Building Others…

These kids built bears for children in a hospital. The story seems simple enough, but I learned a great deal from them and the service they provided to society that day.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the mall in Charleston when I ran into a group who were working together at the Build-A-Bear store. The group was mostly middle school age children and there were several adults with them. They were making stuffed animals and dressing them. I originally assumed the group was having a birthday party or something. I went into the store and began talking to one of the guys working with the group and he told me he belonged to a church group. He said the group he was with was a Sunday School class that had recently learned a lesson about giving without receiving a reward. He said the group had put together a plan to do that with the help of the Build-A-Bear store. The plan was for the group to make stuffed animals to send to kids at the Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati. That in itself was touching enough, but the man went on to explain that he has a young family member who regularly makes visits to the hospital because he was badly burned in a house fire when he was younger. These kids were wanting to help people like this. What a wonderful plan.

I immediately fell in love with the group and called the local newspaper in Charleston to ask them to provide a reporter for the story. The story was no good for me because, even though I was a reporter, the story was not related to my area in any way. Still, I thought these kids deserved to be recognized for what they were doing. I was told that the newspaper’s reporter was on assignment already and they didn’t have anyone else to send on a Sunday so I enthusiastically asked if I could write the story for them. I told them I am not interested in money for writing the story, all I wanted is the satisfaction of bringing recognition to the kids who were building these stuffed animals. I was given an okay and I began to write the story. It would later be the most wide spread story I would ever write. The newspaper’s circulation well exceeded any of the newspapers I had written for before. I felt kind of special. More importantly, I felt like I had made these kids feel special. If my name had not have been on the story, I would have still been happy that it ran. They deserved to be recognized.

Why was I so intrigued by the story of these kids? I’ll tell you why. These kids were not only building bears that day. They were building others. They were creating something that was going to place a smile on the face of a kid in the hospital. They may not ever get the chance to meet the children they are helping, but they are doing it. It’s not about a reward for them. It is about sharing love with someone who is in an undesirable situation. It makes me feel good to know that there are people who would go out of their way to make the day of another. I’m glad to know that there are those who want to build someone up even when they are down. We should all learn a lesson from these kids. We should all learn to work for the people who need it most. It isn’t only about ourselves. This life is also about serving others. I’m glad I ran into these kids at the Build-A-Bear store in Charleston. I’m glad I was able to write a story about them. They deserve to be recognized. We could all learn a lesson from these kids. I learned a valuable one that hasn’t stopped teaching me yet.

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Coloring Outside the Lines…

I don’t really remember at what point in my life I began to properly color a picture and stay inside the lines.  I know that as a child I must have colored all over whatever picture I was working on.  We all have.  In watching my own children, I have noticed that, as they mature and get a little older, their pictures have become more precise.  They have gotten better at coloring inside the lines.  I do remember in school that some of the children were better artists than others.  Even though we all began the same and all improved our ability to stay inside the lines, some became masters of their artistic ability.  While some were creating what seemed like a masterpiece for the parents refrigerator door, others were doing their best to just keep their crayon inside the lines on the page.

As an adult I feel like i still suffer with this battle.  I have never learned to create a masterpiece.  My whole life has been a struggle to keep it between the lines.  From the time I was young I have wanted to paint a beautiful picture of what I felt like life should be.  Unfortunately I am not a very good artist, at least not in creating the portrait of my life.  I struggle every day to stay inside the lines and not destroy the good that I do have.  In the same way that a little child wants to present the picture he colored in class to his parents when he gets home from school, I also want to present the most beautiful picture for the people I love.  I want to give my children, my family and my friends a masterpiece.  I want them to be proud, but I cannot paint.  Even as a journalist, I want to create a masterpiece for those who read my stories.  I want to present a beautiful piece of artwork, still, I struggle.

One day my kids will grow up.  They will have a life of their own.  Have I colored the picture of them the best way I possibly can to provide a promising future?  Have I stayed between the line enough to build on my relationship and create a masterpiece that will forever be cherished?  We can’t all be great artists, but is what little I can do enough?

I am going to try my best to simply keep it between the lines in this life.  I hope no one expects a masterpiece.  Maybe in the future I will be able to create stand out work.  Right now, It is more than a full-time job to keep everything between the lines.  Maybe you have struggled with this as well.  We all want a masterpiece.  Many of us fall short.  I feel like I couldn’t ask for better people to be in my life.  I can only hope I live up to offering back to them what they have given to me.  I want to give you all a masterpiece you will never forget.  I’m going to keep it between the lines.

In the Ashes of the fire…

I spent some time at Moonville Friday with the Zaleski Fire Department.  A fire had ignited in the woods near the area and while some departments put together efforts to contain the fire, others stood by and kept watch for other dangers.  It was already near dark when I arrived at the scene, and containment efforts were winding down.  I stood with some of the firefighters who were keeping watch on the road near the Moonville Tunnel, as we all waited for the latest updates on the conditions in the woods.

As we waited, I noticed something falling from the sky.  Further observation of the falling material revealed to me that I was standing in a shower of falling ash.  I could not see the fire from where I was standing, but the smoke, the burning smell and the ash that was falling caused me to realize I was probably closer to the fire than I had thought.  Suddenly I knew that if containment efforts fail, I could be in a dangerous place.

I didn’t doubt at any moment that the situation was being properly handled by the firefighters.  I didn’t fear that at any point I would need to scramble to quickly remove myself from the area.  I felt secure.  I was safe, and I didn’t feel the need to panic.  I wonder though, if the fire department hadn’t been on the scene if I would have felt the same way.  Would I have jumped into my car and get out of the woods as quickly as possible if I had been alone?  I am not sure what type of alternative outcome would have came if I wouldn’t have been near members of the fire department.  I am thankful for the people who sacrifice their time and effort to protect people like me and keep me safe.

I think about the way I felt in the woods Friday.  I wonder about my own life and the lives of those around me.  How do the people who depend on me feel when they are near me.  Do my kids watch the ashes fall and know they are safe because I am their father?  Does the burning smell cause my loved ones to fear where they stand or do they feel comforted because I am near?  When the smoke is thick and the only thing left to do is count on someone else for protection, am I the one people feel they can turn to?

My life feels like a fire sometimes.  It seems that there is always a fight to protect what little I have.  I think the people who are close to me can see the smoke.  They can smell the fire.  They watch the ashes fall when they are near me.  Though some run away for fear that the fire will grow, there are those who stand in a safe place.  They feel safe in spite of the proof of dangerous territory that surrounds them.  I want to end the fire that burns in my life.  I want to rise above the smoke clouds that roll off of my existance.  I’m not going down in flames, I’m emerging from the fire.  I am climbing out of a death trap that has held me bound for years.  If you watch the ashes fall, don’t fear the fire, just know I have taken another step into the clear.

In the future, I hope that my children feel safe because I show no signs of destruction, rather than because I carry them through it.  I want the best for my kids.  Even though we have marks to prove we have been through the fire, I hope they’ll carry on without fear of that fire.  If my success marks the success of my children, then I must succeed.  There are no other options.  The ash still falls, but the fire is behind me.

Behind the Mask…

I spent the day with my children yesterday walking the streets in search of Halloween treats.  It seems to me, with every new year, there are more and more children dressed up and wandering around, door to door, to fill up their baskets of candy.  My kids went as the Mario Brothers.  They seemed to get a pretty good response from passers-by as they passed other trick-or-treaters on the streets.  You should have seen them with the big mustache that covered a large part of their face.  I couldn’t help but smile when I caught some of the responses of people as they walked by.

While my kids had a simple costume, you could tell who they were by looking at them.  Some children were completely covered in a body suit.  Whether they were going as a gorilla, a race car driver (complete with helmet), or any other costume requiring a mask, I couldn’t tell who these kids were.   Some of the kids who passed by waved at us, but I couldn’t recognize them.  The only thing I knew about these kids was what outfit they had on.  I could recognize the mask, but beneath it, the mystery loomed.

I think we all wear a mask from time to time.  Obviously, I am not speaking of a literal mask.  I am talking about something that covers us, and makes outsiders recognize us in an entirely different light than the people we reveal ourselves to.  Many of us wear masks to hide our imperfections when we are around other people.  By wearing a mask we can become unrecognizable.  We can hide the part of us we don’t want people to see.  We can become another person.

Why do we all have to do this to seek another’s approval?  Shouldn’t we find comfort in ourselves and walk boldly in front of the crowd?  I think the world would find itself in a better place if some people would take off their masks.  While my mask may suggest I am a young, happy father of two kids who lives a comfortable life as a reporter in the county I live in, I struggle.  My life is not easy.  When I think about it, I don’t know if any single aspect of my life has been easy.  Although some people may look at me and see failure, if they had walked in my shoes and been in places I have been in life, they might begin to believe I am a great story of success.  What makes success?  To be honest, I must say the answer to that question is still up for debate, at least in my head.  What I can tell you is that the prettiest mask you can wear will not change your leve l of success.  Your mask will not make you better.  It is solely dependant upon the drive of the person under the mask where you will go in this life. 

Take off your mask.  Nobody wants to see a lie.  People want to know the real you.  They will only respect the real you.  Your mask can’t earn respect, and while people may respect your lie, it is a matter of time before the mask proves its inability to carry your load.  You are better without the mask.  Your progress will come when you lay it down and move forward without it.  Regardless of your position in this life, wherever you may be, your mask will never go further than you carry it.  It is your footsteps that get you where you going in life.  Throw down the mask, and walk on.

Act your age…

I had a difficult time trying to get my kids ready for school this morning.  My oldest son, who is eight-years-old, is constantly making noises, singing or talking.  Sometimes this can become very annoying very quickly and cause me to yell at him.  I don’t know how many times I have had to tell my son to act his age.  What I think I am missing about the whole thing is that he is eight.  He is not old enough to be an adult or act like I am.   I rememeber when I was young, I always acted similar to the way he acts now.  I enjoyed singing or making noises.  It was fun to run in the house or climb the walls.  I am not saying that it was permitted.  I just knew it was fun and did these things when I felt I could get by with them.  I wonder when I yell at my children to act their age, if what I am really saying is, “act my age.”

I often wonder if I am failing as a parent.  I can’t help but wonder if I am good enough or if I provide the necessary needs that should be provided for a young one.  I have been divorced for over three years now and it seems the further I go, the more I realize, I am not a mom.  It is easy to be a dad.  I enjoy the role.  Most of the dad traits just come naturally to me.  But to be a mother . . . not so much.  I struggle to give them what they need and can only hope that what little bit of good I can instill in them will grow in them, causing them to be great when they get older.

Now, I look at myself.  Do I act my age?  Am I as mature as the common 29-year-old man?  I want to tell myself that I am.  I can’t help but see all the areas where I am lacking though.  I am not acting my age.  I am acting like someone who doesn’t have it together.  Sure, I am stretched to the limit with my hands and feet spread apart, clinging to what little bit of life, peace, hope and happiness I can hold on to, but in the end, I feel I have fallen behind and not only is it a struggle to act my age, but to be my age.  I fail.  I fail regularly.  Is it this failure in me that has caused me to redirect my children when they act like me?  The very things that make up who I am is the things I try to change about my children.  I wonder if it is fear that they will one day become me, and fail in the same way that I have.

The outcome of my life is still under my control.  I may seem to old to change my ways, but this old dog is going to learn new tricks.  I am ready for a different life.  A life where my kids can look up to me and feel proud to be my son.  A place where my kids can be themselves without fear of getting reprimanded for it.  I love my children.  Really, they are my life.  Without them I am nobody.  They have shaped in me the very essence of who I am.  With all that they have given to me, I feel it is time to give back.  My kids shouldn’t teach me, I should teach them.  I am their father.  It’s time to act my age.