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Blogger, Christ-follower, Encourager, Friend, Husband, Dad

Monday, April 14, 2014

Let's make history!

(photo credit: vimeo.com)

I want to begin this week’s blog with a heartfelt “thank you”.  Many of you shared wonderful comments on my blog (and in person) after last week’s posting about my Thingy.  The fact that you took the time to do that really means a lot to me. 

It may seem like this blog is about me.  After all, I am always telling my own stories.  I addressed this in a previous blog (“Dear Column Boy …”, December 10, 2012).  But honestly, this blog is about us. My perspective is that we are sharing the journey of life together.  I just don’t have to get written consent from me to share my own stories.

But I really am telling our story—yours and mine.  When I point out the humor in a situation, I want you to see the humor in your own life. Hopefully, the result will be that none of us takes ourselves too seriously.  When I talk about struggles, I want you to identify and remember that life ain’t always a bed of roses.  (This is why I write blogs columns, not articles. Articles are written by journalists who never get to use the word ain’t unless they are quoting someone.)

Whether we are laughing together or crying together, I want us to remember together that our lives matter to God.  Whether you are in His family yet or not, your life matters to Him.  Our stories are weaving in and out of His story.  In fact, I like to take out the space between the words “His” and “story” to get “history”.  Hindsight is only 20-20 if we look back and see the hand of God as He uses us to make history (His story).

Our lives also matter so much to Him that He doesn't want us only considering His story when we are looking backward.

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, The Message)

“I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out — plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I'll listen. When you come looking for me, you'll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I'll make sure you won't be disappointed."  (Jeremiah 29:11-14, The Message)

Did you catch that?  “When you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”  We won’t be disappointed because our greatest desire will be to find God in our story.

I have no idea what next week’s topic will be or what story I will tell.  But I’m glad we are sharing this historical (and sometimes hysterical) journey.

Question: What will you do today to focus on making history?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your story.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hand me my Thingy.

(Grandpa & Thingy, April 5, 2014)

Have you ever had those moments when you needed something, but you didn’t know what to call it?  Maybe you called it a thingamajig, a doohickie, a whatchamacallit … but when you got it, you knew that it was absolutely perfect for the task at hand.

Our family has a Thingy. Her name is Sue, but to all of us, she is Thingy.  The whole story of how she got that name is “need to know”, so if you don’t know …

Thingy became my step-mother in 1985, a little over a year after my Sweetie became my Mrs.  I don’t think it is too strong a statement to say that, in many ways, Thingy and Dad rescued each other. If it wasn't a match made in heaven, it has been, at the very least, a great partnership and grand adventure. 

She has been Thingy to us from the beginning.  When Mrs. Sweetie and I called to tell them we were expecting their first grandchild, we told her she was going to be a Grand-Thingy.  It didn't take long for the grandchildren to simply make it Thingy.

She has filled our lives with laughter (often at her expense), wisdom (she is not particularly hesitant to share an opinion), fun (yes, “Thingy” fits), and a visible example of strength and courage.  Thingy has been completely wheelchair bound with Multiple Sclerosis for the past 20 years.  That is as long as some of her grandchildren have been alive and I’m not sure that any of them have anything more than a vague recollection of her being able to walk.  Thingy’s wheelchair has been a part of our lives.

(Thingy being Thingy, April 5, 2014)

Last September, she was diagnosed with cancer.  Surgery to remove her bladder came in October.  Two weeks ago, tests revealed that the cancer has returned aggressively and is in lungs and liver and is spreading through her bloodstream. It appears that, in a few short months, God is going to say, “Hand me my Thingy.”

She had all her kids and grand-kids with her this past weekend.  We laughed, told stories, and made plans for her memorial celebration.  We all went together to her church, where she led the children’s sermon. There were some tears once in awhile, but it was not a somber time.  She told me she doesn't want any “draggy” songs at her memorial celebration.  So I promised her none of us would come in drag.

Since my life is lived out in my column/blog, I knew I would be writing about her at some point.  I decided I wanted to write it now, while she is still here to read it.  So, indulge me for a moment. 

Thingy, I love you with all my heart. I could not have asked for a better partner for Dad, a second mom for me, or a better Grand-Thingy for my children.  Someday we are going to run laps in Heaven.

The wheelchair stays here.

Monday, March 31, 2014

That reminds me of a story ...

(photo credit: goinswriter.com)

“My dad has a song and a story for everything.” For years, this has been favorite son’s assessment of my approach to life. I probably got it from my dad, who got it from his.  I can’t wait for the day that one of my grandchildren says something similar about my son, an actor who not only tells the stories but dramatizes them in grand and entertaining fashion.

I have to admit that, for me, life really is a series of stories.  Perhaps “series” is not the right word, because that implies sequence.  Maybe life is a “tapestry” of stories, with threads of one story interwoven with others. 

This morning I read Psalm 90:1-2: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

Thirty years ago, I performed my Senior Voice Recital at West Texas State University (now West Texas A&M) to complete my Bachelor of Music Education degree.  The final song on my recital program was called “The Prophet’s Prayer”, an aria from the opera “Samuel”, written by my voice professor, Royal Brantley.  Mr. B was more than a professor; he was a mentor and father figure.  For 4 years, I spent at least an hour a week with him, one on one in his studio.  Besides singing, we talked about life and spiritual things.  He told me early on that he was Methodist by heritage and Presbyterian by association.  He also told me that his family had a long running aversion to Baptists.  We laughed about that a lot.

(Royal L. Brantley, photo credit: wtamu.edu)

When Mr. B introduced this aria to me as a possibility for my recital, he told me about his fascination with the biblical character Samuel, whom he described as a circuit-riding preacher.  When he wrote his opera, he had Samuel singing Psalm 90. Psalm 90 is likely the earliest of all the psalms recorded in the Bible.  It was written by Moses at least 300 years earlier and likely would have been well-known by Samuel.

Through those many hours and in the years following, I came to a conclusion about Mr. B. A world-class baritone, he turned down many opportunities for advancement of his career, choosing to spend almost 40 years at a small university in the Texas panhandle, investing his life teaching young adults.  When I preached the message at his funeral service (at his request), I noted that he was, in many ways, a Samuel who spent his life anointing generations of Davids to fulfill their calling.  (1 Samuel 16).

Who’s your Samuel--I mean the person(s) who helped set you on the course to fulfill your calling?  Who’s your David—the person into whose life you are investing?  Our lives matter so much to God that He is constantly weaving us through the tapestry of His story.

And that reminds me of another story …

Leave a comment below and tell me about your Samuel.  I'd love to hear your story.

Monday, March 24, 2014

No, My Deer!

(photo credit: gaudette-insurance.com)

When I was a young buck, I had visions of being a chick magnet.  Now, I didn’t use that terminology because it hadn’t been invented yet.  We had chicks, of course, and we had magnets, but we had not put those together in a phrase that means “he attracts all the girls”.  The girls I attracted were either in elementary school or in the senior adult Sunday School class, which doesn’t do a lot for your teen heartthrob image, but really does make you feel good and enhances your image as a really nice guy. Thirty years ago, I attracted the chick now known as Mrs. Sweetie, so it all worked out great.

Yesterday after church and lunch, we were headed home with visions of a Sunday nap dancing in our heads.  Mrs. Sweetie was driving.  Fewer than five miles from our house, a kamikaze deer decided that it must cross the road at that precise moment or it would be late for a very important date.  As I said something to the effect of, “No, you stupid deer,” Mrs. Sweetie tried to slow enough to avoid it without swerving off the road.  She missed missing it by about two feet.  A solid impact on the front driver’s side bumper sent the deer tumbling.  As my Mrs. pulled over to the shoulder, I looked back to see if the deer had landed in the road. 

I turned just in time to see the car behind us hit the second deer.

To make a long story short, we ended up with two dented cars and two apparently bruised deer that disappeared into the trees and got to their appointment with quite a story to tell.

Several months ago, while driving late on a rainy night, Mrs. Sweetie had to straddle a deer carcass on the road.  Her van is really low to the ground and it was quite an impact.  While recovering from the shock of the impact and trying to get pulled over, she didn’t see a red light.  To make a long story short, she got a ticket for the red light, but it was dismissed a week later when the police chief heard about the circumstances.

Life is full of adventures.  Some good and some … not so much. There is something about knowing that God is with us on the journey that helps keep it in perspective. “I am with you always.” (Jesus, Matthew 28:20).  Our lives matter so much to God that He does not want us to travel solo.  When we choose to follow Christ, He not only accompanies us, He leads us on the adventure. The path is not always smooth, but as Corrie ten Boom said, “When God leads us on rocky paths, He gives us strong shoes.

I told Mrs. Sweetie that she is obviously a deer magnet. And then I told her that’s how she got me. I’m not sure what she meant when she said, “Yes, dear.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

Don't hide your Green!

(photo credit: coolchaser.com)

Back in the day, the number one priority on March 17 was to wear green that was subtly hidden amongst other dominant colors.  Everyone knew that if you had the misfortune of forgetting to wear green on St. Patrick ’s Day, you were going to be pinched all day long.  But in my elementary school (seriously back in the day), there was another rule: if someone pinched you and you were wearing green, you got to pinch them back.  As a result, we strategically avoided the blatantly kelly green shirt, opting for a deep forest green pinstripe that was barely visible on the orange background.

That was back in the day.  All that pinching now would result in a charge of bullying and somebody’s getting a suspension.

Back in the day when I was a pastor (not as far back), one of our youth group’s high school students came to church on Wednesday evening on St. Paddy’s wearing a green t-shirt that said, “Kiss me. I’m Irish.”  I enveloped him in a bear hug and planted a big ol’ sloppy one on his cheek right in front of God and a fellowship hall full of church members eating supper.  Everyone got a big laugh.  I had the kind of relationship with that young man that I knew I could get away with it.  We are friends to this day (although I’m pretty sure he burned that shirt when he got home).

I grew up in a town whose school colors were green and white.  I have lived for most of my adult life in a town whose school colors are the same.  Folks in these towns wear their green proudly many days of the year, and on those Friday nights in the fall it is almost expected.  Pinching, of course is likely to result in either a fistfight or a date, so it is not encouraged.

Some of you have gotten this far and are wondering, “Is he ever going to make a point?” I often wonder that myself as I wander through these weekly compositions.  My point is this: don’t hide your loyalty.  When you think of St. Patrick, what comes to mind?  Green!  Unfortunately, it may be limited to shamrocks, green beer, the Emerald Isle, and pinching.  We don’t often give much thought to the 5th century missionary known as “The Apostle of Ireland”.

(photo credit: episcopalnet.org)

Though none of us are likely to ever have a day set aside in our honor, we are all noticed by someone.  Someone is watching to see where our loyalties lie.  Someone is noticing the consistency (or lack thereof) of our lifestyle.  Here’s a great question: how can we wear our faith “colors” as proudly as we wear those school colors?

Jesus said it this way, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:16, New Living Translation)

Every day is Jesus day. Don’t hide your colors.

Question: When you think of wearing your "faith colors" what does that look like to you?

Leave a comment.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ahhh! I’ve Got to Get Out of Here!

(Photo credit: timmybrister.com)

(Note: This was written almost a week ago.  I was in such a rush to get to the airport that I did not have time to post to the blog.)

Do you know the worst part of travel?  Could it be the checklist?  Have I packed everything?  Clean underwear (as opposed to dirty?) … check.  Passport (thanks to last minute reminder by Mrs. Sweetie) … check.  Medications and cpap machine (didn’t have to worry about those when I was young) … check.  Ok, there’s the packing part!

Have I set my email auto response so people will have some patience with me when I don’t immediately answer (good luck with the patience part) … check.  Have I done my weekly email newsletter so people know what is going on in our ministry this week … check.  Have I written my newspaper column/blog so I don’t have to do it from my phone while traveling (done before, but not the easiest thing in the world) … check … ing.

The checklist is not the worst part.  I am going to forget something.  And it’s going to be ok.  No, the worst part is glancing at the clock while I am trying to get everything finished so I can get out the door to the airportAhhh!  I need to be gone in an hour and I’m still typing!

I talk to people all the time about trying to eliminate busyness and hurry from their lives.  I try really hard to actually DO what I SAY, but it is a constant struggle.  I wrote a book a few years ago about cultural indicators.  It is out of print now, but I am working on a revision to be released next year. (You can be sure that I will let you know when it re-releases).  One of the cultural indicators I mentioned was the Adrenaline Culture.  Our lives tend to move at such a pace that we have an almost constant flow of adrenaline as we try to keep up with the pressure.  Ahhh! 

When we slow down enough that the adrenaline slows, something doesn’t feel right. We miss the rush.  We wonder what we have forgotten. Surely life can’t operate at a leisurely pace. Dude!  We are junkies!  (And I am down to 55 minutes!). 

Although I can’t do much to fix this morning’s pace, I’m going to keep working on it and keep talking about it and keep on trying to—in the words of one of the greatest quotes I have heard in years—“ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from my life.

Jesus said, “Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are? … And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” (Matthew 6:26,30, - New Living Translation).

Our lives matter so much to God that he wants our Ahhh! to have the tone of contentment rather than panic. I’m headed there.  Are you?

Question:  What can you do to "ruthlessly eliminate hurry" from your life?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Saying Goodbye to a Fetching Friend

This is my favorite picture of Cinnamon Sprinkles (June 12, 2002 - March 1, 2014)

As a 20 year pastor, I conducted hundreds of funeral services.  Even during the past 6 years ago, I’ve conducted a few.  There are people who remind me once in awhile that I have promised to conduct theirs.  I tell them that my schedule is booked for the next 10 years, so they are not allowed to die. So far, most of them have cooperated.

As a dad, I have conducted a number of pet funerals … cats, dogs, lizards, goldfish.  I dug a grave and then the family gathered and we thanked God for how much each pet blessed our lives. Then everyone else went back to the house and I finished the burial. 

This past weekend, I had a solo funeral for the first time.  When teenagers get puppies, you don’t think about how the teenagers are going to grow up, move away, and leave you with old dogs. We got two Golden Retriever puppies from the same litter (although we got them a couple of weeks apart) in August, 2002.  When Cinnamon Sprinkles arrived at our house, she already had that registered name. Mrs. Sweetie said it sounded like the stage name of a stripper.  How she would know …

She was a man’s dog from the beginning.  The first day we had her, she followed me around like, well, like a puppy.  She was to be favorite son’s dog and she was raised like an almost 12-year-old boy would raise a dog.  They wrestled, played ball, and swam in the pool while her sister, Kiley Ann, was being groomed and snuggled by a 14 year old girl.  Kiley still thinks she is a 75 pound lap dog.

Cinnamon loved playing ball more than anything.  She would fetch until the ball-thrower’s arm was worn out.  Even after she developed the cancerous tumor on her foreleg a couple of months ago, she would limp over to me with her ball when I went out to feed them.  Feeling sorry for her, I would gently toss it just a few feet so she wouldn’t have to go far.  Over the past few days, when she even lost interest in her ball, I knew it was time to make that final agonizing trip to the vet’s office. 

That solo funeral was a lot harder than I expected and it reminded me of a couple of things.  One is the power of family.  Regardless of the source of grief, when family leans on one another, we are stronger. The other is a response I sent to a friend who sent a text message of condolence. I wrote, “Thanks. It is a part of the journey. The only way to miss this part is to skip the good part.

Our lives matter so much to God that He has given us the capacity to FEEL. If we could not feel grief, we would not be able to feel joy. Today, I am incredibly thankful for both.

How do you embrace the power to feel?

Leave a comment.  I'd love to hear your perspective.