The Slaying of the Annual Christmas Tree

The Wood family has an annual Christmas tradition – we pack ourselves up, drive out into the county to the Christmas tree farm, wander around for the longest time while stopping at too many trees and asking “How about this one?” until we (in desperation) select our annual victim, then cut it down and drag it home on the top of our van.  (I left out the part where the kids complain about how cold it is because it puts a damper on my memories.)

That’s what we do most years.  There was that one year when we just bought a tree at Home Depot.  I think it had been cut down some time in July and kept in storage, only to be brought out at Christmas and foisted on this unsuspecting person who believed the little sign that read “fresh trees.”  By the end of that Christmas season we were adding Rogaine to the water in hopes that the tree wouldn’t shed any more.  And then there was last year, too.  We were living with Grandma, and she has an artificial tree.  It even comes out of the box with the lights already on it.  Lame.

So this year it was time to resurrect our tradition and slay another tree.  We selected a farm somewhat near our house, and set off on our family adventure – only by the time we got there it was raining.  And the trees – though they were beautiful – were priced at about twice what I was used to paying.  There are some times when a man must take a stand and refuse to overpay – and this was one of those times.  So we aborted our attempt.

The next day we tried a different farm – about 30 miles in the opposite direction.  And we found trees for half the price – yes! – but that was basically because you only got about half a tree.  After marching around their fields and deciding that neither tree (selection was very limited) was going to work, we settled on buying one that was pre-cut.  Pre-cut?  Sheesh.  But it was $20 less than the previous day’s version.  (The good news was it was no longer raining.  The bad news?  It was now snowing and blowing and freezing.)

With our tree on the roof (alas, slain by another man’s saw) we headed home.  But the story wasn’t over – when we got home I discovered my usual tree stand was not going to work – unless I further decimated a tree that was already dangerously thin in some spots.  I considered my options.  I could build my own stand – or buy a new one.  I opted for the latter, finding one that could work – but only if I nailed it to the floor.  Seriously, it’s nailed to the floor.

My tree is up – and it looks good.  And it’s not falling over – not now, not ever.

  • Buying a tree on the 2nd day – a savings of $20.
  • Driving an extra 60 miles round trip the 2nd day to find a tree – a gas cost of about $9.
  • Buying a new stand for the tree – another $9.
  • Total saved by refusing to overpay on that first day- $2.

Keeping the tradition alive?  Priceless.

365 days

On August 28, 2009, we unloaded the U-Haul and moved into our temporary home in Brighton, Michigan.  One August 28, 2010, we loaded up the trucks and moved out of our home in Brighton, and into our new temporary apartment but permanent home in the Waterford/Clarkston area of Michigan.

That’s right, exactly 365 days later.  We spent exactly one year in Brighton.  So what was that year all about?  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.  But following are a few thoughts on what I think it was about:

  • It was about waiting.  Sometimes patiently, more often impatiently.  It was about wondering where God was and what He was up to.  It was about wrestling with our faith and just hoping that God was growing it – because it seemed so puny most of the time.
  • It was about growing.  We faced new challenges, unfamiliar situations, overwhelming circumstances, but also new opportunities.  The kids had to adjust to new school settings – and learned to survive.  I took a job as a hospice chaplain – and learned how to minister to the dying.  Eight times I conducted funerals for my patients.  Twice they were just children.  I learned how to mourn with those who mourn.  I don’t think I’m the same person I was.  Hopefully, I care more.
  • It was about getting tougher.  We jumped off a cliff in faith – and hoped for exhilaration.  But it felt more like a thud.  But we survived.  And we realized that we had experienced what we had feared – and we still made it through.  God didn’t seem to be concerned about making our lives easier; He seemed to be more determined to make our lives stronger.
  • It was about bonding as a family.  We spent a lot of time together.  We didn’t have much choice.  The girls had to share a room again.  We didn’t have our old friends, so we became better friends as a family.  For that, I’m grateful.
  • It was about building new relationships.  When we first moved to Brighton I met a pastor of a local church who prayed for us – and prayed that God would surround us with people to care for us.  And God answered that prayer.
  • It was about contentment and gratitude – because in spite of all of the challenges of the year our lives were still incredibly blessed.  We were sufficiently housed and clothed and fed and then some.
  • It was about providence.  Even though I struggled to see God’s hand, He still protected me.  I drove 40,000 miles in less that nine months with my job – many days driving into the worst neighborhoods of Detroit – without incident.  And less than two weeks after I left that job my car blew its engine.  In a very safe place.  At a very fortuitous time.
  • It was about hope.  We always believed God wanted us in ministry – even when it seemed like it would never happen.  But I hope that God was just getting us ready – in accord with His wisdom (because it didn’t make much sense to me).

365 days.  Days that I may never understand – but days that God ordained for me.

Now we are in the early stages of a new adventure.  Waterford/Clarkston is our new home.  Waterford Community Church is our new ministry.  And the people of the church are our new family.  It took us a year to get here – but we’re glad to finally be home.

We need a vacation

Family vacation is a big deal to me.  Some of my greatest memories as a kid involved vacations – and I’ve tried to make sure that my kids can say the same.  We’re heading off this afternoon for our “official 2010 Wood family vacation” and heading for the shores of Lake Michigan.  And we’re ready – because we need a vacation!

But I got to thinking back to a  few of the best vacations that we’ve taken as a family…

  • Anna Maria Island, Florida – We had a condo right on the beach – awesome.  I fell asleep each night listening to the waves lapping on the shore.  We also went to Disney World that year.  But we did have one mishap – Allie lost her teddy bear on the trip.  We replaced him, but it wasn’t the same.  (See Toy Story 3 to find out how Teddy felt.)
  • Cambridge, Maryland – Highlights included a quick trip into Washington, DC and just hanging out on the Chesapeake Bay – and eating blue crabs.  Actually it was Kelly who ate the blue crabs.   My favorite memory was flying a kite with Allie.
  • Washington State – We really enjoyed both sunny days – and also trips to Mt. Rainier and Mt. Saint Helens.  Luke talked us into seeing the latter and I’m glad he did.  We visited over 25 years after the eruption, and the desolation was still overwhelming.  A memory I would like to forget was my running through Midway airport in my socks because I knew that if I took time to put my shoes back on we were going to miss our flight.  (We made it, by about 30 seconds!)
  • Washington, DC – My niece and her husband let us use their apartment in Georgetown for the week.  What a blast – we tried to do it all – the memorials and monuments, the Capitol building, Arlington, Mt. Vernon, the Smithsonian – and my personal favorite – Lincoln’s summer home.  (Note to would-be Washington travelers:  Do not visit Washington during spring break week, especially when it coordinates with the cherry blossom festival!)
  • Colorado – I think this was our favorite vacation to date, though it had a few rough spots.  On the first day Lindsay ended up in the ER with her big toenail having been ripped off.  Then we all got the stomach flu – not at the same time but in succession.  Still we managed to go on an incredible horse back ride with just the five of us and a guide (actually, it was the four of them and the guide – my horse was content to follow several hundred feet behind), do some river rafting, visit Focus on the Family, drive from Aspen to Colorado Springs on the world’s most frightening road ever (I think it was a scenic ride – I was too scared to look), see the Maroon Bells, and make the climb to Hanging Lake.

So I love vacation – visiting new places, doing stuff as a family, taking some time to regroup and refresh, taking some pictures, eating too much fast food, finding the best ice cream place in town, stopping in at some glitzy souvenir stand, and making a thousand new memories.  Lake Michigan, here we come!

Here’s to Hamburg United

As the World Cup kicks into full gear, I thought it would be appropriate to commemorate my favorite soccer team – Hamburg United Red.

Last fall when we uprooted our kids from the place where they grew up in pursuit of God’s call on our lives, we looked for some ways to make life easier since we knew they were going to face some new challenges.  Before we even moved to Brighton/Hamburg last fall we tried to find an opportunity for Lindsay to play soccer.  She had only played in rec leagues before, so she wanted to try a travel league.  We made a call to the Hamburg league – could they add a player?  The answer was yes, provided the child was a girl and a U14 player.  Lindsay was both.

So began Lindsay’s travel league experience.  She received an official uniform – one that didn’t have a sponsors name plastered in huge letters across the front.  It was a nice red and white Adidas jersey along with some huge shorts.  She even got to pick her own number (who but Lindsay would pick a number like 43 for soccer?).   She was ready to play for Hamburg United.

Hamburg United was not a strong  team.  In the fall season they tied one game.  In the winter season they managed to win two games. This past spring they didn’t win any.  (It didn’t help that their goalie totaled her ACL in the first practice of the spring.)  But it didn’t really matter because it was Lindsay’s best year of soccer ever.  She had a great coach who made things fun – and she had some great teammates who played hard every game and never quit.  Better yet, they remained a team.  They never rode each other, never got upset with each other when mistakes were made, and never felt sorry for themselves.  They went out every game and competed.

Last night was their end-of-the-year pool party.  It was their last time to all be together.  Hamburg United is breaking up.  Some are moving up to U15.  Others will be playing in other leagues.  I think the girls were all sad.  It has been an incredible year for those girls, and for Lindsay especially.

She made 15 friends.  She got to play soccer for the right reason – for the love of the game.  She discovered that she didn’t have to win to have fun.  She got to play a ton of soccer.  She improved her game.  And she’s become a big buddy with a teammate who lives just a few houses away.

I think this is the point of youth sports – to learn teamwork, to improve your skills, to compete, to create memories that will last a life time, to make friends, and to have fun!

Yep, Lindsay is sad – sad that her very imperfect season is over.  But I’m not sure how imperfect her season really was.  I think it was pretty much the opposite.

Here’s to Hamburg United!

3 Days

Since the last time I had a 3-day weekend was in the middle of February, and since the final day of that weekend was spent driving the 8 hours from Oshkosh, Wisconsin to Brighton, Michigan I was determined to get the most out of last weekend.  And I’m feeling pretty good about how it went.

Saturday morning Kelly and I headed to downtown Brighton to the farmer’s market.  Evidently there aren’t very many farmers in Brighton as there were only two vegetable stands – but there were several flower stands, jewelry stands, and tacky craft stands. We opted for the Harvest bread store, instead.  Kelly ordered an iced coffee and a piece of bread; I ordered a chocolate chip cookie (a really great mid-morning snack).  The girl handed me the coffee and started to walk away.  I had to remind her that I still needed to pay and that Kelly had also asked for a piece of bread.  Deciding to be content with her getting the piece of bread for Kelly, I just let the cookie idea pass.  Sigh.

After milling around town for the next hour or so we headed to the English Gardens nursery where we bought a rose bush for the back yard.  Back at home Kelly planted the bush and worked to create a new flower bed while I ripped out bushes and mowed the lawn and got into a water fight with the kids who were supposedly washing the car.

Saturday night we ate out on the deck and received a text message from Grandma who was taunting us by showing us a picture of the swimming pool that she was enjoying – and that we were missing.  Not very nice.  Returning evil for evil we texted her a picture of our awesome meal – then we headed to Putterz in Ypsilanti where yours truly won, followed by Allie, Lindsay, Luke and one other member of the family that I won’t mention because I don’t want to embarrass her.  And we texted Grandma a picture of that, too.  Then we headed to the Washtenaw Dairy

for some ice cream – except for Luke who doesn’t like ice cream but who was quite excited to find that the store sold white cheddar popcorn and lemonade.  Yep, we texted another picture to Grandma to show her what she was missing.  Then on the way home we saw a sign for “Aaron’s party” so we all got out and took a picture of that, too, to remind Grandma how much fun we were having without her.  (Don’t tell her that we really didn’t crash the party – we just took the picture.)

Sunday morning was church.  Sunday afternoon all the girls went shopping while I took a nap.  And the dog only woke me up twice.  Then after dinner Kelly and I headed for Kensington Metro Park and walked about 5 miles along Kent Lake.  It was beautiful.

Monday morning we hopped in the van and drove to Grand Rapids (the place of my birth – you probably didn’t need to know that but the trip left me feeling somewhat sentimental) to meet the grandparents (the ones who don’t send mean text pictures)  at a Jonny B’z Dogs and More, a brand new restaurant venture recently undertaken by two people who always inspire me with their faith, and that I am kind of related to – Jon and Ginger Goad.  I ordered a BBQ brisket sandwich which was phenomenal and Kelly ordered what she called the best hot dog she’s ever eaten.  So the next time you are in southeast Grand Rapids…

Later, Kelly and I headed for Borders where I spent a long time trying to figure out what book to buy with my 40% off coupon and my 2-year-old gift card which still had $2.86 left on it.  Then we capped off the weekend playing Rook and Dutch Blitz with the kids.  I can’t tell you who won because we didn’t keep score – and yes, I think that’s kind of lame, too.

And that was the best three days I’ve had in a long time.

Mornings at Panera

This is my new morning routine.

1.  I get up, shower, get dressed.
2.  I eat a couple of bowls of cereal, then pack my lunch.
3.  I pray with Kelly (most mornings).
4.  I drive 50 miles to work and use that time to think about…well, not much of anything (it’s too early to think).
5.  I stop at Panera on the “Hill.”

The “Hill” is the nickname of the shopping plaza down the street from my office.      I try to get started early enough to weather the traffic and still make it for my Panera time.

I’ve become a regular – like the older couple who always sit at the table right next to the counter; I guess it’s so that they can see everyone who comes in.  He always wears a tie.  I think it’s their big event of the morning. They can make a bagel and a coffee last a long time.

There are other regulars.  There’s a woman who usually sleeps in the middle booth on the one side.  There are the father and son (I’m assuming here) who meet every morning for their coffee and conversation.  And there’s me.

I don’t come for the coffee.  I’m not a coffee drinker (that’s a bit of a sore spot with my wife, too).   And since I come with two bowls of cereal under my belt, I don’t ever buy a bagel.  It seems that I’m just a free loader taking advantage of a place to hang out in the space.  But the real reason I come is to meet someone.

Panera is now the place where God and I get together in the morning.  After an hour in the car and bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-96, I’m pretty much awake.  So I’m ready to have some serious conversation with the Father.  Usually I write a few notes in my journal.  Then I pray.  And I read my Bible some.  And I try to listen.

As of now we don’t have a favorite booth – but still it’s our place.   And I love having a place.  It used to be the living room couch (there was no Panera on my used-to-be 1-mile commute); now it’s the bread store.  And I look forward to getting there every morning.  When the traffic is light – that’s even better.  That means a few extra minutes to spend with God.  I walk in the door and feel like God is waiting there for me.

Have you ever noticed how people in the Bible seemed to find places where they connected with God?  Abraham found a place on Mount Moriah.  Jacob?  His place was Bethel.  Moses had his desert place and his burning bush.  Jesus seemed to have his places, too, like the Garden of Gethsemane.

I love the idea of having a rendezvous with God.  A place where we can just sit down and visit.  A place that can be ours.  A place that reminds me that I have a God who loves to spend time with me.

The family fabric

I’m a fairly typical American.  That means that my ancestry is a pretty big mix of nationalities.  But somewhere in the mix I have some Scottish blood.  That would be why my last name is Wood.  Some great, great, great grandfather came over on the boat from Scotland, and he’s the reason for the fact that my kids complain about almost always being the last kid in the class alphabetically.

The Wood Clan Tartan

But I kind of like being Scottish.  What I really like  is that every Scottish family clan has a tartan – a specific plaid fabric that represents the family name.  And yes, there is a plaid for us Woods.  Personally, I think that a tartan is much cooler than having a coat of arms – except for the fact that hard line Scottish people expect you to wear a kilt (supposedly a respectable name for a skirt) made out of your plaid and knee socks and play the bagpipes.  That’s where my love for being Scottish fades a bit.

Last night at the dinner table we got  talking about the family fabric – not the plaid, but the characteristics that each member of the family seems to share.  The common Wood traits.  And here is what we came up with.

1.  Justice. We all have this sense of justice in us that drives us crazy when we perceive something as being unfair.  And if something isn’t right or if someone isn’t treated appropriately, we want to do something about it.

2.  Loyalty. We’re pretty loyal to each other.  If you want to mess with one of us, you’ve pretty much picked a fight with all of us.  One of the good sides of this is that we all get along pretty well – because we like each other and try to look out for each other.

3.  A willingness to do hard things. Maybe this fits with our justice thing, but if we’re convinced that something is the right thing to do, we’ll go ahead and do it and worry about the consequences later.  (I love it when I see this in my kids.)

4.  Fun. I don’t think I do as well with this as I would like to – but my kids all voted yes.  We like to have fun.  That’s why we play games and go on vacations and just sit around and laugh at each other.

5.  Not being critical of others. Yep, sometimes we slip up on this one, but we really try.  We have enough faults of our own, we really don’t need to be pointing out those in others.  So don’t worry, we’re not talking about you.

6.  A passion for God. And this is the one that I really hope is true more than any of the others.  I hope that when God thinks of the Woods, He thinks of five people who are trying to pursue Him with all of their hearts.

This is about as far as we got last night, but I’m still hoping to add to the list.  And I also hope that my kids will grow up saying, “Well, I’m a Wood, and Woods always do the hard thing” or “I’m a Wood, and Woods don’t talk about others.”

Forget the plaid, I want these things to be our family fabric.

What about you, what are some of the things that make up your family fabric?

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