Friday, March 29, 2013

Roof-be-gone

Envision the last trailer you saw for an action movie. Cars careen through narrow streets, bullets fly, people jump out of the way, things go flying, and in the final, slow-mo scene, a vehicle goes airborne, flipping through the air for what seems to be way too long. The clip then morphs back into real-time speed as the hunk of steel smashes into the ground, exploding into a million pieces.

Save the chase and the bullets, I felt like I was the stunt driver in that scene just a few hours ago.

"Before"
Gary and I had driven to North Carolina to pick up his latest EBay purchase: a 1990 one-owner Ford four-wheel drive truck. But it wasn't just a truck. It came equipped with a big 'ol snow plow and a dump trailer complete with electric brakes. Obviously, those two complementary bits of equipment will be quite useful to Gary. However, I was more excited about what sat in the bed of the truck: a pop-up camper that sleeps four, complete with refrigerator, stove, sink, heater, AC unit, and water and propane tanks for easy overnighting. I had often mentioned to Gary how I would enjoy such a thing. Imagine my excitement that one came with this truck. He was happy. I was
"Before" and in camping mode
happy.

We chatted effortlessly with the lovely couple who sold us this strange yet wonderful combination of stuff. They were moving to the beach and had little use for all of this. They were good honest people, both life-long educators. "It seems to leak a little so you"ll probably want to seal up the roof."

"Okay" we said, looking inside the door. Everything looked fine. "We'll check it out."

Money and titles were exchanged and hands were shaken before we started back on the two-hour drive. Everything seemed to be in order until we made the turn heading north onto RT 29. Suddenly, something flew off from the roof of the camper, barely missing my car that followed behind. "Hum, I wonder what that was?" But I didn't have to wonder for long.

Open door, open roof policy
I noticed the roof of the camper begin to ripple like water on the lake when a sudden wind comes up. For a second or two, it undulated in the 60 mph driving wind. "Slow down. Slow down," I silently screamed to Gary. He didn't hear me. In the next instant, the roof settled briefly before rearing up on the back hinges in one grand motion, creating a twelve-foot high wind block. The inevitable was about to happen.

I watched the rear hinges break away. Now, the entire  7' x 12" roof was headed toward my windshield flipping end over end. I no longer heard the radio or thought anymore about the beautiful blue sky overhead. I felt like I really was in a slow-motion movie. Still, I remember marveling at how high a camper roof can fly when becoming unhitched at such speed and angle. "Wow. Look at that."

Then reality set in. Not panic. Just reality. Time had picked up speed again, just like in the movies. If I didn't perform a few defensive driving tricks real soon, that roof was coming through my windshield. I doubted the result would be pleasant. I braked, swerved, and watched it crash inches from my car, sending glass and camper-shell shrapnel everywhere. I pulled to the side of the road, looking up in time to see Gary's truck pulling over a third of a mile up the road. "Good thing no one was coming down the ramp," I thought when I noticed this took place at the bottom of an on-ramp.That was fortunate. Otherwise, I would have had no where to go except into the guard rail.

I turned off the key but realized I was now in overdrive. The shattered roof had landed in the slow lane of the highway. It had to be moved- and fast! I ran to it and reached under the crumpled rim. It was heavy. Still, I heaved and ho'ed, dragging the wreckage from the path of an oncoming semi. A gentleman who was traveling behind me ran over to help once he pulled to the side. As he reached down to grab a corner he exclaimed, "Man, I can't believe how it didn't hit you. I watched the whole thing. I thought you were gone!"

Left front corner buckled then ripped away
After thanking him for stopping, I ran down the road (literally) to Gary, who was now standing inside the roofless camper. It looked a little strange. "Shoot. Just when I thought I was getting the camper I wanted," I mused enroute. Just then a state trooper came alongside me with his window rolled down.

"You okay? What's wrong? Why are you running down the road?" I almost laughed at our predicament. Almost.

"See that truck and camper?", still two hundred yards down the road. "We bought it about forty-five minutes ago and the roof just blew off. It's a revolting development."

Rotten wood: floor and camper sides
With what I considered understated concern, he simply said, "Okay" and drove away, stopping momentarily to ask Gary if he needed anything.There really wasn't anything to do but pick up the pieces and continue home with the newly air-conditioned camper and one very large sun roof.

Inspecting the remains, it became obvious that the hidden wood rot destroyed the structural integrity of the camper. The left front corner had crumpled, the latch detached, and the rest is history. Who could have predicted this?

There really isn't much to the rest of the story. The drive home was uneventful. But now in the aftermath, I'm beginning to understand how busy my angels must have been today. I wonder how many it took to keep that thing in the air just a tad longer or a smidgeon higher, allowing me to escape. Did they clear any traffic from the ramp? Did they take the wheel of my car, giving it the right degree of swerve and mixture of brake and accelerator? Interesting thoughts.

Just prior to the incident, my radio was tuned into a christian station. I recall Chuck Swindoll talking about conducting funerals for more and more younger people. "And in most cases, their deaths were unexpected. . . We are never guaranteed another day. Another hour." (Paraphrased)

He's right. We never know. And because we never know, perhaps we should consider more carefully how we live.

Thank you, Lord, for your gracious protection. Thank you for the chance to live another day for you.



Friday, March 15, 2013

Far-reaching "Best Season Yet"

Okay. I have to admit it. I am now in the habit of checking Amazon for the latest reviews on my books. I was blown away by a review from a reader who is a music conductor. Apparently, he is seeing application far beyond the athletic field! Read his review below and see if you don't agree.

Paul Daniels writes: "Best Season Yet" is targeted toward athletic coaches. Coach Rebekah Trittipoe, the author, may have underestimated the appeal and usefulness of her book to all who find themselves entrusted with leadership, especially Christian leadership.

I'm a music teacher by profession. I conduct five performing groups. Early in my career, however, I also coached middle school and high school track and field. At that time, I was surprised by the similarity between the challenges I encountered as a conductor and as a coach.

Coach Trittipoe addresses these challenges in her book. Committing oneself to the team and the team's mission, submitting to the authority of the coach, motivating oneself to achieve personal and team goals, battling performance anxiety, dealing with injuries and illnesses, persevering when quitting seems like an attractive option, reacting positively to failure, using ones talents to serve others, working together as a team, pursuing excellence, maintaining balance and perspective on ones endeavors, and finishing "like a pro" are issues I deal with every day.

Just substitute "choir" for "team" and "conductor" for "coach," and it's "welcome to my life."

Trittipoe, a gifted athlete and coach, happens to use athletics to explain and apply timeless Christian principles to guiding a team through a season of practices and contests. The principles, however, transcend athletics and even the performing arts.

Any person entrusted with leading a group of people who must work with others toward a common goal could benefit from reading "Best Season Yet." Principles that benefit teams and performing groups can also benefit people in businesses, community organizations, and--dare I say it--churches.

The book is extremely well organized for its stated purpose. Each of the twelve weeks of a typical athletic season is devoted to one of the issues listed above. Each week begins with a suggested activity designed to focus the team's attention on the issue and stimulate thought and discussion. For each day of the week, then, there is a brief, extremely engaging reading in which Trittipoe moves seamlessly from 21st Century events to Biblical events in order to illustrate various aspects of the Christian principles that apply to the issue. There is a quotation from Scripture, a provocative question, and space provided in which each athlete can write his or her response to the question.

The reading for each day and the followup question can be accomplished in five-to-ten minutes at the beginning, during the middle, or near the end of a practice. Coach Trittipoe is well aware of the preciousness of practice time, and so she has created "Best Season Yet" with that practical factor in mind.

As a former coach and current conductor, I highly recommend "Best Season Yet" to any person who needs to motivate and inspire a group of people to work together toward a common goal.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Goin' home: A new perspective

Goodness gracious. How could it be that a month has passed since I last blogged. That almost puts me into the blogger wanna-be category. It's not that I don't want to write. It's simply that life gets complicated and filled to overflowing. There simply does not seem to be extra hours once all the "have-to" lists have been completed. Heavy sigh. But I'm pretty sure everyone out there has the same feeling.

So, let's see. What has happened as of late? My running quantity and consistency is going downhill. This has led to an increase in a few pounds, which makes me feel even more puny when I do run. Teaching continues to be rewarding yet time-consuming in preparation. Coaching is demanding but I feel more well-equipped from having sat through a USATF certification course. My book has been released and seems to be well-received. And yet, there is much to do in terms of getting out the word.

And then there was my trip north to spend a few days with my mom. Talk about putting things in perspective! Mother will be 85 this month, as hard as that is to believe. She has always been a go-getter, an endless reservoir of energy and determination. She raised four kids, cooked, sewed, kept house, gardened, was music director at church for decades, played tennis, and learned the intricacies of finance when my father died twenty-six years ago. After moving into the independent living retirement community six years ago, she continued well-doing. She wrote and published a book, writes encouragements to countless missionaries, opens her home to guests, and laboriously leads the cancer support group she established years ago after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

But something was different this time when I walked through the door. My wonderful mother looked tired, worn, her frame shrunken from further compression of her spine. She tried to put on a happy face but I could tell she was worried. She was having a hard time catching her breath, her energy waning. She even contemplated a trip to the hospital since she was fearing another round of severe anemia. With a home test kit for hemoglobin, we were able to ally that fear. Still, I could tell she was not well.

Over the course of my three-day stay, Mother bounced back a little, though she still had to stop and catch her breath when walking to the car or down the long hallways. She also worried about having to take so much Tylenol to help with her arthritis pain. So I was glad to help her with the once-every-three-month shopping trip to Wal-Mart, a chore she found nearly impossible by herself. With a bad shoulder and arthritis, it is difficult to lift and load heavy items like laundry detergent. And dragging all the purchases in her rolling shopping cart up the incline leading into her building is exhausting. I was delighted to lighten her load.

It's hard to see my mom decline in health. She said, "I don't know how to get old." Who does? It's a learn-as-you-go kind of event. There's no school that teaches the subject. Even at 56, I get frustrated at my own decreasing abilities. I can't imagine what an additional 29 years will do to me.

But my gracious, kind, compassionate, Spirit-filled Mother bravely continues on. She doesn't understand the other residents who seem to have time to play bridge and put together jigsaw puzzles. She has planning to do, correspondence to write, phone calls to make to hundreds of cancer patients, and hours of praying time while sitting atop her exercise bike or at the study table in the sun-room. She reads multiple books at a time, taking notes in the margins. Her time in the Word is much more than a cursory reading of a few verses. She drives herself (and two other seniors) to church whenever the doors are open. She organizes and records nearly everything she does, three-ring notebooks filling her office. Mother will rest after lunch for thirty minutes and then relentlessly pursue her passions, even when she doesn't feel like it. Even on one of her bad days, she makes me feel like a weenie.


On the last night of my visit, we sat down to watch a concert performance of David Phelps. To say this tenor is an amazing artist would be an understatement. Over hot cups of tea and a little snack, we were overwhelmed by the melodies, lofting, swelling, and penetrating the soul. But on the last song, I looked over at Mother. Her wiggling nose gave away the tears that followed. The orchestra began to play the haunting tune and Mr. Phelps sang these words of an old negro spiritual: (Video link)



"Goin' home, goin' home, I am goin' home
Quiet-like, some still day, I'll be going home
It's not far, just close by, through an open door
Work all done, care laid by, goin' to fear no more
Mother's there expecting me, father's waiting too
Lots of folks gathered there, all the friends I knew
Nothing lost, all's gain
No more fret nor pain
No more stumbing on the way
No more longing for the day
Goin' to roam no more.
Morning star lights the way, rewtless dreams all done
Shadows gone, break of day, real life just begun
There's no break, there's no end, I'll be living on
Wide awake, with a smile goin' on and on
Goin' home, goin' home, I'm just going home
It's not far, just close by, through an open door
I'll be goin' home
I'll be goin' home
I'm goin' home
I'm goin' home
Lord, I'm goin' home.

By the time it was over, tears obscured my vision, my mother's as well. But through those clouded eyes I saw for the first time how tired she was, how ready she was to join my father, my grandmother, my grandfather, her brother, her two little babies that died before they were born. Though I don't want her to rush off (Lord, no!), I began to understand. I saw heaven in a whole new way. My perspective has changed.

I love you, Mother.