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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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”

Ain’t No Sense in Wantin’ My Life to Live Over

We’ve all said, “If I could just go back….” All of us have bones in the closet, people we couldn’t look in the eye if they walked in the room. It has been my experience when someone talks about going back and doing something over again, it is to undo a currently bad situation. “I would go back and not pick up smoking.” “I wouldn’t have married who I married” “I would have gone to college” “I would not have driven my car after drinking”

I am very conscientious about this when it comes to my kids. I don’t want to say (as they are getting out of the car their freshman year at college), I wish I would have done more “x” or less “y”. Same with friends. I am trying to make a point of spending time with and communicating with my friends. Tragedy can happen in an instance and I don’t want to be in that “If I could do it over” situation

Tom T. Hall has dozens of lines that I absolutely love. One of my favorites is from a relatively unknown song called “I Hope it Rains at My Funeral”. I have a clip to the song and the end. The song is about a man, probably middle age, that has made a string of poor decisions. And for the most part they have worked against him. Looking back on his life he can see how he ended up where he is. The man comes to that “If I could go back…” moment, but instead he says the following:

Ain’t no sense in wantin’ my life to live over
I’d find different ways to make those mistakes again

And that’s the truth as far as I am concerned. Ain’t no sense in wanting to go back to 1990, 93, 98, 2003, 07, 12….whatever mistakes I made then, I would find a new (and possibly more destructive) way to make those mistakes again. Not only that, but in the mistakes I have made, I have been able to learn from them – and very well become a better person than I ever would have otherwise.

But – that doesn’t make up for the people I have hurt in the past. As Tom T. says in the song “I guess there’s a few that I still couldn’t look in the eye.” There are too many people – male and female – that I have hurt in the past. Who knows, maybe they struggle with something internal today due to something I said or did 20 years ago. I cringe at the thought. Those are the events I would like to do over. Not so much what I may have endured, but the pain I may have caused others. And not to just clear my conscience. That would be a selfish motive. I’d like to undo those moments because they were wrong. A human was treated less that human by me.

Apologizing is a good thing, but must be carefully done. I may find someone via the Internet, apologize to them electronically for something I said/did in 1997. Turns out they had forgotten all about it, but now I have brought the horrible event back to their mind. Did I do a good thing? That’s why apologizing must be done with all parties in mind, not just your own.

As I come out of the locker room for the 3rd quarter of my life, I am much more aware of how my actions can have long lasting consequences. Not only to my life but to others. My goal is that when I enter the 2 minute warning of my life, that I have minimal regrets on how I played the 3rd and 4th quarter

I Love (My Version)

Of the hits Tom T. Hall had, two stand out in front of the others: Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine, and I Love. The latter would be the most successful single of his career. Story goes he wrote it one morning while having breakfast. It took him all of five minutes to write, and recorded it in one take. The song went on to sell millions. And was even used by Coors in a commercial of theirs several years ago.

Here is a video clip to the song. Below the clip, is write my own version of the song….

(My version)

I love life when it goes slow, freshly fallen snow; Kids on Santa’s lap, and cats

I love a drive in the fall, watching football; Fishing when they bite, and kites

And I love you too

I love sitting ‘round a campfire, a garden full of flowers; Handwritten notes, and jokes

I love seeing dreams come true, fighting for what is good; Watching lightning bugs, and hugs

And I love you too

I love seeing dreams come true, looking at the moon; Lazy days on the couch, and soup

I love drawings from my kids, an underdog that wins; A Sunday morning sermon, and Christ

And I love you too

***And I love some of you guys!

Your Man Loves You Honey

In 1977 Tom T. Hall released the single “Your Man Loves You Honey” off of his About Love album. The album didn’t get the fanfare that Tom was used to the previous ten years. In fact, this was the point his career was starting to slow down. Country had changed its focus to a more pop style sound and Tom T.’s style was no longer in vogue

About Love

Your Man Loves You Honey would be his last top 5 single (peaking at 4). And when people talk of Hall’s music, this tune is often overlooked. But this gem is as applicable today as it was close to 40 years ago

The song contains three stanzas (not counting the chorus) of a man, who though he never lives up to his wife’s high expectations (and apparently she reminds him of this), maintains an enduring love for her

Had my golf clubs on my shoulder when you saw me first today Wearin’ my old army sweater that you thought you threw away

And when you saw me standin’ there you shook your head and sighed When you saw I’d bought a sixpack I thought you were gonna cry

Most of the husbands/dads I know try hard. Try very hard. And if there is a common thread that men have (at least the men I know) it is a desire to receive adoration. Praise and attention especially from the one they love most.

But the stories from many men are the exact opposite. I cannot recall where I read it, but an article I read said that if there was one word to describe the American male it is “angry”. It went on to show how starting at a young age, boys are far more likely to receive harsh criticism and ridicule. That boys often receive less love because of the long standing belief that it will make a boy soft.

Boys are more likely to receive physical punishment (slap, belt…) and in school boys are more likely to be publicly disciplined

Throw in there some sport coaches who yell and degrade a young man, the emotional ups/downs that come with dating (yes girls break hearts too).

Then toss in a boss or two who nit-picks and brow beats………..you can see how the author described the American male as “angry”

We deeply crave atta-boys!

Your man loves you honey and I don’t know what else to say

Your man loves you honey but you can’t change my ways

While it is impossible for a wife to undo decades of hurt (that’s something only Christ can do). The question becomes, are they adding to the hurt? When I am in a social environment (where there are other couples), I pay special attention to how the wife treats the husband. Most guys break off and talk about sports or their latest adventure. Maybe a joke here or a vacation story there. We are pretty unadventurous in these settings

This song centers on his wife’s action in their home – everything is apparently private in nature. However, there is a trend I am seeing over the past several years I am not a fan of. I often hear a wife publicly making fun their husband. Highlighting a recent mistake or blunder. I have seen women (in a group setting mind you) talking about how sexy or good looking a co-worker or veterinarian is in front of their husbands. These conversations can go on for minutes with the husband standing right there.

I’ve heard them publicly proclaim doubt in a husband’s dream or goal (weight loss maybe or going back to earn a higher degree)

Endless stories of bad meals cooked, screw ups while watching the kids, hairy backs, waistlines getting bigger, hair getting gray, projects around the house that didn’t go so well, our forgetfulness, how emotional we are during football games…..and on and on.

It is said that the lowest form of humor, is when humor is focused on degrading or making fun of someone else. It requires little talent or wit.

If the objective is to crush a man’s feelings – ladies you’re doing a great job!

Now before you say you’re angry you remember what I did Went to church with you last Sunday took your mama and the kids

Sat right up and heard the preachin’ even wore my Christmas tie I’m not much on organ music 5-strings banjo’s more my style

I’ve made a habit of hanging around great men. Super Hero Russell, Wade, Phil, Dan, Pastor Bob….just to name a few. This is an all-star lineup.

These men would never do this to their wives. No way would either of these men talk about how hot another woman is in front of other couples. Actually they wouldn’t do this in private either! Sure, they have their own flaws, but they wouldn’t go there. And they wouldn’t let me go their either in their presence

If I began publicly criticizing my wife, they would intervene and changed the subject. Maybe even call me out on the spot. These are all star guys! They see the big picture and have great personal awareness, and I benefit from having them in my life

Your man loves you honey and I don’t know what else to say

Your man loves you honey but you can’t change my ways

Despite these humiliating moments, most (if not all of husbands) will bend and not break. And through some hidden power, don’t take the opportunity to lash back in public. I’m not sure if it is discipline or a “why bother, it won’t do any good” attitude that prevails. But, the damage is done. The pain is very real. You can see it in their eyes and posture, or a passive chuckle or smirk – desperately wishing the conversation would move onto something else.

I admire when a man won’t get defensive and play tit-for-tat. I admire when men take the high road. It’s hard, but these men do it!

Oh you should have had a knight in armor and a castle fair Not some restless cowboy faded jeans and shaggy hair

I can’t make it babe without you and you know that it’s true Keep me around for laughs so I’ve been good for one or two

As I noted earlier, Tom T’s song is about what goes on in the home. it is a snapshot of he and his wife (Dixie, who died this past January).

God gives us such an opportunity to serve as a champion for our spouse. To encourage, motivate, love, to be playful and light hearted. We have this platform to minister Christ’s love in a way no one else can.

I know I have certainly taken the easy road and been anything but loving, soft and encouraging. Our world makes it very hard to even desire to pursue such a relationship.

Our nature likes to keep score of wrongs, we like to play the victim and we like to make forgiveness something you have to earn (thankful God doesn’t take that route)

We choose to make our spouse jealous, rather than stupendous

We spend more time coming up with reasons to withhold good, than actually doing good

We choose to point out a mistake, rather than celebrate a victory

We will give a hobby hours of our dedication, leave some scraps late at night for our spouse

We will “like” the most irrelevant thing on Facebook or Twitter, yet let our spouse know they are boring us with something they share at the dinner table

We will contain our anger at work, blow up at our spouse

Your man loves you honey and I don’t know what else to say

Your man loves you honey but you can’t change my ways

This isn’t to say that men aren’t jerks at home. That will be touched upon another day another time

In this post I simply want to point out that most men are trying hard – we spend a lot of time pondering how to be even better

But, we are sensitive to criticism. I know I am, and the men that have gotten closest in my life are the same.

And I hope to become the man that when I fail at home, and I am “lovingly reminded of my shortcoming” that I will be like Tom T, shrug my shoulders and say “Your Man Loves You Honey…..but you can’t change my ways….”