The Unexpected Gift

BirdsI learned at a young age that one of the best gifts you can give someone is the one that you make. Even better is the one they least expect.

As an artist I think it’s a great way to show someone how much you appreciate them in your life. It’s something my mother and father used to do all the time. My mother was a tole painter and she’d paint stuff my father cut out of wood. It was a great system they had, and as a result, my parents artwork adorned the houses of many family and friends.

One time in particular, my father created a stained glass window for my grandmother of two birds. I watched him carefully cut out the pieces of glass, line each with copper, and then solder them with lead. He did this on the table in the wood floor room back home, and I was content to sit and watch. I marveled at how good he was, and how much he enjoyed constructing his artwork. This stained glass (shown above) hung in my grandmother’s house for years and every time we’d go over to her home I’d see it and smile.

After the death of my father I had a bigger appreciation for this stained glass piece because one, it reminded me of my father, but two, I knew it was created with love from my father as a loving son to his mother. And that I admired. What my father never anticipated is that his unexpected gift actually lived beyond for a second round. My grandmother left this stained glass window to me in her will after she died now almost 17 years ago. It hangs in my home office in New York and I see it everyday. It is a constant reminder of two individuals, my father and grandmother, that helped shape me into the person that I am today.

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Smiling Faces, Going Places.

photoSummer vacation has officially started.

School is out. Bedtimes dissolve and homework’s no more.

What’s also gone is the concept of Elementary School. Aaron our youngest is moving into the middle school next year as a 6th grader. At the end of the year move up ceremony I fought back tears more times than I care to admit. I still don’t feel old enough to have three kids much less having all three out of Kindergarten. Joey my oldest will be a Junior in the fall. A JUNIOR. The slideshow presentation of the 5th grade year-in-review is what got me. One by one pictures cycled through. Groups of kids in the moment, during recess, class field trips and activities. Best friends locked arm and arm or posed in silly formations that garnered many giggles from the 4 classrooms of onlooking soon to be sixth-graders.

The one consistent theme in each and every photo was a smile. No matter the circumstance or time of year. Some kids were drowning in oversized painting shirts for art class, or cold weather coats and hats, but yet smiles remained. Their future has yet to be written. They have every reason to smile. I like to call them smiling faces, going places, and for these 5th graders it only goes up from here. They will ride the high until life gets in the way. And when it does, I hope they never lose thier ability to smile. Especially Aaron. For me, over the last year I have been smiling a lot less than I should. I realize it. Those around me recognize it, and I miss it. Seeing the steady stream feed of smiling faces was a nice reality check straight from the innocence of youth. A constant reminder that I need to smile more. I remember those days where I used to smile every day, and I long for them to return. It won’t be an immediate transition, but it’ll happen.

It has too.

My Father

My Father was:

A mentor to three boys.

A loyal husband.

A compassionate man.

A caring soul.

An honest heart.

Smart and wise.

A fair mind.

My Father knew who he was.

He enjoyed country music.

He worked with his hands.

He took naps.

He had a strong faith.

He voiced a big laugh.

He loved life.

And yet it was taken from him far too young.

…….

I am half the man he was.

Sharks

Baseball is a game of failure.

70% of the time the games best players fail when trying to hit the ball. Players record errors on the field. Make bad pitches and throws. What’s important to understand is that every next at-bat, pitch or time on defense is an opportunity to make a play that’s positive. The trick is for players to not look back, to have a short memory when it comes to failure. For they’ll need the focus in the present to make the play when they get the next opportunity. If they’re always in the past, then failure lurks with a side helping of doubt. And since players can’t change the past, the only thing they can control is how they deal with the future.

This premise is kinda like a shark. Sharks constantly swim, and if they stop, they die. These predators lack the ability to extract oxygen from the water unless it’s forced through their side gills from their constant state of motion. The point is they never look back. Sharks are always looking forward. A timely piece of advice I gave a 10-year old on the mound after he gave up a game tying single to a batter. “Be like a shark, don’t look back. Focus on the next batter, and just throw strikes. If they hit them, they hit them. Count on your teammates to play good defense behind you.” He composed himself, got the last out and the game continued. A game we eventually won.

(I have since nicknamed him “Shark” for the rest of the season)

One of my dear friends, who I can’t thank enough, allowed me to realize the advice of the shark is not for baseball alone. It’s a good parable to carry around to reference when dealing with some everyday and not-so-everyday situations. Sometimes after you fail, it’s best to recognize it, learn from it, keep moving forward and not look back. If not, you risk suffocation under the weight of your own lack of mental strength.

Loud (& Clear) Speaker

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The last week for me was very taxing. Long hours, new business stress, long flights, oppressively hot temperatures, and in a constant state of “on” as a new business owner while in Phoenix at the ADMERICA! conference sponsorded by the National AAF. If not the time with close friends, I think I’d be in a looney bin.

I left Phoenix early Sunday morning with a heavy heart, and mental fatigue. On my first flight, the plane experienced major turbulence. The “Drop 50 feet in 1 second, amusement ride, knock you out of your seat” type turbulence that elicits July, 4th crowd-like reactions. While people were ooing and aahing, I was secretly hoping for the plane to crash. #truestory.

However, we landed safely in Atlanta and during the 3-hour layover, I overheard a paged solicitation over the loud speaker for a multi-faith service in the chapel at 2pm. Now, this is something I would normally not hear, nor ever considering going to, but i think someone was speaking to me. And no, it wasn’t the guy serving me my change at Arby’s. If there truly is a God, then he knows my faith has wavered.

2pm rolled around and I strolled into an room with a dozen or so empty chairs with one exception, one was taken by the minister. His name was Will (I thought, seriously your name is Will?). With my already heavy heart I walked up to the front table where the Bible was located. It was open to Psalms and the third one I read struck me hard. I took a photo of it and it’s above.

Psalm 51
Have mercy upon me, O God
According to your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

While, right now, I do not feel worthy of forgiveness, I do very much seek it. Minister Will came up from behind me and asked me my name, where I was from, where I came from and where my final destination was. He asked if I had heard the paged soliciation and that I was indeed here for the service (he seemed quite shocked I was there). I told him yes, but that my flight was to board in about 15 minutes. He said, “Perfect, I know just the sermon I will give you today.” Another woman strolled in, her name was Sarah. She was on her way to Colorado and she too was going to listen. And together we sat. A personal audience for Minister Will and his words.

In his readings and with his southern drawl, he spoke of the miracles performed by Elijah and Jesus when it came to healing the sick or bringing people back to life. In his sermon he talked of fairness. What is fair in the world? Why are there infants that die months after birth, and wives widowed with small kids still to raise? And why tragedy strikes sleepy towns in Oklahoma filled with innocent people? He told a story of a funeral he ministered for a teenager and then spoke of the words he tried to use to comfort the grieving family and friends left to wonder why. He spoke of how God answers prayers, and that answers rarely come how we expect. “The lessons of our lives,” he said, “unfold for us in ways that only God himself knows, but know that he loves us, and when we trust in him he will make his answers known and steer us on the right path.”

It was tough to hear, but most definitely what I needed. If only for 15 minutes. After he was done we all left the room and went our separate ways. Each touched by this moment. Solidified by God, and eager to go home to be the company of family.

A Song of Greatness

AJ PoemAaron had to write-up a theme for a poem at school titled, A Song of Greatness it’s a Chippewa Traditional Poem by Mary Austin.

This is his write-up:

The theme of the poem, “A Song of Greatness” is that everyone can be a hero. In the first stanza, it says, “When I hear old men telling of heroes, telling great deeds of ancient days, when I hear them telling, then I think within me I too am one of these” That means the kid thinks it of himself of a hero. I know that because It’s talking about a boy looking up to grownups, and thinking he can make a difference as well. Also it says, “I too when my time comes shall mightily.” That means when he gets older he will make a difference. Now you know the main theme of the Poem, “A Song of Greatness.”