BlogEd

Family, Faith & Fun

Writing Stories

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View from the outdoor cafe

I’m sitting at an outdoor coffee bar that serves a lot more than just coffee. It overlooks a sports arena, downtown buildings, and a commuter train railway. There is also an airport close by. A few minutes ago an airplane flew past while at the same time a train and a bus rolled along. Everyone is going someplace.

It’s interesting to observe the mix of people in this place. There are all shapes and sizes and I count at least six different nationalities. Most seem quite happy. I suspect the median age is late 30’s and I suddenly realize I’m pulling the curve up instead of down.

Most conversations I overhear seem pretty light. If I had to guess, I would say there is one budding romance across the way. They are all smiles and laugh even if what was said may not have been particularly funny. A trio of ladies have gathered for drinks and are swapping stories about their respective “crazy” day. An elderly man is by himself staring into his glass deep in thought.

I wonder what their stories are?

We all have them. We’re all on a journey. All of us are hopeful our story comes to a happy and peaceful conclusion. We’re all writing stories.

I can’t help but wonder how God’s eternal and perfect plan—His story for us—is possibly taking place at this exact moment in each one of our lives. There just seems to be too much going on, too many  details, too many people, too many possible outcomes. How can it be that God is in control and that “…every day of my life was recorded in His book and every moment laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139:16)? How can this be true right now, right here in this coffee bar?

I know God lives in eternity and is outside all of nature’s laws regarding time and space. It is difficult to try and comprehend. My Dad loved to tell me that this meant “God has all the ‘time’ in the world to focus on me and me alone for my entire life—every moment of every day.” That both thrills and terrifies me. But I do believe that in some mysterious God-ordained-free–will way, we write our story with uncoerced choices which fit exactly into God’s eternal plan. 

Maybe David was sitting in a coffee bar (circa 1000 BC) drinking a strong black coffee (no way King David drank lattés) thinking about some of these things. Why does the Almighty God–with that kind of power and ability–unconditionally love and care for someone like me? Why would he even care about my story and even desire that “through his mighty power at work within me, accomplish infinitely more than I might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)? It’s too outlandish to imagine.

But He does. And so David had to say what I’m feeling at this moment, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (Psalm 139:6).

I need another strong black coffee.

FREE BOOK

How about a FREE book? “Monkeys In My Coconut Tree” by Ed Thompson, is a compilation of fun, easy-to-read stories of fun, family, and faith. And it’s FREE. Many of the stories first appeared as a newspaper article or in a LOGOI Ministry update and have joyfully been enhanced for this book. So come on, check it out…it’s FREE. You can download the entire FREE book by clicking HERE. Did I mention it’s FREE?

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Moses & Baseball

 

IMG_1312“Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.”  —Yogi Berra

Realizing our youngest son, David (then 9), was excelling at baseball, we decided to move him to a more challenging baseball park in Miami called Tamiami. Instead of the popular “draft” where the talented players are spread out over the various teams, coaches handpick their young baseball players and bring them to the park to battle it out.  

David was the only “American” on the Tamiami All-Star team filled with second and third generation Hispanics. To be fair, all the boys on his 10-and-under All-Star team were  just as American as my son. They embraced their heritage and cultural diversity, but were also proud Americans grateful to live in the USA and the wonderfully diverse city of Miami.

Tamiami baseball is well known for being “over-the-top” competitive. And just to prove it, in our very first Tamiami game, the team mom from our team got into a fist fight with the team mom from the other team. We knew right then and there it was going to be a very exciting season of baseball.

And it was. Despite all the fist fights (and there were many), the constant heated quarrels over the “real” age of some of the kids (just about every game), and some umpires who performed their own little dance move with every strike-three call (one umpire called himself Michael Jackson), it was a great experience. David’s final game that year was played on TV as the Tamiami All-Star team won the Pony League World Series in Dallas.

David learned the fundamentals of the game of baseball from passionate Hispanic dads. Lessons he is no doubt taking with him now in his first full professional year in the NY Mets farm system. Not only that, but his Spanish improved dramatically.

In many ways, the passion David’s Hispanic coaches used for teaching him the fundamentals of baseball is what Moses was getting at when he said, “Teach [God’s commands] to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up…so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 11:19-21).

And who doesn’t want to flourish?

Most of us have a hard time truly believing God gave us the Ten Commandments for our benefit.  But unlike baseball where breaking the rules may cost you the game, we are all in the middle of the great “game” of life where the stakes are so very much higher. So if you’d like to know why Moses said obeying them will help your life flourish, my Dad just so happened to write a short book explaining just that.

You can find it here at Amazon or on our ministry website at LOGOI.  

The GREAT Listener

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Our son and daughter-in-law went away for the weekend, so my wife and I got to babysit our grand-dog, Luke. Luke is a beautiful and lovable German Short-Haired Pointer with piercing light brown eyes and a wonderful soft coat.

But of course, he’s nuts.

To babysit this dog, all you have to do is turn on a light that throws some sort of shadow on the wall. Luke will then sit there and stare intently at the shadow as if he’s certain it will jump off the wall at any moment and he must be ready to pounce on it. His focus and patience are amazing. Bumping the light so the shadow moves causes Luke’s muscles to quiver and his ears to peal back with excitement. This routine can keep me—I mean him—entertained for hours.

He also eats rocks.

But my grand-dog is a great listener. There’s been much on my mind lately and over the weekend, Luke and I had some long talks. There were no judgements or wary glances or hints of ridicule or condemnation as I rambled on. In fact, he didn’t say anything. He just looked up at me with his kind eyes and listened.

What a good friend.

I’m not a very good listener and need to learn from my grand-dog. I usually begin offering my “wise” counsel and advice before others have even finished their sentences. The classic Bible story in the book of Job tells of three well-meaning friends who offered advice without really knowing or understanding what was taking place. Most think the best advice they gave was when they just sat their in silence…and listened.

I’m uncomfortable with silence.

No doubt, that’s part of my problem. If there is a gap in the conversation, I feel it’s my job to fill it — even if I have nothing to say. I remember a friend’s anguish as he quietly told me of his son’s drug addiction. His heart was breaking and he didn’t know what to do. He just needed to talk it out a bit and have a friend listen. He took a breath and left a vocal pause and I jumped in and began spewing meaningless advice without knowing anything of what he was experiencing or how to help.

I was just like Job’s friends.

Thankfully, the One with all knowledge is the best listener of all. He knows how to listen. And thankfully, He loves to hear everything that’s on our heart and mind. He doesn’t even mind if you ramble on and on. And unlike my grand-dog, Job’s well-meaning friends, or me, He has the power to answer our prayers according to His perfect will (1 John 5:13-15). I suspect that’s why the Psalmist said, “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen…” (Psalm 116:1&2).

What a GREAT friend!

Lemonade Stands

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According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, summer officially ends on September 23rd at 4:21am. Yes, I agree that’s a peculiar date and time for summer to end but who are we to argue with old farmers?

Sadly, the end of summer also brings the season’s end to a beloved American pastime—lemonade stands—which inexplicably, are under attack by various government branches. No, I’m not making this up.

The government lemonade crackdown may have begun last year in Coralville, Iowa, when  police shut down little 4-year-old Abigail’s stand after she had been open barely 30 minutes. The reason? She did not have the required $400 permit. In Midway, Georgia, police shut down a stand run by three little girls because they did not have a business license, a peddler’s permit, or a food permit. In Overton, Texas, public outcry was so loud after two children’s (7 and 8) stand was shut down for not having the proper permits, the Chief of Police released “dash-cam” VIDEO of the occurrence.

The list of government shut downs of children’s lemonade stands has grown substantially over the years. So much so that websites like lemonadefreedom.com have opened up with news and videos to promote “Lemonade Freedom” throughout the land. So in the hope some government official will read this and have second thoughts on sending the police to shut down a child’s lemonade stand, I share this story.

I love lemonade stands.

In fact, my wife and children know it’s almost impossible for me to drive past a neighborhood lemonade stand. I’ll circle blocks, make illegal U-turns, and even try to sneak past a police crime tape surrounding the permit-less operation of a 4-year-old, just to get to a child’s lemonade stand. Then I’ll call my wife and kids and insist they drive over and buy some, too.

It goes back, of course, to my grade school days when I proudly opened my very own lemonade stand in my front yard. I was a proud and hopeful small business owner determined to make millions from the ten-cents-per-cup lemonade my mother made. It was back in the day when a young entrepreneur could set up shop in their own front yard without ever worrying about being busted by the Chief of Police.

I remember setting up the table alongside the street, making the signs, and wondering how much to charge for a wonderful ice-cold glass of lemonade; a nickel, a dime, a quarter? Could a cold glass of lemonade be worth a quarter?

Of course, mom helped make the lemonade and even supplied a small box of change. She helped me make the sign and set up the table in a spot where she could keep an eye on me from inside the house. Then, finally, it was time to sit in the chair behind the table and wait for the line of cars to show up, driven by thirsty people with an extra dime or two in their pockets.

That’s where a major flaw in my business plan was revealed. At age 11, I was unfamiliar with the “location, location, location” principle and Freakonomics hadn’t even been written yet. So I was on my own, on a quiet street, learning tough business principles the hard way. But dreams are beautiful and I never once considered our quiet street would not be teaming with thirsty drivers coming from all over Miami to drink my lemonade.

Long, lonely minutes crept by as I sat there anxiously waiting for a car—any car—to pull down my street. Then, when a car did come into view, nothing crushed my spirit more than watching it rumble past as I stood there with a cup of cold lemonade in hand and a hopeful smile on my face. (There’s just something un-American about driving past a lonely lemonade stand.)

But dreams die hard and I knew my first customer could be coming down the street at any moment. I would be ready. The minutes slowly ticked by and turned into a discouraging hour. Then that hour slowly passed into another hour, and another. The hot sun burned down, the ice in the lemonade pitcher quickly melted, and no one, not one car or person ventured toward my lemonade stand.

Mom had given me a nice apple to offer to my first customer as a special bonus. It had been nice and fresh when I had set up the stand, but now it too, was starting to look beat down from the sun and heat. Still, no one stopped. I was fairly miserable.

The afternoon wore on and I was dragging my head in discouragement. I was just about to close up shop when off in the distance, I noticed a car coming my direction. It was a familiar car. It was my dad’s car and Dad was in it. He pulled up to my stand and rolled down the window. “How’s business, young man?” he asked with a big smile. All I remember was bursting into tears.

The next thing I know, my dad was asking for a glass of lemonade. “Are you selling that apple, too?” he asked still smiling. I managed a “yes” through my tears but said it wasn’t looking so good anymore. “Looks like a great apple to me,” I heard back, as I handed it over.

I can still picture handing my dad the warm glass of lemonade and the sad looking apple through the window of his car. He leaned back and drank the lemonade in one long swallow, smacked his lips and then bit into the apple. “Wow, that’s delicious,” he said to my surprise. “I think I’ll take another lemonade.”

When he was done, he reached into his wallet, pulled out a bill, and handed it to the little boy trying to overcome his sobs. He said a big “thanks,” complimented me on the excellent lemonade and fine tasting apple and drove away.

He was around the corner and out of sight before I looked and saw the twenty-dollar bill he had pushed in my hand. In many ways, it remains the biggest sale I have ever made.

I have a sneaky suspicion my mom called my dad to let him know I was out there struggling to make a sale. I can see him dropping whatever he was doing at work and driving over as quickly as possible to buy some warm lemonade from his son. With tenderness and compassion, it was “Dad to the rescue” because that’s what loving dads do.

The Lord is like a father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him (Psalm 103:13).

As my dad drove up our lonely street, I’m sure he knew the sad sight he was about to see: a little boy with a sad face and slumped over shoulders fully engulfed in his own private pity party. But as a loving father, he knew what to do.

For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust (Psalm 103:14).

I’m so incredibly thankful the Lord knows how weak and frail I am. I so often feel like I’m still that little boy at the lemonade stand down the lonely street with nothing going right. But my Heavenly Father is tender and compassionate. He knows I’m made of dust and always takes my frailty into account.

For His unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth (Psalm 103:11).

So the next time you see a lemonade stand—STOP—and remember the Lord’s amazing love, tenderness, and compassion for you. Then, pull over and invest in the hopes and dreams of a small child who is waiting just for you to make his or her day. It may just be the best decision you make all day.

Zealots and Trolls

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Sports fans are an interesting breed.

On one hand you have, of course, the “fanatic” or “zealot”, whom The Free Dictionary defines as “a person marked or motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm.” The opposite of a fanatic, according to Yahoo! Answers, is the “troll.” A troll or “hater” as they are often referred, is someone who opposes what you think.

Things can get real interesting when a zealot and troll sit next to each other in the stands.

I’ve just returned from Omaha, Nebraska, where I had the thrill of watching my son compete in the 2015 College World Series. David was six-years-old when he first told me he dreamed of playing in Omaha. Seeing his dream (and mine) come true was a beautiful, amazing experience.

As our team took the field, I was talking with another dad who was also experiencing dreams coming true. “There are over 300 Division 1 baseball teams,” he explained quite excited, “which means with 35-man rosters, there are roughly 10,500 student athletes playing baseball.” I nodded my head in agreement giving him the impression I was able to multiply large numbers in my head.

“Eight teams get to Omaha,” he continued, “meaning out of 10,500, less than 300 kids get to experience this.” Once again I nodded confidently in agreement. But then he asked, “Do you know what percentage that is?” He then just looked at me and waited as if my brain was somehow capable of figuring out his complex mathematical equation.

He must have noticed the blood rushing out of my head as I was trying to do math and mercifully volunteered the answer: “Roughly 2.6 percent.” “Yes, that sounds about right,” I said, stomping my foot trying to get the blood flowing back to my brain. “Think about it,” he insisted, less than 3% of all college baseball players ever get here. This is amazingly special.”

Despite my horrible math skills, I’ve thought a lot about that brief conversation. It was indeed “amazingly special” to get to Omaha. And when you consider the winner of the College World Series represents fewer than half of one percent (0.33%) of all division one baseball players (I figured that out all by myself), you realize how truly incredible it is to win this, or any other championship.

Which brings me back to the fanatics and trolls. You see, most are so focused on the win or the loss, they never take into consideration the incredible journey the athlete must take just to get into a position to win or lose. All that matters is for “their” team to finish in that very elusive half of one percent.

My wife and kids have urged me to not look at social media – the playground for zealots and trolls. For the most part, I have complied. But sometimes, I just have to look. And so it was after our team lost I ignored the warning bells and viewed a few social media posts.

And there they were. The zealots and trolls filling page after page with their unbridled vitriol. The fanatics chimed in on all the mistakes made which lost “us” the championship and the trolls basically suggested blind lame dogs would have beaten “our” team.

“It’s okay,” as my son has said to me more than once. “It doesn’t matter what they say or think.” In fact, like most athletes, he seems to have a basic understanding of the zealots and trolls. “They’re just fans,” he says a bit matter-of-fact. “They cheer and they boo. But they don’t understand.”

Then he looked at me and said, “But you understand, Dad.”

Indeed I do. I know all about the countless hours he spends to hone his skills when no one is looking. I know about his terrible disappointment after a poor performance and his heartbreak with a loss. I understand how hard he has worked to fight back from injuries and overcome way too many surgeries and hospital stays. And I certainly know all the sacrifices we have made as a family to help him get where he is today. Yes, I do understand.

So go ahead with your cheers and boos all you zealots and trolls. We understand.

What Do I Know?

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Five years before my daughter, Abby, was even engaged, I wrote a song with my friend, Don Koch, called, “What Do I Know?” The song is about a dad’s emotional struggle about giving his daughter away. Of course, that dad is me.

I knew the day was inevitable and tried to project my emotional state. Even then, the thought made me my heart sink, my knees weak, and my eyes wet. I jokingly told her I’d be doing her wedding via satellite.

When I wrote this song, however, I never once even imagined she’d fall in love with an Aussie and move to Australia. So her wedding events and day were filled with an extra amount of emotion as our window of time together would come to a sudden end with her moving to the Land Down Under.

In the hundreds of photos taken by the wedding photographer, most of me were as you see below. I assured Abby they were not sad tears. I was and am thrilled for her and her new adventurous life with Alex. They make a great team. God is good.

With the exception of the “lanky and juvenile” part, I think I got it pretty right. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a Kleenex. I’m about to watch this again:

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Ese es mi hijo!

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I’ve been yelling, “Ese es mi hijo” from the stands now for 16 years. It simply means, “That’s my boy,” and you hear it yelled out a lot here in Miami. For some reason, my hispanic friends think it’s funny when I yell it out.

I learned my Spanish baseball vocabulary at a popular baseball park here in Dade County called “Tamiami.” Against the well-meaning advice of many kind and gentle baseball-parent friends, David started playing there when he was nine years old. We were warned the conditions there could be a little rough. And just to prove the point, our very first game was complete with a resounding victory — and a fist fight — between the coach’s wives.

But it was at Tamiami my son, David, really learned the game of baseball. I can still hear some of the heavy Spanish accents from coaches as they taught the boys how to play. Baseball wasn’t just a game; it was a passion.

We sent 9-year-old David on a month-long baseball trip from Miami to Texas that year under the care of another couple. We never worried once knowing he would be the most well treated and cared for kid on the entire trip. Hispanics take family very seriously and David was their adopted gringo son. Not only that, but by the time the trip was over, David knew all Celia Cruz’s songs by heart.

Now David plays for the University of Miami. Not surprisingly, one of his teammates was on his Tamiami team. Several others play for different Division One teams while at least one other is already playing professional ball. Today, David was named one of sixty players to make the Golden Spikes Watch List. The trophy, which is awarded in June, is given to the athlete the panel considers the best amateur baseball player in the country. It’s a nice list to be on.

So once again, here I am in the stands yelling, “Ese es mi hijo!” And I couldn’t be more proud. God is good!

Sheet Trouble

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My wife has the flu. So last night she suggested I may want to sleep in the guest bedroom. “The only thing is,” she explained, “you’ll need to put sheets on the bed.” She then drew me a map as to where to find the sheets in the hall closet, took some NyQuil, and went to sleep.

Soon after I found myself standing beside the guest bed trying to determine how to put the sheet with the curved elastic corners onto the mattress. “I have a college degree,” I said to myself trying to figure out which side of the sheet was the length and which side was the width.

I managed to get one curvy corner over one side of the mattress on the foot of the bed and then stretched the other curvy corner to the top of the bed only to have the bottom side pop off. Undeterred, I put the top side on and then stretched it down to the bottom only to have the top side pop off. “I must be using the wrong side,” I told myself. So using my suspect math skills, I spun the sheet by a quarter and tried again. Same thing.

I stared at the sheet looking for instructions or at least arrows pointing in the direction the sheet is supposed to go. Talk about a manufacturing oversight. I spun that lousy piece of sheet on the bed at least 15 different times trying to find the right configuration but the closest I ever came was to get three corners. That’s when it occurred to me I must be using the wrong sized sheet.

I followed my map back to the closet, pulled out a new sheet with elastic corners and tried again. This time, I managed to get all four corners of the sheet onto the mattress even though the elastic corners were desperately searching for some crevice they could cling to. When I laid down, everything seemed to work when suddenly, all four corners simultaneously popped off and enveloped me like a giant cocoon.

I was laying in my white cocoon considering checking into a nearby hotel, when I realized I didn’t care if the lousy bed sheet was on correctly or not. After all, I spent my entire freshman year of college without bedsheets and was certain I could manage until my wife got over the flu. Besides, the cocoon was perfectly comfortable and even eliminated my need to use the other sheet in the set – the one without the elastic corners.

Engulfed in my soft cocoon, I started thinking that perhaps I had stumbled onto something that would be perfect for the “As Seen On TV” section at Walgreens. “Why pay for two sheets when all you need is one?” would be my slogan. Then, in my very expensive Super Bowl ads, you’d see happy people jumping into their beds in slow motion only to be lusciously swallowed up in fluffy white cocoons of cotton on top of bare mattress pads.

I must admit it was rather gratifying knowing I could help millions of men who would never get their elastic cornered sheets to stay on without staple guns. With that happy thought, I pulled a pillow into my cocoon, drew a soft blanket over the top, and fell asleep. Solving problems for millions of men, after all, is exhausting.

No Ugly Crying

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see the short video here: http://youtu.be/n72tZR-yrR8.   Photo by kallimaphotography.com

The night before my daughter got married on December 28, she handed me a small gift. Appropriately, it was a handkerchief. It was monogrammed with these words, “No ugly crying. I love you, Abby.” She knows me well.

Abby didn’t want me to see her until it was time to walk her down the aisle. As the minutes passed and the hour drew near, however, I was beginning to panic. I felt like a gurgling volcano ready to explode in a horrific blast of ugly crying.

A good friend, who also knows me well, saw me pacing. “Have you seen Abby?” he asked very concerned. All I could do was shake my head, “No.” He heard the volcano gurgling and said, “Oh no. This is not good. You’ve got to see her…now.”

So it was that a few moments later I was outside the room where Abby was waiting with her bridesmaids. I stood there waiting, alone with my thoughts, when the volcano started to erupt. I pulled out my special handkerchief and tried to read the words but all I could see was, “I love you.” Then the volcano blew.

I was desperately trying to compose myself when I turned to see Abby walking toward me. What a sight. I have never seen anyone or anything so beautiful. She was radiant; absolutely beaming.

It’s hard to stop a volcano, but Abby did. She looked me in the eyes and with great confidence and conviction, said words of love that will forever touch my heart. And somehow, the volcano stopped. (Click here to see the short video.)

The next thing I knew I was standing beside her before family and friends with a lump in my throat, but a confident smile on my face. We were standing together before a loving God who brought all of us to this point and who promises to see us through every twist and turn of life.

So I put her hand into her soon-to-be husband’s hand, gave him a hug along with a few private words, kissed Abby one more time, and took my seat beside my beaming wife. As we watched our daughter get married, the pastor (my older brother) recited this wonderful blessing from the Bible:

“May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Without a doubt, December 28, 2014, was one of the best days of my life. I am greatly blessed.

 

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