Tag Archives: grandparents

Unpotential Realized or Why I Never Ran for President

“You can do anything you want!”  I can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard those words in the context of some well-meaning adult encouraging some young person to tackle the next challenge in their lives. Everybody is on a quest (or encouraged to be on a quest) to do something…wait for it…AWESOME!

By the way…may I just mention that the overuse of the word, “awesome,” hurts my head?  I know that “awesome” is giving way to “epic” (how many “awesomes” does it take to make an “epic” anyway?), but still…awesome?  Seriously (which is also getting way too much play)…few things are genuinely awe-inspiring and I have not heard much recently that deserves the term…a Red Sox World Series win…maybe.  Or a child coming to faith in Christ.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch…I can remember believing as I was growing up, that I would one day run for (and, of course, be) President of the United States.  I didn’t….run, that is.  Along the way, despite my “potential,” I never had the opportunity to impress the voters with my calling to be their leader.  (I also didn’t have the half a billion dollars to pull it off, but that’s another story.)

But still it keeps happening…most high school or college or kindergarten graduation ceremonies are marked by someone in the room saying that the students can do anything they want; they can be anything they want.  They can scour the stars and boldly go where no one has gone before.  They can invent the next must need, over-priced electro-gadget.  They can solve all the world’s ills.  They can be President of the United States. 

(Oh, and not for nothing, but honestly, kindergarten graduation ceremonies?  What’s next?  “Ladies and gentlemen, we are happy to welcome you to this morning’s ceremony honoring the Hospital’s most recent “Womb Graduates.”  Yes, these students successfully negotiated the rigorous “Pre-Partum” course of study, featuring our most intense coursework [“Ultrasound 101 & 102,” “Nausea Inducement 220;” topped off by “Umbilical Cord Jumping 341”] and we are proud to recognize them as recipients of the prestigious “Post-Partum Prize.”  These are not ordinary scholars, ladies and gentlemen, these students have enthusiastically and successfully trod a path that few [well, everyone, really, but then announcing that wouldn’t be “awesome,” would it?] dare attempt.”) 

But again, back at the ranch…is it really the case that everybody can be anything?  Does everyone have the potential to hit life’s grand slams?  I think not.  And I think it’s a mistake to try to make people believe that.  That is, I believe, faux encouragement…and an impediment to helping people see genuine potential.  I think it’s more important to help people (particularly young people) see that they can find and know God’s purpose for their lives and cooperate with Him in making their way toward that.  In our “Everybody Gets a Trophy” world, we delude ourselves (and our progeny…but just for a moment because they eventually catch on) by insisting that there is an unlimited path toward societal definitions of success–that everybody is equally capable of climbing the highest mountain…of dreaming the impossible dream. 

By now you have likely decided that I am some curmudgeon whose mission is to dampen the spirits of anyone who comes my way.  Perhaps.  But I think more realistically that we, Christian parents, grandparents, leaders, and teachers, do our young charges a disservice when we direct them toward unrealistic (and unbiblical) ideas about success.  We better serve them, I think, when we encourage them to find and pursue God’s purpose for their lives.  Encouragement along those lines aligns with God’s intention for parents and grandparents and other influential adults in young people’s lives. 

In case you’re wondering…vocationally…I have had a reasonably successful military career; I have been blessed to be a local church pastor, a Christian and secular college faculty member, a seminary adjunct professor, and a health care administrator.  Things have been just fine…though along the way I have hurt people and strayed from my purpose.  I have messed up and been brought back by God into His gracious presence.  But I am not the President of the United States–that was Unpotential Realized.  That was not God’s purpose for me; He had other things in mind.  And, smack in the middle of God’s purpose, genuine potential is realized. 

Philippians 4:10-13, 10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”

Paul, speaking primarily here about material needs, makes, I think, a larger point about potential:  we should be content to find and know God’s purpose for our lives and rest in that.  Someone will be President; someone will scour the stars; someone will be invent the world’s next must need, over-priced electro-gadget.  But not everyone.  And more importantly many, given the right encouragement, might find and know God’s wondrous (though perhaps not presidential) purpose for their lives. 

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Cooper’s Mouse and the Train Ride

(Sorry, folks, a little departure from the usual themes…but this one has been cooking for a long time.)

There was a little boy named Cooper.  He didn’t pick his name, but he thought it was very special indeed.  Cooper’s mom and dad liked to take him places and show him things.  But sometimes, because he was a busy boy (that’s the word his mom and dad used; Cooper thought that they wanted to use another word, but they used “busy”).  Because Cooper was busy, he would like to have a toy or something else to play with on the trip.

One day, Cooper’s mom and dad got ready to take him on a trip on a very big airplane.  They were going to fly very far to see some people who loved them very much.  But Cooper thought that it would be very fun to fly with a mouse.  Now, there was no mouse in Cooper’s house (at least they thought so), so mom and dad had to find one.

Where to find a mouse?  And not just any mouse, but a mouse that would like to fly.  So, they looked.  First they looked at grandma’s house, but grandma had no mouse in her house.  If she’d had a mouse in her house, she would have made grandpa take it away.  There might have been some very, very loud talking about that.

Then they looked under the chair at the doctor’s office.  Cooper knew that there were often things under the chair at the doctor’s office.  One day, he had found some toenails under the chair in the doctor’s office.  Cooper showed his mom the toenails, but she did not seem as excited about them as Cooper was (Cooper sometimes does not understand why mom and dad don’t get excited about the things he finds or he likes as much as he does.  Like the day Cooper told his dad how much fun it would be to mow the lawn after dad got home from work.  Dad thought it was Cooper’s mom’s idea.  There might have been some very, very loud talking after that.)

Then they looked for a mouse at the grocery store.  Cooper wanted to ask the grocery lady if there was a mouse in the store, but mom thought that asking the grocery lady if there was a mouse in the store might not be the best idea.  Cooper’s mom thought Cooper should just look for a mouse while she shopped for snacks for the trip in the big airplane.  So Cooper looked and looked for a mouse in the grocery store.  He was sad when they didn’t find one.  So Cooper said to his mom (while she was paying for the snacks at the checkout line that beeped), “No mouse this time, Momma?”  Cooper’s mom said, “No mouse this time, Cooper.”  The lady behind them at the beeping checkout counter turned a very, very funny color–it was a color Cooper had never seen before.  Later on, Cooper’s mom told him it was “pea soup green.”  Cooper thought that he would probably not want to try pea soup after that.  While Cooper and his mom were leaving the store, the grocery lady and the lady behind them at the beeping checkout counter were talking.  It might have been some very, very loud talking.

Then they looked for a mouse at the gas station.  Cooper’s mom had driven to the gas station to get some gas for the car before they had to drive to the airport to get on the big plane.  While they were at the gas station, Cooper asked his mom if they could go into the gas station store and look for a mouse.  Cooper’s mom said, “Yes.”  So they went inside the store to see if there were any mice.  When they got into the store, Cooper’s mom went up to the cash register man to pay for the gas.  While they were in line, Cooper said, “Mouse, Momma?”  There were lots of people also in the line and they began to look very, very nervous.  The gas station store cash register man looked the most nervous of all.  And he was very quick to say (and kind of loud) that there were, “NO MICE IN THIS STORE!”  He said it so loud that Cooper thought that maybe he had done something wrong, but Cooper’s mom told Cooper that everything was alright and that they would look somewhere else for a mouse.  As they were leaving, Cooper noticed a couple of the people in the line seemed to get that funny pea soup color too.  Cooper was most definitely, positively sure that he did not want to try pea soup.

Then Cooper’s mom said that she had to go to see someone named Michael.  They were driving and, when they got there, Cooper saw that Michael had a really big place with his name on the front in giant letters.  Cooper couldn’t read them yet, but he saw them and his mom told him what they meant.  Cooper thought that it would be great fun to put his name on his house in very big letters.  Cooper’s mom seemed to know what he was thinking and said, “No, Cooper.”  Cooper hears that a lot.

When they got out of the car, Cooper saw that Michael’s place was just another store.  Cooper was a little tired of stores by now.  His mom said that it was just one more store and that they would go home after.  Cooper thought he would be good for his mom in the store and that maybe this might be the place where they would find a mouse.  Cooper began to get very excited about finding a mouse for the big airplane trip!

In the store Cooper sat in one of those big baskets with wheels.  There is a little basket place to put things from the store–sometimes Cooper’s mom tries to have him sit there but she’s mostly given up on that.  Cooper usually sits/stands/bounces/tumbles in the bigger basket part that is more his size.  That’s where Cooper was, in the middle of a really BIG tumble, when he spotted it.  “MOMMA!  A MOUSE!”

Cooper saw the mouse and was very excited; his mom was excited too; but there were other people in the store who did not seem very excited.  One lady (she had that pea soup green look too) dropped her basket and ran away.  Cooper didn’t know that some ladies could run so fast.  He also didn’t know why some ladies wear their pajamas to the store.  The basket the lady dropped fell over and many little jars of beads fell out and there were beads everywhere.  Cooper thought the orange beads were the prettiest.

Cooper pointed and said again, “MOMMA!  A MOUSE!”  And sure enough, there, hanging on one of those little hook things that hold store stuff, was a mouse.  It was in a plastic package and best of all, the mouse had some cheese!  Cooper said, “Mouse, Momma?” and Cooper’s mom, ever so glad to have finally found a mouse for Cooper, said, “Yes, Cooper.”

So Cooper’s mom picked up the mouse and the cheese in their little plastic package and they went to the front of Michael’s store to pay for it.  Cooper held the mouse and the cheese in the package and couldn’t wait to open it up.  In fact, he tried many times to open it up until his mom took the package from him and said, “Not now, Cooper.”  Cooper hears that a lot.

They paid for the mouse and the cheese and got in the car and went home.  When they got home, Cooper’s dad helped him open the package to get the mouse and the cheese.  The cheese was really big with big holes and the mouse could go in and out of the cheese and Cooper was very excited.  Cooper heard his dad talk to his mom and use a word he hadn’t heard before, “slimy,” but that was OK, Cooper was always hearing words he had never heard before.

Sometimes when Cooper heard a new word, his dad would be quick to say, “Don’t say that word, Cooper” (his dad would use the pretend dad mad voice, but he wasn’t really at all, ever).  It made him want to say the word even more, but he usually waited until he was alone or at his mom’s and dad’s friends.  When they were at his mom’s and dad’s friends, he would say the new word really loud.  Cooper’s mom would get a funny look on her face.  Not quite like the pea soup green, but funny.  It made Cooper laugh sometimes.

Anyway, the next day they all got in the car to go to the airplane.  Cooper saw that nearly everything would stick to the mouse and the cheese.  Cooper’s hair stuck to them.  Cooper’s flannel shirt bits stuck to them.  Other things of Cooper’s stuck to them too.  But Cooper’s mom didn’t think those things were very nice and she thought Cooper should leave them out of the story.  But after Cooper’s dad used his pretend dad mad voice, Cooper was sure he saw his mom and dad look at each other in the mirror in the car and laugh.  Cooper’s mom and dad don’t think Cooper sees what they do or say in the mirror, but he does.

They got to the airport, which was big.  And they went inside.  Cooper’s mom told him to put the mouse away in his bag so it wouldn’t get lost in the airport.  Cooper thought the mouse would get lonely.  But then he thought the mouse would just play with the cheese and be OK.  Cooper was so excited about the airplane ride that he almost (but not quite) forgot about the mouse during the whole trip to the faraway place to see the people who loved him very much.

They got to the faraway place after a very long time on the airplane and in a car.  Cooper didn’t know how long but he could tell it was a long time because his mom and dad didn’t seem to be as happy as they were when they got on the plane.  They met someone named Gramps and Granny Laura and they went to their house to stay.  When they got there, Cooper opened some presents and found a favorite one–he called it his keytarcar because it looked like a guitar and a little piano and it made very, very, loud electric noises.  Cooper liked to play and sing and dance with his keytarcar.  Cooper’s dad said to Gramps, “Thanks a lot.”  But he didn’t sound like he meant it; at least not to Cooper.

One day, Cooper was going with everyone on a train to a place called Boston.  Cooper didn’t know what a Boston was, but he thought the train ride sounded fun.  Cooper had never been on a big train before.  He had been on one of those little trains at the mall, but never a big train.  So they went.  Cooper asked if he could take the keytarcar with them.  Gramps said, “Yes,” but Cooper’s dad said, “No,” so they didn’t take it.  Cooper was sad; he was very sad–and a little mad.  Cooper’s mom saw that Cooper was sad and so she said they could bring the mouse!  Cooper said, “Cheese too, Momma?”  And Cooper’s mom said, “Yes, Cooper, cheese too.”  So they brought the mouse and the cheese on the train.  Cooper’s Gramps touched the mouse and the cheese and he used the same new word, “slimy.”

While they were on the train Cooper played and played and played with the mouse and the cheese.  He would look out the window and go from person to person to person to person to person.  And then he would look out the window.  And then he would play with the mouse and the cheese.  One time, the mouse fell on the floor.  Something stuck to the mouse.  Cooper was excited to see what had stuck to the mouse, but his mom wanted to wash the mouse first, so she did.  Then Cooper got the mouse back and he played with the mouse and the mouse fell on the floor.  Cooper’s dad picked up the mouse and gave it back to Cooper and said to be more careful.  Cooper was very good at very, very many things, but careful was not usually one of those things.  He heard that a lot, “Cooper, be more careful.”

Cooper played with the mouse some more and then it fell on the floor.  Cooper’s dad picked up the mouse and gave it to Cooper and said to be more careful.  Cooper heard that a lot.  But Cooper kind of liked this new game and so he played with the mouse some more and then it fell on the floor.  But this time his dad didn’t pick it up!  His dad said he couldn’t see where the mouse went!

Cooper was very upset.  Cooper was crying his very upset cry.  So they all looked and they looked and they looked and they looked but nobody could find the mouse.  Cooper was very upset.  Then, Cooper’s dad thought (he got that funny look on his face when he was thinking).  Sometimes Cooper thought that his dad’s thinking look looked a lot like his dad’s going to the bathroom look but he never told his dad that.

Anyway, Cooper’s dad said to Cooper, “I think the mouse is going for a trip on the train by himself.”  Cooper thought about this for a minute and wondered why the mouse would want to go on a train trip by himself.  Then Cooper thought that his mouse was very special.  Sometimes he heard his mom and dad say that his mouse was special but they said it in a funny way that didn’t seem to be quite what Cooper was thinking.

Cooper thought that a special mouse might want to take a train trip by himself.  But Cooper wondered where the mouse would go.  Cooper’s dad thought about that and said, “Well, maybe the mouse is going to see your cousins in Oklahoma!”  Cooper didn’t know where Oklahoma was but he knew he had cousins there.  He didn’t exactly know what a cousin was, but he knew that he had some.  They were all older than he was.  There was Shelby and Seth and Sophie and Staysha.  Cooper knew that all their names began with the same letter but he didn’t really know his letters as much back then.  And he wondered why, with so many letters (at least he thought there were a lot of letters), his cousins had all used the same letter to start their names.

His cousins had adventures too.  But they were usually with a six-foot tall chipmunk with a one-string ukulele and an 88 key piano playing platypus.  But that is for another story.

Cooper thought that it would be fun for his mouse to go to see his cousins.  Cooper wasn’t as sad anymore.  He was still a little sad because he missed his mouse, but he thought that, if his mouse was anything like him (and the mouse must have been like him because they played so much together), then the mouse would want to go on the train and see other things and people and his cousins and his dad’s stinky sister.  Cooper didn’t know if his dad’s sister was really stinky (and if she was stinky, if she stunk like Cooper did when he was stinky).  Cooper thought that maybe his dad was just being funny.  Cooper couldn’t always tell when his dad was being funny.  Nobody could.

Then Cooper thought maybe he’d have a stinky sister someday.  But he didn’t tell his mom and dad because they sometimes said in the mirror in the car that they didn’t know if they could handle two of him.  Cooper’s mom’s eyes got all big!  But he knew they would.  They loved Cooper so very much and besides, with the mouse gone, Cooper would need someone else to play with.

Cooper hopes to hear more about the mouse someday.  Cooper would like to play with the mouse again.  Maybe he’ll find the mouse in Oklahoma.  If you see the mouse, please tell him to call Cooper and let him know that he’s alright.

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