Tuesday, December 21, 2010

To you: Love, joy, hope, peace and life

 It’s a good thing gift wrap was made from sturdy paper when my brother and I were kids.

We were gift tag stalkers and package shakers.

Whenever we saw our name on a present under the Christmas tree, we had to shake it, pick at the corners and try to lift the edge of the seam to get a glimpse of what was inside. If we’d had an X-ray machine, I’m sure we would have used that.

But one year that stopped. Not because we’d grown up – when it comes to Christmas, who ever grows up? – and not because we were finally listening to our parents’ plea to, “Quit shaking the packages.”

It stopped because our mother didn’t use gift tags that year. We didn’t know which gifts were ours until Christmas morning.

The next year, my brother didn’t tag gifts, either, and then my dad and I quit using them. And yes, there were times when the giver forgot who the gift was intended, so Bill might get a skirt, and I might get a dress shirt. But that just added to the fun and made Christmas morning more memorable.

God doesn’t tag His gifts, yet we always get something to cherish or sustain us. Talent and treasure. Humor and health. Food and breath. Quiet and laughter.

Best of all, we get His greatest gift, His love.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

That tiny baby, born in a manger, brings love, joy, hope, peace and life – here and in eternity -- to you. To me. To everyone.

What an amazing gift, and no tag needed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Antarctica trip brings true adventure

The Drake Passage isn’t for the feint of heart.

It’s 500 miles of open sea where the Atlantic meets the Pacific. The closest land is South America or Antarctica. Even travel brochures acknowledge that the passage is known for having the stormiest water in the world, making it an adventure to cross anytime.

But my brother, Bill Voige, says that bucking high waves is worth every rise and fall when you experience Antarctica.

He was one of 88 Americans who boarded the Clelia II Nov. 30, hit a heck of a storm Dec. 7 and left this landlocked Hoosier wondering if I’d see him on dry land again. The 290-foot cruise ship rocked, pitched and creaked all along its southbound trip. Here’s how Bill described the wild trip down, and the even wilder one back north:

“On the way down, the Drake lived up to its reputation. Think of the most severe turbulence you’ve ever experienced on an airplane and then imagine it going on continuously for three days and nights.

“But the trip back was even more exciting. For on that leg of the journey, we encountered a storm of breathtaking ferocity: 35-plus foot waves and 50-knot winds. To add to the excitement, during the storm a 2.5-foot section of deck railing broke loose and crashed through one of the windows of the ship’s bridge. The resulting onrush of water, wiped out our radar and most of our radios.

“Fortunately, we were able to use one remaining low-power radio to contact a nearby National Geographic cruise ship which pulled alongside and used a cannon-like device to shoot an additional radio to us. But we were still without radar, which made navigation somewhat risky. At one point, we were told the safest maneuver was to turn into the storm and use the engines to essentially ‘tread water’ until the storm broke, which might take three long days.”

It didn’t take three days, but watching the video that the Explorer crew shot could make you queasy as the ship crashes violently against waves, gets pummeled with water, and is tossed from starboard to port.

While the storm made the trip an international media spectacle, the two days passengers spent in Antarctica were nothing short of spectacular.

Bill compared the weather to a beautiful winter day in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where he lives. The sky was clear and blue, with temperatures in the 30s. (Ironically, the coldest day of the entire trip was Dec. 13, when Bill landed at Dulles International Airport in Reston, Va.)

The ship made four landings, giving passengers an intimate look at penguins, seals, birds and glaciers. The penguins have no fear of people, so they would get two or three feet from the thrilled tourists, most of whom were in their 60s and 70s; the oldest was 85 and the youngest was a man in his 50s who was traveling with his mother.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators regulates tourism in Antarctica, and it has some very strict rules:

>>Only one cruise ship can be there at a time.
>>No more than 100 passengers and guides can be on land at any given time.
>>Garments must be vacuumed before going on land to ensure that no seeds from other continents are introduced to Antarctica.
>>Visitors must pass through disinfectant stations leaving and boarding the ship.
>>Water can be taken onto the land, but no food of any kind.
>>Penguins always have the right of way.

No souvenirs can be taken, not even a rock, but -- and this was my biggest surprise -- there is a gift shop on Antarctica. It’s at a British scientific station, which uses the proceeds from sales of post cards and T-shirts to help fund the work done there.

When the Clelia II arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina, the ship was met by ambulances, fire engines, reporters, camera crews, and official representative of the British government, sent to see if they could be of assistance to two British expedition leaders.

The passengers, however, “weren’t exactly suffering,” Bill said. They were finishing dinner -- lobster, steak, champagne and baked Alaska.

Due to the complications encountered, Overseas Adventure Travel rebated some of the ticket price for this trip and credited each passenger $2,000 for another. Bill has already decided he’ll use it to visit Thailand in the spring.

Hey, aren’t there tsunamis there?

I’d like to think I would make the crossing to see Antarctica if the opportunity arose. How about you? If not Antarctica, what adventure would you like to take?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Building character, 6 minutes at a time

I’ve become a fan of the Hamilton Heights wrestling program.

It surprises me to write that because wrestling is as far from my peace-loving, non-confrontational psyche as the Arctic Circle is from Antarctica.

If you’ve never been to a meet, trust me when I say there can be more twists, entanglements and which-way-is-up holds in a 6-minute match than you’d see at a weeklong contortionist convention.

Yet, after spending approximately 15 years chastising my nearly 17-year-old son against rough housing, I now find myself yelling, “Sweep his legs.” “Flip him over, Christopher.” “Hold him down.”

Let me tell you: Soft, teenage flesh makes a heck of a slam when it hits hard rubber. I can’t help but wonder how a wrestler’s knees feel when he gets thrown to the mat after being lifted shoulder high into the air. My knees hurt in empathy all the way up in the bleachers.

Invariably, that’s when my eyes squint, my face grimaces and I mutter a parental “ooooo,” no matter what school the far-flung wrestler represents.

I’m not the smartest wrestling mom, mind you. In fact, the matches make about as much sense to me as advanced calculus. (Who am I kidding? Make that basic calculus.)

I rarely know who’s winning until the ref raises one boy’s arm. And it wasn’t until “my” third meet that I learned how to read the scoreboard. I’m starting to recognize when points are scored – still no idea how points are scored -- and I do know that when the ref slaps the mat and one side of the gym starts clapping, it’s a pin.

I also know that the boys work extremely hard to prepare for their matches. Practices can be exhausting. Coaches Rick Willoughby and Jason Reecer are respectfully demanding. Together, they’re working to build strong bodies and smart wrestlers.

There’s a camaraderie and solidarity among wrestlers that I haven’t seen in other sports. As each boy wrestles individually, HHHS teammates are on the sidelines, watching every move, encouraging loudly and cheering proudly.

Wrestlers have to shake off their losses or savor a win quickly when their match ends. After they get a job-well-done high five from each teammate, it’s time to focus on encouraging the next wrestler to do well. There’s no place in wrestling for sulking.

It might take years for me to understand the sport of wrestling, but I already know the point of Heights’ program and why it appeals to a pacifist. As these coaches train warriors, they're building the character of peacemakers.

Athletics are a valuable part of a child’s development. Add your comments about what benefits you, your son or your daughter has reaped from sports.