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: