Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Gabe turned 7 on Sunday and for his birthday he really wanted to go swimming. He also really wanted to go to McDonald's. We let our kids pick somewhere to go out to eat for their birthday and we usually get some good suggestions. Gabe picked McDonald's. Due to scheduling difficulties, only 8 of the kids made it to McDonald's with us. That didn't stop four people at the booth next to us from asking all sorts of questions about all those kids ... "Are all of them yours?" one lady asked. Julie broke it gently that they are all ours, in addition to the four who weren't with us, which makes 12. That prompted all sorts of conversation. We patiently answered the questions and our inquisitors eventually mosied out the door and we finished our excellently tasty nuggets, fries and hangaburgers. Then one of the guys in the group that was amazed by Julie's productivity showed up at the window holding his poodle. "This is my baby," he said through the window. Things like this happen all the time to us.

It wasn't until today that I managed to take Gabe swimming at an indoor pool in Williamsburg to satisfy his birthday wishes. The kids who wanted to go swimming included Gabe, Eli, Ezra, Olivia and MerriGrace. One problem, though. MerriGrace didn't have a swimsuit because she loaned it to Madeline, who had gone with Evie to a friend's birthday party that involved staying at Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, which features an indoor water park. But good news abounds. Right next to the indoor pool we were going to is a shopping center that has JC Penney, Target, Kohl's and a Dick's Sporting Goods. We would find a swimsuit; I was sure of that. I just didn't realize it would entail going to all four stores. Ay caramba. We hit Penney's first. Alas, no swimsuits. In the second store -- Target -- we found no swimsuits. But Olivia doesn't have a winter coat and I found this little coat that made her eyes light up. Literally. She's 21 months old tomorrow and the girl has a clothes thing. How does this happen? Anyway, this coat was, well, I don't know how to describe it, other than fashionable. Her teenage sisters would wear it, if it came in their size, of course. But it wasn't really functional, from a warmth standpoint. She'd look good, but not necessarily feel good in a warm sort of way. So I put the coat back on the rack and we headed for Kohl's. To find a swimsuit. We walked in the doors and to our left were these mini-shopping cart type of things that are kind of like double strollers with a place in the back to put all the clothes. I put Eli in the front seat, Olivia behind him and Ezra stood in the place to put all the clothes. This elderly lady in a wheelchair was watching me and smiled sweetly. "Five children," she said. "Such beautiful children." I made a command decision not to say anything to this frail looking woman in a wheelchair about our other 7 children. I didn't want to be responsible for the shock it might cause her and any immediate health issues she may have experienced. So we rolled through Kohl's to the girl's section. No swimsuits. That's really shocking. No swimsuits in the dead of winter. We had hit JC Penney's -- no swimsuits. Target -- no swimsuits. And then Kohl's, only to find no swimsuits. Amazing, isn't it. I did find a functional pink "bubble coat" for Olivia that was really warm ... but she wouldn't put it on. Seriously. Is a 21-month-old girl imbued with some sort of fashion lens that sees a pink bubble coat and says, "Does Dad think I really want to wear that coat? Gross!" I bought it anyways and managed to wrestle it on her before we got outside in the 39-degree, windy and freezing afternoon. The girl was going to stay warm whether she looked good or not. And really, it is a cute coat. It's pink! With a little dark pink heart on it! And a pink hood!

Our last stop was Dick's. Surely they have swimsuits...right? I mean, sporting goods ... swimming ... that's a sport. Right? Yes, they do have swimsuits at Dick's. I'm happy to report that they do, especially considering it was the last option for us. They even have a swimsuit that fits MerriGrace. Or did. It wasn't cheap, but I was not to be denied. At that point I would've hocked Olivia's pink bubble coat to buy a swimsuit for MerriGrace so we could take Gabe swimming. I looked at a clock in the store ... we had left Gloucester two hours ago. Sigh. I managed to buy the swimsuit and within 20 minutes or so we were in the water. Gabe was happy. And best of all, Olivia didn't have to wear her functional pink bubble coat in the water.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Our Christmas Eve service was such a sweet time with friends. We had about 50 people here and interspersed Scripture readings from Luke 2 and Matthew 2 with classics such as "Hark The Herald Angels Sing," "Silent Night," and others. I talked about shepherds and we also looked closely at the word "Savior" that Luke used to talk about the birth of Jesus Christ in verse 11: "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (NKJV) That word in Hebrew means to be "rescued, delivered, saved; or to rescue, deliver, save." Divine salvation has its focus on rescue from earthly enemies, occasionally referring to salvation from guilt, sin and punishment. In the Old Testament, the word "savior" is used 13 times. The first reference is in 2 Samuel 22:3 in a song written by David on the day the Lord had delivered him from all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. It's very similar to Psalm 18. David had been spared vengeance of earthly enemies, through God his savior. He understood the word and concept very well. The prophet Isaiah uses "savior" eight times, the theme often being that there is no savior apart from God. As it says in Isaiah 43:11: "I, even I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior." (NKJV)

In the the New Testament, "savior" is used 24 times. In the Greek it means "one who delivers from grave danger." In the New Testament this always refers to God the Father and Jesus Christ as savior of believers from righteous wrath to a proper relationship with God. Savior implies that we need to be saved from something ... which is sin. It's sin that separates us from God. In the Old Testament our sins could only be covered through the sacrificial system. It wasn't until Christ, the Lamb of God, whose blood was shed on the cross, who died and rose again three days later, that we received atonement for our sins. Our slate is wiped clean through Christ. It is amazing that 2,000 years ago a baby was sent to earth as our savior. And that news of Christ's birth was spread by a raggedy group of shepherds who would not have even been allowed to testify in a court of law. "And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds," Luke wrote in 2:18. Today is the day after Christmas. Most everyone has moved on. The kids are playing with their new toys, the Christmas trees will be coming down, the lights put away. There's shopping to be done -- post-Christmas sales to hit with all those gift cards! -- leftovers to be downed. But don't forget to take some time to marvel at those things which have been told us through God's word. And don't forget to marvel at our Savior.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I've been thinking about shepherds lately. We're having a Christmas Eve service -- 5 o'clock Thursday, you're all invited -- to sing some hymns and carols, read out of Luke 2 and I'll share a short message. As I read Luke's account of the birth of Christ, I can't help but wonder about the shepherds who saw the angel of the Lord. I've read accounts that 2,000 years ago shepherds were the pickpockets and thieves of the day. The sorry, no-account drifters who were troublemakers and virtually indentured servants. Things haven't changed much, perhaps. I've enclosed a link at the bottom of this post to help you see where I'm going with this thing.

But let me describe the life of a modern-day sheepherder in the barren Wyoming outback, where you might be in charge of a flock of 1,500 or 2,000 sheep: On call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your home is a 5 x 10 "campito" without running water. Have to go to the bathroom? Here's a shovel. You have no electricity. The searing summer days can hit 100 degrees. On Christmas Day at a sheep camp near Encampment, Wyo., look for a high of 14 degrees, with a low of zero. And snow. Your heat source is a wood stove. It might even work, particularly if you have wood. In addition to no days off, a sheepherder must be able to ride a horse and repair fences. Not to mention guard the flock against predators and poisonous weeds. Not only that, a decent worker should be able to assist in lambing, docking, castrating (Rocky Mountain oysters baby!), dehorning, shearing, vaccinating, drenching and medicating the sheep. Sometimes the work gets a little hairy -- or worse. Wolves are a constant problem in parts of Wyoming. Other places have bigger problems. On Sept. 14 in Sublette County, a sheepherder was attacked by a grizzly bear. Miraculously he lived. The bear left a 7-inch gash in the man's head, two punctures on the left side of his chest, three claw wounds on his gut and a punctured wrist. Oh, here's the kicker. The pay is $650 a month. And all the sagebrush you can see.

Yet these are the guys the angel of the Lord came to tell about the birth of the Messiah, our Savior. Why? Why not the Bethlehem Town Council? Or the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, or Rotary Club? Surely a group of men existed in metropolitan Bethlehem that were far more qualified to have an audience with an angel of the Lord than a bunch of sketchy shepherds. This is what I love about God. He takes the sorriest, no accountenest knuckleheads and uses them for His glory. Read about their response to the news of the birth of Christ. I'd say they were transformed. Any thoughts on what kind of weight it carried when these guys started spreading the word about what they had heard and seen? No wonder Luke describes it thusly in 2:18: "And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds." (NKJV)

There's a part of me that would like to taste the life of a Wyoming sheepherder. What's it really like out there? How bad is it? Could I endure it for more than a few days? I can think of one redeeming aspect of a sheepherder in Wyoming. When night falls in that big sky that stretches from the end of the earth to the end of the earth, unobstructed by trees, or houses, or apartments, or skyscrapers, without artificial light flickering for maybe a hundred miles, you can look up at a billion stars and be amazed by the hand of God. I reckon that's what those shepherds were doing 2,000 years ago, before the angel even appeared. They were looking up.


Monday, December 21, 2009


Today is the shortest day of the year, officially the start of "winter." The long shadows throughout the day are a dead giveaway that the sun clings to the horizon and that we are tilted away from the great orb. It's cold and dark for most of the day. When it's cold and the sun is obscured by clouds, kids know that there's a chance snow will fall. So what's that mean around the world, in terms of lengths of days on Dec. 21, 2009? In Copenhagen, Denmark, which has been in the news lately for some reason, the daylight will last 7 hours and 2 minutes. In Nairobi, Kenya, daylight runs 12 hours, 12 minutes long. Here in Gloucester, the sun rose at 7:17 a.m. It will set at 4:52 p.m. In Corvallis, Ore., the day is shorter by 46 minutes, with the sun rising at 7:47 a.m. and setting at 4:36 p.m.

The shortest day of the year is a day of hope. That doesn't sound right, but that's how it sits with me. Winter's fury is yet to be unleashed in its fullest in most places, including here I imagine. As you can see from the photos, it wasn't all that long ago we were outside in t-shirts. The change in weather unfurls abruptly here. Though it may be cold, provided the skies are clear, the sun will shine a little longer each day now. The photos you see up there were taken by some of my daughters -- Evie and Claire, I believe. One is a shot at the beach in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, back in October. The other is our backyard a few weeks ago. Then you have the shot of Gabe holding the sun on a stick. That's a great shot, eh? As I think about light and how much I enjoy the sun, particularly on these winter days, I think of the true light: Jesus Christ. The light of the world.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


With 12 kids around, the photo options are endless. And priceless. The obligatory shot of the toddler crashing after grubbing in the high chair ... a funny shot of Claire sneaking a smooch from Gabe, who appears none too pleased. Then this one right here with the snowman came courtesy of a rare snowfall in these here parts of southeastern Virginia. It's a wicked storm that blanketed the region, except that we dodged it mostly. Richmond, an hour away, got a foot of snow. D.C., less than three hours to the north, was getting around 20 inches. We had a few inches last night, then sometime after midnight it warmed up a bit and it started raining -- hard. Despite the slush, the kids made the best of it this morning and created Frosty, albeit a wet one.

I love the ethereal qualities of snow, how the night is so bright when it snows. It reminds me of being a kid and looking out my window in Bend, Ore., the night light up like a full moon was right over our house. And the snow always reminds me of silence. I would watch the snowflakes drop out of the sky, trying to pick one up in the jumble of white and watch it all the way to the ground, then another and another, all the while a perfect silence enveloping me. The rare nights it snows here I like to walk through the house into each room and peek through the blinds. I can hear the children breathing behind me and it's always a comforting sound, a happy sound. What parent isn't happy when the children are sleeping?

Alas, it's not always that way. Last night Olivia woke up around 3:45 a.m. She was screaming so hard I went upstairs to get her. I picked her up and went over to the window where we looked outside. By that time the wind was howling and sheets of rain were melting the 3 or 4 inches of snow that had been on the ground. She stared at the snow in wonder. She patted me on the cheek and then pointed outside. Something new. Something strange. "Snow," I said. "Snow." Eventually we left the window and headed downstairs for something to drink. Then we rocked together for a half-hour and for whatever reason she wouldn't go back to sleep. She was wired and I don't know if it was the unusual brightness from the snow, the mystery of it or if her sleeping clock was just out of whack for some unexplainable reason. After enough walking and rocking she eventually went back to sleep. When she finally drifted off I put her in bend and then I walked through the house, peeking through the windows, once again amazed by it all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A House Full Of Life

Eight years ago today a fellow by the name of Christian Michael Longo paused on a bridge over Lint Slough outside of Waldport, Ore., and tossed two sleeping bags over the bridge. Inside were two of his young children. They were alive when he threw them into the frigid water. Longo had stuffed a boulder into each of two pillowcases and tied them to their ankles before dumping his sleeping children into the slough. Earlier that night he had killed his wife before stuffing her body into a suitcase. He also tried to strangle his youngest daughter, just two years old. He stuffed her into a suitcase and before he dropped those two pieces of luggage into Yaquina Bay outside his condo in Newport, Ore., he could hear his daughter whimpering.

At the time I was a correspondent for The Oregonian working from my home in Corvallis. Lincoln County, where the murders occurred, was territory I covered. That story of Longo, the murders of his family, his escape to Mexico, eventual apprehension and convictions that earned him a cell on Death Row essentially became my working life over the course of about two years. I think about the details of the horrific events often. The autopsy photos of the children that were showed at trial still haunt me. Another that comes to mind is the image of pallid 4-year-old Zachery Longo found floating face down in Lint Slough, clad only in his underwear. It was the grisly discovery of Zachery Longo that launched an investigation into his father's whereabouts that spanned the country and culminated in his arrest at a beach hut in Tulum, Mexico, where he had assumed a new identity. When an intrepid FBI agent and the Mexican police tracked Longo down, he had been smoking dope and drinking beer with newfound buddies and a new girlfriend.

By a strange set of circumstances I corresponded today with a former colleague at The Oregonian, Bryan Denson, who I worked with extensively on the Longo saga. We won an award for one of our stories about Longo, a story which I'm sure is out there in cyberspace somewhere if for some reason you're interested in reading it. At the tail end of the last of three e-mails Bryan sent me, he mentioned sort of in passing that today a detective from the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office had dropped a wreath in Lint Slough in memory of the three Longo children and their mother. That wreath is a poignant image. In this line of work there are certain stories that stay with me. I guess you could call them the scars of my profession. It's almost always the stories that involve human tragedy, in this case one that is so senseless. The capacity for human cruelty is horrifyingly extraordinary and sometimes I think I've seen too much of it.

At the same time, my life is a picture of God's blessedness. Sure there's plenty of hardships. I'm tired, overwhelmed with work, trying to muddle through four days without a hot water heater ... but then I come home about 6:30 from a long day in court listening to more human tragedy. And I hear Ezra making his light saber sounds as he battles imaginary foes. And Olivia is climbing the stairs and "counting" as she goes. This house is full of life. A good life. And more life in Julie's womb. Julie was telling me tonight how she went shopping with the older girls today and waves of nausea were sweeping over her and she was so exhausted. She told the girls to keep shopping while she found a place to sit and rest for five minutes. Later she had a conversation with the girls about the new baby and what it might be. Evie wants a boy. Madeline wants a girl. Madeline thought about it a while. Maybe there will be a boy and a girl. Oh my.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gloucester, 1836

While rummaging around in cyberspace today doing research on an issue in Gloucester, I came across a fascinating bit of history. Fascinating in a dark sort of way. It was a copy of a petition to the General Assembly in Richmond, the governing body of state legislators, that had affixed to it the names of 184 Gloucester men. The petition was dated Jan. 13, 1836, a full 25 years before the outbreak of the Civil War. It seeks permission to levy taxes to raise $15,000 to "remove free Negroes" from the county. The petitioners noted that it had become increasingly difficult to keep their slaves in proper subjection and that it "becomes them, with a due regard to their interests to adopt some efficient means of remedying the evil."

The petitioners make their case thusly: "The principle cause to be assigned for the insubordination existing, at present among the slave population is the residence of the Free people of colour, who not only add nothing to the effective labour of the County, but are dissolute in their morals, and by their example promote sedition and vice of every kind among the slaves. Their idleness, which they seem to regard as the only privilege freedom confers, together with the degraded rank they occupy in society, engenders discontent among themselves, which the liberty they enjoy of roving about at large through the County, gives them every opportunity of sowing the seeds of dissatisfaction among the slaves." The petition also asks the General Assembly to take actions it deems best to check the efforts of the "Northern fanaticks" seeking to abolish slavery. It's an ugly document and it's hard to fathom what life must have been like in this friendly community so long ago.

I don't know if the petition effort was successful. That requires more research. The animosity between the men of Gloucester and the freed slaves and Northern abolitionists was abundantly evident. And to think that animosity between the groups festered a full 25 years before it exploded in war. One of the signers of the petition was a fellow by the name of Joel Hayes. He owned a large farm in central Gloucester called "Woodville Plantation." It is now the site of a 100-acre county park under construction that's called "Woodville Plantation Park." During the Civil War, Yankee troops on a foraging mission raided Hayes' farm and in the course of the raid one of Hayes' daughters took a potshot at a Union soldier. For this, the Union troops burned Hayes' home to the ground. At the close of the Civil War, Hayes was essentially bankrupt and he died in December 1865.

Today a debate simmers in Gloucester on the name of the newest county park. "Woodville Plantation Park" isn't inviting to blacks, some say. They want the word `plantation' dropped from the name. Others say you can't alter history and the name should remain, with the county taking the opportunity to use the name to educate the public about the plantation and life around it. Whichever way this thing goes, some people on either side will be unhappy. Of course, the other side of the discussion is this: Aren't we thankful that we're not sending petitions like these to the General Assembly?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

`And Wait On Your God Continually...'

In our culture, we don't like to wait. Think of waiting at the stoplight. Or waiting in line at the store. Or waiting at the doctor's office. Get my drift? Did your blood pressure jump a couple of ticks just thinking about those things? I mean, a few weeks ago I was in line at Wal-Mart with a couple of items -- in the express line!!!! -- hoping to hustle out of there because I was a very busy man at the moment with things to do and places to be, when the old codger in front of me pulled out a checkbook. A checkbook! Who writes checks anymore? Dude, have you heard of a debit card? How about cash? It's the EXPRESS LINE!!!! It took him longer to write that check than it took me to park the car, bolt into the store, get my two items and get in line. The old codger had other plans for my precious time and as I sat there and watched him, the conviction that only comes from the Lord washed over me. You know what was so beautiful about standing in line behind Mr. Checkbook Man? He was in no hurry. At all. What a lesson. I'm sure it's why he looks like he's never had a heart attack and he's 90 years old, give or take a decade, and writing checks in the express line -- because he's in no rush. I mean, why for? It's so counter-culture. We're the America of fast food, express lanes on the freeway, drive-thru banking, vegetables you can steam in a bag in a minute (Who cares what the veggies taste like! They're done in a minute!), video on demand, remote controls ...

And then there's God's word. In the kingdom of God, we're to be in a state of waiting on the Lord, not in a rush for answers in our timing or on our schedule. The latter part of Hosea 12:6 reads: "Observe mercy and justice, and wait on your God continually." In Hebrew, the word `wait' can mean to bind together, perhaps by twisting. Or to expect and gather together; look patiently. Hebrew for `continually' means to stretch, or continuance, or extension. As I meditated on this idea of being bound together and stretching, the Lord gave me a simple picture: Tying a shoelace. You know how you stretch the loops apart to tighten the knot? That was the picture the Lord gave me, of being stretched in my faith but being bound closer to the Lord through it. The harder you tug those loops, the more you stretch those loops, the tighter the knot and the more secure it becomes. And it's the place I want to be because if I'm being stretched, I'm relying on the Lord for sustenance and comfort and peace, tightening my relationship with Him. It's when I'm comfortable that frightens me, because I know my heart and how easy it is for me to become self-reliant and drift away from the Lord and His will in my life.

And you know what? I'm seriously considering writing checks in the express line.

Monday, December 7, 2009

`That's Just How It Be's'

Little boys are worlds unto themselves. Perhaps the circuitry in their minds is still being connected, or they are overloaded by all the stimulus that bombards them on an average day. Who knows. They do and say the darndest, head scratchingest things. Eli, for example, wouldn't change into his pajamas in front of me the other night. He got his pj's out of his dresser drawer and ducked into the closet and shut the door so I wouldn't see him in his underwear. Yet if I draw the bath water he has no problem getting buck naked and jumping in the tub. With me right there in front of him. I haven't figured that one out yet.

Ezra has a funny saying that his older brothers and sisters get a kick out of. He'll walk into a room and announce that Mama said it was OK for him to watch a movie. Then someone will ask if she really said that. "Yes," Ezra says, "and that's just how it be's." Or say you'll be playing "Star Wars" with him, which entails battling him in light sabers. Say he pulls a certain move, like a whirl-around-and-raise-the-light-saber-above-his-head-then-charge-you, but you do a nice little sidestep and tag him with your light saber anyway -- yet he doesn't die. If you ask him what was up with that he'll say, "That's just the way it be's." How do you argue with that?

It's the dead of winter and chilly in the house but Eli and Ezra insist on sleeping without shirts on. They get their pajamas on and then once they are in bed take their tops off. I guess they're manning up or something. At bedtime tonight Eli asked for a snack. "Didn't you just have a snack?" I said. "Yeah," Eli replies. "But I only had two after dinner." Obviously it was a three-snack night. Don't know where I've been all these years. So I get him a snack. I get back upstairs to the room, get the prayers said and the lights out when Ezra announces he's thirsty. Who needs a Stairmaster when I have Eli and Ezra to serve?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Servant's Heart

Taylor is 17 and a wonderful young man. Just ask Ezra. Or Eli. Taylor is convinced those two little boys, who seem to be perpetually hungry, seek him out to satiate their culinary desires. Tonight he was telling us how he tries to evade them when he sees the "look" in their eyes -- the look that says, "I want a peanut butter and jelly sammich." But they find him. Even if he's hiding under his bed, or behind the bathroom door. Or on the roof. His theory is that they know Taylor will give them what they want. Some of his siblings, however, will put them off, ignore them, or try to talk them out of that hankering for a p.b. & j or fried egg sammich. It finally got to him this morning, however. Or rather Ezra got to him.

Ezra likes egg sandwiches the way flies like, well, never mind. That wasn't a good analogy. Let's just say Ezra really, really likes egg sandwiches. But they have to be a certain way. "I want a egg sammich with the crust off and cutted in hav-its," Ezra says. Every time. Taylor finally had enough, though. The whole "hav-its" thing was just too much. So this morning he had a sit-down discussion with his little brother to explain the concept of "quarters." See, Ezra really likes his egg sammiches cutted in quarters, not hav-its. He just doesn't know how to say that. Enter Taylor, telling him that, in the first place, it's not "hav-its." It's "half." And not "cutted." It's cut. As in an egg sandwich cut in half. He walked Ezra through the phrase, "cut in half." Got it, Ezra? He nods. OK, how do you want your sandwich. "With the crust off and cutted in hav-its." D'oh! Eventually Taylor got him to say "cut in hav-its." Now comes the tricky part. Ezra, Taylor says, can you say quarters? "Quarters," Ezra says. Good. That's great. So can you say, I want my egg sandwich in quarters? "I want my egg sammich in quarters." Perfect! OK, now how do you want me to fix your egg sandwich Ezra? "I want a egg sammich with the crust off and cutted in hav-its."

I know you can just picture Taylor's shoulders slumping. But you know what's so great about Taylor? He got up and quietly walked downstairs and fixed his little brother his favorite egg sandwich. He even cutted it in hav-its.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Vigil Of Hope

I was cleaning out a drawer in my desk this morning when I came across this story. I remember seeing a headline in the Daily Press recently about this case so I thought I would post this story that appeared on the Sept. 23, 2007. I was working a Saturday shift at the Daily Press and went to cover this vigil at a Hardee's fast-food restaurant in remembrance of an employee who had been murdered there a couple weeks beforehand. No arrests had been made at that point; it wasn't until earlier this year that three suspects were charged in the employee's killing and shooting of another employee, who survived and fully recovered. The newspaper life can be pretty dreadful sometimes, full of writing about tragedy and human despair. This small event gave me a glimmer of hope, however. The headline of the article was "After a slaying, vigil bids to untie tongues."

It didn't feel quite right.
It was Saturday evening, 6 o'clock sharp, dinnertime in a Hardee's parking lot on Denbigh Boulevard.
But instead of cars motoring through the drive-through, the parking lot was filled with a gospel choir and 200 people.
They were clapping and singing "I Love to Praise Him," the sweat beading on their brows and their voices straining to lift the words to their God above the din of cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles rumbling by.
But it wasn't church. Revival hadn't broken out on the Hardee's asphalt.
Or maybe it had.
Pastor Kermit Jones of nearby Holy Tabernacle Church of Deliverance couldn't be sure.
"I have to remember where I am," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Two weeks earlier, one of his parishioners, Dianne Green, was gunned down by two men while she was at work in the Hardee's.
Her slaying remains unsolved.
The gathering Saturday was a candlelight vigil in Green's honor. It was also an attempt to rally the community and send a message of hope, Jones said.
"We just want kids to know that we care," he said before the vigil. "Most importantly, God cares."
The vigil drew childhood friends such as Jesnita Ware, who grew up next door to Green in Gloucester and attended school with her.
Ware said she came as a measure of support. Green "was a lively person," Ware said.
Former co-workers such as Laura Spencer, who lives in Williamsburg, also came.
Green "touched a lot of people," Spencer said.
Danielle Martin attended church at Holy Tabernacle with Green. The turnout at the vigil was "just awesome," she said.
"We will miss her and she was a good person and a good member of the community," Martin said.
During the vigil, Newport News Police Chief James Fox made an appeal to the crowd and asked for their help.
"Two devils came in and did this," he said. "We need to get the devils off the street."
Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan spoke next and asked: "Folks, the power of life and death is in what?"
The tongue, people answered.
Morgan replied that Green always had a good word for people when they came in to Hardee's or saw her in church or on the street.
But a wall of silence has permeated her slaying and investigators have few leads. For her life not to have ended in vain, Morgan said, people have to use their tongues and speak up.
"Silence is killing our community," he said.
Jones urged the men in the community to step up and be mentors, to visit schools and volunteer as coaches.
Young people "need you as a big brother," he said.
Jones closed the vigil in a prayer, then those able to walk the half-mile or so to Holy Tabernacle began their march.
Under a police escort, the group marched two and three abreast, an assembly nearly a block long.
Young and old, black and white, all holding candles.
Those at the rear passed by singing "Amazing Grace."

Maybe it was right after all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Every Day Is Thanksgiving

The thought struck me today when someone asked me about our Thanksgiving plans that a typical dinner at the Team Sabo House o' Grubbin' is almost like a run of the mill Turkey Day spread for a lot of folks. When you're feeding 14 people on a daily basis, you tend to go through the food. To wit, yesterday morning I brought home two loaves of bread. By this afternoon, there was nary a crumb to be seen of them. A gallon of milk opened this morning is an empty container in the recycling bin. There's a reason I'm on a first-name basis with people at the grocery store. The little boys are on sandwich kicks. For example, Ezra will say he's hungry. Ask him what he'd like to eat and he puts it this way: "Peanut butter and jelly with the crust off and the sandwich cutted up like this and on a plate." (Picture Ezra making a motion where he holds one hand flat and makes a cutting, or `cutted' motion with the other hand.)

Eli eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (crunchy peanut butter, with the crust off and on a plate) like they are candy. Abram is now able to make most of his own meals, which means he can be a terror in the kitchen pantry. The guy is built like a fencepost but you'd never know it judging from the time he spends in the kitchen throwing down various combinations of sandwiches, crackers, quesadillas and the like. Olivia is now able to reach things on the lower shelves of the pantry. I learned the hard way not to stick the raisins on the lower shelf ... she got into those and the diaper changing prompting accelerated rapidly. Raisins in her system is like rocket fuel in a race car. The girl has a metabolism a lot of big people would kill for, let's just put it that way.

Julie and Claire went shopping yesterday to get stuff for our Thanksgiving meal. Man, they brought home some food. Everything from bacon to yams to Jell-o to stuffing mix and even oysters. She spent something like $100. It's a special day, I guess, but is it hard not to feel guilty about that knowing how many people are going hungry in this country and around the world? I'm sure we'll get days worth of eating out of all that food ... at least I really, really hope so. Julie and the girls are going to start cooking and baking tomorrow for the big foodfest. You know how many people we're having over for the big event? The Thanksgivingpallooza at the House o' Sabo? Care to hazard a guess? Actually, we're not having anyone. It will be a nice intimate affair with just the 14 of us.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Place To Lay His Head

This was Ezra at about 8:30 tonight. If it appears as though he was sleeping on the stairs, that's because he was. No Photoshop involved. Tonight is youth Bible study night, meaning there were about 30 or so teenagers in our house -- not all of them ours, obviously -- and Julie had taken all the Team Sabo kids from Abram and younger next door to our neighbor's house (where "Mike" and "Amber" live with their two young lads). She was watching their two kids and our kids while Amber and Mike were out for several hours. One problem, though. Mike and Amber have a "dog" in the house. Ezra doesn't like dogs. He has an abject fear of dogs, in fact. Well, most dogs. He sure got along with Ginger, the lab at the home of Miss Cheryl and Mr. Tracy, where we stayed for seven months when we were in Oregon while I was at Cornerstone School of Ministry. So anyways, I stayed home to "guard the fort" during the youth Bible study and take care of some things I needed to take care of and it was nice not to be interrupted by kids. For example, I'll be here at my desk, as I was this afternoon, when suddenly sweet Olivia appeared next to me. She patted me on the leg to get my attention. "Yes, Olivia," I said, looking at her. Then she patted her bottom area. Uh-oh. "Do you have poo-poo?" I said. She nodded. "Go see Mama," I said. "She's in our bedroom." And off trundled Olivia to our bedroom. Wow, I thought, that was easy. I must admit, I did feel a little bit guilty about that. If I could figure out how to make a poll on this here blog, I'd poll my loyal readers -- all 2 or 3 of them -- to see if what I did by sending my stinkily-bediapered daughter to her mother was something Jesus would do. I wonder how the vote would turn out?

Anyway, back to Ezra crashing on the stairs. Lo and behold, about 8 o'clock an exasperated Julie appeared with Ezra and dropped him off right next to me, saying something about a dog and a rather detrimental effect on the behavioral patterns of our 3-year-old son. Then she was back out the door to Mike's and Amber's. I advised Ezra to go play upstairs. At one point I peeked around the corner up the stairs and saw him sitting there sort of staring off into space. At least he was being quiet. About 10 minutes later the Bible study ended and a kid came around to go up the stairs and started laughing. "Check him out," he said. I took another peek around the corner and there was Ezra, sound asleep. I don't know about you, but when I see this photo I think how nice it would be to just pitch tent on the stairs, so to speak. Sleep for the adults in this house can be tough to come by. Maybe Ezra can teach me some lessons.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Psychology Of Pajamas

These past couple of days I've noticed a disturbing trend in a certain male member of our family. Very disturbing. Around 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon I've come across Ezra walking around the house ... in his Spiderman pajamas. This is very troubling to me. Little boys should not be walking around the house in their pajamas this late in the day. They should be fully dressed and playing football in the back yard, having light saber battles, peeing in the yard, looking for turtles, or doing something productive with their lives -- but fully dressed! Now girls, on the other hand, that's a different story. Julie could spend the whole day in her pajamas. The other day I poked my head out the back door about 1 o'clock in the afternoon and saw our neighbor Erin on our patio talking to Julie. No big deal, except Julie was in her pajamas! I made a comment about it and Erin laughed and Julie wrinkled her nose and said, "It's just Erin."
A few years ago we spent Thanksgiving weekend with Julie's entire family, including all three of her sisters, in Tennessee. Julie and her sisters pretty much spent the whole time in their pajamas. There was the occasional occasion where they actually "put on clothes" to do things like go to the mall or go to church, but if they had their druthers it would pretty much be one big pajamas party. Why is this? What is it about the female mind that thinks spending the whole day in pajamas is okay? Are pajamas kind of like comfort food -- you know, say ice cream, or chocolate, or something along those lines -- except comfort clothes? What is the underlying message one sends by wearing pajamas all day? This is truly one of the great mysteries of the universe.
I don't even have pajamas. I won't go into details, but let's just say I don't have pajamas. I like to get dressed in the morning. To me, it's a sign of productivity: I'm dressed! I'm going to go out into the world of work and uncertainty and Daily Press readers who call me up and question my morality and my Christianity based on articles I write for the newspaper (Really, it's true about the phone call. This just happened to me this morning. Weird, eh?) and conquer! Chaaaaaaaaarrrrrrge!
As you can see from the photo, Ezra is still in his pajamas. But it's early in the day. There's hope! Now Olivia is still in her pajamas, too, as you can see. That's cute, huh? So now that I think about it, is the problem with me? Is there actually an actual "problem" with a little boy wearing his pajamas all day? Do I have expectations that are too big? Or am I making something out of nothing? Sigh. The big questions in life. This is heavy stuff.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Storm Chaser

At 4 o'clock this afternoon I wandered into a convenience store in lower Gloucester, notebook and pen at the ready, camera in my jacket pocket. Cigarette smoke was adrift from a handful of chain smokers arguing over whether the moon cycle and wind direction were just right to make this one doozy of a flood, while outside the remnants of Hurricane Ida barreled ashore off the Atlantic. Ida would not go gently into the good night. We might get 10 inches of rain here in Gloucester by the time Ida finally wrings herself out. The winds are howling in 6o mile per hour gusts through the trees, shredding American flags flying on teetering poles. And down in the flood zone known as Guinea, fleets of cars and boats and pickups were parked on high ground at churches, a school and a civic club, and sometimes merely choice spots of front yards that lie a few inches higher than the rest of the place. At the Achilles Shopping Center, which is a highfalutin name for what really amounts to nothing more than a gas station, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year country market and obligatory post office, the bottom shelves were emptied in case the water poured in through the front door.

Water is no stranger to these parts. Sometimes a full moon and the right tide can send saltwater up to front steps and across roads. A heavy rain fills ditches to overflowing because there's nowhere for the water to drain. But throw the elements together -- a hard rain, a lashing wind, the right moon cycle and something funky going on out in the Gulf Stream that makes the bay water a foot higher than normal -- and fear seeps through Guinea. The memories of the last big flood are still fresh in Guinea, where houses are being jacked up 10 feet off the ground, six years after torrents of water from Hurricane Isabel burst across the land, wrecking houses and wrecking lives.

The peak of the flood is supposed to hit at high tide tomorrow morning around 6 a.m. At 4:30 this afternoon, the water was pooling over the parking lot; within two hours it would be trickling in the front door when jacked up pickups drove through the lot creating wakes. Inside, a man in a camo ball cap paused between drags of a cigarette and tried to reach his 75-year-old momma by cell phone. The National Guard troops were on their way to get her, the two dogs and a cat that live with her, and he was trying to let her know they were coming for her. He had bailed out earlier, but momma wouldn't budge. Until now, when the water reached the top of her front steps with an hour to go yet until the flood hit its peak. He got a busy signal over and over again. Someone asked him why his momma didn't leave with him. The man shook his head. "She has the faith in the Lord," he said.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A God Of Big Things

How old does an oak tree have to be to dwarf a van? I came across this behemoth at the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center in Blackstone, Va., a quaint town that dates to the Revolutionary War. I wouldn't doubt it if this old beauty predates the Revolutionary War. The tree that is, not the van. I made the trek to Blackstone for a retreat for Calvary Chapel pastors; I'm still amazed I got invited. About 20 of us from Virginia and North Carolina gathered in Blackstone Monday and Tuesday to hang out and encourage each other and seek the Lord. It was in many ways a most difficult time and an amazing time. A time of agony and restoration. I won't get into the details, but let's just say our God is a healing God.

When I was in 8th grade I played junior high school football. I was a runt of a kid and nearly got myself killed throwing myself under a bus posing as a running back from Prineville, a cowboy town nestled in the Ochoco Valley in the shadows of towering rimrock jutting up over the Crooked River. My dad was there to witness my near death experience and promptly signed me up for cross country at Bend High School. I didn't like to run, hated it in fact. But dangit if the Lord hadn't given me the gift of speed and endurance and I turned out to be a runner. I took a liking to it eventually, particularly cross country. Anytime I crunch through leaves I think back to running through Drake Park in Bend, Ore., along the banks of the Deschutes River. We had all of our home cross country meets in Drake Park. I don't know how many times I raced there, but the memories are ingrained in my memory: A nip is in the air, the smell of chimney smoke is wafting through the park, the lungs are aflame, the legs are burning and each labored stride brings me one step closer to the end of all this torture. For some reason I like these memories. They're pleasurable, even comforting.

I say all this because when I stepped out of my room Tuesday morning and saw that oak with the carpet of leaves underneath it, I knew I had to run. I headed out underneath the oak, marveling at its girth, the leaves crackling like I was running on potato chips. I ran all over the grounds of the campus, taking the time to pray and be with the Lord. I had one prayer in particular, a prayer for the Lord to heal the root of my sleepless nights, the source of all too much anxiety and anger. Often when I pray I ask the Lord to help my unbelief. My small mind can't picture my prayer being answered, as if the circumstances of whatever situation ails me are too big for God to overcome. So that's why I pray for my unbelief. Five hours later, the Lord answered that prayer. Truly I felt as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. Before I left Blackstone I took this photo of the massive oak on the campus of the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center. I like this photo. It reminds me of how amazingly beautiful and awesome God's creation can be. He's a God of big things, a God of power and might. And it reminds me that God answers prayers. Every day.

This Season, This Changing Season

Sometimes the truth is staring right at me and I don't want to see it. I think there are times in everyone's lives when the reality is that the gig is up, so to speak, but we aren't ready to accept it. A leaf turns. It's now fall and winter approaches, but we cling to the fleeting notion that another gorgeous day is around the corner...then we wake up and the frost is so thick you need a shovel to get it off the windshield. In the big picture of things, what I'm really talking about is life and the changing seasons we all travel through. For me, that moment of epiphany came on a recent Saturday in a place where some of life's greatest lessons are learned.

Yes, it was on the Wiffle Ball field. In the first round of the playoffs of the Wiffle Ball World Series at Sabo Field in Courthouse Square, the truth nearly caused me to sprain my neck. At the precise moment I hung a forkball that was supposed to drop off the table to Ethan and he hit it to North Carolina is when my new reality smacked me in the face. Well, actually I jerked my head so hard to watch the ball go over the house I nearly sprained it. The next thing that hit me was the realization that at the ripe old age of 40, my best Wiffle Ball days were very likely well behind me. Somehow I managed to keep the game close by sticking with my game plan of busting Ethan inside with cutters, then throwing the occasional changeup and curveball out of the strike zone hoping he'd chase it. He did and I managed to survive without much more damage. But at the plate I was just flailing. I hit two balls hard all day; one for a long single and another that nearly left Taylor, who was playing shortstop, a eunuch. Somehow Taylor managed to deflect the ball or otherwise he still may be writhing on the ground in pain. Ethan prevailed 2-0 in the three-inning, first-round game. I'm left with the prospect of trying to fight my way through the "loser's bracket" to get another shot at Ethan, but then I'd have to beat him twice to be crowned champ.

I think I can accept this Wiffle Ball mortality. Accept the fact that when I play my teenage sons it will take the supreme effort to keep the game close. Maybe I'll be able to sneak in a win here or there through guile, luck and perhaps a nail file secreted in my back pocket or some lubricant hidden on my cap visor that will make the Wiffle Ball dance in an unhittable trajectory on its way to the plate. It's been a good run. I look back over 15 years or so of playing Wiffle Ball with my older boys and have so many great memories. The "green monster" of elm bushes at our back yard field in Prineville, Ore., and the day that the boys still reminisce about when Julie hit my unhittable rising fastball over the green monster, a veritable moonshot that will live in infamy; or the time Dave Erickson (who's now a missionary in Asia) hit one over our barn in Corvallis, Ore., in a blast that we still marvel over; or the historic day when I threw a no-hitter in a six-inning game against Brenton at our house on Mill Pond Drive here in Gloucester, in a performance that rivaled Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series ... I'm sure there are plenty of good times to come. They'll just be different times. And to think that down in the minor leagues are four more Sabo boys ...

To see Ethan's home run, captured on video and expertly edited by Taylor, check it out here:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

South Carolina

Sometimes I get this crazy notion that a vacation would be a good idea. Relaxing, fun, entertaining ... all those things vacations should be. Then about halfway to our destination our lovely little 1-year-old who we'll call "Olivia" starts screaming. And let me tell you, that little girl can holler. Did I mention it's a 6-hour drive to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina? Which leaves sweet Olivia plenty of time to scream. Then Ezra starts saying over and over again, "I want to go home. I want to go home." Ahhhh, vacation. We had plenty of good times, though. We went to the beach one day when it was near 80 degrees. This was the middle of October and the kids were playing in the water ... just like back in Oregon in the middle of October, right? (Editor's note: Um, you don't go in the water in Oregon in the middle of the summer. Author's reply: Untrue! Say you've been running and twist your ankle. Instead of using ice, just go in the ocean! It's no different!)
We went to Georgetown, S.C., which is a gorgeous little town on the water. It's the third-oldest city in South Carolina (The Palmetto State) and named after a guy who went by the handle of "George." I knew you would appreciate that tidbit. Anyway, we hit an ice cream shop in Georgetown and pritnear cleaned them out. And remember, as the sign says on the boardwalk in Georgetown, "Don't feed the alligators." Those signs are all over Oregon as well. (Editor's note: Dear, no. There's no such signs in Oregon. Author's reply: I meant "Don't feed the ducks." You know, ducks ... alligators ... it's all the same.)

One of the highlights for me was shopping for groceries at the local Piggly Wiggly. I've always wanted to shop in a Piggly Wiggly. Why? Well, I don't know exactly. It just sounds like a cool place to shop. I mean, who wouldn't want to shop at a Piggly Wiggly? I was not disappointed. They had a killer ice cream selection, a great selection of pickled pig's feet and okra like you wouldn't believe. One thing, though. I was shopping in the Piggly Wiggly and was going through the checkout line when the clerk called me, "Honey." No big deal. But then she said to me, "That's $50.43, Sweet Pea." Ahem. `Sweet pea?' Some things I'm not sure I'll ever get used to. Even in a Piggly Wiggly.
The biggest highlight of our trip to South Carolina, undoubtedly, was seeing real-life alligators. For reals. The first day we were in South Carolina we heard some golfer was fetching his golf ball out of the drink when he reached in and an alligator latched onto his arm. Tragically, the dude lost his arm. This was 2 hours away from us and since the place where we were staying was on a golf course FULL OF PONDS, naturally I made some inquiries of the groundskeeper about the local 'gator population. It turns out he didn't think there were any alligators around at the moment. I emphasize `he didn't think there were any around.' Though one was living in the pond right over there, he said, pointing at the end of the parking lot, mere yards from our room. Super. Needless to say, the rule on our vacation was no going near the water unless it was a swimming pool. One afternoon we went to a nearby state park and there's a bike path there that runs through some freshwater swamps/ponds and you can walk down there, like we did, and peer through the brush and see alligators. I mean, they were right there, just sunning themselves in the, well, sun. "Kids, stay close," I said. Ezra promptly took off running down the path. The kid just likes to run. Needless to say, I went running after him. I'm sure he looked like a tasty vittle to those 'gators and I was not about to get him eaten. I'm happy to report that a count of the children who returned home with us revealed that all made it back. No 'gator bait in our crew.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm A ... Democrat?

The other night I was attending a meeting for a local political candidate who is seeking re-election. I'm not real popular with her crowd due to articles I've written about some actions she and others on the county Board of Supervisors took over the past two years. I counted about 70 people who were there and when she was done with her hour long talk she got a standing ovation from most of her supporters. One older gentleman went up to her and told her how brave she was to get up there and talk. Then the fun began.

Within a few moments about a half-dozen or so of my "fans" were looking for the Daily Press guy. "That would be me," I said. "I'm the Daily Press guy." One fellow got uncomfortably close to me and asked me point-blank if I was going to get up there and apologize. "I've got nothing to apologize for," I said. He asked me again and I gave him the same answer. I stand by the articles I've written. (As a disclaimer, Gloucester has many, many people who are highly appreciative of the articles I've written for the newspaper; just on this particular night there weren't a whole lot of those folks in attendance.)

"You must be a Democrat!" the old codger said. I couldn't help myself and laughed. Apparently all newspaper reporters are Democrats. And I guess that's a bad thing. I just told him I'm no Democrat, but I am a registered Republican. He got this real puzzled look on his face; he was totally stumped. That didn't cool my other critics, though. I took some heat for a while and stood my ground, but that's expected in this line of work. It's funny how people form opinions about me and my character without knowing a thing about me other than what I write. A couple of weeks ago Julie was working on getting Ethan registered for school and was talking to one of the employees of the high school. In the interest of protecting the person's identity, that's as close of a description of the person you'll get. But this person asked Julie if she was related to Matt Sabo from the Daily Press. Julie paused. I know what was going through her head: "Should I answer this?" She said yes and the person said, "You tell Matt we love him." So you see, not everyone thinks I'm a Democrat.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Life And Times

It's officially Fall, in case you haven't noticed. Today it was hard to notice Fall, or Autumn as the hoity-toities might say, has arrived here for a couple of reasons. First of all, upper 80s with killer humidity doth not a fall day make. Secondly, we only had one child involved in a practice, game or other sort of extracurricular activity. This fall we have 3 kids in soccer and one playing baseball. There's Team Sabo kids being run all over this county. Last Saturday we had 3 soccer games spread 2 1/2 hours apart all at the same field 10 miles away. Not to mention a baseball practice for Ethan. It was crazy, in a good sort of way. Abram and Madeline are in their first year of soccer and having a blast and Evie is back on the pitch, cast and all. There are few things I enjoy in life as much as watching the kids play sports. It's just one of those special pleasures, even topping a bowl of ice cream at night after everyone is in the sack.

Last year at this time we had just arrived in Corvallis and none of the kids were in any sports. Shoot, we were still trying to recover from a 3,200-mile cross country trip, moving into a house with another family, a climate change, a culture change and I was adjusting to being jobless and in school. But a few weeks after we arrived we managed to get Ethan and Taylor on the cross country team for Philomath High School and it was my distinct pleasure to be able to help on a few occasions shuttle the team to practices at parks and trails many miles from the school. (The coach saw my 15-passenger van one time and a smile broke out on his face. And boy he tried to convince us many times it was in our best interest to stay another year and let the boys run for him.) Taylor is a talented runner and ended up making varsity after a week or two of running. He was the 4th man on the team and helped the Warriors to a 5th-place finish at state. He has a long stride, endurance and a toughness that runners need to truly be competitive. Ethan never considered himself a runner -- it didn't involve a ball -- but by the time the season ended he was rounding into pretty decent shape. He loved the competition of cross country. One of the beauties of the sport is that no matter where you are in the race, there's always competition -- unless you're way out in front. Someone is chasing you, so you have to keep the pedal down. Someone is ahead of you, so you have to go get him. Ethan liked that competition. He would probably be running cross country for Gloucester High School right now if he didn't love baseball so much and it wasn't offered in the fall as more or less a club sport. But he's learning a new position -- catcher -- and catching on quick. So to speak.

You know what's so cool? I'll be going to games and practices for years. And it will be a seamless transition from my kids to grandkids. I reckon I'll have to take an early retirement just to watch the kids and grandkids.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Where Did She Come From?

Julie and I have 12 children. That still comes as a shock to some people. The other day I was in the doctor's office for treatment of a persistent, irritating, awful, nasty skin rash type leprosy on my hands. I'm fortunate I don't live in Old Testament days, or they would have me holed up underneath a big ol' gum tree down in the woods near Fox Mill swamp rasslin squirrels for acorns and pine seeds and trying to choke one of 'em to make some varmint stew. As it stands, the ol' doc got me on some drugs and the issue seems to be getting resolved. He said I had an allergic reaction to latex. As I was signing forms the lady behind the desk started chatting and subject of "children" came up as she noticed a lad or lass or three or four of mine in the computer system. One thing leads to another and she finds out I have 12 and she just stands there and shakes her head and says, "No you don't." Over and over she kept saying she can't imagine what it must be like in my house.

Well, let me help her out. Let's just take one of our children. Namely Olivia. Just 17 months old, but a terror in the Team Sabo house. We start out at around 7 o'clock in the morning when I find her on the kitchen table eating someone's raisin bran. It's more on her clothes, face and hair than in her belly. I get her cleaned up and a short time later I find her back on the table with someone else's raisin bran. She's just getting warmed up. Over the course of the day I might find her with an ink pen tattooing various of her appendages and cheeks -- with a permanent marker. This morning Julie was relieved that Olivia was doing this with an ink pen that wasn't a permanent marker. Does that make it right?

This afternoon I looked over to find her standing on the piano bench playing the piano -- buck naked from the waist down. She had removed her shorts and her diaper, for reasons that remain unknown to me; perhaps it had something to do with the freedom it presented her to really "feel" the music. Either that or she was grooving so hard to her tune her britches just dropped off. This evening she discovered "Chapstik" and decided it went in her hair. Two nights ago she found one of those soft candle type things and decided to lube up her do. Let's just say the candle wax doesn't exactly come out of hair easily. But then, have you ever tried to get candle wax and Chapstik out of your hair? Didn't think so.

We don't know what to do with this child. Where did we go wrong? Are we bad parents? After 11 kids do we suddenly not know what we're doing anymore? It seems with each child there's something new and unforeseen that we've never experienced before. Eli can throw some raging fits. I mean raging. Ezra has some quirks to his personality that leave me shaking my head. Now Olivia. And that's just for starters. Don't get me started on some of the older ones. Maybe it's just God keeping us sharp. On top of our parenting game, so to speak. Yeah, maybe that's it. Because how else are we going to be prepared for 60 grandchildren -- or more?

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Year Ago

On this date a year ago we woke up in Brentwood, Tenn., where we stayed the night on our trek to Oregon. After we had the Team Sabo Executive Board meeting and some of the kids seemed reluctant to go, the Lord changed their hearts over the course of the following week. Each of them came and told Julie and me that in the course of their Bible reading they had felt the Lord giving them a peace about going. I remember trying to see if there was a way I could keep my job with the Daily Press on a part-time basis -- with a phone and a computer that's about all you need these days -- but that wasn't possible. When we decided to go, it was about three weeks before we had to leave. We had all sorts of little details to wrap up here before we left, but some of the details out in Oregon were a little fuzzy.

It wasn't until we were on the road in southwest Virginia, battling crazed Hokies fans who were trying to get to a football game in Blacksburg, when I understood that our living accommodations had been taken care of. I was talking on the cell phone with a friend in Corvallis with a big house who wanted us to stay with his family and he was talking about all these bunk beds he was tracking down people in the church were giving them. I remember getting off the phone with him and telling Julie, "I think they want us to stay with them the whole time." It turned out to be a huge blessing. I remember a buddy of mine in Oregon asking me before we left what we were going to do about a place to live. I told him I didn't know, but that the Lord would have to take care of that. Then he asked about beds; he seemed to think we would need lots of beds. I didn't have an answer for that, either. The Lord would take care of that, I said. Then he said, what about furniture and pots and pans ... These were all pretty good questions. I didn't have an answer for him. I told him we were going out in faith and that the Lord made it clear that's what He had for us. And God took care of all those details. I think faith is one of those things that God wants us to exercise. How else does our faith grow unless we stretch it?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Birthday Announcements

A typical morning for me involves waking up and asking myself, "Does one of my kids have a birthday today?" It's a good way for me to stretch my brain first thing in the day and try to remember 12 dates that occur throughout the year. Throw in my birthday, Julie's birthday, our anniversary, birthdays for my kin ... not to mention first names and middle names of all the kids, plus other essential facts such as pin numbers, the last time the Angels won the World Series (2002), how many times UCLA has won NCAA hoops championships (11, by far a record) and where in the Bible some young punks were eaten by a bear after they insulted the prophet Elisha by calling him "baldhead" (that would be II Kings 2:23-24; there's a lesson there!)...whew! You can see why I used to tell my fellow students in Cornerstone School of Ministry why it was so much more challenging for me to remember verses and other memorization tasks. I just have so much information in that computer between my ears that there's hardly any more memory space available. I'm going to have to clear some space out, probably by getting rid of some useless information. Julie says I can start by erasing sports-related information...she just doesn't understand.

We've had a run of birthdays this summer that have been neglected to be properly memorialized on the Team Sabo blog. MerriGrace turned 11, Eli turned 5 and Abram turned 10. Claire made and decorated the cakes for MerriGrace and Eli, which you can see turned out to be amazing and very edible creations. Thanks to grandmas and grandpas and Aunt Judy for sending along some dough for them to pick out presents. If I'm not mistaken, we have a break in birthday type events until December. I'd say December 27th to be exact, when Gabe turns 7. Yesterday he asked me how many days until his birthday. He's ready already.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

First Day

We are pleased to report that Ethan survived his first day of public school on Tuesday, making it home safely and heading straight for the kitchen. As a teenage boy, he exists in a constant state of hunger. Being at home for school has always meant he could continually graze on the ample supplies in the pantry and fridge without need of a "hall pass" or "teacher permission" or any other such unpractical detriments. Ethan decided to try public school for a couple of reasons. He wanted to play high school sports, but Virginia discriminates against home schoolers by not allowing them to participate in public school activities. This makes absolutely no sense on so many levels. But that's the rule. So in order to play baseball for the high school, Ethan had to actually go to high school. Also, Ethan really sees the school as his mission field. He's a budding evangelist, so look out high schoolers.

We started the day by personally driving him to Gloucester High School. What a zoo. For starters, it was pouring down rain -- we had more than 2 inches fall yesterday -- so I couldn't see making him stand at the bus stop. But as I got fairly close to the high school, there were cars and buses everywhere, traffic was backed up for about a half-mile in front of the school ... craziness. He made it to classes alright but understands now what it's like in a New York subway terminal when gazillions of people are trying to get to work. Gloucester High School has more than 1,600 students, I believe, all crowded together in a jumble of pimply humanity. He was shoulder to shoulder with kids in the halls, sometimes seemingly a salmon trying to fight his upstream. He only got lost once, he said, but miraculously was able to find the classroom without getting late. He saw quite a few of his baseball buddies and said at lunchtime he was sitting alone until three "rednecks" and another dude showed up to keep him company. He said it was an interesting conversation. One of his teachers is a graduate of the University of Miami, which scored a thrilling victory over Florida State in football on Monday night. Ethan scored some points with his teacher when, as he was leaving class, he turned to her and held his hands together to form a `U.' She really liked that. I've always known he's a smart kid.

The best part of the whole day was that he had no homework. The worst part of the day? I imagine it was that he had to get up before breakfast. This is a kid whose school day usually starts no earlier than after the 9 a.m. Sportscenter edition. We suspect the `no homework' days are about to come to a screeching halt. And it will be interesting to see what life is like for him when he can no longer stay up late for Monday Night Football, the MLB playoffs, the World Series and other entertainment options he's been able to enjoy all these years. Today also holds the first day of fall baseball tryouts. At 5:30 this afternoon, he officially becomes a high school athlete.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sunday Morning

Here's something you'll probably get a kick out of. We launched a Sunday morning Bible study in the comfort of the Team Sabo living room. After praying about it for months and seeking the Lord, I felt His leading to start the Bible study. I have no plan, no strategy, no agenda. I don't exactly know what we'll do if people start showing up -- though that's certainly our intention to reach out to the community and invite people to study God's word with us -- so that' is definitely something we're praying about. Since moving to Gloucester 5 1/2 years ago, we've been fellowshipping in churches outside our community. We really felt it was time to fellowship in Gloucester, among our friends our neighbors and the people we meet at the ball fields, in the stores and elsewhere. What really spoke to me recently in my daily Bible reading was a verse from Joshua 18:3: "Then Joshua said to the children of Israel: `How long will you neglect to go and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers has given you?'" There were other verses that really spoke to me but that was just the last confirmation that it was time to step out in faith, to make myself available to be used by Him for His glory.
We will study through the Bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book. Taylor led worship and it was sweet and then a couple of our kids helped out with the little kids upstairs, reading a Bible study and doing some crafts. We realized we need a "baby gate" upstairs because at one point as I was teaching the sweet sounds of the piano wafted through the house. It turns out that Olivia had gotten loose and decided it was time for a musical interlude. So you can see that's one of the kinks we have to work out in this "work in progress." I apprecitate your prayers and look forward to seeing what the Lord does with our humble beginnings. I will say attendance was very strong that first morning, with 22 people showing up. Of course, it doesn't hurt that 14 of those live in the "church."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Some Husband

Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of wedded bliss for that delightful couple known as Matt & Julie Sabo. Yes, 19 years ago at a church around the corner from Julie's house in Canby, Ore., we got hitched. I had been in class for about five days of my senior year of college when we got married. We picked that weekend because with Labor Day we had a three-day honeymoon. If I remember correctly we got married at 11 a.m. to give us even more of a head start on the nuptials. We honeymooned at a bed & breakfast in Mt. Vernon, Wash., and spent some time in the San Juan Islands.

Yesterday? Well, I spent most of the morning trying to get Ethan into classes at Gloucester High School. It's not so easy. We had some "issues" transferring his home school credits and the way it ended up, he will open the year on paper as a freshman. A 16-year-old freshman. That means he would graduate a month shy of his 20th birthday. I got married at 21. Just thought I'd point that out. But the high school seems willing to work with us -- he did get credit for a few classes -- and they're going to allow him to accelerate through some courses. But we're such amateurs at this whole public school thing. We went to the open house yesterday and didn't realize we were supposed to bring the checkbook to pay for his gym uniform ($18) and this day planner thing everyone is supposed to have ($5). We got lost in the high school about 20 times but did manage to make it out of there in two hours. Which meant no anniversary dinner for us because I had to go cover a meeting for the newspaper that started at 7 p.m.

Maybe we'll get some sort of date in this weekend. Eli asked me this afternoon if there was somewhere I wanted to take mama for the night. Apparently he wants to spend the night at some friends of ours so he's trying to subtly hint around that we should make ourselves scarce. I'll see what I can do Eli. I have a hankering to go visit Annapolis, Md. Maybe we can make that happen this weekend.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dinner! Gusto eccezionale!

Tuesday night we sat down for dinner and Italian night broke out. Earlier in the day I had a hankering for pasta. With vegetables. But I'm not Italian. My wife is not Italian. We have something like 12 kids who are not Italian. Short of calling the Pope to see what the Popester recommended, I was in a quandary. (Editor's note: What does the Pope have to do with finding an Italian dish? Isn't the Pope German? Were you looking for a German dish? Author's reply: The Pope is German? Is that legal?) So I started trolling the net for suitable dishes and this is what I came up with on allrecipes.com: "Summer Squash Chicken Alfredo." Let me just say it was a selection that was "magnifique." (Editor's note: That's French for magnificent. You meant "magnifico" my love. Author's reply: I knew that. I was just saying that even the French would say this particular Italian dish was magnificent. Editor's exasperated comment: Whatever. My love.)
The thing I really liked about this recipe, besides the yeller squash, zucchini, pasta, alfredo sauce, garlic and chicken breasts, was that it used bacon. I would have to say that if you put bacon in anything, it makes the dish sing. It completes it. The dish has "vitalita" as all my Italian friends would say. (Loosely translated from the Italian, that means the dish has "oomph.") You can't go wrong with bacon. I threw some bacon in a clam chowder a while back and it was off the chart. Bacon on a burger? Need I say more? I make this seafood chowder with bacon in it and if you took out the bacon, it would just be another creamy, seafoody soup. Here's how I know the Summer Squash Chicken Alfredo A La Zesta Porko went over well with the Team Sabo crew: It was so quiet when everybody was chowing down, you could have heard a rigatoni noodle drop.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Big Decisions, Part III

When I shared with Julie what the Lord was leading me to do -- uproot the family and hit the reverse Oregon Trail for nine months to attend Cornerstone School of Ministry -- she didn't think I was whacked. Nor did she faint, understand I was going through a mid-life crisis or suspect I had lost general control of my faculties. She told me that the Lord had been preparing her heart for a change. At the time she thought it had something to do with the ladies Bible study she was leading. After I talked to her, she believed the change had something to do with going to Oregon and she said she would pray about it. Shortly after that, after we had been praying and believing this was of the Lord, we convened a meeting of the Team Sabo Executive Board. I wanted to let our older kids know what was going on so they could pray about it and not just wake up one day and start packing rain gear and moss repellent. It was an interesting meeting, to say the least.

Joining us in the living room/board room were Brenton, Taylor, Ethan and Claire. Brenton was to leave for his final semester at Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, Calif., in a few days. Taylor was leading a youth Bible study on Friday nights which attracted up to 30 teens who came together to worship the Lord and study the word and Ethan was in a way his right-hand guy. All of the kids were serving in church as well and after 4 1/2 years in Gloucester had put down roots. When I told them we were praying about going to Oregon and why, Claire got teary. Brenton looked pensive -- I didn't know what to thinking because he was so supportive a year ago. But he said he would pray about it and see what the Lord told him. Taylor said that in his daily reading he had just been in Isaiah 6, which talks about how the people of Israel had their eyes on King Uzziah and not the Lord. He felt like it was the Lord speaking to him that the kids in the Bible study needed to grow in their relationship with the Lord and not looking to him. Taking him away would help mature them, he said.

Ethan flat out said he wasn't going. You can always count on Ethan in moments like this to say his peace. Ethan's name in Hebrew means, "strong, firm." The kid lives up to his name, no doubt about it. And just to throw it out there, Matthew means "Gift from God." (Editor's note: Oh brother. Author's reply: Just taking the facts babe.) Ethan said that we couldn't just abandon the youth Bible study while it was flourishing. When I told him to pray about it, again he said he wasn't going. Once again, I said to pray about it. He said I didn't understand him. (Picture me raising one eyebrow, then you have an idea of my reaction to that statement.) He wasn't going to Oregon. "Why don't you go to your room and pray about it," I said. Claire, as I mentioned, was teary. She didn't want to leave her friends. Nor did she want to leave the youth Bible study. I could understand the reaction of Ethan and Claire. They felt their place was here in Gloucester, not 3,000 miles away to a place that, although it was familiar to them, presented the unknown. And what was in it for them? The Lord had blessed them with good friends in Gloucester, a thriving group of young believers and so many other things.

We were coming down to the wire, though. If we were going, we needed to leave in a month and in my mind a decision was no more than a week away. I asked the kid to pray over the next week, continue reading their Bibles daily and let me know their thoughts. Afterward, though, I had this sinking feeling. I thought, "What am I doing to my family?"

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mount Vernon

Last week my lovely bride of nearly 19 years (Sept. 1! Marital Bliss Anniversary Day!) and I left all the kids in Gloucester and drove to the home of George Washington, aka Mount Vernon. What a fun day. Not once did I hear from any passengers the dread phrases, "Are we there yet?" or "How much longer?" I'll have you know that Julie is in fact a very pleasant driving companion and I would recommend her as a shotgun rider to anyone traveling substantial distances. In this case, with summer traffic and stops at a roadside garden stand for peaches, a 7-Eleven for ice cold liquid refreshment and a potty break and at Target in Fredericksburg, it was a little more than three hours to GW's home. It was worth the drive. As you can see, it's fairly significant estate on the Potomac River just outside Alexandria.
The home has nine bedrooms and what was interesting was that back in the day it was common for travelers just to drop in and ask if they could shack for the night. Apparently they didn't have a Motel 6 or Holiday Inn around, nor a McDonald's or even Subway. So George & Martha would provide some grub and a bedroom for the weary travelers. Sometimes they would extend their stay. At the time of his death, George Washington was the most well-known man in the world and all sorts of folks would just drop in. Sounds crazy, but I guess things aren't so different these days in a sense, with paparazzi informing the voyeurs of the world on the lives and times of the rich and famous.
In the third photo from the top, you can see a portico that connects the house to the kitchen. They had a detached kitchen in event of fire with hopes it wouldn't spread to the house. At his death George Washington had hundreds of slaves who he freed in an unusual move for the times. The grounds of the estate are excellent and though it was hot -- mid 80s with reasonable humidity -- it wasn't unbearable like it can be in mid-August and the paths through the gardens and grounds were a pleasure to walk. I even held Julie's hand. I do believe I snuck in a smooch here and there. Usually when I do that one of the kids says, "Daaaaaad." I think I even asked if she wanted to go back to the car and neck. She just gave me the look. Husbands know what I'm talking about. Anyway, the museum at Mount Vernon was pretty cool. It had tons of historical artifacts, guns, swords, military and Revolutionary War memorabilia and plenty of information on the life and times of our first president. Did you know he didn't sign the Declaration of Independence? It seems he was off fighting the Brits and couldn't jet down to Philly to lend his signature to our country's announcement of independence.
After touring Mount Vernon for about four hours we headed up to Old Town Alexandria, about eight miles away. It's a cool place with colonial-style buildings full of restaurants, boutiques and other shops. We dined at Bertucci's Italian Restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed it. We talked without being interrupted -- except occasionally by the waitress -- and covered a lot of conversational ground. In closing, I highly recommend a trip to Mount Vernon as a getaway for couples. Inspiring, entertaining, enlightening, educational...they all apply. Oh, and fun.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Big Decisions, Part II

In early August last year, I e-mailed Adam Poole, the Calvary Chapel Corvallis pastor in charge of Cornerstone School of Ministry. I asked him if they were still accepting applications. I had done the same thing a year earlier, but was sufficiently vague about it that I'm not sure he knew my exact intentions. This time I followed it up with a phone call to him. I remember it was outside the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Newport News that I called him and I walked around the parking lot and told him what was on my heart: To head to Oregon for a year of Biblical training. He seemed pretty stoked about it -- we are friends and brothers in Christ, our wives our friends and sisters in Christ and Adam and Grace have four little boys and our families are friends -- and we agreed to pray about it. At that point I had about three weeks to make a decision. It all sounded so crazy, though. The logistics of traveling across the country, the financial aspect, the job situation, wondering where we would live...all those things that normal and sane people think about. I was telling Adam I was just having a hard time seeing how it would work out, that it seemed like it would take a miracle. "There's the parting of the Red Sea, the loaves and fishes and getting the Sabos to Oregon," I told him.

At the time I was reading daily in the book of Jeremiah and one morning I came across a verse that really spoke to me. It was Jeremiah 6:16: "Thus says the Lord: `Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is. And walk in it: Then you will find rest for your souls.' " What spoke to me about that section of Scripture was the `old paths,' which I equated to when we had lived in Corvallis and attended Calvary Chapel there. It's a wonderful church and the Lord's hand is truly on Pastor Rob Verdeyen and the people there. It was a morsel for me to chew on. Then a few days later I was reading in Jeremiah 15:19-21: "Therefore thus says the Lord: `If you return, then I will bring you back; You shall stand before Me; If you take out the precious from the vile, you shall be as My mouth. Let them return to you, but you must not return to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified bronze wall; And they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you; For I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord. I will deliver you,' says the LORD. I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem you from the grip of the terrible.' "

That section spoke volumes to me. Although in the context of the Scripture it was written by the "weeping prophet" Jeremiah during a dark time in Judah (the southern kingdom that fell to Babylon in 586 B.C., when Jeremiah was writing), it was an encouragement to go to the school, that the Lord would be with us on our trip and that He would bring us back. We would encounter travails but the Lord would deliver us. After I read that, I went to Julie and told her what was on my heart and what the Lord had shown me in His word. Her reaction surprised me.