Category: Memoirs

With the Faith of a Snowflake

With the Faith of a Snowflake

My daughter, McKenzie, loves to dance.  She loves to watch it, do it, talk about it . . . well, that last one doesn’t count since she loves to talk about anything.  But you get the point.  This passion is purely within her.  She takes no formal dance classes, and benefits only from the kind encouragement of a talented friend who helps her along from time to time.

So completely on her own, she choreographed the dance below, a dance that would lead to one of the greatest lessons of faith I’ve ever been taught.  The story is below the video.  So read and watch, or watch and read.  I’ll let you decide.

Ten-year-olds are notorious for dreaming up big plans, setting their hearts on them, but never allowing their brains in on the planning.  This was my fear when McKenzie shared with me that she was choreographing a dance for her upcoming Chorus Christmas Concert.

“Oh, has the teacher asked you to dance?” I asked.

“No.  Not yet.  But I’m going to show it to her when I’m finished.  If she likes it, maybe she add it in.”

“Now wait a minute,” says Papa Bear.  “You do understand that she might not be able to’add it in’ even if she likes it, right?  I don’t want you to get your hopes up.”

“Sure, Dad.  I know.  Don’t worry.  It’s just something fun.”

This something fun turned into hours of work, internet research (she wanted to include sign language), and lots of practice.  I was terrified that she was in for the biggest disappointment of her short life.

I know, I know.  Oh ye of little faith.  The teacher loved it, added it in, and made me feel about three inches tall.  But that’s only the beginning of the story.

Two weeks before the concert, McKenzie was stepping out of our van, something she does between 1 and 5 times every day.  But this time, something went wrong.  In a split second, her ankle twisted, her knee buckled, and her heart broke.  After a visit to the doctor, we confirmed the diagnoses as a sprained ankle, bought a pair of cruthes, and proceeded to try and explain to our daughter how God could allow this to happen after she had worked so hard and had come so far.  There were many tears, most of them mine.

But she’s a trooper, our McKenzie.  She resigned herself to the fact that God’s will is perfect.  She told me that while our prayers might not always yield the results for which we hope, we should still pray all the same.  After all, she said, we don’t always know His will, so just to be sure . . .  (I love that kid.)

I was thinking about her comments last Thursday night, the night for which the concert was scheduled.  That’s when I saw it, a snow flake. A big, fat, wet snowflake.  And it had friends.  Lots of them.  By the time I had made it home the ground was covered and the concert was postponed five days.  As it turns out, that’s just enough time for an ankle to finish healing.  More importantly, it was more than enough time for my daughter see just how far God is willing to go to answer a little girl’s prayer.

And so she danced.  Perhaps this was the first of many such performances to come.  But I dare say that none of them will come with a greater sense of knowing just how loved she is by her Creator.  What peace there is in that knowledge. And how fitting that the title of the song to which she danced is “Song of Peace.”

You go, KK.

Getting Old

cane_edited.jpg“Dad?” RileyGrace is sitting in the back of our Ford Windstar gazing out the window.  

 “Yes, ma’am.”  

“How many years is a person when they start to get old?”   I glance at her in the rear view mirror.   Her posture is perfect as she sits atop the last car seat she’ll ever need.   Her head is tilted inquisitively.   Loose strands of angel hair dance in front of her face, glowing in the afternoon sun.   My last little girl is growing up so fast.   She smiles, awaiting an answer to her question.

“Well, it depends,” I offer. “Some people get old very early.   Others really never seem to get old.   I guess it just depends on the person.”

She considered this for a moment.   I  am proud of my response.   Not too much information, but enough to answer the question accurately.   It is a secret aspiration of mine that my kids will one day look back and reflect on the great wisdom of their father.   I bask in visions of the three of them as adults sharing Thanksgiving coffee around the family table, marveling at how good ole’ Dad could take even the most complex of subjects and put  them in terms that even a child could understand.

“Dad?” RileyGrace interrupts my delusions of grandeur.

“Yes, honey.”

“How many years were you when you got old?”

Clearly I have done my job.

Something to say . . .

Dr. Bellows wore plaid shirts without fail.   I remember this because the shape of his round belly played tragic games with the stripes in the pattern.   The result was something like latitude and longitude markings on a lumpy globe that orbited the room at least twice during each class.   I had decided from the first day that I would not learn much from Dr. Bellows.   After all, I was a national finalist in one of the most competitive speech contests in the country.   This was a “gimme” class.   I needed an easy “A” to make up for the dismal prospects offered by “Dr. Pass-Me-If-You-Can” in Music History.

By the end of the semester, I had managed to pass Music History (through much prayer and fasting).   It was instead Speech 101 that presented the biggest challenge.   In the end, it was Dr. Bellows, a walking globe with  headlight-sized horn-rims and a  hair cut reminiscant of Nicholas from “Eight is Enough” who almost failed me, and in doing so taught me perhaps one of the most important lessons of my young adult life.  

The speech was on the business of song writing.    Being a music business major, material on the subject was plentiful.   The delivery was artful, if I do say so myself.   It had humor.   It had drama.   It earned me a standing ovation.   Excuse me while I move to the head of the class.   That’s right.   State Public Speaking Champion coming through.   Yes, it’s a gift.   No, I’m not sure autographs are appropriate right now.    Perhaps after class.

Now, I’m being silly.   I actually only gave one autograph after class,  and that one  just basically committed me to bring something salty to the next Band Social.   Shortly thereafter, I made my way to Dr. Bellows, who was seated on his  axis at the rear of the room.   I had yet to receive his certain praise, and I swelled at the prospect.   What wonderful words might he use to describe my eloquence, my mastery of the oratory?   Perhaps he would even ask me to teach the class next week while he took some time off for that long overdue visit to the barbershop.

“Mr. Abbott.”   He beckoned me forward.   “Have a seat Mr. Abbott.”   Wow, this was gonna take some time.   I must have been better than I thought.

“Brilliant speech, Mr. Abbott.”

“Thank you, sir.”   I  said, waiting, hoping  for more.  

“You’re clearly the best speaker in the class.”

“Thank you, sir.”   Man, I love that part.

“I almost hate to fail you on this speech.”  

My mind hit the rewind button.   For a moment, I thought he said “fail.”   No, he must have said, “hail,” as in “hail you as the magnificent speaker you are.”

“I’m sorry?”  

“Mr. Abbott.   You can’t BS a BS’er.   Your delivery was wonderful.   But no one cared, because you said nothing.   I actually know less now that I did before I heard you speak.   Your reliance on rhetoric is alarming.”

The gaping whole that was my mouth invited all manner of flying things to enter at will.  

“Next time, Mr. Abbott, I want you to remember one thing.   How you speak will mean nothing unless you actually have something to say.”

I turned 34 the other day.  And like my age, real life has descended upon me like Sitting Bull on Custard.   Yet as I  reflect upon the sweet chaos that is my world, I have started  seeing things I’ve never seen before.   I hear sounds I’ve never heard before.   I feel weights I’ve never felt before.   And from all of this I am learning (thanks to Dr. Bellows) how to say things I’ve never said before.   I have finally stopped obsessing over how I speak.   I have finally started focusing on what I say.

And to my surprise, I really do have something to say.

Life Lessons from . . . Shaving

razor.jpgRemember those posters they used to sell?   The one’s with the headline “Everything I know about life I learned from . . .”

Then inserted after the ellipse was something like ” . . . Kindergarten,” or ” . . . my cat.”   Well, this morning it occurred to me that there are life lessons in many things, although I rarely see them.   Much like these posters tell us, there’s much to be learned in life’s day to day.   This morning I took lessons from something I do (almost) every morning, shaving.   The following  are my less than scholarly observations.

Life Lessons From Shaving:

1. Going against the grain can be tricky, but necessary.
I get so frustrated when these “how to” bloggers and old fashioned barbers try to tell  me that to achieve the best shave, you must shave WITH the direction of your hair.   Going against the grain, they say, causes irritation, thus impeding the blade from making solid contact with your skin.

So why is it that every time I shave WITH the grain, I spend the day nervously scratching the 12 patches of stubble this perfect shaving technique left behind?

So I draw this conclusion:
Sometimes in life, it is necessary to go against the grain to get the job done.   HOWEVER, one will almost invariably have better results by FIRST going with the grain, then take the opposing course of action only when necessary.

2. Timing is everything.
Perhaps at the infantile age of  32 I’m still hovering  in the final stages of some tragically prolonged puberty purgatory.   This would explain why after one day of growth, my beard still isn’t quite long enough to provide a clean shave.   Shaving on the second day gives my face a much better opportunity to offer up a more substancial sacrifice to the beard buddah.   Of course, I can’t always wait to shave every other day.   This means that sometimes, I just have to deal with it.

So I draw this conclusion:
Probelm solving isn’t always an instant process.   Sometimes a problem needs to be allowed to fully expose itself before it can be dealt with correctly.   However, that doesn’t change the fact that  other times  you  just have to do what you have to do.

3. A little heat never hurt anyone.
Ever tried to shave when it was cold?   Enough said.

So I draw this conclusion:
When life heats up, smile.   We often do our best work in this environment.

4. Smoke and mirrors are a part of life.
I decided long ago to shave not before, not after, but during a shower.   It’s easier, quicker, and the results are just better.   However, this decision led me to a profound consumer realization.   There is no such thing as a fogless mirror! It’s a constant battle I face (no pun intended)  – trying to focus through the haze of morning on a blurry image in a foggy mirror while I rake a sharp blade across my throat.

So I draw this conclusion:
Very few things are as they seem.   So much of what we do, from the mudain and ordinary to the extreme and perilous, requires us to make decisions based on information that is far too often clouded by the smoke and mirrors of the world.   Don’t believe me?   Watch the news.

5. Some problems never go away, we just get better at dealing with them.
You know what’s funny?   Nearly everyday of my adult life I shave.   Then I go to work, come home, go to bed, wake up, and . . .  dadgummit!   I have to shave all over again.   This is a viscious cycle that I frankly can’t believe we haven’t found a way to break yet.   But alas, we have not.   And so . . . I shave.   I am, therefore I shave.   But I’m a lot better at it than I used to be.

So I draw this FINAL conclusion:
Try as we might, there are some problems we will never “fix.”   When it comes to these things, perhaps “fixing” isn’t the goal, but rather what we become in the process.

So . . . did I miss anything?   Share your comments and add to the list!

I Do Love That Man

Two years ago, about this time of year, I wrote the following . . .

Just hung up the phone with the man I affectionately refer to as “Papaw.” This would of course be my grandfather, my mother’s father.   In so many ways this man  has played a vital role in my life.   Papaw is the universal fix it man for everything tangible in our lives.   If it’s broken, he can fix it.   If it’s not broken, he can still fix it.

I’ve spent many years watching him.   There were times I wanted to be just like him.   I still do.   I learned a few years ago that a man’s worth  isn’t found  so much in what he knows, but in what he does with what he knows.   I also learned, thanks to Papaw, that style is relative, and that class (like still waters) runs incredibly deep.

The phone call was like many others before.   “Hey man,” he would say.   “What’s going on?” I would ask, as if I didn’t know. “Aw, just sittin’ on the couch.   Your Mamaw’s cookin’ supper.   I’ve been down at the shop fixin’ that [you could insert any item here] for [you could insert any person here, especially a member of his family].”   And so on and so on.

Papaw’s not much for in-depth conversation.   No deep transcendental thoughts on the order of the universe . . . no philosophical  musings.   No.   Just chit chat.   It is enough for my grandfather to simply have you on the phone ““ to know you are safe, happy, and without want.   This is the purpose of conversation for him, to know his family is safe.

On occasion, however, he will (much like today) pierce  my unsuspecting heart with a love  so so profound, yet so unknowing.   It is then  that he  is like hot coffee in a cup that’s too small.    When he  spills out, you’re gonna  cry – only in a good way.

“I’m glad you’re coming in for Christmas,” he told me, as if this were a new thing.   We come home every year.   In 32 years, I’ve never spent a Christmas morning away from this man.   “Maybe we’ll have time,” he continues, “to just be together.”   My eyes watered as I listened. “I just enjoy  being with you, just driving and talking.   Maybe we can do that,” he says.

OK.   That’s not fair.   I had no warning.

There are two things you need to know at this point:

1) Conversation is never easy between my grandfather and me.   On the surface, it’s like Bartles talking with James.   The older I get, however,  our conversations remind me  more  of the dialogue in a Hemingway novel.   So much not said. It would take, I suppose,  someone of tremendous perception to appreciate the full value of each sparse word, each pregnant pause.

2) Since the arrival of my children, quality time with my grandfather (no matter how dysfunctional) has been VERY limited.    My family’s  abbreviated trips back to Alabama are usually reserved for  time spent  spoiling great grandchildren.    Papaw/Brandon time is hard for both of us to come by.

BUT ““ if I can ever get him alone and  start chipping away at those walls he builds around his mind and his heart, I can (on occasion) probe just a little deeper.   It is then that I get just a glimpse into this man that contributed  so completely to my raising ““ this man who still remains such a mystery.   He was now giving me another such opportunity.

Thus, the tears.


“Sure, Papaw,” I chocked back.   “Maybe L’Rancho [local dive good for just such an occasion] will be open on Monday morning.   We could go get some breakfast.”   I couldn’t say much more.

If you could only see what I see, or rather what I can’t see.    It’s a strange thing  to love someone so much and know so little about them.   He has so much bottled up inside.   I’m sure to let it all out would in many ways betray who he is to begin with.   But to just glimpse into who he really is  . . .  that’s what I want.

I want to hear  about being a father  to my mother.   I want to hear about working at 15 to support a family, about  owning and operating a business, about  thriving, about surviving.

Somehow, when I read or hear about men who buckled down in the face of adversity, it inspires me to do the same.   While it takes a true leader to do the right thing in the absence of precedent, it’s important for posterity to realize that it can be done.   Others have done it.   Great men have done it.   I belive the potential is there for my generation as well.   We can be great men.   We are born from great men.

Yet we are a spoiled generation of quick fixes.   Microwaves, computers, credit cards . . . not all evil (except for the credit cards) but still not representative of the hard working delayed gratification that built this incredible nation.

Only briefly have I seen Papaw open up about alcoholism.   Only briefly have I heard him speak of hard work in tough times.    I would so love to  have another opportunity to look inside once again and build on these small but giant moments.   I have so much to learn, and he has so much to teach.


However, if  that time doesn’t come I can rest easy knowing that the really crucial  lessons have already been taught through his actions, and consistently so.

1. Love your family like they’re all you have, because they truly are.
2. If there’s work to be done, do it.   Then rest.
3. Don’t ignore problems.   They just get bigger.
4. Always keep air in the tires and oil in the engine.
5. Don’t shoot a BB gun when someone’s in your way.
6. Clean up extra food and crumbs, or suffer the wrath of ants.
7. Take care of other people’s things.
8. Take care of your own things.
9. Be on time.
10. It’s OK to wash your hair in the sink, if you have to.

And most of all, the greatest gift you can give your family is yourself.   Be there for them, even when it’s not fun, or when they’re not fun, or when you’re not fun.

When it’s all said and done, this is most important.

I do love that man.   And I know without a shadow of a doubt . . . that he loves me.

Normal Is The New Rebellion

I was taught to be good.   I was taught to love others, mind my manners, be respectful, and above all . . . stay out of trouble.   Of course the later eventually became more about not getting caught than anything else.   But even still, I was a good kid.

Yet even during adolescence (which my wife might argue I never completely left behind) it was clear that I would never be the cool kid I wanted to be.   I was too satisfied with being good.   Too bent on being normal, unlike my peers who seemed determined to push every envelop.   I was too much of a conformist to contribute to any kind of real diversity.   I was traditional.   I was too “goody-goody.” I’m sure to many, I was on my best day simply artificial.

Now, I am older.   I carry much more responsibility, and I am glad to accept it.   Yet, some things never change.   I am still “normal.”  Middle class vanilla at its Baskin Robbins best.   A wife, three kids, a mortgage, you know the drill.    My politics are conservative.   I believe in local responsibility, state power, and limited federal government.   I believe in prayer in schools, in One Nation Under God (in whom I also believe we still trust).   I say “sir” and “ma’am” and mean them with respect.   I do not expect anything from anyone except that they do their part.

However, it seems to me that I have become the stereotype.   I am the “normal” that constitutes that which others would seek to redefine.   While some celebrate diversity as I do, there are others that care little for my way of life, calling it close-minded, antiquated, exclusive, even intolerant.   But who will tolerate me?   Who will look out for my way of life, my rights, my beliefs?

As a Christian evangelical (I think that’s what they call me know), as a conservative Republican, as  an  opponent to abortion and a proponent of prayer in schools, I have become the minority who’s  rights now need protecting.   And there are others like me, who (like me) are not used to  having to define and defend  what it is for  which  they stand.    For we were once normal.

Now,  to be what once was normal is to rebel against pop culture.    It is  to swim against the current of mainstream media.   It is to guard the eyes and ears, the hearts and minds of my children against that which others would call normal, that which I do not.

Strange as it seems, it has become clear to me that normal is the new rebellion.