math and did problems together. We liked science and talking about space exploration and going to the Moon. We liked drawing symmetrical shapes with ruler and compass. I grew up with mechanical drawing since my father worked as a draftsman for ORNL from shortly after the war.* So, Mrs. H selected Andy and me to draw out a map of D.C. with streets, bodies of water, and the locations of monuments and buildings all to scale. We did this on butcher paper laid out on the floor of a particularly large, empty classroom down the hall from her room. Andy and I would get to skip classes we did well in to work on the map. My childish memory wants to say the map was perhaps 20 x 30 feet in size. We spent many hours drawing, talking, and reveling in time together, just the two of us in that empty room. After all of the paper mache buildings were completed with white acrylic paint and all, they were placed on the map which was painted with black streets and blue rivers and pools, and large green spaces. The model that I had made was not selected and I thought it was better. Later someone helped me to understand that Mrs. H had allowed me the privilege and limelight of drawing the map. It would not be equitable to also place my paper mache monument on the map. During the next PTA meeting most of the school and their parents walked around the periphery of the map in that otherwise empty room admiring our work. It was probably the most unforgettable thing for me about elementary school.

Mrs. G was a thin, quiet woman. I somehow remember being a favorite of hers and growing in my love of learning new things. I had a vague memory of some written project that I did well on, but for some reason everything about that year is vague. In fact, even the room we were in seems vague, being set back in a corner at the end of the hallway. Mrs. G liked to keep the blinds shut so that the room had a dark, calm atmosphere.

Mrs. T was a fierce, little fireball who loved to raise flowers. She lived about a block from me in a little white house that was unimpressive, but the flower garden because of the small yard could not be anywhere else but next to the street, was impressive. When I would walk or ride my bike by her house, you could see the weedless beds of massive flowers of many varieties and smell them, too. Many evenings and summer mornings, Mrs. T was out weeding and replanting slips or cuttings. In class, she expected her students to work hard and behave, all orderly and well presented like her garden. I wanted to please my teacher so I did both. Good behavior produces good results. I was allowed to help the teacher and do work ahead of my grade. One of my best friends did something one day that set the class off and sent Mrs. T into a frenzy. It was warm and our school did not have air conditioning, so the banks of casement windows were laid open. A yellow jacket flew in and buzzed around the back of the room. Many of the girls screamed and others jumped out of their seats to get away. While Mrs. T was trying to settle the class, Jack jumped up with a new pencil, made noises as he sung his pencil like a sword, knocking the bee to floor dead on his last downswing. The class went wild with elation.

Mrs. A had to be close to retirement. She told me she had been a teacher for some period of time that seemed astronomical to my young mind. She always seemed to be happy and encouraging. I’m not sure if I am remembering correctly, but I think that I heard that she had had some deep hurts in her life, which if my memory is correct, made her demeanor all the more amazing. She liked to have classroom competitions and interclass competitions: weekly Spelling Bees, group math quizzes, history facts group competitions. I dreaded the spelling bees and seem to remember managing many 2nd places, despite my abhorrence of the art form. Mrs. A invited a number of her best students to come to her house a few times to study extra for a math competition that we went to. I felt so special eating a snack in her breakfast room with a few of my classmates. 

This commentary is a very narrow slice of what I remember about my elementary school years. There was baseball and bowling and bike rides and vacations and good grades and friends and chorus and library and safety patrol and playground (woods, swings and monkey bars and merry-go-rounds, kickball) and PE with the principal and plays and promenades and always working real hard to please my parents, my teachers, and make good grades and times with friends. But my teachers had more influence on me than I have previously given credit for in many long years. They may not have been the best teachers by modern pedagogical standards, but they had high expectations, rewarded what was good, punished what was not, and seemed to care about their students and their content. That was enough for me.

* I decided to say it the way we would back then instead of explaining it for the younger set. ORNL stands for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of the Manhattan Project where my mother was secretary and just a couple of years before my father arrived, and much of the focus of anything related to radioactivity studies. The war, of course, was World War II where my father had recently arrived home from when he began working there.

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I live in the present for a number of reasons. I like adventure, even if ever so small, so I seek out new experiences. I have never been able to attach times with events; I have a friend who can name the year, month, and frequently which day an event happened. I have discovered, save a few rare jewels, that few people want to hear about what happened long ago. But today at lunch a definite opening to the past came about and I related a story and asked my colleague to relate a similar experience, “What was the most interesting night you have ever spent backpacking?” She related that it was the first and last time she ever saw a porcupine. Part of her adventure was a lack of understanding at the time of how quills work, that is, how porcupines use them for defense.

I told of a night when it was snowing hard, large wet flakes at dusk and we were looking for an opening with a flat spot for our tent. We came down to a road where a man was checking his mailbox. My friends got into a conversation with him about the weather and camping sites. He offered his barn loft and we jumped at it. The loft smelled of hay but there was none other than a dusting on the floor. We swept the loft so we could start our cook stoves without burning the barn down. Svea stoves sound like small jet engines, so it drown out the windy storm for awhile. Candlelight caste eerie shapes and shadows on the rafters and slats. I took several time exposures with my film SLR. We told stories, read abit and lay down to a long winter’s slumber. It was a pleasant place to sleep not having the tent flapping in the breeze. The next morning it was in the upper teens. My wet boots had frozen overnight and were painful to put on and to walk. I am sure that  up on Whitetop Mtn. there were significant drifts, but there was dry snow here, too. I feel like I have experienced a small taste of what life used to be like when I have done things like sleeping in a barn. Of course, our forebearers didn’t have nylon sleeping bags and packs, or pre-packaged food or white gas stoves or SLR cameras, but they did live simply and sleep hard on occasions.

Telling this memory reminded me of other memorable nights in the woods. Once with another friend we spent the night in a forest of young, straight trees. It was hard to hang our packs with no branches within throwing distance of our cord, so we hung our packs between two small, understory trees with the bottoms of our packs hanging barely above our reach. It had been a very wet day and now set in for a foggy night. We may have napped an hour in our tent when we heard pack rattling noises. Our flashlights revealed three large cubs, perhaps even yearlings, taking turns climbing one of the small trees and jumping out to swipe at the packs. We had left the pockets unzipped so that any mice that managed the climb would simply enter rather than chew holes in our packs. This detail meant that the cubs’ swipes were effective at knocking out our granola and snack bars and meat packets, and so forth. Before they had done much damage to our food supplies or torn open any stuff sacks we were out of our tent yelling and banging tree trunks with sticks, to which they scurried into the rhododendron out of sight. After several exchanges of this kind we could see that they thought it was a wonderful game, but we were becoming more leery at the thought of mother bear being just out of sight ready to attack if our admonitions were not to her liking. Wearily and warily we decided that there was no help for it other than to start a fire under the packs to keep the cubs away and mother hidden from sight. It was the hardest fire I have ever started. My friend collected every potentially dry twig and leaf possible, from under rocks and under logs and in tree hollows. There was only relatively less wet; dry did not exist. With a little of our toilet paper, some white gas from our stove, many minute twigs and needles we somehow got a fire going, but keeping it going and drying wood in the smokey fire was just as hard. Walking most of the day with a pack on requires two things: lots of food and good sleep. We were not getting much of the latter. We took two hour shifts of keeping the fire going and sleeping in the tent. Some time during the wee hours the fog lifted to reveal a moonless, starlit, branch filled sky. It was perhaps the first time that I realized that the sky begins to lighten as early as 3 AM in the summer. What is not perceivable to the eye around light pollution is a wondrous sight to the dark adjusted pupil. We didn’t see the cubs again and can’t say with any assurance that mom was anywhere around, but our packs smelled of smoke for a long time after that.  

Another memorable night I spent on Camp Town Bald, which I think was renamed Viking Mountain. There are few fire towers left in the mountains and probably none used for their original purpose, but one of the larger ones stood on top of the Bald in the late ’70’s- I estimate 80+ feet tall. My most frequent backpacking partner and I camped at the base of it in the tall grass. After dark I mounted the tower to the deck above. The glassed in portion was locked so a sat down, curled up in my sleeping bag, leaning against the wall of the enclosed space. I had a wonderful time of prayer and singing hymns as I gazed over the lights in the valley and the stars above. I began to see flashes of lightning in the far distance, so I moved around to the other side of the cat-walk in order to watch the fireworks. Above the trees and over 5000′ elevation, I could see the storm many miles away. Now that I reflect on it, it was odd that the storm was coming from the East over the mountains moving toward me. Thunderstorms rarely come from that direction. The storm kept building in my direction until I figured that perching atop a metal tower in a thunderstorm was probably not the safest vantage point. Having such a grand view of it I feel sure that I abandoned my post in plenty of safe time, but my friend down below had been getting worried. This story doesn’t make for quite as interesting telling or hearing, but if you can envision the scene with its three kinds of lights and the opportunity to worship the Creator of all that is light and life and beauty, you may imagine the depth of peace and joy the situation brought to me.

For it is this same Creator who has saved me and given me purpose and a future with Him. He commands the thunderstorm and the snowstorm, sets the stars in their places, gives man shelter and provides all that he needs, grows the trees and provides for the bear cubs, and will extend to you grace also if you will acknowledge your sin and His Son’s work to put it away. Glory to God for His goodness and His benefits to those upon whom His grace abounds.

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Sometimes I’m not sure if I have already written a post or just thought about it. So, sometimes I go back into my own blog and search for a post. The post I actually wrote was about 29 years of heating with wood (Click on the following title to read “A Warm Habit“.). I am now heating in my 35th year. I have some unfinished writing I said I would write another day in “A Warm Habit”.

The first year I heated with wood was the second winter of our marriage. I used a wood stove borrowed from a friend. The next year my father bought me a small, cast iron, bolt together wood stove with a nice picture on both sides. It was sufficient for the small 3 room house we were renting. As hindsight now allows me to regret, I sold that stove the next year. I thought that I would not heat with wood again when my wife and I went for a year of Bible School in Chicago and lived in a 4 room house with central oil heat. The next  year we moved to Elizabethton, TN, and lived in the front half of a split house. Ironically, though we had just lived in Chicago, the first winter in Elizabethton was the coldest we ever had in a house. The landlord had a wood stove in the the crawl space with ductwork to supposedly heat both halves. It didn’t heat our half. Our first child was constantly wrapped up like he was outdoors. The next winter we lived in a house on Camp Ta-Pa-Win-Go. I paid a small rent and worked as maintenance man. We heated with the very nice installed wood stove. The next year we moved to the Horseshoe, a small gorge and bend in the Watauga River in that shape. The first year in that little house in the woods with the curtains that blew in the winter breeze, we heated with my friend’s wood stove again while he was building a house.

If you having been following this story, then you will realize that we had now been married 7 winters and heated with wood for five. It was again time to find a wood stove. I started checking the want ads of the local newspaper, because this was in the days before Ebay and Craigslist. I looked at several that were a combination of too small for heating a whole house and too expensive for my budget since I was was in the state of affairs referred to as under-employed at the time, doing odd jobs. I saw another stove advertised for $250 in Bristol, TN, about an hour and a half drive by the roads then available. The price seemed at the edge of my range and it was called a Fisher “Grandfather”, which I understood vaguely to mean it was a larger model stove. I grabbed a friend and we went that way. It was well after dark when we pulled up to the most curious house in the neighborhood. The house was obviously much older than any other in the neighborhood. It was a one story white clapboard house that had a large porch all across the front with disproportionately large white columns one might expect to see on a big house on the plantation. The address matched. The windows were unlit even as the neighborhood was poorly lit. A young couple came to the door. The stove was in the front living room which was almost empty except for the large, two door wood stove in front of the chimney. I sized it up while my friend made small talk. I began to engage with the man in order to try to haggle the price. He referred me to his wife, who he said was the owner of the stove before they were married. One of us made a comment about the interesting house. They began to explain that they had hoped to remodel this post-Civil War house and raise their family there. Instead, they were now going to be missionaries and had already cleared most of their furniture. I told the young woman that my budget was really tight and I intended to heat with wood as I had already been doing to save money. With what I thought to be almost tears in her eyes she explained how the stove was meaningful to her because of family connections and that she hated to part with it. She had already turned down several other people who had wanted the stove and finished her story by saying, “I just want to find a home for this stove with someone who will burn a sincere fire.” I assured her that based on the fact that I was already regularly heating with wood, cut and split all of my own wood, and had a growing family and a limited income, that I could most certainly “burn a sincere fire.” I felt as though I was swearing to always burn fires in this way. Based on my sincere testimony, the woman was convinced and allowed me to give her just $190 for a stove that probably cost $900 to $1000 new. But I was not scamming or playing; things were really that tight. The stove was very hard for us three young men to move, given its size and weight. We laid down boards and mostly scooted the stove across these boards to avoid scratching the hardwood floor and porch. We wrestled it onto the back of my 1970 F-100 with the rusted bed. For the next 30 winters thus far I have burnt the most sincere fires possible, keeping warm a wife and 5 children in three different houses in two states. I think that what most makes the fires in this stove sincere is the enjoyment I obtain from heating with wood and the reflection I have while starting fires. My wife encouraging me to get up and start a fire because it’s cold in the house probably doesn’t hurt any.

As He has so many times, God provided what I needed when I needed it. During those times when it seemed as though He didn’t, really He did, just not in the way or at the time that I expected or requested. He is good.

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Starting a sincere fire during the first snow of the season with wet wood drying by the wood box in the background.

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The sideboard of an old woodbox that my wife stenciled when we lived in the Horseshoe.

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I shared thoughts about 9/11 last year that I think still ring true. If you are interested, see “Has the World Really Changed?”

9/11 was not even mentioned at my school today. We went on as if it never happened. My students were not born until 2003. Two major hurricanes just hit back to back in the continental US. Political wrangling is more contentious than it has perhaps ever been in my lifetime. North Korea makes ever more credible threats with each passing year. Racial tension has again reared its ugly head in these United States. The economy is better and life is good. In other words, life has rendered us forgetful. No, that is a way of saying we have an excuse because some outside influence caused us to do what we would not have otherwise. No, we have either willfully forgotten or passively allowed forgetfulness. We don’t want to think about that event because it demands of us introspection about how we should react and will react. We would have to consider the continuation of dangers in the world which we know no solution for. Even more disturbing, we would have to consider that because of our own complicity we are part of the problem. Not me you say. I in no way caused 9/11. What have you done to make this a better, purer, kinder, stronger nation? Have you cried out to God for mercy? Have you sown peace and goodness in the land? Have you taken heed to God’s law and sought after His grace? I include myself. What have I done to remember the lessons of 9/11 that were never learned by this nation and forgotten by the few that did know them? I have much work to do in my personal life, but tomorrow I will convey the sense of what happened to my students who see it as textbook history, before their time. Allow your memory to lapse no more on this subject.

As to the memory of the events, I think that my daughter does them more justice than I am able just now. Here is what she said:

“My 8th grade English class was in the computer lab typing papers one Tuesday morning, when another teacher came in and told Mrs Ball (my teacher) to turn on the TV. Less than 10 minutes later, I watched in real time with shocked disbelief and trembling sadness as the Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center South Tower. Reports of the Pentagon being hit and speculation of other targets followed soon after. I saw the towers crumble. I saw the people running, covered in dust. I saw the NY police and firefighters. I saw the gaping hole in the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania. I saw the hysteria. I silently cried for those lost and prayed for our president.
The next day was so quiet. All planes were grounded.
In the following weeks however, the burst of nationalism was heard echoing across the country. “United We Stand!” “God bless America!” So many US flags appeared. So many people came together to grieve and hold each other up.
I still grieve. When I think of how easily we forget. When I consider the short lived community support. When I contemplate how quickly the crying out to God for help changed to reliance, expectation, and blame on the government.
September 11, 2001 ushered in a new era in our world. Ideas were shaken. Securities were questioned. Fear is the new normal.

So now what? Trust God.
The only way I have found to deal with truth and reality is to take all to Him who created it and me. Do I still feel the impact? Yes, but I don’t try to carry the burden.”

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Many the comment that comes from students the last few days for school. Many are gracious, wanting to end on a friendly note. It shows a measure of decency on the part of the majority of students. Others are harshly truthful and others contrived, far from truthful, out of some need to right a never done wrong. “I can’t wait until this class is over. Friends told me that I wouldn’t be able to wait to get out of here, but that I would miss you afterward. I don’t see that happening.” It seemed like a complement to me, if not from the student in front of me, then certainly from the ‘friends’. Dealing constantly with people is not easy business. It wears on the emotions, particularly if you care even a little bit. It doesn’t help that you always know that you have failed in some small way with every person you interact with, even though you know you did your best overall and intended the best for your students. It is for all of this difficulty in the midst of trying that the occasional word of genuine encouragement lifts the weary soul. At the end of the last assignment to be graded for one class there was the following statement: “Mr. __, I’m so glad you were my teacher! I learned alot from you! Science and life choices.” That is the way that I want to be remembered as a teacher- passionate about teaching Science and life. Many of my years of teaching have been stressful for reasons inside the class and out. This past year was not the worst for stress, but it did rank. At the same time it was a year of spiritual benefit in my own life and in opportunity to talk to students about eternal things. It sometimes amazes me how often students will bring up the subject of where we came from, or do I believe in God, or how do you solve life’s difficult problems, or what is the meaning of life. Some of the questions relate directly to the subject at hand and others seem random, though I am sure that the underlying thought process that brought them forward was not. I hope that I taught many students science and life this past year and that God will take what I offered for His glory and their good.

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Lord, You give us all good things
To enjoy and praise Your Name
Thanks for Your benefits rings
Always gracious, always the same

Difficulty You allow
Confusion part of what's planned
Hardship brings sweat to the brow
Some gifts are hard to understand

Trusting Your goodness the plan
Resist confusion and pain
Cling to God, unbelief ban
Let His rule and direction reign

Halt all you're not called to do
Do well what He's given you
Make it first Him to pursue
God will work well to see you through

Then peace will reign in your heart
Problems will not overwhelm
Each new day a brand new start
Your joy when God is at the helm

 

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Last week I was asked to film some running and interviews and be interviewed about exercising. After challenging students to come out for a set of couch to 5K training sessions to be sponsored by the track team, I gave them my challenge: “I have been exercising for over 40 years and here is what I’ve learned: Start now, start small, and start again.” Start now, because if you don’t you probably won’t. Start small and progress slowly or you will probably be overwhelmed and give up. Life is challenging. You get injured or sick or you have responsibilities that prevent you or old habits overtake you and you just sit. Don’t give up; start again. And the next time it happens start again and again until the habit makes it hard to quit.

When I walked away from being interviewed I realized that what I said could readily be applied to many areas of life. The spiritual application is one of perseverance and diligence in the pursuit of relationship with God. Our life with God begins and continues by grace through faith, but we are also urged to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. (Philippians 2:12-13) God’s work in us results in us working. Our salvation is secure in Him but our sanctification is progressive. If it is reading the Bible regularly or studying it, or praying, or witnessing, or going to church for worship and fellowship: Start now, start small, start again. You’ve given in again to that sinful urge. Your old self wants it and that’s why you did it, but your new life in Christ wants to please Him and wants to break the slavery to sin. It is not just a matter of stop. You need to replace the sinful urge with a godly urge. Practice righteousness. Start now. Start small. Start again. You neglect the best for the alright and easy. Set your priorities in order which includes the best and down time to recuperate from intense activities. Start now. Start small. Start again. Getting in shape spiritually is not so different than getting in shape physically, though really it is because “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;  for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (I Timothy 4:7-8) And furthermore, though you should “work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” simultaneously “…it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13-14) And “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Other than that (haha!) they are the same, so start now, start small, and start again. Coupled with the many promises that we “can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) and “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1) and “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3), and more, then the least we can do is start now, start small, and start again.

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