Rick and Monique

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Impossible

Gray squirrels clamored around my sister-in-law's bird-feeder Saturday morning. Supposedly the manufacturers "squirrel-proofed" the feeder. Tell that to this squirrel. He can't be bothered with the inauthentic mastery of the consummate salesman. Either way, they weren't supposed to be able to do that.

My dad-in-law is a 60-something year old man just learning to ride a motorcycle. Many physically challenged/handicapped bicycle riders will pedal 500 miles across Iowa in one week, and thoroughly enjoy themselves. I watched an 11 year old girl sing a song many seasoned adult vocalists wouldn't try. A mobile phone salesman blew an audience away with his vocal talent. A blind man climbed Mount Everest and an Iditarod Champion became the only person who ran an entire dog-team up the almost 21,000 foot Mt. Denali. An autistic boy saved his mother's life, performing a series of emergency tasks like CPR before help arrived to stabilize the patient. They aren't supposed to be able to do that.

Squirrels--hairy, skittish, tree-jumping, nut cracking bundles of talent doing something humans believed untenable. Most of us believe the bird-feeder manufacturer until they witness, like I did, the very thing men said was impossible. Lots of doubting Thomases.

God never said a man couldn't climb Mt. Everest blind, we did. Seeing is believing, so what did the blind man have to work with? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed. God never claimed He would not raise from the dead, in fact He most assuredly said He would. Believe it.

There's a lot going on that you claim to be impossible. Think about that awhile.

11-year-old Singing Sensation

Girls Play Bach on a Giant Piano

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Circus

So, last night I worked. I'm a security guard at the local civic center. I check doors, check badges, give directions and read books. If given the chance to throw someone down, well, my dreams tell me that I'd perform magnificently--one little "hi-yaaaa" and a sweet Hulk Hogan sleeper hold and wallah, another criminal off the streets. Truth is I've spent more time in the Choir than on Karate--I might instead be more like Chuck Barry than Chuck Norris, but I have my dreams.

Last night was dance recital night. The kids play dress-up, turning themselves into queens, hobos, crooners and clowns. Back stage looks less like a room full of pulleys and ropes than it does Pharaoh's own castle.

One either loves the circus or hates it. I'm a little of both, but I love the spectacle. One thousand nervous, excited, if not a little petulant, dancers doesn't usually sound like my idea of fun. Add parents with every kind of expectation and entitlement to back-stage, awkward but arrogant demands that their children have this right or that, lovely negotiations with me about why I should let them in before the doors actually open and more...you understand? A hoity-toity circus.

I love dance, I do. I might even be the person who'd send my own kid to dance class. But I can't wrap my brain around the hoity-toity. They're like a game of space-invaders. Hundreds of little colorful ships gliding left, right and all around. My little laser is blazing away, pew pew pew. But then the big ships (parents) come into play. They come in fast, land hard and SQUASH my cute little lasers--game over. "Hello," I say. Most of them look at security guards like they do dandelions--they look pretty, but gotta mow them over anyway or they'll spread like the plague. This was the rich crowd and security guards are a different level. I'm not offended really. They love the parade, I enjoy the circus.

Summer's here so white is in. White shorts, pants or capris, accessorized by expensive and colorful accoutrements -- bags made by Gucci, Dolce, and whatever other yadayada Italian this-or-that one can think of. The women have bags, the men have watches. I love the spectacle. I wonder if one drop-kicked a hoity-toity that they might fall in movie-like slow-motion? I wonder? Then it might be appropriate for throngs of angels to appear out of no-where and applaud their bravery?

My wife likes to dress up, and she's beautiful--a bonafied hotty. But I don't think she knows that it's time to make the "summer-white" turn. I'll have to let her know.

Although, come to think of it, white wasn't exclusive. One chap wore a green cardigan, held a green Pringles can in one hand, and a green Mountain Dew bottle in the other. Besides the fact that he matched his soda bottle, I was slightly surprised he'd accept Pringles crumbs inside his beautiful Cadillac.

There are rules. Summer day white is different than summer evening white. And the men wear light blue, green, even red is acceptable--mostly blue and "dance recital-night" khaki though. It's only the kid's dance recital at one of the nicest venues in town--I didn't see any pin-stripes or black ties, but I enjoyed the circus-parade none-the-less. I think if I could have some kind of x-ray vision I bet you anything that even their perfume and cologne wafts from their bodies in delightful, pleasant and wistful little circles. The kids dress-up and the parents follow a strict dress code. All night long I wasn't sure which tap dance I wanted to watch more, the kids or the parents? All the Jones's were keeping up with each other.

The circus allows us to forget the troubles of the day for awhile. I was glad to attend this circus. Every one at the event danced, the kids on stage and the parents everywhere else. One lovely woman defied the code and dressed in purple...but, I kid you not, she walked by my lowly station and I caught a grand whiff of her allergy-inducing perfume--grape--not the kind of grape one might smell near a winery--like grape gum. She was purple and smelled like grape. Hoity-freakin-toity. No one offered me pop-corn and cotton candy, so in their stead, I relished my peanut butter and honey sandwich, my Sun chips and enjoyed a cold diet-pepsi.

The circus hasn't always had the best reputation. It seems some delights come at the expense of others, and they please the voyeuristic side in all of us. I suppose we should feel a little guilty about that.

But, I loved my day at the circus. Now, can someone teach me Karate?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Litter

I don't have writer's block really. I can't seem to focus on a subject. In fact I have too many of them. Too many questions. In one single minute on Sunday I had five random thoughts, most of them somewhat deep and all of them taking me down a different rabbit trail.

Scripture says in Ecclesiastes that "there is nothing new underneath the sun...". Yet all of us respects originality. We respect new fashion, original ideas, new stories, personality changes, original parenting techniques, original tattoos etc.

Wisdom given to any of us by parents, mentors or friends often pares down to, "Think outside the box." If nothing is new underneath the sun, if there are a specific set of rules, if there are boundaries that are not to be crossed, then what does it mean to "think outside the box?"

I was born with a birth defect that might've killed me, shouldn't have allowed me to walk and most certainly could not have allowed me to get rid of my leg braces. I have limitations--I'm not the fastest Joe in the world and I'll never win a balance contest. However, if you want me to teach you how to fall properly, I'm most certainly an expert! Is that thinking outside the box? I'm within my circumstances, but have learned how to use what I have somewhat originally. Do you want to learn how to fall properly? My services are cheap but I don't pay your hospital bills should your "trip and fall" learning curve be steeper than some.

SO I won't win a marathon or a sprint...but what happens if I didn't have to be on my feet? Bicycles! Motorcycles! I know my limitations--I'm not great on my feet, but I'm awesome off my feet. I know my limitations--my calf muscles are small and insignificant, so in order to ride well I need to develop my hamstrings, quads and my thighs. I know my limitations, I know my boundaries. I need a car that sits a little higher and that has excellent back support--or I need a motorcycle. Sounds weird, right? Think outside the box--I can lean into the bike, my back really has no support but it's allowed to stretch and lean and I'm allowed to move relatively freely. I don't have to lift myself out of a motorcycle in the same way that I have to lift myself out of a car. And, with a little adjustment of the shifter, I can adjust the bike to fit my right foot.

I fit within my boundaries--it's just that one or two of those boundaries are flexible. I won't murder, steal or cheat on my wife--those are fixed boundaries, but I can't see myself in a box from which I just think my way out of. I'm going to ride my bicycle 500 miles in one week, in just over a month. What's so amazing about a Spina Bifida on a bicycle? Everything and nothing. I ride as if I know I can. I ride because God gave me legs. You're amazed, and I'm just doing what I can. Maybe I'm limited in my scope? Being on a bicycle is normal to me...an absolute joy for me...then what would be thinking outside the 'box' for me?

Gravity is a rule right? Even astronauts must succumb to limitations caused by atmosphere and gravity. They can't enter or leave the atmosphere at, or from, any angle--astronauts follow a very particular flight path. I have Spina Bifida, I can't escape that. Therefore everything I do, including a bicycle ride, must follow a particular regiment - a specific "flight path" - in order to successfully navigate the limitations imposed by Spina Bifida. Because I know those things, I'm rarely held to any particular distance or dissuaded from many challenges. I'm on a bicycle all the time. I've biked all over the world--Alaska, Amsterdam, Adel (IA), Ashworth Road (nothing significant about Ashworth, I just needed a fourth "A" word). Boundaries stretch.

So nothing is new under the sun, people haven't changed much, the world hasn't changed much. Everything is, at the very core, familiar. Denise at her blog called "A Sacred Longing" said, "I tend to cling to the familiar. Hide in the usual. Wither in the expected." I'm not distressed by the common. I enjoy my routine. But within the common routine, realize that some inescapable boundaries are also stretchable. Our lives are made of moments that look much like slipping on a littered banana peel that you yourself threw to the ground and stepped on--on purpose!

We turn "life-litter" into walls, impassable boundaries. We slip and trip, then retreat. We can't seem to move beyond them, most often because we fear everything beyond them, even though the self-devised boundaries, your walls prove more damaging than anything beyond them. Thou shalt not litter!

I'll never become a ballerina--my boundaries don't stretch that far. But I'm going to eat my banana, and I'm going to throw the peel in a can well off my path. Then I'm going to gear up, clip in, and ride.

If you are interested... here's my first RAGBRAI ride:

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Seas and the Arctic Tundra

I've been away on vacation, that's why I didn't write.  My wife, I and Mom and Dad H. travelled to Alaska together.  Let me begin with a comparison.

A few weeks ago I took my Dad-in-law on a weekend motorcycle trip.  We geared up from head to toe, put the Triumph in gear and took off.  The ride was awesome.  The trip wasn't perfect.  The wind bucked us around a bit, the weather was pretty good but cool, and the hot tub at the hotel didn't work.  But I don't ride to find perfection as if riding is some external destination.  Exotic lifestyles and joyful perceptions come from within.  We didn't ride away hoping to find Utopia.  Ya hit the road and challenge the vibration, the wind, the gear and the silence not to affect you to the core. 

Alaska was like that. In some ways the vacation mirrored life in its imperfection.  No matter how straight my "ducks" were in their row, some travails were unavoidable. Sounds disappointing?  It wasn't.  Our Alaskan adventure evolved from "seeing" Alaska into all the ways we experience grace by minutes and days.  

I enjoyed watching characters at the airport and in the plane.  This time I entertained myself by watching how people act around the lavatory.  One lady told several people who didn't want to know that she hates "airplane bathrooms" but she'd had a giant coffee and she had to pee worse than ever before (in like her entire 72 year life? Uh Huh).  One simply stands and waits right?  You try not to think that men and women alike are using that bathroom one after another, you try very hard not to think about getting sucked through that little hole and shot out of the airplane at 37,000 feet.  You try very hard not to look at each other, even while you exchange pleasantries.  And you try not to concentrate on the gentleman who just walked out of the bathroom with a curious and curvy smile on his face...I wonder if he does that at his own house?  I will remember the tall, lanky gentleman whom I thought as waiting for the lavatory, but who instead stood near the front of the plane for nearly half an hour, listened to music on his Ipod, then returned to his seat.  Why do I want to remember him?  I don't know, he was tall, lanky and had an Ipod...I smiled as I thought he might've even for a second tendered the thought about what it might feel like to jump out of an airplane at 37,000 feet. 

Like everyone, they disappear into the black hole.  They walk away, and a force akin to gravity pulls them to a destination other than my own.  Ours pulled us to Alaska via Vancouver B.C and the Holland America Ship the "Veendam".  This vacation was really a lesson in adaptation and trust.  We couldn't embark to the ship because more than the usual number of patrons on the previous cruise became sick with something and so they took no chances. They cleaned and scoured every inch of her before they allowed us to embark. SO we enjoyed an all day tour of Vancouver.  We enjoyed a longer tour than we normally might've had and I feel blessed.  We finally embarked after an hour in an uncomfortable holding room, but there were good people to talk to while we waited and I feel blessed.  The servers at the meal seemed quite slow half the time, but the food was excellent and the company enjoyable, and I feel blessed.  Room service was slow a couple times, but while we waited we stood out on the Verandah and marveled at the mountains hugging the sea, at the dolphins and sea lions swimming in our wake, at the eight orcas pushing us into port, and at the ocean marvelously unaffected by our giant ship.  I was blessed.  The giant viewing windows throughout the ship were quite dirty, a fact I found interesting being that the cruise itself was all about what was happening outside.  Maybe with everything else they didn't have time?  I don't know, I can't speculate.  I didn't need windows, I had a verandah.  Either way, turns out the windows couldn't change the beauty of the skies, the majesty of the mountains and the power of the seas.  We were blessed.  Oddly, the cruise entertainment was quite good and I was blessed.  We learned the secret to making martinis and tasting wine.  I can't wait to explore the fruit of those lessons sometime soon.  We might be able to bless you with our new-found skills.  

God held the sun up 20 hours of every day.  Two a.m. might as well have been 2 p.m.  The position of the earth, distance from the North Pole and the Earth's orbit around the sun help explain the phenomenon.  The sun does arc across the vast Alaskan Tundra, but seems to move horizontally along its celestial highway.  Surreal.  

The weather was perfect most of the time and I enjoyed walks through cities like Juneau exploring passageways, walking past Sarah Palin and her Family's house, and roaming back streets uncontested and undiscovered by any other cruiser, and we were blessed.  We biked through Auk Bay and biked outside of Skagway and through the streets of Fairbanks.  We ate lunch atop a mountain and shifted between rocks underneath a delicate waterfall. We were blessed.  The "Formal Night" photos were expensive but five of them captured the essence of my bride and so others now also see by her smile that I am blessed.  Our ship sailed late into one port, but because of the late arrival I was able to wake up in time to enjoy watching her sail in and parallel park.  I'm blessed.

It was in part the power of adaptation that made our trip special and unique.  I never once believed I had to make lemonade from lemons.  God had prepared feasts for the eyes long before I even had eyes and so a minor snafu in service, a little trouble here and there by no means meant I was surrounded by lemons.  We climbed through forests and valleys, we drank water from fresh springs. I felt massive bergs calving from glaciers and enjoyed a man sing the same songs his father played with the great Johnny Cash.  

A grizzly grazed while I and a bus full of marveled guests watched her.  In some ways I felt out of place, this was her home.  She didn't seem to mind.  God built the Dall Sheep's home upon the rock. Moose snacked on tree branches and we saw one Caribou resting in the snow and another running mere feet ahead of us.  I heard the Ptarmigan sing, watched the arctic ground squirrel scamper and I saw the mighty Denali towering over the Arctic Desert.  The days were so clear we saw almost every grand inch of the nearly 21,000 foot mountain.  We enjoyed a soft rain in Fairbanks and the ardent conversation of our Bed and Breakfast hosts.  We were honored to meet servants of the United States Air Force and I was honored to have vacationed with a 24 year veteran of the United States Army.  We were blessed.  I remember a funny little tour guide who while telling the story of the Raven (A native Tglingit Story of creation), sounded just like John F. Kennedy--"and as Tiiiime Paaaased Byyyy" he would say.

I can see my breath in crisp Alaskan air.  Cool air and clouds hang over the mountains as if they also breathe.  I remember Rivers turned silver by dusk's finger-light.  I remember the mighty Bald Eagle devouring a fresh kill, surviving exactly as the creator intended.  I remember the great lakes filled with Loon and Heron.  I remember--One doesn't own Alaska. You find the rain forests, the seas, the mountains and the arctic desert wild and infinite. I can't tell anyone that I simply "saw" Alaska. It'd be foolish to say so.  I entered Alaska with everything I was, and left Alaska different.  Amazing days are like that.  If you leave them the same, you've experienced nothing.  

Alaska is in every terrain like no other place.  God opens her up and she simply and mightily wrestles with your heart.  God reminded me during a small earth quake, one of a thousand felt every year in the giant state inhabited by the toughest of men and women that"I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things." (Isaiah 45:7). 

We were blessed.