Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tis the Season to Be, Uh, Fat

You know how it is. Many won't even try this time of year. They give up, throw in the towel, tap out. Not me. Not this time.

Oh, I have done it a lot. Lately even. But finally I really did hit bottom when I hit the top of the weight scale Monday a week ago. I lost two pounds over that week. Look what I face this week:

Monday - over 60 meeting at Itta Bena Baptist, catered my Larry's Fish House.
Wednesday = a trip to Jackson with John which means at least one fast food meal.
Thursday - Thanksgiving which means way too much food times two. We eat at my in-law's for lunch, and my siblings and I meet at Mom's for supper and the Egg Bowl.
Friday - a trip to Jackson with my wife which mean at least once restaurant meal.
Saturday - Thanksgiving number three with Forrest Hodge and Paul Brown.
Sunday - we always eat lunch out.

Every time I eat out, the scale says I weight three pounds more the next morning. Really, that is not an exaggeration. That means I will gain 18 pounds this week.

I'll shoot myself first.

It is not just a matter of vanity. No, I don't want my stomach poking out. I think it looks ridiculous, and I don't want to be 'that guy.'

It's not just a matter of athletic performance. Yes, the extra weight is good for nothing except cold water swimming which I am no good at anyway.

It's not just a matter of me outgrowing all my clothes. Yes, I had to purchase new pants within the last month.

It's not just a matter of I can't stand the way this feels. Yes, I am miserable with my weight, and find it difficult to breathe and restrictive to certain movements.

It is very much a matter of health. Yes, I've heard of "healthy fat," but I'm pretty sure that with my genetics that can't be me. I just watched my mother die of a dreadful condition that was brought on by a very preventable one. She never abused her health. She never did anything to invite illness. She lived an exemplary life of love and service and sacrifice. She was only a little overweight for a few years. She paid dearly for that. If I don't change my weight and change it permanently, I fear I face the same fate, and it is not a pretty one.

Last week, an old friend phoned my and while we chatted, he revealed his recent diagnosis of the same thing that killed my mother. He has another terminal illness (lucky guy), and though I didn't tell him, in my mind I thought, I hope the first one gets him because he has no idea what he's in for with the second one.

No matter how much we may think about it, I am convinced we all take our health for granted. God forgive me for this omission and help me to be more thankful for and a better steward of the health you have gifted me with.

Hey, I had a victory, or at least a tie, this week. In preparation for Monday night, I walked 4.35 miles and did some squats. This morning? The same, my weight was the same. At least I didn't gain. Now I have another five days and six dangerous meals to deal with. My goal for the week is to lose .2 of a pound. That is almost nothing, but with the lineup I face, that will be a real victory. What do you think, will I make it?

"Thanks be to God Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Monday, November 20, 2017

11/13 - 11/19

It was a better week. I really don't like to do the kind of whining I did in that last weekly roundup. You know, the dated post that I do every Monday. When I posted a link on Facebook, I even wrote, "Don't read this." I meant that. The reason I put it out there was to make it available to the two or three people who really want to know, who read to keep up. The reason I wrote it was to vent, to get it out so to speak. It helped a little. I am not fully out of that rut. I am still mourning my mother, and certain body parts still aren't working correctly. I still cry everyday, and I still can't do the things that have defined my life for the last decade and a half. But I am better. Thanks be to God, I am better.

My weight was down two pounds this morning. The way I track my weight is to compare Monday morning with Monday morning. Over the years I have noticed certain patterns in my weekly weight. One pattern is that I am always heaviest on Mondays. Last week, my weight went down five pounds in three days. But I knew the real number would be what I weighed the next Monday. The real number was -2. That's not a lot, but finally something is going in the right direction.

One reason this is going in the right direction is I got out and started doing what I could. Monday, I walked a total of 2.57 miles and did some light lifting. Tuesday I did more lifting and walked 2.34 miles. Wednesday I walked 2.6.

Thursday I walked 3.3 and did some leg lifting. Friday, my exercise was confined to working in the yard where I managed to get in 1.53 miles. And Saturday I walked 4.15 and did some air squats before and during the walk. I did not swim because I was too lazy to make the drive to DSU and too wimpy to climb into the cool water at Twin Rivers. But overall, I count the week as a victory. I did 16.49 miles of walking and lifted weights three times.

I am, however, having serious doubts about Chicot next year. I plan to get the MRI and go from there, but either my shoulder is too messed up or my faith is too week, but after 21 weeks, I still can swim only a little and the shoulder is worse. This is just one of the things that has been pressing me down.

Thanks be to God anyway.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving Vacation Day Two and Three

Danny Collins and I met at the Aluvian for breakfast at 8:45 Saturday morning. We do that every three or four months. This was how I began day two of the vacation. We had a nice meal, some good conversation, and managed some real catching up. It was my pleasure to be able to give him some photographs of his late brother, Howard. I worked with Howard for twenty-nine years, and we did stuff together. These pictures were from some old race albums my mom used to shoot, develop, and put together of the races Dad, Quinton, Howard, I, and others did. When I went through these albums, dating back to 1981 and found Howard, I knew right away I had to get them to Danny.

After breakfast, I did some studying for Sunday, watched college football, and hung out with the cats. It was a nice, relaxing day. About mid-afternoon, I went out for a walk and did 4.1 miles after first doing a set of air squats. I did another set at the turn around on Wade Road. The rain hit when I got home preventing me from doing some more weightlifting. No problem, there were still more games on. It was a nice day. The cats liked it, Mississippi State won, and Ole Miss lost. What's not to like?

Sunday, I preached a thanksgiving message at Centerville, and we had an eating after service. Trevor won the eating contest and Penny came in second. It was a nice time. We got home around 1:15, and I spent the rest of the afternoon taking naps and sweet talking cats. Life is good. Thank you Jesus.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thanksgiving Vacation Day One

I've had a better week. But I'll talk about that later in my weekly roundup that I usually post on Monday. Wanting to keep the good week going, I determined ahead of time to be productive every day of my time off from work. Last year and over the summer, I let whole days slip by, days that I couldn't seem to put my car in gear, so to speak. So Friday morning I got up only a few minutes after my wife did. I should have made myself a list because I forgot something pretty important that I really wanted to do. But below is what I did get done.

After some blogging and coffee drinking with the cats, I climbed out of bed and hit the yard for some needed work. I have been wanting to clean the front up and "lay it by" as the old mule farmers used to say after the seasons last plowing. So I mowed the front, trimmed around the flower beds, and edged the driveway. It's amazing how much difference the trimming and edging make. There are still a few things I need to do in the front before I shift to the back. As far as the front yard grass goes, it is laid by for the year.

I then went to Mom's to pick up newspapers, take in the mail, and crank her truck. The truck didn't start. That battery-- several batteries in a row-- have refused to hold a charge over a few days if it is not started. So in the process of looking for my jumper cables-- which I later realized I didn't have because I burnt them up the last time I tried to jump the same vehicle off-- I locked myself out of the house with my keys inside. So I was pretty much stranded, up the paddle without a creek. Yeah, it was that bad.

About the time I was sending my sister a text, she drove up and saved the day. That allowed me to snatch my keys and head home for lunch which was milk and bread. After my meal, I took a long nap with CC and watched to Finebaum show between other cat naps. A guest host was sitting in for Paul and he must have used the phrase, "going forward" a half dozen or more times. Doofus. I'm sure he is a pretty bright guy, but he hasn't figured that one out yet. I did send a text to Finebaum's Twitter account. Finebaum is the thick skinned one not Laura Rutledge because he has not blocked me yet for expressing my displeasure at this redundancy. But then again, he may not read his tweets. I think he said as much on the show one day. But if memory serves me correctly, someone reads them. Bully bully to Paul Finebaum. If he has said, "going forward" in the last three weeks, I missed it.

Maybe I am accomplishing something.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Book of Grief

There is no playbook, no instructional guide, no Cliff's Notes. Neither is there a three point plan, a support group, or an awareness day that I know of. Yet it comes for us all. We never seek it, but it finds us, overwhelms us, batters us and when the fight is over (if it does ends), we find that we know little more than before our struggle.


I'm speaking of grief.

We all lose in life: loved ones, possessions, friends, our youth, maybe our health even. And we grieve. We all grieve and try to figure out how to get through it, how to come out happy and whole and well again.

I have now lost friends, cats, grandparents, aunts, dogs, uncles, cousins, and Dad and Mom. I have learned a little, only a little along the way. In an effort to put to paper my hard-cried lessons, I sat before keyboard and began to peck not with an outline in hand but with a heavy heart and tear-blurred eyes. What can I say about this intruder, this mysterious monster, this murderer of joy? I have a few lessons, not the kind that I think are normative, but they are personal. They may or may not have application for you, not that I think truth is in any way relative, but I think grief is, relative and personal. I invite you to consider these, chew on these, let your mind try them. Like a mule eating briers, spit out the bad and keep the good. You don't need my permission to do that, but you have it anyway.

The first lesson I've learned is that grief is not only particular to the person grieving, but also to the person, place or thing being grieved over. I have lost people that I never really grieved for. I am not sure why. Maybe it had something to do with the manner of their life, their death, and our relationship. I think of Charlie Turner, Sr. We were good friends for a long time. It no longer seems odd to say that, but once it did. He was the dad of my best friend, Charlie Turner, Jr. For a long time he was that: my friends's dad. Then he got saved, led me to the Lord, and he became my spiritual mentor. I visited him often and we talked about the Bible and he taught me doctrinal topics. 

Slowly, over the years our relationship continued to change. I became a pastor and went to seminary. The student transformed into the teacher as he began to ask me more and more questions. That was really odd for me at first as our relationship shifted to a new phase. And eventually, he was not the dad of my friend, not my mentor, not my student, he became my friend, much older than me but my friend nonetheless. His passing did strike me a hard blow and made me sad for many day. But I never grieved at least not the way I have grieved at other times. I was happy for him because I had extreme confidence in his relationship with Jesus and our relationship with each other was without conflict. I was sad to see him go, but I never seemed to grieve his passing. There were other people who fell into this category, but I will hold those cards close to my chest. 

Another lesson I have learned is that grief is normal, biblical. Even though the the Bible doesn't discuss the subject, it does give us plenty of examples to read and think about. For instance, when Jacob died, the Bible tells us of Joseph and his family:

     And they came to the threshingfloor of Atad, which is beyond Jordan, and             there they mourned with a very great and sore lamentation: and he made             a mourning for his father seven days. (Genesis 50:10)

On Moses' death, we read:

     And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days.             (Deuteronomy 34:8)

Of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, the Bible succinctly says,

     Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

There are many other references to grieving in the Bible, but little to no discussion of it. A couple of things, however, are easily deducible. One deduction is grief is natural, normal, un-rebuked by the Bible.

One of the most important lessons I have learned is one that I think should be normative, that is it should be practiced by all: You don't have to be strong. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone say, "I have to be strong for so and so." That dictum, by the way, is not in the Bible, not in the Works of Shakespeare, it's not even in Little Richard's Almanac. I have written in the past (see "Roses: A Tribute to Mom" in this blog, 12/27/2017) about my mother's crying over a dangerous cat we once had. That is my favorite memory of her. The sight of her being broken over the death of what few people could ever love is precious to me, and I am convinced was/is formative for my character in a positive way. You don't harm your children by showing them your heart, your pain, or your tears. In fact, it is my opinion that you help them, make them more sensitive and give them a more realistic view of what life has in store for them.

Another lesson I learned is: it's the pets and the parents that hurt the most. I am skipping over one category that I am sure is worse: losing a child. I have not, thanks be to God, experienced that so I will not address it. What I will address is what I have experience with. Maybe it's because they love us the most and they love us unconditionally that we find their deaths so devastating. They are there, always there and when they leave us, part of our comfort, our security, our joy is ripped away leaving us alone, raw, and vulnerable. Some even criticize our crying at times like this. I've heard it with my own ears. They can kiss my hinder parts. I will not stuff my humanity for the sake of people who do not understand theirs.

A fifth lesson in my view is, God wants to be involved. Sometimes I feel like I am worrying the Lord. Maybe that sounds silly to you, and I suppose it is somewhat senseless. But for some reason, I still feel that way. Consequently, I find certain passages from the Bible edifying. Things like:

       3) Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of             mercies, and the God of all comfort, 4) Who comforteth us in all our,                     tribulation, so that we may be able to comfort them which are in                           trouble, by the comfort wherewith which we ourselves are
                                                                                        2 Cor 1:3 -4
God does care about our struggles with sorrow just like we care about our children's hurts. Well, not just like, because we cannot love like Him. Psalm 23, of course, is often used by preachers of funerals. The Word gives us the promise of going "through the valley of the shadow of death" with God. Another verse that helps in a time of sorrow is Psalm 147:3 which reads:

       He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.

Grief is episodic. This is one I learned the hard way. I remember people asking me after the death of my dad if I was OK. I told them yes, and I truly believed I was only to learn later that I was not. I'll give you one example. Several months after Dad left us, my truck broke down. Instinctively, I reached for my phone and started dialing up Dad. It's what I always did when I needed a hand. Then it hit me and it hit me hard that the one who was always there when I needed a hand was gone and gone for good. It was a tough day, a tough few days. Still it pops up from time to time. I think the tears are gone that they are a thing of the past. Then they come return rushing in like a flood. A thought, a memory, a place brings it all around again. That's just the way it is.

The same thing has happened several times since Mom's passing. I go in her house almost every day. I cry almost every day. Then I had two trips in a row where I did not break down. I thought, I have rounded the corner, things are getting better. But I knew that might not be the case, and it wasn't. At least this time I wasn't caught off guard.

The last lesson I think I have is, pain is the price we pay for love. This is one more reason I take umbrage with criticisms of crying over someone's death. It hurts to lose those we care deeply about. "But you are crying for yourself," some will and have said. I say, so what? If you cut your finger off, would you not cry? How would you respond if someone even hinted that it is selfish of you to shed tears during your pain. The nonsense there is plain as it should be in grieving. I have said it before in other posts, and I say it again here: It is not our humanity that God has a problem with; it is our sin. God does not despise our weaknesses, our perplexities, or our pain. Instead, the Bible says 'He saves our tears in a bottle' (Psalm 56:8). To me, that is pretty plain. Don't ever let anyone make you ashamed of your humanity. If we truly love, we truly hurt when we lose the loved one. It's part of being human.

Is there an overarching lesson in all of these words? When I try to condense it all to the essence, when I try to put a handle on the truth, so to speak, what I come away with is let the process work itself out. Don't stuff your emotions or your memories and don't expect to be well in a week or two, a month or two, or even a year or two. Some people say you never get over it. Maybe that is true; I haven't lived long enough to know. One thing I do know is that it does get easier with time and if we allow ourselves to grieve, we do grow softer, better, more sensitive to the scars and pains of those around us.

In his memoir, All Over But The Shoutin', Rick Bragg talks about a family tradition in which a newborn child is carried around the house by a family member. He writes:

     "It was said that the babies would absorb all the good qualities of the                    person who walked them that first time around the house in which they                were born, that the tiny weak thing would borrow from their strength,                  their character" (26).

Neither Bragg nor I know the origin of this ceremony, and I am dubious as to its efficacy. I do believe, however, that we can accomplish the same thing in reverse. We can walk with our memories and relive the good times in our minds and thus absorb the best qualities of the lost loved one we cared so deeply for. That is a noble pursuit, and one I think we all can and should make.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

DFM Oxford Walk

Team Centerville made the trip. Trevor, Kelsey and Cory McLain, Gerald and Debbie Johnson, Sheila Mitchell, Gerry  Johnson, and Penny and I all met up at Dollar General in Carrollton Sunday morning, November the 5th. This was our third year in a row to make the trip to Oxford, Mississippi, to attend and do the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi's annual walk at the university up north. As a Mississippi State fan, I feel like I am in enemy territory when I am up there, but I do it for the cause.

On our way, we stopped at Cracker Barrel in Batesville for lunch, and except for the temperature being extremely unpleasant inside the restaurant, we had a lovely meal. After spending a few minutes in the store portion of the business, I purchases a fleece pullover for some needed warmth. I simple was not going to be able to stay inside the building. Yeah, it was that cold. After we got seated, Kelsey went back to the store and bought one also. Mine was a beautiful Mississippi State adorned garment while hers was a most unattractive Ole Miss rag. It would have looked nice in a different color and with another logo. 
Team Centerville getting geared up.


But back to the cold, can someone explain this to me? Every chain restaurant I go to, as well as a lot of others, is like that. Why do they punish their customers? Everyone who walked in instantly either complained about the cold or their body language revealed their discomfort. It must be terribly expensive to punish people in that way. I don't understand, and I truly wish someone would give me some insight on the subject. In this day and age of the bottom line, I can't understand the need to spend more.

We made it to the Lyceum about 1:40. The walk was to start at 2:00. We registered and Irena McLean of the DFM got the festivities and the walk kicked off. This year, we had a different course, staying on campus instead of looping the square downtown like we always did in the past. The route was shortened with two options: a one miler and a two miler. It turns out that the two miler was only a 1.5 miler. Rats, I needed the work. It was still a nice walk and some real exercise. Along the way, I developed a strong urge to water the roses, but of naturally I did not dare. This is one shortcoming of the walk: no easy access to a bathroom. But there was a lot of construction on campus so I managed to find a porta potty behind and construction fence. I ducked off course and almost blew lunch when the potty started to sway violently after I shut the door. I grabbed the vent stack and held on tight until things got still. Then I very slowly and carefully took care of necessary business.

The day was gorgeous with the temps in the mid 70s, some light wind that made it feel even more temperate, and splattering of cloud cover that wasn't threatening looking but rather gave the feel of fall. Of course I have written in the past about the beauty of the Ole Miss campus. This is coming from a die-hard Mississippi State fan so you know it's true. The wind, the architecture, and the amazing trees created an atmosphere of peace, of relaxation. After the walk, we availed ourselves to the refreshments and sat around, chatted, and talked about trees while enjoying each other's company.

Our team turned in $425. We plan to come back. Next year, by the grace of God, we will do better both walking and raising. 
Best-looking team in the walk.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Good Haiku

Samuel Lott, the great haikuist and poetry expert said this is a good one. Yes, he really said that. If he denies it, I have photographic evidence from a text message. Consequently, I thought I should include it here all alone so that it can be admired without the distraction of two other kaiku, as I normally post them as a trinity. So here it is for your viewing and reading pleasure.

Drizzling rain -
standing in the leaves,
darkness falls

A note on its construction for the future scholars who will no doubt write research papers on this and teach it to their upper level English classes: I wrote this one Sunday night past while standing in the rain on the wet leaf-strewn lawn of Centerville Baptist Church. Rain drops peppered my forehead as I gazed into the dark woods surrounding the church as listened intently for the sounds God's night creation makes. Above, a beautiful sky revealed the handiwork of God. Across the road, lights in the cemetery showed humanity's hope. The need to write bubbled up in my soul. Sam can't touch this.

Monday, November 13, 2017

11/6 - 11/12

This will be the shortest post ever on this blog. The reason shouldn't be hard for you to guess. I did nothing. My slide down the hill, the one I have been complaining about for months has not not stopped but continued unabated (Is that tooth dentist?) I keep thinking, I have hit bottom, but the next week keeps proving me wrong. If this is not the end of the slide, well, I can't finish the sentence.

I did a little walking, 5.38 miles. Several things prevented me from training. One is we had to be in our offices until 4:00 each day. After that, I had lots of errands to run all week. These should eventually slow down. I hope. Another, of course, is my health. Every time I get to thinking the knee is well enough to run, I start limping without any provocation. And the shoulder, don't ask.


I guess I need to climb atop my bike trainer, but right now that requires more discipline than I have. I feel totally worthless, I weigh more than I ever have in my life, and I am miserable in this body. My stomach is not meant to be this big and it cuts my breath off. When will I get things turned around? Help me Lord, because I am failing in my own efforts.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Church Drives

church morning brings joy,
a nice ride to Centerville
we worship with friends

we ride, thoughts on God,
preaching over radio,
we pass flock of sheep

a few gather in 
His name. Centerville worships,
light floods through windows

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

"One in a Million"

He is a great mystery. Great. I know so little of him. I should say rather, I know so little of his background, his breeding. Recently I asked my son if the man he got him from might be able to shed some information on the little rascal. "That man is crazy, Dad," my son relayed to me. "My understanding is he was a found puppy and the crazy man chained him to the porch until he started eating too much. Then he let him loose for the neighborhood to feed."

I was hoping to get some insight into his breeding, his genetic makeup. Officially he is a mutt. But if I had to guess, I would call him part feist and possibly part Mountain Cur. Dr. Andy Johnson agrees with my guess, having looked him over and examined his mouth he said, "Yeah, I think he's part Mountain Cur." I wonder if his makeup is a series of accidents or the result of purposeful planning, selective breeding. His kind of qualities and instincts don't just happen. Do they? Maybe God made him, a designer dog, just for me. That is often how I perceive him, a dog God opened up and poured full of energy, speed, drive, intelligence, sweetness, and hunting instincts and then placed him in the path of a string of people who would eventually funnel him to me. 

My son was working for the Greenwood Leflore Public Library. They have a branch library located near the "home" of the little dog they came to know as Pee Wee, a small, reddish brown thing weighing about 25 pounds with a face that should be in movies and eyes that can melt my heart and yours. Forrest, my son, and his coworkers took note of the creature and quickly came to care for him. They looked for him every time they worked that branch. They took him food. They petted him. They talked to him. They even let him inside the library where Pee Wee was, my son assured me, "Always a perfect gentleman. I saw right away he was a one in a million dog."

Then one day my son saw a terrible sight. Despite a leash law in Greenwood, that neighborhood has a roaming population of large dogs. Forrest looked out a window and saw a big pit jump on Pee Wee. Forrest promptly went to the "owner" and asked if he could have the dog, the little one. The "owner" said yes, so Forrest and co-workers took the little thing to the vet, Andy Johnson, and got his shots and procured some de-fleaing. Andy guessed him to be about nine months old at the time which was February 2017. Then Forrest took the little fellow home.

To make a short story long, my son called me. It wasn't working out with the other dogs, could I take Pee Wee? he couldn't turn him back loose on the streets, he had to find the fellow a home. Bear, our outside dog, needed a companion, so I  drove over to my son's and picked up Pee Wee whom they were attempting to rename Oliver. Immediately the little fellow started working on my heart. 

On the drive home, I tested his responses to "Pee Wee" and "Oliver." He didn't turn his head when I said, "Oliver" but he responded strongly to Pee Wee so I stuck with that name. At 333 West Monroe Ave, he quickly became the king of the back yard. Not that he is mean or that he is in any sense of the term a watch dog, but he is proud of his domain and patrols it constantly. Not even a butterfly crosses that yard that he doesn't know about. A squirrel doesn't scoot down a limb without him seeing. A bird never lights nearby without his knowledge. He is that attentive.

Bear had been making trips with me to the catfish pond where I train for my charity swim. He knew the drill, to run behind the truck and hang out or follow me when I swam. The first time I took Pee Wee to the pond, I was instantly amazed. From the first I saw that he loved to run. Bear likes to run. Pee Wee loves to run. He is fast, 25 mph is no problem for him. Despite his diminutive size, his stride is strong, smooth, and stunning to watch. Sometimes I cry just seeing his joy as he runs like the wind only for the pure fun of it. His mouth seems to smile while he races along, eating up the ground, barking at the birds that rise from the fish ponds. It also makes me  emotional to think of my dad and how he would have loved to see this fellow run and work a field like his bird dogs used to.

At the pond, he followed me dutifully while I swam and made every lap. Bear makes one lap and lounges for the rest of the time. Pee Wee, on the other hand, makes all the laps, but he doesn't just follow, he hunts along the way. He sniffs, chases birds, runs off to check out an adjoining ditch, comes back, gets a drink, rolls in dead stuff. In short, he has the time of his life.

That first day at the pond, we took a walk after I swam. That is when I knew he had something special besides energy, speed, and intelligence. Instead of walking along with me on the pond levee like Bear, he stayed in the ditches in the thickest stuff he could find. It didn't take a socket rientist to see he had hunting instincts. You can't teach a dog to hunt. You can work with them, encourage them, give them opportunities for it to come out, but they have to have those instincts inside them. He has them. He's a one in a million dog.

As soon as squirrel season opened, I took him and Bear to Carroll County where we walked around. Pee Wee rared up on a tree, though he did not bark. He also trailed something trying hark to unravel the scent puzzle something had laid down. He ran and sniffed and hunted. He had the stuff but he was raw. He knew he was a hunter but he really did not know how or what he was hunting, but he was hunting.

As of this writing, I have had him out only a few more times. I quickly learned that he had another instinct that can't be taught. He hunts in circles and always comes up behind me after making a large loop. He has treed a couple of times, but he leaves the tree. He doesn't know he is supposed to stay there. We have fun when we go out. I don't know if I can make a squirrel dog of him or not, but we will go out and chase stuff, the wind even, as long as I have him. It's his nature to hunt, and I am determined to take him as far as I can. If he never gets properly trained, we will still go out, still hit the bush and woods and have fun.

Daddy did that. In his final years of hunting, he and his dog dutifully hit the bush in search of "birds" as quail are called around here. When he was younger and the bird population higher and his dogs were well trained, he averaged killing around 250 birds per year. Slowly that number went down and down and down until his yearly totals became two or three. The last year he hunted, he didn't kill a one, but he and his dog went hunting anyway. I'll do the same with Pee Wee. We will go to the woods and tromp and stomp around. We will have fun. We will hunt. He deserves it. He's a one in a million dog.

A note to the reader: I have written about Pee Wee before and I probably will again. But I penned this piece as part of a competition I am having with each of my current Comp I students. I have five sections of the first semester of freshman English. We are writing about the best dog we ever knew and the best essay in each class will be rewarded with a good grade and a Snickers Bar. I plan on gaining weight next week.

Monday, November 6, 2017

10/30 - 11/5

Life is good even if training is not. I don't want to sound like a complainer so I won't. I lifted weights Monday and Wednesday easing the bench press up each time. I wrote about those days already. Tuesday I went to Twin Rivers and swam outdoors for a mind blowing 700 meters. It was cold. I don't like being cold. I wrote about that already also.

Thursday I went home and rested up for going back to Masters for the first time in months. I wrote about that already. Friday I went back to DSU because I did not get to swim Thursday night. I wrote about that already.

Saturday, we went toe the Sweet Potato Festival with Gerald and Debbie. We always have a good time with them. I got in 1.65 miles of walking which was kind of sad because last year I won my age group in the 5K. This year, I could not run and am at least twenty pounds heavier. But I did have fun walking around looking at all the ugly people. When I go to these events, I always wonder what I would do if I were a judge and they were having an ugly person contest. How could you possibly choose?

Sunday Team Centerville went to the DFM walk in Oxford. I haven't written about that. I will soon. For the week, I 

swam 2,300 meters,
lifted weights two times, and
walked 7.35 miles.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Broken Yo Yo

The yo yo was at the top when I drove to Delta State Thursday night. I had forgotten how much I missed the trip, how I reflected on the way, worked out my mental  tensions. The drive there and back has always been a therapy session as much or more than the swim itself. But once I walked into the building, I knew right away something was wrong. Coach wasn't there, Ricky wasn't there, Mark wasn't there. I sent a text and promptly received an answer: no practice tonight. 

No big deal. It's only a 100-mile round trip. I couldn't use that time for anything else and since I am working for $1,000 per year less than I was 14 years ago (actual dollars not including inflation), I certainly did not need the gas money. Sorry about the complaining. I really got ticked.

So I drove home in a bit of anger and ate food when I got there and gained weight. My life, it seems, is out of control. The yo yo is back to the bottom.

I drove back Friday and swam. The shoulder hurt from the first stroke. It hasn't been doing that so I was pretty shocked. The string on the yo yo not only went to the bottom, but it broke. It did get better, as I warmed up, stopping periodically on the wall to stretch. I swam slowly up a ladder and stopped after 2,300 yards. I stopped when all the discomfort had disappeared and everything was still feeling well. The next day, however, things didn't feel so good. What the heck? Sadly, I think I need the MRI. I just refuse to pay for it right now. Chicot may not be. That causes me some real sorrow because it has taken six years to build the swim to the place it is now. I hate the thought of not being able to use a God-given talent to help others and have fun doing it. But if I never swim another stroke, I will praise Him. But I want to swim and I want it bad. Please pray for me, my shoulder, and my fragile mind.

Friday, November 3, 2017


cat purrs and naps close,
man quietly watches game,
warm socks and hot tea

birds fly and sing,
small church sits amid trees,
voices rise to God

dark sky, cold water
dog follows swimmer and swims
they train together

Thursday, November 2, 2017

More Yo Yo

Did you read that last blog post? What do you think? Did I go back to the outdoor pool? Did I force myself once more into that cold water? Nah. I wimped out and lay on the bed after getting off work watching worthless TV.

I did, however, take a walk (1.84 miles) and then go to Plate City Gym and give myself a thorough workout. It seems I am dialing in on how hard to work the shoulder and it is thanking me for it. Just this morning, I got up without feeling the thing at all and thought, it is really getting well now. Then it stuck me with a bolt of pain that was both as frightening as it was shocking. Sigh.

At the gym I upped the bench press a little more:

20 X 65
15 X 75
12 X 80
10 X 85
  8 X 90

Every time I bench, it feels just a little bit better. There is no pain now not even discomfort. On the Swim Pull I did

10 X 22.5
20 X 22.5
30 X 22.5
12 X 22.5 + 2 washers

I also did a lot of lateral raises, seated rows, lat pull downs and other stuff. Slowly the pain is going away, the strength is creeping up, and with it all my long lost confidence is wondering back home. The yo yo has gone back to the bottom and come to the top again.

Tonight, I think I will bite the bullet and go back to Delta State. I need to swim and the cold water stuff is restrictive as well as challenging to my mind in more than one way. The last swim, Tuesday, left me with the yo yo at the bottom. The shoulder did not feel good. I think the coldness is tightening everything in a not-so-good way. Swimming in warmer water should help me relax. Also, a short course pool may be just what the doctor ordered. Short course gives the shoulders a break much more frequently while flipping to go the other way. So maybe I can begin to rebuild the swimming. I still have Twin Rivers for short dips when I want to take the dare.

Thanks be to God who gives hope.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Road Less Traveled, Uh, Swum

Every fall begins the same way. I am going to swim outdoors through the winter. I don't care how cold it gets. I can do this. It's just a matter of want to. I want to. It will be worth it. Mind over matter, or water. Just watch me.

These are the thoughts I have in the comfort of my own bedroom while I am warm and dreaming and determined. And I mean it. Tuesday afternoon, I had my coolest swim of the year: 61 degree water on a 65 degree day. A mere 700 meters was just about enough to send my courage and determination running for a spot in front of the space heater.

Now I am in that going back and forth mode, between, I'm just not made to be a cold water swimmer to Maybe I can make another swim or two before I totally tap out. Do you hear it? Do you hear the self talk of defeat? And then I have these thoughts: What difference does it make? Why put myself through the torture? It has no bearing on Chicot or the Heart O' Dixie or any of the events that are important to me.

I guess it doesn't. Have any impact on my big goals, that is. But something inside keeps pushing me. What is that something? Honestly, I am not sure. Is it pride? Do I smart that some people can really do this cold water thing and I can't? Is it the challenge? Is it the mystic allure of something so weird so off the wall something so subculture? If I had to testify in court, I would say it's the latter. I have always been attracted to the roads less traveled, metaphorically and literally.

These roads less traveled have led me into marathons, ultra-marathons, all day bicycle rides, multi-day bicycle rides, triathlons, marathon swimming, and journey runs. Not that I have ever been very good at any of this, but I have had a lot of fun playing, going to new places, and meeting new people. My only regret in all of this is that I started much of this too late in life.

The cold water stuff is sort of in the same vein. It's odd, little known, off the radar screen of the general populace. And I suppose another push this year is the fact that for the first time ever, Twin Rivers is leaving its pool up all winter. I don't have to drive to the pond to try a cold water swim. I have a 50-meter pool less than a mile from my house and it is mine and mine alone. Would it not be a sin not to avail myself of that? Has not God given me this? set the table and invited me to "Come and dine"? 

Usually this is the time of year I give up and start back going to Delta State to swim indoors under the tutelage of a well-qualified coach. One problem with that is I am a bit ashamed to show up over there because I am so fat right now. OK, color me vain, but you put on a jammer and walk out over there in front of what seems like the whole world when we have practice. I know it doesn't make any difference, but it does bother me.

So what will it be? How long will I hold out in the outdoor pool? Even if I do swim outdoors all winter, I need the indoor pool because I won't be able to do the distance I need in the cold. Tuesday, I came home from my short 700 meter swim and my left foot froze after I got home, and I was cold for about forty minutes despite being heavily bundled in clothes and tucking myself under the bed covers. I'm just not good at this. My body doesn't like it. When I stick my foot into that cold water, I always think This is the most unnatural thing on earth. It hurts. Cold water hurts, and I am not a fan of pain. Why do it? No one else around here does. I don't have a training buddy to try this with me since Randy Beets moved away. I could be home with the cats. Why do it?

I can't answer that question.

Tomorrow I think I'll go back to Twin Rivers and try it again. I don't know why, but I will dip my foot into the cold water, cringe, and pray, Help me Lord.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Yo Yo Up

Yeah, the yo yo is still going up and down. Over the past week it was at the bottom. Since Monday flipped the odometer of this injury up to eighteen weeks, I went through another sinking spell. A third of a year is enough time to heal a broken bone three times over. Not so my shoulder.

To make matters worse, I have some important decisions to make and my health is a major factor in those conclusions. By health, I am still blessed enough to be referring to running and swimming. I haven't run since November 2016. I am able to swim, but every time I get around 2,500 meters, the shoulder goes backwards. To train for Chicot, I need several session of well over 10,000 meters. Right now that is a no go.

The doctor left it up to me if I wanted to get an MRI or not. I am trying to put that off because even with insurance it costs a lot of money. I have given myself a deadline. By December if I cannot swim 3,500 meters with no negative consequences, I'll go for the MRI. The doc said all I had to do was call.

During Mom's final week and the aftermath, I learned something else about my troublesome appendage. It got worse, much worse when I do not workout. I have noticed that before but this time the layoff was longer and consequently the downhill slide was worse. The shoulder gets better when worked, but if too much work it goes backwards. Slowly I am learning the things that it doesn't like. Last night I must have hit it just right because it feels 100% today. I know it is not 100%, but it feels as good as it ever has. Among other things, I benched

15 X 55
16 X 65
17 X 75
10 X 85
10 X 85

and did the Swim Pull for

15 X 22.5
20 X 22.5
22 X 22.5
10 X 22.5.

With the new machine, I can do seated rows. I have done them with the equipment I already had, but the angle is different with the new machine. The shoulder seems to like those a lot. In addition to seated rows, the new equipment has a Smith machine. My shoulder does not like to be pulled back like I have to to use it to back squat, but I am doing front squats with it holding the bar with an undergip hand position.

Maybe I will be able to do Chicot this year. Right now, my gaze is coming up after my eyes being on the ground just ahead of my steps. The Bible calls God "the lifter up of my head"  (Psalm 3:3). Thank you, Lord.

Monday, October 30, 2017

10/23 - 10/29

It was another truncated week, but I did manage some weightlifting. I am still going extremely light as I attempt to rehab the shoulder, but at least I am working some and I am inching the weight up literally a pound per workout. On my last session of bench presses, I did 83.5 pounds.

I lifted Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thursday it was not as airish as the preceding days so I went to the pool and swam a paltry 1,200 meters.

Friday, RT and I went to Olive Branch to pick up a piece of exercise equipment. We made a good haul. I came back with the machine, another Olympic bar, and an additional 80 pounds of Olympic plates to bolster Plate City Gym's already prodigious collection of weight.

Saturday I maneuvered the machine into its new spot, thoroughly tested it, and lifted again. Then after watching some football, I took the dogs out for a hunt. In the yard I walked .63 of a mile, and in the country I logged an additional 1.85 miles.

Sunday, Centerville met at Sheila's house and we worshiped, ate, and recreated. Gerald and I took a little stroll, and I added another .45 to my total. 

For the week, I lifted four times, swam 1,200 meters, and walked 5.7 miles. Praise be to God for the beautiful weather we are having right now, and Lord help my shoulder to completely heal.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Roses: A Tribute to Mom

Recently, I took this photograph in Mom's backyard. This was the same spot where my older sister, Helen, beat me, bloodied me, and broke my bone forty-eight years ago. Now a beautiful rose bush grows at the scene of a savage and undeserved assault.

Life is like that. Sometimes good grows out of bad. Sometimes bad grows in spite of good. But life gives us both whether we want them or not. 

I snapped this shot because it struck me as a symbol of life in general and Mom's in particular. In the background, like it is with many of us, is a young, beautiful, vibrant bloom. In the foreground is a mature, beginning-to-fade flower that will soon look like the dried remnants of the dead bud between the two.

I can remember when my Mom was physically a stunningly beautiful woman with a house full of young kids, one of whom had a penchant for mischief. She was always a beautiful person, and even after time, age, and disease began to ravage her body and abilities, the qualities of her soul always shined through, always testified to a nature touched by God.
The Mom of my youth.

My first memory of her is within days of when we moved from Leflore Ave. to 422 West Harding Street in Greenwood, Mississippi. This was May of 1959. At that time, the house to our west wasn't there. Instead, we had a large green lot where we ran, played ball, and stepped on honey bees. An older boy got after me in that lot, and I ran for my life. He bore down on me like a big dog running down a rabbit. I zigged and zagged like a terrified creature trying to survive. He zagged at one of my zigs and fell to the ground while I escaped. I ran straight inside and told Mom how brave I was and how I had outrun the big boy. I always wanted to impress my mom.

My favorite memory of her also dates way back to my youth. Maybe I was eight or ten, just a small boy. We had a tom cat named William who was unusually aggressive, mean, dangerous. He was so pugnacious that I remember Dad running him out of the house with a broom because he had gotten stirred up and was attacking everything in sight. William was then banished to the outdoors where he quickly established a pattern of rambling, fighting, and coming home with severe wounds. After disappearing for days at a time, his manner was to drag back home with bloody, stinky fight wounds and lie around on the back steps while he healed up just enough to go off and do it all over again. He was too mean to touch so he never saw a vet and never received the attention most toms crave. 

He lived that way for a few years and then died on the back steps one summer night to greet us with his carcass the next morning. Despite his violent nature and unpleasant presence, upon discovering his body, Mother went into the kitchen, sat at the table, and wept for William. For me, that characterizes her as well as anything I can think of. She loved deeply and saw the value, the beauty, the dignity of everything and everyone God created. Sometimes I wonder if that is why I am the way I am about cats today. She wasn't afraid to cry in front of her children, because she never received the memo that she "had to be strong" for us. Her tender compassion was impressed upon my soul like a tattoo on a sailor's arm.

My son, Forrest, called his granny, "The most Christian person I ever knew." She was not, however, showy in her faith, but she was steady, consistent, enduring. She taught Sunday School for thirty-one years. She took minutes at the church board meetings. She was the official photographer of the church for a long, long time. Brother Seefeld, her pastor for many years, said she never called attention to herself but did her job, did it well, and did it without fanfare.

Besides her huge heart, unusual capacity for compassion, and her service to her church, one word that describes her well is "creative." She could do just about anything and do it well. Of course she was a good cook and seamstress. She made my wife's wedding dress as well as those of her two daughters, Carol and Helen. Beyond that, she made Christmas decorations for the house. She cut and painted a large Santa out of plywood that she used to mount on the front of the house each Christmas season. For a while, she and her friends were into quilt making. Later, is was jelly, once making the tasty stuff out of the spent hulls of purple hull peas. Her carpentry skills were off the charts, and Dad always enlisted her help when he built something. She could do electrical work, lay bricks, plumb, and paint. She built cabinets for the house and a bathroom for the cabin in Carroll County. An artist from her youth, she could draw anything, make anything, create anything. When computers came out, she learned the computer. Late in her life, she took up photography, set up a dark room, and then when digital came along, she learned that. I, on the other hand, like my dad, change slowly and view technology with a modicum of distrust and annoyance. She, however, embraced change and delighted to learn the new.

The subjects of her photography were her children, grandchildren, flowers, and birds. With huge lenses on her cameras, she took photographs of tiny flowers most people never notice. She enlarged the flowers and everyone who saw the photos always wanted to know what kind of flower and where they grew. They were shocked to find that they had been walking over and on these little beauties all their lives. She noticed God's beauty everywhere she went. Below is one of the small flowers I took a picture of with my cell phone. It was barely discernible to the human eye. Now I notice things like this.
One of the tiny flowers she often shot
with huge lenses and enlarged into
gorgeous photographs.

Her photographs of birds are National Geographic worthy. She stalked rice fields in the delta to capture stunning shots of geese. She set up a blind in Carroll County to ambush turkey with her camera. At home, she availed herself to the large sliding glass doors to record all the local town birds. Once she told me that "You'd be surprised at how many wounded birds there are around here," and then she showed me shots of a one-legged robin and a redbird that couldn't fly but had learned to survive.

We used to take a family trip during spring break each year. We, Mom, Dad, siblings and kids, would meet at a State park somewhere and spend time together fishing, eating, and just hanging out. On the last one of these trips she took, due to her health, Mom made the journey in the back of her SUV lying on a mattress, tied to the sides to prevent her from sliding around. I drove her vehicle and all the way to Natchez State Park while she saw and remarked about birds all the way there and back. 

"Did you see that bird?" she asked me several times during the trip.

"Mom, I'm driving. I can't look at birds."

Once in the hospital with only a brick wall for a view, a bird lit on a ladder that went up the wall about 100 yards away from her window. She noticed. She always noticed and asked me what kind of bird it was. Who pays that kind of attention to a native bird on a ladder 100 yards away? She did and now, I am unable not to notice birds everywhere I go. Momma instilled that in me by the way she lived and it is impossible to see one of our feathered friends without thinking of her.

She not only took pictures of birds, but she kept a large flock of cockatiels in the house. She also had some parrots and I don't know what all. Once there were seventeen birds many of which had free run of the house. So she photographed birds, observed birds, and kept birds, and passed that awareness of them down to me.

That is not all she passed down to me. Her kindness and gentleness has seeped into my soul. I am selfish with my time, and self centered in many ways, but it is impossible to be raised by her and not take up at least a modicum of her sweetness. The kindness and gentleness I posses show up mostly in my dealings with our grandchildren and cats. I can't help but treat them as I saw her treat everything and everyone for all of my life.

I can never be as good as her, I can never be as selfless as her, I can never be as caring, conscientious, and courteous as her. But her goodness has influenced me and will no doubt do so for the rest of my life. This, I am sure, is the most accurate assessment of someone's life: what impact survives his or her death. Hers survives in her children, grandchildren, and friends. Maybe I can emulate her and pass some of that along. Maybe. One thing is for sure: we can all be as forgiven as her. Jesus offers that to us all. 

        Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, 
        and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; 
        yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 
                                                                          (Isaiah 55:1, KJV) 
Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sitting

To everyone who reached out to the Hodge family during and after the loss of Jo Hodge, thank you. We received calls, texts, visits, food, flowers, donations to the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi, prayers, hugs, Snickers Bars, and condolences from many. They were all received with gratitude and they touched us and ministered to us and helped begin the process of healing from this encounter with the valley of the shadow of death. God bless you all.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Pee Wee's Poem

Pee Wee

roaming wasted streets
fed by strangers
attacked by dogs
saved by my son
gifted to me,
he runs with joy
his nature to fulfill,
made by God
His blessings to pour
into my undeserving soul.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday Workout

Wednesday I worked out again. Despite doing the right things, I woke up weighing 180.6, more than yesterday and Monday. What?!?!? It was a bit cool so I didn't want to swim. On the bench I did

18 X 56
15 X 67
13 X 72.5
12 X 78
  9 X 83

The 83 almost felt like real weight. Of course I did the Swim Pull:

30 X 21
20 X 22.5
20 X 22.5

I also did over 100 reps of internal and external rotations each along with a host of other exercises. The fire to lift is starting to come back. That's always a good thing. In addition to all of that, I walked between sets and even shuffled back and forth across the yard a few times. I am beginning to believe that one day I will get the running back. I need to work on leg strength, which I did, and lose weight, which I am trying to do. It is going to take a while. I will be patient, but I will run again and I will do Chicot in 2018.

The Journey Begun

I'm attempting to get back in the saddle, unfat some, and refit a lot. So far the results have been not so spectacular. Monday I weighed 180.2!!!! I did not go to the pool but instead lifted at Plate City. On the bench I did

16 X 50.5
10 X 61.5
12 X 67
11 X 72.5 

On the Swim Pull I did 

10 X 21
12 X 21
16 X 21

Tuesday I weighed 179.6. I failed to get the moxie up to go to the pool so I went back to Plate City and lifted and played with the dogs. They love it when I am back there and the cool weather had them extra feisty. On the bench I pushed

17 X 55
13 X 65
13 X 70
10 X 75

On the Swim Pull, I pulled

21 X 21
25 X 21
26 X 21

I know you are wondering why I lifted two days in a row. Normally I would not, but the weights, even considering for my lack of fitness, are so light right now that I am not tearing down muscle tissue. I am really just rehabbing the shoulder. Which is? you ask. Better but still not well. During the layoff it regressed considerably. I don't know what to make of that. I would have thought the rest would have been good for it. However, that is not what I got. It always feels better immediately after a workout and the day after a workout. Go figure.

Thanks be to God for good weather and happy dogs.

Monday, October 23, 2017

10/16 - 10/22

I bottomed out this week. At least I hope I did. I did almost no training, a butt load of eating, hours of sitting, and spells upon spells of crying. Through it all, I managed to outgrow the remaining pair of pants I could still button. 

Mother was dying starting late last week. Actually, she has been dying for several years, but the pace quickened and we knew the time was drawing near. I was there most of the time and when I wasn't I was sort of in a fog. She passed early Wednesday morning, a kind and gentle soul who never harmed a person in her life and gave love and respect to everyone she met. Seeing her pass was the most difficult thing I have ever endured. I will be writing about her life soon.

Friday afternoon was the only time I exercised. I mowed the lawn and did some gentle weightlifting. On the bench I pushed

15 X 50
12 X 60
10 X 71
10 X 71

That's it. I hope now to begin the process of grieving, getting this weight off, and moving back towards some sort of fitness. Thanks be to God who has given sufficient grace during our time of crises.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Bell Tolls

leaves fall, light fades
her eyes glaze, sentences chop,
the bell tolls.

sun falls and air chills,
she eats a few bites and rests,
seasons change.

afternoon light dims,
she closes eyes and sleeps,
son walks out in tears.

Monday, October 16, 2017

10/9 - 10/15

I almost hate to write this because it will sound like poor mouthing, but it was another less than record-breaking week of trying to get back to training. Monday I felt bad (notice I didn't say "I felt badly" because feet is an intransitive verb and you feel bad not badly) so I went to bed early. Like in the afternoon (yes, that is a sentence fragment).

Tuesday was a hard session at rehab and then an easy one at the pool where I swam 1,800 meters. Wednesday I did some weightlifting, maxing out at 70 on the bench press, and swam 2,500 at the pool. Thursday was more lounging in the bed, trying to nap and hoping to feel better.

Friday, Sloan, the physical therapist, put me through a longer more involved workout. I liked it and the shoulder felt good when I left and better the next morning. I did not swim Friday because I was still semi-sick and I needed to see Mom.

Saturday we were originally scheduled to go the French Camp with our best friends, Debbie and Gerald Johnson, but little Corey got sick and so did I. I studied a little, drank lots of liquids, and watched a bunch of football. I didn't think it was possible, but after the Georgia game, I had had enough and turned the channel to something else. The something else was so compelling that I can't even remember what I watched, but I was filled to the brim with football and opted out of the game until next Saturday.

So all in all, it was small swimming, little lifting, and the creeping back of an unmerciful malaise. Sigh. I swam 4,300 meters, lifted weights once, and went to rehab twice. God help me, and give comfort to Mom.