Short shorts, Emus, and Gelflings

Here is a younger Vince Lanier wearing China’s version of “Daisy Dukes” 🙂VinceandJo

This photo is of her and  her friend, Jo Fan, visiting somewhere in China. Seeing this photo this morning reminded me of a treasured memory of a day from my honeymoon.
I remember well, while on our honeymoon, Vince and I were visiting Disney World (of course!). It was my very first visit to the happiest place on earth. Vince was wearing some really short shorts on this particular day. (I should mention that I’m the one who actually cut these shorts for her. I can’t recall why I did this…but I was probably a little more depraved in my thinking back then…and it WAS my honeymoon, afterall!). As it was my first visit to Disney World, and I was always an avid Disney fan growing up, you can imagine the overwhelming sensations of walking through the gate into the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street USA. 1-main-street

I was so overwhelmed with the swirling and alluring flood of vibrant sights, sounds…and of Vince standing before me in Daisy Dukes with Cinderella’s Castle on the horizon…that I had to sit down on a bench just across from the candy store.
Vince said, “Why are you already sitting down? We JUST got here!!!”
I said, “Baby, I need to sit down. It’s a guy thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
Vince retorted, “What?!?! What does sitting down have to do with being a guy? Let’s go! We’re already late.” (Always rushing me…still to this day. Curiously, she is never in a rush while at home. But on vacation…it’s always time to pound the pavement and go go go!)
“Honey, just let me sit a little while. It’s your shorts. You’re not going to be able to walk in front of me today. Stay beside me…or, like a good Asian bride, walk 3-feet behind.” smile emoticon (I still ask her to do this today…just to get her goat.)
During exchanges like this…those in which I am talking in veiled indirect facetious codes in response to Vince’s prodding demands…Vince consistently displays a look that is strongly reminiscent of the cold hard stare of the emu.emu
The emu reminds me of the Skeksis from “The Dark Crystal”. My first experience with an emu was at Lazy 5 Ranch. I was seated in a truck’s open-air bed, looking forward to this expedition as a first-timer, holding a bucket that apparently exudes a siren’s call to all animals in the park, and an emu suddenly appeared, gliding into my personal space and stood solid, still, and close. It’s dark, pinched and impressive sized cranium framed an expression that starts with the full canvas of the face and draws you to the cold hard expressive eyes that say, “Fool, you are in imminent danger should you decide to not comply with my reasonable request and submit to the obviousness before you that I possess the ability to do memorable harm to you.” I threw the bucket of food at the bird who was unmoved by either surprise or gratitude. The bird simply released me from the stare and descended like a rain cloud on my scattered food pellets.
Looking up at Vince from my park bench into that foreboding expression, I complied with a slightly more direct response.
“I have to sit here for a little while longer until my biological reaction to the view of your Daisy Dukes framed in Disney subsides, abates, diminishes.”
skeksisShe cocked her head with the cool precision of a mounted weapon while maintaining that Skesis-like glare. Suddenly, my condition that I was attempting to politely describe to her, dawned upon Vince. And with slightly less disdain than a Skesis holds for a Gelfling, Vince said, “You’re an idiot.”dark-crystal-jen
She joined me on the park bench. We sat, together, taking in the sights and sounds of Main Street USA in Disney World…and I was a happily married man in the happiest place on earth.
(For the record, Vince never wore the Daisy Dukes again…much to my dismay.)

We Are Home OWNERS!…but not really.

My wife, Vince, recently shared some very big news regarding our family. WE PAID OFF OUR HOUSE THIS WEEK! After nearly 15 years in this home, our first home, we made our final mortgage payment this very week.
Pulling into my driveway this week has been more satisfying than my normal “home again, home again, jiggity jog” elation that arises once I have completed a full day of living outside my home and in my community. I am thankful and grateful that my wife and I have accomplished this milestone together. I am thankful for our gracious God who led us here (yes, He led us to this property one seemingly random day as we drove, nearly lost, in Mecklenburg County) and, after almost 15 years in this structure…serving God, living for God, believing in and holding to God…a lot of life has happened. Marital strife, financial roller coasters, family drama, love, birthday parties, Christmases, tears, fights; you name it…this house has seen it. When a man loves a woman, and they work at becoming ONE…well, it’s a force of nature and an act of God. Marriage is not about my sexual attraction to or emotional enjoyment of Vince. Those things are simply what sparked the intrigue of the concept. And here we are, 20 years later, going strong and paying off our house.

But despite the really cool feeling of knowing that I don’t have a mortgage payment to make anymore, instead of wondering, “what’s next?”, I remember and savor the following experience.
Shortly after moving into our new home on Branthurst Drive; the structure, the door frame, the occupants were prayed over and anointed by Dr. MA Thomas. He was a great missionary, visionary humanitarian, and the inspirational founder of Hope Givers.
I considered it a distinct privilege to have Dr. MA Thomas in my home and praying because he had left a memorable imprint on my life a few years prior to this moment when he had stayed with Vince and I in our Cornelius apartment for a weekend while visiting North Carolina. I remember having to almost fight for the right to host him because there was another family at my church (a wildly financially successful family) that wished to host him, as well. Their position on the matter was, “We cannot host this great man of God in an apartment when he can stay in our lakeside home.” In my immaturity, I despised the comparison and the desire to have Dr. MA Thomas in my home became more of a competition than an offer of hospitality.
In God’s sovereignty, not through my efforts (as I thought then), Dr. MA Thomas stayed with Vince and me and that visit was instrumental in shaping my growing faith. While with us, he would spend 2 to 3 hours per morning in our guest room…praying. He would be on the floor, facedown, seeking God and praying. I thought, “how in the world does he have that much time or that much stuff to pray?”
Fast forward to the prayer over our present home; I remember that as he was praying and anointing our home with oil, he authoritatively asked God that our home be set apart and that, by His power, it be found useful and effective in the ministry and mission work of God.
Back to his stay in our apartment:
During his stay with us in our apartment, I had asked Dr. Thomas about my observations regarding his prayer life and the time that he spent praying and meditating. He said, “Allow me to start with an observation of my own.” (People from India and England always sound so poetic and wise…I feel like a bumpkin when talking with most of them) He shared that, on his visits to the US, he was always struck by American’homeownerships appetite for and relationship with their houses, yards, wealth. He said that he did not understand why they could not see how much time that their houses and their possessions required of them. When staying with gracious hosts, he would note how much time was spent by his hosts in maintaining yards, maintaining cars, keeping rooms cleaned, picked up, dusted, organized, etc. From his observations, he sensed that one would never reach a place of inner contentment because they would always be seeking more to own which would result in more to do.
I have never forgotten that conversation. I have never forgotten the vision of him praying in my apartment for what seemed like an excruciating amount of time. I have never forgotten his mighty request of God regarding my home and my family. It was as if I was living the Mary and Martha story of Scripture.
So when I pull into my driveway of my fully paid for home, I remember that it is set apart. And though Bank of America no longer owns it with Vince and me, we do not own it either.
It has been a place where much ministry and mission has been accomplished and birthed.
In closing, I must add that my wife, who is a financial genius, has managed our finances well. She is the closest thing to a Proverbs 31 I will ever know and see. She gave up her culture, her family, her “identity”, to become Mrs. Lanier. You’ve done good, baby. You’ve done real good.

So now we are mortgage free and I know that, in part, it is because God honored Dr. MA Thomas’ prayer that day. But I also know this: In the eyes of Heaven, I am not entirely debt free. No, I owe Him. All to Him; I owe everything. So, as for me and my house…we will continue to serve the LORD.

Mama’s Story

3385_4783739844795_1899185606_nToday my Mama turns 59 years old. In another 22 days, I will turn 40.

I was probably 14 years old when I calculated the years between my mother’s birthday and my own. The realization that there were only 19 years between her birthday and my birthday intrigued me. So, being a rather fundamental Baptist kid at that time in my life, I decided to calculate the amount of time between my parents’ wedding anniversary and my birthday.
Let’s see…November ’74 and May ’75…
[counting on my hand]: December-1, January-2, February-3, March-4, April-5, May-6…6 months? No, not 6 months.
How could I have been born just 6 months after my parents were married?

During a visit to my grandparent’s home, I recalled the troubling mathematical path. So I asked an aunt, “Was I a premature baby?”
Looking back on the memory, I realize how clever her initial response to me was.
My aunt responds, “Why do you ask?”
“Well, there’s only 6 months between my parents’ anniversary and my birthday. There should be 9 months. So that’s why I’m curious if I was a premature baby.”
“Yes. Yes, you were.”

Fascinating. How had I missed this piece of my life’s story? Why had I not seen the pictures of life-sustaining tubes and incubators? This was good stuff. I was born after only 6-months in the womb. That’s church testimony stuff right there!

One evening, after coming inside from finishing the daily list of chores that my mother always had for my brother, sister, and me to complete, standing in the kitchen, I asked my mother,
“Mama? Why haven’t you ever told me that I was a premature baby?”
My mother, back turned to me as she stood at the stove in her simple and practical floral-print house coat, responded without hesitation, “You were not a premature baby. I was pregnant with you before I married your daddy.”

You know those scenes in movies when an actor experiences something that causes the entire environment to suddenly telescope into a blur of bright light? When the camera angle suddenly and abruptly rushes towards the face and expression of the actor all while a sound like oxygen being noisily and quickly sucked from the room occurs? That’s how I replay this memory in my mind. In that moment, I experienced a crisis of sorts and I was given new sight.
I wonder if the transformational experience I felt in that moment was similar to the one that Adam and Eve experienced when their lips parted and their teeth broke the flesh of the forbidden fruit taken from the Tree of Knowledge? It kind of makes sense that it would. After all, this knowledge I had just received brought an awareness to my 14-year old existence that I had not possessed prior to that day. And it was a formative awareness that my mother was a human, not some automated and perfect presence in my life. My mother had a story; one that preceded and transcends the story that I felt I already knew.

There was no more discussion of the matter after my mother gave me her answer. She continued, uninterrupted, preparing our family’s meal, as she did nearly every night of the week and I continued to stand there surveying her. With new eyes. With new questions. With new awareness.

Autobiography: an account of a person’s life written by that person.
Mom: the person most likely to write an autobiography and never mention herself.

If I had to know my mom’s story only by what she said about herself, I would know very little of my mom’s story. She doesn’t talk much about herself. She talks…goodness does she talk. But it’s never talk about how she wishes to be perceived. It’s never talk about circumstances that she hopes will help her gain that excusing sympathy from a listener that we feel relinquishes us from all personal responsibility. It’s never talk rooted in self-love or in self-loathing. Instead, it’s talk that is an outflow of a life shared with others, of experiences, of lessons learned, and sometimes of people who have scored a place on her, “I want to drag them into the woods and bury them” list.

For me, my mom’s story is a reel of personal vivid memories, mysteriously preserved in the mind’s eye of a son and rich with insight anytime I revisit them or they revisit me.

One day, I plan to share a narrative of Mama’s story. I will craft it from the memories she indelibly left within me. I will preserve it with carefully selected words that will still fall short of capturing who she is. And I will ensure that it is passed along in an attempt to achieve the impossible:  to share a story, poorly reflected through words, that is told best through action.

Happy birthday, Mama. As you prepare for your big backpacking trip on the Uwharrie Trail, I hope that you enjoy respite, refreshment, and happiness. And I want you to know, as you trek out, that your life, though composed of challenges, sacrifices, hurts, pains, and self-denial, tells a story of humanity that is largely drowned out by those shouting their own stories that they want the world to hear, but that serves as a beacon and a raft that quietly leads and carries those fortunate enough to share life with you.

Your son,

“Daddy Talk” with Liam

On our morning drive to school you and I talked about the need for you to become aware of routines and habits as you approach the turning of 9 this coming July.
The talk was a result of your mother’s request to me as I was leaving the house for the day that I chat with you about the morning care that you are providing for your dog, Blitz. This desire of her’s was brought on by this morning’s discovery that you sat downstairs, immobilized for 30 minutes, while contemplating Blitz’s poop and pee that you discovered in his crate. Your mother wanted me to discuss pet care and the ordering of your morning around pet care. As I walked the stairs headed towards the kitchen so that I could complete my morning ritual of water, supplements, and shakes, I determined that a talk based upon a larger scope of life was necessary. Rather than discuss Blitz’s pet care, I wanted to focus on your trend of choosing between doing something productive that would move you through the morning’s tasks as we approached our daily departure time of 7:15am rather than sitting in your underwear bemoaning resolvable circumstances.
As I gulped down the contents of capsules, glasses, and blenders, I decided to take advantage of our 30-minute drive by discussing with you ways that you can begin working on creating “big boy” routines that will lead to healthy adult habits along the journey of your life.
So what are habits and what is a routine? How can I define them for an 8-year old through this improvised talk?
For “habit”, I used the example of how you and your brothers expect a snack anytime that you visit a gas station with me. This expectation is present, without exception, anytime we are together at gas station or convenience store. This expectation, therefore is habitual (or a habit) and was formed through a routine; I would routinely buy you and your brothers drinks and snacks anytime I took you to a gas station with me from the moment you were allowed to eat anything besides your mother’s milk. I shared how this routine was rooted in my own childhood memories of treasured visits to “Bige’s”, a small family owned gas station in my community, and how thrilling of an experience it was for me to walk into Mr. Bige Bowling’s store and to peruse his candies, snack cakes, and sodas and to come out with a brown paper bag filled with these treasures. To this day, I still love gas stations and I have now passed that habitual love and routine onto you and your brothers. As an adult, you will no doubt feel nostalgic and a great compulsion any time you set foot in a gas station. Why? Because of the power and sway of habits and routines.
To move to the morning’s point, I segued into a discussion of your current morning habits; how you awaken, how you move through a morning, the tendencies you have, and how they will, over time, create a routine for the future adult Liam. We talked through the morning schedule and the morning tasks that must be completed by a set deadline. I encouraged you to develop the effort to awaken your mind, not succumbing to the physical fatigue that draws you back to the covers of your bed or to couch in the corner and, once it is awakened, to visually embrace an intentional movement through the morning’s tasks that must be completed before 7:15am; the time that my truck pulls out the driveway and drives you either to school or to a drop-off point where we meet friends with whom we carpool.
I encouraged you to see the differences in the various parts of your day; parts in which you are either independent of or dependent upon the direction and instruction of others while not being or being monitored. In the morning, you are largely independent of watchful eyes and consistent verbal direction or warnings. You are awakened and set upon the goal of “getting ready for school”. Once you are in the cab of my truck, you are now dependent upon others and are largely carefree of the burden to individually think/do/manage decisions/tasks/projects. Once you are in the cab of my truck, I am responsible for navigating towards the completion of the current goal; get you to school. You can sit easy and ride. Once you are in the doors of the school, the school staff shares responsibility with you by introducing you to and managing you through the day’s tasks and activities. And so it goes until you are back in the bed for the night.
You’re a good boy, Liam. You sat attentive to the talk. You responded where appropriate and necessary. You successfully led me to believe that you were listening. That’s a great habit you have formed through the routine of my talks 🙂 I love you and I want the best for you. Therefore, I am sure we will be talking about habits and routines a few more times before you turn 9.
Love you always,