25 February 2009

The Candy Conspiracy

Greetings Dear Readers,

I thought that I would invest your time in something a little light hearted. As far back as I can remember (and that seems to grow a little shorter each year), I would anticipate the arrival of certain chocolate confections at particular times of year. One of my favorites was the Christmas arrival of Reese’s® Christmas Trees. Now the common Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is a favorite of mine from the start but the slight change in chocolate to peanut butter ratio in the Christmas Trees makes them all the more delightful to my pallet. I love them. I devour them. I stole them from my sister’s stocking.

Imagine my delight, surprise, excitement, when the wise people at Reese’s® chose to make their confection into an Easter egg as well. The distance was just about right. In late March or early April I would just about have exhausted my supply of hoarded Christmas Trees. The Eggs would appear and I could restock. Now I am so confused.

In the last twelve months I have encountered the following:
Reese’s® Pumpkins
Reese’s® Christmas Trees
Reese’s® Valentine Hearts
Reese’s® Easter Eggs

I am not complaining but it is getting very hard to keep up. No sooner do I get a bag of hearts than I see Eggs on the shelf. I had barely gobbled my last Christmas Tree when the hearts appeared. What will they do next?

I do not know if I can live in a world where I have to rush through my Peanut Butter Shamrocks so that I have room for Peanut Butter Equinox Moons. Will I finish my Easter Eggs in time for Peanut Butter Memorial Day Ribbons? How will I keep my Peanut Butter Flags from melting in the July heat? What if they decide to make Peanut Butter Solstice Rings? I hope you see my dilemma.

Understand that I am not saying anything bad about the great folks at Reese’s®. If I did I think my daughter would smite me. The thing is that I am facing a huge challenge when it comes to keeping up with the vast variety of peanut butter offerings. This is my fear, terror, haunt. This is the thing that keeps me up at night and gives me nightmares when I sleep. You see there is a chance, however slim, that I might miss one.

Wishing you joy in the journey,

Aramis Thorn

23 February 2009

Divorce Care

Greetings Dear Readers,

As many of you already know Avalon chose to leave me a little less than a year ago. This many months down the path the pain is lessened very little but methods for dealing with them improve. I still have to avoid some things that are too painful. God in his wisdom has provided several avenues of care for me.

My children have been loving and kind. Some of my friends have surprised me with their level of support. My church has been supportive and available. Perhaps the best thing that my church has done is provide a group for divorce healing and recovery. The group is called DivorceCare® . The group meets for 13 weeks. The program uses a series of videos, group discussion, and moderate homework to work through emotional and practical aspects of divorce. The group meets as an urgent care need, meaning that one does not need for a new group to start to participate.

Listed below are the topics covered. These are directly from the website www.divorcecare.com . If you are traveling this path I urge you to consider finding a DivorceCare® group. You chances of moving beyond the pain and making a lasting recovery is much better if you do.

What’s Happening to Me? — Session 1
This introductory seminar helps answer the question, “Why do I feel the way I do?” You’ll come out of this session with an overview of the DivorceCare program and an appreciation for the benefits of a support group environment.

The Road to Healing/Finding Help — Session 2
This video segment helps you begin to identify the many losses that occurred as the result of your divorce. It also introduces strategies you can use to begin the process of healing from your separation or divorce.

Facing My Anger — Session 3
This video seminar deals with the subject of anger, a nearly universal response to the pain and stress of divorce. You’ll gain constructive suggestions for dealing with your anger and learn methods for responding to the anger coming from your ex-spouse.

Facing My Depression — Session 4
Depression can be a paralyzing emotion as you go through divorce. Even so, it can also be a “healing emotion,” and this video seminar explores constructive responses you can employ to deal with depression.

Facing My Loneliness — Session 5
After divorce, many people respond to their loneliness in ways that will cause them even deeper pain. This segment explores healthy ways to overcome the loneliness that will inevitably arise during your separation or divorce.

What Does the Owner’s Manual Say? — Session 6
This video seminar explores real-world answers from the Bible on issues related to separation, divorce and remarriage, presented in an easily understandable format.

New Relationships — Session 7
The loneliness that comes with divorce will put you at risk when making decisions about new relationships. This session helps you determine whether you are ready for a new relationship and how to get it off on the right foot if you are.

Financial Survival — Session 8
Most people are stretched financially during divorce. This video segment offers you practical help on how to survive and ways to deal with the many money issues that you’ll face during and after divorce.

KidCare — Session 9
This video seminar helps you understand the effects of divorce on your children and offers practical suggestions for being an effective single parent. You’ll also learn how your children are processing the divorce and how you can help in their healing.

Single Sexuality — Session 10
How do you deal with your sexuality after divorce? This important session will help you understand sexuality from God’s perspective and see that it is possible to be single again and satisfied.

Forgiveness — Session 11
The hurt that comes with divorce is a barrier that prevents many people from forgiving their former spouse. This seminar shows you why forgiveness is important and how you can begin the process of forgiving.

Reconciliation — Session 12
Reconciliation is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the divorce healing process. You’ll learn that reconciliation can happen even if your marriage is not restored and why it’s important to pursue reconciliation.

Moving On, Growing Closer to God — Session 13
How can God produce something good out of something as bad as divorce? This segment will show you how to grow closer to God as you go through your divorce experience.

As always I covet your prayers for me and for Avalon. I love her and always will.

Wishing you joy in the journey,

Aramis Thorn

16 February 2009

A Time to Rest

Greetings Dear Readers,

With the school term at full throttle and activities picking up at church time has become all but consumed in my week. I had a professor and mentor who used to always say “beware the barrenness of a busy life.” I felt that barrenness this past week as I rushed through so many activities.

I would draw a distinction here between that which is restful and that which is recreational. Rest is just that. It is using little energy. Recreation is doing things that literally re-create who we are. Recreational activities are not always restful. While I am increasing the things I do to recreate myself, I find that in this case my need was for genuine rest.

This being the case I chose to take this past Saturday as a true day of rest. I sat in a comfy chair and read a good book. I wrote for a while and ate already prepared or easy to prepare food. I cleaned some things in passing but the bulk of the day was relaxing and restful. The reading did re-create some things in my mind and the movie I watched inspired an idea for a short blog series I will write later in the year.

Time to simply rest will rarely present itself. It is up to us to create that time so that we able to recharge and reengage with the reasons why we do what we do. The ancient Hebrew people were told to take a day each week for rest. I am sure that God knew what he was doing.

Some people go too far and insist that no one should work on Sunday. Those same people go out for lunch after church each week or allow someone in the house to cook a large meal. We cannot put into law a demand to rest at a certain time in a world that is to be guided by grace. We do, however, need to make time to rest.

I challenge you to build planned rest into your week. It does not need to be regimented or cause you to neglect other duties. You may find that it reenergizes you for the tasks that you once loved but now seem a chore. It may make the chores seem less wearisome. I know it did for me.

Wishing you joy in the journey,

Aramis Thorn

11 February 2009

The Birthday Gifts that Matter

Greetings Dear Readers,

Some of you know that yesterday was my birthday. It was a day filled with obligations to things that I love. There was little celebrating but by the end of the day it was one of my best birthdays ever. As I lay down last night, mind weary and bone tired, I counted all the wonderful blessings of my day.

· A friend I value dearly has reconnected with Christ
· My sons both called me and I could hear their deep love for me in the conversation
· My mom and dad called me and were both very kind
· Dozens of my friends took the time to wish me happy birthday with sincerity and love
· My daughter’s immigration hearing went well
· My daughter got me a key lime pie instead of a cake (I am going to have a piece for breakfast)
· I got to see some old friends whom I treasure dearly and they were very good to me
· I received a few gifts that were chosen by people who know me and my interests. They were perfect.

I expected my birthday to be sad and lonely this year without my beloved Avalon. 49 has always sounded older to me than 50. As I turn 49 and look toward next year and my half century mark, I realize that the very best thing about my life is that I am more available to the things that God wishes of me. I do not need the trappings of a big celebration to feel joy and contentment. Perhaps the best thing about my birthday this year was simply that I saw people caring for each other rather than focusing on trying to please me or get it right. A fictional charter I cherish once said about birthdays, “What’s so all fired special about not having died?” I think the answer is simple. If we live, truly live, we get to see others learn how to live as well. Thank you friends and family for your love.

Wishing you joy in the journey,

Aramis Thorn

08 February 2009

What You Call Someone Matters

Greetings Beloved Readers,

When I was young my Grandfather invested time in teaching me about how to address people. For anyone older than me that was not a child it was Mr., Mrs., or Miss. For anyone with office or title it was always their title. A man of the cloth was always Reverend or Father. The common way of things was respect.

People have changed. Respect is demanded by those who do not deserve it and rarely given to those who have earned it. With an office comes a level of respect that is inherent. No matter what you think of an individual in an office there is a level of respect commanded by that office. As a professor I do not insist that my students call me Doctor, Mister, or Professor. I like them calling me by my given name. It bothers me, however, when they refer to other professors by just their last name.

This stems, I think, from the practice of the media referring to people in office, including the President by just their last name. No matter what you think of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, they are the individuals elected as the President of the United States. We no longer distinguish between the office and the man. We have forgotten that protocol matters. When President Nixon said that “when the President does it, it is not wrong,” he was incorrect. But there is truth in the fact that those in office deserve a measure of deference based solely on the nature of the office.

It is not that we give respect out empty loyalty to a position or post. It is that we should show deference out of respect to those who serve us. Teachers, Soldier, Policemen, Firemen, and even politicians serve us. They give their lives in service. Some err and abuse their power. There is still the office to consider.

No matter your politics, the President is the President. Teachers work for too little to give us so much. I ask how it hurts us to say “Ms. Carlson” or “Professor Cann” instead of just “Carlson” or “Cann?” It costs us so little to give someone their title when talking about them. They have earned it and it fosters a respect that is vital to civil relationships.

As for me just call me Aramis. I will call you whatever you wish me to call you. When I speak of you to others I will refer to you by whatever honorarium is rightfully yours. Respect matters.

Wishing you joy in the journey,

Aramis Thorn

05 February 2009

Just a Little Cheating

Greetings Beloved Readers,

Most of you know that I work as a professor as well as a teller of tales. We are in the first session of our spring trimester and midterms are just past. The reality of student cheating was brought home to me when I caught a student I cared for deeply cheating on his midterm exam. The point is that it is prevalent, cheating. It is common and there is a skill to it. When asking students about it I get answers like “Everyone does it,” and “It is no big deal.”

I wonder if my students realize that this breaks my heart. I wonder if they care. I strive to build into my students a passion for excellence and integrity. I try to engender a world view that sees the value and needs of everyone they will deal with as valid and something to be cherished. I warn them of the penalties and personal costs of cheating but they do it anyway.

My fatal flaw as a teacher is that I really care. Today, I go to my classroom saddened that I must lay out evidence to a student who has robbed others, me, and himself through his dishonesty. Long after the term has ended and the grades for this class are in the books I will remember that a young man sold himself for a few points on an exam. He gave up his honor and the respect of his professors for an A he will not get to keep.

It saddens me greatly that the world sees this as acceptable. It grieves me that the young minds I teach, some of them, will trade themselves for a few points on an unmemorable exam. What they cannot see is that they will carry that violation with them for life if they do not own it and turn away from the dishonesty. I will be vigilant over this by God’s grace and guidance. I will save the few I can but I have little hope.

Wishing you joy in the journey,

Aramis Thorn

02 February 2009

Cheating at Gardening - An Excerpt from my new book "Sheetrock"

Greetings Dear Readers,

Sometimes when you are planning your summer garden your son cheats. I inherited my love for a summer vegetable garden from my Grandfather. His was a magnificent half-acre obsession. As soon as all danger of frost slipped into the past and the Braves were securely entrenched in spring training, he would get out his rotor-tiller. Lovingly he would brush away the winter dust form it, gas and tune the engine and oil and grease various parts. I would sit on the edge of the workbench in his basement, handing him his tools, the oil can, or whatever he asked for to prepare the tiller. This ceremony, so vital to the entire ritual included his homily on the importance of growing things.

Sam’s view of gardening was that if a man grew something every year, it honed his respect for life. He further mused that if you grew vegetables you had a bounty to put by and to share with others. We spent many late August and early September evenings riding around town delivering gifts of fresh vegetables to various friends and members of his congregation. His deep respect for all life pushed him to share the life he coaxed from the ground with those who shared their lives with him. This was the end of the journey each summer that put the hum of a hymn in his voice as he prepared the tiller in early spring.

Once the tiller roared to life in the basement, combing its oily exhaust with the smells of cleaning solvent, saw dust, and turpentine, we made our way to the large clear plot of land behind Sam’s house. The acre and a half that was his city garden was ringed with overgrown crepe myrtles that flowered fragrantly in spring inviting the neighbor bees to notice his cucumber, squash, and pumpkins blooms to include in their pollination dance. The tiller bites deep into the earth and wakens it from the long winter slumber. The clover that covered the ground since the thaw yields to patchy dark and ruddy soil so common in Georgia. Perfectly neat rows of sweet corn, green beans, okra, carrots, radishes, and tomatoes were sewn each spring and together we prayed over the red earth furrows for God’s blessing over each seed.

Each morning after his Morning Prayer and Bible reading, Sam would wander down to the garden, coffee cup in hand. When I was fortunate enough to be there I would follow with my mug of coffee-milk. Together we would walk the neat path between each furrow. I listened and he instructed. He would point out each sprout and bud explaining what to look for and what to do to aid them in reaching their potential.

He would gently coax seed shells off of reluctant cucumber, squash, and pumpkin sprouts, while relating that all living things have times when they need help in life. He would thin out sugar pea and bean sprouts, showing how to tell which ones were strong and which had just bolted from the fertilizer. In this exercise lay the lesson of knowing the difference between what was show and what would grow.

During these early garden walks he would add his own mix of fertilizer and insecticide to assure the continued absence of various beetles, caterpillars, and worms. Most of his efforts were to make the plants undesirable to the various pests before they took hold. He did very little to kill them as he believed that they were just attempting to “make a living for themselves” as he called it.

Once things were beginning to grow, he would stretch out the miles of soaker hose that snaked between the furrows. So exact was his measurement of the length and space that each year he used the same hoses with duct tape over the sections that were curving around row ends or crossing row paths. Even though Sam’s water source was his own plentiful well, he never wasted it. He explained that we would carefully water the roots and when he thought it was time, God would wash the leaves.

All through the summer we would chart the progress of each plant, anticipating the late summer bounty. It always began with tomato, pepper, and Miracle Whip® sandwiches on Sunbeam Bread®. We harvested, canned, shared, and enjoyed. Most of the time I was just amazed at the process of seed to sandwich and all the other extended acts of creation that became our fall bounty.

In later years the troubles of life caused me to leave behind a summer garden and its lessons. My oldest son, Maxim, returned me to them with his questions about where things came from. While in college, when he was four, I chose to plant a small garden by our tiny home. The soil was poor. The north Georgia Mountains were in drought. I had little time and less energy, but my son was curious and I am a teacher.

While his little brother napped in the afternoons, together we turned the soil over. Boy did I miss Sam’s tiller. We planned our melons, beans, peas, cucumbers, and tomatoes. On the day I pronounced the garden properly begun, Maxim made an announcement. He looked up at me with a look he still has at age twenty. Thoughtful, determined, and respectfully he spoke, “Dad, I want to plant popcorn.”
I broke into a grin that cooled the heat and warmed my heart. I love my son and his mind has always amazed me. Kneeling to down to face him, I explained that we did not have any popcorn seeds and that we could not buy any this year. It was his turn to grin. Putting his hand reassuringly in my arm, he smiled and said, “Wait here dad.”

Without waiting for my response he broke into his low to the ground run that carries him far and fast. Just as I began to ponder what he was up to, he returned, still at a run but with something under his shirt. Stopping in front of me, looking up with his “problem solved” grin, he proffers a jar of popping corn in oil. My mind quickly recalls that his jar is as old as my son if not older. Restraining a laugh, lest it discourage him, I kneel down to his level again to look him in the eye.

“Maxim,” I begin, “this is a great idea, but this corn is in oil. That will ruin the seeds and they will not grow.”

Sadness flickers through his eyes and scores my heart. The last thing I wish is to discourage him. He already feels things as deeply as I do and I want to honor his ingenuity. He thinks for a moment but only offers that he is determined to plant pop corn. Knowing that his determination can match mine at any time, I acquiesce.

Intent on giving these oil saturated seeds the best chance possible we drain them, wash and dry them, and properly prepare the furrow that will be their place of decay. Throughout the planting process I remind him that these will probably not grow. He constantly assures me that they will. We complete our task of planting and I lay aside the tools, ready to rise and put them away.

My son, my beloved son, takes my hand and gently restrains me from standing. “Hold on dad, I need to finish.”

Kneeling beside the furrow, Maxim raises the stakes of our little experiment. He closes his eyes tightly and lifts his face toward the already steamy sky. “Dear Jesus, I know that you can grow anything. Will you show my dad that I was right about this popcorn by making it grow? I want to have pop corn and I know that you can do anything. Amen.”

Flabbergasted, I am filled with awe, faith, doubt, and concern. Questions race to my mind as to how I will protect his young heart from disillusion when the pop corn never sprouts. Choosing humor for the moment, I rub his sandy blond head, “That is cheating, but it is the best kind of cheating there is.”

Together we mark the sprout of each cucumber, bean, and tomato plant. I have adopted my Grandfather’s habit of taking my morning coffee in the garden marking the progress of and fine tuning each plant. Maxim does not have a taste for coffee milk so he accompanies me with apple juice. He beats me to the garden each morning, checking the furrow that is his pop corn. He never shows impatience or doubt. He drinks his apple juice and waits.

Just a week after planting, the other plants are up and running. The pop corn furrow, faithfully watered and weeded, has shown no activity. While pouring the cream into my coffee, I ponder how to explain that the pop corn will not grow. I consider finding a pop corn farmer in the area and buying a few plants from him to plant at night while Maxim sleeps. I realize this deception, while protective, would be a violation of his faith. My only concern is for my son’s heart, and it is properly placed if missing some perspective. God and Maxim, in a concert of wisdom are about to realign my thinking.

The spring held wooden screen door banged open so loudly that I drop the cream which flows freely across the counter. Instantly a small mind has me in tow out the back door to the garden already awash in the morning sun. I know where we are headed but my mind has not caught up with the import of the excitement. Not until I see them does it grasp the reality and the import of that reality.

The voice, down and to my left speaks with childhood joy and heavenly authority. “See dad, God can make things grow. I knew he would.”

I follow the pointing finger to the neat, carefully weeded and watered row, where three small shoots of pop corn have burst through the soil. Throughout the summer we tend the three plants as if we waited on the holy trinity itself. In late summer we reverently harvest a dozen ears of ripe pop corn and dry it in the kitchen. By Halloween we can enjoy the sweetest pop corn ever grown. Beyond that, to this day, my son believes in prayer and God’s ability to do anything that needs doing. I do not have a garden this year and I miss coaxing tomatoes and cucumbers from the soil. I am having trouble finding Sunbeam Bread® and I can no longer drink sweet tea. I am, however, still reaping the rewards of three unlikely stalks of pop corn by watching my son walk in faith through a world that sorely needs it.