Archive for the ‘Dad’ Category

Going Against the Grain: Rewriting History

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

My adopted, six week old African-American daughter Rachel clung to her new mother as she suspiciously surveyed her new father.  I was uncomfortably Caucasian.

While my wife Karen has several adopted siblings of sundry nationalities and racial mixtures, I had never know anyone who was adopted–of any race.  Now I was the father of a child who looked very much like a group of people whom I had been taught to hate.

I grew up in the segregated South. Racism was an old acquaintance of mine.  A sepulcher from whose shadow I could not escape, whose curse even a love for my new daughter could not seem to extinguish.

As surely as all people have been affected by racism, racial reconciliation is a task for all people. No one in American can escape the consequences of racism. It is about people with hopes and dreams and visions that are never realized.  Racial reconciliation also is a dream and vision that we must all cast.

My friend Thomas was a victim of racism.  He was told that black boys do not go to white colleges.  My friend Dwight dropped his head in shame when an elder blocked his path and told him n—– were not welcome at our church.   My friend, Craig, however, was also a victim of racism.  He threatened to castrate a young black man who vacated the balcony in the Malco Theater and sought a better seat in the back of the white only lower section.  Craig and I were perpetrators and victims, however, Dwight and Thomas were only victims.

But I knew the first time I met Rachel, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, that it was time that part of my history was changed.  It was time that racism in my life died.

Rachel was my promised land.  She was my new time, my new land, my new chance.  She was more than my daughter: she was God’s invitation to me to experience wholeness and new life.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann in his commentary on Genesis argues that Abraham, when he accepted God’s call, entered a new history.   Racial reconciliation calls us all to a new history.  The new history is without link to the old.  The new history begins with a call for all of us to repent and a summons to leave old comfort zones and to go somewhere we are not to become someone who I once was not.   In my life this new call was a second call. A new birth.

Homeschooling is like that.  A call to a new life.  A new history. An alternative track.

Through Rachel God called me to an alternative life, a life that is the antithesis to the cold, barren one based on hatred and mistrust.   My first destination was the wilderness.  The wilderness is a place of diminished resources and manna but it offers greater possibilities than the comforts and the garlic of Egypt.   We who live Ur and seek the Promised Land will–as I have found–experience some obstacles.  We too will have our faith tested, our memory of God’s deeds questioned.

In my case, Rachel was engrafted into my genus, into my family line.  My great-great-great Uncle Howeard was a slaveowning Confederate soldier. His great-great-granddaughter is an ancestor of slaves.  Progress.

When I grasped Rachel in my arms I rewrote history.  I ended a curse too.  From that time, to forever, my family has an African-American in its history.

When I look at my youngest son, a Stobaugh with all his Caucasian tint, I see a better version of myself.  Peter, my son, has three older African-American siblings.  He was homeschooled with, he lived his life with, his siblings are, African-Americans. There is not a hint of racism in my white boy.  The curse is ended. Progress.

Perhaps, saints, that is the best we can do in our home schooling—write a new history for our children.  End those curses.  Give them a new history of hope.

Buy a Field at Anathoth

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2: 3-5—“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we?  You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us,   written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.”  My dad’s life is written on my heart.  It gives me pleasure still to read his Bible.

But, parents, write in your Bible!  Even if you use squiggly lines.  Your kids will thank you someday!  But more important, write your lives on their hearts.  That someday, perhaps one cold night, as they wait to go asleep, they will read your Bible, see your marks, and, more importantly, remember that day, long ago, when you wrote your life on their lives.

Mark Jeremiah 32.

32:1 In the tenth year that Zedekiah was ruling over Judah the Lord spoke to Jeremiah. That was the same as the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. 32:2 Now at that time, 2  the armies of the king of Babylon were besieging Jerusalem. 3  The prophet Jeremiah was confined in the courtyard of the guardhouse 4  attached to the royal palace of Judah. 32:3 For King Zedekiah 5  had confined Jeremiah there after he had reproved him for prophesying as he did. He had asked Jeremiah, “Why do you keep prophesying these things? Why do you keep saying that the Lord says, ‘I will hand this city over to the king of Babylon? I will let him capture it. 6  32:4 King Zedekiah of Judah will not escape from the Babylonians. 7  He will certainly be handed over to the king of Babylon. He must answer personally to the king of Babylon and confront him face to face. 8  32:5 Zedekiah will be carried off to Babylon and will remain there until I have fully dealt with him. 9  I, the Lord, affirm it! 10  Even if you 11  continue to fight against the Babylonians, 12  you cannot win.’”

32:6 So now, Jeremiah said, “The Lord told me, 13  32:7 ‘Hanamel, the son of your uncle Shallum, will come to you soon. He will say to you, “Buy my field at Anathoth because you are entitled 14  as my closest relative to buy it.”’ 15  32:8 Now it happened just as the Lord had said! My cousin Hanamel 16  came to me in the courtyard of the guardhouse. He said to me, ‘Buy my field which is at Anathoth in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. Buy it for yourself since you are entitled as my closest relative to take possession of it for yourself.’ When this happened, I recognized that the Lord had indeed spoken to me. 32:9 So I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel. I weighed out seven ounces of silver and gave it to him to pay for it. 17  32:10 I signed the deed of purchase, 18  sealed it, and had some men serve as witnesses to the purchase. 19  I weighed out the silver for him on a scale. 32:11 There were two copies of the deed of purchase. One was sealed and contained the order of transfer and the conditions of purchase. 20  The other was left unsealed. 32:12 I took both copies of the deed of purchase 21  and gave them to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah. I gave them to him in the presence 22  of my cousin 23  Hanamel, the witnesses who had signed the deed of purchase, and all the Judeans who were housed in the courtyard of the guardhouse. 32:13 In the presence of all these people I instructed Baruch, 32:14 ‘The Lord God of Israel who rules over all 24  says, “Take these documents, both the sealed copy of the deed of purchase and the unsealed copy. Put them in a clay jar so that they may be preserved for a long time to come.”’ 25  32:15 For the Lord God of Israel who rules over all 26  says, “Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.”’

Jeremiah, knowing full well that he was going to die in captivity, without ever enjoying his homeland again, bought property in that homeland.  His investment was not for himself; it was for his children, his grandchildren, his nation.  Can you do that?  Can you live your life knowing that you might never enjoy your field at Anathoth?  Can you invest in the lives of things and people knowing you may never live to see the fruit grow on the bushes in the fields that you bought but will not enjoy?

You should see what is under my bed. (Part II)

Friday, April 9th, 2010

I keep one special book under the bed:  my dad’s Bible.  It is an old leather black Bible, expensive leather, worn now, with the edges exhibiting light brown cow leather intruding out of the faded black.  The cover has “Holy Bible” and “Billy Stobaugh” written in gold letters.

Inside the Bible in my Mammaw’s handwriting is “1939. To Billy from Mother and Daddy, 8 years.”  My dad was born in 1932 and apparently this was his 8th birthday present.  When my dad died on Father’s Day in 1982, when he was only 49, my mom gave me this Bible.

I imagine Dad got other things for his birthday.  Toy soldiers?  A pop gun?  I will never know.  But I know he got this Bible.  If you found your deceased dad’s Bible what would you do? I immediately looked for evidence that he read it.  I looked for a mark, any mark, that would evidence that he read it, studied it, applied it to his life.  Nothing.

Nothing.  Nothing in the family register.  Nothing next to John 3:16.   I know my dad knew God loved him.  I heard him say it a few hours before he died.  But no marks in his Bible.

I know I have lots of marks in my Bible.  I can’t keep up with Karen though.  She is the “master marker.”  Her Bible is full of underlines.  Her Bible underlines are straight and neat.  I can’t do it.  My lines inevitably invade other verses.  I gave up drawing straight lines under verses—I now put squiggly lines.  I once asked Karen to show me how she made straight lines under her Bible verses—sometimes without even a straight edge.  She ignored my question.

I don’t have my dad anymore but I have his Bible.  And there is nothing written in it.

I wish my dad wrote in his Bible, the Bible I keep under my bed.  I would like something—anything—that reminds me of him.  I am 56 now and it is 28 years since he died.  I can hardly remember what he looks like now.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2: 3-5—“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we?  You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us,   written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.”  My dad’s life is written on my heart.  It gives me pleasure still to read his Bible.

But, parents, write in your Bible!  Even if you use squiggly lines.  Your kids will thank you someday!  But more important, write your lives on their hearts.  That someday, perhaps one cold night, as they wait to go asleep, they will read your Bible, see your marks, and, more importantly, remember that day, long ago, when you wrote your life on their lives.

You should see what is under my bed. (Part I)

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

You should see what is under our bed (don’t tell Karen I shared this).

Stashed in disheveled piles are my World War II history books and other treasures.

Inevitably Karen (my wife) will spend eons of time preparing for bed.  While she is brushing her teeth, washing her face, and other necessary hygienic things, I grab a book from my history library and I read about the German U Boat campaign in the North Atlantic.

I have several libraries.  There is the academic library—full of literary criticism books.  That one is stashed in the basement next to my desktop computer.  The one with Windows 98—the last Microsoft software I fully comprehended.  Next, there is the classical library in the family room.  This is the library that is full of “pretty books.”  No one touches that library; it is there for show.  But across the room is the “grandchildren library” full of children’s classics that Karen reads to the grandchildren.

But my favorite library is the library under my bed.  It really is a good idea—you should try it.  Under my bed, safe and clear, are my treasured reading books.  I have perennial classics—Run Silent, Run Deep. Occasionally other favorites sneak in—Milton’s Paradise Lost—which I re-read bi-annually—is propped up next to Operation Barbarossa.  John Keegan’s World War II is a great read and can keep me awake through Karen’s most extensive post-day, pre-sleep preparations.

I hope you have things you treasure and that you keep them close at hand.

Hip Saga Continues

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

In 1988 I was serving as a summer pastor at Matinicus Island (as in “Keep the Light House Burning Abby!”), ME. I was there with my whole family, Karen and our four children. Summer pastors served congregations for a month or two and for payment we were able to live in the parsonage rent free during our time there.

My duties were pretty light—I preached on Sunday and handled emergencies. But most days we were free to explore this incredible paradise.

On this day we had loaded up our backpacks, and Peter, who was three, on our backs and headed to the beach (about a mile away). Naturally we aggressively negotiated with Peter trying to persuade him to be a big boy and walk a little. Normally he resisted, but, today, thankfully he agreed to walk.

And he walked for about a mile! Despite occasional excursions—like the “butterfly expedition” and an inconvenient potty break—a task at this stage of his life generally relegated to the second team (me!). But we were making good time and he was walking by himself.

However, about 100 yards from the beach Peter began to cry, “I am tired daddy I am tired!”

No problem. He had gifted me with a glorious unencumbered morning and I actually wanted to carry him the rest of the way.

So I picked him up.

The closer we got to the beach, however, Peter was noticeably agitated. By this time he was weeping loudly.

“Why, big boy,” I asked, “are you crying?”

To cover myself with his mother who I earnestly wanted to believe I was not neglected our youngest charge I loudly added, “I AM carrying you. What else do you want?”

“I need mommy, Daddy, I need mommy.”

I pushed a little further—although I was ok with giving him to his mother—“Why mommy? Daddy is carrying you fine, right?”

“No, Daddy, I so tired that I need mommy. When I feel this way I need mommy.”

I handed him to Karen and he proceeded to tell her about his woes. She did nothing really but listen and hugged him—no special hug but it was a hug and a shake– but Peter looked noticeably better.

Peter reached a point where he needed his mommy. Period. Daddies are ok but the really serious hurts require the mommies—at least in my family. ; And it wasn’t just that Peter wanted to be carried; he needed to share his journey with someone who cared and, if need be, someone who would kiss a boo boo or two.

Which is why I looked forward to going to church the Sunday after I came home from the hospital. I wanted to be with my church family. I wanted to be with people of faith whose world view extended beyond their stethoscopes.

No, I was tired and I needed my church family. The church. I was tired, worn out. I was in sore need of a metaphysical moment. I relished every praise song, lifted my hands too much I know, but I was glad to be home. And, most of all I wanted to hear the Word. Now I am the pastor, and I did preach, but preaching is the best way for me to hear and to respond to the Word. Anyway, I had come home. Out of the fog of morphine, doubt and tentativeness, I found in my little mountain church, last Sunday morning, people who could carry me the last 100 yards, who let me be myself, and loved me anyway.

That is a great church!

Merry Christmas!

INTO THE VALLEY – Part 5

Friday, December 25th, 2009

I chose the coward’s path, I know, but it seemed judicious at the time. I opted for full sedation so I literally slept. It felt like I was traveling back in time to the earliest beginnings of the world.

The operation was a success that is good. But the pain was beginning!

That is also the time, it seems when, the miracles begin!

The time in the hospital—three days was mercifully short, and, in its own way, was rehabilitative. Now I am home recovering.

INTO THE VALLEY – Part 4

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Father Mapple: Delight is to him who coming to day him down can say, “O Father, mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s. Yet this is nothing. I leave eternity to Thee. For what is man, that he should live out the lifetime of his God?”—MOBY DICK

That was why, as I stood with my cell phone I cried. Not afraid of the pain exactly, and, of course, I am only joking about Karen—she has a short memory with me and always is my greatest supporter. I was frustrated and mad, mad with myself for picking up too many boxes and mad with God for letting this happen.

Like He caused it. Whatever.

I wish I had a little more idealism when I arrived at the hospital Tuesday morning December 8. But I knew what I was facing.

I was grateful when the anesthesiologist started the IV. “I am a doctor too,” hoping that credentialing myself would somehow impress the good doctor to go light on me. “Give him another stronger shot nurse.”

And I fell asleep.

Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances.—HEART OF DARKNESS, Joseph Conrad

INTO THE VALLEY – Part 3

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Starbuck, first mate: To be enraged with a dumb brute that acted out of blind instinct is blasphemous.

Captain Ahab: Speak not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me. Look ye, Starbuck, all visible objects are but as pasteboard masks. Some inscrutable yet reasoning thing puts forth the molding of their features. The white whale tasks me; he heaps me. Yet he is but a mask. ‘Tis the thing behind the mask I chiefly hate; the malignant thing that has plagued mankind since time began; the thing that maws and mutilates our race, not killing us outright but letting us live on, with half a heart and half a lung.

I was stumped.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want the surgery—I didn’t—I had done the darn thing before—and may I be honest?—it hurt. Really hurt. Let me be candid: in my darkest nightmare, in my worse dream, I never dreamed I would experience the pain I did twelve years ago.

Until you are too sympathetic, however, I have a confession. During the last recovery period, I was languishing with 6 or 8 old men (they were all 20 years my senior—and I am 56). It had taken us 2 days to finally walk on our fragile knees and hips. But we congratulated ourselves for making our first steps.

Until Alice joined us. Alice had had two—not one—but two knee transplants. We were prepared to offer her sympathy—she joined us on the second day and we were prepared to say “Alice, it is ok. We were there! Just move a few toes or something. We will pull you along.”

She sat in her chair, heard the physical therapist give her instructions. “Move a little this or that” sort of thing. Nothing too ambitious.

But, when she heard what we were doing she asked, with some irritation, “Why can’t I do what these men are doing?”

“Because,” we said, “Miss, you don’t know what you are saying. Move those little pinkies and be grateful.”

“Hey guys,” she smirked. “Out of the way.”

“You think this is pain? I have had 3 sets of twins. This is a walk in the park. Give me my walker!”

Our excuse is that we never had any kids, thankfully, but Alice certainly shamed us!

No childbirthing but on November 30, 2009, and even later, pain may be relative but to this man it was something I wished to avoid.

The thing that maws and mutilates our race, not killing us outright but letting us live on, with half a heart and half a lung. For a moment, just for a moment—because I am a dedicated Christian with all the right theology—for a moment—I doubted God knew what he was doing.

Captain Ahab: By heavens man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and fate is the handspike.

I knew our funds were ending. Two months left to convention season—what was I to do? ; My son Peter, thankfully, had already agreed to take over the ministry/business part of this and let me do the speaking and writing. But when December and January arrived and I needed money I could get a part time job—subbing or something—I had already done this before.

But that was not going to happen. No lifting the way I had forever. No more hip banging jobs breaking up fights in public school.

My life as I knew it was over.

Ishmael: [seeing Moby Dick for the first time] Is it real? Do you see it, too?

The Manxman, a sailor: We all see it. That don’t make it real.

INTO THE VALLEY – Part 2

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

The surgeon did not laugh when he saw the x-ray pictures. But I did—it looked like somebody’s match house had lost its right corner. I guessed this was a warning to me about what my hip MIGHT look like some day. It could not be my hip. I mean it looked like something Victor Frankenstein put on his monster.

“What is that?” I laughed nervously.

“Your leg,” he smirked. “What did you do, Mr. Stobaugh?” He said—the same way Deborah says it to Raymond on EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND. “Whaaaat did you do????”

I looked closer. It was not a picture of some poor slob’s hip, it was my hip. My poor pathetic hip!

The whole hip had shifted—”the way my life seemed to be shifting too.

I hoped the surgeon had placed the picture in a twisted way—the man obviously need to move the picture around–and it was all a mistake. My hip was headed to Dallas and my femur was headed to Baltimore. I was in big trouble and I knew it.

I also knew that I had been a bad boy, and, even worse, Karen had warned me. I don’t know what was more frightening the impeding surgery or Karen’s “I told you so!”

For 12 vendor seasons, 240+ conventions, 480 loading and unloading sessions, the old custom made hip thing was shot.

Funny thing. There is about $400,000 worth of technology in the thing but it all depends upon a round piece of hard plastic rotating on a Teflon ball. And that plastic thing was cracked or soon would be. Worse, it was depositing toxic plastic flakes into my right femur cavity thing. I knew there was space there—I had seen the old move INCREDIBLE JOURNEY—but I was unprepared for the pile of plastic in my leg piled next to my femur like parmesan cheese.

Something had to be done.

“Surgery, you need surgery quick.” He said. “You do not want this plastic cap to crack more or you will be begging me to operate.”

I believed him.

Well, one good thing: I met my deductable. And on Dec. 8, 2009, I went under the knife.

INTO THE VALLEY

Monday, December 21st, 2009

I went to the doctor on November 30, 2009, for the noblest reason: Karen told me I had to go. Six weeks earlier, returning from a long SAT seminar road trip, I had dropped a full, heavy crate of COMPANIONS TO 50 CLASSICS on my right foot and ankle. After a Christian exclamation—I don’t remember exactly what I said—I cried in pain. But, even in this moment, I knew there was nothing I could do.

When I left my teaching job I obtained sorry health insurance with a $2 trillion deductible. So I could not afford a doctor’s visit so I did the next best thing—I whined and complained to Karen until she made me go to the doctor’s office.

I went. I went to an orthopedic surgeon in fact. The Harvard educated surgeon actually laughed as the x-ray of my foot and ankle, which, by the way, had visited a similar (but not the same) Harvard surgeon on September 11, 1975 (I kid you not, September 11) packed in dry ice next to my compound fractured right hip in a ambulance headed from Possom Fork, AR, to Pine Bluff, AR. I remember it looked like some fish bait or something—but I know that sounds gross.

For the next two months I languished in a tiny Pine Bluff, Arkansas, hospital between life and death. I kept the foot though and the new surgeon was laughing at it now.

“Mr. Stobaugh, really, there is nothing I can do. Maybe six weeks ago [sardonically] perhaps—but it is November 30!!!!!”

I was ok with that. I needed a handy sympathy getter for my wife who detests hyperbole and whimpiness. Seriously, do you know how many curb side garbage visits I had deterred through that old ankle? Since I passed 50 and learned occasionally to say, “Oh, it is ok, honey, a little pain builds character anyway” Karen had sighed and done some of my chores. Or maybe she made me do more chores—perhaps she thought I needed more character. I am still sorting it out.

To young people reading this blog: It is true: home school moms have this sixth sense—the gift of discernment?—to know when spouses and offspring are, shall we say, “exaggerating the truth to gain personal gain?’’ It amazes me how my 4 home school kids got away with NOTHING with that lady, but, here is a news flash: MOMS DON’T LOSE THIS GIFT WHEN THE KIDS FINISH HOME SCHOOLING. If anything, it is sharpened and focused on one object of dedicated attention—ME! My wife, the only love of my life, still keeps me on the straight and narrow with aplomb and vigorous realism as surely as she moved my children forward.

Anyway, my new doctor suggested, “why don’t we take a picture of your right hip—the one that was replaced 12 years ago?”

“It does not hurt at all,” I said. But what I was thinking was, “How much will it cost?”

“Let’s look at it anyway.”