Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Great Conspiracy

Do you ever feel like the world is conspired against you?

A few weeks ago, one of the headlights on my car was burned out. Now, I'm about as handy as a foot, and auto mechanics is a language I understand as well as Chinese. But I've replaced bulbs before, so it was going to be no big deal. I even had an extra bulb in my workshop from the two-pack I bought last year.

I popped open the hood, unscrewed the bulb, and was ready to put the new one in when I realized my new bulb was slightly different. And I do mean slightly. There was one little extra tab that made it impossible to fit it in. So I checked the number on the old bulb, realized I needed an exact match, and drove off to Auto Zone to get it.

I returned home, plugged in the new bulb, and then spent about 15 frustrating minutes trying to reenter the bulb plate into the back of the fixture. You have to have it just right (you can't see it) before it will screw back on. Finally, I got it inserted and screwed on. I turned on the headlight to check it. And discovered I had replaced the wrong one. I had replaced the high beam instead of the regular beam.

Okay, I'm an idiot. But I discovered the extra bulb that didn't work before was actually for the regular headlight. So I didn't have to go back to the store. I screwed in the new bulb, got the fixture back in place (only five minutes this time), and was finished.

Having accomplished such a manly task, I pushed my luck. The brake light in our van has been on. I thought I'd check the brake fluid. I popped the hood, and located every reservoir of liquid except the brake fluid. I took the manual out of the glove box, found the engine diagram and there it was, buried in the back, unmarked. I unscrewed the cap to see if it was empty. It wasn't. But as I went to screw the cap back on, it slipped out of my fingers. I heard it drop, make several mysterious pinging noises, and then....silence.

"No way!" I said, though I was thinking of some other words I've heard Karen use when she's mad at me.

I crawled under the van. Surely it was on the ground? No, it was stuck somewhere inside the engine.

Now it was getting dark, and we had plans to go out. But I had effectively rendered our van undrivable, and I had a full day at church tomorrow and we needed the van. I was officially an idiot.

I ran inside to get a flashlight. In our house, flashlights disappear more quickly than milk and cereal. I couldn't find one. So I got in my other car and drove to our local hardware store. I nearly ran over the owner as she walked to her car, having just turned over the "closed" sign. I raced to CVS, where I found the flashlight aisle, which happened to be devoid of all flashlights. Unbelievable. I couldn't stop now. I got back in the car and headed the other direction, towards Walmart. I decided to check at Sheetz instead. Sure enough, they had nice little flashlights and they weren't terribly overpriced. I bought three, and paid $79 for a lifetime warranty against losing them.

I returned home. It was now dark. I was frustrated and embarrassed. What started out as a simple task that should have taken ten minutes and the brain of a pea had turned into a two-hour production for a pea-brain.

And I was hearing voices. You know the ones I mean--the ones that assail your weaknesses. How can I make this so difficult? Why am I so inept? Why can I not fix anything without a huge hassle? Why is the world conspired against me?

I imagined the call I would have to make. "AAA? Yes, I dropped my brake fluid cap inside my engine. What? You need to take my entire car apart? $1500 plus labor? Okay. What's that? Yes, I know I'm a mechanical weanie..."

I peered inside the engine with my flashlight (No kidding -- I almost dropped it). Nothing. I got down on my hands and knees. Yes, to pray, but also to look under the van. I crawled around for a few minutes, ran my hand under every nook and cranny, pleading for mercy.

Finally, at that moment, I felt something. The cat? No, the cap. I grabbed it. I climbed out and very carefully screwed it back on. The conquering hero. The relieved idiot.

I wondered later, Is the world conspired against me? Sometimes it feels that way, doesn't it? Little things turn into big things, and our weaknesses are attacked in ways that feel supernatural. The man who fears public speaking is put on the spot at the meeting. The woman who worries about her weight has a job interview with a fitness queen. The unathletic teenage girl is placed on the gym team with the super-competitive boys. The child who fears embarrassment spills his milk on his shorts. The man who can't fix anything renders his van useless by unscrewing a cap.

The world finds ways to make us feel small, to pick on us, to drop us into the engine, just before dark, and make us want to disappear.

The world is conspired against us. But it's no match for Jesus. He knows our weaknesses, and he really doesn't mind them at all. They are just opportunities for him to show us how much he loves us. He takes us by the hand. He fixes what we've broken. He doesn't embarrass us or demean us. He just says, "Hey, I've got this one. No big deal. Trust me. All will be well, child. Light bulbs replaced, small battles conquered, and hopes laid for greater things."

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grown Men and a Giant Ball

It doesn't take much to entertain boys.

I remember a camping trip we took to the Outer Banks about six years ago. The boys set up a squirrel trap. It was a plastic box, with a stick attached to a string holding it up. They laid a path of peanuts to the box. They sat on the step of the camper and watched as a squirrel began grabbing the peanuts, breaking them open, and eating them. They giggled and laughed for hours, their faces alive with their potential conquest, which never quite happened.

It doesn't take much to entertain boys.

This past weekend Tim and I went on the Mountain View Men's Retreat. It was one of those "get away and be guys" type of things, focused on becoming men of God. There were about 80 of us there, and it was a lot of fun. The food was good. The accommodations were nice. The speakers and music were challenging.

But the highlight was the giant ball.

We had a series of challenges on Saturday afternoon, a little competition to get the blood flowing. We broke into eight teams, and played a series of four games. Our team was called Happy Hour on Everest (long story). After two semi-sedate indoor games, the teams moved out into the field for a game known simply as "Push the Ball." (Actually, we could have come up with some better names, but it was a church retreat). It involved a 5' inflated ball with a canvas cover, some cones, and nothing else.

Two teams at a time sent three players onto the field. The players poised at opposite ends of the field while the giant ball was placed in the center. When the command was given, the players charged the ball and attempted to push it across the other team's goal line.

We are men. We like simplicity.

We all watched as the first two teams gave their all for the glory of victory. The fast ones raced to get to the ball first, some launching their bodies at it like meteors. One young man went completely airborne, much to his delight and to the delight of the crowd. The big ones got behind the ball and stood their ground, pushing with all their might. It was like watching rhinos play soccer. Some matches went quickly; others looked more like 15-round heavyweight fights. Men were rolled over, pushed to the ground, trampled, exhausted, nearly decapitated. They risked life and limb and paralysis to move the ball. They screamed and groaned and laughed and cried. I watched. Discretion is the better part of valor.

It was spectacular. Ask any man what he remembers about the weekend, and he'll tell you. "The Giant Ball."

So last week, my boys, for the first time in years, set up the squirrel trap in the front yard. They brought the string in through the kitchen window and laid a path of peanut butter around the box. The next day, Tim and I were standing in the kitchen and noticed a squirrel in the yard. We pulled the string. And for a few glorious seconds, we had one. It raced around under the box like, I don't know, a crazy squirrel. We laughed hysterically and giggled and danced.

No, it doesn't take much to entertain boys.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So it begins

Yesterday at 11:57am, I handed over the envelope and asked the mail clerk to add postage. Enclosed were an application, transcript, reference letter, essays, and a check. Destination? Admissions Office. Grove City College. 100 Campus Drive. Grove City. PA. 16127. Since with the application goes the understanding that, if accepted, he is agreeing to an "early decision," there is no turning back.

Jonathan will soon be leaving for college.

I had some mixed feelings about sending the letter. On one hand, it's a huge relief. The college search can be overwhelming. We've talked about it for a year, but done little about it. Checked out some websites. Put all the mail in one big box. A few weeks ago, Jon, Tim and I made a road trip to Grove City (Karen's and my Alma Mater). We have a nephew there, and a good friend from church. It was our only college visit. Both boys loved it. We intended to visit a few others, but never did. Applying for early decision simplifies life.

On the other hand, there are questions. Did we do enough research? Is this really the right place? How will we pay for it? Can I survive with my son five hours away?

The first three questions just require peace, pragmatism and prayer. The last one requires more of me than I can give just yet. I'm not ready to sort through the emotions associated with my first child leaving for college. I'm not ready to think about him turning 18, throwing his last pitch of high school baseball, or walking across the stage in a cap and gown. On top of that, the thought of Tim being a senior next year is too much for me. I'm going to ignore those concepts for now--if I don't think about them maybe they aren't real--and deal with the present. Basketball tryouts are tonight. There's a roast in the crock pot. We have youth group on Sunday. There's a boatload of laundry to do, and most of it belongs to Jon and Tim.

I still have a few months to wrestle with it all, and write more blogs about it, I suppose. I just need some more time.

For now, the letter is in the mail. Heck, it's probably arriving today, in the very office where we had the admissions interview. I wonder what they'll think of my son?

I wonder if they'll realize how much he's loved, and how hard it was to send that letter?