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Perfect Imperfection

Tonight we put up our Christmas tree, the first Ravella/Gilbert tree. Actually we have two trees. One is artificial. It is perfect. It has p...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Other Side of Chick-Fil-A

This weekend Ginger and loaded up the kids and headed to Montgomery Alabama for Boston's first soccer game with his new team. (They won both games) I've found I'm a huge fan of the DVD player they put in the cars these days. Although I'm not sure Boston and Greyson enjoyed Beauty and the Beast as much as the girls. We managed to arrive in Montgomery on time, in fact we were there early so we decided to get some lunch. I found a Chick-Fil-A thinking this is at least healthy fast food. Chick-Fil-A happened to be Andrea's and my favorite fast food places. In a previous blog, "Be Bold" I wrote about an encounter Andrea had at Chick-Fil-A.

Like most fast food chains the physical layout of every Chick-Fil-A is always the same. You enter and on your left and right there are a booths and tables but there is a difference. The left side is quieter, mostly adults. On the right you will find the families with young kids and the kid favorite playground. There is always much more activity on the right side as the kids pour out of the playground to eat their lunch or parents pleading with kids to get out. It is usually louder, more hectic and messier on the right side.

Andrea and I had graduated to the left because our kids were grown and long past the height requirement to play in the gym. Not that I did not love the left side. I once threw off my shoes and jumped in the bin of colored balls with Nic. Andrea snapped a picture that day and all you can see is our heads and smiling faces amongst the red, blue, green and yellow balls. It is one of my favorite pictures of Nic and I. But that time in my life had long passed and we had moved to the left side, where conversations shifted from Sponge Bob to current events.

However, yesterday Ginger and I were ordering and we told the kids to go find a seat, a booth more specifically. When I got the food and went to sit down I saw the kids sitting not only on the right side but at the table up against the glass wall of the playground. For an instant I glanced at the quietness and neatness, cleanliness, and calmness of the left side and it was appealing to me. But when I looked back to the left I saw five little kids talking, yes mostly all at once , and yes in an ever upward spiraling volume as they try to be heard, but all with smiles on their faces. I heard the laughter and joy of kids running to and from the playground not the noise. I saw the excitement of kid's opening the surprise toy that came with lunch, not the mess. My life is on on the right side once again. As I sat with Ginger and we discussed this shift in life style she said, "But you like the right side don't you?" "Yes, Yes I do."

The rules have become much more stringent then my last time I sat on the left side, and I doubt I will ever be able to sneak into playground and go down the slide and spill out into the thousands of brightly colored balls as I did with Nic. But this past summer I came home from work on a hot summer day and the kids were in the pool enjoying the cool water. As I watched them playing and laughing I took off my boots, removed my wallet and phone from my flight suit and took off running and leaped into the pool. I can still see the shock on Bella's face as she saw me hit the pool in my uniform. It was a look of disbelief and happiness that was soon followed by laughter.

I know it will be all to soon when Ginger and I move to the other side. I do look forward to our time of uninterrupted conversation but I will also look back to the other side with a slight ting of longing.

As I was finishing this blog Aspen walked in, her beautiful smile and amazing blue eyes, gave me a hug and said, "I love you Daddy." I wish I could capture the softness and sweetness of her voice in my typed words but I guess you just have to be here. I can assure you it was in that moment that I remembered the honor and the joy of sitting on the other side. I know how fast they go up and you miss miss the innocence of a child, the unconditional love, the simplicity of life to a little girl and the adornment you feel as a father. I know the time will come far too fast when I'm replaced by some young man that catches her eye.

Well it is Saturday morning and I have three hungry girls climbing all over me asking for "pan-a-cakes" so I will close. I always remember howAndrea loved to make the kids pancakes. She always took the time to make shapes and the boys would try to guess. I think in honor of Andrea I will do that today. I know Andrea would love to be in my place this morning. I can picture her bending over and asking the girls "What shape would you like?" Andrea had the most gentle spirit and she loved being with kids especially little girls. She loved the left side of Chick-Fil-A and I do to.

Okay I just finished making breakfast. I guess this is my first a real time blog as it happens. I did my best to make a heart, a car, a bus, boat, a fish and of course a snowman. The kids seemed to like them and I thought I was representing Andrea pretty good. Then Aspen came up and asked, "Daddy is there an Elephant?" No I said that is out of my league but I knew someone who probably could have made that happen.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Our Summer Vacation

Like many of you our summer was full of travels, but ours was driven by the Air Force who gave us the chance to live in Florida. Ginger and I have over 35 years of experience in packing up and moving a family so we should be fairly astute in the moving process. But I have to say going from 2 kids to 6 kids adds a level of difficulty far beyond the obvious 300% increase in kids. I had to build a color coded calendar just to track were the kids were over the summer. It was a summer with many moving parts only made possible by loving family and friends who allowed Ginger and I to pack and unpack without the kids. It was not what I call a fun time but we were able to get the house unpacked in record time.

Eventually the time came to begin gathering up the kids who were scattered across the country . So after a week of unpacking Ginger and I started on our "Summer Vacation." It was not your normal summer vacation even though it may have looked like one. The practical side of our trip was to pick up the boys who had been staying with friends, but I would soon realize that along the way our pasts would collide. First we drove from Niceville Florida, (yes that is where we live and yes it is rather nice) to Sumter SC to pick up Boston and Greyson.

We arrived at one of Ginger and Troy's best friends house, Coop and Christy. It was Chrisy who was at Ginger's house on Nov 26th 2006 when the doorbell rang and her life was forever changed. It was Coop who became the boys mentor during camp in 2007 and 2008, for boys who had lost their father. Coop was one of the men who stood in for Troy. Coop and Christy supported Ginger, as many did and they will always hold a special place in Ginger's life. As Ginger and I drove to SC we began to realize the significance of this trip in our life. I guess previously we had been too busy to stop and think about what was going to happen. What it meant when I walked in to Coop and Christy's home with Ginger as my wife. What it meant to Ginger but also to Coop and Christy.

Next we went to see a good friend of Ginger, Marlo and Steve in Asheboro NC. Marlo had lost her husband in an aircraft accident as well and she and Ginger formed a unique bond. Ginger flew out to meet Marlo in the spring of 2007. Marlo proved to be an inspiration to Ginger has she struggled with her loss. Now two years later Ginger and I arrived at her home. It was a testimony to God's faithfulness for Marlo to see Ginger with a simile on her face, living life again.

Next we headed to Fayetteville NC to see Mac and Lisa, one of Andrea's and mine best friends. Lisa was a very special friend to Andrea. She was the first "Chemo Girl" in NC. Lisa would drive to Goldsboro every week to sit with Andrea during her treatments. Andrea and I spent many weekends visiting Mac and Lisa during our two years in North Carolina. Now I came to visit with Ginger, and for the first time Lisa met Ginger. And just has with Andrea, Lisa first formed her friendship with Ginger via the phone. So it was so nice for them to meet and to spend time together.

Finally, we headed to Goldsboro NC to pick up Anthony who had flown there to visit friends. For the first time Ginger walked into the place were Andrea and I faced our greatest trial. Much like my visits to Phoenix where I attended church with Ginger in the same church where she and Troy attended, or when I went to the house they lived in, visited friends that were "their" friends. It is a strange kind of closeness to someone I will never meet in this lifetime. Now it was Ginger that saw the house Andrea and I lived in and the squadron we were in. But it was the visit to Andrea's Oncologist, Dr. Atkins that was the most difficult for me. We went in the exam room were Andrea found out her cancer had returned. We went to the Chemo room and saw the chairs where Andrea once sat. We met the nurses that became our friends. I think it was equivalent to Ginger and I going to Troy's crash site. It was where it happened.

It soon became apparent to Ginger and I that this trip was about more than just picking up the boys, and it was more then a normal summer vacation, it was another strange step in the merging of our lives. It was another sharing of our past and the forming of our future.

One of my very favorite places on earth is the Kenai River in Alaska. It is a beautiful place where the green waters of the Kenai rush towards the sea calling the Sockeye Salmon back to the fresh waters to spawn and die. It is an amazing spectacle of nature to see the drive of these fish as they swim against the current of the river to reach the place of their birth to spawn the next generation of life. As they depart the life giving waters of the ocean and enter the fresh water of the Kenai river their life begins to end. There is no turning back and as you watch schools by the thousands go by you realize there is no desire to turn back. They are drawn onward, with a single focus. Some of those salmon are searching for the waters of the Russian River which flows into the Kenai River miles upstream of the mouth of the Kenai. It is a unique place where the clear water of the Russian meet the green water of the Kenai called the confluence. You could sit on the banks and see the Salmon by the thousands as they hugged the shore seeking the clear waters of the Russian River. Here you could watch the two rivers as they mixed and the clear waters of the Russian became one with the green glacier runoff of the Kenai. I spent many a summer day fishing with Nic and Anthony while Andrea relaxed on the bank reading a book on the banks of the Russian.

There are many symbols of life and Christianity in this image. Be the inevitable flow of the rivers towards the ocean, or the determination of the Salmon to return to their place of birth or the sacrifice one generation makes as it lays down its own life to give birth to the next. But as I think back to our vacation I think of the confluence where the two rivers mixed into one just as Ginger's and my life did this summer. Old friends that were once unique to our separate worlds now intermix and become part of our new life together. As our pasts collide and become one Ginger and I become and little more "Us" but we always carry a part of Andrea and Troy with us. No matter how far the water flows from the confluence there is some portion of the Kenai River that is uniquely the Russian River. It was that smallest of molecules that the salmon must sense as they find their way from the ocean to the place of their birth.

I think as Ginger and I become one, we balance the uniqueness of our marriage and who we are as a couple with the responsibility to keep some portion of Troy and Andrea in our life. I want Nic and Anthony to always sense Andrea in our home, just as Ginger wants Boston, Greyson, Isabella, Aspen and Annalise to always sense Troy in our home. It is a difficult task to balance but it will be the measure that we judge the success of our unique meeting.