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.

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?”

 

#*&!

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

FG

It is Super Bowl week. And I live in the market of one of the two teams. Unfortunately though I am not excited. Not one bit. If anything I am rooting for Peyton Manning to go out a champion. He has been a great ambassador for the game, and for him to win his last game (Super Bowl 50 no less) and to announce retirement in the post-game interviews would be great.

Football fans know that “FG” stands for field goal. Those pesky 3 point attempts that essentially say “We are not good enough to score a touchdown, so we will settle for 3 points instead.” I have often made the comment that field goals lose games.

But for this blog “FG” represents forgiveness and grace. Two items that are not the lessor of two options (like a field goal) but something even greater than a touchdown. As for me, I am horrible at both. In fact, I am miserably horrible at both. If the New Testament is right (and of course it is) that forgiveness and grace are signs of Christian maturity, then I am a mere embryo, I am not even out of the womb yet. This June will mark my 15th year of being a servant of Christ. I have a lot of head knowledge, I have served on the board of a Christian ministry, I faithfully served Christ in many capacities, I have lead small groups, I have lead children’s Sunday school, I have lead mission trips, I have read the bible front to back several times, I have debated and won, I have knocked on doors, I have fed the poor, I have tithed, I have brought my children up in the ways of Christ, I have read COUNTLESS books, I have lead people to the Lord, I have a solid prayer life, I live (by all accounts) a solid moral life, I am known by my co-workers as a follower of Christ……but I fail at forgiveness and grace.

It wasn’t until the past few years that I realized just how impotent I was in these areas. I thought I had forgiven people for past hurts – in fact I was positive. But the older I got, and the more I realized the symptoms of an unforgiving heart, the more I realized just how unforgiving I was. I first recognized it in other people. I have never been a big fan of gossip – just a waste of time in my opinion. But I recognized this was a sign of someone unforgiving. Passive-aggressive behavior, browbeating, never letting an issue go, intentionally withholding good (or its twin sister, intentionally doing evil) were all signs I saw in other people of unforgiveness. It was like a neon sign across their forehead. But I was ignorant of my own guilt.

As for grace….oh my I have been horrifically bad. And no, I am not exaggerating, I have been flat out bad at this! I must admit a bit of frustration with God for not addressing this a decade ago. However, for all the good on my resume, I have been a man with little grace. I get an “F” in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). Grace is at the core of Christ’s redemptive message. Even the skeptic of Christ will admit the beauty and strangeness of grace. It is utterly nonhuman.

The beginning of becoming a person of grace is first recognizing your absolute need of it from God. That your relationship with God through Christ is rooted in grace alone, not merit. You never earn it – yet you never fumble it away. Grace isn’t acting like bad things don’t exist, and it certainly isn’t simply sweeping things under the rug. Grace is a constant desire to see a person become who Christ desires them to be. It is a humble reminder of how broken I am, and outpouring the same patience God gives me in my moments of weakness, and to in turn give that kind of love and patience back to others. It is all about putting other’s well-being ahead of my own. Other’s status, accomplishments, desires, time, and needs ahead of mine. It is all the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) into action….24 hours a day.

My life has been filled with score keeping. Especially in the areas of how people have wronged me. My ability to recall in great detail a moment of being let down by someone is frighteningly accurate and vivid. My “inner lawyer” (that voice in your head that is always telling you how you’re being mistreated, and to be careful, and remember how this person treated you that one day….) is phenomenal. My inner lawyer could’ve been on OJ’s defense team. He can argue my position and build a case in two minutes. Really he deserves a raise. Only problem is he hasn’t had an hour off in 35 years. My inability to be a man of grace and forgiveness has kept him working every day I am alive. He is constantly reminding me of my hurts. He is in short constantly reminding me that I haven’t forgiven.

Last month I began seeing a Christian counselor. Some on the outside may think it is for marriage, but in reality it is to work on me. One other sin I have been guilty of is the sin of self-sufficiency. I have always been self-sufficient. I have always felt in my heart, no matter the challenge – “I will beat this.” Well, the issues of forgiveness and grace are two areas I can’t beat. Try as I may, I only get worse and worse. I think my getting worse and worse is God’s grace towards me. He essentially has to let me fail miserably before a U-turn is made.

Later today is my third session with the counselor. Part of me is humiliated. My self-sufficiency says that “asking for help is a weakness”. But part of me is extremely proud, because it takes a lot of courage to go to counseling. I am also a very private person (nothing sinful here) and I know how folks love to gossip and make assumptions, so I am sure I am part of the occasional group discussion.

As the Christian message often is – there are a lot of paradoxes going on. While I am at my lowest (since cancer) I am at the same time experiencing Christ in a fresh new way. I haven’t been this “alive in Christ” in years. While on one hand I am exhausted, on the other I am full of energy. While part of me sees Satan working through people I would’ve never guessed, I also see Christ working through people I would’ve never guessed. While part of me wants to crawl in a hole, part of me wants to dance in the streets. While part of me is uncomfortable with the rest of 2016, part of me hasn’t been so excited to live life.

Because forgiveness and grace are heart issues, the road to victory is going to be long and full of peril. I am frustrated when a Christian message gives a one, two, three formula to dealing with heart issues. BS! And the opportunities to quit will be plenty. Quit and run back to what I am used too. Those things I am used too are what Jesus called idols.

I shudder at all the people I never forgave. Our world isn’t one to forgive, we simply move onto what appears to be something better. People are like socks (whether family, friends or lovers), if you don’t like it, get a new one. And trust me, the world is full of people that will encourage you to do what is easiest. Very, very few people (including Christians) will encourage you to take the long, hard road, which is primarily not looking at the person who has wronged you, but taking a strong look at yourself.

Last week I told my counselor that I was fearful of what Satan had up his sleeve. His comment “That’s nothing, you should also be fearful of what God has up his sleeve as well.”

Well said.

 

Stuck

This past week we had a winter storm roll through. We don’t get many here in NC but this was a big deal, and for once the meteorologists were spot on. There wasn’t much snow (3-4″) but there was a considerable amount of ice. I had never seen so much ice fall in a day. Maybe I am weird but I love the sound of ice falling. The “tink tink” noise against a window is very similar to rain. So on Friday evening I took a lawn chair out, put it under our covered patio in the back and enjoyed the ice falling as night time started to approach.

We live in a new development and the next building phase is behind our house. They started clearing trees (about 15 acres) in early December. It is one slippery mud pit back there. Just last week, they installed a culvert and piping for a small (very very small) creek, that runs through the area. Dotting the cleared area are piles of mulched trees. I love the smell the piles give off – just like freshly laid mulch in a garden. Also the steam pouring off of the piles is a neat sight to see in the mornings.

So, there I was relaxing to the sound of ice falling, when I saw through the tree line behind our house, a vehicle in the new developed area. Now understand, all they have done back there is clear trees and lay culvert piping. Otherwise it is all mud. Red, thick, NC clay mud. So I watched the vehicle through the trees figuring it was nothing more than a quick inspection by the builder.

I went inside and headed upstairs to take a shower before dinner and saw out the bathroom window that a large vehicle was stuck in the valley where the creek ran. I looked for a few seconds and told my wife I better go outside to make sure everything is OK. So I bundled up (it was in the 20s) and headed out. After a few minutes trekking through the thick mud I approached the vehicle and saw it was a teenage boy and his dad. The boy was running to the front of the vehicle, then to the back…repeatedly. The dad hopped out and I said a bit firmly (after all they shouldn’t be back there in the first place) – “So what brings you two back here?” The dad said his son wanted to take the H2 (a Hummer for the general public) out for a drive in the bad weather. Their drive took them to our neighborhood, and unfortunately for them they found the construction entrance to the new phase. When they were on top of the hill the dad asked the son to go out and see if the mud down by the creek was firm enough to drive on. The son said it was, the dad drove the beast of a vehicle down the hillside….THUD…it was stuck. And boy was it.

Though I didn’t share my initial thoughts, I could tell these guys weren’t going anywhere. The huge tires were spinning in place and had dug ruts so deep that the tires (about 30″ in diameter) were completely submerged in the mud). The H2 had a winch on the front. On the other side of the creek (with water flowing, not frozen – but thin enough to hop across) there was a stump. On the left was a few trees, and towards the right was the concrete wall to the culvert piping. Clearly the goal was to get the strap around the stump and pull forward. But that didn’t work because the strap kept coming off the stump. Then for the next 40+ minutes we’d tie onto the trees and winch, then over to the culvert and winch – but all that was accomplishing was dragging the vehicle left and right and unfortunately creating a deeper and deeper hole for the H2.

Finally the dad agreed it was time to call mom and have her meet them at the entrance of the neighborhood. They lived about 3 miles away in a neighborhood known for affluence. In fact this family lived on a golf course, has season tickets for football, they own the H2, an Infinity, Audi and Honda Odyssey. In other words (at least on the surface) money is not a problem. As I walked them back to the street, I told the son that he should be proud of his dad. The dad never threw his son under the bus, never lost his cool, never cussed, never yelled, never appeared impatient. If anything, the dad appeared to be having a great time. And I was impressed.

Early the next morning I saw the dad walking through our backyard with another adult. I got dressed and headed down there. The goopy pancake batter (mud) had semi-frozen overnight, but it was still a mess. As I walked down the hill, his buddy (also into offroading) gave me a look of “this isn’t good” He said that when Steve (the dad) called him that morning he simply said “Hey buddy, I got the H2 stuck last night, can you help” – but he wasn’t prepared for this. So together for 90 minutes we tried everything we could. Our last attempt was tying the winch to a tree located behind the vehicle to try and get the truck to pivot in the mud and face the other direction.  We tied it, cleared the area and Steve began to tighten the winch. A few seconds later POW the line broke. That was it, there was nothing else we could do – Steve needed someone to come help him.

His buddy had to leave early to do something at the house. I hung out with Steve, who through some strange way, still laughed and made lite of the moment. And he was sincere. This wasn’t some fake artificial attempts to look relaxed…..HE REALLY WAS RELAXED!!! Before leaving, his buddy said “You need to get this out of here. If the construction guys return Monday to see you here, they could nail you for trespassing.” In private I asked his buddy “So how much do you think this is going to cost him to have a professional wrecker come pull him out?” His reply “At least two grand”

Steve finally called AAA and they sent out a guy in a flat bed dually to see if he could pull him out. After 15 minutes of thinking about it, he finally said he wasn’t comfortable bringing his truck back there. He felt the soil, even on the hilltop was too soft and he would probably get stuck. In my mind, Steve was out of cards. He was going to have to wait for the construction guys to show up during the week and pull him out with a Caterpillar. I said I was sorry to Steve that we couldn’t get him out. I offered a coffee or sandwich to him but he declined. He walked back to my house where he had parked his minivan. Me, I went back to my day doing some woodwork in the garage. After 30 minutes he came over to me and said “I called an offroad shop I go to south of the city. I told them my situation and they posted something on Facebook and Twitter. Within minutes I got several replies from other offroaders saying they would be by immediately to help.” I was stunned. And Steve…well he was laughing.

Then about 20 minutes later this jacked up Jeep came around the corner. Bright, shiny, gigantic winch on the front, HUGE mud tires (that looked absolutely brand new). He hopped out, a fireplug of a guy – he just looked like an offroader). Steve pointed to where the construction entrance was and the guy drove down. Then came another Jeep….well, I sure as heck wasn’t going to miss this, so we walked back down the scene of the crime. By the time we got down there three Jeeps were at the scene. After several minutes of discussion (and the arrival of a couple more Jeeps and a huge Hummer) it was decided that one Jeep would back down the hill, tie onto Steve’s stuck H2, then that Jeep would tie his front winch to the jacked up Jeep which would stay on top of the hill. The jacked up jeep was strapped to a tree in the back….so it went Jeep, tied to Jeep, tied to H2…then it began – with winches pulling, H2 going in reverse and everyone in 4-Wheel drive….the H2 started to move backwards in the mud. After a few minutes the action had to stop because the winches were overheating. Then they would go back….stop….resume…finally the H2 was out of the ruts, but it still had to go up the hill (about a 30 foot climb). I had nothing to offer other than talk to Steve as he was approaching victory. By now there were about 9 vehicles that came to rescue. And these guys knew what they were doing. Finally after about 30 minutes of slow grind – Steve was back on top of the hill. He got out and laughed. He offered to take everyone to a local restaurant for burgers and beer. I just slipped back home. In minutes, everyone was gone, including the 30+ spectators from our neighborhood.

Later I heard someone call Steve an idiot. He “supposedly got what he deserved.” But I got to thinking about it, and completely disagreed. This was a dad, out having a good time with his son. They weren’t drunk, they weren’t vandalizing, they weren’t causing trouble – they were being adventurous males. I am and adventurous male. Steve never got onto his son, never got impatient with the help he was offered, never lost his cool. Yeah, maybe he was a bit of a knucklehead to get into the situation in the first place – but this is a guy with a story. Anyone can stay home and throw rocks at those making mistakes in life. Anyone can sit on their throne and belittle those living life to the fullest – which always has embarrassing moments in it.

As my dear friend recently said “I like the idea of flying a plane into heaven when I die. But I want it to be a dustcropper plane, and I want it beat up, sputtering, flying erratically as it approaches the runway towards God. I want it to bounce along the runway, and when I get out of the plane I want to yell “MAN WHAT A RIDE!!”

Steve will be the type of guy that will be able to yell “MAN WHAT A RIDE!!!”

 

Contentment

I was recently asked to submit ideas for topics at a men’s breakfast. I suggested learning to be content. Then I was asked to expound on that – give discussion points. I submitted the following:

  • Being content doesn’t mean quitting, or not dreaming, or not having lofty goals
  • ·         Don’t confuse contentment with laziness
  • ·         Content = desiring to achieve more (proper desire), but willing to accept if God says “no”
  • ·         Contentment is not easy
  • ·         Content = a stillness and confidence in the heart of where you are at
  • ·         Contentment often comes at the end of a process of attempting more, but realizing God is not siding with you
  • ·         To achieve contentment you may have to undo some steps (sell that car, downsize your home, give up your leadership position, sell your business, cancel those classes you signed up for)
  • ·         Contentment = “a cool resolve”
  • ·         You must be willing to accept that contentment is countercultural. People will gossip. It is quite possible that is some circles the content man will not be well liked.
  • ·         True contentment is devoid of the rat race, comparison, jealousy, envy, gossip, guilty conscious
  • ·         Few are men who achieve contentment
  • ·         You can only know if a man is content with life by being in relationship with him. It cannot be determined up one or merely two visits
  • ·         Develop a mentoring relationship with someone who has achieved contentment
  • ·         (this may be debatable) Contentment is not something you can pursue, in and of itself. You cannot set out to be content. It is the end result of a string of wise decisions.
  • ·         It is important to ask the why question: why do you want to be content? What are your motives
  • ·         Signs of not being content: anger, fatigue, poor motives, restlessness, poor worship habits, nervousness, second-guessing, avoiding counsel and advice, fear of criticism, defensive
  • ·         A content person will find ways to glorify God in their current setting
  • ·         A content man will throw the ball out of bounds and settle for a punt rather than trying to force a play and instead throw an interception
  • ·         A content man is in the habit of saying “no, of letting things go, says “let me think about that”, weighing the consequences
  • ·         A content man = less about himself, more about God
  • ·         A content man could care less about keeping up with the Joneses (or Kardashians), not only that, but he probably doesn’t even know who the Joneses are!
  • ·         A content man is OK with losing the fight in effort to retain the relationship
  • ·         The content man doesn’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror

I am bilingual

Compliments are few and far between. Not sure why, but our culture is hard pressed to give a good, sincere compliment. A couple years ago, I received a great compliment (at least it was to me). After the incredible upset of Auburn over Alabama, on the missed field goal taken back for a touchdown (see clip below) and the end of regulation, I shot a string of texts to SHR celebrating with him. He is a graduate of Auburn, and Auburn/Alabama are bitter rivals – right up there with Ohio State and Michigan. I don’t even like Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss….I simply don’t like the SEC – but the nation couldn’t help but celebrate that most unlikely ending. On into the next day I was sending high-fives to SHR, when he shot back a great compliment. He said “You know what I like about you? You “get” football. You understand the passion and excitement about the game.” Now as a die hard football fan that really did mean a lot to me. And he was right, I do “get” the game

Earlier this week I wrapped up a six week men’s study at church on marriage. The leader of the sessions asked that I be a table leader, which essentially meant leading the discussions at our table each night. Each table had six guys and it was my role to make sure discussions flowed and stayed on topic. One morning the group leader sent me an email praising me on how well I keep conversations going, and manage to make men feel comfortable talking about very, very touchy subjects.

Then it dawned on me. I am bilingual. I am fluent in English, and Guy. Yes, “guy”. I speak Guy very well. I get men and understand fairly well how they tick and where boundaries are often setup. I know how to bust a guys chops, make fun of his favorite sports team, tease him about a particular habit – but seconds later have him confessing is moral failures and frustrations with various temptations. I also know how to praise and lift a guy up. I have been doing this for years. I can see emotions in men’s eyes, and can tell what is sacred to them in a single meeting. More importantly, I have never used this skill for selfish gain or harm. It is a talent, and as far as I am concerned, a God-given gift

This week a 63 year old buddy of mine has been living at our home. He is going through some very serious health challenges – nothing that needs to be discussed on here. He will relocate to a new home about 10 miles from here on Monday. He will share it with three other guys.

He has no family. Never been married, no kids, his sister live in Texas. He is alone and scared (his own words).

Never has my second language been so useful. All week I have been speaking guy to help ease some of the stress that he is going through. He is laughing a lot, and I am doing my best to make him feel strong and manly. He has told me repeatedly that he appreciates it.

I am uneasy about the near future for him. Hopefully a few years from now I will look back on this post and say “Silly, what were you so concerned about.” Regardless, I will continue to bust his chops, tease him and tell him to quit going to Hooters and using my credit card

Enjoy this “answered prayer”

Scratch That One Off the List

Several years ago a new term hit mainstream America thanks in large part to a Morgan Freeman/Jack Nicholson movie called The Bucket List. In short, a bucket list is a collection of goals (typically 10-15) that you want to accomplish before you die. In the movie, Jack Nicholson has been informed he doesn’t have much time to live, so he and Morgan Freeman set about accomplishing his bucket list

I have my own bucket list. Though not completely formalized. There are a few items I can’t quite decide whether they belong on this list or not.

As with most lists, the #1 item is the biggest, most important, and typically the hardest to accomplish. I suppose to participate in someone’s #1 bucket list item is as much an honor as completing your own.

Several years ago, my mother developed an attraction to lighthouses. She very much drawn to them. Paralleling their function to the sailor, to how God is with us. She has porcelain lighthouses, lighthouse paintings, lighthouse pictures….she loves her lighthouses! However, in all her affection for them, she had never been to one. There aren’t many lighthouses in the Midwest!

A few months ago she announced she would be coming down to visit the family for a few days in late September. Right away I began thinking “What if I took her to a lighthouse?” There are several along the Carolina coastlines. Most retired, but a few still operating. Unfortunately my wife and I already had plans that was going to limit my opportunity to Saturday – plus I wanted my mom to have plenty of time with the kids.

The initial plan was to go to the Outer Banks (about 6.5 hours away) and see Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras lighthouses. Cape Hatteras is the tallest lighthouse in the US. Perfect! All expressway. Get up early, return home late. No problem. And that was the plan for several weeks.

So my mom arrived on Wednesday, already knowing my plans for Saturday. However, there was a strong storm system moving into the Carolina coast. It threatened to leave substantial rain and high winds for 3 days. Saturday being one of those days. I kept watching the weather looking for a break on Saturday – but no such luck. By Friday the weather was projected to be 4 inches of rain and 40 mph gusts on the Outer Banks. That would be a miserable trip.

But what about South Carolina? I began looking and found a couple lighthouses that were within 6 hours. Perfect! So I told her about the itinerary change and set to leave the next morning at 5am.

Our morning started off with rain. Then more rain. I like rain, but I am not a fan of driving in it. But in her little car I hit the expressway bound for the SC coast. After a good breakfast at Cracker Barrel (as much Americana as lighthouses) we made the 6 hour trip to Beaufort, SC. Off the coast of Beaufort is a small island called Heading Island. On it is a 170’ lighthouse that is now retired. It was a beautiful drive through thick coastal foliage. The humidity was intense!

This was her first lighthouse. Her bucket list item was accomplished – but not completely over.

After an hour of hiking to the top of the lighthouse, souvenir shopping, and a stroll on the beach. We hopped in the car and set our eyes on the southern harbor of Charleston, SC.

Now, I like good coffee as well. I prefer lattes but have developed a liking for this Australian version called a Flat White. Back on the mainland we stopped at a small coffee shop where I ordered a latte. The barista completely dropped the ball. I was crushed….but got over it

After a two hour trek we arrived in the Charleston area, to be greeted by the aftermath of a tornado. Overnight a tornado ripped through a community on the south harbor. Trees were completely decapitated. The trunks of these very tall and rather old trees still stood, but their bushy tops had been ripped completely off. Several acres of one forest looked like expired matchsticks. The emergency vehicles were still on the scene. Yet a couple miles down – no signs of anything.

Finally we made it to the parking area for Morris Island Lighthouse. You park in a cul-de-sac and hike about 1/3 mile to the beach. The lighthouse sits out in the mouth of the harbor about 600 yards off the beach. It is a beautiful site. There is a reclamation project underway to relocate the lighthouse back on shore.

While admiring Morris Island we saw a light flicker on the opposite side of downtown Charleston. About 15 seconds later if flickered again. Was that another lighthouse??? I got on Google and found that Sullivan Island Lighthouse was located over there. It was about 45 minutes away. What the heck!

So we piled into the car and made our way over there, ahead of an ugly storm system. In the middle of a collection of beach houses and condos stood the tower. It was not a round tower like most lighthouses. Instead it had a square tower and at the top was the light. There was a chain link fence around the perimeter. My mom got some killer pictures as the sun was setting.

3 lighthouses! Scratch that off the bucket list!

On the way home I did get a flat white at Starbucks! It was done right.

Once we got north of Columbia we were greeted with strong rain. We had been relieved of dealing with horrible weather the whole day.

We pulled into the driveway at 9:30pm. A total of 16.5 hours on the road. But well worth it. If you took all the alone time she and I have had over the past several years, I am not sure it would add up to 16.5 hours.

Had she come down this weekend we couldn’t go anywhere along the coast because of Hurricane Joaquin. Perfect timing!

I highly doubt I will ever accomplish much on my bucket list, let alone the #1 item. But it was an equal joy to experience this with her.