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December 2015

Dear Family and Friends,

If you’ve ever walked through a cemetery and read tombstones, you can see lives summarized in a few brief words: devoted husband, loving father. Joey’s Dad died this year. His life influenced many. His death made us retell his story.

Ernest Hemmingway was challenged to write a six word story. He wrote: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

What would be your story? I asked the boys, “What would their story be for this year?” I couldn’t condense it into a six word story for each one, but here it is…

Jonathan’s story could be summarized as ‘dirt with style.’ He pursued college skeptically. One semester was enough to find that baseball wasn’t available, and school wasn’t for him. He moved dirt, laid cement, and saved money to pursue what he loved.

He was more of a ‘presence’ in our home than actually there: he claimed his bed and room, but we didn’t see him much.

When describing how he could steer his truck without his hands, I said, “I probably don’t need to know…” Jonas completed the sentence, “…all the stupid things that you’ve done.”

Jonathan applied his new word, with a shake of his head, “Mom, you’re a pessimist.” (Someone must keep all these dreamers from floating away.)

Jonathan commented about my ‘style’ with another of those shaking head motions. He invited me to go shopping with him. Josiah said, “Jonathan’s the daughter that Mom never had.” We did shop, preparing him for school in heavy equipment and crane operating in Wisconsin. When he left, he took everything as if he wasn’t coming home. Jonathan said, “Having Jonas as his companion was like riding with a dog.” (Jonas doesn’t talk unless he has something to say.)

Jonathan loves the dirt and freedom. He found a roommate that cooks, and a Christian that encourages him.

He works at WalGreen’s. Two girls went through his check-out, asking him to settle their dispute. One bought M&M’s. The other bet she couldn’t wait to eat them until the next day. Jonathan asked, “Are you stressed?” After her nod, he said, “If you’re like my mom, those will be gone before you get home.” (Does anyone have any M&M’s?)

After receiving his CDL license and crane operator training, Jonathan plans to work in Alaska. Details aren’t his specialty, but ‘winging with style’ is… His story continues to be one of adventure and hard experience. He can take it. He’ll do well.

James…his story begins and ends with ‘chickens with an attitude.’ He takes any space allowed for his chickens. At one time he had over fifty. He always asks to start a new brood, but ‘forgets’ to keep them out of the garden. James is compliant with me, in a stubborn sort of way.

He added ducks, goats and sheep. He’s behind the scenes doing the chores. Don’t let his servant’s attitude fool you though, he won’t be told what to do. The bantering with Jonas over ‘who will do what’ starts early every day. James stands his ground, with a uniqueness that makes me laugh. When Jonas told James that his dog didn’t like little kids, James said, “He didn’t bite me. His teeth just landed on my wrist.”

James continues to borrow mother hamsters that birth broods. He raises them to return them to their owner. It’s debatable who sheds more boxes and paper: James or his hamsters. When he saved his hamster from the jaws of his cat, we thought it would make it. It didn’t. Jonas told him, “That’s what you get when you have a pet that eats your other pet.” Is it any wonder that James is growing a teenage attitude?

James is diligent even in the ‘disliked’ school. When he asked Jonas for help with math, Jonas said, “I’m not Mom who wants to do math for the rest of her life.” James doesn’t care if he finds ‘x’. In fact, it could stay lost as far as he’s concerned. As for ‘y,’ he doesn’t care to give a reason, but it can stay with ‘x,’ wherever that is.

James’s story continues as he does the daily things, yet prepares for tomorrow. I can’t stay ahead of him in his planning, but I must try or I’ll see nothing but chickens covering my feet and hair. He searches for truth in the Word and finds ways to keep busy. His story will be of dependence and steadfastness, with a flair for the unknown and a touch of that attitude.

Josh, although not quite the baby of the family is still there at the bottom of the listing. His story could be titled, “The Uncivilized Life.” His story begins with the hunter safety course. Although most of us took it together, he was the one who lived for its completion. Josh worked to rid our property of pests. He slathered a toilet paper roll with peanut butter and nuts to bait squirrels where he couldn’t shoot. He caught two drooling dogs.

When he hunted with a friend, Joey had forgotten to remind him to ‘be calm and not chatter.’ All of us said at once, “We already told him.”

One afternoon, Josh and Michael caught grasshoppers with rubber bands. Josh stored them in his pocket until he gave them to the chickens. He invited me to join them. I declined.

Josh called a friend to ask if he could help sight their guns. The man was still wondering who talked to him, when Josh arrived at his door. He suggested that Josh let him know who he was before he hung up.

On another hunting trip, Jacob helped Josh lighten his backpack. He carried the heavier items. Josh’s pack weighed 35 lbs. (he weighs 72 lbs.) I could feel Jacob’s concern for Josh’s upcoming pain as they hiked up 10,000 feet elevation. They left with friends and prayer. The stories they tell: Everyone looked quietly for deer. Josh screams, “Look!” He pointed to a mouse. They advised him that they wanted to hunt deer, not mice. When they returned, his stories continued. There’s a certain uncivilized understanding when a boy goes camping.

Josh and I shooed a gopher snake from James’s baby chicken area. It kept returning. After I flung it with the shovel, it wrapped around the fence, then slithered away. [There’s also something uncivilized about snakes in our chicken coop. We also had a rattlesnake aggressively strike at us, after our dogs riled it up.]

Josh loves baseball. This year Joey wasn’t on the board and I wasn’t doing snack bar, so we enjoyed the games.

Josh is responsible but not always willing. When he was told to bring wood, he didn’t respond happily. I suggested, “I’d be delighted to Mother.”
He asked, “What if I’m not?”
“I’ll work at being delighted to serve you in any way that I can.”
He brought the firewood. I didn’t check on his happiness.

Sometimes being younger doesn’t have advantages. Jonas noticed that Josh didn’t have eyebrows. Josh said that he did, because he could ‘feel them.’ Jacob commented, ‘feeling doesn’t count.’ Another time, Jonas told Josh, “I don’t want to hear about your tan until your tan is as dark as my white.”

Josh asked what I wanted for my birthday. I said, “A day without fighting.” Long Pause. “Couldn’t I just buy you chocolate? That would be easier.”

Josh’s personality is one of stick-to-it-doggedness. Is it because others pick on him that he must defend himself, or is it because he must defend himself that he is picked on? His story continues to be told. I work to make his life civilized, at least at dinner, but I watch what God will do with his persistence and his love for the untamed world.

Joey John’s story, although not living at home, is close to our hearts. It’s one of beginnings… After their cancelled flight and spending the night in the LA airport, Rachel, Emma and Joey John came in February. We waited in line for Emma’s attention. James won most of the time. Emma left mooing, neighing, barking, and clucking.

We caught a glimpse of them at Papa’s funeral (Joey’s Dad).

Graduating from Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), Joey John celebrated with us in WI, IL and IN. School was a long haul…but now in the past. He said, “In the evenings, it still feels like some project is due.”

While with my family, Rachel, Joey John and Jonas tiled my mom’s kitchen floor and sold her car. She now lives in an apartment with no yard and house maintenance. (She can enjoy her time. I hope!)

Joey John began working for Marine Travelift in WI. They design and manufacture devices that remove ships from water and into storage garages.

 Rachel supports him as they raise their growing family. Their second daughter is expected in March, another story to be told.

Emma brings laughter as we look through her two year old eyes at the world. When her Oreo cookie crumbled, she wanted a new one. Joey John told her, “Finish your first one.” She hid the crumbled one in the bathroom, returned to their bedroom, closing both doors, and asked for another one. We laughed at how she thought she could hide it from her parents. (So much like us, with God…) When Joey John told her to put the nail clippers away, she ran and threw them in the toilet. Is this deja’ vu?

God’s not finished writing Joey John’s story. He’s just beginning, but I shouldn’t intrude on their lives to much... I must leave him for Jacob.

Jacob’s story can be summed in two words—permit and license. He’s learning when he’s nice to me, he gets the keys. Driving to Indy gave practice, but every time he took the wheel, something bizarre happened: he had to fight to stay on the road because the wind was bad, or road construction between a narrow drop-off and a rock wall in a dark, windy mountain.

The weekend after our truck was totaled in an accident, Jacob tested for his license. That wasn’t my timing…

Jacob was heard instructing Michael, “You’re eight years old, Mom tells you what to do, you don’t tell her what to do.”

Jonas followed with, “Jacob, you’re 15 years old, Mom tells you what to do, you don’t tell her what to do.”

Jacob responded, “No, I tell Mom what I want to do, so she knows what I’m going to do.”

Jacob instructed friends on the ‘proper’ way to say menudo (a Mexican soup). “There’s a white way and a right way.”

I retold of a tire clerk who asked my last name, then said, “But you’re white.”

I told the man, “When you marry a Mexican man, you get a Mexican name.”

Jacob exclaimed later, “How rude of him!”

Jacob started a tree-trimming business. (With this drought, many trees have died, not to mention our pond being dry for the third year in a row.) He cut, split and stacked sixteen trees for one customer. He thrives with the challenge and loves to tell about it.

He was asked to house sit. We all informed him that the house should look better afterward. His observational skills don’t notice milk spills, dropped wrappers… His license gave freedom from parental restraint. Look at him smile.

When Jonas planned to return from WI with his truck, we wanted Jacob to accompany him. Jacob flew by himself through LAX and Chicago…His smile continues.

The boys were paid for the wrong goat at the auction. They said that the girls were distracted. Jonas said, “I can’t help that I’m good looking.” I asked for details. Jacob said, “Ask Dad about dealing with red heads, he’d know.” (What does that mean?)

Jacob recounted how a friend killed his mother’s plants, while she was away because he didn’t water them enough. “She can’t expect a man’s body to do the work of a woman.”

After Joey John fixed my pdf file on my computer, he text me to let me know. Jacob answered, “Thanks so much, my charming, handsome son.”

Joey John responded, “Sure, Jacob.”

Jacob sighed. “I shouldn’t be so predictable.”

Jacob thought that I exaggerated about stupid people. Now that he works away from home, he knows that I wasn’t stretching the truth. Now he has his own stories.

Two nights before hunting, Jacob broke his toe. He tried to convince me that it felt fine in his hiking shoe. His highlight of the hunt wasn’t the can of menudo that he ate at the top, nor the bear that he tracked to its den but missed, but the buck that he shot, skinned, and brought home. Jacob didn’t lose his compassion in the frenzy of the hunt, but asked if Josh needed help carrying his backpack. The brotherly bond was cemented, although he still reminds Josh of the can of menudo that he lugged for both of them to the top of the hill.

Jacob’s story is one of people and dreams. I have trouble relating—I need tasks and reality. Although he did get his permit and his license and now has a mission to get his own wheels. His compassion for others helps give him a generosity that thinks of others as he provides for their needs. His story will deepen as he roots them firmly in what is right.

Michael’s story…one of learning and relearning.

James gave Michael a hamster for Christmas. For the next three weeks, we reminded him that he couldn’t drop it. When it died, and he had sufficiently cried (10 minutes), he expected another one. He was surprised, when I said, “No.” His requests for other pets were denied, until we consented to a fish. After it died, (a 2 day life-span), we replaced it with another that has managed to live a few months. James has christened it “Sushi,” although not acceptable to Michael. Michael informed me that his fish “didn’t like soggy, wet food.”

Jacob explained an answer to Michael. When asked if he understood, Michael said, “I don’t even know the question, why should I care about the answer?”

Michael told me to stay in bed two minutes longer, so he could make me breakfast. Joey asked, “Are you going to make her a one-minute egg?”

Michael informed us, “I look more genius than I am.” When asked what a genius was, he said, “Someone who’s creative and makes things.” Dealing with geniuses requires patience.

He improved in baseball. We enjoyed watching him.

He overheard me explain another delay with his adoption. His mom wasn’t sure about being “Indian.” He told his brothers as a status symbol, “I’m Indian.” Jonas, wouldn’t allow too much pride to grow, “You’re also part dog.” He plays that he’s a dog—a lot.

The adoption process continues over a year…the lawyer has never seen so many difficulties in completing the process. I must learn to call him Jeremiah, his new name when adoption is complete. His new name brings a sense of belonging for him. He’ll have a “J” name and be one of the boys.

Jeremiah’s story is just beginning, he‘s like the prophet, who sees other’s needs and wants to help. Remembering to do it the right way will always be his struggle. His story continues.

Jonas’s story is one of business and ranching. He furthers his experience as he raised pork for others and managed the lawn business with Jacob and James. He agrees with customers even if they’re wrong, if it doesn’t matter. I asked if he did that with me. “When I need to.” He understands the cost of a dollar and how hard it is to get one. But he’s generous when Mom needs something.

Jonas and James purchase day-old calves, attach them to his milk cow, and then resell them a few months later.

After two cows disappeared, we spent all morning in the rain looking for them. He found them walking up the road. Another time, during another thunderstorm (probably the only two we had all year) his cows broke through the fence. Our neighbors weren’t too happy as we tromped around their marijuana plants to get our cows.

When one calf died, he said, “The price of meat just went up.”

Jonas purchased a cattle dog last year. They’re now a team, moving cows from various pastures. He still has puppy tendencies (the dog not Jonas), but has become useful, not just annoying.

Jonas and James were in a truck accident, returning from an auction. Our truck was totaled, but friends hauled our trailer and calves home. Lack of wheels hindered some of his business activities, but he soon found a truck in WI. When he went back with Jonathan, he purchased it. Making it California-legal could fill its own book. It didn’t pass smog. California gives ten days to register. Jonas put it on non-operational until he could find the problem and earn the money to ‘fix’ it. When it passed smog, Jonas was back in business, able to move cows, get to school and do his jobs.

Jonas, although finishing his senior year, attends two classes at Reedley College. His reluctance to acknowledge the need for ‘schooling’ prompted our ‘encouragement’ to take two classes: meat production and cattle evaluation. Stories of other students, (girls fighting in the pasture during lab), tell us school isn’t quite how we remember it.

Jonas’s horse required the vet several times this year. On one trip, Jose did not return home. When a horse becomes a companion and a working partner, how do you replace it? Both James and Jonas feel the loss. Jose was a good horse. He is missed. Jonas searches for the right horse—none could be as good as Jose, but Jonas moves on.

Jonas’s story, although all business includes unsurmountable losses, his persistence, to keep going, to do the next right thing, inspires me to keep going.

Josiah’s story can best be described as love of learning. Attending Reedley College, he sees how we are fearfully and wonderfully made. His teachers make a difference in presenting information through the lens of a Creator God.

His ministry deepens as he disciples several. Others question him because ‘he’s the guy with the Bible.’ Josiah helps fire victims clear their lands, even attending a conference to learn more.

When we had six drivers with only three vehicles, he willingly shared his car. After another frustrating story about smogging, his car was ready for another California year.

After a tire blew out on a crowded highway, Josiah got us to the berm. Even as AAA lifted the excursion off the road, we told the story of God’s protection for that day.

Although he’s not sure details about his major, Josiah pursues medicine. His quest to know what God has made and how it works in people’s lives tells me that his ministry will change people’s lives deeply. His story of learning will impact lives.

Joey’s story, if he allows me to tell it, is how to cram three lives into one body. He’s an expert listener of stories.

Army demands time. He’s taking a class requiring research papers, makes us both think we’re back in grad school, (only formatting papers seems harder now.) Driving back and forth to drill takes its toll, but he meets wounded Soldiers.

Work keeps him leaving at 5 AM and returning home after 6:30PM. Patients struggle with more than skin-deep issues. Sharing deeper truths help show them our Savior.

The story isn’t finished as we sell my mom’s house and Joey’s Mom’s house. Joey directs emails and phone calls of progress until those chapters are finished.

We entered a different stage in our boys’ lives and returned to our church in Reedley. Both Joey and I felt the push to return. We both wonder why…

Joey took Jonas, Jacob and James rappeling. Jonas commented, “I can’t be scared. If Daaad does this, then I can.” Jacob said, “Dad jumps out of planes, I guess I can do this.” Joey isn’t sure whether to take this as a sarcastic remark from a teenager or a statement of admiration from youth.

As he lives his many lives, all crammed into one body, he encourages me with my writing. He may think that I’m the one with a dual personality. I just write about it, he lives the lives of three. And shares in the lives of many.

When lightning struck a tree in the National Parks on July 31, no one could imagine the destruction that would come. After firefighters battled the fire for a month and a half with zero containment, we learned they weren’t allowed to bull-doze, or remove trees or underbrush in the parks. Smoke was so bad in our area that the stars could not be seen. During the day, a thick, heavy winter-like overcast sky hung over us. They bused school children to the valley. They evacuated areas and closed roads. Joey went to work with his clothes smelling like a campfire. We watched the website and tried to breathe. Once the firefighters were allowed to do something, the fire was controlled within two weeks.

When I asked the boys what they would grab, if they had to evacuate in 15 minutes, their values reflected their priorities. Jacob had waited to pick out his rifle for Joey to return from deployment for his thirteenth birthday. Jonas chose a milk-pail that Joey brought back from deployment and his saddle. Josiah said his Bible and notes from his Bible teacher’s class. I’d grab Joey’s Bible. He’s had it since his college days.

The boys asked me if I’d grab my computer with all my manuscripts and articles, I debated. Photo albums seemed important to me. So many stories that one life could tell…

As to my story, according to some, I live a pessimist life with no adventure and no style. But little can they imagine what I create in my mind that I must solve before the next chapter is finished. My book Until My Name Is Known has been available since July on Amazon. I write the second in the series I Have Called You by Name, to be completed this coming year. I depend on Rachel’s beta-reading/editing to perfect the manuscript, and on Joey John’s formatting and tech counsel. Rachel’s available time has shrunk with their growing family. I’ve been praying for another beta-reader who can work the miracles that she does on my manuscript. Until then, I’ll stay lost in my chapter.

Other than writing, scheduling ‘who goes where, when’ consumes my time—remembering where everyone should be, so all have lunches, transportation and a meal at the end of the day seems to be all that I can do.

No story compares to God becoming man and dwelling with us. Living, dying and rising again, not as a good man worthy of modeling, but as the perfect God-man who became our substitute for the payment that a just God demands for our sin. God’s justice demands a sacrifice. God’s love provided it. We can be free, but we must take it. That’s the greatest story ever told. That’s the Christmas story. That’s really the only one to remember.

What’s your story? What six words would describe your life? When your life is over, what would God say about you?

Joey and Sonya, Josiah (22), Jonathan (20), Jonas (18), Jacob (16), James (15), Joshua (12), Jeremiah (9), with a little of Joey John’s family too.

 

 

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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