Putting Down Roots

With the help of an atlas and my daughter, I recently counted up the number of addresses I’ve had in my life. Nineteen in six states plus the District of Columbia (“Taxation without Representation”). Whew!

No, I am not a military brat. Nor am I in the witness protection program or a fugitive from justice (as far as you know). My parents simply followed God’s leading career-wise, and I did some moving myself as I got older. The nomad way was just a fact of life, and I liked it. U-Haul meant adventure!

Over the years I’ve asked many people what their lives have been like, whether they’ve been nomads or deep-rooters, and how they viewed that experience. Not surprisingly, there are far more deep-rooters than nomads. Also not surprisingly, many have the “grass is greener on the other side” mentality. Typically it’s the deep-rooters who believe that they’ve missed out because they’ve lived in the same place all their lives, particularly if that place is a rural area or small town.

The upsides of nomadism are many:
1) You learn about all sorts of people and places and end up with a much bigger view of the world. 2) You often end up without an accent, because the various influences kind of cancel each other out. OK, a limited benefit but much sought after in broadcasting. 3) You become expert at moving; it’s like Tetris in 3-D! 4) You get to re-make yourself every few years. Whatever knuckleheaded, embarrassing things you did at the last place get wiped clean. Of course, you always end up turning into the same person, but it’s fun to experiment. 5) You learn how to adapt, navigate new schools, neighborhoods and churches, and fight (more on that in a moment).

Several downsides include:
1) The loss of memories. Simply living in one place a long time allows your memories to be etched more deeply and reinforced over the years. Nomads miss out on this. 2) You start to view all relationships, except those with family, as terminal. You make the most of them while they last, but you just assume that they won’t be around in a couple years. 3) The new kid always gets beat up. But you eventually become good at fighting (hopefully), so it’s really a mixed bag. 4) No two school districts are ever on the same schedule. That must be why I never had to memorize the presidents or the state capitals. Hmm…maybe that’s a good thing.

That said, I get restless. Every two or three years, I get the itch to pull the Winnebago off the blocks and hit the highway (figuratively speaking…we are not RV owners). But I’d like to put down some roots. I have no complaints about God’s plan for my life, but I’d like to see what rooted-ness is all about. Now, God may pull us up and move us to Colorado. If so, I won’t fuss a bit and my wife and kids will start learning a different way of life. But, I sense that God has us here in Chicago for awhile and I’m finally OK with that. Sure, there are days when I get fed up with city life and am tempted to become “part of the problem” rather than “part of the solution,” but this dirty, corrupt, congested town has grown on me. So you’re just going to have to put up with me. I just hope I don’t get the accent.


Bottom of the Barrel

[If you subscribe to this blog, you may have received an unedited version of this a few weeks back and wondered why it disappeared from the blog. Well, it appears here again, cleaned up a bit for public consumption.]

It’s all down there -
the sludge, s***,
blood, spit.
of a
k en
Broken bottles.
the children!)

Trust lies torn
in beer-soaked porn.
Dreams spent like
Pampers money on
losing lotto.
But we keep it hidden
in the back alley.
No one sees.
And no one
smells its fetid stench.
Keep the lid on
and no one
will ever be the wiser.
Except . . .
except for the
Garbage Man.
He knows.


Back in the Habit

After a too-long hiatus, I recently purchased new running shoes (Brooks Adrenaline GTS7s--for fit not style) and committed to getting back in the running habit. I've had three good runs this week and had only minor pain which I was able to push through. Pretty exciting!

There was a time many moons ago when I'd get antsy if I couldn't run for a day or two. I hope to get back to that place. To that end and to you, faithful and sporadic reader both, I give permission to hold me accountable. If you run into me and think of it, ask me when I ran last. Truly.


In Memoriam: Ralph J. Coleson

My grandpa was 96 years old when he died. He and my grandma had been married for 68 of those years. These two stats alone are extraordinary, and I could almost leave it at that. But I won’t. (You know me too well).

“Four large peanut butter milkshakes, please. No, it’s not a joke,” I said to the young girl at the local DQ the evening before my grandpa’s funeral, after his visitation. It was liquid nostalgia.

It is usual for those left behind to speak well of the dead. It’s our nature to put the best face on the departed, almost in a superstitious way—as though somehow we’ll ensure that people speak well of us when we’re gone if we do the same for others. My grandpa was one of those rare people for whom no exaggeration is needed. The truth, in fact, may well sound like exaggeration to those who didn’t know him. My grandpas and my dad all share this trait.

“I am Nathan, son of Richard, son of Ralph.”

My grandpa never asked my grandma to marry him. He asked her if she’d go to Africa with him. That was what his devotion to God looked like. He knew he liked Olive, but he was called to foreign missions and if she wasn’t as well, then she wasn’t the one for him. They ended up serving in India first, then in Sierra Leone. Because of an injury and complications, they weren’t able to stay on the mission field as they intended. But, as my dad tells it, he never really skipped a beat. He knew God was in control and just continued to follow Him. Wherever they lived was their mission field. Stories of people being touched by God through his life were heard up until the end. He never retired into leisure as many do. His was not a wasted life.

The old porch swing was the favorite spot at grandpa and grandma’s. We would swing and laugh and swing and sing… During the warmer months there were dozens and dozens of potted plants and flowers all along the front porch, along the path of the swing. In the gravel drive there was, for many years, a simple Ford Fairmount. The only thing flashy at all about it was that it was red. On the dash was a big compass, very much like the one I have on my dash now. Early GPS.

From the tribute I read at the funeral, part of a book my dad is writing:

It was in Sierra Leone that my Father’s protector role shown brightest in my memory. We lived on a mission compound—with three missionary homes, a medical dispensary, a print shop, and a school—at the edge of a village named Gbendembu. Behind our bungalow lay the West African jungle, filled with leopards, scorpions, and deadly snakes that slithered into human habitations. In our kerosene refrigerator there was a bottle of anti-venom with a syringe for Dad to use if we were bitten. That prospect was about as frightening as a snakebite. My sister, Dorothy, was bitten by a cobra, but she was fortunate to be at the mission station with a hospital. So she got seven doctor-dispensed shots and did not die of the venom as a local child had a week before. Often someone would come running to our home to ask Dad to come slay a deadly serpent (a service he had also provided while serving in India, where I was born, for five years). Once Dad killed a pair of highly-poisonous mambas, a green and a black, that together measured thirteen feet long. He shot them in a tree that I sometimes climbed, in our own front yard where grass was cut low by machete to discourage snakes from coming there. Another time he shot up a nest of so many writhing black snakes in the fork of a tree that they were hard to count. That time he let me help.

There where jungle met civilization, my Father fulfilled the archetypal knightly role, battling both the physical serpent and what the book of Revelation calls the “great dragon [who] was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray." (Revelation 12:9 NIV)

So many memories. Such an amazing life. He was a humble man of modest means in this life...and never complained about it. He waited a long time for his glorious reward. I am grateful to know that, though we ache from the severing, we are assured of his joy and his peace and can hope towards joining him again one day.

I want to close with special thanks, both to those who’ve blessed our family with kind words and deeds and to those who’ve extended grace to me personally. It is times like this when I am reminded not only of the blessed and unusual heritage I have but also of my wonderful friends and family. Your prayers, encouragement and acts of love are greatly appreciated.