Raising a Son

Justin closed his eyes – he just did not want to look.  This being his first plane ride, he had no idea what to expect and he clutched Clifford, his stuffed red dog, as our plane left the ground heading for Dallas, Texas.  His mother, Lisa, was to meet us there for the weekend while she completed some mandatory training in her field of cardiac sonography.  It was 1992 and Justin was just six years old.  I don’t remember much about that trip other than touring the infamous school book depository building from where Lee Oswald shot President Kennedy.  But I do remember the fear in Justin’s eyes as the plane took off that day and how he looked at me – scared but trusting that I was telling him the truth – that everything would be okay.

That was twenty-three years ago and Justin is now a married man who turns twenty-nine on January 25th.  Lisa and I are sorry we are unable to be with he and his wife, Lori, as they celebrate, but he is on our minds and always in our hearts.  As his father I think often of those days gone by when he and his younger sister, Heather, were children playing in the backyard or going to school or little league practice or church to sing in the choir  or the thousands of other places and events that we shared together.  We could not be more proud of them both.

One of my favorite movies is “Apollo 13”.  The story of how Jim Lovell and his crew along with all the NASA engineers managed to return them to earth from the moon’s orbit on a damaged spacecraft – is one of the most compelling in history.  In one scene, the engineers are trying to work out a sequence to repair the ship’s computer and worry that a vital step in the process may have been overlooked.  “Did we miss something here?”, one of the engineers asked as they worry that something crucial was overlooked.  Any parent will understand when I say that many nights I laid in bed thinking about the job I did as a father and asked that question, “Did we miss something here?”  Parents turn their children loose into a dark and dangerous world and can only pray that God will protect them as they go.

Raising a son is a challenge.  Not to say that raising a daughter isn’t as well.  That story will be saved for another day.  As a man, I knew the kind of challenges Justin would face in his life.  I understood from my own experiences that he would be tested for his manhood, his toughness, his sexual purity, his Christian principles, his desire to be accepted and his ability to deal with rejection.  The little boy clutching that stuffed animal on that airplane would face and did face challenges that make that scary flight pale in comparison.  As he grew and as he matured and as Lisa and I watched his handling of those challenges – we could only hope we had done enough, that we had not missed some vital step.  I have heard it said that parents take too much credit for the things their children do well and too much blame for the things they do wrong.  That may be true.  But, watching Justin dealing with the challenge of growing into a man, I have concluded this:  I have no idea who should get the credit.  God is certainly behind all this and I give Him the glory.  Whenever I look around my life and wonder how we got here – the grace of God is the only explanation.  We could not be more proud of the man he has turned out to be.  I don’t know how we did as parents but I know God did His part very well.

There are so many traits that we see in both our children that remind us of us.  I see Lisa in Heather, I see Lisa in Justin and I see traits of mine in them both.  But, there also are parts of them that I have no idea from what branch in our family tree they came from.  Justin has the quickest wit of anyone in our family and can bring a room to its knees in laughter.  It is no secret in our family that I am often the focal point of that humor.  Justin reminds me often about my love for “Little Debbie” snacks (though I swear I have broken the habit).  While denying I indulge in them anymore, Justin once retorted, “If the diabetic shoe fits – wear it!”  How he comes up with such zingers is beyond any of us. That sense of humor has served him well in what has been a challenging job working in the building industry where difficult people can make his life a living hell.  Without his ability to find humor – he may have not made it as long as he has.  Justin has developed a toughness that comes from some difficult times and hard work and, I am convinced, God is preparing him for something more in his life.  His ability to read people has allowed him to deal with difficult situations and he has the uncanny ability  to diffuse an angry new homeowner and unreasonable co-workers as well as a, sometimes, hard-headed dad.  It is fun to watch God molding the clay.

Twenty-nine years ago Justin was born.  He was born on the Saturday before the Chicago Bears played New England in Super Bowl XX.  During that game, Justin laid across my lap and slept as the Bears won 46-10.  He had no choice but to become a Chicago Bear fan just like me – it was absolute destiny.  Justin was also destined to be a Pittsburgh Pirate and Louisville Cardinal fan – it was hardly as much his choice as it was mine.  Justin is like his mother and he is like me – in different ways  But he is a young man all his own – unique, kind, understanding, smart and faithful.  He loves his wife and his family and is as loyal a friend as anyone could ever want.  I look back over time and wonder if we missed a step.  From the looks of things in his life I suppose not.  I just don’t know how we did it.

Whatever happened to the scared little boy on that airplane?

Happy Birthday, Son!  Love Mom and Dad!




Didn’t Expect That

This past Friday morning, Lisa and I went through our normal morning routine – part of which has to do with my groping around in the dark, trying not to fall down the three steps going from our bedroom to our kitchen – and putting together Lisa’s breakfast and lunch in complete silence.  She is an amazing sleeper.  Her ability to doze right through thunder, fireworks, and dynamite blasts is only surpassed by her ability to awaken at the slightest grunt when I ram my knee into the corner of a cabinet.  She says I have selective hearing – I believe she has selective sleeping.  I sneeze or fart and she is wide awake sitting straight up in the bed and asking what happened.  The camper two doors down explodes and she goes into REM sleep.  It was just another, average day in the life of the McFarland’s here in Cambridge, Ohio.

And then I went to start our truck.  Things suddenly became very un-average.  Our diesel truck sounded like it was trying to digest a crescent wrench and the clanging, clacking, and chinking sounds told me this was not good.  One of the pitfalls of traveling is finding a good, trustworthy mechanic.  Not easy.  The last thing you want to tell a mechanic is that you are from out of town.  Say those words and you can practically see visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads.  But, I had no choice but to try and locate a diesel mechanic here in Cambridge.  Guess what?  There was not one.  Apparently the only diesel mechanic in town left town for another town and I don’t know what town.  So my next option was to locate a Ford dealer.  Might as well stop by the bank on the way and see about that second mortgage.

I managed to get into a Ford dealership in Zanesville, Ohio and, believe it or not, had a very pleasant experience.  They weren’t cheap but did repair our truck and got us on our way.  There are good people on the earth.

Dealing with unexpected things like vehicle breakdowns have never been easy for me.  I seem to easily slip into a false sense of security and fool myself thinking that unexpected expenses or unexpected illnesses or unexpected accidents or an unexpected crises of one sort or another will not only be unexpected – they will not happen at all.  I tend to forget about rainy days when the sun is shining.  I don’t want to live my life believing a disaster is lurking around every corner, but, perhaps, I should heed the advice of Don Henley from his song, “New York Minute”.  “The wolf is always at your door.”  I once told teachers in the middle school where I worked that we should hang a banner across the front door of the school that said, “Welcome to Our Middle School – A Difficult Place.”  Middle school is just that – difficult.  Middle school aged children are difficult because middle school age is difficult.  There is no changing that.  The best thing you can do is be aware of it and do your best to help everyone adjust to it.  In the same way, I should probably hang a sign in my world view screen that reads – “Welcome to Steve McFarland’s World – It May Be Difficult”.

My mom always gave me good advice.  When I would lament to her a problem in my life or share some struggle I was having – she would always say, “It will get better.”  She was right.  It always gets better.  This has not been a good week for us – the winter here is dreary and cold and our truck repairs put a strain on our already strained budget. We miss our family, we miss our friends and the winter doldrums seem like they may drag on forever.

But the forecast for Saturday is sunshine and high forties.  You see?  My mom was right.

Love, Steve and Lisa

Feeding the Horses

I love horses.  I love to watch them graze and gallop.  The coolest thing in all of sports to me is the “down the stretch” run of the Kentucky Derby as the jockeys ride their race horse to the finish line.  But, I don’t like to ride them.  I am totally afraid of them.  I know some will find that particularly wimpy to say – I’m just being honest.  Being a city boy, I was never around horses enough to feel comfortable with them.  My only experience on a horse was an occasional trail ride on some half-dead animal that seemed disgusted with me and my fat ass on top of him (or her).  It was my thought during those rare riding occasions that the horse might just decide the ride was over and run me into a tree or drop me off a cliff.  And that is what scared me most.  This animal knew what it was doing – and I did not.

But, I still love horses.  Here at our campground I have made friends with a couple of horses that are part of an adjacent farm at the backside of the campground property.  I noticed the horses back in the summer and would stand at the wire fence watching them.  One day the two horses noticed me standing by the fence and turned in my direction.  Very slowly, as if unsure who or what I was, they began walking toward me.  They would occasionally stop and look and it seemed they were trying to decide if I was worth the trouble of walking across the long field to where I was standing.  Finally they arrived at the fence and stopped about ten feet from me and sort of checked me out for a couple more minutes before eventually walking up to within arms reach.  I knew they were wanting something to eat, but, unfortunately, I had nothing to give.  They let me touch their nose and then, realizing I had nothing to eat, turned and began grazing in the other direction.

The next day I returned to the horses and, again, stood by the fence and waited for them to notice me.  I was not sure if they would bother with another trek across the pasture since they came up empty yesterday.  “You going back over there Bob?” I could imagine one of the horses saying to his buddy.  “Heck no, Frank, he’s got nothing.”  But, sure enough, here they came.  Either these horses are really stupid, really hungry or full of faith.  I want to believe the latter.   I noticed the black horse seemed to be dominant over the brown horse and was first to arrive at the fence where I was standing.  I had brought along apple slices and the black horse gulped them down while the brown horse stayed back and watched.  The next day I returned again (this time with carrots) and laughed as the black horse galloped to me, literally kicking at the brown horse to keep it back so it could have all the snacks.  Again I fed the black horse and rubbed its nose and said good-bye.

Interestingly, after doing this several times per week, the brown horse (who wears a peace sign covered blanket) has become the dominant horse and has managed to beat “Blackie” to the fence for a daily snack of carrots.  “Peace Sign” (as I call him) is now starting his trek across the field as soon as he sees me walking up the lane – probably a good quarter-mile away.  He eats from my hand and then allows me to pet him for a minute and then we part ways as he goes back to grazing on the grass and I go back to grazing in my RV.  We are very much alike – “Peace Sign” and me.  He likes to eat, I like to eat, he seems a little afraid of me and I’m a little afraid of him.  But we are warming up to each other.  It feels good seeing him walking across the field toward me.  I have to wonder if he looks for me throughout the day – raising that huge brown head up from his grazing to see if that man with the carrots is over there by that fence.  Maybe.  I don’t know what horses are thinking and that makes them fascinating to me.

People ask me what I do with all my time while Lisa works.  I get tired of answering that question.  From now on I’m just gonna say I feed the horses.  People don’t need to know anything more than that.

Love, Steve

Another Thirteen Weeks of Ohio

Lisa and I arrived here in Cambridge Ohio in early May of 2014 for a thirteen week assignment at Southeastern Regional Medical Center.  Today we learned that she has been extended until the first week of May 2015.  We never imagined that we would be spending an entire year here.  By rule of law, Lisa is not allowed to work in one state for a full year as it makes it appear she is a full-time resident.  Because of that – she is required to not work in the state of Ohio for thirty days upon her work anniversary date.  So – we are going to endure the winter here in Ohio and, God willing, take a month (or more) to vacation and be at home starting in May.  Now all we have to do is survive the southeast Ohio winter.  And that may not be easy.

In fact nothing is easy living in an RV in cold weather.  Our new camper has performed like a champ so far and we have no reason to think that it won’t continue to perform as it should for many years to come.  We stay warm and dry and have all the comforts of home.  Surviving winters in an RV requires daily attention to water, propane, electricity and every crack, seal and seam.  It is forecast to be in the single digits this week and snow is also on the way.  Here we go – let’s see what this Forest River will do.  We still have to practically pinch ourselves every time we step inside – not believing this is ours and not believing we survived for two plus years in the little camper we had before.  God has been good.

So it is another four months here in Ohio.  There are more romantic and interesting places out there for us to travel to and Lisa and I discussed the possibility of turning down another extension.  But, we are just six hours from home and we have made friends here that we are not quite ready to say good-bye to yet.  Also, I have decided to complete something I started over twenty years ago – my Masters degree at Louisville’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Knowing that we will be here through my first semester of on-line classes is something that Lisa and I have been praying about for some time.  I am a little nervous about the thought of going back to school at the age of fifty-five, but it is something that I have felt was an unaccomplished part of my life ever since I completed my first twelve hours of classes back in 1991.  When I learned that all my past credit hours can be applied to my degree and that I can complete a Masters of Arts in Theology on-line, I decided to go for it.  And who knows?  Maybe I will preach someday.  I just can’t imagine who would want to listen.  Boy, God has a sense of humor.

Brothers and Sisters!  Love Steve and Lisa.