Póg Mo Thóin

To the left of the Winmau dart board hung a stenciled wooden sign that read, “Póg mo thóin.”

“I wonder what that means,” I said with a tilt of my head and my hitch-hiking thumb pointing toward the sign.

sign

“Right?” Kody said as he aimed his dart. “It sounds nasty.”

We had dropped into a new Irish bar, new for us, where the green twinkle lights on the covered patio drew us in, green velvet bar stools invited us to sit, and a darling bartender with long red hair poured us drinks—a Wild Basin Black Raspberry seltzer in a chilled glass and a Jameson Caskmates IPA neat for me. To our delight, there were nice dart boards in a room on the other side of a partitioned half wall and darts with pointed tips. I emphasize nice and pointed because we have a tendency to play in a place with a terrible board and darts with blunt tips that don’t stick. Like the twinkle lights and green velvet, these were wonderful surprises.

I had been practicing my aim, and our game was tied. It was a matter of shooting two more bullseyes. I already had one, and so did Kody. With my eyes on the board, my ears  overheard a conversation between two guys at the bar, “What’s the longest road trip you’ve ever taken? I mean, not with your parents as a kid, but that you drove yourself.”

I couldn’t hear what the other guy said, but the bartender said, “Probably Austin. I never drive anywhere.” She seemed very young, but now that I’m fifty, so many people do.

I wanted to pipe into this conversation, but I was busy concentrating on my target. Ready. Aim. 5. Ready. Aim. 16. Ready. Aim. 2. Kody said, “I’m telling you, you’re on the spot.” My darts were close, but not close enough.

Kody couldn’t hit his either. His darts fell on the 9, the 14, and the 8. He breathed out with a huff.

“Thanks for giving me another chance,” I said with a smile. My wins against Kody are few and far between.

The first road trip that came to mind was the one I took with my friend Misti back in 2009. She had moved to Sitka, Alaska for a couple of years, and she was moving back to Texas and driving her car, the first stretch for her via ferry. And so I flew to Sacramento and met her to keep her company for the rest of the way home. We stayed in Sonoma Valley that first night, toured Napa, and dined at Bottega, Chef Michael Chiarello’s restaurant, where I had my favorite meal of the trip—Tortino Rustico Southern Italian ratatouille in a mascarpone pastry shell, fresh goats’ cheese, heirloom tomato sauce and arugula salad. I hate to be one of those people snapping photos in fancy restaurants, but I don’t regret keeping the memory.

My Bottega Dinner

I threw my darts again—6, triple 12, 10. By the way, if you don’t play darts, I hit the twelve on the small red strip on the inner circle, which means absolutely nothing. Triples on 15-20 is exactly what you want, but I had closed those numbers.

From wine country we spent a couple of days in San Francisco, drove down Lombard Street, toured in a double decker bus, walked on the Golden Gate Bridge, ate at Fisherman’s Wharf, caught a performance of Wicked, and ate pizza in a parlor alongside the famous San Francisco twins. From San Francisco, Misti and I traded off driving first down Pacific Coast Highway One and then east toward Las Vegas. And you know what they say about Vegas—what happens there, stays there.

Pacific Coast Highway One

Kody had another opportunity to beat me, and as he threw 20, 17, and 16, I heard the guy who proposed the road trip question mention his travels between Houston and Odessa. “It’s a good ten hour drive, but I just take my pee bottle.”

“Did he just say pee bottle?” I said to Kody in a voice quiet enough that no one else could hear. “Who needs a pee bottle? Just stop the damn car.”

Kody said, “I don’t need that much time. I’m already driving 110.” 

There was a note of truth behind his joke, and suddenly his driving seemed better than traveling with a bottle of pee. No offense if you happen to use a pee bottle, just not my style, and I laughed and shook my head.

From Vegas, Misti and I drove southeast a bit before hitting the Historic Route 66, stopping for restrooms and gas along the way, and after an overnight respite somewhere in Arizona, we sped on toward Santa Fe where we spent another night at a nice resort and celebrated with massages in teepees. Misti planned every last detail, and I’m the friend who says, “Okay!” I’m not sure who was Thelma and who was Louise. Brad Pitt may or may not have shown up along the way. But instead of running away and driving off a cliff, we drove right into Dallas back to our jobs and the reality of our lives. No one was hurt in the making of our escapade. Well, Misti might have been, but that’s her story to tell. Anyway, that is how you road trip with one of your besties.

I held the dart with three fingers, my index and my thumb with my middle finger to steady it. I stared straight in the center of the bull. I threw. I missed. I refocused. I threw my second dart. “Kody?” I said, pointing.

“Is that it?” he said, and he walked forward for a closer look at my dart in the red center of the board, worth a double bullseye.

“Didn’t you have an opportunity to take some points on me?” I said, rubbing it in just a little bit.

“You really gonna say that? I’ll be taking my points next time. Another game? I’m bringing the pain.” He was totally jesting.

“Well, game on.” I said with feigned bravado. “Game. On.”

“My Name Is Human” played in the background. This was Kody’s playlist. To think that jukeboxes can be controlled through the touch of a phone. Anyway, I had a friend tell me that he always liked my playlists. So Tim, this is for you—a random sampling of our Wednesday evening songs, old and new, from the jukebox to the car radio to videos on our TV in the living room.  And for those of you who don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day—try, “Póg mo thóin.”  St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner.

 

It Is Well with My Soul

Thanksgiving Episode I

I’m on a two-week church streak. Since moving to Houston in 2016 and leaving behind my seemingly irreplaceable Chase Oaks in Dallas, well, let’s just say I sort of slipped off the church wagon. I visited here and there, and in a city the size of Houston, it’s weird that I couldn’t find a place that felt like home. Eventually, I gave up and just lived in sin.

(Ha Ha! I kid. We’re all sinners and by that I mean imperfect. But I keep trying to be a better human anyway.)

Two Sundays ago, I found myself at the Methodist church in my Oklahoma panhandle hometown. Olivia, my five-year-old great niece, was singing in the children’s choir, and well, I couldn’t miss that. Their song went something like this, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings for what the Lord has done.” And I did. While the kids sang, I counted my blessings.

  1. Seeing my sweet mother again.
  2. Hearing my mom say, “I love you,” to me one more time.
  3. Seeing and hearing Olivia’s performance and gleaning a jewel of wisdom.
  4. The opportunity for some time off of work to spend time with my family.
  5. A safe solo trip to the panhandle.
  6. My three-year-old niece Allyson, playing hide and seek with me in the next pew.
  7. My last class of my 12-week, long-term sub job, where we had a round of Show and Tell, and Jennissa and Neicko brought down the house with their own rendition of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s duet “Shallow” from A Star Is Born.

I could’ve continued counting, but I zoned back into the service in time for the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul,” which led into the sermon and the backstory of the song writer Horatio Spafford. A lawyer from Chicago, in 1871 Spafford’s four-year-old son died of Scarlet fever and the Great Fire destroyed his real estate investment and ruined him financially. Two years later his wife and four daughters headed to Europe on vacation, where he planned to later join them, and their ship the S.S. Ville du Havre sank in the Atlantic Ocean. His wife’s telegram read, “Saved alone.” Their four daughters had drowned. He wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” on his journey to England to meet his wife while passing near the spot where the ship went down. In the face of more tragedy than the average person could bear, Spafford’s soul was well. Mid-blessing count, my soul is well, too.

Click here for Episode 2.

Let It Go

Thanksgiving Episode 2

Back in Houston last Sunday, I tried a new church, River Pointe, by recommendation of my friend Mary. Like my Chase Oaks back in Dallas, the music was outstanding, a mix of contemporary and traditional, and for the second time in a week, I sang “It Is Well With My Soul.” This time the minister referenced the songwriter Horatio Spafford and said, “You should Google him.” I remembered the story from last week’s service in Oklahoma (Thanksgiving Episode 1) and silently wondered if God was trying to tell me something. I mean, my soul still felt pretty darn good. As pastor Ryan Leak spoke, I heard the boom of God’s voice and a special Thanksgiving message crystal clear.

Regardless of what you think about Jesus, you have to admit he has a common sense approach to relationship restoration. And while some of us can’t wait to gather with our families at Thanksgiving and throughout the upcoming holidays, some of us have some relationship issues that strike discord and darken spirits.

As I typed up a few sermon notes to keep for myself, I decided to share with you if you so choose to read on. Let us now turn to the New Testament.

“Then Peter came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered him, ‘I say to you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Did you see the italicized and? It’s not just about the forgiveness. We must also let it go.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:3-4).

Before you sit down to the Thanksgiving table, remember the words. You see, faith allows you to do what sometimes seems impossible…like letting go and moving on. It is impossible that no offenses will come. We are human. None of us are perfect, but it’s so much easier to point the finger in blame rather than to let a wrongdoing go. Jesus says, “Let it go. 490 times. Let it go.” Did you notice the imperative statement, also known as a command (ment). Ask God to give you an opportunity to be honest (rebuke them), then be generous with your forgiveness and discerning with reconciliation. That is God’s message. The message I needed to hear.

As I left the sanctuary that day, the woman sitting next to me turned, looked me in the eye, and said in a lilting Nigerian accent, “And to think that God would give us the grace to forgive every family member.”

Thirty Years in the Blink of an Eye

It was Friday, September 29, 1989. I remember the twang of the B-52’s on the radio that morning: “If you see a faded sign at the side of the road that says ‘15 miles to the Love Shack.’ Love Shack, yeah, yeah….” Except I wasn’t headed down the Atlanta highway or headed for a love getaway. Nope. Not this day. On this day, I got in my Honda. I was big as a whale. Nine months earlier, I had spent my time at the Love Shack. On this particular day, I headed down Highway 51, having contractions along the way to the hospital in Stillwater.

Twelve hours later…

It was 11:56 PM. The doctor said, “Do you want to have this baby on September 29th or the 30th?” 9/29/89 had a ring to it, so I plucked up strength enough and gave another push.

Those big brown eyes.

And with this little baby Andrew Riley, 8 lbs. 8 oz., came a love and joy and pride I never knew.

Those curls and that laugh.
There was baseball and football, basketball and soccer.
Good-looking and just plain good.
And we totally grew up together.
Our cellist. As his Nana likes to say, the maestro.

Looking back over thirty years, I remember so many moments of greatness, and I realize how often you have to keep plucking up strength enough and giving yet another push.

And today Happy 30th Birthday to my love and joy and pride, my courageous and strong son Andrew!

Where I’m From

For so many years, my students have studied and discussed George Ella Lyons poem, “Where I’m From” and then written their own.

So many years later, I wrote mine.

Where I’m From

I am from wide open spaces,
from endless horizons and Oklahoma skies.
I am from dancing lessons on Main Street.
(Pirouettes and plies
and a shuffle ball change,
it felt like Broadway.)
I am from faith and gratitude, peace and hope.

I’m from banana bread and books,
from Sharon and David.
I’m from “Treat people how you want to be treated”
and “Participate.”
I’m from “I can do all things
through Christ who strengthens me” and
“When you know better,
you do better.”

I’m from Ada and George, Catherine and Ed,
many more books and second-hand shopping.
From lifelong friendships
and hometown happenings,
hard work and hellos.
From mistakes and heartaches
and forgiveness.

Turned pages of my history
bookmarked to guide me
through the next chapters of
my unwritten future.

Momming Ain’t Easy

Jerusalem with My Mother.
#thankful

As long as I can remember, I’ve been a mama’s girl. I dropped out of pre-school, and my mother was my safety net. She chose her battles and her strategies, and in the end I finished out the year. I remember her tucking me in each night with a “Good night, Sugarplum” or a “Good night, sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” I remember her chauffeuring me back and forth to school each day and the aroma of banana bread awaiting in our kitchen. I remember changing clothes for dance lessons or gymnastics and jumping back in the car with mom. I remember when those lessons moved south by two hours to Amarillo during 5th and 6th grade and forty minutes northeast to Liberal during the 9th. How many hours did we spend together just the two of us? She was in my every audience at every recital, every swim meet, every school activity. And after my freshman year at OU when I found myself pregnant, she helped me move from my dorm into my first apartment and accompanied me to childbirth classes. Even though I lived five hours from home, she drove ten hours round trip each week and held my nineteen-year-old hand as I became a mom.

Beautiful Inside and Out

My mother taught me unconditional love, stood by me during the best and worst of times, and prayed with me and for me non-stop. Somehow my best doesn’t seem to compare.

Once upon a time, I was a soccer mom, Lauren was highly competitive, and we criss-crossed the U. S. for the love of the game. One spring evening about thirteen years ago, I remember sitting on the sidelines watching practice with Jane, another mom, who confided, “Natasha told me that Lauren pierced her belly button.”

“Oh, really?” I said.

Lauren was a freshman in high school at the time, too young to be showing anyone belly buttons or belly rings. Even though I may or may not have revealed more than my belly button at her age, I sat through soccer practice devising my mom-plan. The next day the girls would be boarding a plane for a tournament, location now forgettable. Practice gear needed laundering, and I would wait until we returned home to “discover” the piercing for myself.

I remember smiling at Lauren after practice and saying, “Nice workout!” I remember the ride home as if everything was completely normal. I remember walking into Lauren’s room once home, pointing at her Texans practice t-shirt, and saying, “Take that off. I need to start a load of laundry.”

On cue, Lauren flipped up her shirt, and I gasped with added Mama drama, “What have you done?”

“I pierced my belly button,” she may or may not have said, the memory a teenager now.

I pointed at her navel and said, “Take that out—It’s going to get infected.” Ripped out on the pitch would have been the scarier possibility, but I hadn’t thought through my words or possibilities or consequences, only my detection tactic in keeping the confidence of both Jane and Natasha.

And on cue, Lauren pulled out the piercing and handed it over. At the time, in my mind, removal of the belly ring was punishment enough.

*****

Flash forward a year, same teenager, now a tenth grader.

Lauren’s friend Savannah vacationed in Amsterdam the summer before sophomore year, and Savannah returned with a wonderful souvenir for Lauren—a sterling silver pair of marijuana leaf earrings. I have to give Lauren some credit for showing me the earrings, but I warned her, “You cannot—ever—wear them to school.” Lauren attended school where I taught, and no way ever could she be seen—ever—with cannabis leaves in her ears.

I remember riding shotgun to school one day, Lauren driving with her learner’s permit, a typical morning and a smooth ride considering the fifteen-year-old behind the wheel. At the end of the same day on the way home, Lauren drove once more. This time, I remember the glint of sterling catching my eye from Lauren’s ears. I remember sitting at a red light and commanding once more, “Take those out.” I extended my right hand, palm up. “Give them to me.”

Lauren unscrewed the backs, dislodged the earrings, and placed them in my upturned palm. I can still picture the open field on the passenger side of the street. I remember rolling down my window with her jewelry in hand. In slow motion, I still see myself tossing the silver weed as far as possible into the weeds. I’m pretty sure she hated my guts for that.

Momming ain’t easy, even though my mother made the job seem effortless, but she’s a saint. Sometimes emotions stand in the way. As far as I know, there’s no parenting manual on actions to take when your teen-aged daughter pierces her belly button or sneaks around with marijuana leaves in her ears or hates your guts. I think we all do the best we can, and after that, I’ve found prayer my best hope.

And you know what? Here she is now, age 27, my adulting daughter, BBA in Finance, earning a salary, supporting herself, buying her first car without help, and smiling from ear-to-ear.

And anytime I ask my self, 
What would my mother do?
I know, and I pray.
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