This is crazy. Suddenly I'm all excited about a plant. I can't remember ever taking care of a plant in my life. That was always my wife's department. But this Christmas I actually ordered a special plant, and it's getting my special care because of what it represents to me about Christmas. And about the "long winter" that began the day the love of my life was suddenly gone.
I don't mind visiting people in the hospital. I just don't like to stay in hospitals myself. My medical value system sort of works like this: minor surgery is any operation on somebody else, and major surgery is any operation on me. I've actually learned there's something worse than being a hospital patient myself. It's having one of our grandchildren in the hospital, especially when the treatment means pain. I can take it when I'm the one hurting. It's just hard to take it when it's one of them. When our grandson was only ten months old he had to go to the emergency room in another town, and it wasn't a happy time for the little guy. They had to try multiple times to get a needle into a vein for a blood test. It was excruciating! He was increasingly traumatized by one injection after another and that big old oxygen mask they kept holding over his nose.
Chimney Mountain! I had to get to the top! Why? Because it was there! Of course, I had to drag my young family into this obsession with me. One vacation day, I made that "Daddy's Great Adventure for the Day." Well, it wasn't a steep hike; it was a trail through the woods that gradually took you to the top of the mountain. As we walked along, my wife and the kids kept noticing little things...like chipmunks and squirrels and flowers and interesting rocks. Of course, whenever we noticed one of those little things, we had to stop; which was not my favorite thing to do. I had a goal, folks, and chipmunks and interesting rocks didn't help me get to it. Nope! At one point, they stopped us just to listen to the wind blowing through the tall pine trees. Isn't that wonderful? But not if you want to see the top of Chimney Mountain before sunset. Finally, my frustration made it to my mouth, "Honey, the reason for this hike is to get to the top. Don't you understand?" To which she said something like this: "Oh, I thought we came to enjoy the hike." Great! I was interested in the result; she was interested in the process!
Our family was staying in, well, as the camp song says, "a little cabin in the woods." As soon as we got unpacked, our seven or eight-year-old son went for an exploratory bike ride up the trail. When he returned he got going a little fast, and then he hit this patch of gravel right near the cabin. The bike spun out from under him and he hit that ground pretty hard. When he got up, there was a lot of blood around his mouth. He had broken a tooth and it punctured his lip. So, we raced him to a hospital emergency room where they fixed him up with a few stitches. Now, he took the second bike ride that day. That was the tough part; especially after what had happened on the first bike ride. But his Mother and I encouraged him to get right back on his bike. We knew if he didn't, it might take him a long time to get the confidence back to ever ride again. Well, sure enough, the boy bounced back. In spite of his fall, he decided to ride again and he kept riding for many years after that.
If they ever ask me to be a participant in those Nielsen ratings of who's watching what TV show, they'll probably find me watching the Weather Channel more than a lot of viewers. Oh, not necessarily because I'm intrigued with low-pressure systems, or barometric readings, or cumulonimbus clouds, (See, I do watch.) but because I want to see my future in the places I might be traveling to. But sometimes, they don't have the weather on. I remember a while back they had a primetime documentary show called "Storm Stories." Now while the story of a storm that happened twenty years ago isn't going to help me plan for tomorrow, the stories were pretty dramatic. They often featured amazing accounts of the people who survived major weather disasters-and the people who didn't. It was especially interesting to see what steps would help you to be a storm survivor rather than a storm victim.
I used to think flying would be glamorous. See, when I was a kid, we'd take my Dad to the airport for an occasional business trip, and I used to think, "Man, that's exciting! I wonder if I'll ever do that?" Well, I've gotten to do plenty of that! Sometimes it's a two-hour flight say to Chicago, or a five-hour flight to the West Coast, and sometimes it's a marathon like eighteen hours to Africa or Asia. Now I'm leaving something important and I'm going to something important at the other end. But for most people, the travel time in between is just dead time. Not for this kid. I ask for a window seat where I don't have to do any getting up or passing things. I make my little office nest there and I get tons of work done! For me, that time in between my two important places isn't just headphones, movies, plastic lunches, or reading about life jackets. In fact, there's no phone calls, no interruptions. It's some of my best time to write, create and prepare. Hey, the time in between is important, too!
Our children got together and gave us a special gift for a milestone wedding anniversary – yep, a couple of nights in the beautiful place where we honeymooned years before. Part of the gift was a picturesque, horse-drawn carriage ride through some of the area's beautiful scenery. At one point, our carriage was headed up a relatively steep hill and another carriage was starting down that hill, full of people. It had to be a real workout for the horses, believe me. Our driver pointed out something that I found intriguing. He said, "Notice that the driver is holding the brake on as they come down the hill. That's to keep the horses from bearing a load that's too heavy for them to bear. With the driver holding the brake, they still feel like they're on level ground." Huh!
When our son and his family lived in another state, man, we cherished visits from him, his wife and our beautiful granddaughter. She was two at the time, but she seemed to have the vocabulary of like a five-year-old. Besides being unexplainably beautiful (being my granddaughter, that's miraculous), she really knew how to communicate – with words, with gestures, with facial expressions. We loved our time with her, and she seemed to love her time with us. But, well, this wasn't home. They lived many miles from here. She needed to be home ultimately, sleeping in her bed, playing with her toys, being around the people she loves there, and enjoying her personal world. This is where she visited. That's where she lived. She was in the car with Mommy and Daddy, all strapped in her toddler seat and ready to pull out of the driveway to head home. Oh how she cried! She begged me to get in. She begged me to sit down. Her crying broke a grandparent's heart. But once she was home she loved being where she lived. It's just that leaving is so hard.
Driving is never more exciting than it is during a major snow storm. In fact it is so exciting, you ought to avoid it. Sometimes you just can't. I was scheduled to speak at this retreat in the Poconos Mountains one January weekend and a major snow storm moved in right on the Friday when everyone was supposed to be traveling to Pennsylvania from New Jersey. So I waited all day for the call, I was sure it was going to come. "Sorry, it's been cancelled." Oh, I got the call; yeah, they were still going. And by that time it was dark, it was snowing very impressively and I got on the Interstate. I traveled at a very reduced speed and it looked almost impossible to make it until I spotted my friend up ahead. Well, my friend the snow plow. He was clearing a lane as he went. So I just fell in right behind Mr. Snow plow and followed him through the storm all the way to the Pennsylvania line. Oh, that works!
Over the years it's been an honor and a pleasure to speak for a lot of professional football chapels. You should have seen me with the New York Giants. I was like the New York dwarf! Hey, listen, I'm tall inside okay. Their "thank you" for speaking was two tickets for the game; great seats reserved for the chapel speaker – midfield under cover. Of course, any time you go to a public event like a game or a concert or a show, you hope for great seats. On occasion, I've even looked up a seating chart for the facility where an event was being held so I knew what seats to ask for. Unfortunately, well, you've got to pay a little for the best seats, but you get a view that most folks can't see.