Posts Tagged ‘family

05
Nov
19

My Tribe

DNA research“Where are you from?”

It used to be such a simple question… with an equally simple answer. People asked it as a way of understanding a little bit more about what made you tick.

I used to envy people who were from “someplace else.” They seemed strangely exotic and mysterious… even if the “someplace else” was no more than two towns away.

My response was usually to hang my head and mumble, “I’m from right here” if anyone even bothered to ask.

These days, however, simple answers to the origin question just don’t stand up. We hunger for deeper, more archival, more historically researched answers to what used to be a pretty simple question.

We want to know who our people are and what traits we have in common with them… all as a way of peering more deeply into our own souls, I suspect.

In response to our yearning, companies like Ancestry.comand “23 and me” have sprung up. Their sole purpose in life is peeling back layer after layer of the genealogical onion to help us discover our REAL origin stories. With enough time and carefully harvested saliva, they can tell us about roots going back six or seven generations.

I have not yet jumped onto the ancestry bandwagon myself, but I know people who have. They describe moments of tremendous excitement as names and snippets of personal histories of long-lost ancestors come floating into view from deep beneath the mists of time.

I imagine there is a lot of insight to be gleaned from this kind of exploration. But honestly, I am not sure how finding out I had a great-great grandfather who either, A.) Captained a slave ship, or B.) Built the first school in the western U.S. (neither of which are true, incidentally) would alter my approach to living or making decisions.

That kind of information might make me a more scintillating conversationalist next time I find myself stuck in an elevator with eight strangers. But honestly, beyond that, I really can’t figure out how it does much to alter the landscape of my life.

The Bible tells the story of the Israelites and the various stages of their quest for identity… going from their exalted status as “God’s Chosen Ones” to the shame of exiled personas non gratis in Babylon.

It was a painful passage, but as Paul reminded them centuries later, their identity was restored and their origin renewed by the merciful hand of God’s abiding grace: “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’there they shall be called children of the living God.”(Romans 9:25-26, NRSV).

I’m not really sure what my DNA test would show if I sent it in. But I am pretty darned certain that if you sent your spit in to be analyzed, the results would come back telling you that you are, “100% that child of the living God.”

01
Aug
19

Ash-A-Palooza 2019

“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Matthew 19:30, NRSV

Sibling hugI consider myself a committed, albeit deeply flawed, follower of Jesus Christ. I try to live my life by his example, in spite of failing and coming up short time after time after time.

Nevertheless, I keep trying.

I also take Jesus at his word, as captured in the canon of the New Testament… even when I don’t understand exactly what he is trying to say. Take for example the story in Matthew 17 where Jesus and Peter are talking about the folks who collect the so-called “Temple tax.” After asking Peter from whom the “kings of the earth” receive their tribute, Jesus says this to him: “…go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”(Matthew 17:27, NRSV).

Huh?

Whatever he meant there, I am going to assume that it is true, deep, and wise.

I just don’t happen to get it.

I also take him at his word in the Matthew 19 passage quoted at the top of this page about the “firsts” and the “lasts.” Even so, I have to admit that in my multiple years of life on this planet, I have rarely seen examples of the truth of this statement in action.

What I mean is; those who are “first” in life seem to remain stubbornly at the front of the line while the folks at the back – whether socially, economically, or politically – often seem to be permanently welded to those rearward positions.

And so I consider it nothing short of a praise-the-Lord-Hallelujah style miracle to be able to tell you that I saw the truth of this Matthew 19:30 passage acted out right in front of me this past week.

Allow me to explain: growing up, the very LAST people I wanted to be associated with were my siblings. I considered them to be the most annoying, troublesome, frustrating, clumsy, idiotic, and just plain UNCOOL human beings on the face of the earth.

EVERY ONE OF THEM!

You see, I am the oldest of the five offspring of George and Lyn Brown. We stair-step down from me, just about every 1 ½ to two years to Melinda, Douglas, Alan, all the way down to the baby, Eric.

(The baby, incidentally, celebrated his 60thbirthday earlier this year.)

My parents were continually admonishing me about my duty to “be an example to your younger brothers and sister,” throughout my life and I frankly resented them for it.  I could not wait to graduate from high school and finally get out of the oppressive, sibling-infested environment of our house.

But my… how several decades of time and multiple life-shaping experiences can change things.

Today those annoying pests who once occupied the lowest rungs on my Personal Preference Ladder have leap-frogged themselves all the way to the top… just a couple of rungs down from my Savior and my lovely wife.

We began growing closer when my mother died of lymphoma in 1970. Through marriages, divorces, illnesses, victories, defeats, children, and grandchildren, we have been steadily closing the gap every year.

But what really cemented them into their permanent, favored place in my heart was our recently-concluded sojourn, somewhat whimsically titled, “Ash-A-Palooza 2019: Brown People Go Back Where They Came From.”

This was a trip that covered seven days, 2,000 miles, 300 songs, hundreds of laughs, and lots of tears.

It was the fulfillment of a request from our father to have his cremated ashes spread to five different locations around the U.S. Each location he chose held special significance to him and to our family.

Last summer we sprinkled some of his ashes onto the flank of Mt. Rainer in Washington State and into the Pacific Ocean. This year’s leg of the trip took us to St. Louis (his birthplace), Columbus, Ohio (the birthplace of each of the kids), and the shores of Lake Michigan, at the summer camp where he and my mother met in the summer of 1947.

This trip generated too many stories to tell in one short blog post, so I won’t even try. Needless to say, it reconnected us to one another in special and spiritual ways. It reconnected us with people and places in our history.

But most of all, it reconnected me – and I am sure all of us – to the beauty and wonder that is this strange thing we call FAMILY.

The last have indeed become the first…

… even if they are still a bunch of knuckleheads.

16
Jul
19

Picnic Power

Picnic picYes, “hot weather,” “swimming pools,” “no school,” “sunscreen,” and “baseball” are all worthy candidates, but I’m afraid none of them say SUMMER quite as well or convincingly as the word “picnic.”

We went with some friends recently to see a Theater in the Park production of Meredith Wilson’s Music Man and decided to pack along a picnic dinner.

I was certainly prepared to dig in and enjoy the delicious fried chicken Joan made, with a little Waldorf salad on the side. What I WASN’T prepared for was the wave of nostalgia that was also served up.

Apparently, it has been a long time since I have picnicked. (And no, I don’t think brats and a beer at the baseball game really count.)

It reminded me of the days when my mother used to pack up a big cooler full of food for she and dad and us five kids and we would drive to a favorite spot down by the Scioto River outside of Columbus, Ohio.

It was kind of magical to watch her open the cooler and reach in to distribute the waxed paper-wrapped sandwiches to each of us.

With five kids there was no tailoring of the meat or condiments, you understand. Everyone got the same thing, smeared with the same yellow, red, or white goo. And when my brother Douglas complained about what was on his sandwich (as he inevitably did), we got to hear the well-worn refrain, “Well, Douglas, you are free to either scrape it off or go hungry. It’s up to you,” spoken by either mom or dad.

It was always kind of an adventure to find just the right table… the one with a little bit of shade, located close enough to the recreation area and not too far from the public restrooms.

We had some good, basic picnic gear; the cooler for the food, a large plastic tablecloth to spread out, paper plates, but our own set of plastic cups from home, a large drink dispenser, and disposable plastic cutlery.

I seem to remember picnics as always being messier affairs than a family meal around the dining room table. Out there at the picnic site, you felt free to wipe your mouth on the back of your hand (even if you did have a napkin), drop food on the ground, or even burp. Because hey! You were eating OUTDOORS! None of the standard indoor eating rules applied!

And often at our picnics – especially those that fell on a big national holiday such as Memorial Day or the Fourth of July – the event was not complete without some spirited Frisbee tossing and the appearance of the hand-crank ice cream freezer.

There is no doubt in my mind at all; picnics made our family closer. They were a kind of approachable adventure in which everyone played a part. They exposed us to The Great Outdoors, they nudged us to play and laugh together.

Picnics regularly gave us the chance to do a little impromptu problem-solving… such as when someone fell and hurt themselves, or when a sudden summer storm appeared, or when SOMEBODY forgot to pack plates.

Next week my siblings and I will be convening for a somewhat solemn purpose. We will be getting together and visiting the eastern half of the five locations my dad requested for the scattering of his ashes.

While I am not entirely sure I would recommend this practice for all families, I think this is going to be healing and cathartic for us. And of course, one of the locations is going to be there outside of Columbus, Ohio down by the river… right next to one of the places the family used to go for picnics.

Mom died in 1970 and dad in 2017, so it will just be the five sibs and my wife Joan on this particular “picnic.” But I have no doubt whatsoever that it will be warm and wonderful and will draw our circle in more tightly.

And as we pray and tear up a little, and remember, and scatter, and celebrate, we will also probably have a sandwich and glass of Kool-Aid and remember the power of the picnic.

01
Jul
19

Graduation Day

Olivia graduatingAh, graduation.

I remember it… vaguely.

But as luck and family circumstance would have it, I had a chance to relive that magic moment a couple of weeks ago. My wife and I were privileged to travel to Corvallis, Oregon to see my niece, Olivia, graduate from Oregon State University.

GO BEAVERS!

It reminded me of how awesome it felt to be able to look at that long list of “To Do’s” and put the word DONE beside them.

Final papers? DONE!

Final exams? DONE!

Final classes? DONE!

Final projects? DONE!

Final cleaning and walk-through of your off-campus apartment? DONE!

Final tearful gathering with college friends? DONE!

Those first few days after walking onstage to receive one’s hallowed sheepskin is a good time to breathe deeply and bask in the warm afterglow of accomplishment.

And so, in that magic moment with her mom, and dad, and sister, I didn’t have the heart to burst Olivia’s bubble and tell her about the NEXT project waiting for her around the corner… the one called “GETTING LIFE DONE.”

It would have seriously rained on her parade to tell her just how slippery and elusive this project will be. I mean, I’ve been working on it for 67 ½ years now, and am just beginning to feel like I understand the “deliverables.”

I mean, what kind of sadistic uncle would show up and tell the new graduate about all the funky twists and turns, the outrages, the injustices, the dense fog, or the surprising GRACE she will bump into on her way to completing this next assignment?

Without a doubt, this is going to be the most challenging project she has ever faced. Fortunately for her though, there is help.

For starters, Olivia has a couple of wise, loving parents to turn to. I know they will devote every ounce of their energy and imagination to helping her navigate the path ahead.

And like any good dad, I know that if my brother doesn’t know the answer to her question right away, he’ll just make something up.

It’s what guys do.

There is also the extended family of goofballs, clowns, and scalawags to provide comic relief, if not actual assistance.

Olivia also has a wise-beyond-her-years younger sister who loves her fiercely she can lean on anytime she needs to.

And because she has actively built a strong network of friends over the years, Olivia will have all of those folks behind her, too… ready to step up and do whatever is needed, whenever it is needed.

I don’t think anyone would argue that getting life done is truly one of the most challenging assignments any of us will ever face. Having family and friends to mentor us along the way is incredibly helpful.

But I hope none of us who needs it ever hesitates to reach out our hand for the biggest, most capable, most dependable, and wisest resource around; Jesus.

True, his original words, recorded in Matthew 11:28-30, were NOT addressed to a 21stcentury, tech, and social-media saturated world. But when he looked out at his audience of first-century peasants and said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” I can’t help but imagine he saw you and me there in the crowd, too.

So congratulations on your amazing achievement, Olivia. Graduating from college is a HUGE accomplishment for which you and your mom and dad should be enormously proud.

Blessings to you as you face the road ahead.

Please know that you have all kinds of help available when and if you need it…

 

… including a zany uncle and a savior.

06
Feb
19

MINE!

Eating an appleI hoped my wince went unnoticed.

But then I realized I was dealing with one of the most perceptive, most eagle-eyed people God ever created; my wife Joan. And so of course… she saw the wince as soon as it happened.

And in that same moment, I came face-to-face with a persistent, uncomfortable truth about myself.

Namely that I don’t share well. At all.

Hers was a perfectly reasonable request. I was sitting there at the table with Joan, eating and enjoying a luscious, ripe apple.

She then calmly reached out her hand and said, “Let me have a bite.”

And I winced.

I winced because my first gut response to my wife’s request was, “NO! I don’t want to give you a bite of my apple! I have every one of these bites mapped out in my mind and I intend to enjoy every single one of them!”

What a schmoe! I mean, who doesn’t give their spouse – or even an unrelated total stranger for that matter – a small morsel of food if they ask for it?

Which compels me to confess: sharing has been a problem for me for a long time… especially when it comes to sharing food. Sometimes I think I must sound like those seagulls in the movie Finding Nemo continually screaming, “MINE! MINE! MINE!”

And when my sweet wife asks me why I am so singularly bad at this simple human practice, my stock answer is, “Because I was the oldest of five kids! I had to fight tooth and nail for every mouthful at the family dinner table. It was HELL, I tell you!”

But that’s not completely true. Yes, I was the oldest of five kids growing up. Yes, times were tight now and then. But no, none of us were ever as deprived as I sometimes like to portray.

My stinginess bothers me. And yet, it persists.

It also causes me to wonder: is sharing anything like athletic ability… that is, something you’re either born with or not?

Somehow that doesn’t seem right. Surely sharing can be learned, can’t it?

Maybe my problem is that I attach too much importance to the item in question. Maybe – in my feverish and slightly out-of-kilter mind – I imagine that this apple, or this piece of key lime pie, or this book, or this Coca-Cola, or this $20 bill, is the key to my ultimate well being in the world and that letting go of even a small portion of it will do irreparable harm to my soul.

Whatever the case, I am sure my behavior in the matter of sharing is the exact opposite of Christ-like. Because when Jesus sat down and told the people there on the side of the hill, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ … indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things…”(Matt. 6:31-32, NRSV), I’m pretty sure he was talking to me, too.

Actually, he is even a little more direct in Luke’s gospel: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.”(Luke 3:11, NRSV).

Busted!

I really don’t have a good answer for the origins of this personality flaw of mine, but maybe “where it came from” isn’t really the important issue here.

Maybe I just need to ask for your prayerful intervention as I simultaneously implore the Holy Spirit to do a little transformational work on me from the inside.

But I am curious…

  • Do you share well?

  • Have you always been a good “share-er”, or did you learn it later in life?

  • What helped you become better at sharing?
13
Dec
18

Christmas Present

It is one of the hardest questions I ever have to answer at this time of year. I puzzle over it for hours and still really don’t ever come up with a good answer.

Christmas listThe question in question is, “So, Russell… what do you want for Christmas?”

My wife asks me… my kids and stepkids and their spouses all ask me… beginning usually before Thanksgiving.

And yet somehow every year I continue to respond with a big, blank look and a sentence like, “Ummm… let me think about that and get back to you.”

And then I never do.

There could be a couple of reasons I might struggle so much with this question. It could be that my Christmas wishes include too many things that are huge and expensive and beyond anyone’s gift-giving budget.

For example, I would LOVE to attend the Kansas City Royals Alumni Fantasy Camp in Arizona some year. The price tag, however, for the five-day trip is a mere $4,000. Not including transportation.

I also don’t think it would be right to tell my son I’d like a 12-string guitar for Christmas… Or that the model I would really love to receive is the Taylor 956 CE, priced at an entirely reasonable $5,399.

That’s just not the kind of thing a loving father does.

Clothes are always a good gift to give me… mainly because I never buy them for myself. But if you start asking questions like, WHAT KIND of clothing, I freeze up and begin to stammer and stutter. The most detailed guidance you will get from me will be something like, “Uh… something nice?”

But there might also be a positive reason I have a hard time with this question. It might be that I feel so grateful and blessed with what I already have in life that I can’t think of a single thing that I want or need.

I may also have learned the lesson that adding more “stuff” to one’s life does not increase anyone’s level of happiness. I might have learned that additional “stuff” usually only increases the recipient’s hunger for more and more “stuff.”

And yet… the Christian faith tells me “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NRSV) Consequently, if I can’t come up with any concrete gift ideas for myself, maybe I am thwarting my family’s opportunity to be blessed through their giving!

Of course, I am kidding. No matter what our net worth is or how much we have in our bank account, we have God has enriched us each more than we can possibly imagine.

Today I count you as one of my richest blessings and look forward to celebrating the miracle of LOVE INCARNATE with you throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

 

Abundant blessings;

25
Nov
18

Be My Guest

Catering staffHaving family visit for Thanksgiving – or any occasion, really – is a real treat.

Especially when those family members live far away and you don’t get to see them very often.

Electronic communication – as convenient as it is – is no substitute for seeing people in the flesh, up close and personal.

But I have to admit… the only thing better than having dear loved ones around the table – sharing stories, telling jokes, eating turkey, and watching movies – is waving goodbye to them as they leave.

Because let’s face it, houseguests screw up the whole routine.

I mean, look; they don’t get up in the morning when we do.

They like different kinds of activities.

They don’t watch the same TV shows.

When they try to help cook, they don’t know where the nutmeg is kept. (Or the coriander. Or the oregano. Or the spatulas.)

When they try to help unload the dishwasher – as sweet and helpful a gesture as that is – they invariably put things in all the wrong places.

Lord knows they can’t help it, but even the most lovely, loveable houseguests force hosts to ADJUST!

Heaven forbid!

Wow! Am I really that old? Am I really that cranky? Am I really that set in my ways that I would allow the petty inconvenience of having to relocate the coffee cups completely overshadow the joy of a family get-together?

Jeez… I sure hope not.

Over and over again the Bible commands us to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2, Luke 14:7, Romans 12:13, Exodus 22:21, etc.).And so if the command is to show hospitality to people you don’t even KNOW, how much more necessary is it – do you suppose – to show hospitality to people you are actually related to?

Being resentful – or even slow – to make a few small, necessary adjustments for the sake of my guests’ comfort shows I care more about my routines more than I do about them.

And when you come to think about it, isn’t HOSPITALITY really one of the big, underlying themes of the Christmas season?

Every chapter of the story seems to ask a different kind of hospitality question; who will make room for the Christ child in her womb? Who will make room for the young travelers in their inn? Who will welcome the newborn Savior into the world?

None of us here in 2018 had to answer any of the questions those folks did. But there is one question we might all take a moment and ponder: Who here today will make room for the infant Messiah in their heart?

 

*Special blog postscript: As if sensing my need to enlarge my hospitality skills, God has dumped a massive blizzard on our home here today, canceling all flights out and giving us TWO MORE DAYS with our out-of-town loved ones!




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