Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pearl 7: Strive for Balance . . . Anyway You Can Get It

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Good Morning, Sweethearts!  What a glorious day it is here on Possum Kingdom Lake.  I can’t wait for you to come down to visit Grandma and me here in God’s Country….better known as Texas.  On this first visit your mom and dad probably won’t let me take you out on the waverunners and we may not even get a boat ride in, but I promise you, we will do all those things and more one fine day, God willing.

Why do I say, “God willing”?  Because we really can’t know what the future holds.  Sure, we plan for the future.  It is always a good idea to try to anticipate what is going to happen tomorrow or beyond.  We should always hold on to our dreams and aspirations and work to bring them to fruition.  Certainly we need to think about the future consequences of our actions and try to make good choices.  But as much as we would like to think we are in control, like a popular ad on TV this spring says, “Life come at you fast”.  It isn’t easy.

So what can we count on in life?  Some people count on their own intelligence.  Many of the basic tenants of the Koran, the Muslim’s bible, deal with knowledge and the pursuit of it.  They call it “Ild” and Muslims, during the golden age of Islam from the 9th through the 11th centuries, pursued knowledge in every field from science and math to business and trade, from astronomy and philosophy to art and literature.  During that period the people of the Middle Eastern countries led the world in discovery at a time when most of Europe was mired in a period described at the Dark Ages. The early Greeks were obsessed with knowledge, particularly as it related to philosophy, art, architecture and politics.  People who count on their intelligence to carry them through life study hard, they learn as much as they can about everything they can.  Their intellectual pursuits are a driving force in their lives.  It helps them make sense of things and is a big part of their image of self-worth.  To these people, being intelligent is prized above almost everything else.

Some people count on their common sense.  These are the people who just seem to know, intuitively, the right thing to do and say.  People with great common sense are the best listeners and, often, are great communicators as well.  They tend to have great empathy and compassion for others and strive for balance in their lives.  Many people with high levels of common sense tend to put the needs of others ahead of their own.  Intelligence and knowledge are important, but not the driving force in their lives.  So which is best, intelligence or common sense?  That brings me to my next pearl.

Seventh Pearl:  “Strive for Balance….Anyway You Can Get It”

Intelligence and common sense are not mutually exclusive.  Many people have both, although not necessarily in equal proportions.  The pursuit of knowledge is important.  Without it one would find it very difficult to be successful in this modern and fast-paced world.  This is why, when you graduate from high school, it is imperative you go to college and, perhaps, even pursue an advanced degree.  You will need it just to compete.
But intelligence is not a god.  Intelligence and knowledge are not panaceas and they certainly won’t make you the most popular person in the class or the star of the basketball team.  Albert Einstein, the enigmatic and brilliant scientist of the 20th Century, figured out how to explain the equivalence between energy and mass, in direct proportion to the square of the speed of light in a vacuum, but he often forgot to eat, comb his hair and tie his shoes.  He didn’t have the common sense God gave a goose and, to my knowledge, he never won a personality contest either.

Common sense is a gift although most people are born with it.  However, it is one of those things of which people say, “Use it or lose it”.  One must develop their common sense and work at honing its use in life’s daily routine.  One must pay attention to what others say, give alternate opinion a fair hearing, consider carefully any response and use good judgment when it is time for action.  Therein lays true wisdom.

When the great Hebrew King Solomon, rightly considered to be one of the wisest monarchs in history, was presented with a dilemma he often used common sense to solve it.  Two women came before his court with a dispute concerning rightful guardianship of an infant child.  Both women claimed the child belonged to them.  Each argued her case vehemently.  King Solomon then declared he could not determine which of the women had rightful claim, so he decreed the child should be cut in half with one half going to each of the women.  One woman agreed, but the other refused, saying the division would kill the child and she could not allow that to happen.  King Solomon then banished the woman who agreed from his kingdom and gave the child to the woman who refused, saying only the real mother would have given up her child rather than see it put to death. 

But can we depend on common sense alone to carry us through.  I think not.  It requires both knowledge and common sense to make it in this world and I hope you strive for both.  If you are a little short on knowledge but have bags of common sense, or vice versa, I hope you marry well.  Choose a partner with the strengths you don’t have in abundance and that way when the two of you become one, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.  How do I know that?  Because your Grandma Vicki and I are living proof.  And one of the reasons we will be celebrating our 39th wedding anniversary this year is because we both eventually recognized and valued the strengths we saw in each other and understood that both knowledge and common sense were essential to the relationship and our future.  We are a good balance.

So go for balance….study hard, sharpen your gift of common sense and marry well.  Of course, there is more to count on in life than this, but give me a break, I am only on the Seventh Pearl. 

I love you bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pearl 6: Never Underestimate the Power of Prayer

Dearest Gehrig and Eliana,

Good afternoon, sweethearts.  Do you miss your Grandma Vicki yet?  She has only been gone about 30 hours now but she misses you already, as do I.  She had glowing reports for me on your progress; eating habits, pooping habits, sleeping habits and how she is certain you will both be the most intelligent, beautiful people on the planet some day.  I told her, heck, I think you are that now, even if you can only focus on things 12” away.  Still, your Grandma Vicki will always be concerned with your welfare, but knows she can’t spend every waking moment by your side.  That’s where prayer comes in.

When I was about 3 years old my mother, your great grandmother Ann (or as your mother used to call her when she was 3, “Gramma Nana”) taught me and my sister, Sandy (your great Aunt Sandra Kay Smith Evans), a prayer to say every night before we went to sleep.  It went like this:

Nowalayme downasleep
I prathe Lord my sowell takeep
Fishadi foureye wake
I prathe Lord my sowell to steak

Now before you get the impression your great grandmother was some mystic from an obscure Middle Eastern nomadic tribe or specialized in foreign languages from outer Mongolia, you must understand 3-year olds hear and recite phonetically.  And sometimes, they don’t get it exactly right.  Actually, it was years before I really understood what I was praying. From the last phrase I said each night, I figured it had something to do with steak, which I really liked, even at that young age.  As I finished the prayer, then, the last image in my mind was always of that thick, juicy charred meat my father always cooked to perfection on the grill and would cut into little mouth watering, bite-sized pieces for me.  But, I had it wrong.  It had nothing to do with steak.  The real prayer went like this:

Now I lay me, down to sleep,
I pray the Lord, my soul to keep.
If I should die, before I wake,
I pray the Lord, my soul to take.

When I got older and thought about those words and what they meant, it always seemed a little dark for a young person to be thinking about death every night right before they went to sleep.  Maybe that was why I was always afraid of the dark until I was in my early teens.  That and the fact I used to insist on watching creepy horror movies until past my bedtime.  Then consider my hyperactive imagination.  The result would sometimes be the scariest of dreams, which, invariably, had me running for my life from some grotesque monster or faceless grim reaper.  Yuk!

Culturally, I suppose the prayer made some sense.  Back in the 1940’s the infant mortality rate was 10 times what it is today and praying that one’s soul would be spared if they unexpectedly expired in the night probably made some sense.

Theologically, I suppose the prayer was sound because many young children in the Protestant faith (except for the Lutherans and the Episcopalians) were not Baptized in infancy and that decision was left to the discretion of the young person, sometimes as late as their teens or beyond.  This prayer acted as a substitute in that regard, I suppose, until that day eternal forgiveness came….a kind of backdoor protection plan.

The prayer was always followed by the “God Blesses”.  I was taught to always say, “God Bless Mommy and God Bless Daddy and God Bless Sandy and help Juddy (my mother’s awful nickname for ‘her angel’) be a good boy, Amen”.   Perhaps the last part was a fervent desire on my mother’s part to slow her little boy down because I could get into more trouble than you can imagine in the blink of an eye.  But that’s a story for another time.  What I am getting to, I guess, is the Sixth Pearl.

Sixth Pearl:   Never Underestimate the Power of Prayer

Prayer is a gift from God.  He gave us this gift to encourage us to talk to Him and to listen to Him.  Prayer is powerful.  Prayer works.  Jesus told us when we are down and out, to lift up our voices in prayer and promised that God, the Father, would hear and respond.  Now God’s answer to our prayers isn’t always “Yes”.  Sometimes, God says “No”, just like your parents do occasionally when you ask them for things (candy before bedtime, your own cell phone, the keys to the car).  It may not seem like it now, but your parents really do know what is best for you and so does God….even more so.  Just like you have to trust your parents sometimes even though you can’t understand why they are doing or acting a certain way, this is the way it is with God.  God asks us to trust Him and, in return, promises He will provide for our every need.  That happens through the miracle of prayer.

So if you are down and out sometime or feeling really low or if you think the world is unfair and things look hopeless, hit your knees.  Offer up a prayer to God and ask for His help.  He has promised to never leave you or forsake you.  It is then you will experience the real power of prayer.

Pretty heavy for two month old babies, I know.  Hopefully you will read this to yourselves one day when you need it the most.  But I promise you, as your mom reads this to you here in March, 2007, she finished it with a little prayer of her own, thanking God for you two beautiful, healthy, happy and perfect human beings and thanking Him for the love you give her and the love God gives her through you. 

I will write you again before I come up to see you in April.  Until then and always, I love you both, bunches and bunches.

Grampa Jud

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pearl 5: It's a Family Affair

Dearest Gehrig and Eliana,

Good evening, sweethearts.  Do you miss your Grandpa Jud?  I surely miss you both.  By now you have had a chance to meet and visit with your Aunt Brittany, or as we affectionately call her, Aunt Bits.  Brittany, of course, is your mother’s youngest sister and she is a load of fun.  Brittany has a special relationship with her Aunt Patricia, Grandma Vicki’s youngest sister.  They have gone to football games together, traveled to Cabo San Lucas together and every time they are with each other it is like an instant party, even though there is 17 years difference in their ages.  I hope you two have a special relationship with Aunt Bits the way she does with her Aunt, despite a 31 year difference in your ages.

When I was a teenager, I had a special relationship with my father’s younger sister, Aunt Ernestine.  I called her Aunt Ernie and she was the most "together” older person I knew.  She was a school teacher for nearly 50 years and she was very “hip”.  When she would come to visit, there was always a lot of laughter in the house and she made the place light up with her stories and her fertile imagination.  When she visited she would allow me to go out on dates with my girlfriend and use her “air-conditioned” car instead of my car, whose only air-conditioning was accomplished by rolling down all the windows.  She used to say, “You want a ‘hot date’ but not one who is perspiring all over you”.  That kind of leads me to my next "Pearl".

Fifth Pearl:  It’s a Family Affair

Family is so very important.  Whenever you are in need, you can always turn to family.  It is my hope you will never be down and out, depressed or suffer real need, but if you ever do, you can count on your family.  They are the ones most likely to accept you no matter what.  Family will most always support you, even if they don’t agree with you.  Family will always defend you and stand up for you when you need it most.  Family will always love you, unconditionally.

There may be some family members with whom you will become very close.  There may be others who are more distant.  Some families have members who have become famous, or rich, or have distinguished themselves in some significant way.  Got to love those folks.  I am sure you two will fall into that category.  Some families have members who are more infamous than famous.  We call them “black sheep”, but they are still a part of the family.  You can pick your friends, but you are stuck with your family.  In some cultures, family is everything.  La Familia!  In other cultures, family is a necessity for survival, and, in others, just a mere convenience (or inconvenience).  In our culture, family is still very important; more for the emotional and spiritual bonds rather than the economic bonds of a century or two ago.  Family life in America is changing.  Some do not see the value in family the way they used to.  Some people today are accepting of redefining the traditional family.  I believe they are the poorer for it.  You were born into a family that believes in strong family ties and support, both on the Smith and the Hebert side.  You are very fortunate and your lives will be much the richer for it.

So far, your exposure to our family has been rather limited.  You have met your Grandpa Ron and Grandma Kathi, and soon you will meet your Aunt Tracey, your father’s older sister.  You have been introduced to me and your Grandma Vicki, your great Aunt Ruthie and your Aunt Bits.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to say.  Family members from all across the country are anxious to meet you in person.  (They have seen your photographs and agree with us you are both gorgeous and perfect). 

I know you will get a chance to see your great Uncle David Matthews, Grandma Vicki’s younger brother (and his wife April and 2nd cousins Austin, Amy and Kristopher), great Uncle Kenneth, Ruthie’s husband, and their son, your 2nd cousin Patrick, and your great, great grandfather Dan Matthews.  There are a host of other relatives on both the Smith and Hebert sides of the your family and a few on the Hebert side who would love to meet you someday.  In a future letter, I will try to give you a family tree from your mom’s side and I am sure your father or Grandpa or Grandma Hebert will try to provide the same from his side.  I hope you know that even though I am using the word “side”, we all consider ourselves to be from one big new family.  For sure we are all a part of the family of humankind and that is a kinship we need to honor and celebrate.  After all, it is a family affair.

I love you both very much and can’t wait to see you again in a few weeks.  Until then, I pray that God will hold you both in the palm of His loving hand.
Grandpa Jud