Saturday, December 24, 2016

Witnesses to a Christmas miracle: The Shepherds

This post originally appeared in my 12 Kids and Counting Blog on Dec. 22, 2009

I've been thinking about shepherds lately. We're having a Christmas Eve service -- 5 o'clock Thursday, you're all invited -- to sing some hymns and carols, read out of Luke 2 and I'll share a short message. As I read Luke's account of the birth of Christ, I can't help but wonder about the shepherds who saw the angel of the Lord. I've read accounts that 2,000 years ago shepherds were the pickpockets and thieves of the day. The sorry, no-account drifters who were troublemakers and virtually indentured servants. Things haven't changed much, perhaps. I've enclosed a link at the bottom of this post to help you see where I'm going with this thing.

But let me describe the life of a modern-day sheepherder in the barren Wyoming outback, where you might be in charge of a flock of 1,500 or 2,000 sheep: On call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your home is a 5 x 10 "campito" without running water. Have to go to the bathroom? Here's a shovel. You have no electricity. The searing summer days can hit 100 degrees. On Christmas Day at a sheep camp near Encampment, Wyo., look for a high of 14 degrees, with a low of zero. And snow. Your heat source is a wood stove. It might even work, particularly if you have wood. In addition to no days off, a sheepherder must be able to ride a horse and repair fences. Not to mention guard the flock against predators and poisonous weeds. Not only that, a decent worker should be able to assist in lambing, docking, castrating (Rocky Mountain oysters baby!), dehorning, shearing, vaccinating, drenching and medicating the sheep. Sometimes the work gets a little hairy -- or worse. Wolves are a constant problem in parts of Wyoming. Other places have bigger problems. On Sept. 14 in Sublette County, a sheepherder was attacked by a grizzly bear. Miraculously he lived. The bear left a 7-inch gash in the man's head, two punctures on the left side of his chest, three claw wounds on his gut and a punctured wrist. Oh, here's the kicker. The pay is $650 a month. And all the sagebrush you can see.

Yet these are the guys the angel of the Lord came to tell about the birth of the Messiah, our Savior. Why? Why not the Bethlehem Town Council? Or the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, or Rotary Club? Surely a group of men existed in metropolitan Bethlehem that were far more qualified to have an audience with an angel of the Lord than a bunch of sketchy shepherds. This is what I love about God. He takes the sorriest, no accountenest knuckleheads and uses them for His glory. Read about their response to the news of the birth of Christ. I'd say they were transformed. Any thoughts on what kind of weight it carried when these guys started spreading the word about what they had heard and seen? No wonder Luke describes it thusly in 2:18: "And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds." (NKJV)

There's a part of me that would like to taste the life of a Wyoming sheepherder. What's it really like out there? How bad is it? Could I endure it for more than a few days? I can think of one redeeming aspect of a sheepherder in Wyoming. When night falls in that big sky that stretches from the end of the earth to the end of the earth, unobstructed by trees, or houses, or apartments, or skyscrapers, without artificial light flickering for maybe a hundred miles, you can look up at a billion stars and be amazed by the hand of God. I reckon that's what those shepherds were doing 2,000 years ago, before the angel even appeared. They were looking up.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Settling the debate of who's a `come here' in Tidewater Virginia. (It's not easy ...)

When Cultures Combine

'Come Heres And From Heres'

April 19, 2004|BY MATT SABO | (804) 642-1748
Natives and newcomers try to decide how long a person has to live here before shedding the 'outsider' label.
It is a vexing question, its answer fraught with rampant speculation and, of course, influenced by one's genealogical ties to the great commonwealth of Virginia. The state constitution is no help. Local ordinances do not address it. A Google search turned up no definitive answer.
Judy Schick bravely tries to answer it anyway.
"Mmmm, I'd say the only way you can be a 'been here' is if you've been born here," she says.
That's it then. All you "come heres" who are looking to shake loose your outsider status have something to shoot for. Birth a kid wherever it is you've landed, and your progeny won't be a "come here."
Or maybe not. Schick is waffling after thinking about this problem for a minute.
"Well," she says, "I don't know that there's an answer."
Schick was born in New Jersey and arrived in Mathews via Indianapolis after she and her husband took a liking to the Virginia shoreline. She concedes she's 100 percent "come here." She even started the "Newcomers Club" in Mathews, where "come heres" flock like mosquitoes to flesh. The club has 48 members.
But isn't there a way to change from a "come here" to a "been here?" How long would that take? A decade? Twenty years? Fifty years? Having a momma who's a native?
"Never," says 56-year-old Tommy Darden, who runs rustic Darden's Country Store in Isle of Wight County. Getting to Darden's would be hard for most "come heres." It involves taking a left, two rights, a left, a right and then another left (or was it a right?) - all while negotiating narrow back roads and dodging locals wandering out to the mailbox across the road.
"To me, personally, when you're a 'from here' is when you know the back roads from here to there," says Mark Rowe as he cradles a midday beer at Harpoon Larry's off Mercury Boulevard in Hampton.
Rowe is a 38-year-old Floridian just two months into his Peninsula residency. He says people shouldn't fret about the labels because it all depends on the individual. Rowe claims to know the back roads -- at least to Harpoon Larry's -- and considers himself a "from here."
Darden actually agrees after he warms to the subject. "It's really hard to say. Some people seem to fit in and some people don't fit in," he says.
Some "come heres" move to the Virginia countryside and want streetlights, garbage pickup and curbs. They're "come heres" through and through, Darden says. Others fit right in. They stop by the store to chat and haul their garbage to the dump in the back of a pickup, or SUV probably. They're OK.
About this time Dean Stallings joins the fray. The 46-year-old, sixth-generation Isle of Wight farmer stopped by Darden's for a ham sandwich, iced tea and pack of Marlboro Lights.
"Come heres" drive ATVs through his cotton and corn fields and think it's their back yard, he says. They're not OK. A "come here" will "be on that list forever," Stallings says.
Of course, there are exceptions. Bonnie Lewis is checking out art in Mo Stuff in Bena, in the heart of Gloucester's Guinea. She was born in Wicomico in Gloucester County, moved away for 30 years, then came back. Doesn't that make her a "come here" with an asterisk? Or is it a "from here" with an asterisk?
Neither, she says. "I'm grandfathered."
Perhaps there's some scholarly research that can lay to rest this issue. Wouldn't you know it, the University of Virginia has a "come heres" specialist.
Daphne Spain, chair of the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning at the university's School of Architecture, wrote "Been-heres Versus Come-heres: Negotiating Conflicting Community Identities" in 1993. It's a study comparing Kilmarnock in Lancaster County to Philadelphia's Queen Village. In sum, rich folks moved into both places and changed the communities. They probably demanded garbage pickup.
Spain could see a change in status, though. Folks who arrived after Kilmarnock was "discovered" were "come heres." Those who had arrived before weren't. Others in the small, historically tightknit communities who had lived there for generations traced "come heres" back to two generations.
"No matter how long the family stayed," Spain says, "if their family wasn't from there it wouldn't matter."
The last word is left to Urbanna, on the watery fringes of Middlesex County. At Catman Cats, a boatbuilding outfit down on the water, Felix Herrin claims a person can be moved off the "come heres" list into "been heres" status by the authority of an authentic "from here."
He said this happened to him when his friend Larry Burch told Herrin he's not a "come here" anymore because Herrin has been in Virginia since 1977.
"It has to be bestowed by a `from here,'" Herrin says.
His wife, Tricia Herrin, is standing nearby. She is a real-life "born here" and is caught off guard.
"So he took you from a 'come here' to a 'been here?'" she asks incredulously.
"I have never heard of that," Tricia Herrin says.
Felix Herrin shrugs.
"I'm still a 'come here' to my wife."

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A true story of rogue Chesapeake Bay oysters the size of dinner plates

This is one of my favorite stories from my time at the Daily Press about some rogue oysters who somehow escaped from a Chesapeake Bay marine experiment and lived to tell about it. For a while at least. I hope you enjoy it.

On assignment in 2012 with an oyster. But not one of THE oysters.

Oyster Survival Story Raises Questions

May 21, 2004|By MATT SABO Daily Press
A startling find of mammoth experimental bivalves left for dead yields a surprising conclusion: They're still alive, and they taste pretty good.
They were beasts of their species, orphans from a marine experiment gone awry that were lurking in the mucky bottom of a Rappahannock River tributary in Lancaster County.

Two girls out kayaking stumbled upon them last month. The girls lived to tell about it.
The behemoths did not.
They were two non-native oysters the size of dinner plates. A true full-meal deal.
Long since forgotten, the oysters weren't supposed to be there. They were among several hundred young bivalves put in the shallow tidal pond as part of a much larger 2001 experiment involving 60,000 oysters scattered around the Chesapeake Bay, said Jim Wesson of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
Vigorous, hardy and disease-resistant -- and perhaps somewhat quick and elusive -- the c. ariakensis bivalves are known as Suminoe, or "Asian," oysters. The two oysters, along with at least three others found later, managed to elude recapture when the experiment ended in 2003, even though Wesson said they all were enclosed in a mesh cage.
Wesson believes the oysters got stepped on and shoved down in the muck. Because one of the components of the experiment was gauging mortality, it was assumed the oysters suffered an untimely demise.
"As far as we knew they were gone," Wesson said. "If they disappeared, you would assume a crab or something would eat them."
Now Wesson knows otherwise.
"They live very well," he said. "Even the ones we got up were doing very well. We were testing how they would hold themselves up in the mud. If they can't compete with the sediment around them, they wouldn't live very well in the bay."
The oysters were taken to Stan Allen, director of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. There they met their death and were found to be sterile, just as they were when the experiment began.
Allen found them intriguing, but he doesn't advocate orphaning experimental oysters.
"It's not a good idea to keep them out there without some custodial care," he said.
The find has raised eyebrows -- and questions -- particularly now that the Chesapeake Bay is hosting experimental trials involving about 800,000 Asian oysters. The trials are sponsored by the Virginia Seafood Council.
"We're pretty concerned about it," said Mike Fritz, living resources coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program office.
The Asian oysters in the current trials are penned in secure bags, racks and floats -- not put out loose on the bottom, he said.
"We're doing everything we can to keep them under control, to effectively keep the genie in the bottle and not let these oysters get established as a population in the bay," Fritz said.
What sets the Asian oysters apart from native bivalves is that they seem to flourish in the same waters that, after a century of overharvesting and diseases, have been so deadly to native oysters.
It's unusual for native oysters to live through three summer seasons, Allen said.
Not so for the Asian oysters, obviously. Despite concerns that the Asian oysters could reverse their sterility, the Rappahannock group proved unfruitful.
"It's very helpful to know that the sterility holds and to know that they grow very well in the environment we have," Wesson said.
The EPA's Fritz said the Asian oysters in the current trial are being studied to see if they are susceptible to diseases, if they may be hosts to diseases or parasites that could afflict native shellfish and if they are suitable to live alongside other species living on the bottom of the bay.
While questions abound regarding the Asian oysters, one big question has been cleared up.
They taste good.
"They're not bad," Allen said. "I mean, not raw. Cooked, they're quite good."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

It's time for a reset of the measure of success for families in America

What success looks like in the Sabo family.
We have a way of measuring success in America that centers around a consumer economy. It's the insatiable appetite for materialism and the accumulation of things. Tragically, it spills over into the church and our kids with devastating consequences.

Our uniquely American economy of success is measured by things we don't need but buy anyway. We drive big new SUVs so that we have ample room to haul all the stuff we bought at Costco back to our McMansions that have huge garages to store all of our junk accumulated non-essential items. We wouldn't be caught dead with flip phones so we're armed with the latest technology everything -- much of which we have to ask our teenage kids how to operate -- and our walk-in closets are bigger than the bedrooms we grew up in and have enough clothes and shoes contained within to outfit an island nation.

Our secular practices have carried over to the religious. Our churches are virtual rock concert halls, becoming glorified entertainment venues with bright lights, big screens and all the essential high-tech bells and whistles. It's merely churchtainment, an emotion-driven vehicle that's a shallow push for "relevancy" in a culture that's increasingly ambivalent to Christianity. As a result, on any Sunday in any city in America it's possible to go church clubbing in our churchwear without ever hearing the power of the Word.

We are what we worship, essentially.

So where does that leave our kids?

We measure success in our kids by their accomplishments that we can post ad nauseum on social media. And we're motivated by our dreams of their success -- that we also can post on social media. The measuring stick is their future earnings and we're driven to ensure they're the top-performing kids inside and outside of our social circles.

We're consumed by the youth sports culture and no cost is too steep -- The best equipment! The top sports camps! The number 1 travel teams! -- to make certain our kids are the best at the one sport we select for them they pick. We're driven to get them into Ivy League schools so we make sure they do all their homework every night -- beginning in pre-school -- and harass any teacher who dares to give them less than an `A.'  We also make sure our kids are deprived of nothing -- whether it's processed food that's actually making them sick, high-tech gadgetry, prescription drugs to get them to "concentrate" and "focus," or colleges that will leave them indebted in perpetuity.

Meanwhile, they are spiritually impoverished.

We value all the wrong things and the consequences are tragic. We're lying to our kids by our actions, treating the world and the things of this life as the singular objective for them. It's the gospel of me. Sadly, it's a sentence of a life of emptiness. We're creating a generation with an insatiable drive to find fulfillment in things that will never satisfy.

These things I've mentioned, the houses, vehicles, sports, school, gadgets and other things, in and of themselves aren't bad. It's the place they have in our lives though that's the problem. It's their hold on us. They consume us. And it's reflected in how we value them and the resulting messages we send to our kids.

Take a step back. What's your measurement of success in your kids?

I've had to do my own reckoning in this. I've had to ask myself and pray through if what I'm valuing is what God values. Is what I'm seeking for my kids reflected in the life and teachings of Jesus?

They're hard questions. Especially in the culture we live in. Yet they are good questions. After all, what's more important? This temporary life and its earthly rewards? Or eternal rewards and a life together as a family with Jesus.

Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world. So why are we so intent on creating a world for our kids that's the opposite of what He taught?

I can tell you this also. There's no greater joy I have in my kids, particularly my older kids who are making their own lives, than to see them following Jesus passionately. To know that for them, Jesus is both their savior and their Lord.

That's the true measure of success.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Parents, our kids and being faithful in an unreliable world

We are studying through 1 Corinthians on Sundays at Calvary Chapel Gloucester and we were working through chapter when verse 2 really spoke to me. "Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." It's a simple concept and Jesus tackled it in the parable of the minas in Luke 19.

In this story Jesus told, essentially a rich ruler left of of his servants with some money and ordered them to engage in business until he returned. Some invested and traded and proved to be good stewards and were rewarded accordingly. One servant, however, put his mina in a handkerchief and did nothing, earning the ruler's contempt.

In the big picture, we can apply this parable told by Jesus to each of our lives. We're given a certain amount of time, resources and talents in this world. God expects us to be investing in the Kingdom and spreading the gospel as we await the return of Jesus. We're here to glorify God and carry out His work, quite simply. We're not asked to be brilliant, nor successful, nor dynamic, nor supermen or superwomen.

Just faithful.

If someone asked you to describe yourself, would "faithful" be a word that comes to your mind?

Would your kids use "faithful" to describe you? What words do you think your kids would use to describe you if faithful isn't one of them?

Our kids need to see us being faithful. Faithful to our spouses, to love them and speak kindly to them and to honor and cherish them. When things get hard -- and things get really hard in marriage -- they need to see us be faithful in working things out and forgiving.

Our kids need to see us being faithful in the practice of our faith. Faithful to read God's word, to pray, to be in church, to serve in church and to be faithful in our giving.

If our kids don't learn about being faithful from us, then who will they learn it from? Will they even learn about faithfulness?

Ask yourself this: What am I faithful to do? Is it work? Watch TV? Be on social media? Get your kids to every single sports practice and game? What we're faithful in reflects what's important to us. And our kids pick up on this.

In another parable, the one of the talents in Matthew 25, Jesus strikes a similar theme to the parable of the minas. Jesus lets us know we're to stay busy while He is gone, being productive and faithful with the gospel that's been entrusted to us.

The message is to use our time, money and talent for His glory to bear fruit for the kingdom. The application comes back to what each of us is going with what God has given to us.

Be faithful.

The world needs it. Our families need it. Our kids need it.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Cats that commit crimes in International Falls, Minn., and other tales of Balderdash

Being a member of a big, big, big family has benefits too numerous to count. There's always someone to talk to, there's always someone to play with, there's always someone to brush your teeth with and there's a really good chance there's someone whose clothes you can "borrow" in a pinch.

There's also someone or someones around for game night to share in the revelry of lively fun. Game nights occur frequently in the Sabo house. Take last night, for example. After a short but rather vigorous debate, we decided to play a rousing game of Balderdash, a family favorite.

Balderdash was created by a Canadian couple in 1984 and is one of Canada's greatest exports, right up there with ice hockey, Canadian bacon and Justin Bieber Ryan Gosling. It's a board game of bluffing and trivial knowledge, rewarding creativity and absurdity, which happen to be Sabo specialties.

Joined by our weekend guest, Mandi, a bunch of Sabos to include yours truly, Julie, Brenton, Ethan, Claire, Evie, MerriGrace, Gabe and Eli took on Balderdash. Based on the amount and volume of laughter -- you could measure it in the tonnage last night -- it was a rousing success.

To give you a sense of Sabo style Balderdash, here's one of the questions:
"In International Falls, Minn., it is a crime for a cat to ..."

And here are the answers created by the Sabo & Mandi Balderdashers, including the correct one supplied by Balderdash, Inc. So which one do you choose?
1) Leave the mice it has caught in front of a hotel;
2) Chase a dog up a telephone pole;
3) Clean itself in public;
4) Come into a public building;
5) Be used as live bait in coyote traps;
6) Steal from the meat shop;
7) Roam without a name tag;
8) Throw its feces;
9) Waddle like a goose.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Three things I teach kids who I coach in soccer

Looking to pass. This makes me happy!

Perhaps blind optimism meets sheer lunacy somewhere in the few strides it takes me to hop out of my 15-passenger van onto the shabby fields around the rural Tidewater Virginia county where I “coach” kids in youth soccer.
I have this notion, you can’t really call it confidence because I lack any sort of statistical data to back it up, that I can teach 12 kids every spring and fall life lessons through a game with a round ball played by billions of people around the globe.
The boys and girls I get vary every year. That is, except for my own kids who are ages 9 to 11 — I always coach them; they have no choice. (Cue the smiling emoji.) What doesn’t vary are three of my goals for these kids.
I’m not trying to mold the future Lionel Messi, or coach up the next Alex Morgan. I realize my limitations, not to mention the limitations of many of the kids on my team. Some of my kids appear to have allergies to soccer balls. Others tell me they’d rather be eating dinner. Rarely do I get all 12 kids at a practice and this spring I have yet to have all 12 kids on my team show up for a game.
It’s all good. For about 10 weeks each spring and fall I have them for an hour a day, two days a week and for a game on Saturdays. I have three things I want to instill in these kids. They are very simple and by the end of the season I simply hope that someday down the road they might remember at least one thing — Can I dream and hope for maybe two things? — Coach Matt taught them.
Here they are. Three things. It’s not exactly Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, but it’s the best I’ve got.
  1. Teamwork. The very first thing we do in our very first practice is gather in a circle and every player learns everyone’s name. We also get little details like ages, grades and where they go to school. It’s a little thing that I hope builds a bond, builds a team. The other thing we do is work on passing. I am all about passing and talk throughout the season about being unselfish. When one of my players scores a goal, I cheer loudest for the one who passed the ball. Even when the passes are unsuccessful, I let the kids know that’s exactly what I want them to do and to keep doing it. The idea is to form the idea in their head that it’s better to serve than be served. That being part of a team is more about what you can give than what you can take. I can always hope these lessons will carry over into the rest of their life, eh?
  2. Make a weakness a strength. We practice over and over using the weaker foot. We do drills continually where I force them to use their weaker foot. I routinely tell my players that I don’t care if they miss, but when they have the opportunity I want them to take a shot with their weaker foot. Since most of my kids predominantly use their right foot, it’s left-footed shots. I want them to learn that through practice and effort and diligence, what was once a weakness can become a strength. I’ve seen over the course of the season some kids make amazing strides in this area. And my hope is that they will carry this concept with them to school, or to their future jobs, or elsewhere: That perceived limitations can be overcome.
  3. Have fun. Maybe I’m oversimplifying things here with this goal, but these kids can lead complicated lives. I want their time when I am coaching at the soccer field to be the best hour of their day. We laugh, we treat other kindly, we pass to each other, we have fun. We’re going to work hard and they acquire skills, but I hope that at the end of the season they have 11 new friends and great memories. We’ve moved as a society to treating youth sports as an industry, as a means to an end of a scholarship or some other parental “goal.” Parents can be flat out lunatics about youth sports. Not on my watch. It’s a few days before the last Saturday of our season and I couldn’t tell you our team’s record right now. But when I think of my kids I think about smiling faces. That’s all that matters and I hope that’s what they think also.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The little boy, now young man, who almost didn't make it past being a toddler

A kid in Air Jordan shorts can't be anything but confident.
Today we celebrate the 24th birthday of Taylor. It's a remarkable feat because he has come so far. Those who know Taylor might be surprised to learn that at the age of 2, as Sabo kids go he ranked right up there with the most difficult. There were days we weren't sure any of us would survive the Taylor toddler years. Yes, it's true. Just ask him. He will tell you.

Everything was a battle with Taylor when he was but a wee lad. He was just so particular. About everything. Rarely did he like the way his clothes fit and he would get this sour look on his face and grab at his pants, or stomp his feet, or whine and fuss. He was particular about what he would eat and prone to little fits about things in general. When his brothers would aggravate him, and boy would his brothers aggravate him, he would get so mad! He would grit his teeth and wrinkle up his nose and you could see the steam coming off his head -- which, by the way, it took him a while to grow a full head of hair -- and he would do this funny little thing.

When he got really mad and he needed to really lash out he would grit his teeth and kind of ball up his fists ... then if it was Ethan -- or whoever he was mad at but Ethan seemed for some reason to be a frequent target -- he would reach out and with his thumb and forefinger rub Ethan's ears rather gently. That showed him! And Ethan would look at him like, "What on earth are you doing with my ears Taylor?"

I don't think he still does that anymore. I'll have to ask his lovely wife Bethany.

Along the way, Taylor became an amazing young man. Let's say that God moved mightily in his life. He's an extraordinary son and brother and friend and husband. He is kind and loving and generous, a hard worker, genuinely caring, a young man of great faith and a talented musician and singer who uses his gifts for the glory of the Lord.

It's always so much fun when Taylor comes home with Bethany. There's soccer games and laughs and crazy bedtime stories that Taylor tells his little brother and sisters -- so hilarious that they actually look forward to going to bed. That's all kind of amazing! He likes to help out around the house and when the two of them are here that means two more people singing beautifully and playing instruments in the house. A house full of musicians is a happy place I tell you.

So happy birthday Taylor! We love you! Taylor and Bethany graduate from Berea College in a little more than a week and we can't wait for them to come visit us! One last thing, Taylor: We knew you would make it to 24 ... really we did!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What a heart breaks for. What's our answer as Christians?

What lies ahead?
I came across a quote this morning by a great, but flawed man: "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God."

Bob Pierce uttered those words many years ago. The founder of World Vision International, a Christian evangelical nonprofit humanitarian aid organization, Pierce was a visionary man with a heart for the hurting. He was also, like many of us, a flawed man and one whose life assumed tragic overtones in its latter years.

We are all imperfect, the unfinished works of a merciful God awaiting perfection in Jesus Christ. I hope as followers of Jesus that we can reckon that truth in all humility. I recognize that as much as anyone as I survey the years behind me, the decisions I've made, the zigs and zags.

It's worth contemplating though as I look ahead and chart a future. What's my heart broken for?

What's yours broken for?

What are the things that break the heart of God and what's our response?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

My son gave a cop the wrong name. Here's what happened next.

Call me "Seffers"
The other night we pulled into the driveway from soccer practice and Sabos started spilling out. I got out of our sporty 15-passenger van and spotted a Gloucester County Sheriff's Office car driving slowly down the road toward us. Olivia, Ezra and Eli bolted into the house while Abram and I helped Seth and Judah out of the van. The sheriff's deputy car was almost to our house so I walked out to the road to chat and see what's up.

I introduced myself to Dep. Tim Knight, who recalled me as the former Daily Press reporter. We had a nice chat and as he watched Abram take Flopsy out of her rabbit tractor I told him how she is the neighborhood mascot. I told him how she tries to make her escape occasionally but our neighbors bring her back. He was intrigued by the rabbit tractor and I told him we just move it around all day and she eats the grass and leaves behind some organic fertilizer. It's a win-win.

Seth and Judah were in the driveway watching with curiosity. Dep. Knight opened his door and called them over. As Judah ambled over Dep. Knight reached up into the visor and grabbed what looked like business cards or something. As Judah reached his door, Dep. Knight asked him his name and Judah told him. It's not a common name so I repeated it and then Dep. Knight handed Judah a card for a free Chick-fil-A kids meal. That was pretty sweet. Judah was stoked.

Then he called Seth up to his car. The conversation went like this:

Dep. Knight: "What's your name?"
Seth: "Seffers."

Hmmm. My kid just gave a wrong name to a cop ... but it's all good! He's 3!

I laughed and told the deputy that his real name is Seth, but that his brothers and sisters call him Seffers. So I guess it's Seffers. Seth got a Chick-fil-A card also and Dep. Knight had one card left in his hand. He recalled that he had seen another of my kids out with the rabbit. Actually, I said, I have 14 kids. Then I smiled.

He shook his head, looked at the card in his hand and then looked up in the visor real quickly. I laughed and told him not to worry about it. He handed over the third Chick-fil-A card and we chatted for a while longer then he was on his way. Kudos to Dep. Knight and the Gloucester County Sheriff's Office -- and Chick-fil-A -- for great community policing.

But about that 3-year-old of mine and Seffers ... I checked around in the house to get to the bottom of why he calls himself `Seffers.' The story goes something like this: When he was young Seth was, let's say `solid.' And not much has changed. He's always been the wee Sabo with the most chunk. His brothers and sisters picked up on that and started calling him "Chunko" or other names associated with being chunky. Julie didn't want him to grow up as "Chunko" or "Chunkin" or some such and started calling him "Sethers." Which morphed into "Seffers" and he gets called that all day long. Remember, there's a fair number of people in this house so he hears a lot of "Seffers" throughout the day.

We don't know how long `Seffers' will stick. But we have a pretty good story now that goes along with it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Copycat kids and what that says about us as parents

`Follow Me...' -- Jesus
I'm not sure how it started, or why, but Judah, our resident 4-year-old, started this practice of whispering when he wants to tell one of us something really, really important. He will get up close to you and put his hand between your ear and his mouth and whisper so no one else can hear. Usually it's something like, "Can I have chocolate milk?" Or, "Can I play a video game?"

I'm guessing he's hoping that whoever he whispers that to will assent to his request, but if he said it loudly someone within earshot might remember that he just had chocolate milk or that it's not video game day -- for him those fall on Wednesdays and Saturdays -- and pull the plug on his request.

What's interesting is that Seth has noticed this whispering trend and so he is starting to whisper. Except at 3 years old he doesn't quite understand the mechanics or gist of it. So it's pretty much whatever is on his mind he'll whisper. Whether it's watching Sprout, or if he can have a sandwich, or watch a show on "Neckfliz" -- technically it's Netflix but we like the kiddieized version of Neckfliz better and that's pretty much how it's known in the Sabo house -- or whatever else is on his mind.

It's an interesting study in copying. The younger sees the older do something and follows suit. We see it all the time in this house and I'm sure you do as well.

But here's the thing. The whispering is just a small, innocent thing. Harmless and entertaining and actually kind of fun. I smile when I see one of the little boys whispering a request to someone else.

What are the big things kids are copying?

I was thinking about this just this morning when I was reading in the book of Matthew. It's in Matthew 8:18-22 where Jesus is talking about the cost of discipleship. To one person he said how He was essentially homeless, living a life of faith. Another wanted to go spend time with his father and care for him to his death -- in other words he didn't want to follow Jesus quite yet -- and Jesus responded that the time to follow Him is now.

Our kids are watching us all the time. They are watching what's important to us and copying that.

What are we as parents putting ahead of following Jesus? How are we hindering developing faith in our children and showing them that the most important thing we can do is make Jesus Christ not only our Savior, but our Lord?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Of kids, parents and life lessons about peace

The lads.
The lasses.
We are less than two months away from having Taylor and Ethan graduate from college on the same day and they are in full-blown job-hunting mode. I fully admit it's a bittersweet time for me. I'm excited for them to start this new journey in life but wondering what it holds. They are literally looking across the country for jobs, having interviews and praying about the Lord's direction.

We've been through this once already with Brenton. He spent two years going to Calvary Chapel Bible College in Southern California and then three years after that as a youth pastor at Calvary Chapel Corvallis in Oregon. It was hard on all of us to have him so far away and we're so thankful to have him back here in Gloucester. He's doing most of the teaching at Calvary Chapel Gloucester (To hear the messages go here: CCGloucester messages), leads our prayer meetings and the Lord is doing great things through him in our church. He is also an assistant manager at a nearby Starbucks so we're thankful he's able to work and live here.

We obviously hope that Taylor and Ethan will find jobs nearby and want to have them close to the family. But we trust completely that they will be led by the Lord in whatever they do. And it's just beginning for us ... Evie will be a sophomore next year at Virginia Commonwealth University and just signed a lease on an apartment up there that she is getting with a few friends. Claire expects to head off to a four-year college next year and MerriGrace expects to start classes in the fall at a local community college. Abram is now 16 and just got a job at McDonald's ... there's a lot going on around here on a daily basis, you know?

We were able to Skype with Taylor and Bethany on Friday night and it's exciting to hear about how they are nearing graduation and all the things in play for their next step. They're such a sweet young couple and are people who brighten whatever room they are in.

Ethan was home for a few days over spring break and had spent the first part of the vacation up in Detroit with some friends as part of a ministry team serving people in need in the Motor City. We were exchanging texts throughout his time up there and he texted me something I found quite interesting. He was talking about young adults having a relationship with the Lord and how that looks and how parents can cultivate that in their kids.

He said something I find quite interesting and it's a tribute to Julie. Ethan was one of those teens who was definitely a work in progress. There were many battles, a few scars, but we fought hard for him. I remember particularly Julie and Ethan having long "discussions" late at night about various issues. What I always appreciate and love about Julie is that she doesn't give in and always comes at life's situations from a Godly, Biblical perspective. She's also very intent on ensuring that our children own their faith so that when they leave this house and go out into the world they are prepared to deal with whatever comes their way from a position of strength as a follower of Jesus.

Ethan was reminiscing about growing up in his texts and wrote: "I remember growing up Mom used to make me make things right with the Lord before I came and apologized to her." You can't have peace with the world -- or parents, for that matter -- unless you have peace with God. Peace with God means peace with the world. Jesus said in John 14:27 (one of my favorite verses), "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

Peace is a treasure and it's a gift from God, especially in this season of change in the Sabo house.

Friday, March 11, 2016

When homeschool education becomes outdoor school

Daffodilius spring breakius -- The Latin name of the "Spring Break Daffodil" that bloomed in our yard this week.
A few days after it was bone-chilling cold -- seriously, I nearly lost some of the kids on my soccer team I'm coaching to hypothermia at last week's practice -- something wonderful happened. Global warming happened. In Gloucester, Va.

The mercury shot up to the upper 70s/80 degrees range and that's when Julie called a homeschool audible. It was spring break time.

One of the beauties of homeschooling is the flexibility.  School happens pretty much year-round in the Sabo house because we account for weeks like this one when it is just too nice to stay indoors and do school. Everyone has been working hard in school and had earned a break.

So Julie took the education outside, where the learning involved a family working together in the yard and making it fun. I came home from being down at the office earlier this week and found Julie and half the kids in and around one of the big garden beds in the back yard. There was serious weeding going on. And raking of leaves, worm catching and two of the filthiest little boys you could imagine. It appeared to me that Seth and Judah had actually bedded down in the dirt and become one with the soil.

Madeline and Gabe were down in the dirt weeding, Eli, Ezra and Olivia had actually made an obstacle course game out of raking up leaves and putting them in a garbage bag and Seth and Judah were "lovingly" playing with the family of worms they had found and named, "Rudy," "Babe" and "Lovie." Let me tell you, those worms had never felt so "loved."

Our back yard garden of daffodils, irises, tulips and other bulbs is starting to spring forth in its springy loveliness and after being relieved of the weeds clogging it, the mulch is ready to spruce it up. I'm guessing that's a project that's going to start today, when the homeschooling "outdoor school" resumes, Sabo style.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Is your Christianity fueled by passion or emotion?

Tides ebb and flow but waves are unceasing. It's like the difference between emotional and passionate faith.
Hey Christian. Is your faith fueled by passion or emotion?

Are you seeking an `experience' during worship? Then it's emotion and not a passion to simply worship an awesome God and glorify Him.

Are you seeking to feel good at church? Then it's emotion. A passion for Jesus is being broken by our sin, being convicted by God's word and desiring to repent and be restored by a God who loves each one of us so much that He sent His Son to shed His cleansing blood for us.

Do you not have joy in any circumstance? Then it's emotion. A fruit of the Spirit is joy, which is deeper than an exciting experience or an enjoyable set of circumstances. It's not centered around things on this earth that bring us pleasure. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said about a believer's joy: "Believers are not dependent upon circumstances. Their joy comes not from what they have, but from what they are; not from where they are, but from whose they are; not from what they enjoy, but from that which was suffered for them by their Lord."

Do you believe that God is in control until things don't go the way you planned? Then it's emotion.

A passionate follower of Jesus Christ believes that God created the universe (Genesis 1) and set the stars in the sky and knows them by name (Isaiah 40) and knitted you in the womb (Psalm 139) and sent His Son Jesus to redeem the world (John 3) and is fully in control of the world and does as He pleases (Psalm 115) and believes that all things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8). Or you don't.

Passion is fueled by desire. It's a product of desire. Passion and emotion or excitement are not the same thing. Emotion is centered around feelings. But emotions can fool us. Our emotions ebb and flow.

Contrast the emotional experience with a passion for Jesus that is relentless. Passion keeps going when there's no emotion or excitement. Passion is a choice. It's choosing Jesus in all our circumstances, through all our circumstances and above all our circumstances.

Don't confuse passion with emotion and excitement. Zeal without knowledge is excitement. Zeal with knowledge is passion. That passion is fueled by knowledge of God's word. Read God's word to know God and be passionate about Him.

I was moved to write this post after a teaching Brenton gave a couple of weeks ago. It was a very powerful message and I really encourage you to listen to it because he does a much better job than I can of conveying the difference between passion and emotion. It's the Feb. 28 message in this link: Feb. 28 Romans message

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Sunday morning, a Psalm, a text and renewal

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  -- Psalm 51:10

This morning I woke up and it was just blah. The Sunday morning blahs. It's very rare I feel this way on Sunday -- definitely on Mondays, often on other days, but rarely on Sundays -- and it felt strange. I look forward to Sundays, to the worship, the word and the fellowship at our church, to see lives elevated by the love of God through His son Jesus.

I reached for my phone to check the time and then pulled my hand back. I knew if I checked my phone I would get lost in it. It's precisely not what I needed in my state, to drown myself in the abyss of social media and become further entrenched in blah.

As I pondered the day and what it held and my condition, I confess to just a general bad attitude. About getting out of bed, about getting ready for church, about getting little Sabo kids ready for church, about going to church, about serving at church ... I could go on but you get the idea.

My heart was in a bad place. Dark, I guess you'd say. Ever had one of those mornings?

As I looked up at the ceiling the Lord gave me a word: Renew.

Okay, renew. And what do I do with that?

Get up, that's what. Go out to the living room and open my Bible. Then look for the word renew. The Christian life is sometimes just one little step of obedience. Followed by another. Then another.

And I landed upon Psalm 51:10: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." A word precisely for me, a gift from God on this morning. The idea of this verse is that "create" is only something God can do.

I can't get it anywhere else, from any other source, from any other activity. This verse in its context is a plea from David to ask that his heart be renewed, restored and transformed. God is the only source of this renewal.

It was a word for me this morning. A word that a prayer of repentance is the renewal I needed and the renewal I received. Blah dissipated, eclipsed by the power of renewal unique to God.

But something remarkable happened later in the morning. After I had gotten Seth and Judah dressed, after I got Olivia and Ezra breakfast, after I loaded our music equipment in the van, after I helped set up for church and fetched the crackers and grape juice from Farm Fresh for communion.

I got a text from Ethan, who is up in Detroit with a group of students from his college serving people in need in the Motor City. The first text I received from him said that he realizes he says this every time he finishes a book in the Bible, but Hosea might be his favorite. Here's the exchange:

Me: "I am very partial to the minor prophets. Hosea was a tough, Godly man."
Ethan: "14:5 says that God is going to be like the dew and Israel is the lily. This is after 14 whole chapters of the people of Israel rejecting the word of the Lord and disobediently intermingling with the surrounding pagan tribes. Moreover, that image is so beautiful! The lily is a desert flower which means that the only source of water it ever gets is each morning when the coolness of the desert night condenses into a dew that rests on its petals and soaks it to its roots. When in bloom, the desert lily is a beautifully vibrant flower full of color. He is telling Israel that if they soak in his word and goodness and allow it to strengthen the roots of their soul, they will be beautiful amidst a spiritual desert. A good word for me to return to the dew each and every morning."
Me: "That's a really good for me as well son. Needed that this morning. Love you."
Ethan: "Love you too! I'll be praying for church this morning!"

One more thing about this morning of renewal. God answers prayers. Don't ever doubt it. This morning a gentleman who had grown up in the church, but had cultivated a hard heart to the Lord over the years, has been coming to church faithfully for nearly a couple of years. Today as we studied through Romans 10 he had scales fall from his eyes for good. He repented of his sins and gave his heart to the Lord.

He is renewed.

Friday, March 4, 2016

My foolproof plan to save America from Trump & other bad outcomes

And you think this is a lot of Sabos. You ain't seen nothin yet!
I've said it many times lately and it bears repeating. In a country of 330 million, it absolutely boggles my mind that at this point in 2016 we're looking at an election of Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump. How on earth is this possible? These candidates are beyond flawed, let alone qualified to lead our country.

Trump in particular leaves me utterly bumfoozled. I live in a county that in Tuesday's Republican primary easily nominated Trump, despite my family's best voting efforts. What that says to me is that the people of Gloucester -- and many other places around America -- who voted for him are angry, like bullies, identify with narcissists, don't give a whit about family values and think it's great to cheat on your wife and then dump her, are sexist, appreciate a businessman who is a complete failure over and over again with four bankruptcies to his name, appreciate racists like the KKK, like casinos and strip clubs and appreciate someone with absolutely zero qualifications for the job he is seeking.

We are headed for a train wreck. There's no other way of looking at it. Which is precisely why it's so important for Christians to keep our eyes on Jesus. We are not of this world. We are mere pilgrims and our goal is eternity. That said, it is vital in these times to be people of humility, compassion and love -- qualities that emulate our Savior, Jesus Christ, and are in such short supply of the men and women seeking higher office in this country.

I've come to the conclusion that to take this country back, I have to take matters into my own hands. It's time to get serious. I started doing some math this morning and I have a plan. So Sabo kids, all 14 of you, listen up. We have a duty to this country. It's restore America time. It's time to produce. Literally.

Here's the plan: We're going to become a super-duper voting bloc. If things go right, we could become the most powerful voting bloc in the country. Forget unions and special interests and all that jazz. The Sabo voting bloc is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

If each succeeding generation of Sabos steps up to the plate, we can turn this country around. The only question is if the Lord will return before then -- I'm all for it! -- or if we'll run out of time and the Trumpification and Clintonification of America will be entrenched.

The plan works like this: If each of our kids has 14 kids, then their kids have 14 kids and on down the line, do you realize that within six generations there could be 16 million of us? Yes, I said that correctly. Sixteen million Sabos ... that's more than the current populations of Kansas, Wyoming, both of the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Nebraska and Utah, with Delaware thrown in for good measure -- combined.

American maps could someday show a huge swath of the West, plus a little outpost on the East Coast,  that reads simply, "Sabo Territory." But there's the thing. With just a little bit of help, we could accelerate this process. For example, my man in Lebanon, Ore., Brian Murray and his lovely bride Tonia Murray, announced they are having twin boys. So cool! These are the 9th and 10th Murrays and as crazy as it sounds, this puts them on the same pace we were at their young age.

Brian, are you with me? Do you want to put American on the straight and narrow? Let's "Restore America!"

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A big family teaches kids something they can't get anywhere else

It's all about teamwork. And fun.
I admit, I'm biased. I am biased toward our big family. A big reason is this idea that we're a big team. I was telling a friend the other day about a team I was on way back in the day in Bend, Ore., that was the best team I've ever been on. In my senior at Bend High School our cross country team had the fastest runner in the state transfer out before the season started. It could have been a big blow.

But we had a couple of freshmen -- Brent Westfall and Jimmy Robertson -- come in and join the varsity and along with Dave Williams, Scott Nyden, Chris Hamilton, Jared Anderson and yours truly, we ended up winning the state championship by 69 points. What I loved about the team is that it was a bunch of guys from different backgrounds -- a few of us also ran track but we also had a golfer, a couple of baseball players and a national-class cross country skier on the team -- who worked hard and enjoyed being together. There were also races where one or two guys may not have the best day, but other guys were there to pick up the slack. It was simply a great team.

A family should be many things. One of those is a team. I like to think our family operates like a team. It's cool to see kids fill different roles naturally. We have a couple of them who often do the dishes without being asked. Talk about a blessing!

Some of our kids, before serving themselves at mealtime, dish up the youngest kids at dinner. Without being asked.

We have some kids who are comedians. They make us laugh. We have kids who take care of Flopsy and even organize the search parties when she makes her frequent hops to freedom.

We have kids who pitch in with the cooking. And man can they cook! We have kids who organize family games of soccer or capture the flag or hold family board game nights.

Brenton sprung for four large pizzas on Sunday and is notorious for making late-night family Taco Bell runs. Those are MVP type of performances.

Seth loves to snuggle. Ask Evie how valuable that is when she comes home from college. Last time she was home I walked into the living room and she had both Seth and Judah snuggling with her on the couch.

Kids help other kids get dressed and ready for church. They all help pick up the toys. MerriGrace cleans the bathrooms and no one asks her. Is she an angel?

What the kids learn is that part of being family can entail sacrificing your own interests for the good of the group. Certainly the kids could always look out for number one and not help out their brothers or sisters, or do dishes, or clean bathrooms, or take care of pets, or spring for pizza and all the other stuff that they do.

But they love being a part of this team. This family.

I am so thankful.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Our rabbit keeps escaping. Our neighbors keep bringing her back.

Flopsy is home safe. Again.
I've learned a few things through our experiences with our pet rabbit, Flopsy. A lot of things exactly. She really likes the wild chives that grow in our yard. I like to find them, pick them and feed them to her and she gets all hoppity and her rabbit teeth really go to town on the greens when I hand them to her through the mobile "rabbit tractor" where she spends her days.

I've also learned that Flopsy also seems to yearn for freedom. A lot. Sort of. To a point. Yesterday Flopsy got loose from her rabbit tractor but just hopped a bit around the yard until one of the kids "found" her. It was hardly a mad dash for freedom in the nearby woods. I actually think Flopsy likes the attention she gets from a whole host of Sabo kids. Which is probably better than the attention she might get from a fox or the raptors she would encounter in the woods.

She's also, near as I can tell, the neighborhood's favorite pet. She occupies her little rabbit tractor cage by day and we move her around in the yard and she munches on grass and leaves behind organic fertilizer. It's a mutually beneficial relationship we have but all the neighbors who walk and drive by like to see Flopsy. On more than one occasion when she hasn't been in her rabbit tractor for whatever reason I've had a neighbor ask if she's alright.

Last Friday, I returned home late in the afternoon and would soon learn that Flopsy had, once again, escaped. This time she had made a legitimate effort to hop to freedom and a search of the surrounding area turned up no sign of Flopsy. I learned that Flopsy escaped not from one of the kids, but when I answered a knock at the door. See, I learned something about our neighborhood: We have great neighbors. Even ones I don't know.

It was an older gentleman who asked if our rabbit was missing. I turned to the kids and they informed me that Flopsy had escaped earlier in the day and that there was no trace of her. Our guest at the door, whose name I didn't catch, then described how our rabbit was all the way down at the end of our street in a yard. Munching away on the grass.

As he was telling me how cute our little bunny is and how he likes seeing her in the yard when he drives by another car pulled into the driveway. I didn't recognize the car or the people in it but a young teenage girl got out and lo and behold she was holding Flopsy. She handed the rascally rabbit to Gabe, we thanked her profusely, the older gentleman left smiling and all was good in the neighborhood again.

Who has neighbors like these? What a great place to live. I'm also glad we can provide some G-rated community drama and entertainment. And finally, I have a message for Flopsy.

You can run, but you can't hide.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

For every American, an epic road trip is a citizenship requirement

The amazing Vermilion Cliffs of Arizona. At 70 mph from the highway. Shot with an iPhone.
The quintessential American experience is the epic road trip. It's as simple as the fact that we are Americans. So we go places and do things, often on an epic scale. I would suggest that you are un-American if you don't. The epic road trip is in our blood. Our collective American DNA is that we are a nation of explorers. The New World. Jamestown. John Smith. The Mayflower. Lewis & Clark. The Oregon Trail. Apollo 11. (Going to the moon constitutes a most epic road trip. It would be hard to top that one.)

The epic road trip is a distinctly American rite of passage. It is a continuation of the historical narrative that establishes us as a people of varying backgrounds but who singularly refuse to be hemmed in by lines on a map, or distance, or barriers -- be they mountains, valleys, oceans, rivers, deserts or thin air, including the really, really thin air and rather expansive and even foreboding distances of outer space.

We all are descended from people who arrived here from somewhere else. Our ancestors were explorers and fortune hunters. They were the restless, the visionaries, the determined and the undaunted. If they determined a better life was to be found elsewhere, whether it was across an ocean, or a continent, or simply somewhere else, why they packed up and went.

I like to pack up and went. I always have, from the time I was a little shaver and summers and Christmas vacation were typically reserved for road trips. In the grand scheme of things, my roots are traced back to people of European stock who at some point packed up and went on a road trip -- ocean trip? -- to America. I have no desire as they did to leave the homeland. Rather, I long to see the homeland. As much of it as I can.

What triggered all this musing about the great American experience of the epic road trip is a song. I happened upon it the other day and a memory flooded back in my mind of one of the many epic road trips I have had the privilege of taking. The song is by U2, titled "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." It was released in 1987, the year I graduated from Bend High School.

The summer following my graduation, my good friend, Chris Hamilton, asked if I'd take a little road trip with him. Chris was a talented bicyclist and my memory is that he was going to compete in a bike race in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. I think it was late June, maybe early July, when we road tripped in epic fashion. Chris, our mutual friend Dean Dilday, another bicyclist who was a couple or few years younger than us, and I set out from Bend, Ore., to  drive 570 miles or so to Mammoth Lakes. I believe we were driving Chris' Toyota pickup that had a canopy on it. Now mind you, this is approaching 30 years ago so I may be fuzzy on a few things. But not everything.

We listened to a lot of U2 on that trip. The Joshua Tree, which I still consider the quintessential U2 album, was released that year and by the time the summer rolled around I had the songs memorized. Those songs are indelibly impressed in my mind. As is the road trip.

One thing I'll never forget is stepping out the door for my first run in Mammoth Lakes. At the time I was a couple of months away from heading to the University of Portland on a track scholarship. In Bend, I trained at an altitude approaching 4,000 feet, where the thin air deprived my lungs of oxygen but helped give me a competitive advantage when I raced at lower altitudes. I was fast and fit. Or so I thought.

I was wholly unprepared for what I was to encounter in Mammoth Lakes. Sitting near 8,000 feet of elevation where the air is so thin that simply getting out of bed gets you winded, when I was on that inaugural run I sincerely believed my lungs had somehow caught fire. Surely I was self-combusting, which meant death by oxygen-deprivation was imminent. Yet I somehow cheated death that day, probably because I slowed way down. But the epicness of any American road trip is directly proportional to how close you came to some sort of permanent and premature demise. The fact that I nearly died of oxygen deprivation on a mountain in California that sits not all that far from Death Valley counts for max points in the epic road trip scoring chart.

Yet there are two things from that road trip that I am forever grateful to have experienced. A premature death due to oxygen deprivation not being one of them. They both occurred on the trip home. We left Mammoth Lakes after the racing and bolted for Bend. Somewhere along the way, whether it was still in northeastern California or southeastern Oregon I can't recall, we stopped at a turnout or rest area amid the sagebrush and occasional juniper tree of the American West's Great Basin. It's a place that I like to say is a chlorophyll-free zone, emptied of most anything of a green, leafy nature and populated by the muted tones of plants and trees that have mastered the art of surviving in forbidding climates where water is often merely a mirage.

Exhausted, we bedded down for the night in the cool, open air. Above us, unfolding across the unfettered horizon, was the Milky Way in all of its astounding glory. The stars at home in their extraterrestrial glory spilled across the inky sky, lighting it up. I have never forgotten the glory of it all.

The second thing I have not forgotten occurred the next day. As we made a beeline for home across the emptied out landscape, we made a spur of the moment decision. The "spur of the moment decision" is an absolute requirement of any epic road trip. An epic road trip that lacks the suspended judgment and inadvisability of a "spur of the moment decision" is simply a road trip. It's just going from Point A to Point B. There's nothing too epic about that.

We stopped at Fort Rock, an extraordinary natural feature that juts 200 feet above the barren, foreboding Oregon High Desert. It's like a mirage, an ancient fort with rocky palisades stretching high above landscape. It was well out of our way, but well worth the stop. We killed an afternoon there, three teenage boys who, for at least this one time, were wise beyond their years. We climbed over the rocky walls -- Dean pretty much won the climbing competition as he shinnied up the walls -- and gawked at the views. It is a place very few have seen and experienced, which makes it all the better. On the epic road trip point scale, we scored a big, fat cha-ching. Link: Fort Rock

As the memories of my epic summer of 1987 road trip flooded back to me, spurred by the chords and lyrics of that iconic U2 anthem, I thought how fitting it all remains. I haven't found everything. I haven't seen everything. I'm not done making epic road trips. I'm an American after all.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The amazing thing I found down at my York River beach

The beach at Harbor Hills

At least a few times a week, perhaps more, I walk a few blocks down to the neighborhood beach on the York River at the end of Harbor Hills Road. I walk by a piney lot that a neighbor told me is the final repose of the bones of slaves resting in unmarked graves. I wonder if that's true. I have no reason to doubt, but I find it startling. And mysterious. I walk down a hill where on the corner is a house with distinctive Cape Cod-style siding that always reminds of something I might see on the Oregon Coast. It takes me back to the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport. 

There's a couple of spots on the road where I've encountered snakes. A copperhead once with its distinctive brown diamonds and then a long, skinny black snake another time. It's quite a journey down to that beach.

One time I glanced out my kitchen window and saw a summer storm had cropped up. I was hustling down to photograph the sinister clouds as they rose in ambush over the York River. I was nearly there to capture it all when the clouds unleashed their thunderous fury. I turned for home and ran, chugging uphill in a downpour as the pine trees bent around me, arriving home soaked, my ears ringing. I remember feeling quite happy I made it.

I'm drawn to the beach and it's dun-colored sand for the view, the peace, the water, the sky and the sun. It's a place to pray, a place to think, a place to ponder and wonder. I've been visiting the beach for a little more than two years. There's an inlet from the river that flows high and low with the tide and opens up into a long, narrow pond that's like a shallow natural harbor filling the low spot between two stubby hills. I suspect that's where the area got its name, as a harbor among the hilly bluffs jutting up above the York River, but I'm not quite sure. It's all silted in now and I wonder if it was once a place of shelter for boats, maybe back to colonial times. Who knows. Google doesn't seem to know.

The most remarkable thing of all has been how much the beach has changed in such a short span of my visits. The inlet's path changes almost daily sometimes. The wind, waves and tides alternately heap up sand and drag it away and the inlet's path and mouth has been altered steadily, moving farther and farther downstream of the river.

The changing path of the Harbor Hills inlet
I like to take my kids down there. When the weather is warm for a good part of the year they love to frolic in the little stream and catch minnows and small blue crabs. They don't notice the influence of the greater forces on that little stream. I imagine they're not like me, watching the stream carve out a path through the ever-changing sandy obstructions. Or noting how the new path of the stream yields little treasures, like a bed of colorful pebbles and stones that surprised me the other day. The pebbles, shells and even pieces of smoothed glass seemed so out of place, like they had been dropped there. I posted a photo of them on Instagram and said they were stars that had fallen out of the sky onto my beach.

Unexpected treasures, or fallen stars
As I've watched that little stream change course I've come to appreciate it. It always finds a path, no matter the barrier. I like to listen to it on its meandering track back to the river as it whittles away at the sand in its course, never relenting, always moving one way or the other depending on the tide. When it's warm out you'll find me wading in the Harbor Hills stream, sometimes alone, often with my kids and fishing for crabs and minnows.

Mostly when I get down there I see footprints. Several people like to take their dogs down there. There's people who walk around and I can see where they stop at the water. I wonder if they're like me. If they notice how the beach is changing. How it's captive to the fury of the storms that gather force across the mile-wide river. I wonder if they notice the unrelenting stream, the life of that little stretch of beach.

When I was 25 years old, I was too busy to write letters that go viral

My first house. 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, 860 sq ft in Prineville, Ore.  Bought it for $58,500. 

Perhaps you've seen the news recently about the latest crisis that has gone viral. No, it has nothing to do with our presidential election -- I am telling you, in a nation of 330 million people it will forever boggle my mind that these are the "best" we have to offer -- the price of oil, Syria, Isis, the refugee crisis, or anything else.

Nope. The latest crisis to go viral is the 25-year-old Bay Area woman who wrote a letter to her boss at Yelp complaining about her circumstances. It's all over the news, has come up in discussions at home, work and elsewhere and it highlights what appears to be a generational mindset gap.

Talia Jane wrote the letter to her CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, and rather predictably she was fired that day. In the letter, she complains about her pay, her grocery situation and her rent, among other things. For example, she's living in an apartment that costs $1,254 a month.

Two things, real quickly. I've never lived in a house with a mortgage that high and maybe, just maybe, look to cut costs with a roommate? Okay, three things. Maybe work and live somewhere else with lower cost-of-living expenses? Just some thoughts...

Just to be clear, no one is making her work for Yelp, live in one of the most expensive places in the country and, most importantly, write a letter on social media that goes viral and gets her fired. Those are all choices she has made. Now she's living with them.

Talia Jane, I don't know what to tell you other than typically when we make choices there are these things called consequences. They go together. You'll figure this out soon enough I reckon. Maybe you have already.

In response to Talia Jane, another Millennial by the name of Stefanie Williams wrote an open letter to her that also went viral. She doesn't mince words and basically tells Talia Jane to buck up, get a job or two and do smart things like have roommates to cut costs. She shares her story of being down on her luck and bucking up and working hard and now things are good.

It's all a bunch of drama that is so unnecessary. I think that's my big takeaway. The advent of social media means everyone's problems can now be everyone else's. It's not that we didn't have problems back in the day, it's just that they were typically contained to small circles. The way it should be.

I do remember back when I was 25. Vaguely. That was 1994. I was living in Prineville, Ore., in a two-bedroom, one bath house with four roommates and a mortgage of around $400. Okay, so my four roommates were Julie, Brenton, Taylor and Ethan. A loaf of bread cost $1.59. The average income was $37,000 (Full disclosure: I was nowhere even close to that and was probably pulling down around $18,000 a year.) and a gallon of gas was $1.09.

In addition to working at a newspaper I would occasionally pump gas at a gas station for some extra bucks. I also occasionally did landscaping work and even made a few bucks as a professional runner. I recall having the mindset of trying to improve my writing skills and attaining other work-related objectives in hopes of achieving "professional advancement" and increasing my income the old-fashioned way: hard work.

I didn't post my issues on Facebook. Or write a blog post on Medium that goes viral. Or ask people to support me by launching a personal PayPal account.

Maybe you can relate.

Here's a major difference between the Talia Janes of the world and those of us who look back on our days when things were pretty hard. I mean, we didn't have much, finances were tight -- not much has changed there actually -- and there were plenty of struggles. Sound familiar?

Those memories make me smile. Those struggles and how we handled them and the faith we had that God is in control and we could trust His plan are vital to who we are today. The struggle drove us and pushed us. Struggles are central to our faith. They are central to who we are. Embrace them.