Blessed by God

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You know that maybe you’re aging when CBS Sunday Morning is your favorite TV show. 

This morning they had a segment about hunger in the US.  There is a photo from earlier this year with thousands of cars in San Antonio in line waiting for a food distribution center to open.  THOUSANDS.  Thousands of hungry people right here in the US.

Last Tuesday I spent several hours at the YMCA in Garner, North Carolina, helping to distribute boxes of food to people in my community.  They drove up and volunteers loaded a small turkey, hamburger meat, a large casserole and a box of fresh produce into their trunk.

My job that evening was greeter.  As each car drove up, I welcomed them, determined how many folks were in their family and logged the amount of food they would take. 

I arrived at 4:30 PM, the distribution was slated to start at 5.  There were about 30 cars already in line.  For two hours I did not stop – greeting family after family after family.

A few of the folks I met were a bit reticent, seemingly fearful I would ask a ton of questions – maybe auditing who they were picking up for or logging their address.  Some seemed a bit embarrassed to be there.  Understandable.  I might feel the same way if in that position.

The great thing was that we had no questions for them – they just told us how many people they were feeding, and we loaded. 

I worked really hard to put folks at ease asking if they had a good day or if they were feeling well.  I thanked them for stopping by the Y as if they could have chosen to pick free food up from a competitor.

What I noticed is that many of these folks who are concerned about where their next meal might come from seemed joyful.  Not all, but many.  I could see it in their eyes, the way they lit up at my questions or expressed massive gratitude for our work.  A genuine smile, one you can see in the eyes; a belly laugh; or happy kids singing in the backseat. 

When responding to my question, “How are you doing today?” one lady responded, “I am blessed by God.”  She then added, “I just have to keep reminding myself.”

A friend shared with me that they were lamenting about a problem in their life when another friend suggested:  You should go volunteer, help someone else.  (i.e. – take the focus off yourself!)

It is surprising to me that I don’t always readily see how blessed I am by God.  Last week was certainly a good reminder for me.

Second Chance

This was the tenth Thanksgiving without Lisa.  I realized it on Wednesday as the girls and I drove to my parents’ house in Fayetteville.

That first year was unbearable.  I told my dad we could not eat at the dining room table.  I could not fathom sitting there without her by my side.  When we arrived, he had indeed set that table.  I refused to sit so the entire family picked up plates and resettled in the kitchen – some at the table, some at the bar.

Even butterbeans reminded me of her.

I don’t like to revisit the pain.  It’s a dark place for me.

What I’m most thankful for this year is second chances.  I’m thankful that I was able to move again after years of paralysis.

Not everyone gets that chance.  Some don’t have the good fortune of accepting the loss and having the strength to find their new selves.  Some can’t get over the hurt, the betrayal the world cast on them.  Some aren’t able to find what I have – genuine happiness in a new partner.

My girls too have found happy again.  They are thriving, each in their own way.  Perhaps the greatest gift I can give them is to be solid myself.  I hope that my example of pulling out of the hole, of giving new life a chance, will enable them, regardless of what they face in their futures, the ability to dig out themselves.

I don’t take my second chance for granted.  I thank God for the people who have been put in my life – the ones who tossed me ropes and ladders and flotation devices not so long ago.  I thank God for bringing Julie into my life at the exact right time – at a time when she and I were both ready to take a leap from tough to happiness.

It’s not easy.  Sometimes grief is more comfortable.  It can be very secure – you know your role.  You don’t have to move.  Sitting is much easier than running.

But had Julie and I not trusted again, had we not been willing to leap, I can’t imagine what life might be.

I hate I went through loss.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I am thankful I jumped.  It was the second hardest – and yet, the most exhilarating of my life.

 

Killing Time by the Tanner Girls

This is how my kids spend the day after Thanksgiving while I pick out the Christmas tree!  Although you only see one in the video, I can assure you, all are involved.

We hope your holiday was grand!

The Tanner Family

One in the bed and the little one said…

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For me, there was one grandparent that stole my heart.  Oh, I loved them all.  One granddad took us to get a Slurpee every time we came to town – that was cool.  But this one, we called her Idee, was something else.  Her real name was Ivy but my brother couldn’t say that.  His inability to speak correctly stuck.  She was forever our Idee.

There is something about the grandparent who drops everything when you came to town, but the best part about Idee was she could relate to us.  I distinctly remember just lying on her bed while she got dressed.  She “put on her face” each morning while talking to me about life.  Who would have thought that a seventy-year-old woman could give a 12-year-old advice?  She could.  And I hung on her every word.

When I went to her house to spend the night as a kid, she would pile blankets on the living room floor and my brother and I, along with Idee and Papa, would sleep there.  Before midnight, she would ship my granddad back to the bedroom ’cause his snoring sounded like a freight train.  Come to think of it, perhaps that’s why she was so anxious to not stay the night in her bedroom.

When we arrived at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving last Wednesday, it dawned on me that the day beds in their playroom had four mattresses stored underneath.  For some reason, my holidays with Idee popped into my brain.

“Girls, we’re sleeping on the floor tonight!  Four in a row.”

“But dad, there are lots of beds in this house,” my maturing college sophomore explained to me.

“That, is not the point.”

We retired at around 11, but sleep did not come until much later.

We sang, “There were four in the bed and the little on said, ‘roll over, roll over,’ and one rolled over and one fell out when she hit the floor you could hear her shout.”  And as we rolled across the mattresses, one would hit the floor.

Michelle told us the story of Danny the Ogre.  He wouldn’t let his children drink sodas at restaurants.

We recanted songs that we sang at bedtime when they were young, “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tired and true…”

We named my future grand kids (Obediah, Boaz, Sheamus, Isabella, Minnie), and I chose a granddad name.

We laughed til it hurt, gossiped about most folks we know, and learned the moves to Juju on that beat.

Several days later, I’m still tired.  Although, it was certainly worth it.

The Return of the DJ

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DJ in the house!

DJ has returned!  The eldest, the heir to the throne, is home.

A friend who has a son who is a junior in college told me to get ready.  He said his wife was recently walking around the house with a basket full of toilet paper rolls.

“What are you doing honey?”

“I’m hiding the toilet paper.”

“Why?”

“Douglas is coming home for Thanksgiving.”

“Yeah.  I’m aware of that.”

“You know what he does don’t you?”

“No.”

“Throughout the week he steals our toilet paper and puts it in his car so he doesn’t have to buy it when he returns to school.”

“Interesting.”

I was ready.  I counted my rolls.  I don’t think DJ is a Charmin swindler.  When she left we still had a nice stash.

She has, however, left every garment she brought back to the State of North Carolina in my den.  Shoes on the kitchen bar stools, coats, and there were several, on the floor by the back door, a bra in the bathroom.  Within 24 hours her bedroom looked like it had been hit by a category 4 storm.  Just like high school!

How does this child live in a 13’ x 13’ room with three other people?

On Tuesday she told me that I could expect my credit card bill to be a bit higher this month.

“Dad, have you noticed I really don’t use your credit card at school?  Just like you asked!”

“You have done a good job of keeping your expenses down.”

“Yea, and I have $290 left on my GW card to get me through the next three weeks.  Tons more than any of my other friends!”

“Live it up!”

“But since I’m back home, I figured you’d be OK with me charging my expenses this week.  I’ve sort of eaten out a couple of times with friends, purchased a few Christmas presents, oh, and I’m getting my nails done tomorrow – on you!  Thanks.”

We have eaten at her favorite restaurants, watched her favorite movies On Demand, cooked the meals she likes the best and shopped for clothes that she desperately has to have.

“Dad, I’m gonna need shoes for my winter formal.  You might as well buy them now.  These are on sale.”

Apparently the last four pairs I purchased for the four high school winter formals just won’t do even though her foot stopped growing in eighth grade.

Frankly, I don’t know how she has survived this long without the critical articles of clothing we purchased this week.  Bless her heart.

On Thanksgiving Day, it became grossly apparent to me how children fall back into their high school behaviors as my 78 year old parents worked their butts off in the kitchen while my brother sat in the den watching TV.  The gall.  Oh, and he wouldn’t even pass me the remote!

What goes around comes around.

Sunday Post 197: Four Walls and a Few Good Laughs

We went to the mountains on the Friday after Thanksgiving to cut down our Christmas tree.  It’s a Tanner family tradition.  After dinner, the girls and I were riding back to our sparse conference center hotel with the grandparents and Michelle blurted out, “I can’t wait for tonight!”

When we asked her why, she explained, “When Dad, DJ, Stephanie and I all sleep in one room, fun things always happen!”

I wasn’t exactly sure what she was talking about, but I did recall pleasant memories of the hotel giggles.

It was about 10:30 after showers and teeth brushing, and I suggested that we go to sleep early.  We’d been up late the night before and up at 7 that morning.  I was beat.

I turned off all the room lights but left the bathroom door cracked and the shower light on.

I lay down thinking I was through.

It took about 30 seconds for the hilarity to begin.

DJ jumped on me and Michelle and Stephanie followed.  The tickle fight began.

At one point I “went to the bathroom” but in reality crawled on hands and knees between the two beds.  When I thought they would least notice, I jumped up from the floor in my loudest scary scream.

All three jumped a foot in the air!

It’s so much fun to frighten the little ones.  I think it’s a dad thing.

Later DJ and I convinced Stephanie that Eric Rudolph, the bomber who had hidden in the woods of NC for five years, was still on the loose and could climb through the hotel window at any given time.  She didn’t like that and refused to sleep on the outside wall of the room.

I didn’t let it go on too long.  Just enough to rile her up a bit.

Of course there were a couple of Dutch ovens (if you don’t know, don’t ask), and photos taken to Snap Chat at a later time (it was difficult to get internet access in the room – yahoo!!!)

Occasionally our family has moments of brilliance like this.  No television needed, no computers or fancy games.  Just Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, Tweedle Doo and me, enjoying laughs with nothing but ourselves.

Oh, I finally got them calmed down at 12:30 AM, but I slept with one eye open.  Twice when the room was nearly silent, and I in that nearly comatosed state, DJ snuck out of bed and scared the puddin’ out of me!  I guess I deserved it.

Thanksgiving Jam Session

Uncle Jesse comes through with the Thanksgiving sing along.  It’s good to have an uncle who can play piano by ear, postpones the after Thanksgiving food coma by at least an hour…

Even Grandpa raised the roof!

Here’s a Christmas tune…

 

 

Sunday Post 146: Please Celebrate Me Home

It’s Thanksgiving, and I am thankful.  But I can’t say that there weren’t a handful of times this past weekend that I didn’t get that lump in my throat.  Some of you are familiar with it.  It’s directly connected to the wound – the one that pierced your heart a while back.

It’s pretty much in remission, but not 100%.

It hit when we first gathered around the table for the feast, a hard swallow kept it in.  Then again when I glanced at her picture, sort of on purpose, sort of not.

The Christmas music is playing on the radio now.  Cheesy Kenny Loggins say to celebrate him home.  I got no idea what that means but the girls and I belt it out like we do.  Problem is, home isn’t a place.  It’s not the nice painted brick house where we raised our girls.  Not the porch where I sit to enjoy a cup of coffee.  It’s not the dining room table where we gather for family meals.

It’s not even my parent’s house nor hers.

I guess she was sort of my home – my home base at least.

It feels a bit weird when you’re running hard and you realize that your destination no longer exists.

We’re all doing well.  We’ve recreated life.  We’ve done so in many wonderful ways.  But home?  I’m just not 100% sure where that is anymore.

Purchase Danny’s Book:  Laughter, Tears and Braids or at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Turkey Innards

I had a slight panic attack today.  My parents are 77, and I’m not sure what we’re going to do when they stop cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  Yo – mom and dad, we’re gonna need a decade’s notice, I’m just saying.

I ain’t eating that important feast at an old folks home I’m telling you that.  Turkey should be sliced, not pureed.  And I’m extremely uncomfortable with my stuffing being served out of an ice cream scoop.

I’m not too worried about my side of the family.  That sister-in-law is fair in the kitchen and there are some nieces honing their skills.  My brother can deep fry a turkey – although it’s a fire hazard if the singeing of his eyebrows from illegal fireworks last Fourth of July is any indication.  I’ll just stay inside.

But the other side of the family is really going to struggle.  That sister-in-law is really good at injecting monkeys with infectious diseases but give her a pot and she’s dumbfounded.  And then there’s Uncle Jesse – you can’t buy Thanksgiving dinner from the Steak and Shake.

Oh, I got an idea!  I hear Martha Stewart is on Match.com!  Maybe I should sign up and woo her.  I got a lot to offer – work for a nonprofit, three teen daughters, skinny but with slight love handles – how could she pass on that?  I know, she’s a little older than me, but she would certainly bring something to the table, literally.  And Stephanie has a rip in one of her sheets, I bet she could get us a deal to replace that at the K-Mart.

Boy would that be a change.  The one time Lisa and I were responsible for Thanksgiving dinner, she told me to get the stuff from between the turkey’s legs.  I reached my hand in – “Oh my Lord Lisa!  This bird has an erection!”

“What?”

“I swear.  I felt it.  Go ahead, touch it!”

“I am NOT touching that fowl’s foul.  Get it out!  We aren’t serving a turkey’s penis for Thanksgiving!”

“Some people must like it or they wouldn’t leave it in there.”

“I bet the factory workers just refuse to remove them.”

Later my mom told me it was the bird’s neck.  He sure must have been flexible.

I know!  I’ll just give the girls cooking lessons for their Christmas present this year.  They’ll love it!

In the meantime, I’m gonna get my dad to have my niece remove the turkey innards on Thursday – the old one who rudely froze all my underwear at the beach this summer.  I can’t wait!

Memories Sweet Memories

Although I do enjoy Christmas, I think Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. I, better than anyone, like a great gift on December 25.  I’m even buying myself a few things this year since Lisa isn’t here to spoil me. But to some extent, the presents have become a detractor to me. I’m getting to the age that simple time with family and friends is the only gift I care much about.

When I was a boy, we always drove to Florence, SC, for Thanksgiving. Both sets of grandparents lived down there.

A perfect Day started at Grandmamma and Granddaddy Ham’s house. The woman was the best cook south of the Mason Dixon line.

She would shuck ears of white corn and cut the kernels off the cob. She’d add butter, salt and who knows what else. When you put the stuff in your mouth, it was like tasting heaven.

Her hand cut slaw had onions that would make the hair on your arms stand up straight – I get gas just thinking about it. Boy was it tasty.

My other grandmother, we called her Idee, never saw a vegetable that didn’t come from a can; but she was more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

One Thanksgiving afternoon she talked Spurgeon, my grandfather, into driving my brother and me back into the 100 acres of woods behind their house. There was a dirt road that led to a pond on the land which had been in their family for decades.

After a twenty-minute drive and a few stops to move branches, we arrived at our destination – picture a scene from the Andy Griffith show. As we got out of the car and headed to the small basin, my brother yelled out: “Snake!!”

It was not a snake at all – it was a frickin’ anaconda. At least six feet long, this diamond back rattler was meandering along the shore line. Two senior citizens and a couple of grade school kids weren’t going to interrupt his Thanksgiving stroll.

Papa ran to the car, opened the trunk and grabbed a shovel. Yeah, this 70 something year old man was going to whack this beast in the head with a garden tool. It was like fighting a dragon with a frying pan.

As the serpent saw him nearing, he coiled up and began shaking his tail. It sounded like a Cuban maraca band.

I immediately ran my behind to the car and locked the doors in the event my family was eaten and the slimy varmint decided my skinny brother didn’t fill ’em up. My grandfather was not deterred by my departure.

“Spurgeon, you are not going after that snake with a shovel,” my grandma yelled.

“Oh Ivy,” I’d heard that response before on many occasions. It meant, Don’t spoil my fun again lady.

“Spurgeon, you’ll get killed! Chad, so something.”

As Papa, who was a bit clumsy to say the least, charged toward Sir Hiss, my sixth grade older brother knelt in front of him causing him to stumble and fall to the ground.

My grandmother grabbed the shovel, “If anything gets beaten to death today, it’ll be you old man.”

He sheepishly stood up, a bit rattled but alive. Both the snake and my grandfather survived. Although Spurgeon had to go home with Idee, which for a few days must have seemed worse than a little venom in his blood stream.

Not all of my Thanksgivings have a memory so vivid. But some of the warmest internal feelings I own are of sitting at two formica tables in Florence, SC – one tan on the top with a black ring around the side, the other white speckled with chrome legs and uncomfortable chairs.

We drank a lot of coffee in those two kitchens, and I learned a lot about being a man.

Boy what I’d give to go back for just one more Thursday.

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