description of blog

This photo was taken by our daughter, Sarah Timmons, or my wife, depending on who you ask. We were in Rehoboth Beach, DE on Easter Sunday, 2011.

Several years ago, on the way home from a family vacation, I picked up a notebook and quickly recorded an incident that had occurred involving our son. Eventually, I used that story to illustrate something about my spiritual walk as a believer in Christ. Thus began a deliberate attempt to document the significance of everyday events. Almost any ordinary circumstance in daily life can become fodder for another story. This, almost by definition, lends itself to a blog.

Of course, many of the entries here are just ordinary diary style stuff... the stuff of ordinary blogs. Good grief, I don't want to be ordinary.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Lessons from a Kitten about Mothers.

I don't even like cats, for reasons too numerous to mention, starting with the fact my allergic reaction to them ruined my entire childhood.

But this one turned up in the form of a newborn kitten.  Apparently it's mother (likely a stray that the neighbor feeds) was in the midst of moving it from one place to another, and got as far as the middle of our driveway.  I found it as I was headed out to work on a Monday morning.

I went back in the house and told Tina, annoyed that this shouldn't be our problem, and squeamish because the chances of it's survival were minimal.  We hoped that the mother would soon return and finish the transport... perhaps I caught the incident in progress.  So I left for work, and Tina was going to move it if the mother didn't show up soon.

Tina called a friend who works with a veterinarian, and asked about whether moving the kitten would hinder the mother from picking it back up.  Apparently not, so she moved it off into some ground cover beside the drive.

And there the kitten rested.  All day long.  The mother cat did not return, and possibly never would.  It so happened that a cat was hit by a car down the street as the day unfolded.  We didn't know for sure, but it may have been the mother cat.

To make matters worse, our young tender hearted 12 year old Asher found the kitten and reported it to his mother, who directed him to me.  "Daddy, there's a kitten in the yard, what should we do?"  I told him we were hoping the mother would pick it up, but we didn't think it was going to live.  We should let it be for now.

At this point, the whole kitten incident was defeating me.  I couldn't imagine nursing it, and begin to consider the best way to euthanize the poor thing.  Nature had a way of dealing with this kind of event.  Surely by Tuesday morning she would have dealt with it so I didn't have to.

Tuesday morning came, and I went out early to see how Nature had done over night, before the boys went out to school.  The kitten was lying there where we had left it.  It should have been dead by that point.  Then it let out a pitiful meow.  Nature had failed. Ugh.

I went back in and reported Nature's failure to Tina.  "How about I call your dad?, she asked.  Excellent idea.  He had the time and stomach to deal with this.

Before Tina called him, she called our vet friend back, who offered to look at the cat.  Dad volunteered to take the kitten.

Later in the day,  I got the news.  A home had been found for the kitten.  My dad couldn't bear to leave it with the vet.  He brought it home, and my mother would bottle feed it.  They had enjoyed the company of cats in the past. A cat for them was a good fit.

I didn't know the details at the moment.  I assumed there was a conversation between him and my mom as he considered what to do, with my mom suggesting he bring it back home.  I pictured him doing this because it is his character to treat my mother in this kind of loving way.  As it turned out, it may have been as much my dad's desire as hers.  I suspect they both reached the decision simultaneously.

Mom brought the kitten to Asher's baseball game that evening, settled in a blanket in a sack.  She treated it like a newborn baby, with the same care and love.  It was drinking every couple of hours, and looked content, like a kitten should.  This was a good thing.

Wednesday morning mom texted that the little kitten wasn't doing well.  It had stopped drinking.  Mom had talked to my sister-in-law about it, and she knew of a family with a cat who had a 2 week old litter of kittens.  Perhaps the mother cat would take to our kitten.  After a 35 minute ride, the kitten was united with the its surrogate mother, who accepted it immediately as it's own.

And then Thursday morning I got another text from mom.  The kitten had died over night. Mom was deeply saddened by the loss of the kitten.  "At least it was loved," I told her.   "Yes, that is some comfort," she said, "But I can't believe how emotional I am about this."

I CAN mom. Because that's who you are.  You are a mother at heart, in all situations. It is what defines you as a great mother, and a great person.  And it is why we are privileged to have you as our mother.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What We Learned from the Science Project

Due to our son placing first in his grade for the local Science Fair, he was invited to the Regional Fair near Valley Forge, PA, which created the necessity of a trip above the canal (that's the C&D Canal in Delaware, which essential divides Delaware into two totally separate and distinct states).

It was a simple trip, all interstate highways.  But as we crossed over the canal, we were reminded of why we are in love with Sussex County.  Everything north of that point seems like one big city, with city traffic.

We discussed reports we had heard of potholes being a big problem on Route 95.  This of course was due to a bitterly cold and wet winter.  I told my wife Tina that I had just watched a video of a guy rolling his car over as a result of hitting an unusually large pot hole.  Oh, what you can learn on Facebook.

We made it out of Delaware, zipping along towards our destination. And then... we began to crawl.

I gave audible commentary as we crept along.  "Elias", I said, "Don't ever move up here.  If you move up here, I'm never coming to see you, ever."  He said it wouldn't be a problem as by that time he would have built a small plane which could land on the pond near our home.  It would not be necessary for us to come visit.

As we inched along, we looked out the windows to amuse ourselves.  We were not amused.  We crawled through a section of town with row houses within feet of the highway.  "Why would anyone build houses so close to Route 95?," I wondered out loud.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps the houses had been built first, and then the Interstate, built for the good of the many, was carved through it.

The houses were certainly old enough for that to have happened.  As I stared off into the neighborhood, I then noticed the real sadness of the situation.  Many of the row houses were vacant.  And not just vacant, but abandoned, boarded up, and probably condemned.  The yards of these houses were littered with junk.  And then, right next door, the adjacent house in the row would be occupied by some family trying to make a home.

I commented  "I'm going to stop looking at those houses.  It's depressing the heck out of me."  We continued to crawl.  "Daddy, you're still looking.  It's like you can't stop," Elias kidded.  Finally, the neighborhood ended with a wall decorated with graffiti.  I noticed an interesting warning spray painted on a door... "Trespassers Beware, we probably know who your parents are."

I thought of the privilege we have of living where we do. I wondered what it felt like to find yourself with no alternative but to live in such a neighborhood.  Of course we have our share of poverty at home, but this was different.  It was concentrated, and it was in my face.  To be fair to the Commonweath of Pennsylvania, one would expect the worst housing  to be along the Route 95 corridor. 

Suddenly, out of the blue, we begin to discuss the idea of funding a school band program for a school that may have students who lived in the Route 95 corridor housing we had just seen.  We talked about how those students probably had no ability to get into their school band program.  We imagined our school band coming up here, performing, and giving instruments to the school.

Finally, our exit was approaching.  I edged my way from the left, into the center lane.  Then, just as I was about to move into the right lane anticipating the exit, Tina said "Don't move over, everyone is moving to the left.  Indeed they were.  All three lanes were merging into the left lane.  This was the cause of our bottleneck.  We quickly moved over too.  And then we saw them.  Three trucks, blocking the center and right lanes, fixing potholes.

We made it to the Science Fair, set up Elias's project, and walked around the enormous room looking at some of the other projects (the room would eventually be filled with the efforts of 900 students.) And then we headed back home.

But we were not the same.  We had a new appreciation of how privileged we are.  And we had the beginnings of a vision towards the future.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Keith Mack - The Moment

There's nothing better than listening to live music. I drag my family to live local venues all through the summer, usually outdoors and around our beach area.  We've seen Keith Mack at many of these, playing guitar with the likes of the Funsters and Ed Shockley.

Recently I saw an excellent article by Charlies Sands on Facebook.  He talks about Keith's interesting and prolific history in the music industry and highlighted an album he just released.  I was hooked, and ordered the cd. 

Once music grabs my attention, I tend to listen to it repeatedly for a while.  While I've never written a song myself, I listen because I understand what it's like to pour yourself into creating, to labor over the process.  It's work. It doesn't come out right the first time.  And when it's done, you want someone to appreciate it and to at least give it more than a passing moment of attention.  

I don't pretend to know what was in their heads when Keith and co-writer John Thompson composed these songs.  But by default, I tend to assume there's a story being told, and then there's another story you have to dig for.  The last song on the album, "You Found the Song", really made me wonder.

Perhaps the song is simply what it sounds like - a tribute by Keith to the seasoned songwriter John Thompson.  Certainly Keith's liner note on the inside of the cd cover would suggest that.

But is there more to the song?  Whether Keith and John intended it or not, I heard something else. 

You Found The Song
Keith Mack, John Thompson

You were the first one
You were the only one who gave it half a chance
You didn’t hesitate you couldn’t wait to see
If there was a song in me

You took a blank page
And waited like a poet waits for the right words to come
And then you set them in the perfect melody
You found the song in me

So many songs left unsung
So many hearts without anyone
Who will listen?

You were the grand exception
You saw the things the others could not see
There beyond my careful self protection
You found the song in me

So many songs left unsung
So many hearts without anyone
Who will listen?
Who will listen…

You found the song in me
You found the song in me

I heard the age-old plight of mankind - finding one's place - finding one's song to sing.  There are many ways to go about it.  Personally, the driving force behind my own search is faith.  But it wasn't John Thompson who found the song, it was God Himself.  

I believe we were created with the purpose of singing a song.  It's isn't obvious what that song will be.  There are many false starts - songs that sound awful, songs that we aren't meant to sing, songs that bring no one pleasure.  The song may change along the way.  In all cases, the song is for the benefit of others.  At the age of 54, my song is not finished, but it's further along than it was, and hopefully it is beginning to actually sound good.  So when I listen to Keith singing, it resonates within me.

This is what great music does - it makes you think.  It puts you in the head of the songwriter, and lets you identify with their experience.  Your life moves from an "I" to a "we".  There is nothing better.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Scientific Analysis of Birthdays

If you took a poll, and charted "Enjoyment of One's Birthday" on a graph, I suspect that for many it would look something like this - quickly rising in youth, but then at some age, perhaps around 30, it would start to descend.  Evenually, it would reach a low point, and then in the latter years of one's life, when you are just happy to be around, the Enjoyment factor would rise again.

 I'm in that low point between the two peaks in the graph.

I can accept the aging of this body, as annoying as that can be.  But birthday ALWAYS prompt a reflecting on the past.  And given my temperament, that isn't necessarily a good thing.

Some of us are cursed with self-analysis.  It often hits in one's youth, around the age of 11.  By the age of 54, it's fully developed and can be set off by the typical triggers, such as birthdays, or funerals.  But it can also rear its head with such prompts as dreary weather on a Monday morning, or an aching shoulder.

The particulars of the self-analysis may differ, but the root question at this age is basically the same - "What have I done with my life up until this moment, and what will I do with it in the future?" 

The Encouragers will be quick to point out the positives.  Yes, I have a wonderful family, the best in fact.  Yes, I have great friends.  Yes, I have many to love and many who love me.  Yes, my family lacks nothing. Yes, I have MUCH to be thankful for, and nothing to gripe about.  You don't have to remind me of how blessed I am.

The issue has more to do with what we have been given.  I'm of the opinion we are all entrusted with things to be shared for the good of those around us.  It may be talents, attitudes, gifts, abilities... call it whatever you want.  These things are not for us, they are for those around us.  Who knows how this idea got so engrained in my psyche.  Maybe it was from watching SpiderMan movies.

The fact is, it's there now, and I can't shake it.  And the older I get, the more I realize I have one less year to act upon what I've been given.  Choices of the past may have limited where I can go in the future with this... not much I can do about that.  The beauty is, there's always some path from this particular point.

It's THAT path I'm interested in.  If I must be cursed with self-analysis, then I will apply it to modifying the future path. 

Perhaps birthdays aren't so bad after all.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Unbelievable Story of Christmas

As I listened to Cloverton's remake of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", one particular line caught my attention:

"This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you"

Just for a moment, forget what you know.  Forget what you know about Christianity and about Christians. Forget about how they may irritate you, about how they may seem to try to impose their beliefs on you and the rest of society, about your opinion that they are nothing more than individuals looking for a way to overcome their weakness and find an easy way out.  Forget how you may have decided that religion is simply another of man's way of explaining the inexplicable, of making sense of an incomprehensible world, at least until science is able to. Forget how you may hold the opinion that anyone, given enough time and logical contemplation, will come to the opinion that Christianity is no different than any other religion, or maybe worse.

Forget all that, for just a moment, and consider the story told in the song- this person Jesus appears on earth as a child.

Never mind the part about his sacrificing his own life for the sake of all of humanity, or the part about his being raised from death.  Never mind the part about his going back to heaven, or his returning in the future. 

As the story goes, this Jesus was not just a man, but God Himself in the form of a man.  The whole story of Christmas starts out on a huge unbelievable foot.  Even if you make the leap that there is, in fact, a God, the idea of this God appearing in the form of a baby... well... that takes a crazy leap of faith to believe. 

If it didn't happen as the story is told, if Jesus was just another boy, then there's absolutely nothing to this thing we call Christianity. 

If it did happen, if God did show up in Bethlehem, right in the middle of the New and Old Testaments, then perhaps the Book is worth looking into.

Either way, whether you believe it or not, it's a great story.

A Hallelujah Christmas by Cloverton.
"Hallelujah" originally written by Leonard Cohen
Video by Wooten Media Productions

I've heard about this baby boy
Who's come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I'm singing Hallelujah

A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God's only Son was born, oh Hallelujah

The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You'll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah

A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the wisemen three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You
And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah

Monday, September 1, 2014

"The Brent Store" or "The Effects of Boredom."

My daughters and I were standing outside the Old Navy Outlet Store in Rehoboth, waiting for Tina and the boys who were inside looking for school clothes.  Out of the blue, Sarah suggests "Daddy, you should have your own store.  It would be called "The Brent Store".

She began describing The Brent Store.  The "The" and the "Store" of the sign would be in tiny letters, with a huge "Brent" in the middle.  Of course, I liked the idea immediately, and we began to suggest things I would carry in my store... cargo shorts, cargo pants, jeans, tan colored shirts, essential tools, running shoes...

"What would your store look like?" Sarah asked.  "It would have tables with umbrellas outside where we sold coffee."  "And hot dogs Katherine asked?"  "No, sausages would be better".  "The inside would look like a planetarium, so you could see the night sky.  It would be an actual planetarium, that showed the sky which would be visible at night from our location."  And we agreed our whole family would work there, but only during the school year.  We would take our summers off.

The next day, I drew the words "The  BRENT Store" on a piece of paper and showed it to Sarah.  She wasn't impressed with that, and quickly sketched out this drawing.  I didn't grasp her concept at first, and asked what the three little rectangles were at the bottom center of the picture.  "Those are the entry doors" she said.

 I started a second sketch of The Brent Store, to which she added her own take.  It more clearly shows the immense size of my store, and illustrates the view of the store ceiling.

A healthy imagination does the soul good, as do teenage daughters.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Child in Distress

I mentioned to Tina that I was scheduling an appointment online to have some blood work done the next morning.  "You should take Sarah with you.  She needs blood work too."  Easy enough.  I scheduled one for her right after mine.

Sarah didn't think much of the early hour, but given the fact she had to do a 12 hour fast, it was probably best.  We arrived at 7:10, and were soon called up together to get the paperwork in order. Mine was wrong, but they were nice enough to agree to draw the blood anyway and I would get the appropriate paperwork later.  After settling my error, they told us to go on back.

Sarah sat down first.  I stood and watched as she answered the clinician's questions and smiled through the whole process.  She was told to keep the gauze on the site for a short period of time.  She got up out of chair and I took her place.  She stood where I had been standing, ten feet away.

The clinician felt my arm and strapped the rubber band around my bicep.  I looked off to the side, as I normally do, thinking about nothing in particular.  Just before she sterilized the site,  I heard a little sigh, and looked up just in time to see Sarah landing on the floor, smacking her head on it's hard surface.

She had fainted, and as I rushed to her, her body convulsed.  I quickly cradled her head in my right arm and held her with my left.  At this point I didn't know if the seizure was due to the fainting, or to the smack on the back of the head.  A wave of emotion came over me, giving me the urge to cry - the same feeling I had while watching my wife in labor.  She came to in a couple of seconds and asked in a nervous laugh "What happened?"  I told her she had fainted, and asked if her head was o.k.  The clinician handed me an ice pack to put under her head.  Once she seemed o.k., we helped her up and had her lay down on an examining table.

I had my blood work done, and we got into the van to drive home.  We chatted about how she felt, and I quietly reflected on how I felt.  Just thinking about the incident would drive that emotion back to the surface.  It was an emotion that forced me to ponder.

I pondered on why I hadn't kept a closer eye on Sarah after she got up. I pondered on how I was oblivious to what she needed in those moments after having blood drawn.  I was totally caught up in my own world when she needed me to be attentive.

And then, I thought about her needs in general, and wondered how oblivious I may be to them as well.  I thought about the consequences if I remained in my oblivion.

It was like a light was turned on.  I thought - as long as I'm caught up in my own little world, there's a good chance my daughter may get into distress, and I won't even be aware of it.  God I don't want to be that kind of father.  I believe that today He reminded me of what kind of a father He can help me to be.

When we got home, we questioned Sarah frequently about how she was feeling, and after a short time felt it prudent to call her doctor, who asked to check her out.  He reported that the short seizure was not entirely unusual in such circumstances in a teen, expressed a mild amount of concern about her head and the possibility of a slight concussion, and explained how she might feel over the next couple of days.

The urge to cry is not a typical thing with me.  When it occurs, I pay special attention to it and reflect on what brought it about.  In this case, it was clear.  My child was in distress, and it caused me to consider my inattentiveness to her needs.  Now that I have this milestone to look back on, I'm in a position for God to make a change in my life.  And for that reason, it was a great day.

But the lesson is much larger.  I'm not just a father, I'm a husband, I'm a son, I'm a brother, I'm an uncle.  I encounter friends and strangers on a daily basis.  And every one of those people has a need.  Of course, it isn't my responsibility to recognize and meet all of those needs.  But without a doubt, with a different focus, God may just make me aware of one struggling individual who needs attention, and give me the good sense to offer my help.  That made it an even better day.