Foxes from the last several days: 

· I talked to a good friend from Nashville on Sunday night. How strange it is to know someone your whole life yet only brush the surface. Each one of us is a mystery. Each one of us is created Imago Dei—in the image of God. I’ve known her my whole life, yet “for who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” We surprise each other, we surprise ourselves. Our minds and bodies both make us human. Together they contain the galaxies of our souls. What a simple pleasure to make forays into someone else’s galaxy!

· This friend and I are both writing children’s books. Mine is entitled “Grabbling.” I drew from a story that my grandmother tells about fishing with her hands in Mulberry Creek. When I read the first draft to her, she just laughed and laughed—one of my favorite sounds. Putting the story down on paper and thinking about it brings me great pleasure. Also, the prospect of receiving Rachel’s book in the mail to read for the first time. E-mail, cell phones, Facebook, and Twitter are poor substitutes for receiving a package in the mail.

snake

· I spoke briefly with my friend John tonight. He and I haven’t talked since Christmas. When I think back over a sequence of minute events over the past two weeks that led to our conversation, I remember that I no longer believe in coincidence. We needed to talk, simple as that. Some of my stories and scars may give him hope. Thick trees and cool grass and bright flowers put down roots in the scorched places of our hearts. Ash feeds the soil. Our suffering feeds our own sanctification and can even be a catalyst for healing in other people’s lives.

· A tiny garden snake on the sidewalk in front of the house.

· A pedal falling off my bike and Lindsay coming to pick me up.

· Listening to my friends Aron Wright and Daniel Ellsworth play the WDVX’s Blue Plate Special.

· Eating the last of Justin’s candy cigarettes.

Mr. Millson

March 12, 2009

I first met Mr. Sid Millson in the 8th grade. After breaking the tibia and fibula on my left leg playing cornerback in the fall, I decided to rehab my leg the following spring by running track. Mr. Millson was my coach. He asked me run the open 400, 4×4 relay, and 4×8 relay. I ran with a limp, but I still won most of my races.

I got to know him better my sophomore year when he was my Biology teacher at David Lipscomb High School. If someone acted up in class, he would say, “I oughta beat you like a red-headed stepchild,” until a kid named Carter raised his hand and said, “I am a red-headed stepchild, and that kind of offends me.”

Those are the moments you cherish later on.

He had a tragic story. His mother fell through a rotten dock while pregnant with his younger brother. She skewered one of her legs on an old piling. Their family was in a remote area, so Mr. Millson’s dad decided not to take her to the hospital that night. Her leg was already so infected the next day, the doctors later had to amputate it. That was the first of many surgeries for his mother, and the first of his many stories that broke my heart.

He also told funny stories. Some friends asked him to house-sit when they went out of town. While snooping around in a hallway closet, he found a Flowbee. He’d seen them on tv, a combination hair clipper and vacuum. The idea was to suck the hair away from the scalp, making an even cut possible. Either Mr. Millson didn’t follow the instructions or the device malfunctioned: it ate into his scalp and blood went everywhere.

Mr. Millson didn’t have much hair left by the time I was in his class. He kept it buzzed and for good reason. An older man in the congregation he attended growing up would go along on the youth functions. All the boys loved him because he still knew how to have a good time. They decided to go swimming one day. The older gentleman stripped down to his suit and dove in. When his head broke the surface of the water, Mr. Millson saw something he would never forget—a thick cord of hair attached just above the man’s ear. It was plastered down the side of his face and reached past his jaw. The man’s wet combover looked like a misplaced ponytail. On that day Mr. Millson swore that if he ever lost most of his hair, he would shave off the rest.

He designated special days for cooking. He boiled some crawdads that I caught in the creek. He tantalized us all year with descriptions of his Creamy Cricket Soup. It wasn’t bad. He made the best omelet I’ve ever tasted. Secret ingredient: heavy whipping cream.

My senior year, I had Mr. Millson again for Environmental Science. After double-checking the floor’s load-bearing capacity with the architects of the new wing of Harding Hall, he installed a plastic swimming and put tilapia in it. We were going to grow some tilapia and eat them. That same year, we took a field trip to a water treatment plant in Smyrna. That’s the only time I’ve smelled an odor so foul that I choked back vomit, but it was still better than sitting in a classroom.

Mr. Millson was humble, eccentric, and generous. He couldn’t help but be himself and in doing so, he gave us the freedom to be ourselves. He took me under his wing and gave me two pieces of advice that have shaped how I view and engage in relationships with women:

1) “Rather than ask what you’re going to get out of a relationship, ask what you have to offer her. Leave people better than you found them.”

2) “Become the kind of man who will attract your ideal woman.”

In Mr. Millson, I saw someone who had borne the worst life can pile on a man—abandonment by his father, growing up in an orphanage, divorce, single parenthood, his second wife’s cancer.

In Mr. Millson, I saw someone who didn’t blame God but rested in him. Mr. Millson shone with God’s love.

He discipled me. He poured his life into me. He was my first mentor.

I grew up in a neighborhood called Laurelwood in Brentwood, Tennessee.strangepod2

The Little Harpeth River ran through my backyard. We had a deck with a grill on it and a mysterious rock wall cutting the backyard in half. I speculated whether it was built by Scotch-Irish immigrants or during the Civil War. I climbed the walnut, locust, and peach trees in the backyard and the green ash in the front.

My best friend Hunter lived three doors down, so in the summer and on warm days after school, I would grab my Abu Garcia fishing rod with a Shimano reel-I was very proud of it-and a small tacklebox with a Rooster Tail in the grasshopper pattern and some Panther Martins for backup and would walk down the street to his house. We knew the river for about a mile in either direction. Going to the left took us into Derby Glen, Belle Rive, and River Oaks. To the right took us through the backyards of our neighborhood and eventually to Wildwood, the neighborhood swim and tennis club.

Fun-Dip and Suicides

Wildwood was less than a mile away by bike. The grill next to the pool sold curly fries, Fun-Dip, and orange sherbert push-up pops. I learned how swim and how to play ping-pong and tennis there. I had crushes on some of the pretty lifeguards. I hated getting out of the pool at “rest period,” when only the kids sixteen years and older could swim. I witnessed my first act of pure cruelty in the section of the Little Harpeth behind the club. Two or three boys were catching crawdads and tearing their claws off for no particular reason.

Our church was another quarter mile past Wildwood. Three or four baseball diamonds surrounded it. Playing in a game on Saturday afternoon got you a free coke and candy from the concession stand. I always ordered a “suicide”-a combination of Coke, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, Orange Fanta, and Mountain Dew-and one of Willy Wonka’s finest creations-Runts, Gobstoppers, Nerds, or Spree.

She never told them

Many kind people lived in our neighborhood. Mrs. McCarty gave me piano lessons. She always complimented me, even though she must have known I never practiced, and she let me keep their dog when they went on vacation. She overpaid me every time. Mrs. Culp was an older woman whose house sat above one of the best bass holes in the creek. Her Jack Russell terrier, Bitsy, barked at us nonstop. Mrs. Culp would come apologize and offer us frozen Girl Scout cookies. She must have been lonely after her husband died. The Dinglers lived next door to Hunter. Their daughter Molly was a year older than us. They always let us and our other friend Michael lower their basketball goal to play “dunk ball.” Michael accidentally broke the rim off the backboard, but they weren’t as angry as we anticipated.

I knew the Harrells, Marshes, Hodges, Bradfords, Nixons, Ewings, Harrises, Dinglers, Haglands, Pattersons, Craces, and Gaineses. Apparently, Laurelwood was a hamlet for people of English descent. I avoided the anonymous woman who had curly black hair with gray streaks and was always out walking her two black Labs. She caught Hunter stuffing with firecrackers a bird we’d shot with our BB guns. We wanted to see what would happen. I knew our parents would have disliked what we were doing. We would have gotten in trouble, but for some reason, she never told them.snowday

Life Together

To me, a neighborhood was a place where my dad could borrow a wheelbarrow from Mr. Bradford. A place where, after Hunter and I collided on our bikes, Mrs. Dingler ran out of her house to help, as if we were her children. A weird lady who knew about endangered species of sparrows could prick our consciences: we should not destroy life simply because we could.

In our neighborhood, I rode my bike with no hands from the Wildwood to the “dead end.” I trick-or-treated with friends. I rafted on pool floats in our flooded creek. I caught a bluebird in an old hamster cage.

A neighborhood was a place where people cared for one another, no matter what their differences in race, religion, or creed were. A place full of contradictions: people waved for me to slow down when I was driving too fast, but their teenage children smashing our pumpkins. Even as I write this, I am aware of the homogeneity of Laurelwood. My neighborhood was an imperfect place full of wonders and disappointments. People lived life together because they somehow sensed that imperfect and often annoying people made for a richer life than a one lived in convenient isolation.