Man

 

I have a friend named Man. He entered my small group of those I call friends about a year ago. I have just a few people in my life that I elevate to status of “friend” but I’m proud to say he is one of them.

We were introduced by our pastor. Emails, turned into occasional trips to hang out at a local restaurant, to laughing at each other’s dry humor, to being vulnerable and admitting to one another that we don’t have it figured out and that life is full of some really hard challenges

Man has put up with a lot of my difficultisms….when we first me I was sure I could answer all the questions he had about Christ, Christianity, the bible and so on. I soon discovered that it wasn’t the brain he was so much worried about as it was the heart. I swallowed my humble pill.

I’ve been going through some challenges over the past year and Man will sit and listen to me dominate the conversation for 85 out of 90 minutes. The next day I will feel bad and text him to apologize for talking so much. He always says to stop apologizing for that

Man puts up with my moods. Sometimes I happy and sometimes I’m a grouchy old bear. Man never seems to waiver. He just eats this weird stuff called Kuchen (dessert from hell) and lets me ride my roller coaster

Like a good friend can, Man knows when life is biting me in the butt even when I am not around. I will get this out of the blue text from him simply asking “Everything OK?” Its as if God has hardwired him to know when I’m down. It is almost creepy at time.

I appreciate Man because he lets me be excited for the often odd things I enjoy. He will ask penetrating questions as though he is equally enthralled. He has patiently listened to me talk about woodworking, butterfly gardening, a scribble-scrabble Easter cartoon about Jesus that made me tear up and funny twitter sites – never once seeming annoyed or wanting the conversation to change direction

One of Man’s great strengths is his love for truth. He is big on truth. He will tell me if he disagrees with my thoughts – and I like that. No fake patronizing. Because of that his opinion means a lot. He isn’t going to say what simply makes me happy, nor will he lie to me. Rare.

In “Old Dogs Children and Watermelon Wine”, Tom T Hall says “Friends are hard to find when they discover that you’re down.” Brother that is the truth. I’ve noticed in my life, the real friend is the one that runs to you (like a fireman to a fire) when your struggling in life. The real friend is the one that hurts when you hurt, and doesn’t drown it by cheap “I’m praying for ya” platitudes

I’m hurting right now. A lot. I’m dealing with a string of events that I’m not overly surprised to be dealing with, but it is still painful. Man is there. And I’m happy that he’s there. God put him in my life just early enough for me to trust him and his friendship.

Someday this darkness will pass. And the sun will shine all the brighter. But while the shadows of darkness loom, I’m glad to have such a buddy in my life.

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They Are Back

bee

Right there on that purple bee balm – a big fat bee! I love my buzzing buddies. My garden as I’ve noted before is full of butterfly/hummingbird and bird attracting plants. Now I am not an expert on identifying what kind of bees they are – I just enjoy hearing them buzz around

It is fun to be right in the midst of dozens while watering or deadheading. Not once have I been stung. Its as if they know my intentions. I have read that an average bee will visit 5000 plants in a day. So it’s hardly like my place is the only location they stop at! I feel so used…..

Unfortunately this year the numbers are down. I’m not an expert but I think the extremely mild winter we had didn’t do them any favors. That is just a guess, but here we are in early July and I can tell we are off in numbers considerably

They are not alone. Butterflies are down as well. They are probably more noticeable in low numbers that bees. They are simply not here. It is worrisome. Small eco changes like that are never good. The small always indicates what is coming to the big.

I love my “mess” of a garden. There is no rhyme or pattern to it. Which is exactly my purpose. When butterflies are in the wild they do not see overly organized and plants arranged by color – they see a jumbled mess of plants, weeds, grass, vines…so I try to duplicate that by not overly organizing my garden. It really is a Golden Corral for butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.

HB

This just happened!! A hummingbird visit my black and blue salvia!

I am not a fan of summer. I don’t like the heat, don’t like pools and beaches. And the one thing I used to love about summer (Reds baseball) is no longer accessible to me. My new guilty pleasure has been watching nature enjoy what I stuff in the ground for her to enjoy!

 

Am I Greedy?

May is here, and with it comes plenty of blooming flowers. We had a dry March and April – but both were above normal for their temperatures. Because of that, plants broke ground early. As of this morning here is a view of my garden:IMG_0361Lots of flowers, mostly butterfly and hummingbird focused, are bursting and ready to give us their colors

I’m happy right? I am jumping for joy. Well…….

If you look near the center of the picture you will see a bare patch. Nothing is growing. Last year I had a beautiful lantana plant growing there. And behind it I had a Russian Sage. This is what they look like right now

IMG_0360Just woody gnarls. For some strange reason they didn’t make it through the winter. For the past month I have kept a close eye on them waiting for either to show something green. But here we are in early May and nothing. This means they died.

In total I have close to 30 flowers in the ground. It is looking like I lost 4 this winter. These two and a Gaura and Tropicana Cana Lilly plant. That is actually a terrific success rate. But those losses bugged me. And I think deep down it is greed.

When it comes to landscaping/gardening, winter kill is to be expected. Even the best horticulturists lose plants to the winter. I have lost plants in the past. A plant will cost ~$10, so in total I lost $40. Not a big deal. But this has gnawed at me for weeks.  I wanted every plant to return. Is that greed?

There is the story in the bible about the lost sheep. The man had 100 sheep in his flock and noticed one missing. He drops everything and goes and finds it. Peter Kreeft, the wonderful Christian scholar out of Boston College, has pointed out that for Jesus 99 was too few and one was too many. A classic Christian paradox. No number other than all (100) would suffice

I would like to say that is my dilemma, but that would be to mock the parable. Truth is I am greedy. Instead of enjoying the 90% of flowers that returned and simply replacing the dead ones, I became infatuated with the few that didn’t make it

Later today I head to the nursery for replacements.

 

23 years ago yesterday

Growing up in Cincinnati, you cannot help but get pulled into baseball – at least in April. I was born in the middle of the Big Red Machine era. The Reds from 1970-1978 have been considered one of the greatest teams assembled in baseball history.

Unfortunately by the early 80s the wheels had fallen off the Big Red Machine. Most of the key parts had moved onto other teams. But still, we were only a few years removed so there was always that hope.

For a boy, going to your first baseball game is a rite of passage. More so than football or basketball. There is something about that first game! I took my son to a minor league game last year. Just wasn’t the same so I still consider him not having been to a real baseball game yet

One evening in April 1983 my dad came home with two blue “things” sticking out of his shirt pocket. I heard him mumble something to my mother, then he said “These are tickets to a Reds game next week – want to go?” Want to go? What kind of question is that to a third grader who has never been to a game! Heck yeah I want to go! The tickets were for Friday night April 22.

Reds Tickets 1983

Reds TIckets – 1983

The school week drug on for years. I distinctly remember that day at school. My teacher, Mrs. Rudisill was as excited for me as I was. And it was a gorgeous spring day in Cincinnati. Picture perfect for baseball.

It was home. Wait for dad to get home. Then onto I-75 South towards downtown. My dad had this “thing” with finding a meter to park at instead of paying for parking. I never understood until I started driving on my own and realized that paying to park was insane!

Riverfront Stadium was one of the classic 1970s “bowl shaped” stadiums that was built with astroturf and designed to host football and baseball. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Atlanta had very similar venues. I remember walking across the walkway going over Ft Washington Way with glove in hand. Our seats weren’t shabby. We were in the blue seats – this was the lower level and we were about 20 rows up from the Reds dugout and on the aisle. I mean these were outstanding seats!

Riverfront Stadium

The pitchers that night were Steve Rogers for the Expos and Frank Pastore for the Reds. Steve had a few good years in the 80s, while Frank was an average pitcher – nothing spectacular. Unfortunately the night belonged to the Expos. Gary Carter hit two 2-run homers (both with Al Oliver on first after drawing a walk). The Reds – never crossed the plate. Steve Rogers pitched a complete game shutout 4-0

Gary Carter – catcher

Here is the actual box score from that game:

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/box-scores/boxscore.php?boxid=198304220CN5

As it turned out, I was as close to catching a foul ball that night then ever. I did have a friend once snow cone a foul ball of Barry Larkin’s bat in April 1989. He was sitting two seats down from me

Frank Pastore would go on to become a Christian radio personality on the west coast. He had a very large following in California. One day in November of 2012, he wrecked his motorcycle and would ultimately succumb to his injuries on December 17

Gary Carter would go on to win a World Series with the Mets in ’86 and get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. In May 2011 he went to the doctor due to experiencing headaches and memory loss. While running tests they discovered he had four malignant tumors on his brain. He would die in February 2012 – not before becoming very public about his faith in Christ. Much of his biography was written about his faith.

I wrote last year about my mom dropping friends and me off for Reds games. I literally grew up in Riverfront Stadium. I had a view from a nearby building the morning the imploded it in December 2002. Great American Ballpark was constructed but I will always miss Riverfront (***the naming rights to Riverfront was bought out by Cinergy in 1994 and thus became Cinergy Field during its last years)

I have been to many, many sporting events, but few will stand the test of my memory like the Reds vs Expos on Friday night April 22, 1983!

 

April Showers

Call we weird, but I love rain. I don’t necessarily care for driving in it (I had a hydroplaning accident in May 2009). Rain gives me a calming effect. I like to sit underneath a covered patio and just listen to the rain fall.

Some of my best memories fishing was in the rain. I have seen small creeks, maybe 3-4 foot deep, swell outside of their banks in a few hours due to a storm that had rolled in. As a kid when my buddies and I would go to Reds games, we loved rain delays. 75% of the fans would leave which turned the stadium into a playground for us youngsters.

I don’t see kids playing in the rain much anymore. As if a rain cloud is going to kidnap their kid, or if they get wet and muddy….well that stuff might not come off.

Yankee candle has a freshly fallen rain scented candle. They have had this scent for years which tells me I am not the only guy out there with an emotional attachment to rain.

Rain is often looked at unfavorably. The late Keith Whitley spoke about “I’m No Stranger to the Rain.” rain of course representing angst and struggle. We might say someone is a “black cloud”. This meaning they don’t bring light/brightness with their presence. And I get it. But that doesn’t work for me. I love rain.

Right now….it is raining, but it is supposed to move out this morning bringing sunshine. And then I am going to get out and start working in my butterfly garden. Because the soil around my home is red clay – and wet – it is going to be a disaster! I am going to be covered in red muck from head to toe. My wife will scorn me. Kids will make fun of me. And I will be loving it.

The forecast doesn’t call for rain again until Thursday

 

Musical Diversity

Diversity is a word we are all familiar with today. And that isn’t a bad thing. If we hear the word “diversity” it is usually in reference to skin color. Diversity is defined as: the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.

I like diversity. My personality doesn’t do well when everything looks, tastes, smells…the same. I like to try and experience new and different things. This is never more obvious than when it comes to music. Good grief I am all over the map when it comes to music I like to listen to. My likes span from Tom T. Hall, to James Taylor, to Fleetwood Mac, to Beethoven, to the Charlie Brown Christmas music. I am not alone, I think most of us if we are honest would admit to having a wide taste in musical preference. When the IPod first came out I recall all the buzz around “What do you have on your IPod”. It was a socially big issue. Our personal tastes in music will also show how independent you really are. Are you the type of person that likes certain music because everyone else does? Are you worried about people finding out what you REALLY enjoy listening too? Can you take the flak when people joke at you for listening to Disney soundtracks? Or better yet, are you the type of person that makes fun of others for their taste? It’s no secret that music has a way of revealing what is really going on inside. Maybe the teenager listening to harmful/violent music is actually crying out from the inside words that he or she cannot say out loud

I don’t get a lot of physical features from my dad. Physically we don’t look alike, at all, except for our receding hairlines. His seems to be racing towards the back of his head quicker than mine! But one thing we have in common is a true diversity in music. I have to tip the hat to my father for encouraging me to listen to a wide range of music. I experienced his diversity most when fishing. From our home to the fishing spot would allow for 90 minutes or more of music. In that time I would hear Marty Robbins, The Platters, Glen Campbell, Elvis, Elton John and Floyd Cramer. And the same diversity on the way home. I grew up in the 80s, and though it was post-Civil Rights era, there was still issues with race in America. My classroom was ~50/50 and we were first generation post-Civil Rights era. Listening to this wide array of music (which included a lot of black artists) helped me to have a common platform to speak on. I could relate to some of my black classmates because I was listening to much of the same music they were listening to at home. Jackie Wilson, Al Wilson, Jerry Butler, Lloyd Price, Fats Domino and the velvety voice of Sam Cooke.

I have never been a fan of saying “Oh that is white people music” or “That is the kind of stuff black people listen too”. Nonsense. A good song is a good song. I will never forget in 1995 when a black coworker of mine looked at me and said “You know, that Garth Brooks guy sings some good stuff!” Yes, yes he did

What freedom it is to say “There is something about this song. This melody. This instrumental arrangement. This story. This harmony…that reaches inside me and touches something. It has a way of making me feel – at home

But the “gotcha” moment came in 1984. Rap was starting to move into mainstream. It was advancing from something kids did in inner-city New York City to radio, and ultimately into your car and home. Well, 50% of my class was black and this was the audience rap was first reaching. So I began to hear more of this “rap stuff” at school. And of course they would mention certain radio stations which I would sneak and listen too. There was one group of 3 young black guys that caught not only my ear but the ears of the other boys in my class – The Fat Boys! This was the early days of rap so looking back on the music it seems so elementary is sound, rhyming patterns and content, but in 1984 this was a BIG DEAL! To a young 10 year old this was the greatest invention to music since the phonogram! Of course many “older folk” dismissed it as foolish and a mere fad that would disappear soon. Well…..

My mom (bless her 4’10” soul) would peacefully listen to my music in the car (always on a bootleg cassette). She would painfully endure raps about being tough, Adidas sneakers, skipping school…and wouldn’t say a thing. No wonder today that she doesn’t listen to the radio much. HOWEVER….my dad was different. I remember bringing the above album home one Saturday to playing it in my room (there used to be these places called record stores where you went and bought music but they have been gone since the era of the dinosaur). He came into my room with a classic “What the hell is that?!?!?” “Well dad it is the Fat Boys and it is called rap.” “Rap? It will never last…”

Oddly enough, I don’t listen to FM radio much anymore. I am often worried where music can lead my mind. Almost like it is on a leash. And if I am honest, my mind doesn’t always travel to a good place when I listen to the radio.

With so many devices out there to play music I know my kids will develop a particular taste earlier than I did. Of course music today is different. Sex, violence and pure evil are spread across the musical landscape. All one click away. Like my dad I play a wide array of music for them. I try to give them an example to be yourself when it comes to what your ears like to hear. Don’t let others dictate what you should like to listen too (unless the underlying meaning of the song is corrupt).

And someday in the not so distant future I will hear something coming out of their rooms and I will gracefully walk in and ask “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?”

 

QUUUIIIIEEEETTTTT!

 

I like quiet. The only time I don’t is when I am at a sporting event. Solitude and Silence are wonderful disciplines. But I am finding it increasingly difficult to find silence.

Just recently after a string of challenging events, I recognized I needed some peace-n-quiet. And what I meant was total silence. So I sat down on  my couch. Then all of a sudden the icemaker activated, then the furnace kicked on, then my cellphone buzzed.

It was morning so I went outside. Surely it would be quiet there. But then I heard someone’s garage door open. Then I heard a motorcycle going fast up a nearby road. Then I heard a large truck navigating our neighborhood

Later that afternoon I went walking in the woods (or what is left of them) behind our house. Same thing, I would hear a car on the road or someone using a power tool (the sound of a circular saw travels!!)

So I tried that night. I built a fire in my small fire pit. But I couldn’t escape closing doors, music from someone’s house or simple traffic.

You can’t find silence while driving because vehicles are noisy themselves. Headphones only muffle the sound so much. I tried a closet and bathroom. You still hear various sounds. Even at night I cannot escape noise because my wife uses a white noise machine.

The more I thought about it, the sadder I got. I literally cannot escape sound. There really is no peace-n-quiet. This is not a good thing. Man should be able to escape (frequently) to enjoy the sounds of peace. If any noise should interrupt that peace it should be sounds of nature: birds, rain, the wind, thunder…

Finding solitude and silence are built in actions to help us hit the reset button in our life. Instead we opt to drown out the need of silence with…more noise! Music, TV, Internet, Socializing. I think our culture is afraid of pure silence. Silence brings to the front what is really on our hearts and minds – which can ultimately show our dark sides. Silence breaks down the ability to hide behind conversation and busyness. Silence forces me to deal with me. Noise (like alcohol) can allow me to avoid facing the hurt in my life.

I see noise treating the brain like a paddleball. Slamming it back and forth tirelessly 24 hours a day. Silence allows the whole person, especially the brain to take a much needed break.

If you have not done so, make sure to incorporate pure silence in your life. Find that place where you can go and be not merely alone, but alone with God. You will find him in the silence or gentle breeze.

#*&!

I don’t cuss much. My kids have never heard me use foul language, and at work everyone associates me as being the guy who doesn’t swear. Now, that wasn’t always the case. There was a time my mouth was extremely foul and immature. Yet even today I am not pure of tongue. In my heart and mind I cuss quite often – and yes even the “F-word”

  • My team is getting ready to kick a game winning chip shot field goal, but it sails wide right…..F#*&!
  • I go to the store, get everything for the cookout – except I forgot the steaks…..F#*&!
  • Hammer, hammer, hammer (hits thumb)…..F#*&!
  • In a rush to get somewhere. Get stuck in traffic……F#*&!
Again, the word may not leave my lips, but my heart is yelling it loud.
Right now, as I type this, I want to yell F#*&!. I received word last night that a buddy of mine from church, just a couple years younger than me is down to hours before entering the Kingdom. Mike had a liver transplant 3 years go due to cancer. A husband, and father to two young kids, Mike was launched into a battle with cancer. Just a few months prior, I had lost a kidney to cancer. Mine turned out to be a non-event. Except for a slower metabolism and more sensitive to the cold, I never had any physical side effects.
As Super Hero Russell once said regarding a challenge in his personal life, he was now a member of a club he didn’t ask to be part of. When you become part of a club or group you typically seek membership. For Mike and I we were now part of the “Young Husbands/Dads With Cancer” club – and we sure as hell didn’t ask to be part of this group.
I was recently watching a Ken Burns documentary on cancer. There was a woman who was interviewed that survived breast cancer in the 90s. She said “Once you have cancer you’re never the same.” She is 100% correct. Even if it turns out to be a mere speed bump in your life, cancer is an uninvited guest to the banquet of your life and you are forever impacted. I recognized this within weeks after my surgery. I knew I would either embrace the fact that my life was forever changed, or try and put up a front that I was unaffected by the event and come off as a tough guy. I embraced the change and have had no problems announcing it to others. Although I would add that it is shocking how many people don’t really care that physically I am fine, but internally I am still searching in the dark.
Mike meanwhile had a fight on his hands. He would come to church with a mask over his mouth. Updates would appear on Facebook that he was doing great, then a few days later he was having a bad day. It was during this time that I contacted Mike. Since we were “club members” I thought it would be fitting for he and I to get to know one another.
Over the next couple years Mike and I would often contact each other, but we never became good friends. At best I was a buddy. But because I too had dealt with cancer, there was an underlying bond that he and I had.
2015 was not a good year for Mike. I guess it wasn’t a great year for me either. But his health was consistently down. In the fall he had a tragic event at home, when his right femur essentially burst in half. It ended up being a compound facture that had Mike in the hospital for several weeks. While he was there I would walk down to visit him during my lunch break once a week. Hospitals don’t bother me. My pastor says I have “nonanxious presence” an extension of incarnational ministry. Incarnational ministry is where you (in the body, thus incarnation) bring the love of Christ to people. Nonanxious because I don’t get nervous around those who are hurting. Per my last posting, I guess I get that from my mom. I basically am unaware of the world around me when spending time with people who are hurting.
Mike’s pain was more than just physical. It was existential. He hurt. His whole being was hurt. In our culture of competition and measuring up to everyone else, men aren’t allowed to hurt. But Mike was hurting.
Since his release to go home in December, I would text him every week to see how he was doing. Occasionally I would add a text of “I am proud of you.” I did that very thing this week. And each week I would ask “You care if I swing by for a quick visit this week.” But each week he found himself not doing well and not up for visitors. Always apologizing.
Yesterday my wife texted me to say that on Facebook she saw where he had taken a sudden and fast turn for the worse. This was news to me! I had just received a text from him on Monday! I verified it. Mike was rushed to the hospital Wednesday because of jaundice. He was turning yellow because his liver was failing. At the hospital he went from merely checking on his liver to a furious fight to simply stay alive. Last night one of our pastor’s sent out a note to say that Mike was being moved to a nearby hospice house. In the pastor’s words “The Lord had a banquet ready for Mike to attend” (paraphrase)
So this morning I went to visit him. The pastor and Mike’s two kids were in a small waiting area. I sat with them for about 30 minutes, that is when Mike’s wife came out and sat with us. She said he was resting but I could go in. I know today is going to be a very, very draining day for him. I anticipate others will come by throughout the day. I wanted to make sure it was OK for me to have my own personal time instead of waiting to go in with a group. His wife encouraged me to go
When I sat down I waited to yell F#*&!. Mike was weak and indeed the banquet is being prepared. He opened his eyes and for 20 minutes or so I had Mike to myself. Occasionally the nurse would interrupt us but otherwise it was he and I. Two members of the same club. I held his hand. I left the other for Christ to hold.
I didn’t succumb to the desire to crack jokes and try to alleviate the angst in the room. I wanted him to say what was on his mind. Making jokes is more about the other person trying to avoid the hurt. I didn’t want to avoid it. “Bring it Mike. Tell me how this is BS. Tell me what is on your mind”
He was excited and yet scared. Me, I was sad. Then after the last nurse interruption, in a very clear voice (his voice is very weak from the last 48 hours), he turned to me and with the most sincere eyes said “I wish we could’ve become better friends. Why did it take cancer to bring us together?” I nodded and said “Well, I guess we will just have to continue this friendship another day.” I went on to say that his fight has not been in vain. Men in our church have been touched and inspired by his battle. He is a man worth admiring.
He said he was bothered he would not be able to attend his kids soccer games. In a twist that I had never given thought, I recalled that after his death Jesus didn’t merely raise from the dead, but he was in attendance with people. I thought of Jesus on the beach sharing the meal of fish just after his resurrection (Luke 24). In that quick moment I didn’t see a straight-faced Jesus boring everyone with theological talks – I saw a Jesus on the beach, a fire made from some driftwood, sharing a meal – and laughing.
To avoid clichéd statements like “Oh you will look down from heaven….” I shot straight and told Mike that he would be present for all those games, for graduation and for all that is good. I wasn’t sure on all the details and wasn’t about to give a pie-in-the-sky promise – but because of the resurrection he too would see all that is good.
Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I pulled the words out of my chest I didn’t want to say “Mike, I am going to head out of here.” He cried, and I fought it back. I looked at him one last time and said “Mike, you enjoy the feast the Lord has prepared for you. But do me one favor – leave some food for me.” I stood up and he said “I will, I promise” And with that I left the room
F#*&!
I stopped by the waiting area again and said my goodbyes to his wife and kids. I will probably see them again in a couple days.
That could’ve easily been me. My cancer was contained, Mike’s wasn’t. That is the difference. I suspect in the next few days Mike will be ushered into the Kingdom. His questions will be answered, his pain removed. I will still be here dealing with questions and new pains.
As for Jesus, all I could think about this morning was a line from Tom T. Hall’s “God Came Through Bellville, GA” – All Power To Him and Praise His Holy Name.
Tom T Hall “God Came Through Bellville, GA”

Beauty

There is a lot of buzz this week over the court case involving Erin Andrews and the hidden cameras in her hotel room a few years ago. Erin is a sideline reporter for various sports networks. A few years ago while covering college games in Columbus and Nashville a guy (with insider information to where her room was) planted hidden cameras in the peephole of her door and captured naked videos of her.

Erin is by all accounts a good looking woman. Tall, blonde and knows football….the perfect trifecta!

The events were being discussed here at work and someone mentioned how she is one of the “hottest” women he can think of. This (in typical guy fashion) developed into a “who is the most beautiful woman you can think of”.

Who hasn’t had one of these kinds of conversations? My favorite one of these types of talks happened about 4 years ago at an event at church. An older widow was leading an event for area homeless. I was up there with my daughter helping out when somehow we got on the subject of best looking Hollywood men. She is in her 60s, so we discussed men from 20+ years ago. I mentioned Paul Newman, then Marlon Brando – of course all got thumbs up.

But then I mentioned Robert Redford, and she made a one-liner I will never forget. She said “Oh my….Robert Redford can eat crackers in my bed any night!”

Nothing can top that one!

Back to my original topic. I wasn’t in the conversation the guys were having but I was in earshot. Maybe it is because my heart is in communion with Lord’s, but I didn’t go straight to physical beauty – I went for biblical beauty. Now, the bible doesn’t for a moment deny outward beauty. The bible quickly points out flowing hair, tanned skin, curves – God knows that physical beauty can’t be denied. But it doesn’t stop there. In fact biblically speaking physical beauty is only a speed bump, a mere pull off on the side of life’s highway

It is inward beauty (male and female) that Scripture repeatedly says is worthy of praise. Let’s face it, some people are just genetically gifted and are thus – beautiful! But for most of us, we are at best average. Nothing great, nothing abnormal.

But inner beauty isn’t given. It is developed through choices of the will. Things like patience, sacrifice, honor, longsuffering, compassion, esteem and encouragement are cultivated by choice. But it is these things that Scripture always points to as beautiful and worthy for our pursuit.

So while my teammates ogled over this blonde and that singer, I got to thinking “Who in my life has exemplified TRUE beauty.”

Answer: my mom.

However, it was in a way that Jean Vanier (Catholic Philanthropist and creator of L’Arche – 142 communities worldwide focused on loving and giving dignity to the mentally disabled) discusses beauty

My mom began working with the mentally handicapped fall of 1980. This was at the edge of a time when the mentally handicapped were often institutionalized. Words like “retarded” or “looney bin” were tossed around with common language. She was employed at a school that specialized with the mentally handicapped. This was not simple learning disabilities. These were kids with great pain in their lives. These were the people Jesus talks about in the Beatitudes. These were the poor and meek.

The pain was real that my mom experienced as well. She has been to more funerals for students than many of us have been to total. There have been times that I reflected on the challenges she and the rest of the staff had – and when I occasionally feel sorry for myself and complain how hard my week has been (which usually means the internet wasn’t working correctly) I feel quickly humbled. I don’t know what a tough week is.

The children my mom worked with were those that society feels sorry for. “Poor pitiful thing”. Not my mom. She gave them dignity! We all know what dignity is like. Like Jesus my mom would touch those who society didn’t want to touch. The Gospels are filled with Jesus’ being intimately personal. Jesus touched, Jesus wept, Jesus ate, Jesus taught, Jesus was in the boat, Jesus forgave, Jesus with children, Jesus healed. Jesus didn’t love from a distance. He was in the midst of the individual. He was at the well, he was at the pool of Bethsaida, he was in the home, he was in the synagogue. Born in a dirty manger, and lived his life getting dirty with broken people.

That was my mom. She got down and dirty with people. Feeding, helping use the restroom, cleaning breathing tubes, cleaning vomit, cleaning tears, wiping up spills, fixing hair, telling them “It’s OK. Don’t worry about it.” My mom, like Jesus, saw these students and sacred and beautiful. She saw through the exterior into the heart of each student. That is what biblical beauty does. The eyes of the beholder don’t stop at skin, eyes, hair – but penetrate into the heart and soul and sees that all people have beauty in them. That the true person is on the inside.

In the mid-80s my mom became a nanny for two girls with cerebral palsy. The girls were sisters and 10 years apart in age. It is one thing to love the mentally handicap in a school. After all, you are protected from society by the walls of the school building. But that wasn’t the case with these two girls. My mom would take these ladies to restaurants, to the park, shopping, friends’ houses, festivals, concerts – there were no limits.

Snow, 100 degree weather, rain, wind – didn’t matter. She got those girls out for decades.

Many summer days while school was out, I would join my mom. I recall back then, as a teenager, admiring her utmost love and affection to these girls. It was a love that ANY child would long for, and these weren’t even her girls!

The greatest challenge for our society when it came to these two ladies was dining. Because of CP, eating was a challenge. The mechanics from using utensils, drinking through a straw, and swallowing were each a hurdle for them. Of course there was a mess! And I would see grown adults (the powerful of our society) at nearby tables, struggle, struggle to feel safe. The roles were reversed: the weak were actually the strong, and the supposed strong were all of a sudden shown to be weak.

Regardless of the world around them, my mom would joyfully tend to the girls and then take care of herself last. Fast food or a nice restaurant – the routine was the same. And all the while, my mom gave them the attention that says “I love you”. Only the beautiful can leave your presence and make you feel loved or important.

Jean Vanier says that to love someone requires you to understand them. This seems obvious, but have you ever stopped to think about it? How many of us understand the world of the mentally/physically disabled? My mom does. She understands their fears and angst. She knows what makes them feel strong, and what makes them feel….well…..different.

What may have been so beautiful about my mom was her ability to receive love from the handicapped. As a culture we are more apt to humor them, or laugh at their acts of silliness (which can actually be nothing more than a cry for acceptance), pat them on the head and so on. Because we see ourselves as those having power, it can be difficult to receive this love. The love of the mentally disabled is a pure love. It is not structured on performance or conditions. It is raw and honest, and this can make the strong of this world uncomfortable – after all much of the world is built on a fat lie, a façade. I would see these girls reach up and yearn for a hug from my mom and she would authentically receive it. That is beauty! Such love is hard to look at given the kind of silly, artificial love we see on TV or in print.

Those who are strong feel a need to prove it. There is a hidden need to validate myself in front of others which naturally leads to oppressing others (Vanier). The handicap can’t do that. The only weapon they have is their heart. THEY ARE THE OPPRESSED! Yet they joyfully give their heart, but the world struggles to receive it. My mom didn’t.

One of the girls went to the Lord a few years ago. My mom continues to work with the other every week. This has been an ongoing relationship of love for three decades.

The bible says that God looks upon the heart – this is the center of our personality. My mom, spent her whole life reaching into the hearts of the mentally disabled and giving them joy and dignity. Good luck finding someone more beautiful

Refusing To Join The Party

 

I recently read a book that I couldn’t put down. We have all been there. For whatever reason a book lands in our hands, we begin reading, and simply can’t part from it. The book was loaned to me by Roger, it was Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Henri was inspired to write about it after being transformed by Rembrandt’s painting of the same title. The story of the Prodigal Son is taken from the 15th chapter of Luke’s gospel. He is the only gospel writer to document this profound story. The 15th story is a string of 3 parables, all similar in nature (something being lost, then found) and each increasing in value. The first being the lost sheep, then the lost coin, then the Prodigal (lost) son. Regardless of whether or not you are a believer, chances are good you know the overview of the story.

Younger son goes to his father and says I want my inheritance now (in short, “I wish you were dead”). The father goes ahead and gives it to him. The younger son leaves home and for years lives lavishly until he is completely broken: spiritually, physically, socially and financially. After some mental jockeying he decides to swallow his pride and return home. He is immediately greeted by a joy-filled father who immediately calls for the son to shed his rags and put on clothes worthy of a prince and for everyone (this was wealthy family) to prepare for a huge celebration that night. Sometime that evening the elder son returns from a day of work and sees all the commotion. He inquires of one of the servants as to what is going on. He is told that his younger brother has returned home and the father is throwing a huge party. Everyone is happy…..except the elder son. The father after a period of time sees that someone is missing from the party – his oldest boy – and he goes outside to find him. When he does find him he invites the eldest son into the celebration, but his son refuses. Instead he basically unloads on his dad:

“But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” Luke 15:28-30

I have heard plenty of sermons and teachings on this story, but for some reason Nouwen’s close examination of the elder son was convicting.

“This son of your…” the elder son was so heated, so angry that he wouldn’t reference the younger son as his brother. He didn’t see him worthy of a title. This level of disgust didn’t happen that evening, it was something stewing for years. But what is maybe hidden, is the level of disgust he has been harboring against his dad for years. “Yet you never gave me even a young goat….” The elder son has been quietly keeping score against the father as well as his brother. In his mind dad was guilty of playing favorites.

What do we know about the elder brother? Well, he was in many ways a classic first child. Overachiever, loyal to the family, sensitive to image, walks the straight and narrow, disciplined and so on. Life was all about tasks and being dutiful. But, his response to the father seems to indicate his loyalty and obedience was actually a burden. A burden he didn’t want or like. I would guess that deep down the elder son was jealous of the youngest. Maybe he wishes he had the courage to leave home and sew his wild oats. What was it like to eat, drink and be merry? He would never know because his obedient to obedience.

Was it possible that the elder son was just as lost, even though he had stayed home? The younger son’s “lostness” is obvious. He lived lavishly and literally was lost! But the elder son kept his lostness internal but was equally distant from the father. How many hours had he spent in the fields allowing his inner-lawyer to tell him how innocent he was? How the father was probably missing his younger brother more than he wanted to be around him? How many hours did his spend in pity-filled jealousy of his younger brother? Not hoping he was safe and would return home someday – but that he was missing out on all the sensual fun.

Nouwen states “The more we analyze a problem (chew on it), the more reason we find to complain.” I say “AMEN!” to that.

The elder son had to be a miserable person to live with. He hated his brother, filled with resentment towards his father. The lostness of the elder son was deeply rooted in his soul. And the heart cannot contain both joy and resentment. Resentment will always win out. That is why the Lord says to settle a dispute with your brother before attempting to worship, and to avoid going to bed angry. Resentment is a powerful, powerful force.

What is unfortunate about resentment, is that if you point out I am resentful towards someone, I will probably get resentful at you, and get more resentful at them! It is the perfect snare.  No tree in this world has a root system like resentment. And we seem to make sure that the trees of resentment are constantly watered and fed.

Healing must come from the outside. And healing begins with a broken but honest view of self. It is a painful move that begins by going into the heart and saying “There it is. This is why you are so sad.” No excuse finding, no blaming, just living up to the fact your heart is in need of healing.

Amazingly the father doesn’t meet the elder son’s words with scorn. He doesn’t slap him, he doesn’t say “Oh shut up and get inside.” The father probably hurts for his boy. He understands and sympathizes with his pain. What good would shaming do? What good would forcing him to suck it up and “act like a man” do? All he says is:

  “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

 The father has no favorites. Understanding the sensitivity of the moment he doesn’t try to build a defense on how great a dad he is. All he wants is for the son to join the party – but the elder son refuses.

The Prodigal Son is a great story, until you realize that you’ve spent much of your life as the Elder Son. I am in a process of learning just how sensitive the human heart is. It is frighteningly fragile. It retains hurts, wounds, negativity, loss, defeat, failure with such precision. And we try so hard to make other think we are OK. The elder son did this through disciple and loyalty. Externals. But internally he was a broken boy. The world doesn’t make it safe to say “I am hurt, will you love me still?”

We don’t know what happens with the rest of the story. Does the elder son go in? Do the brothers heal their relationship? Does the younger son leave again to pursue the world of pleasure? The bible doesn’t say.

Rembrandt shows the elder son joining the party. But he stands in fierce judgment. He is on the right hand side with a  clear separation from the father and younger son. Straight and erect, just like his life. Rembrandt also adds a stick in his hand. Probably representing someone with discipline and punishment in their mind.

What is also striking is how Rembrandt showed their age. As the elder son, he was probably not much more than maybe 10 years older than the younger. If that much. But Rembrandt shows the elder show much older. Could it be that a sour, resent filled heart can age you more than hard living and decadence? A hard life on the inside is more stress to a person than a hard life on the outside?

I suppose I have spent a lot of my life as the Elder Son. Though I am an only child. Harboring anger, and jealousy. It weighs on you, and I guess indirectly it ends up weighing on others. When I begin to talk about how someone else has it better, or how I have been slighted, when everyone is seen as a competitor, or how I was a victim, lamenting about the past, or how great I am yet I am not noticed – all I am doing is being the Elder Son. Low self-esteem is not a virtue

Maybe someday I will be like the Father. A person who understands that relationships are messy. That as I make myself available to the world that I am going to get hurt (often by those closest to me). Like the father I hope to be loving, forgiving, able to celebrate, patient, longsuffering, humble and welcoming.

We have a choice to listen to the father (God) and come to the party or stay resentful like the Elder Son