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Posts Tagged ‘Grand Forks ND’

Early sets the winter sun
turning out the lights of day and
bringing frosty crisp night skies and
stealing away the last of earth’s warm breath.

Darkness grows ever longer
creating hunger in every creature for
return of tepid sunlight if even for
a few moments eked out mid-day.

Winter’s wanderer finds no solace
following the short-lived sun nor
discerns any path in darkened landscape nor
senses hope on grey morn horizons.

Darkness lengthens to cover day
until its weight tips the earth’s axis with
the battle between light and dark ending with
winter’s solstice declaring light the victor for now.

Tide of darkness ebbs and flows
washing earth and life pathway of
no one overconfidently striding out of
the other side of night.

Hunkered under coverings
made from earth, stone, wood and
wool, cotton, fir, leather and
set next to fire-filled stove

winter’s traveler marks the time
by the lengthening days that
warm tree, bush and ground that
spring to life with thawing sap.

Hope returns as light expands
filling up the hours of each day to
replace cold long nights to
give hope and light for every journey.

Timidly every creature tests marshy ground
each muddy path leading further into
days that longingly look into
the other side of night.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Winter Morning, Grand Forks, North Dakota, Winter 2007

Winter Morning, Grand Forks, North Dakota, Winter 2007 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2007)

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God Surprises 2 1/2

Where does it say in “the good book” that the Creator of the universe must continually prove himself to his creation? It doesn’t.  But yet he does.  I suppose that is a part of his sovereign choice; to continually reveal himself in and through his creation and also at various times in specific ways.

It seems to be part of human propensity to have the memory and attention span of a very average fruit-fly. We constantly forget to see God in his creative works all around us.  It takes us banging into something to cause us to sit up and take notice that our universe in its largest parts down to its smallest parts is fearfully and wonderfully made.  But then we go merrily on our way and soon forget again who made it all and who still holds it all together.

A constant refrain in Psalm 106 is that God’s creation “forgot” or “did not remember.” How like us!  It seems that part of The Fall’s curses was a short memory.  Psalm 106 recounts all the great and marvelous things God did for his people but then concludes each episode with “but they did not remember” or “they forgot.”  It seems that one of the purposes of remembering is to believe that what God did before in the past, he can do again.

I, at least, find my life constantly repeating the same mistakes of Israel:they forgot His works and His wonders which He had shown them” or “the day when he delivered them” (Psalm 78:11, 42).  At worst, the experiences laid out in the Bible become only ancient history lessons of what God had done at one time.  At best, my own experiences of God’s “works and wonders” in my life become distant memories of what God did that one time.

One cannot help reading Israel’s Old Testament history and want to yell at the pages of the Bible,C’mon guys!  Look at all that God has done already!  Why can’t you believe him?”  Of course, the arrogance in that is forgetting our own faith journey (or should it more appropriately be called “lack-of-faith journey”?).  It is a rare saint to whom God has not had to prove himself over and over again.  Like I said, I forget.  Forgetfulness tends to breed doubt and unbelief in me.

Fortunately, God is patient. Or, I prefer the old word long-suffering.  For, truly, he suffers a long time with us.  To our benefit and to God’s credit he does not forget.  He does not forget that earthly existences are mere breaths or mists in eternity.  He does not forget that we are as fragile as fruit-flies in a fruit bowl.  “God remembered that they were made of flesh and were like a wind that blows once and then dies down” (Psalm 78:39).

So it is that every new trouble is an opportunity to remember what God has done. Because what God has done before, he can do again.  At least, that is how it is supposed to work in theory.  More often than not, if you are like me, you have forgotten.  And you have forgotten to remember, recall and recount God’s many blessings.  So, if you are like me, I end up frustrated, angry and throwing a tantrum over my troubles.  Finally, exhausted, I turn to God for help.

Once again, fortunately, this is where God not being like me is really a good thing. As the psalmist reminds me, “When God saw the trouble they were in and heard their cries for help, He remembered his Covenant with them, and, immense with love, took them by the hand. He poured out his mercy on them…” (Psalm 106:44 – 46).  God remembers.  God is immense with love.  God is present.  God is abundant in mercy.  Boy, I sure wish I could remember that every time I’m in a place of need or trouble.

A few years after the last God surprise I shared in “God Surprise 2“, my family had relocated to Grand Forks, North Dakota, where I was pastoring Valley Christian Center.  The house we were renting had to be sold and soon we were looking for a house to rent or to buy.  We wanted to be close to the church, which really limited our options.

Finally, we found a house to buy that we could afford with an unfinished basement. The previous occupants had done a lot of work to the house but left most of the basement unfinished.  They let their two young sons use it for a hockey rink.  You have to have lived in that part of the country to understand that idea.  It met most of our family’s needs and so we went ahead and purchased it.

The big problem was finishing the basement. We really need the room.  More importantly, a bare cement basement during a Grand Forks, North Dakota, winter is colder than most places in the lower 48 states.  And my wife absolutely hates being cold; more than she hates the devil.  Hell for her would not be a lake of fire but a frozen lake.  So, this posed two problems:  One was the money it would take to finish the basement.  Two was the “who” of who would fix it since I am no carpenter.  Nevertheless, my family moved into the house.

Late in Fall, I was visiting a plasma center to donate plasma and make a few extra dollars. I tried going once or twice a week.  The extra money paid for gas or for a few extra groceries in-between pay days.  During that time of the year leading up to the holidays, the plasma company held big drawings with prizes.  They hoped to get more people to come in more frequently to increase plasma donations.

Ever time a client went in and was screened, he or she was handed a little sheet or paper to enter the drawing. Those slips of paper were then added to a large wire drum about half the size of a 50-gallon barrel.  At first, it looked huge compared to the little pieces of paper.  Then, as the weeks went on, it looked too small as it began to fill up.  On top of this, this plasma center was one of five other centers that would have names entered into the drawing.

Now, I have never been a big one for drawings. Those that I have entered, I have never won anything.  I have plenty of friends who have had that fortune, but not me.  So, on this occasion I did not bother to fill out the slip of paper and enter my name in any drawing except when badgered by one of the screeners prepping me for a draw.  Only then did I reluctantly enter the drawing.  And, as the wire cage filled up, it only confirmed my suspicion of “what’s the use?”

On one visit to donate plasma, the cold air from the Canadian Arctic was settling into the Red River Valley of the North.  Snow was already blowing and the frosty air would take your breath away if you breathed too deeply.  I thought about the unfinished basement.  How in the world would I heat that to keep it comfortable?  My wife hates the thought of being cold more than the threat of catching the West Nile Virus.  What would we do?

As I entered the center, the young attendant screening the people that morning asked if I was entering the drawing.

“Naw,” I said nonchalantly.  “Look at all the names in there!  I never win anything from these things anyway.  I’ve put my name in only a half-dozen times at most.”

“Well,” she challenged, “you can’t win if you don’t enter.”

“Now you sound like a commercial for the state lottery!” I kidded.  We both laughed.

“This is the last day to get your name in,” she reminded me.  “What’s there to lose?”

“All right,” I relented.  “I’ll fill out the little slip of paper just to make you happy.”

“What if you won the Grand Prize?” she asked.  “What would you do with the money?”

The Grand Prize was $10,000.  That was beyond my ability to even think of winning that in the drawing.  I would set my sets a little lower on one of the dozens of Apple Nano-pods being offered in it.

“I don’t know,” I answered.  “I guess I would give some money to a hospital for handicapped children I just found out about in India on a recent trip there.  Then, I would finish my basement with the rest of it.”

“How unexciting!” she announced.  “No trip?  No party?  No buying something special?”

“No,” I answered back.  “In my book those would be pretty special enough.”  Leave it to a young college student phlebotomist to consider the average things in life unexciting.  Wait until she grows up and has a family, I thought to myself.  I smiled and moved on to the next station.

As I went back to one of the many beds to have my plasma drawn, I thought half to my self and to the Lord, “Lord, it sure would be great if I did win that $10,000.  What a great way to help with the children’s hospital and to also finish the basement in my house.  $10,000 is not big in your economy.  You’ve done that before for us.”

Soon, I was hooked up to a machine drawing out plasma and putting back in red blood. I started to read the stack of magazines I took with me each time I went.  I found the time to be a great way to catch up on reading.  A little over ninety minutes later I was on my way with a few more dollars in my pocket.

Sea Anemone, Port Townsend Marina, Washington, July 2010

Sea Anemone, Port Townsend Marina, Washington, July 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

After the beginning of the New Year, I returned to the plasma center. The place was full of University of North Dakota students back from winter breaks.  This was a popular place for university students to make a few extra dollars for school life.  After signing in, I went to the waiting room with the rest of them.  Soon one of the nurses approached me.

“Mr. Almberg?” she asked pensively.

“Yes?” I replied wondering what was up that a nurse was talking to me.

“Mr. Almberg.  We need to talk to you.  Do you have a few moments to come with me?”

“Sure,” I answered.  Inside I was thinking that my last plasma draw must have been off somehow.  If you have too low of iron or too high of something else, you have to take a break for a couple of weeks before you can come back in.  This had happened a couple of times before.  So, I was preparing myself for the usual dietary questions.

We entered a small room.  There were a couple of other phlebotomists there as well as the center’s director.  He sat down opposite me and said with a very serious face, “Mr. Almberg, we have something very serious to discuss with you.”

“Uh, oh.  What did I do now?” I responded trying to diffuse what appeared to be a serious situation with a non-serious response.  “Cholesterol too high again?”

“No, no,” he smiled.  “We’re just wondering what you’re going to do with $10,000?”

I stared blankly back at him.  I was sure that this was a joke.  One of my friends worked at the center and she was standing in the corner of the room with a Cheshire cat-like grin on her face.  I was suspicious.

“Who knows,” I smiled back trying to hide my nervousness for the punch line I knew must be coming up.  “I’ll let you know when I have $10,000.”

“Well, the reason we called you back here instead of telling you out in the waiting room is because you won the Grand Prize drawing of $10,000.”  His smile got bigger.

I looked at him.  I looked around the room.  I looked over at my friend and she was nodding her head like a bobble-head doll on the dash of a four-wheel drive truck gone mudding.  I was dumbfounded.

“You’re kidding me,” I spit out.

“Nope,” the director reassured me.  “Congratulations!  You’re our winner out of all the entries from all six centers!  It will be a few weeks before you get your check, but for right now we need you to fill out some paper work to get it processed.  Are you OK with that?”

“Good grief, yes!” I responded somewhat still befuddled.  Each of the people in the room came by to shake my hand and congratulate me.  My friend was last and said, “I’m so glad it was you who won it!”

“Unbelievable!” I responded.  “Who’d have ever thought!?”

After filling out the paperwork, I went back to one of the beds to do what I had come to do.  Give plasma and make a few extra dollars for gas and odd groceries.

As it turned out, I was able to donate $1,500 to the children’s hospital in India as well as finish the house’s basement with the help of a friend.  I paid him and he used the pay to launch his journey into full-time missions work with Royal Rangers International.

There is a frequently quoted “fact” that “Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.”  That may or may not be true.  I do not know.  What I do know is this: God’s blessings do.  What he has done before, he can do again.  We – that is I – just need to remember that important fact.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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William M. Dyke was a young man who became blind at the young age of ten. Despite this handicap, he grew to be a very intelligent, witty and handsome young man. While attending graduate school in England, William met the daughter of an English admiral. The two fell in love and soon became engaged.

Though never having seen her, William loved his fiance very much. Shortly before the wedding, at the insistence of the admiral, William submitted to special treatment for his loss of sight. Hoping against hope, William decided to have the gauze from his eyes removed during the wedding ceremony. He wanted the first thing he saw to be his wife’s face.

As the bride came down the aisle, William’s father started unwinding the gauze from around his head and eyes – still not knowing if the operation would be a success. With the unwrapping of the last circumference, William looked into the face of his new bride for the first time. “You are more beautiful than I ever imagined,” he said.

Hoar Frost on Branch, Winter 2008, Grand Forks, North Dakota

Hoar Frost on Branch, Winter 2008, Grand Forks, North Dakota ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are those who believe in me, and yet have not seen me.”  Many have come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and have grown to love him.  They have done this without ever seeing Jesus in a physical form. They have maintained their loving relationship with the Lord despite hardship, in trials, tests, and tribulation. They have remained faithful to him and long to one day see him face to face.

The Bible promises that there will one day be a time when we will see Jesus personally and up close.  Like the young groom, though we have never seen Jesus, it will be worth the years of darkness we have endured to “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

This sightless faith is not based upon only our imagination.  We have the words of the One who loves us written for to read and ruminate over.   We also have the testimony of friends and the saints who have gone before us who tell us how wonderful this loving relationship is for us.  We also have the Gospel testimony of those who actually have seen him, held him, and heard him.  We can trust their witness to his reality and goodness.

Right now, our eyesight is darkened. But someday, one day soon, our sight will be fully restored. The apostle Paul tells us that, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him” (2 Cor. 2:9).  When that day does come, like the young William given his sight, we too will exclaim, “You are more beautiful than I ever imagined!”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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In Steven Spielberg’s film, Schindler’s List, at the end of the movie Oskar Schindler is leaving behind the forced-labor camp and all of the Jewish laborers that he helped save from the gas chambers and furnaces of Auschwitz.  The Jewish laborers give Schindler a simple expression of their gratitude.  At that moment, Oskar Schindler realizes an awful truth.  He realizes he could have done more to save more people.

Oskar Schindler recognizes what he did to save those standing before him, but he also agonizes that he did not do more to save more Jewish lives.  While he lived in luxury, innocent people suffered horrific deaths.  All the money squandered on himself could have bought more lives their freedom.  His fancy car in which he is about to leave was worth ten or twelve people.  His gold Nazi lapel pin was worth one or two.  Schindler cries, “I could have done more save more people!”

One of the most important aspects of Christ’s kingdom is the focus on redeeming humankind.  Everyone is redeemable.  God’s call to humanity to come and be a part of his great family and kingdom is why he sent Jesus.  Jesus came to call us to the heavenly Father.  Then he made a way for us through his death and resurrection.

No human being is worthless.  No human life is a castaway or a throwaway.  We are all valuable in God’s eyes.  No one is beyond God’s redeeming love.  As an old hymn so vividly paints it, “He makes the foulest clean.”  While all of us were still foul and far from God, he loved us and showed it by sending his son Jesus to pay the price to redeem us from sin, hell, and the devil.

While the cynics and nay-sayers of society cast about on life’s junk heap skeptically looking for something of redeeming value, God looks at humanity.  There he sees value.  There he sees hope.  There his love goes out and plucks us out of own our junk heap to redeem us for our full value as his creation, which he made in his own image.

Kelly's Slough, Grand Forks County, North Dakota, Fall 2006

Kelly's Slough, Grand Forks County, North Dakota, Fall 2006 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Now those of us who are redeemed and returned to full value through Jesus Christ are given the task of spreading the message of God’s redeeming love.  We are commissioned with the task of searching the highways and byways of life.  There we will find humanity’s forgotten castaways.  Those who feel left alone and worthless can be restored to full worth and value through a loving relationship with the heavenly Father.

This is a mission infinitely more valuable than discarded bottles and aluminum cans.  We are given the task of seeing human lives restored to their original intent and beauty.  Investing in the lives of other people – women, men, and children – is where true meaning and value is found in life.

It would be a calamity to get to life’s end and realize all that we wasted on short-lived selfish pleasure.  Let us not get to the end of our days to only grieve that we could have done more.  What a tragedy to suddenly realize too late that “I could have done more to save more people!”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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A new and joy-filled season in parenting is when one gets to car shop with and for his or her teenagers.  Afterall, their unrealistic expectations are rooted in youthful optimism.  Any sense of the actual cost to operate a vehicle flies higher than a bald eagle on a warm updraft.  Who wants to worry at the very moment of selecting their image-maker-dream-come-true vehicle about such mundane things as maintenance, oil changes, tires, insurance, yearly license and registration fees?  Well, the parent, for one.   Therefore, one of the duties of parenting is to gently but firmly bring them down to the reality of terra firma.

My oldest daughter, Cara, has been so very fortunate to be saved from such painful developments.  We were saved from the excruciating painful process by a friend who gave her a 1980’s vintage Dodge Shadow.  Since I was a pastor – which meant an income just above the poverty line with no benefits – she knew the reality of getting any vehicle at all was slim.  So, she was overjoyed to have one to call her own.   It had been well-maintained and, while it did not rank high on the coolness factor, was her own transportation.  She had a certain amount of freedom that she would not have had sharing our family vehicle.  I was happy for her.

Unfortunately, the day came when the old Dodge Shadow ‘gave up the ghost.’ Its death could not be avoided.  Whether due to the mileage or the harsh North Dakota winters, it stopped running and became a driveway ornament.  This launched us on a mission to find another vehicle for her.  She had a job and school.  Coordinating those activities with her mother’s needs and my own was going to prove a nightmare.

One day, while her oldest brother, Gareth, who was on military leave from Afghanistan, and I noticed a baby-blue 1971 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a “For Sale” sign on it.  It was parked by the Firestone store on George Washington Way in Grand Forks.  You couldn’t miss it.  The seller wanted $1,000 for it.  It looked in good condition.  It had more chrome on it than 100 of today’s vehicles put together.  The bumpers could have been used to weigh ship anchor for the U.S.S. Enterprise.  It was, truly, a thing of beauty.  Gareth and I kidded one another about buying Cara THAT car.

Now, before you judge my daughter or my family of being to proud to drive around a 1971 vintage anything, there were some practical reasons for not considering it seriously.  First, the gas mileage would make operating it prohibitive.  The plus side would have been that she could never get very far with it.  But we could not really consider something that would take a budget slightly larger than the Lithuanian’s annual GDP to operate each month.

Second, my daughter is 5’6″ and 115 lbs.  It would have taken three or four Grand Forks phone books just to get her to be able to see and drive.  We did not have that many phone books.  The plus side was that she would have been surrounded by more heavy duty metal than our troops go into battle with today in their Humvees.  They just do not make cars like that anymore.  The number one cause for auto body repair in North Dakota is hitting deer crossing highways.  The bumpers on that vehicle would deflect a small buffalo.

Anyway, Gareth and I had a good chuckle talking about and picturing Cara behind the wheel that 1971 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.  The reality of it was that the car deserved to be owned by someone who would appreciate the cars vintage, make, and model.  It would not have gotten the respect in our family that it surely deserved.

Nevertheless, I could not help myself one day when Cara and I were driving up George Washington Way and saw the car parked alongside the road.  I saw a moment for some fun.

Hey, what do you think about that car?” I said pointing out the baby-blue Cadillac.

What?  That big one? It’s kinda’ cute.  I like the color,” replied Cara kindly but a little guarded.

You’re brother and I are thinking about getting you thatWhat do you think?” I said, pushing the idea a little more.

I don’t know,” she hesitated.  “It’s kinda’ big, don’t you think?”

Yeah,” I agreed.  “But you’d get used to it once you drove it around for awhile.”

There was a bit of a frightened look on Cara’s face now.  “I don’t know, dad.  I don’t think I want something that big.  It’s bigger than a boat!  I mean, what about the cost of gasIt’s going to suck a lot of gas.  I won’t be able to afford to drive it.”

My sweet daughter.  She’s thinking real practical.  Fear will do that to you.  But I could not just let this go.  So, I fibbed a bit to draw out the drama of the moment.

Yes, gas will be more but insurance will be cheap.  Well,” I continued, “your brother’s got the guy’s phone number and is going to get a hold of him today.  He’s probably calling him as we speak.  The guy wants a thousand dollars for it.  We’re going to see if he’ll take seven-hundred-and-fifty for it.

What!?” Cara exclaimed in a somewhat frantic voice.  “Dad, don’t let him do it.  I can’t drive that!

“Ah,” I thought.  “She’s taking the bait.”

“What do you mean, Sweetie?” I asked.  “You’re brother is offering to buy it for you with his military pay.  He wants to do this for you before he heads back to Afghanistan.

WHAT?!! Are you kidding me, right now?” came a more desperate plea.  “No, dad.  Don’t let him do it.  I’ll hate that car.  How will I drive it around town? I won’t be able to see over the steering wheel! How am I going to be able to park it?”

Of course, these were all good points.  But, at this point, I am having too much fun and I am having trouble not smiling or breaking out into laughter.

Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, 2009

Hood Ornament, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Well, you better call Gareth,” I said.  “He’s supposed to try and take care of it for you today. He was really wanting to do this for you.  I think you better talk to him.  I mean, after all, Sweetie, it’s a free car.  He may be a little disappointed.

By now, I could tell Cara was conflicted.  She needed a car.  She appreciated the idea of her brother buying her a car.  But just not THAT car.

Now the tears flowed, “Dad, I can’t do it.  Can’t you talk to him? I won’t be able to drive it.  How about if you drive it and I drive your car?”

What?” I objected.  “No.  That would be your car.  Besides, you’d be way safer in it with all that metal wrapped around you.  I wouldn’t want to drive it.  I do too much running around.

But, dadWhat am I going to do? I’ll be scared to drive that thingPlease, won’t you call Gareth and explain?”  Cara pleaded.  “Please?”

No,” I calmly replied.  “That won’t be necessary.  I’m just kidding.  We weren’t going to guy you that car.  How would you drive something like that?”

WHAT!?” Cara exclaimed.  “Are you kidding me, right now? You are kidding me, aren’t youDad!”

By this times the giggles and guffaws had over taken me and now I was in tears from laughing so hard.  I am sure that other drivers on George Washington Way must have been wondering what was going on in our car.

Dad!  I can’t believe you!” Cara protested indignantly.  “You were pulling my leg all along?”

Through tears and laughter, I answered, “Yup.  And, boy, I really had you going, didn’t I? That was priceless.  You should have seen your face.

Wiping the tears from her eyes and with some relief, Cara replied, “Yeah.  Well, I wouldn’t have driven that thing.  You or mom would have had to drive it.

But, Sweetie, what about all that chrome, and those big bumpers, and all that metal surrounding youIt would have kept you really safe.  And, you know, your safety is my main concern.”

Now she looked at me with eyes that said, “You don’t think I’m going to take anything you say seriously from now on, do you?”

I wiped the tears from my eyes and continued chuckling to myself.  What a priceless father-daughter moment.  At least to my way of thinking.  She probably claims to be scarred for life from it.  I, however, will cherish it.

Still to this day, whenever I see a 1970’s vintage, lots of chrome, big-bumpered car, I think back to that moment.  Like this last summer when I visited the Cool Desert Nights Car Show in Richland, Washington.  There were so many beautiful old cars.  But the ones that made me pause the most were the 1970’s vintage Cadillacs.  There I stood smiling from ear-to-ear with a tear in my eye.  Some experiences are just worth living again and again.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The youngest of our children is a precocious boy. We did nothing to make him that way.  He just came from heaven that way.  As a family, we are learning to deal with it – with him.  This makes life more than interesting on more than one occasion.  On top of that, it has allowed me to learn some great lessons as a father.

His name is Colin. Pronounced like “callin’ home the cows,” not “colon.”  He hates being called a body part, especially the colon, and has no knowledge of former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Plus, he has the honor of having two middle names after his grandfathers Charles Stalnaker and Clyde Needham: Colin Charles-Clyde.  Perhaps his nomenclature played upon his early psyche to produce the character in him, but I rather believe God was in a rip-snorting sense of humor the day he came to us on January 15th of 1996.

One particular time in my fatherhood formation involved his duty to pick up dog duty.  We have never owned a dog or cat because of his allergies and asthma.  However, we were renting a house from some friends and offered to watch their dog while they were away for a year.  A parent should always know that there is bound to be adventure when you mix one Doberman-Labrador dog with a 9-year old boy.  Our desire to help our friends muffled our parental warning system apparently.

Of course, as is always the case in any family’s acquisition of a new puppy or kitty, 0ur children were excited to finally have a real pet.  Up until this time, the only pets they had known were a series of short-lived rats and one Siberian dwarf-hamster.  Having a pet larger than a desert plate was a thrill for them.  Cleaning up after something that created poop larger than soy beans was to be another matter entirely.

My youngest soon became “the poop buster”.  Any time the backyard where we kept the dog needed policing of dog waste, he was called upon for his assistance.  I would jokingly call, “Who ya’ gonna’ call?”  And he would smile and answer, “The poop buster!”  This worked well for quite sometime.  But, admittedly, dog poop patrol does get old.

Here lies the advantage of living in the upper Midwest.  A dog owner has a 6 month reprieve from picking up dog crap in the yard.  We lived in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where the Red River Valley descends into temperatures rivaling eastern Siberia in the winter.  It is flat as a table top.  The wind hardly ever stops blowing.  The snow that accumulates is of the freeze dried variety.  And the temperature is almost always below Zero Fahrenheit thanks to the valley’s ability to suck the air right down from the North Pole.

Thus, in the winter months, the family canine pet is only allowed out very briefly to do its business in the backyard snow bank.  Without any prodding by the pet owner, the half frozen pet scrambles back into the house as soon as the deed is done.  Our Doberman-Labrador mixed dog was short haired and had a disdain for the snow and cold that rivaled my wife’s.  When it hit -30 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, one almost had to pick up the dog and throw it outside to get it to go and do its latrine duty.  This must be done before every bodily orifice is frozen shut.  Then the pet must be allowed in to thaw and the procedure tried all over again.

The plus side to this for the pet owner is that no sane person will bother with the gastronomic remains of the pet until the Spring thaw, which would not be until March or April.  Until then, the owner can be completely satisfied to know that everything will remain where it is in its freeze dried condition until more moderate climates return.  Meanwhile, the pet piles will accumulate under layers of snow.  Any lemony patches of snow will soon enough be covered by blankets of white.  The effect is that the pet owner need not look out at a back yard littered with dog duty.  Nature has performed a wonderful service by covering up the dirty deeds in brilliant white.  It is, however, simply amazing how much one pooch can poop over the course of a winter.

Colin and Ron at Neskowin Beach, Oregon

Colin and Ron at Neskowin Beach, Oregon ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

When Spring did arrive for our family, we were surprised at the amount of dog doo left on the ground once the snow retreated.  One could barely make it out the back patio door and off of the deck.  It took careful tip-toeing to make it around in the backyard.  One miss-step and the consequence was an aromatic disaster as well as denial of re-entry back into the house.  Crossing our backyard was like trying to cross the Korean demilitarized zone littered with its land mines.  Nearly impossible.  According to my wife, if you stepped on one, you were on your own until it wore off or you thoroughly cleaned it off.  Meals could be pushed out the back patio door for you.

Finally, the inevitable day came where the job of thoroughly cleaning the back yard was necessary.  The yard needed its first mowing.  I will admit that it did occur to me that perhaps the mower would be a good way of picking up all that crap.  Upon further reflection, however, sanity returned and I decided that my lawn mower and that many poop mounds was not a good combination.  So, I called to my youngest son, “Who ya’ gonna’ call?”  “The poop buster!”, came the reply, though admittedly not with a lot of enthusiasm.  Seems pet care was starting to where on all of our family.

I recruited him and his sister, Juliann, to help me clean up the dog messes in the backyard.  We worked hard at it.  We had the proper store-bought pooper-scooper instruments and made great headway real fast.  When it was almost finished, I left them to complete the job while I went to get the mower ready.  Now, any parent knows that unsupervised children rarely accomplish anything on their own except for getting into trouble.  I, apparently, forgot this momentarily when I left them alone.

Frustrated at how slow the job was going, Colin complained to his sister that there had to be an easier way to do this job.  She suggested to him that, since they were mostly freeze dried from the winter, it would be easier to just pick them up with his fingers and put them in the bucket.  This bit of pure logic struck him as obvious.  However, somewhere in the recesses of his small developing mind a voice must have whispered a message of doubt.  Or, maybe it was just the “eww” factor.  So, he abandoned the pooper-scooper for a stick he found and attempted to roll the Almond Joy sized doggy chunks into a position to get them in the plastic bag lined bucket he was using.  The inefficiency of this method did not go unnoticed by my brilliant child.

Soon he abandoned the stick idea and bravely went with his sister’s ingenious idea of using his fingers.  Lo’ and behold!  Such speed and efficiency.  This could change pet and pet owner relationships forever!  Or, it could get you into a bit of trouble with your mother.

I returned to the back yard after spending some time getting the mower out and ready.  I was surprised to see the wonderful progress my two youngest children had made.  As I congratulated them and cheered them on to the finish, I noticed the odd way (apparently for older brains, anyway, it was odd) that my son was picking up the dog logs.  Curiosity got the better of me and stupidly I asked, “Colin, what are you doing?”

Rather testily he replied, “I’m picking up dog poop like you told me, Dad.”

Assuming he missed the real point behind my question, I asked more directly, “I see that, but why are you using your fingers to pick it up?”

“Juliann told me to.  It’s easier this way,” he replied as if I couldn’t see the brilliant conclusion he and his sister had come to on their own.  However, a glance over at Juliann revealed to me that she was still using the pooper-scooper.  I looked back at him and smiled.

“He is my son,” I thought.  “I’m going to have fun with this,” and returned to the house to find his mother.

I found my wife, Kelly, perched comfortable on the couch with a book and cup of hot tea.  To get her attention, I asked her, “What are you doing?”  After twenty-plus years of marriage she knows this game and gave the usual reply, “Painting the ceiling.”

I asked, “Did you tell Colin that picking up dog crap with his fingers would make the job easier?”  (I know.  I was baiting her.  I’m a bad, bad husband.)

“No!”, she replied, somewhat offended that I would even think such a thing of her.

I said, “Well, that’s what your son is doing out there…picking up dog poop with his fingers.”  I then disappeared into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and watch the events unfold in the backyard out the kitchen window.

Entering the kitchen, I heard behind me my wife exclaim, “What?!”  And before she was even outside where my son could hear her she started calling Colin’s name.  Very loudly.

To understand what happens next, one must understand my wife’s aversion to any animal waste of any sort.  She cannot tolerate it on any molecular level.  This is why our rat and hamster cages were weekly cleaned and thoroughly disinfected with professional cleaners.  Soap and water was never enough.  I, on the other hand, grew up with a menagerie of animals – dogs, cats, pigs, goats, ducks, chickens – and animal manure was something healthy people just lived with around them.  It boosts the immune system.  That’s why farmers and ranchers live such long lives.  Everyone knows this except my precious wife.

Kelly has a natural gag reflex when it comes to the smell of freshly trod upon dog poop. The hint of the smell will send her running into the house and lighting every scented candle we have available.  So, you can only imagine her reaction to finding out that our prized youngest son, our last son, was violating every code of cleanliness according to my wife.  She would have to do something fast before he would be relegated to a life of going about claiming, “Unclean!  Unclean!  Beware, I’m unclean!”

Once she reached the patio deck she had my son’s attention and probably the neighbors’ also.  “You get right in here, young man!  This instant!  What do you think you are doing?  You don’t pick up dog poop with your fingers!”  She said this as if it was a matter that everyone would understand.  But, alas, my son gets his intelligence from his father not his mother.

Colin protested, “But Juliann said to.  It’s easier and faster that way.”  He was obviously dumbfounded by his mother’s lack of understanding the profound logic of his actions.  “I only pick up the dry ones with my fingers, not the juicy ones”, he protested.

“Eww!  Gross!  I don’t care what your sister told you!” she declared.  “That stuff is filthy and will give you diseases.  Get in the bathroom right away!  And take off your shoes!”

Once in the bathroom, our son was made to wash his hands with hand soap and then Pine-scented Lysol several times.  Judged thoroughly clean and safe once again, his mother warned him to be careful about how he handled animal excrement.  He was sent out with the yellow rubbers gloves she uses to clean the bathrooms.  I returned with him to the backyard where he, Juliann, and I soon completed the task.  I then went to bring the mower around to the backyard and instructed the two of them to get our collections into the garbage cans on the other side of the house.

This should be the end of the story. It is not.  I had more lessons as a father to learn that day; instructions in Fatherhood 101 that I apparently had missed with my first three children.  I didn’t know that I didn’t know so much as a father.  But I am learning something new every time one of my kids gets up in the morning.  It’s truly amazing how much there is to learn in one’s short lifespan as a parent.

We had used plastic bags to line the buckets that we used to collect our doggy stool samples.  All that was left was to tie up the tops of the bags and take them to the garbage bin at the side of the house.  Meanwhile, I pushed the mower to the backyard.  Before starting it, I returned to the kitchen to get another cup of coffee to have with me when I took breaks from mowing.  While in the kitchen, I heard a large “Thud!” on the rooftop and then what sounded like pine cones dribbling down to the gutters.  I quickly returned to the backyard deck.

“What was that?!” I exclaimed to my two youngest children staring up onto the roof.

“Dog poop,” came the reply.  It was said as if I had missed something so obvious that I must be daft.

“What?!” I asked but not really asking.  It came more from an inability to process the information I was just given.  Older brains, it turns out, are less able to manage such simple data points.

“What did you two do?” I queried.

“I didn’t do anything,” Juliann said.  “Colin tried to throw the bag of dog poop over the house.”

“Why?!” I asked.  Again, this was not a question.  My old, wrinkly brain was just not able to process what I was just told.  I looked at Colin.  Probably from his point of view, it was one of those slack mouthed, dumbfounded stares that parents give when their brains are short-circuiting from trying to figure our their children’s behavior.

His answer was simply, “I didn’t want to walk all of these bags around the house.  So, I thought I would just throw them over the house to the garbage can.  The first one didn’t get very far.”

I looked at him. I looked at the size of the bags.  I looked at his scrawny arms.  I looked at the height of our roof.  I looked up into the sky.  I looked back at him.  Obviously, I was missing something.  Or, God was getting back at me for the fun I had at my wife’s expense earlier.

Stating the obvious loudly enough for our next door neighbors to hear, I said, “You can’t throw them over the house!  For the love of Pete, just carry them around to the garbage can.  NOW!”

He and Juliann scurried off with a few bags and I grabbed a few and followed them.  I wanted to ensure that no more monkey business ensued between the backyard and the 30-yard trek to the side of the house where the garbage can sat unreached by the moon shot over our house.  I then returned with Colin to the back yard where I boosted him up on the roof from our deck to clean up the mess he had made.

Looking sternly at him, I told him, “You pick up up every one of those dog biscuits!  Do you hear me?  I don’t want them clogging up the downspouts the next time it rains!  You get every one.  Now, here’s another bag to replace the one that broke.   Try and pick up the broken bag so that you don’t spill any more doggy do’s out of it….That’s it…now, pick up the rest scattered on the roof and in the gutters.  And don’t miss any!”

As I stepped back to get a better view of him, my young precocious son asked, “But what am I going to pick them up with?”

I smiled and said, “Use your fingers!”

I’m sure I learned some valuable lessons from my son that day.  It’s just that, for the life of me, I don’t know what they are.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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There is a great deal of hand-wringing over the demise of the “American empire” – or at least the appearance of it according to some political conservatives.  I must disclose that I consider myself a political conservative or, perhaps more accurately, right of center.  There are some things that I think the folks on the left of the political spectrum have right.  I support them in these ideas and policies.  Nevertheless, the alarm conservatives have over what they consider to be the down fall of America has me puzzled.

History teaches us that empires never last forever. Why would we expect anything different for our nation?  Even conservatives use Edward Gibbon’s book “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” to show parallels between our decline as a nation and Rome’s.  It is almost as if conservatives are sadistic about it; at one moment agonizing in the pain and in the next reveling in the joy of discovering yet another indicator of America’s Romanesque tortuous decline.  In fact, every empire’s decline in history reveals some uncanny similarities.  So, what’s new?  History repeats itself.  We know that.  Don’t we?  Well, apparently not.

Christian conservatives particularly have a negative eschatological view of history and the future. Yet, they seem to fight against what they know is coming.  Whatever one may call it – “the end of times” or “the end of the ages” – supposedly we are drawing to a close of this world and all of its nations and empires.  Do we expect that America will be immune from these events?  In fact, a careful reading of those portions of the Bible that foretell these events do not indicate any earthly kingdom in power outside of Eastern Europe and the Middle or Far East.  Western nations, including the United States of America, seem to be a non-entity according to the Biblical story.

Winter in Grand Forks, ND

Winter in Grand Forks, ND ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

The Old Testament, however, gives a pattern for how God deals with nations that may be more informative for us. The “highlight tapes” of God dealing with Israel and the nations of the earth could play something like this:

God sends a message through a messenger that he needs to get the attention of a nation and its rulers. In order for them to take the message and messenger seriously, he threatens to do the following:

  • cause events that humble and humiliate the nation and its leaders in the eyes of the world community,
  • cause economic hardships that threaten the security of the rich and powerful,
  • cause natural disasters that wreak havoc upon the nation’s food supply and infrastructure,
  • cause diseases and plagues to bring fear and death,
  • cause foreign nations to threaten national security,
  • cause hostile nations to drag the nation into unwanted war,
  • cause lesser nations, and seemingly more immoral ones, to bring terror and war into its borders

Does anything on that list sound familiar? These seem to be the ways in which God chooses throughout history to deal with nations.  According to the biblical story, God attempts to bring about a course correction with these events.  Any nation that corrects its course can expect a longer future.  Any that do not can expect a speedier decline and fall.  In any event, sooner or later, all nations succumb to the arrogance and avarice that destroyed all the other nations.

One common event that seems to be a part of every empire’s final demise is its involvement in the Far East, in particular Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. After all, where did Alexander the Great meet his end?  Where did the Roman Empire bankrupt itself trying to bring order but ultimately only managed to bring the Huns?  Even the Ottoman Empire had a time of it trying to maintain peace.  In more recent history, the English empire was glad to be rid of its responsibilities there after the Great World War.  It had long before that, however, wasted precious military resources and financial stability attempting to rule that part of the world.  The United Soviet Socialist Republic assumed in the 1980’s that inhabiting and ruling Afghanistan would be a walk in the park.  It, too, broke its back on the effort.

Now, the United States of America is involved in the same imbroglio. Do we think it will turn out any different?  Vietnam should have been a teaching tool for any involvement in another nation’s struggle for revolution and nation building just as the American Revolution should have taught England the dangers of attempting to rule a land and its people from afar.  It rarely works out well, especially when the people have national aspirations of their own.

In all fairness to the leaders of the United States, efforts in the Far East to bring peace and stability may turn out well.  It’s just that history is stacked against such efforts.  Worse, yet, it forebodes irreparable damage to national security, the military, and the economy because of the costs associated with such an effort.  But, who knows.  Maybe it will be different for us.  Maybe as a nation we will beat the odds and last another 250 years.  Maybe.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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