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This was downright gross.

2I’ve been having a friend meet me every morning when I pull up to the school at 6 in the morning.  He’s a little fellow that has been regularly wandering around the lawn at the side of the school wing near my classroom.

He’s a skunk.

He’s a nice fellow, been meeting me since the beginning of the school year.  He seems to be accustomed to me pulling up in the teacher’s parking lot in the darkness (his eyes reflect nicely off my headlights), so he doesn’t seem bothered at all when I putter in and get my spot.  I say hello to him and he ambles away up the hill to find something more interesting than a fifty-eight year old man in a beat-up Jeep.  I stop and watch him every morning.

He’s serious enough, but I can’t get enough of the way he travels.  Sort of a wiggly little humorous gait.  He’s a bit of entertainment for me, though he is unaware of it.

Sort of reminds me of me.

There are times when I want to be as diligent as possible but things just end up, well, funny.

I’m going to re-post a part of a true experience back when I was a single fellow, traveling the countryside and speaking at small country churches and schools.  It was a great time of my life, getting to meet the grassroots people of this country, and the many stories I collected along the way were published in my book Gas Tank Chronicles.

It reminds me that I am often like the skunk.  This is one of my favorite stories:

I had been speaking and visiting prisons for about five days straight and I had a day’s break as I pulled into Hot Springs, South Dakota.  Some kind folks let me use a house during my travels and I sorely needed the break.  I felt that I may have picked up a bit of a cold while ministering at the jail and I headed to bed a bit weak.  I felt fairly certain that I had shook the flu-like symptoms by the next morning as I got up early, greeted the morning sun through the little trailer’s window, and wolfed down a huge omelet, some toast, bacon, and two cups of coffee while I had my devotions. I was famished, but I was also ready to do some serious exercising.

I pulled on some gym clothes, jumped into the car and headed to a gym in downtown Hot Springs. Within fifteen minutes I was running a circular track. After a five mile jog, I followed up with lap swimming in the club’s pool.

Spoiler alert: Some of this story might be a bit indelicate so I’m going to apologize ahead of time. If you are of a stiff constitution, you’ll get a good lesson from this anecdote, so please continue on.  If not, better find some more light reading somewhere else.

Okay, I warned you.

It was still early as I wandered back into the locker room. I had finished a half an hour of vigorous swimming.   

Oooooh, man.

It hit me, and quick, too. I plopped down and felt a feverish swoon coming over me.  I also belched and realized that I shouldn’t have had such a big breakfast.

A thin-haired middle-aged man wandered in, waved a hand, and opened the door of a locker.

“Morning,” he said.

“Morning…” I answered cheerily as possible while fighting a sour feeling way down in the pit of my stomach. I was wiping my forehead with a towel.  Things tasted funny in the back of my throat.

“Say, I recognize you, ” he said, pointing at me.  “You’re that guy who’s over at Boulder Creek Church speaking this week.  You’re also speaking at some of the Christian school chapels, aren’t you?”

“Yessir,”  I said, stifling a burp and blinking fast. “In fact, I’ll be speaking at a school assembly tonight. I…”

I faded off, weakly.  Man, I really wish I hadn’t eaten that breakfast. I swallowed gingerly.  “I…I’m surprised you would … urp… recognize me.”

“Oh, it’s a small town,” the man chuckled, fumbling with a wire hanger. “My wife went to the church to hear you Tuesday night. I couldn’t make it – overtime hours, you know.” He bent over to untie his shoes. “So you’re a minister? Or a preacher…or a parson, is that right?”

I could feel it coming.

My stomach was in kick-out mode. I darted for the bathroom stall and leaped inside, hovering expectantly over the toilet, my pounding head leaning down and my shaking legs trying to hold me up.

“Well,” I called haltingly over the top of the door, “Some people say a preacher, some say a speaker, or evangelist, but…”

Oooooh, I felt bad.

“… I just like to say that I’m a guy who travels and shares the Bible.”

“Yeah, okay.” I could hear him grunt that he understood. “So, can you tell me about the difference between a Baptist leader and a Catholic one?”

“Oh, ah… well,” I called from inside the stall, steadying my legs and feeling the starchy acidic feeling rising in my throat and into the sides of my cheeks. I gulped but I knew what was coming. “For one thing, Baptist churches have pastors – shepherds of the flock, you might say. Priests are in the Catholic realm. With the Catholic church you have confessionals, and you don’t with the Baptist, or Protestants…”

I was woozy.

“Well, okay, that’s what I had heard,” the man said agreeably. I could hear him unzip the sports bag. “Whatever you call yourself, I’ve had some questions that I’ve always wanted to ask a man of the cloth.”

And that is when I lost it.

I mean, everything came roaring up the tunnel, brother.

The green flag at the Indy 500, so to speak.  Niagara Falls was unleashed. Apollo 13 was launched.

To put it bluntly, I projectile vomited like I never had before. I believe I broke a bone in my ankle, I was shaking so hard.

“I’ve been thinking about dedication to God,” the man continued,  “And what would be a good chapter on talking about real, genuine – you know – Heavenly love?”

I tried to put my words together in time.  It didn’t make it.  “I would say 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen BLEEEEEAAAAAAAGH…”

He grunted again. “Hey, that’s something.  I’ll write it down.  What do you recommend for a good devotional time?”

So here I was, holding myself steady by clinging to both sides of the bathroom stall with legs that were shaking like Jello in an earthquake, vomiting in stupendous fashion while a man sat peacefully on the other side of the stall’s door, happily putting on his flip-flops and asking me for Biblical answers on various questions he had been pondering for many a year. He asked about prayer, Bible reading and the problem of sin.  I kept answering and throwing up.  For reasons beyond me he never picked up on the fact that I was violently ill, nor did he seem to care that I was calling out answers from inside a bathroom stall.

“So, you’re saying that Colossians is a good book to learn about Christian freedom?  Nice, very nice.”  I heard him slam the locker door.  “You’ve been very kind.  Well, time for me to hit the swimming pool.  See you, then.”

He whistled merrily and went out to take a dip.

Now, I really do understand that Paul’s second letter to Timothy contains an exhortation to be ready “in season or out of season” to preach God’s Word and give instruction.  I find that the Greek word for “ready” can be translated as “stand by,” just as a radio announcer would hold his script and look at the director, ready to speak at a moment’s notice.

This “stand by” means that we give Scriptural exhortation in any situation, whether it be at the library, the supermarket, the cubicle or the running track.

Any time, anywhere.  I felt I already knew that.

I just wasn’t aware that it might mean no matter how you felt.

Well, I got my first lesson in that as well.

And also a dose of learning to “be clothed with humility,” as Peter so aptly put it. But I also learned that if the Lord gives the opportunity to share His Word, then I’d like to be able to do what I can, even if I’m hovering over a flush toilet in a locker room in South Dakota. 

And I imagine God had a nice chuckle over that little scenario.

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Since we’ve moved in, we’ve made friends and enemies.

0820171902a_resizedI shuffled into the classroom right before my Bible Doctrines class was to start.  

“Dr. Zockoll, are you okay?” asked Gina, frowning and noticing my belabored gait.  I struggled to put on my suitcoat.

“Yes, I’m just a little bit slow, sore from moving all of the furniture,” I said as I groaned and settled into my desk chair.  “We’re on the Second Wave.”

“‘Second Wave’?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, grunting like a Neanderthal as I tried to position my legs under the desk.  My knees cracked.  “The first assault was moving from the Tan Rara home and getting all necessary furniture across town before the closing. This was done successfully, though we packed the garage to within an inch of the doors, and scattered the remaining items across the back of our property so that we now look like an Appalachian yard sale.  That was the First Wave.”

I leaned forward and spoke in a low whisper.  “The Second Wave is the movement of said furniture from the garage within the far reaches of the property dwelling.  Moving desks downstairs.  Carrying recliners and end tables to the back rooms.  Shuffling box springs and sports equipment into storage rooms.  It was brutal, I tell you.  Brutal.

Gina edged away quietly and melted into the hallway crowd.

It has been a week of lugging furniture and boxes.  It’s been heavy labor but it’s also been good.

May I put in a totally unsolicited plug for our realtor Mark Faust of Realty Executives. This man has been incredible in assisting us all the way through our home sale and the resulting shopping for a new home; we saw a good number before we settled in Oak Ridge at 102 Tamara.  I believe the unofficial count was three hundred and twelve, but I might be exaggerating.  Mark would know.  Contact him if you want to sell or buy a house.  He even helped me move furniture.  How many realtors do that?  He is not paying me cash to say this.  Only a small percentage of his next sale.

No, I’m kidding.  I don’t take payola.  Mark is the best in town.  Call him.

One of the great surprises of the first week was the greeting we received.  The across-the-street neighbor Ty is a former professional baseball player and now the father of a nice big family who, on the second day we settled in, brought us a box of homemade cookies.  Sam, a retired engineer who lives to our right, came over on the hottest day of the year and insisted that he get out his John Deere tractor and mow our yard.

We were stunned. Jill and I remembered our last home when, on the second day of our arrival, the next door neighbors demanded that we get to fixing the disassembled trampoline in our back yard because it was bothering their view out their side window.  In our back yard.  On the second day.  I am not making this up.

These new neighbors became immediate friends.  We returned the goodness with some baked goods of our own.  They were happily gobbled up.  Then Don and Barb walked over from the cul-de-sac one evening and welcomed us to the neighborhood, making sure we felt at ease.  This kindly retired couple stood in the rain and chatted with us, refusing to come inside because they felt they were intruding.  These people are great.

So now you know how God has blessed us with some awesome neighbors.

But we also have had to deal with some enemies.  It’s true.

Oh, things started off okay last Saturday. As you can see from the picture at the beginning of this blog, our garage is getting cleared out.  On Friday I had Julie and Jill run off for some Wal-Mart needs so I could move about the house freely shoving and pushing furniture, and at 6 a.m. Saturday morning I decided to surprise them by moving Julie’s piano into the front living room.  It’s just a step up from the garage floor to the kitchen entryway, I thought.  It couldn’t be that hard for me to move by myself, I thought.0820171902_resized

But this piano is evil.  It purposely made itself heavier when it knew I wanted to move it.

It went from a manageable mobile instrument to the Mother of All Fat Inanimate Objects.  Its weight exceeded the gross tonnage of the Queen Mary.

I pushed and grunted that stupid thing across the garage floor.  The wheels had “suddenly” become rusty. My sweat drops (not kidding) dotted the cement.  I wrestled it into position at the bottom step of the kitchen entry and breathed in heavily.  And positioned myself and lifted.

And pop.  I felt something snap in my back.

And I heard the piano snicker.

So I kicked him right in his fortissimo.

He is now my enemy.  I shoved him into the front room after he started chewing up part of the utility room flooring.  I am still shunning him.  I walk through the living room and look out the window on purpose.  He knows I’m miffed.

We have another enemy lurking about.  Our cat Oliver came in one night and had a fuzzed-out tail and a strange growl that sounded like those ceremonial Celtic wailings on a creepy fall midnight.  He kept darting toward the window.  He was traumatized.  I peeped out and saw the Enemies in the darkness, lit by the back deck lighting.

Four of them.  They were menacing.  To him.

0820171900a_resizedThey were the deer family.  A buck, a doe and two fawns.  We have named them Fritz and Stella, and their kids Mookie and Blaylock. Our cat has named them sworn enemies.  He’s flipped out.

He’s lost focus on his regular routine and sits in the storage room, mumbling to himself.  He’s developed a nervous tic, and the other day when he came around the side of the garage we caught a faint whiff of nicotine.  I’m not saying he’s taken up cigarettes, but you can’t be too sure.  His shaking has finally subsided to the point that he can sit on the railing of the deck without falling off.

But just as I am recovering so too will Oliver.  This place is too much of a blessing for us to remain sore – physically and emotionally – for too long.

The joy of the Lord is our strength.  And right now we are feeling mighty strong.

 

 

 

 

Copyright Brad Zockoll @2017
Dr. Brad Kent Zockoll

We Moved and Lived to Tell About It

102We did it. 

We did it.

We’ve finally moved in to our new humble abode.

Sure, we’re still sleeping on the floor and trying to find out where the silverware is, but at least we’re in.  It’s kind of like the Capture the Flag game – once you’re across the line with the flag, you’ve won.

Ah, it’s a nice place.  We’d invite you all over for a barbecue to celebrate, but truthfully we had to ditch our BBQ grill.  It was home to some pretty angry wasps anyway.  Also, I think we lost all of our groceries somewhere on Pellissippi Parkway.

The house fits us well.  It’s a smidgen over three thousand square feet, and it has a very modest Japanese Maple tree bowing at the front entrance, greeting you as you step up to the clean tiled front stoop.  It has a soft color and a nondescript front yard.

Even the home’s location – 102 Tamara Lane – speaks of its humility.

We like the name.  We’ve lived on streets whose names didn’t fit us.  One was in Ohio and the street’s name – Tuscarawas – gave me the impression that we should be going on a voyage or maybe lead a charge over a distant hill.  Another street in Arizona – Campo Bello – made me feel like I should be ordering a calzone or learn to play a mandolin.  This Tamara name is nice. And even the house number is unpretentious: 102. Like something out of a Golden Book reader for kids.  Not 10036 or 17800 or anything formidable like that.  Just a simple 102.

What a summer it’s been.  We had thirty-two showings at our West Knoxville house before it sold.  Thirty-two.  It took every bit of the summer, something like eighty-five days to get it sold.  People have circumnavigated the globe in less time.  Look, President William Harrison’s full term in office wasn’t even half as long as it took that it took for us to sell The House That Wouldn’t Let Us Leave. It hung on to the last minute.  I think I heard it curse me, but it could have just been the toilet gurgling.  Even as we were pulling out of the driveway for the last time I swear that part of that’s house’s gutter was grasping our van’s rear bumper.

The negotiations with our new buyers went well – with one little hitch.  When we reached the deal, we had nine days to get out.  I made a calm but panicked scream for help.  Thank the Lord for the many people who showed up and helped cram our sofas, appliances, cleaning supplies, frozen foodstuffs and 1970s era shoes into pickups, trailers and the back of our van for numerous round trips from Knoxville to Oak Ridge.  Jill had always said “We have too much stuff” and I would laugh light-heartedly.  I had the noble impression that we were simple folk with the bare necessities of life.  I didn’t think we had too much stuff.

Ha ha.

Ha ha ha.

Ha ha ha sob.

We were throwing stuff away.  We were giving stuff away.  We gave stuff to KARM.  We gave stuff to Amvets.  We invited friends to pick up beds, recliners, and an extra refrigerator that sat in the basement and did little more than growl for two years.  Jill even talked about loading our excess furniture on the railroad tracks behind our house to watch the CSX engine demolish it, but I convinced her this legally wasn’t a good idea, although I do admit it would have been cool to watch.

It took every bit of those nine days, but we did it.

I had prayed that we would be able to move in and take up residence in Oak Ridge before I headed back to school.  Guess what.  We finished cramming stuff into our new home’s garage on the night before I had to go to Teacher Training.  Isn’t God’s timing amazing?

And as I write this I must tell you that I am sore.  Lugging furniture gets harder with every move.

I keep hearing this wisecrack:  “Well, you bench press 300 pounds so what’s the problem?”

The problem is that bench pressing 300 pounds is while lying on your back in a stable position with your feet planted and your concentration locked.  Also, the room is air conditioned.

It is NOT lugging a seven-foot tall Frigidaire backwards up a flight of stairs with a hand cart that has a leaky tire.  It is NOT carting basketball backboards or recliners or three-tier bookshelves. It is NOT wrestling the Beelzebub of all furniture items – a floppy massive California King Mattress with no visible grips down hallways and across driveways in the blazing August sun.

Yes, I am sore.  My back is sore.  My arms are sore.  My legs are sore.  Even my eyelids are sore.

No, we’re not done.  There are boxes to unpack, plenty of boxes in the garage.  Then there’s getting with the proper companies to change over utilities:  water, gas, internet … you know the list.  More furniture to shuffle, push and move to the proper room.

I sit down some nights, exhausted.

But when we all glance outdoors every evening…

… and we see a doe feeding with her fawn, not ten feet from our window,

and I see Jill and Julie’s eyes light up and their smiles widen,

I’m not exhausted anymore.

Yes, we moved in to 102 Tamara Lane.

Selling this house has changed our language

2I have found out that our family has now entered into the Babel Zone.  Much like the story of the language disaster found in the excellent narrative in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, we have started talking in a language that is starting to scare people.

You might call it Home Seller Babble.  My wife Jill and I and even daughter Julie have been so obsessed with selling our home that we now prattle on in ways that are scaring even our dearest friends.

I admit it.  I try to steer the conversation other ways, but it keeps coming back to our house being on the market.

Jacob:  “The Awaken Coffee House has some pretty decent latte.”

Me: “And you wouldn’t believe the floor plan in our basement.  We’ve even had mold remediation!”

Twelve-year-old Julie went to a party and upon noticing the decorations, immediately used them as a visual tool to explain a Balloon Mortgage.

Even Jill has been seen wandering around the Turkey Creek Shopping Complex murmuring “MLS.  MLS.” for hours on end, only stopping to ask total strangers if they’d like to purchase a home complete with a two car garage and a roof that is only three years old.  More than once security has been called.

We’re speaking in short bursts now, fixated on any chance to introduce a potential buyer to our property.

Tiffany:  “Our little girl got a rash on her arm.”

Me:  “When you say ARM, are you referring to an Adjustable Rate Mortgage?”

Tiffany:  (takes daughter and quietly leaves)

We have learned that our dependence on God is often clouded by our panic that we may not sell the house before the next Presidential administration, but we’re slowly becoming more attuned to God’s leading and a need for more patience.

I am reminded that no matter how long and monotonous the whole ordeal has become, God has us covered.  He’s got the timeline, the buyers and even the closing costs all settled ahead of time.

It brings to mind the time years back when we rented a cabin Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  On the second day of our vacation we decided to go to the Community Center and take a morning swim before going on a hike in the Smokies.  Looking at the deeply cloudy sky, we knew that we wouldn’t be getting any tans that day, but the urge to swim was so great that we got to the Center just as it was opening.

I am not making any of this up.  This is exactly what happened.

I had changed back at the cabin and was ready to dive in, but Jill and Julie brought their swimsuits, flip flops and other gear along with them.  They would go to the changing area and meet me at the outdoor pool.

I trotted out to the poolside and was struck by the scene.  There was nobody else there.  The four lifeguards were standing around, but as I stepped onto the concrete, they quickly ran to their stations.

Now, this is a good-sized pool, about 25 yards long, if I remember right.  I walked over and dropped my towel on a chair and was hesitant.  “Um, is it okay to go in?” I stupidly asked the nearest lifeguard.

“Oh, yessir,” she responded without a smile.  “You go right in.  We’ll be watching.”

“But… it’s just me.  Do you need all of you up there, even that guy over there, that one about three miles away? I mean, you all could stand around and talk and just glance over once in a while…”

She was very professional.  “Oh, that’s okay, sir.  When anyone is in the pool, we are all to be on duty.”  The other three had me in their gaze. All serious.

I really wanted to swim and yet Jill and Julie were inside talking to some locals about restaurants.  If I knew my history, that could mean thirty minutes or more.  And I really wanted to swim.

But if you have ever seen me in the water, you will realize that I really don’t swim.  I sort of frog-kick and then thrash around like a submarine with a ballast problem.  I like what I’m doing, but to tell the truth, I look embarrassing.

And there were four lifeguards watching this huge pool.  And still nobody else came. Jill and Julie were still inside. I could see them through the windows.

So I dove in.  Well, kind of like a half belly-flop.  And then I started swimming.

It was so surreal.  I was all alone, and the distinct knowledge that four very concerned lifeguards were zoned in on only me was both uncomfortable… and yet fun.  It was that way for about twenty minutes.  Four lifeguards locked in on my every move.

They were fixated on my safety.  I could see their eyes when I came up for air.

I fancied an attempt to try a fake drowning, just to see all four bump heads as they tried to reach me from four different angles.   But I didn’t, and I felt like I was drifting along under the eye of the Secret Service.  It was, well,  kind of cool.

And I realize that this is the way God is looking over us as we are selling the house.   Think about it – He has us covered from every angle.  The Father is lifeguarding us.   He is fixated on our every move, and wants only the best for us.  He is on every side, watching us as we move through the waters of this whole business.

The New Heart Bible gives Psalm 32:8 as “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go. I will counsel you with my eye on you.”

His eye is on us.  He leads and protects.  And He watches over us.

Even in selling a house.

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Zockoll
Brad Kent Zockoll   Knoxville TN 2017

The day my brother Brent and I became teen-age sports broadcasters

1In the midst of a very trying summer (You remember my blog post about selling the house? We still haven’t sold it)  Jill, Julie and I threw our belongings into the van and headed up to the ol’ stomping grounds in Delaware to see my brothers and sisters.

I’m not saying we’re getting frustrated over our house’s decision to remain unsold, but as we headed out of our subdivision, I could see daughter Julie sneer at our home.  I would have corrected her but I also noticed Jill giving the house the stink eye.  I held my peace.

Took me twelve hours to get to the Delmarva peninsula.  I had to go around the D.C. Beltway which reminded me of the nine circles of Dante’s Hell.  And just as confusing.  I got lost, but eventually made it to Delaware.  It was worth the trouble.  Back to the home town.

Good old Delmar, Delaware – or Delmar, Maryland, depending which side of the street you’re on.  The town is on the state border, and during my teen years we lived in both states at one time or another.

Nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers,sisters … We had a grand time with the family, going to church at Hall’s Chapel (founded 1886 and currently pastored by my nephew Daniel Tarr IV), swimming at Fenwick Island, and visiting brother Brent’s pottery studio.

But the best part is when we talked.  And did we ever talk.

The memories came out first in a trickle but then, just as if the stream loosens other rocks, other stories poured forth out of a recollection of a minor detail from someone’s narrative.  (“Did you say Tom Kapanka was the one who broke the window?  Say, do you remember when Tom Kapanka fell out of the car when we were all on a trip…”) Stories piled up and once again, I am simply amazed at some of the stuff that happened during our high school years.

One of our teenage year memories was about our high school chum Timmy Bully.  This guy was a classic.  He was the first kid we knew to grow a moustache and for some reason he had a love affair with leisure suits – wore them all the time.  He rarely bathed, but fancied himself a ladies’s man with a voice like Elvis (disclaimer: false on both the romance and the singing voice).  We recalled the time we all went on a week-long youth group college trip and he had left his toothbrush at home.  No problem for Timmy – he gargled with musk oil cologne.  Yes, I am telling you the truth.  He gargled musk oil cologne.

Then there was the time at camp where one of our teens lost control on a steep muddy hill while running and slipped, stumbled and careened down the fifty-yard slope before finally getting back into a running upright position only to faceplant right into a school bus.  You read that right – a kid actually ran full-tilt into the side of a bus.

I could go on with numerous recollections, but it brought to mind the time that when I was about thirteen, Brent and I were walking home on a Saturday afternoon in our little town (population was about nine hundred) and happened to go by the Delmar Little League Ball Field, where the kids were having a ball game.  It was near the end of the season and the kids were just wanting to get the final game into the books.  Everyone seemed tired and the players seemed listless.  There were about twenty parents lazily cheering on a relatively quiet game that was just starting its second inning.  I glanced up behind the backstop and noticed that nobody was doing any announcing- I guess a game so late in the season with a meaningless game between two cellar-dwelling teams garnered no special announcing assignments.  I looked at fifteen-year old Brent and it didn’t take long for us to realize that this was a golden opportunity to show off some broadcasting skills.

Before the second inning started, we snuck over and checked the side door.  The stairway next to the concession stand was open, leading right up to the announcer’s booth, so up we crawled.  We unfolded two metal chairs in the midst of this messy broadcaster’s room, a plywood affair with electronic wiring snaked haphazardly all over the floor.  In two minutes we found the proper switches and called to some ball boys to get us a line-up from each team.  We acted like we knew what we were doing, so nobody questioned us.

We threw the switch and announced that we would be handling announcing chores for the remainder of the game.  Everybody seemed okay with this.

But we couldn’t leave well enough alone.  We looked over the line-up for the VFW kids and the Flo’s Market team and Brent decided that merely announcing the players was too boring.

With absolutely no permission from anyone, we decided to give the players nicknames as they came to bat.  Brent dared me to go first.  I was up to the task.

A hefty little guy stepped up to the plate.  “Batting left-handed and playing left field for the VFW,” I said, “Number 13, Peter ‘Pork Chop’ Cummings.”

There was a moment of complete silence, but then we heard an explosion of laughter from the VFW dugout.  Even the umpire turned around and chuckled.  The little batter was stunned at first, but grinned.  And he got a single.

Brent took his turn with the next batter:  “Now at bat, number 22, catcher Larry ‘Ladies’ Man’ Everett.”  This round of laughter was even harder.  And so we went.  By the time we announced the fifth batter we were getting a thumbs up from the coaches and we knew we were on to a good thing.  We gave everyone a nickname.

“At bat, number 17, first baseman for Flo’s’:  Luke ‘Skywalker’ Stevens.”

“We’d like to thank our plate umpire, Robert ‘Night Vision” Viceroy, for helping out…”

“At bat, number 32, third baseman for VFW:  Denny ‘the Doberman’ Workman.”

“Here’s a special shout out to VFW third base coach Dave ‘Steroids’ Stevens…”

“At bat, number 11, left field for Flo’s’:  Jimmy ‘Gravedigger’ Greene.”

And for the tiniest kid playing that day:  “At bat, number 8, shortstop for VFW:  Kenny ‘the Crusher’ Wiggins.”  He ran around using that nickname all day, reminding everyone that he was the Crusher.

After a while things got crazier.  People were laughing and calling out for us to give a nickname to this coach, that benchwarmer, this parent.  We obliged as best we could.  We even made up fake sponsors:  “This inning is brought to you by the Bi-State Country Store, whose latest sale on Spam is at a special price, one for two dollars or two cans for five bucks.”

I have no idea what the final score of the game was, but I can tell you that the place wasn’t quiet any longer.  We were all laughing and calling out through the sunny afternoon in a little weedy chain-link fence ballpark at the edge of town near the railroad tracks and we were having a great time.  I thought about this then, and I still do:  the greatest memories aren’t built on wealth or prosperity or minutely-organized plans to the last detail.  Memories are mostly built on spontaneous free-for-all fun.  We were all small-town folk just having a simple bit of laughter.

This brings to mind the passage in the fifth chapter of Ecclesiastes that tells us of the enjoyable surprise that God provides us, not matter what our circumstances: “the ability to enjoy … to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.”  In other words, God allows happiness in the simplest of things, like when two brothers climb into a rickety announcer’s booth at a tiny ball field with a group of kids and parents on a dusty Saturday afternoon.

And last week’s Delaware trip down Memory Lane once again reminded me to be thankful for the little things that God slides into our lives day by day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We think our house really, really doesn’t want us to move away.

1

It looks like a welcoming homestead, doesn’t it?  Nice new roof, floor-to-ceiling windows, two fireplaces and a front that is gently smiling at you, inviting you to be a part of the warmth and love inside.  It boasts a gorgeous Japanese maple and a stately Chinese elm tree out front, with ornate ironwork fencing surrounding the front porch.   I mean, with over 4,000 square feet, the Ponderosa would be an easy sell, wouldn’t it?

Don’t you believe it.

The house knows we’re trying to move away.  It’s angry.  It’s plotting revenge on us.

We all got along so well for nine years.  We even gave our home a nickname, Ponderosa, alluding to its size and homeyness.  We shortened that to “Pal,” because we loved the old place so much. We treated Pal with great respect.  We had cookouts, and birthday parties, and even my son’s wedding rehearsal dinner, complete with a canopy tent and little chicken drummies.  We even had a bounce house in the back yard one time.  Those were great memories.  We used to be such good friends.

We repainted Pal’s deck and cleaned out old hornets’ nests.  We put on a new roof and I constructed a playhouse for my little girl.  We tore up old carpet and replaced two sinks’ plumbing.  We gave the best care we could give Pal.

Christmases.  Thanksgivings.  New Year’s parties.

And now this.

“I told you  we should have talked in low whispers,” I told my wife.  “It overheard us talking about the sale.”

“That’s nonsense,” countered Jill.  “Besides, it saw the real estate agent’s sign out front.”

We heard the house creak.  I believe it was chuckling.

“Somehow Pal’s doing something to the potential buyers whenever we’re gone,” I said, looking around.  “Something we can’t figure out.  I wonder if it puts footprints where we just vacuumed?”

And mess up all of my nice carpet stripes?”  Jill growled.  Yes, she actually growled.  Jill is obsessed with vacuuming these neat little rug rows before a new real estate showing occurs.  Messing up her carpet stripes is one of the Rules of the Family That You Do Not Break.  It’s up there with Putting Bread in First When Bagging Groceries.  And Not Covering Chili in the Microwave.  Any of these offenses can bring about punishment worse than death.

But the house knows this and doesn’t care.  We’ve had ten showings and the only offer was over fifty thousand below what we were offering.   We sent back the contract proposal covered with cartoon frownies all over it.

“This last showing ended up with nothing,” I said, reading the Feedback Received report online.  “They said the downstairs shower was leaking when they came through. And the guest bedroom light was flickering…”  Our eyes met.

Jill spoke slowly.  “We’ve never had a problem with the downstairs shower. ” She gulped.  “And the guest bedroom…”

“… has never had an electrical difficulty,” I finished.  We looked around slowly.  A door slammed somewhere in the house.  Sweat beaded on my forehead.  Jill leaned forward and murmured.  “It’s like HAL,  You know, in your favorite movie.”

I blinked.  “You mean 2001 A Space Odyssey? The computer that figures out that the astronauts don’t trust it?”  Jill looked side to side and slowly nodded.  I can’t be sure, but it felt like the ceiling lowered a bit, as if it were trying to hear us.  I shook my head.

“It can’t be… I mean, the movie is about a computer that thinks and reasons and …”

Jill’s gaze stayed steady on me.  She spoke airily.  “Say, Brad, why don’t we go for a ride… or hey, don’t we need to go to Aldi’s or Kroger’s for some groceries?”  Fighting the impulse to scream maniacally and dash headfirst toward the door, we casually picked up our keys and strolled through the front door and got into the van.  Only until we left the subdivision did we breath out.

I shook my head.  “Look, we’ve got to be imagining this all.  A house can’t do this, can it?”  Jill giggled and we both relaxed.  We went down to Aldi’s and stocked up on groceries.  Nothing like some MacIntosh apples and Happy Farms mozzarella to get your spirits up.

The evening went great.

Until I pulled up and unloaded the groceries.

The front key wouldn’t work.  Neither would Jill’s.

I looked through the windows at all of the well-lit rooms shining into the darkness.

I stepped forward and cleared my throat.  “Open the front porch door, Pal.”

No response.  I tried the key again.  Nothing.

“Open the front porch door, Pal.”

The lights went out one by one.

I am currently writing this blog in the local library.  The ice cream in our van is melting. If anyone would like a nice large overly sensitive house, please call me soon.  Very soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Love Letter to the Graduating Class of 2017

1aAs you know, on graduation day we teachers are honored to be part of the ceremony, wearing our robe and regalia as we march up onstage and sit at either side of the festivities. Last week I sat in the third row and had the honor of watching you get your diploma. Congratulations, good friend.
One year they allowed me to be part of the first row of teachers and get a close view of the grads stepping across the stage – in front of the packed auditorium – and receive that beloved piece of paper that says you have completed your secondary school education.

I was seated near the ‘entry steps’, the ones where you stand as you are about to ascend to the platform and make your walk.  Just for fun, a fellow teacher (who shall remain nameless) joined me in whispering to each of the seniors who stood waiting:
“Walk carefully.  Everyone’s watching you.  Don’t stumble.  It would be embarrassing  if you fell in front of all of these people.” 

It made a nervous wreck out of a few of the seniors, and I now regret these actions. Well, not really.

But as I watched you walk on Sunday, I began remembering my own high school graduation and the gentle fear I had of tripping over my own feet…not only onstage that day … but in the days and years ahead.

Well, I made it across the stage that day.  But as for afterwards  … wow, I did fall in the years ahead.  Mistakes, miscues and errors dogged me all along the path like so many tree roots.  It seemed like a monthly requirement for me, and I’m surprised I haven’t broken my nose, I face-planted so many times.

However…

… I realized that I wasn’t the only one stumbling on the path.  As I rose and rubbed my raw knees and elbows, I saw a lot of friends and co-workers and neighbors and family members … and, well, everybody.

This tripping business was more common than I thought.  

I began to understand the Necessity of Tripping.  In this life given to us by God, we will slip and trip more than we like, but it will be a learning process – to teach us to be wiser in the future and to be an aid to those alongside us.  It’s part of life.

In this age of selfies and self-promotion, few of your generation want to harbor the thought that they could be anything less than perfect, but that’s just foolish.  We all falter, Christian friend.  We lose our balance more often than we’d like to think, but there it is.  And no amount of doctored Instagram or Facebook pictures will disguise the fact that we’re all folks created by a loving God who have faults – and that’s okay. One day we’ll reach perfection, but for right now we have a bit of a path to negotiate.

Boxing06.jpgMy prayer for you is this:  be honorable and stay true to Jesus, and don’t quit.  Be real, for goodness sake, and understand that failure opens up the opportunity for learning and courage.  2 Timothy 1:7 reminds you that God did not give you the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.  Well, use that sound mind to take a step up, not a step back.

I don’t want to hear of you quitting on life because you haven’t achieved perfection. Welcome to the world of the rest of all of us who live on this planet.   Get back up – you’re better than to crawl away, sniffling.  You’re made of sterner stuff.

The scholar of Proverbs wrote: “though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again…”  It’s not whether you will stumble – that’s a fact of life – but what you do when you are flat on your belly in the dust.  Some people will whimper and roll away.  Some will have a tantrum and start a blame game.  Others will get to their feet and shake off the dust.

And start walking again.

In the right direction.  I see you in this third category.

Now, go, my good friend.  I hope you remember some of the Biblical teaching I shared with you in the classroom.  Take God’s truth and get on with your life.  It’ll be a good life, I can assure you.

Don’t be afraid to fail.  In fact, don’t be afraid.

You can do it.

With love and great respect,

Dr. Brad Kent Zockoll,
a guy who is pretty dusty but still enjoys life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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