Big Brother Syndrome

If you read last week’s story, you probably thought that my uncle had fallen victim to “Big Brother Syndrome”.  Indeed, I later learned that a near-miss lynching wasn’t the only story to be told.

My Dad apparently had an attraction to baseball bats as a kid.  He often told a story of accidentally hitting a dog upside the head as he was practicing his swinging.  He would laugh hysterically as he recalled the dog walking off in what looked like a drunken stupor, occasionally shaking its head as it wandered away.  (Dad wasn’t a cruel person by any means; some things just strike you funny, no matter how demented they may be.)

Dad raised the bar, though, when he ended up doing the same thing to my uncle (the cattle rustler from previous adventures).  Only this time, he knocked the receiver of his swing unconscious.  They were at my great-grandfather’s house at the time and he was a doctor.  This, of course, saved a trip to the hospital.  They took Uncle Jim inside until he came to and then, amazingly, he went back outside to play with his brothers again.

Now, you can look at my uncle’s actions in two ways:  One, that he’s a glutton for punishment; and two, as a victim of Big Brother Syndrome, he chose to defy the odds and walk back out to face that insipid foe.  That would have definitely been a slap in the face to that enemy of all younger siblings.

As you probably already know, I am a big brother myself.  As such, I have a couple of Big Brother Syndrome stories myself.  The first one involved a plaster-of-Paris paintable statue of Spock from the Star Trek series. Both my brother and I received one (for Christmas, I believe).  I accidentally broke mine in a relatively short period of time.  It didn’t take long for Big Brother Syndrome to kick in at that point.  When it did, I took my brother’s statue in hand and insisted that it was mine.  When he began to whine and complain about it, I simply told him, “Well if I can’t have it, you can’t either!”  I then threw it to the bedroom floor where it shattered into countless pieces.  I probably got spanked for that, although I have since forced any recollection of this unreasonable reaction to my behavior from my memory.

The other story has to do with tube socks.  Do you know what those are?  In case you need a visual, here’s what they look like:

Both my brother and I wore them all the time when we were growing up.  They’re athletic socks that are so long that they completely cover the calf and stop just short of the knee.  Well, my brother had just gotten some new ones.  I did not.  (Can you see the Big Brother Syndrome coming?)  A week–maybe two–went by and after Mom had done laundry one day, his new socks were out in the open.  As I had them in hand (a recurring condition for Big Brother Syndrome), he saw me with them and began complaining again.  My logic?  “They fit me, so they must be mine.”

My brother still reminds me of this incident to this day.  Maybe I should buy him a pair of tube socks as a peace-offering….

Lynching A Brother

The definition of “lynching” is as follows: “To put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.” Now, you’re probably wondering where this is going. Let me tell you a story….

As an innocent older brother myself, I distinctly remember my Grandmother telling us this story about my Dad.   He was the oldest of three boys and a sister.  Way back in the day–long before there were any electronics for kids to consume their time with–kids played outside.  As you can imagine, in the summer this was done all the time.  Mothers pushed their kids outdoors as soon as it was deemed necessary for the mother’s well-being, which was immediately following breakfast.

Before it was politically incorrect to call a game “Cowboys and Indians”, kids played Cowboys and Indians.  Like it is today with our current themes, this was very popular among kids due to the content of movies and TV shows of that era.  So as a result, my Dad would play this with his two younger brothers, Jim (the middle one) and Tom (the youngest).  Now, as a child growing up, I never heard of any major conflict between the three of them as children.  So I have to assume that they had typical sibling relationships and conflicts, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Maybe that changed after this little incident.

As it came about, my grandmother was in the kitchen doing the dishes one morning.  She thought about checking up on the three boys, so she glanced up and out the kitchen window that was above the sink.  As she did so, she froze in mid-wipe of a dish at what was unfolding before her.

The three of them had thought it a great idea to play Cowboys and Indians again.  Someone (my Uncle Jim) had apparently been caught rustling cattle and was being sentenced by the local sheriff (my Dad).  What part Uncle Tom was playing at this particular moment is unclear to me.  Maybe he was playing the part of a bailiff, considering what my grandmother was witnessing through the window.

At any rate, the evil cattle rustler had been sentenced to a lynching by the local sheriff.  This lynching was scheduled to commence immediately following the court proceedings, which had wrapped up rather swiftly from what Grandma could tell.  All three of them were standing under a sturdy tree in the front yard.  The sheriff had grabbed the bailiff’s tricycle and had the rustler standing on the seat of it.  He had a rope around a tree branch above the rustler’s head and had it looped around the rustler’s scrawny neck (all rustlers have scrawny necks).  The bailiff was holding the other end of the rope so that it was as taught as a guitar string.  The sheriff slowly made his way around to the back of the tricycle.  It was obviously clear to my grandmother what the “sheriff” was getting ready to do.

Like the climax of any good lynching movie scene, Grandma did everything and more to try to beat that moment of imminent doom.  She was nothing but a blur of frenzied motion as she flew from the kitchen to the front yard to intervene in this most heinous situation.  She cleared the front door as my Dad’s leg was raised to kick the tricycle out from underneath the rustler’s feet.  She screamed out, “ROBERT, DON’T YOU DARE!!!”  This caused the sheriff to pause long enough for her to change trajectories and grab the other end of the rope from the bailiff.

If we had been able to witness this unfold before us, I imagine my grandmother’s antics to save this rustler would have put any western-action-movie-actress to shame.  Swiftly and justly, she meted out justice to all involved and left nary a trace of blood to show for her actions.

She did any mother proud!

This Man’s World

I’m sure you would agree that a man’s world and a woman’s world are two fundamentally different places.  Strange lands.  Alien territory.  Different languages.  You get the idea.

I wrote a story for my wife for Valentine’s Day this year.  If you have had some challenges in bringing these two worlds together, I offer you the reading of this story.  You may just find a nugget or two of truth that may help bring into clarity something that is currently blurred for you.  I hope you enjoy it:

As a man, I sit upon the throne of my male world. It is a unique position that gives me a view like no other, one that extends to the furthest reaches of my domain. This domain consists of vast and varied landscapes that grow more beautiful with each passing day. Places like the Land of The Dream, the Land of Marriage, the Land of Family, the Land of Friends, the Land of Church and the Land of The Workplace are easily viewed from this regal throne.

These lands are separated by rivers, like spokes on a wagon wheel. At the center of the “wheel” are the headwaters. Known as The Godhead, it is the source of the rivers that flow out between each Land, providing all the Life needed to sustain each one.

At one time, however, the scenic beauty of some of these Lands was absent. They were dry and arid with little if any life to be found at all.

Then God gave me you.

Without even trying, you brought life to the Lifeless Places. You completed everything that was incomplete. You did something that had never been done before: You made me whole. And, just as importantly, you helped me discover what had up to that time been an uncharted territory: the Land of Here And Now. Since that time, I have come to realize that you hold the Sacred Treasure Map to that Land, given to you by God Himself.

Now, looking over this male world of mine are two thrones. One is, of course, mine. The other, my sweet Beth, belongs to you. You, my soul mate, complete me. You are the cool breeze on a scorching August afternoon. You are the gentle kiss of moonlight as it rests upon the waters. You are the laughter of a thousand children on the darkest of days.

You are my everything.

Now we sit upon the two thrones, hand-in-hand as we look over my domain. You look on in awe and wonder as I point to different Lands and the things we can see coming towards us on the distant horizon. Then, still holding my hand, you walk me down into my world.

Without fail, we always enter my world below through the Land of Here And Now. And then it is my turn to be in awe and wonder! For I find that as we walk the length and breadth of the different Lands of my world, we are at the same time still in your world of the Land of Here And Now. With absolute skill, you continue to use your God-given map to show me amazing treasures to behold as my own every day.

What a beautiful union of two worlds! I could never have asked for a more wonderful, incredible and more amazing woman to be by my side. I am so glad it was you!

Forever Yours,

Matthew

A Mountain of Inner-tubes

My Mom’s brother and his family have lived in Arizona for years.  When you live in a state like that, there’s not much use for inner-tubes.  (At least not like there is in Northern Michigan!)  For one particular summer, though, they found out just how important inner-tubes are for making things interesting at the beach.

One of my cousins–Heather was her name–was about eight months older than me.  So as cousins go, we were relatively close as a result.  She and one of her girlfriends came with my Aunt and Uncle to our family cabin with us one summer when I was around fifteen.  As you can imagine, that was exciting for me on multiple levels.  Being a testosterone-ravaged teenager, I was keenly aware of Heather’s girlfriend (her name was Marian).  Oh, yeah, and I got to be with my cousin, too.

(Left to Right): Dad, Marian, Heather, Uncle Dick, Mitch (my brother), Mom and myself (my Aunt Joyce was taking the picture)

Do you remember the stories involving the family cabin on Carp Lake in northern Michigan?  Well, in the boathouse down by the lake there were always a couple of smaller inner-tubes.  My brother and I used them as kids to float along the shoreline and look for interesting rocks.  As we got older and sometime prior to the Arizona family coming up, Dad decided to get us all our own inner-tubes.  Big ones for my brother and I and an absolutely huge one for he and Mom. Mine was slightly larger than my brother’s (being the older brother, I dictated that the larger one was mine).  We eventually discovered something intoxicatingly fun, though.  We could stack all five of these inner-tubes on top of each other and have it look something like this:

We’d create this inner-tube mountain, attempt to climb to the top of it and then balance long enough to stand.  Once there, the other brother would try to disrupt the inner-tubes enough to dethrone the occupant at the top of the mountain.  This, of course, would send the self-imposed dictator toppling down the mountain or sailing through the air.  Either way, it was a good five feet to the water below.  Sometimes, though, the trip down was through the middle of the inner-tubes.  This usually resulted in the inner-tube nozzles raking across the rib cage as the dethroned fell to his demise.  As entertaining as this was, however, it just wasn’t as adventurous as we had imagined it would be.  So we found the excitement we were really after with these inner-tubes was located on Lake Michigan (about ten miles from the cabin).

(Stage Left):  Enter the Arizona crew.

We loaded up all of the inner-tubes and all drove out to the Big Lake.  On this particular day, the wind had the waves at a perfect height of a foot or so.  Getting out into chest-high water, pulling a mountain of inner-tubes to climb, with waves a foot high tossing them about….now that’s adventure!

So we did that for a while, ate lunch, laid out on the beach and eventually found ourselves doing our own thing.  My Uncle and Marian were playing catch with a water-soaked Nerf football in water that wasn’t quite chest-high depth.  I was laying on the monster inner-tube relatively close to Marian as I lazily watched this game of catch unfold.

It might be important to note that in my observations of Marian, I had noticed that she was fairly competitive when we played games of any sort.  So as she and my Uncle tossed the football back and forth, things got more and more interesting.  My Uncle kept getting further away from Marian and throwing the ball a little harder as he did so.  Now, Lake Michigan water is typically on the cold side.  When there’s any kind of wind, the water feels warmer if you just stay in it.  So Marian was crouching down in the water whenever she didn’t have the football.  As a result, this made it appear that she was in water up to her shoulders.

It was during one of these many throws and catches between my Uncle and Marian that shock and awe ensued.  My Uncle lobbed a long throw with that heavy, water-soaked Nerf football.  In Marian’s crouching position, it was going to sail well over her head.  So without thinking much about it, she launched herself out of the water and into the air to get that ball.  Did I mention that Marian had a tube-top bikini on that day?  Actually, to be accurate, at this point she was suddenly wearing only half of it.  She went up and her tube-top went down.  And I got a Howard Cosell play-by-play close-up of the action since I was only five feet from her when this happened.

As you can imagine, she immediately went for cover.  By that point, however, I had turned my head the other way for a few seconds to give her time to do just that.  I was laughing about it as I turned my head back around to where she was (thankfully, she was too).  She handled it very well, considering what had just happened.  She slowly came up out of the water with everything where it should be and asked, “So, did you like the free show?”

As a teen-age boy, I couldn’t deny that this had been a rather interesting situation.  But I was far more focused on something far more important:  My “flesh” definitely wanted to keep looking at what it suddenly had an opportunity to look at; but the work God had been doing in me even to that point of my life meant that I knew that the right thing to do was to look away.  And I did that!  It’s a good feeling when you see yourself do something that’s right without even thinking about it.

Marian and my Uncle continued to play catch, but she no longer crouched in the water.  Wise move on her part……

King On The Mountain

Do you remember playing “King On The Mountain” as a kid?  Also known as “King Of The Mountain” in some circles, it’s a power-hungry game for children (and some adults).  If you happen to be unfamiliar with this game, here is a brief but accurate description.

As children play innocently together, one of them looks up and sees something that is able to be climbed.  (This could be a pile of anything:  snow….dirt….tires….manure….anything worth climbing and dominating.)  The child moves closer, getting the attention of all the other kids.  With a gleam in his eye as he passes by, the other kids begin to follow.  As this child climbs to the top, however, a subtle but steady change begins to take place.  What was, just moments ago, a sweet and gentle persona has morphed into that of a merciless dictator.

Once at the top, the Hitler protégé attempts to do everything within his power to keep everyone else off.  Slaps across the face, kicks to the groin, pushes and pulls, yanks and yinks–anything goes to keep that dominant position.  (Yinks are an advanced form of yanks and should only be attempted when playing this game.)  When all attempts to unseat this self-imposed ruler have been vanquished, everyone involved is instantly bored with it (except the dictator) and the game is suddenly over.

Now that this foundation has been laid, catch up with me next time and I’ll share with you something that happened in northern Michigan one summer!

Rats In The Basement

At one point in our house in Bath, we had rats in the basement.  (Did your skin just crawl?  I just got a shiver up my spine thinking about it.)  As you probably know already, there are lots of memories I’ve already shared with you about that place.  But this is a new one that came to mind recently.

The basement of that house was unfinished.  The foundation was there, of course, along with a cement floor.  But the internal walls that kept the dirt at bay under the house only rose high enough to keep it there.  (This was an old house that had been added onto over the years and the basement showed this gradual increase in space.)  It actually provided for a wonderfully cool basement in the summer.

We didn’t give it much thought at the time, but apparently there was a family of rats next door in the neighbor’s barn.  They very rudely saw this as an opportunity to infiltrate our cool basement with the unfinished walls and make it their new home.  Unfinished walls made for excellent hiding places, so they took to it pretty quick.

I was the discoverer of these new tenants when I went down into the basement one day.  As I turned on the light in the main section of it, I saw the flick of a very large tail of something very large itself.  I could see that some behemoth of a creature on top of one of the unfinished walls had literally turned tail and scampered back into the shadows.  I immediately reported this incident to the powers-that-be (namely my Dad).  Then I waited anxiously to see what justice would be meted to these vile and uninvited guests.

It didn’t take my Dad long to come up with a plan.  He borrowed a “live trap” from his brother and set it up in the basement at night.  He then proceeded to catch these rats one by one and dispose of them each morning.  The first rat he caught was absolutely huge!  Then each one got smaller and smaller (I think there was a total of four).  How did he get rid of them?, I wondered.  Well, shortly after this all began, I noticed that a fifty-five gallon rain barrel had appeared outside on the back porch.  And it was filled to the brim with water.  Upon asking my Dad about this, I found out what was happening to the rats.

I could picture this scenario unfolding in my head:  My Dad goes down into the basement and sees that his nefarious efforts to catch a rat have been successful.  With suspenseful music playing in the background, he and the rat look at each other.  The rats shifty eyes lock with my Dad’s as they size each other up.  Dad picks up the trap and the music increases in intensity as he begins the rat’s walk of death.  The rat tries to throw itself into the sides of the trap to break free, but to no avail.  It then lashes out at the handle of the trap to bite Dad’s hand, but that doesn’t work either.  It screeches out in exasperation as Dad exits the back of the house to where the barrel of water is.  The rat sees that its end is near and cowers in a corner of the trap.  Dad sets the trap down and takes the top of the barrel off, exposing the water inside.  The music reaches a climax as he picks the trap up, opens the door and…..

I’ll spare you those details.  Dad drowned every one of those rats.  I hate animal cruelty, but when it comes to rats….well, let’s just say that I would have given that rat the same steely gaze that my Dad probably did.  After this, we all continued to live in Bath happily ever after.  Until we moved, that is.

Turning A Corner

Turning a corner.  Ever been waiting for that to happen?  A figure of speech, yes, but a very important one when you’ve been waiting a long time for something to happen.

If you’ve been walking with me a while, you know that our destination has been someplace very definite.  These past couple of weeks have been very interesting ones in that regard.  I can definitely say that I have been turning a corner!

I am closer than ever to being able to finally tell you the story behind our destination.  And you’re not going to want to miss this!  I know I have been dropping hints here and there.  But that still hasn’t really given you anything substantial to know what it is that I am talking about here.  What I can tell you right now is that any frustration you might feel about that will be well worth it in the end!  Very soon, I will be able to tell you this fantastic tale.

God’s plan for our lives is so much better than anything we could ever ask for or imagine (His Word tells us that in Jeremiah 29:11 and Ephesians 3:20).  It is when nothing appears to be happening and life seems like it’s just a monotonous day-to-day existence that it is the hardest to remember that truth.  But don’t forget this important fact:  When you do finally turn that corner, it makes what you’re going through in the waiting process totally worth enduring!

And there’s also something else to keep in mind.  God’s plan is also about strategy.  Don’t forget that we have a very real enemy who is also watching to see what God’s plan is.  His intention is to interfere with that plan as fast as he can.  Thankfully, God knows this and accounts for it.  Thus, His strategy is far more a significant factor than we’ve ever thought it was.

So when God’s plan begins to unfold and take shape in your life, be ready!  Quite often it comes as something that doesn’t make much logical sense to do.  Don’t over-think it.  Act.  Act on it now while everyone around you–including your enemy–is still wondering what you’re doing.  You act that fast, you’ll find that you are in possession of your Dream before anyone else even realizes what’s happened.

I can hardly wait to tell you why I know what I’m talking about here!  Make sure you’ve got your snowshoes with you, my friend.  They are a part of this more than you know.

The Railroad Worker

This other story is about a railroad worker.  It, too, exemplifies the power of the human mind.  This story came from that same seminar and is also a true story.

This took place in the mid-1900’s at a railroad yard somewhere in Europe.  A railroad worker was working inside a refrigerated boxcar one afternoon.  As he was working away, the door to the boxcar shut itself, locking the railroad worker inside the boxcar.  He knew that there was no way to open the door from the inside, so he tried to make as much noise as possible to attract attention.  He knew, though, that it was late enough in the afternoon that most of the other railroad workers had already left for the day.  This, of course, meant that the chances of him getting someone’s attention at this point were very slim.

He yelled himself hoarse and banged on the boxcar until he just couldn’t do it any longer.  In utter hopelessness and exhaustion, he sat on the floor of the boxcar and leaned against a sidewall.  He knew that he was trapped inside a refrigerated boxcar, which meant that he had no way of staying warm enough to last the night.  He would be dead by morning.  As this reality began to sink in, he thought about recording his last thoughts for posterity.  So he pulled out a marker that he had and began writing his thoughts on the floor of the boxcar.

He wrote things like, “It’s so cold in here.” and “I don’t want to die.”  As the dark hours of the night crept by, he wrote, “I can hardly feel my fingers and toes now.”  Eventually he wrote, “Say goodbye to my wife and kids for me.  Tell them I love them.”

The next morning, railroad officials and other railroad workers conducted a search for the missing railroad worker.  Eventually, someone opened the door of that refrigerated boxcar and discovered the lifeless body of the missing railroad worker.

The death of this man, however, had everyone baffled.  Why?  What the dead railroad worker didn’t know was that the refrigeration unit on that boxcar was broken!  It hadn’t been on at all the whole time he had been inside the boxcar.  Which meant that the temperature inside the boxcar didn’t get below fifty degrees that night!  This man killed himself with nothing but the power of his mind.  What he believed became his undoing.

So this begs a question:  How are you and I limiting ourselves and thus not achieving our full potential?  What are we believing about ourselves or a situation that just isn’t true?  What is it that we aren’t seeing that we should see?

Soul-searching questions, but your answers are crucial to the outcome of your life.  God loves you enough to make sure you see what you need to see to change–if you’re willing to see it.

God’s best to you, my friend.  I’ll catch up with you soon!

The Shoe Salesman

Are you old enough to remember what a door-to-door shoe salesman was?  Yes, I say “was” because obviously door-to-door anything is taboo in today’s day and age, let alone a shoe salesman.  But why am I even talking about this?  Because there is a true story involving a shoe salesman that I want to share with you.

 

Are you aware of how powerful our minds are?  God certainly created something extraordinary when He designed the mind and the human brain.  I make a distinction between them because, believe it or not, they are very different!  There is a great book on this subject entitled, “Switch On Your Brain” by Dr. Caroline Leaf.  I won’t go into detail, but it’s packed with a lot of good information about the power and the differences of both our minds and our brains.

So what’s this got to do with a shoe salesman?  Well, this subject was being addressed at a business seminar many years ago.  I heard this story from a guest speaker who was at that seminar and I never forgot it.  He said it was true and I have no reason to doubt his credibility.  It is a real-life example of the power of the human mind!

Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, being a door-to-door salesman of any kind was considered a decent profession.  It was during this time that a shoe salesman was driving across the Midwest somewhere late at night.  He had made a wrong turn (no GPS back then) and was out in the middle of nowhere.  He was exhausted and just wanted to sleep somewhere.  Finally, he saw the distant lights of a farmhouse ahead!

He pulled up to the house and knocked on the door.  The farmer and his wife opened the door and the shoe salesman proceeded to tell them his predicament.  “I took a wrong turn somewhere back there and have gotten myself hopelessly lost.  I’m exhausted and desperately need to get some sleep.  Would you happen to have an extra bed somewhere that I could sleep in?  I’ll gladly pay you to do so!”

The farmer said, “The only spare bed we have is up in the attic.  You can sleep there if you like.”  (Another thing that you wouldn’t see happen today, right?)  The shoe salesman gladly excepted , grabbed his overnight bag and followed the farmer up to the attic.  The only light in the attic was a single light bulb in the middle of the room with a pull-string attached to it.  As the farmer left the shoe salesman alone, the shoe salesman quickly took in his surroundings.  There wasn’t much to see–just some old antiques and things scattered about on one side of the attic and a bed on the other with a window close by.

He was so tired that all he did was take his shoes off and set them on the floor by the side of the bed.  He got up and turned the light off and groped his way back over to where the bed was.  But as he sat down on the bed, something significant occurred to him.  He realized that there was no air movement.  He had to have some fresh air to be able to get to sleep!  The darkness in the attic completely enveloped him though.  It would be almost impossible for him to find the pull-cord to the light bulb again.

Suddenly it dawned on him:  The window!  He remembered seeing a window on his side of the attic!  But now he was so tired that all he could think about was getting some sleep.  So he made a drastic decision:  He was going to break the window and just pay the farmer in the morning for the damages!  So he bent over, picked up one of his shoes and threw it in the direction he remembered the window being in.  The sound of glass shattering told him he had hit his mark.  He laid back on the bed to enjoy the fresh air he knew would be flowing through the broken window and promptly fell asleep.

When the shoe salesman awakened the next morning, it took him a moment to get his bearings and realize where he was.  Then he faintly remembered what he had done the night before and looked over where the window was.  What he saw took his breath away.  His shoe had found the window alright.  But the window was completely boarded up on the other side!  He hadn’t had any fresh air come in at all from breaking that window the night before.  It was all in his mind!  It was what he had expected he would experience.

The power of thought.  It really is amazing.  I’ve got an even more impressive true story about this that I will share with you when we catch up again!

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