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Cliff Jumpers – Live

I tried to play football at South Miami High School. I was a quarterback who couldn’t run fast or throw well. But man, could I hold a clipboard.

I was pale, skinny, and completely lost on the football field. I had never played before my 9th grade year and was far more afraid of our head coach than any opposing linebacker. It was on our high school football practice field I met Jonathan Scott. He looked like he could bench press 500 pounds. His robust laugh flew right in the face of danger.

We became close friends. His walk with Christ impressed me. It was real. He truly loved Jesus and it was hard to miss. Before practices and games he would even pray for his new friend, the pale and skinny QB who desperately needed courage…and much faster feet. Together, we survived on and off the field.

Today, Jonathan is the South Park Campus Pastor of Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, NC. He is a fabulous musician, teacher, preacher, motivator, father and husband. And now, on his own accord, he’s taken to putting to life to some of my blogs. And that’s just really cool. But more than anything else, John is my friend. That is a wonderful privilege and joy and one that will only last…FOREVER!

Award Winning Book

Fun summer reading. “Monkeys In My Coconut Tree” by Ed Thompson, is a compilation of fun, easy-to-read stories of fun, family, and faith. It was a Reader’s Favorite 2016 Silver Medal Winner. So come on, check it out. Read some of the reviews and download your copy by clicking HERE. (Also available at Amazon.com, iTunes and others.)

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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.

Enjoying Life

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Our dog, Bentley, has fallen deeply in love with my wife, Jenn. He has also become rather protective of her. I found this out the hard way when I leaned over to give Jenn a kiss while Bentley was lying beside her. Instead of the nice soft embrace of my wife’s lips, I got a face full of Bentley, who with amazing quickness and agility, sprang between my face and hers and pushed me away with his long, wet nose.

I jumped back with a start and stared at this crazy dog who was now suffocating my laughing wife under his protective paws. Not one to easily give up when it comes to getting a kiss from my wife, I leaned over once again searching for her lips. This time, Bentley started barking and positioned his long body completely over Jenn’s head.

By this time, Jenn was laughing hysterically and Bentley-the-Protector was barking madly to keep me away. The battle was on. Man versus beast. Passion versus protection. Crazy dog versus desperate husband wanting a kiss.

I cautiously circled the sofa. Bentley stared at me with his big, black eyes with Jenn safely secured under his paws. Tail wagging, he watched my every move. When the moment was just right, I jumped in, scooped Bentley up in my arms, ran the yapping dog into the other room with the tile floor. I put the frantic dog on the tile floor, held him back from running, and took off for the sofa to retrieve my kiss. As I ran toward Jenn, I could here the clatter of Bentley’s toenails flailing wildly on the tile floor desperately trying to get traction so he could beat me to the couch. His spinning legs gave me just enough time to race back to Jenn and win my kiss.

Man had won over beast once again.

Oh, the simple pleasures of life. Playing with a dog. Working hard for a kiss. Laughter. The list of ways to enjoy life is truly endless.

I am amazed by the entire concept of joy. It’s interesting, for example, that “joy” is both a noun and a verb. My dictionary defines joy—the noun—as, “intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.” Joy—the verb—is defined as, “to take great pleasure; rejoice” as well as, “to fill with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction.”

I recently heard a wonderful message on creation. I was enthralled when the pastor suggested that God may have “sung” the world into existence. Of course, we have no idea if this is the case, but I love that imagery. Just imagine the beauty and joy of God’s voice singing as he creates stars, galaxies, and you and me…into existence.

Like love, joy is a part of God’s very essence. “God is love” as much as “God is joy.” The two are inseparable. The Tyndale Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains that joy is a “quality, and not simply an emotion, grounded upon God himself and indeed derived from Him.” Perhaps that is why famed author and professor, C.S. Lewis, described his conversion and ultimate belief in Christ, by simply saying, “joy.”

I have a friend who is battling cancer. Through emails, he keeps me up-to-date on what is going on through the various stages of treatment. He has endured many surgeries, medications with terrible side effects, long hospital stays, difficult setbacks, and endless doctor visits. Watching him fight this terrible disease is a reminder that none of us are immune from trials, sorrows, disappointments, and frustrations. “What a blessing,” he says, “that I have a basis for which I can experience God’s love, joy, and peace regardless of my situation.”

The famous preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “When you speak of heaven, let your face light up with heavenly gleam. Let your eyes shine with reflected glory. And when you speak of hell—well, then your usual face will do.”

So, here’s hoping more and more faces “light up with a heavenly gleam.” After all, there are far too many walking around with their “usual face.”

Trouble with Math

mathWithout fully realizing our children would one day ask me to help them with their math homework, my wife and I started a family. For about eight years, everything was going great. We had three beautiful, healthy kids who showed signs of intelligence and not one of them asked me anything about fractions or if they could have their navels pierced.

I have never been good at math and I’m not at all pleased that someone decided to invent fractions and grow polynomials. Then, just to be mean, the Babylonians invented word problems. No wonder their society didn’t survive.

Shortly after our oldest son, Matt, entered the third grade, my wife rudely left to visit her parents in Vermont for a week and left me alone to help with our son’s third grade homework. I checked our wedding vows and saw nothing in there about math, but that didn’t seem to matter to Matt.

He read me his assignment in his cute little voice, “A circus performs four more shows during the week than it does on the weekend. Each week day, the circus performs two shows.  How many shows do they perform on the weekend?”  He then looked up at me with big, hopeful eyes. What he saw, however, was a grown man’s face contorting into strange spasms of confused panic.

I finally mustered, “The circus is in town?”

Matt just stood there looking at me with those big, wide eyes. I wondered if he could tell I was silently cursing the Babylonians. Then, in a moment of brilliance, I remembered Walt Disney’s Snow White on Ice was in town. I picked up the phone and called the ticket office.

“How many shows do you perform each week?” I asked. “We have two shows Monday through Friday and three shows every Saturday and Sunday,” the nice lady said.  “So, how many shows would that be on the weekend?” I asked excitedly. There was a long pause and then the nice lady finally said, “That would be six.”

Matt and I slapped high-fives.  Sometimes math is easy.

Monkeys in My Coconut Tree

There are monkeys in my coconut tree.

No, really.  Little Capuchin monkeys–the “organ-grinder” kind.   We live a few miles from the Miami Metro Zoo and assume they escaped after one of our hurricanes.  If so, they hiked several miles before finding the county-protected wooded area behind our house.  We’re just glad it’s monkeys and not rhinos.  Everyone knows what to feed monkeys.  I have no idea what to feed a rhino.

There are three of them.  We’ve watched as they climb through the trees in the protected wooded area, climb over our back yard fence, and make the quick scamper into one of our coconut trees.  They like to sit on a palm branch and eat the little coconut eggs (or whatever you call them) and chirp with delight.  They actually sound a lot like I do when eating a Heath Blizzard at Dairy Queen.

They showed up quite often before (we assume) the county monkey squad caught them and returned them to the zoo. But for almost a year, we enjoyed sitting on our back porch, sipping coffee while enjoying the traveling zoo.  In fact, I highly recommend that when you have the opportunity, you should sit on your back porch and watch monkeys eat berries in your coconut trees, too.

I have a rather long history with little two-and-a-half pound Capuchin monkeys.  In fact, I grew up with them…and I’m not talking about my three brothers.  As I was sipping coffee and watching the monkeys in my coconut tree, I thought back about the time my monkey broke my arm…

Ed & ReepicheepHis name was Reepicheep and he was named after the pugnacious talking mouse in the C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia series.  He came to live with us when I was ten years old.  We got Reepicheep from the Amazon — not the online place that sells everything except monkeys — the actual place in South America with jungles, wild animals, and piranha.  Just to make sure, however, I went to Amazon.com and typed in “monkey.”  I was relieved to see they do not sell Capuchins.  At least not yet.

Reepicheep arrived via missionaries traveling on furlough to Miami. But as so often happens when  foreigners get a taste of America, he didn’t want to go back.  So when the missionaries went back to South America, Reepicheep stayed with us and become an illegal alien.

Reepicheep lived outside in a treehouse my Dad built specially for him.  It was a lovely but sparse two story condo with a front porch.  To keep Reepicheep from wandering off and joining a gang, he wore a leather belt around his waist which was attached to a light chain about five feet long.  The  chain was attached to a pulley wheel which was attached to a strong cable with one end anchored to the tree and the other end to the corner of our house about 30 feet away.  Got it?

This set up is important because Reepicheep taught himself the most amazing Tarzan-like trick which he performed all day long.  He would casually stroll to one end of the wire cable and dive off in a headfirst bungee jump.  Knowing exactly how far he could free fall before the five-foot chain would jolt him by the waist, he would deftly grab his chain and swing like Tarzan to the other end.  Honest!  The only thing missing was Tarzan’s jungle yell.  I used to charge the neighborhood kids fifty cents to come over and see our monkey swing.  I made $18.50 the first weekend we had him!

One of my jobs was to feed the monkey. This meant I would have to climb about seven feet up the tree, find his metal food dish, climb back down the tree, walk back inside the house, fill his tray with left-overs from dinner (no Purina Monkey Chow for our chimp), then climb back up the tree and hand over the dish.  At first it was sort of fun, but after six or seven months of this, it lost all its excitement.

So one day, in a moment of adolescent genius, my brothers and I decided to hang a rope swing.  We figured we would not only save gobs of climbing time, but our “speed feeding” system would  actually make feeding the monkey fun again. We attached one end to a thick branch and the other end to a deflated inner-tube tire. The trick was to run as fast as you could and dive into the inner-tube.  If done right, your momentum would carry you all the way up to Reepicheep’s tree-house. Once there, you had to then reach out and grab onto the tree house and hold yourself in the precarious prone position long enough to locate the metal dish.

It was a thrill seekers delight.

It became even more dangerous, however, when Reepicheep turned mean.  I don’t recall exactly when he turned mean, but I think it was right around the time I started throwing mangos at him.  Reepicheep was amazingly agile and hard to hit.  At first I thought he enjoyed our little game of dodge-mango, but as it turns out, it just made him cranky.

Even so, feeding the monkey had now become fun once again.  If Reepicheep was in a good mood, you could swing up and chat and play with him for a while during your search for his food dish.  If, on the other hand, Reepicheep was feeling a bit irritable based upon the amount of mango juice dripping from his fur, it became a rather daunting and terror filled experience.  It’s amazing how scary a two-and-a-half pound ball of fur with fangs can appear at dusk.

So it was, on a particular summer night in Miami, I was trying to coax the little ape away from his treehouse to the other side of his cable by our house.  A couple of near miss mango tosses were doing the trick and Reepicheep was as far from his tree house as he could possibly get.  My plan was to take off for the tire swing, dive into the inner-tube, swoop up to the treehouse, grab the food dish, and swing away to safety before the savage beast reached his house. It looked good on paper.

I lobbed one last mango to distract Reepicheep. My ploy worked as the gullible long-tailed organ grinder wasn’t even looking when I took off for the inner-tube.  My dive was close to perfect as I launched myself into the tube and felt the momentum propel me upwards.  I smiled at how smoothly my plan was working and how easy it was to trick a primate whose brain was much smaller than the mangos he was dodging.  At the same time, I could hear loud snorting coming from the enraged orangutan running as quickly over the cable as his hairy arms and legs would take him.

I grabbed onto the treehouse and began a mad scramble for the metal food dish.  That’s when I swore I heard the little ape let out an evil laugh.  He had purposefully moved his food dish to a little crook in the tree and was closing in fast.  He was almost close enough for me to see some mango dripping of the left side of his face.

Panicking, I tried to reposition myself in order to grab the dish.  To do so, I had to slide my waist out of my perfectly aligned center of gravity position inside the deflated rubber tire and wiggle out to where my thighs were holding me in place. My outstretched fingers were just beginning to close around the metal food dish when the evil monkey leapt off the cable and disappeared in a nose dive.  I temporarily lost sight of him, but I could hear his Tarzan like yell as the pulley wheel whizzed and he thumped his little chest.

Then, to my horror, the gorilla suddenly came swinging up holding onto his Tarzan-like chain and then let go in a perfectly timed move the Flying Wallenda’s would have applauded.  The flying furry fanged beast was hurling straight at my face which caused me to not only let out a bloodcurdling scream, but also let go of my grip on the treehouse.

I remember thinking how much faster I was going down than going up. That’s also when I remembered I had wiggled out of my perfectly aligned center of balance position in the inner-tube.  As the rope swing pulled me away from the crazed gorilla, it also released me to fight gravity all by myself.  Fortunately, I landed on a rather large and rotten mango which sufficiently softened my fall so I only broke the two bones in my left forearm.

Later, as the emergency room doctor was putting a cast on my broken arm and pulling mango out of my hair, he asked if I could once again tell the story of how my monkey broke my arm. But this time, he asked if he could invite a few of his fellow staff members to listen.   Apparently, I was his first patient to have his arm broken by a little two-and-a-half pound monkey.

My arm healed and I stopped throwing mangos at Reepicheep and over time, we made up.  He bit me a few times after that, but never again broke any of my other bones. Thankfully our rope swing remained, but we were no longer allowed to use it to “speed feed” the monkey. Even so, Reepicheep and I never fully trusted each other again.  He, for one, lost his appetite for mangoes, and I lost my desire to be an Acapulco cliff diver.  Perhaps it was all for the better.

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