Unexpected Beauty

There’s something suspiciously miraculous about how much unexpected beauty there is in the world. But perhaps more miraculous still is the fact that humans (even those without eyesight) are able to see it. If they only will.

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“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” ~Camille Pissarro

“Unexpected intrusions of beauty. This is what life is.” ~Saul Bellow

“How beautiful are the feet of those who brings good news.” ~Romans 10:15

“Often unexpectedly, (our) brokenness lends itself to a spiritual beauty that could never be manufactured without it.” ~Anna Wishart

And finally, a moment of unexpected beauty from the film American Beauty.

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Quips and Quotes, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Love. Before It’s Too Late.


My dad, Bill Teemley, was ambitious, hard-working, and deeply conservative. I was a wildly liberal 23 year old who’d recently completed a “useless” Theatre Arts degree and moved back in with the folks.  Somewhere along the line a Game of Thrones-sized ice wall grew up between us. We barely spoke. Dad didn’t get me (I’m an only child, so everything is about me), and I sure didn’t get him. So I figured he never even thought about me. Still, with multiple non-job offers flooding in, I had time on my hands.

So I asked Mom what I could do about The Wall.

“Why don’t you go with him to pick up newspapers?” she replied.

Dad’s job as a newspaper dealer included picking up papers from the plant at 3:30 a.m. Seven days a week. So naturally my response was,

“Is there something else I could do?”

Mom looked at me and blinked.

So I told Dad I thought it might “fun” to go with him.

He woke me up at 2:30 the next morning. I thought I was in purgatory.

We drove to Denny’s where, to my surprise, Dad wasn’t a generic “hun” but a warmly hello-ed “Bill.” We avoided each other over omelets.

But the next morning, we actually had a conversation. It went something like this:

“Coffee’s sure dark.”


dennys-buena-parkFor three months, I went with Dad to pick up newspapers, always stopping at Denny’s, each time saying a little more.

We never had any Big Talks. But over those three months we slowly rediscovered each other. Nothing magical (unless you count being able to laugh together again magical). Just us.

When I finally landed a job and had to stop, I actually missed it.

Being a newspaper dealer, Dad had a couple dozen carriers, mostly college guys, who picked up their papers at 4:00 a.m. and disseminated them to the sleeping world. But every other week, one of them would fail to show up. And then Dad would have to deliver newspapers in the dark.

July 20th was one of those mornings.

I was still asleep when the phone rang. Mom answered it at her end of the house, but was suddenly next to me pushing on my shoulder:

“Honey, wake up. It’s about your dad…”

“Did they say–?”

She didn’t know any more than that.  She didn’t want to. Because if she knew more, it would make it real.

I drove us to the hospital through a sea of undulating hope and fear. Neither of us spoke.

When we got there, we gave them Dad’s name and were ushered into a room with a curtain. Suddenly Mom was the child and I was the grown-up. A doctor entered and pulled back the curtain. Mom gasped.

stock-footage-an-empty-emergency-roomThere was nothing there but Dad’s wallet and keys.

“Where did they…?” I began.

“I’m sorry. Mr. Teemley has passed.”

“No, wait, you mean they moved him to another–”

“Mr. Teemley is dead.”

“No. You mean…” If I couldn’t see him, he couldn’t be dead.

The doctor told us what little they knew: Dad had had a heart attack while delivering newspapers and been found several hours later. It was just enough to solidify the nightmare into a stony reality that we could never wake up from.

We drove home in silence. There were no undulating layers now. Only a grey, featureless sea of despair.

When we got home, I couldn’t cry. I had to be there for Mom. She moaned like an animal with its foot caught in a trap, never speaking any actual words.

Finally, a couple of hours later, I got up and thumbed through Dad’s wallet. It contained five photographs: One of Mom and four of me.

I called Mom’s sister and asked to her to tell everyone on both sides of the family.

Then I called my childhood best bud, Jeff, and asked him to tell all our friends. I was matter-of-fact. Monotone. I had to be.

“How are you doing?” Jeff asked.

And then I said what I hadn’t even known I was thinking:

“I never told him I loved him.” And the tears broke.

That was when Mom, as if released from a spell, suddenly stood up, crossed over to me and said, before enfolding me in her arms,

“You told him every day for three months.”

If you love someone—or, worse, if you fear you don’t—

Tell them you love them.  Now.

In memoriam:

I love you, Dad.

Always did. Always will.

Bill Teemley-mid 50s

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Memoir, Story Power | Tagged , , , , , | 84 Comments

Regrets: Do You Have a Few?

CaptureMy Featured Blogger this week is Addison of the blog site A Better Man. Singapore-based Addison is, by self-description, “always thinking about new ideas and ways of doing things,” and is passionate about teaching people to “improve the world by improving yourself.”

It’s been fun watching him grow from a guy with a promising idea to a better blogger, and no doubt “a better man,” with an ever-growing following.

      Time to jump in!

A Better Man

Think back on the past week. What’s your biggest regret? Did you tell a joke that fell completely flat, or walk into the wrong bathroom by mistake? Now think back longer. We’re guessing that if you’re recollecting your regrets from the more distant past, most of them aren’t embarrassing things you did or said. Chances are, most of them are things you never did at all.

Here’s a scenario adapted from Daniel Gilbert’s book “Stumbling Into Happiness”: Imagine you win a million dollars. You get the phone call, freak out, tell all your friends, invest all the money in the next big company — and then promptly lose everything. Okay, rewind. This time, you just won a million dollars, but you missed the phone call and they give the money to somebody else instead. In both cases, you made a mistake. But which one will you regret the most? Although…

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Useless Inventions

Inventions! Where would we be without them? Did you know that money doesn’t grow on trees! Someone actually had to invent it! Why? So we could use it to buy other things that don’t grow on trees, like: Computers! Airplanes! And toilet paper! Well…OK, that does kind of grow on trees. But the point is, inventions make the world a safer, happier, more livable place. Then again, some don’t.

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Posted in Culture, Humor, Quips and Quotes | Tagged , , , , , , | 29 Comments

My Scar Stories

1993-08-02 Ben Slide Rock State Park AZ 2

The Mother of All Calamities

When I hit 13, I was old enough to go on YMCA Caravans, cross-country trips in which two leaders and a dozen barely-teen boys would pile into a van and head for parts semi-known. My trips to Yosemite and the World’s Fair had a few snags. But the Grand Canyon trip was the Mother of All Calamities.

It was a busy summer and all the official vans were booked, so we were given an oxidized green airport limousine with eat-your-heart-out-Buck-Rogers fins that someone had donated to the Y after it reached the 100,000,000,000,000 miles mark.

On day one, in 113 degree heat, the brakes gave out and we sailed half a mile into the desert before nesting in a cactus patch. On day two, after just two hours back on the road, our transmission stopped transmissing. We spent the next two days at a tiny gas station/auto repair shop in the town of Tiny Gas Station/Auto Repair Shop, Nevada, waiting for it to be rebuilt. We slept (i.e. didn’t sleep) in the limo–like kippers in a tin.

By day five, our frantic parents were demanding the trip be cancelled, but we voted to keep going. We were going to have fun if it killed us.

It nearly did.

We made it to Oak Creek Canyon. Millennia before humans created fiberglass waterslides with names like The Black Hole, God created Slide Rock. We walked almost a mile on jagged pebbles, but it was worth it. Sleep-deprived, with nerves ajangle, we hurled ourselves into this wondrous cataract with ruthless abandon, sliding down again and again—until one by one we crawled up the bright red embankment, like an artist’s conception of evolving amphibians, and fell asleep.

For five hours.

In 109 degree heat.

When we awoke we were redder than the Sedona soil. We walked the crimson mile back, our sunburned soles pierced by flint fragments. Screaming all the way.

We sat in a stream near our campground, hoping our dead epidermis would float away in the cool blue water. It didn’t. We lay in our sleeping bags that night, moaning, and despite being manly 13-year-olds, openly crying.

The next day, the worst of us were taken to a clinic to have Buick-sized blisters lanced. It was the most severe sunburn the doctor had ever seen. We smeared our bodies with prescription ointment, weeping in relief. And then, somehow, we began to laugh again. We were brothers, we’d survived the unsurvivable. We’d bonded big time. And that made the misery almost worth it.

We did eventually make it to the Grand Canyon, after having all our money stolen, our brakes fail (again), our trunk catch fire while we were searching for the deer we’d hit, and…

Oh, yeah, the scar. That came 20 years later when the basal cell cancer—courtesy of the Arizona sun—was cut out of my shoulder. Now, when I see the scar in the mirror, I think, “Don’t ever do that again, you idiot.” But also…

Boy, I miss those guys.

To read my next Scar Story, click here.

Posted in Humor, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Extraordinary God


I prayed for guidance this morning, adding my usual, “Lord, you know I can’t do this without you.” Then I remembered the part I usually forget, “But with you, I can’t fail.”

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

What I Didn’t Expect Was…


Last weekend, while my wife was off leading a one-day spiritual retreat, I expected to spend the day polishing up our little tarnished patch of earthly paradise.

First, I expected to climb up onto the roof with my trusty electric blower and blast the burgeoning leaves out of the rain gutters, and then to clamber back down.

Leaves blown away: Check. Clambering back down: Well…

What I didn’t expect was for the blower’s electrical cord to catch on the bottom of the ladder and knock it over into the garden, nearly murdering my newly-planted fall flowers, and leaving me stranded on the roof. What I didn’t expect was for not a single neighbor to be near (“It’s Saturday, people!”). And what I didn’t expect was to have my own little unscheduled spiritual retreat. On the roof. In record autumn heat.

What I also didn’t expect was that, after a surprisingly sweet talk with God, someone would finally come along and set the ladder back up. Or that it would be the same mailman whose failure to pick up outgoing mail I’d been griping about all week. Or that he would turn out to be a young man (also named Mitch) who, like me, is perpetually lost in thought. Younger Mitch is clearly a poet. Or a graduate physics major. Probably both.

Finally, what I didn’t expect was that, after three additional hours of yard work in 93° heat, I would develop a minor case of heat stroke (dizziness, racing pulse, low blood pressure), resulting in yet another unscheduled talk with God. His message in a nutshell: “Slow down, buddy. You’re Older Mitch, remember?”

I then did a mental assessment of previous failed expectations and was surprised at how much I’d learned from them, and at how I felt about them now: they’d gradually been transformed, like that talk on the roof, into something sweet.

So I vowed, as I have in the past (but keep forgetting), to surrender my expectations and embrace the unknown. Because, if the saying “Expectations are premeditated resentments” is true (and it is), then its counterpart is also true:

Surrendered expectations are premeditated peace.

“For this slight, momentary affliction is producing for us a weight of glory that is beyond all measure.” ~2 Corinthians 4:17

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , | 50 Comments