Nicholas R. Wimmer

Archive for the category “Telling Stories”

The Jasmine Filing Cabinet

finn

This year I’m trying to make a conscious effort to write more frequently. I concocted this notion at the end of the December and have invariably let it simmer in the recesses of my mind for the past 30 plus days. So, there’s never going to be a perfect time to start anything (according to Seth Godin) so the best time to launch is now. Cut away the baggage of excuses and just begin. I’m daily confronted by the random hillarities of our boys.

Hillarities (n)- from the Latin (hilarity) meaning a funny and whimsical disposition that is fodder for great stories.

Our middle son, Finn got out of the car yesterday and rushed over to our jasmine bush in the front-yard and proceeded to “file” all of his important school papers into the matrix of vines and leaves.

“What are you doing?” I asked. “Puddin’ my papers away,” stated Finn seriously. After he put away three or four colorful pages he started to pull out older school papers from previous weeks that were now tattered from days of rain and harsh cold. “What are you going to do with those old papers.” “Pudd em’ in my twesure box,” smiled Finn as he bounced up the sidewalk to our door. When we got inside, he took the old papers and rushed them into his room where I saw him pack them away in his shoebox of treasures under his bed. It didn’t really hit me until later that he has a system; a filing system for important things. I’m sure that Finn doesn’t really understand the humorous points of this routine nor does he recognize that their is a beautiful metaphor for Daddy to see- he’s just being a kid; doing whatever comes to his imagination.

No one ever told him to file his school papers away in the jasmine bush- he just did it! And if anyone else would have pulled a two-week old washed out worksheet from preschool, they would simply see trash, not a treasure. Finn’s papers rarely make it from his book bag to the fridge. They always take a detour to a more important place. True value and recognition according to this 4-year-old boy are gained when you are filed away for a season in the jasmine bush- not displayed in the picture frame magnet on the fridge.

What do we do with the things we learn or obtain? How do we present our finest work and achievements? When I read a book or hear someone speak, I often take notes but I rarely go back to them. I don’t have many recognitions or awards, but unfortunately the ones I have displayed have a short shelf life and then find their place in a plastic tub or in the trash. Like Finn I have a filing system too. But very seldom do the things I file away ever become treasures. They may be pulled out accidentally later on in life when I have run out of storage. We just get busy and we compartmentalize to make things… easier?

I fear I’ve learned something from my nappy-headed sweet son- file important things somewhere where they will be tried and weathered. Make these things a part of the front yard of our lives. Where people can see it, ask about it and where it’s chemical, physical and “spiritual” make-up can change over time. Take it to a place where it can mature, not gather dust. It’s then and only then that we can collect it and call it treasure.

The added beauty of Finn’s filing cabinet is that the jasmine bush wraps around our front lamppost (in the spirit of the redeemed Narnia). If John’s gospel shows us anything about this courageous journey that we are on with the man Jesus, the Way, the truth and the life; it’s the vine, the branch, the Light and the abiding nature that creates the reality of life in the Spirit. A reality that undermines the carnal life and juxtaposes the elevated religion that bends our mind and uproots our imagination. Let’s be disciplined to check our best work in at the Jasmine filing cabinet- the order of vegetative life in Christ.

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Put the Candle Back

One of the many hilarious comic sketches in Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy, Young Frankenstein, is when Gene Wilder and Teri Garr do this bookcase scene with the candlestick. This scene puts me in stitches every time I watch it. It’s simplicity is profound- both comically and theologically.

A very dear friend recently asked me to evaluate the things in my life that were seen vs. unseen. To explain, he was asking what things did I think have prevailing importance in my life and could easily be named and displayed in the day to day. Then, what things were “crowding” my mind and time that weren’t specifically seen or considered important. So as I meditated on this cerebral challenge, the picture of a bookcase came to mind- actually this bookcase- Gene and Teri’s bookcase from Young Frankenstein.

I’ve always been fascinated by castles and manors that have secret passage ways with revolving bookcases and paintings. So, indulge the Scooby-Doo-esque illustration of life as a bookcase and the properties of life as the books that fill those shelves. Side note- I have realized that there is a very real violence with bookcases. We recently moved our bookcase across the bedroom and awoken one night by a middle-of-the-night non-emergency flogging from my dear wife (as if some raccoon was picking the lock on our front door) I ran face first into the newly located bookshelf and spun around saying way more than “put the candle back”, I can assure you.

I digress.

So, the revolving bookcase. First, let’s consider how it is like our life: it is a cavity that holds things. It can hold volumes of life, work, achievement, success, fame, fortune, relationships and the various impressions and experiences we’ve collected over time. For some people, these can fill the shelves in an ordered fashion: alphabetically, by date, by subject, etc. For others, it can look like a discount rack at Big Lots, with books jumbled up with unused picture frames, pewter jewelry boxes and assorted candle holders with small chips in them. But however it is displayed, the contents of the shelves are the seen items of our lives: Religion, family, friends, work, hobbies and other interests.

Question #1- How many of these things are active, functional in our day-to-day life? How many of them are important? Important enough to get down off the shelf from time to time and thumb through or re-read?

Questions #2- How many “books” don’t even make it on the shelf? The endless stacks beside the bed or on the desk yet they still consume our lives but may not be significant enough to share shelf space with the “important” things. This clutter of stuff that we keep around, trip over occasionally and even threaten to throw out, just continues to pile up over time. Never rightfully dealt with and ultimately keeping us from living right and ordered lives.

So back to the revolving bookcase. Life as a bookcase is a helpful illustration in and of itself but a revolving bookcase gives us a bonus metaphor when you consider it’s purpose: it’s hiding something. While still maintaining it’s function as a case for books, it’s real purpose is to be an entrance to something else altogether. A gateway to the unseen and unknown mysterious that lie down an uncertain pathway. It could be like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where the external bookcase is only a “shadow”, seen and displayed for years but turns out to be only a figment of the true reality that lies beyond. The substance of our lives is made up of the rudimentary thoughts, sensations and actions that rarely seen on the “outside”. These internal workings of the mind and soul: conviction, belief, survival, love, protection, forgiveness, self-awareness and truth are the real essence of our existence and participation in this life- yet, we never chose to display these things.

What is it that God wants to see (well, he can see it all, but within the context of this metaphor…)? The Word says that to come before him, he desires a broken and contrite heart- desperate for him, not out of obligation but out of an understanding that his unmerited favor and adoption is ours. If he already knows what’s on the shelf, beside the shelf and certainly behind the shelf- why are we so afraid and so damned determined to keep pretending that he doesn’t know? A desperate heart has nothing to lose- no image to keep; it’s open and willing to give free access to it all. The last question:

Question #3: What happens when the “candle” is moved from our shelf? What’s triggered by the displacement of the strategically order items of our lives? Are we too proud to find out or too repealed by the thought of what might happen. Both reasons are lame excuses for me to continue to call myself a true worshiper. It won’t stand up before him and he won’t stand for it. I hope the items displayed on my shelves are the substance of the truth that lies behind. I’m sure if an item doesn’t impress God than I have it there to either feel good about myself and/or impress other people- now who do I worship (again).  Remove the idols, the recognition and self-appraisal. Turn it around and let me boast in one thing and one thing only on the shelf- Christ the King.

Working with Daddy

As we made final preparations for our baby boy to come, one of the major additions was bunk beds for the boy’s room. Not just any bunk beds either, my wife had found the perfect set from… Ikea. Yes, Ikea, the consumers paradise or otherwise known as Lucifer’s Tinker Shop. And so my journey to the land of white pine shelving, paper lamps and Swedish meatballs began.

As I meandered through the labyrinth of cutlery and kitschy napkin holders, I sensed the presence of the Ikea “Minotaur” breathing down my neck.  A massive, writhing being that seizes the consumer’s subconscious, disorienting it’s victims with impulse buys and unwarranted reasons to remodel closets. The beast was cornering me behind faux wood nightstands and shower curtain displays- Ikea was winning. After a lifetime of wandering and a basket full of floral place mats and a receptacle cover, I finally made my way down to the 1st level of the store. Locating the all-wood bunk beds that weighed 2 tons, I looked up and down the mammoth aisle for some assistance, but found none.

I decided to walk to the front of store to find help (which was 2 miles round trip).  I unfortunately had to settle for  a moving cart which I brought back to the bunk bed aisle and attempted to load the over-sized box onto the undersized cart with space wheels that rolled in every direction at the same time (the Swedes evidently don’t believe in a braking system for their carts). By the time I got out to the parking lot I had walked over 12 miles inside the store, signed up for a family savings card, lifted 2 tons, 4 times, spent more than I had budgeted and got angry with an old lady and an employee- The Minotaur gloated with victory; but my mission was completed- bunk beds were coming home.

When I arrived I had two very excited boys waiting to “work” with Daddy. We were going to assemble the bunk beds on Saturday morning- a task that I knew was going to be hard enough to complete without their “help”. As Saturday rolled around, we got out all of my tools (even though all we needed was a flat head screw driver and a hammer) and began unpacking the box. Within minutes, styrofoam was all over the room, we were missing screws, Finn found the hammer and made contact with my big toe… my help had arrived.

After 30 minutes of losing my mind along with all of my tools and somehow displacing every piece of the bed around the house, I “calmly”sent the boys outside to play in the front yard. My boys; precious children- so eager and so desperate to be help- to be noticed and to find purpose. I watched them ride their bikes around our circle drive, round and round they went as I felt my brow soften and my blood pressure go back down.

Picking up the pieces of the bed scattered around the house felt heavy as the Holy Spirit began to fasten truth to the hardware of my heart. I am more like them than I know sometimes. We are all so fragile, so eager and so unhelpful in many ways. I tried for years in my religiosity and zeal to “help” my Daddy fix the problems I so clearly saw around me: friends, breakups, church politics, the poor and needy. I didn’t wait for instruction, I ignored the written diagrams he provided and certainly had no idea how to use the tools he gave me. And yet I managed more often than not to make a mess of things and still waited for recognition of my efforts.

I made the final interpretations of the Swedish Airline Emergency instructions to assemble what I hoped was a bed that could withstand the tempest that slammed back in through the front door. As the boys jumped all over the bunks and swung from the slats I heard a single word echo inside- ABIDE. What more does the God of this universe, maker of heaven and earth want? He wants our heart, our time, a genuine desire to be with him and for us to listen.

We live in a confusing world that tries at nothing less than to suffocate the innocence and simplicity of time- pure, unadulterated time. His abiding presence is the only saving grace. Between the aisles of foreign stores, busy streets, useless conversations and fragmented moments of life- his presence- Daddy’s patient presence wins the moment every time. And the most amazing thing is that he knows we’re going to make a mess.

Mangrove Monsters: How Fear strikes in the Florida Keys- Part 1

The Suburban was packed to the brim as we pulled out of West Palm Beach- 5 guys, 4 sleeping bags (Brian was sleeping in a hammock), fishing poles, 40 lbs. of ice, enough groceries to feed a ship’s crew and more proffesional camera gear than was humanly possible to use (Scott was going to take a “few” pictures on the trip).

Our road/boat trip was officially underway. The course was set for the infamous Islamorada; nestled half-way down the keys and only 50 + miles from Key West. Known for it’s brilliant blue waters, coral reefs and the not so inviting finger-eating barracuda and stingray that would commandere a vessel by flying out of the water- or so we heard.

Brian was most familar with the Keys and their mythical creatures. We listened to his stories about lobstering with his family and the 100 lb. tarpon that lived at Robbies marina where we were picking up our Island Hopper house boat for the week. As we cruised down the narrow strip of land, Scott snapping memories along the way, we felt excitment countered by a bit of concern for Matt. He has just recieved a call that his Mom had fallen ill. She had been coping with COPD for several years but this Kentuky-born fighter would always snap back when things got bad- she wasn’t snapping back this time.

We all felt Matt’s heaviness for his Mom as we unloaded the Suburban at the dock. Trying to ease the tension we popped open a few beers and posed for some shots aboard our party barge. The boat manager emerged from the docks a few moments later, salty-hair and weatherd skin- “Call me Don,” he said in a thick Chesapeake accent (we secretly called him Captain Ron the whole week).  Don explained to Brian and I the layout of the keys, sandbars, good fishing spots and the best mooring balls to shore up on for the night.

“Don’t want you’all drifftin off in the middle of the night. You hit a sandbar, the man gotta come and tow-yo -ass back in… that’s 500 dolla’,” Ron said emphaticaly. “Then you break a prop too… you out-a-pocket another 4- 500 dolla’- sheetz expensive.” I sat my beer down as a precautionary move to ensure that at least one of us was paying full attention.

Captain Ron towed us out through the mangrove canal and into the open waters of Lignumvitae Basin in the Florida Bay. Lignum Vitae, meaning “Tree of Life” was the place we stayed for the entire week after we realized that our boat only went 3 mph and used up 30 gallons of fuel per mile! But we didn’t mind it- it was beautiful and vast and as each day ended we bore witness to a masterpiece of pinks, oranges and reds- like they were painted just for us.

Don pulled us out to a mooring ball close to the Lignumvitae Botanical State Park. Brian, Scott and I hopped into the small whaler that Don was driving so that we could take him back to Robbies. As we cruised back through the bay, Scott asked if Don had ever heard of finger-eating barracuda or flying stingray. “Oh yeah, you leave a ring on or anything shiny-like, those barracuda will think it’s food. And stingray- there was just a report a month ago, just north of here of a boat driving at full speed and collided into a ray and knocked a women clean out! Out of the boat and lights out!” I was suddenly aware that I was far from home. Scott took a picture of Don. Don didn’t like to have his picture taken.

When we got back to the house boat it looked like things were status quo with Matt and David. David had a netted black tank top on and swim shorts he owned in elementary school. Matt was pitching wiffle balls to David from the top deck and then swimming out to retrive them. We all got geared up for a little snorkel outing and to find some golf balls that David had evidently fired off the top deck as well when a herd (or school- their not fish) of dolphins swam right through our group. It was amazing.

As the day came to an end, we started getting ready for dinner and that’s when I noticed that Matt was pretty quiet. I knew he was thinking about her and was torn between fully enjoying himself here with us and being by her bed. Could this be her final hours? How could Matt bear it if she died and he was in Islamorada swimming with dolphins. I know Matt- he was thinking about everything. I spoke up,”she’d want you to be loving life I think.””Yeah,” he quietly responded.

He clicked his phone to check for a message but the service was patchy at best in the Keys. “Brian has better service,” I said, “I’m sure someone will call with an update.” “Yeah,” was his only reply. We all felt the heaviness as we sat around the table that night. We felt stranded, but we also felt freedom. It would be too simple to say that our moments there on that boat were but a microcosm of life itself- but it was. Images of beauty and freedom and truth hung inside a diorama of great fear and darkness and danger. Even though Don said that these mangrove mosters were real, I had a feeling that a greater fear would be encountered on this trip.

Bartelbay and the Bubblegum Sword

In a tiny village not so far away, their lived a young knight named Bartelbay. He was the youngest of three much older brothers, his father was great and he had no mother. His oldest brother was a logger who had a great axe. His middle brother was a hunter and carried a bow a a quiver of arrows. And his father was a great knight who swung a broad sword.

But Bartelby was not like the others. He didn’t have a shiny axe or arrows or a sword like his father, he only had… a bublegum sword. Yes, a bubblegum sword- made from a bubblegum tree of course.

But everytime Bartelby would try and use his sword it just wouldn’t work. He would try and cut a piece of cheese. But it would roll off the table. He would try and slice watermelon, but he couldn’t even cut through. At Christmas, he even tried to cut down a tree likle his brother, but his bubblegum sword just wouldn’t work. Bartelby was sad. He would never be a great knight like his father or brothers if he only had a bubblegum sword.

One day as he and his brothers were working on the farm, they heard a giant thump. Then another thump and another. Something was moving in the trees- something big. They called for their father and friends from the town. Everyone came with their swords and axes and bows to see what was coming through the trees.

Then all of the sudden, the biggest foot came stomping through the ltrees. Followed by the most massive leg, then a hand and arm the size of a boat then chest and the neck and the ugliest head that they’d ever seen. It was a giant!

The townspeople ran as far as they could for hither and thither and right that they should. Cause the size of the giant was as tall as the sky and the scary thing was that he had but one eye. Only Bartelbay and his brothers and his father stood fast and went toe to toe with that giant alas.

Father went first with his broad sword a’swinging, but the giant brushed him away and left his bell ringin’ The oldest brother went next with his great axe in hand, but the giant just kicked him over to the next land. The middle brother came shooting a fleet full of arrows but the giant sent him flying into a nest full of sparrows.

With everyone gone Bartelbay was just left. The giant walked forward as he puffed out his chest. “What’s that you have- a bubblegum sword? Are trying to fight me or throw a party my lord.” The giant just laughed as Bartlebay coward. Then he had a quick thought, and felt quite empowered. He started to chew up every bit of sword from hilt to tip, all he could afford. To chew in his cheeks as the giant walked towards him. He chewed it all up then started to blow the biggest bubblegum bubble that he’d ever known. And just as the giant reached down to grab him the bubble burst and stuck all over the giants face.

He couldn’t see Bartelbay or anything. and he stumbled and funmbled and bubmbled and fumbled till his giant tow caught a root and sent him staright over. Crashing down on his head and the giant was dead.

The townspeople cheered and Bartelbay’s brothers came near as he stood on the back of the giant. His father walked over with his braod sword in hand and gave it to Batrtelbay as he jumped down off of the giant. “No thank you father,” Bartelbay said, I’d rather have a bubblegum sword if it’s okay with you.”

The End

My List of Nevers

The presents are all open, the cookie plates have been desimated, wrapping is piled up in the living room and the once illustrous tannenbaum is calling it quits and dropping its needles on the floor- Christmas day is over and… we survived.

It is still amazing that the event in history that brought about the grestest Peace the world will ever know is celebrated as the most chaotic time of the year. I’m doing better with this paradox than I have in years past (thanks be to God). With two young boys and a thrird on the way, I have redirected my efforts of trying to hijack Christmas to wanting to instill certain values in our boy’s young minds. Understanding the “true meaning” of Christmas, thinking of others and not ourselves and defining the how’s and why’s of many of the holiday traditions doesn’t seem to translate all that well to an almost 5 and 3 year old.

Riding around yesterday with our oldest son Kaison (Kai), I listened as he rambled through a meticulous list of how he was NEVER allowed to play games, NEVER watched shows or movies, how he NEEDED a toy at the store so he wouldn’t be sad and how we NEVER gave him anything or let him have ANY fun. Hmmmm? I quietly waited for him to finish before a responded with my fatherly wisdom saying “NEVER is a very strong word Kai. You’re right, sometimes Mommy and I don’t want you to play games or watch TV, because there are other things you can do like go outside or play with Legos. Its good for you to detox (I explain what detox means).” Then I say, “It makes me sad to hear you say those things, especially after we just had Christmas and you got so many gifts and watched so much TV. It seems like you aren’t satisfied.”

Please read the last line there as purely instructive- not manipulative. I really was sad in that moment that my almost 5 year-old, two days after Christmas, had so many mis-givings about life. After trying to elaborate on how we detox from electronics and what being “thankful” means, we made it home and through the nightly bedtime routine (which is something like a domestic witch hunt and spanish inquistion with the occassional Disney moment curled up beside the fire- but usually ends in tears and spankings).

The truth of what happened had not really hit me until this morning when I read the psalms. In the 126th Psalm it says, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tounges with shouts of joy.”

Then I went back and read the opening line of Psalm 121; “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” Enter conviction- at least it is for me in this moment. I realized that Kai and I are not much different in our attitudes. How often do I feel the loss of time, the desires of my heart not materializing, hope deffered. Instead of waiting with anticipation, thankful and disciplined to keep my eyes fixed on the Maker of heaven and earth, I complain about all that I don’t have and make my laundry list of NEVERS. I also fill the void with aimless futile junk, that only leads me futher away from the help and restoration of the fortune that God is.

I want to be in the practice of starving the flesh to make room for the soul. To remove the wanderings and distractions that momentarily create entertainment and be about the things that are true and substantial. Satisfaction is knowing deeply that everything we’ve been given or that which has been taken away has come from the hand of the Father. To be “like those who dream” is to realize that every good and perfect gift comes from the Lord and appropriate my life accordingly.

Unassuming, I think about my role as a father and how to respond to Kaison when he gives me his NEVER list. How does the Father respond to me? What does he think- is he saddened by my lack of recognition and appreciation as I am? Is my view and understanding of him and his word eclipsed by my dissappointment? When I lift up my eyes, where does my help come from? Can I see clearly to focus on the ridge of that hill or do I have I amassed so many things that they have blocked my view?

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