Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Saddest Sentence



It was the saddest sentence I’ve ever heard. My dad lay in ICU. Lisa was his nurse. Tubes come out his mouth, blood drips from his nose. Lisa walks to the other side of the bed and faces me, cleaning my dad with white towel. We make light conversation, discourse on dads’ courses—how much he ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner.

“Your mom came by this morning,” she says. I let it pass the first time. The next time she alluded to ‘your mom’ I clarified, “She’s not my mom. Dad’s remarried. Mom died a year-and-a-half ago.”

“Sorry,” she said. “I understand stepmom’s.” There we stood talking casually as if on a bus or in a checkout line while Lisa adjusted pillows and settled my father. She went on to tell me about her new marriage to her second husband, about her first husband meeting someone and moving away. Tying together the catastrophe that was her first marriage and the convenience that was her second she said, “I’ve given up on forever.”

I cry during movies. It’s not really crying per se---I get choked up and my eyes get extra water in them. When the boy gets the girl, when the pitcher gets his second chance at fame, when the bully finds redemption I get choked up. I’m guessing it happens to you too.

The core of our nature is to hope against all hope that good will triumph. We are wired with eternity in our hearts, a seed planted to believe in forever. To kill the seed is to sin against the eternal. Encasing the seed in steel so that it will not grow violates nature. I understand the pain that places the seed in the box. I hope that it doesn’t die in dark but breaks through to new light.

Abraham comes to mind. “In hope against hope he believed,” the scriptures say that he believed that what God promised He was able to perform---in this instance to give him and Sarah a child in their later years. God performs the impossible over and over, hope against hope, cards stacked, death against life and life wins.

Today is sandwiched between Christmas and New Years. The child born of hope, the new year celebrated and anticipated. We clink our glasses at midnight and put hands to the plow on Monday morning. Let us find the courage to stay in the marriage and believe in romance. We shall labor and believe that the work will benefit soul and pocket. May we die to self and love each other. My hope is that at the end of the road we may hear a voice whisper just before they turn out the light, “And they lived happily ever after.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quote of the Week-G.K. Chesterton

For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre's castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Five Smooth Stones

For Val, my smooth stone...

"He...chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the shepherd's bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand; and he approached the Philistine."-1 Samuel 17:40

Were they rough and jagged, large as meteorite,
When the fountains of the deep and floodgates of the sky,
Burst forth?
Mountains molded,
Chipped and chiseled,
Clanging, banging, against each other,
Sand on boulders,
Churning five smooth stones.

The God of Heaven,
Who measured the waters of Earth,
In hollowed hand,
Throws these meteors
Into His toy rock tumbler,
He who calculates the dust of the earth,
Waits and watches,
Creating five smooth stones.

The anointed David,
Who tended the family sheep,
With sharp eye and rugged hand,
Throws these stones,
Felling the taunter of God,
He who delivers from paw of lion and bear,
Delivers coming king,
Casting five smooth stones.

Elect and living stones,
Creatures of dust and water,
With fumbling hands,
Dare we doubt, do we fear?
We overwhelmingly conquer through,
Him who holds both rocks and king,
Descendant of David, Messiah God,
Crying out five smooth stones.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Like a Pat Conroy Novel

His works read like this: Man leaves broken marriage to save sister from suicide. Man and sister’s brokenness is due to parental vacuousness and violence. Dark fruit falls from the family tree; line upon line, violence on violence. All set against bridges, bayous, brackish water and French colonial buildings of the South. Such are the novels of Pat Conroy. Talking with my sister made me feel as if I had just stepped into the middle of a Conroy novel (or into the movie, “Walk Hard”).

Pulling me aside at my fathers’ memorial service she whispered, “This may help explain your father...” I already knew the story, no need for her to repeat it. My father was one of three children; Julius, Leo and Rhoda; Julius being the oldest. Julius, the oldest and favorite son was diagnosed with something akin to Rheumatic Fever. The family moved to a drier climate ending in California. While Leo was a teen, Julius succumbed to the disease. Dads’ parents told him that the wrong son had died.

Fast forward a generation---My aunt Rhoda lies on her deathbed and tells my sister another story. My grandfathers’ will left my aunt a small bequest. The will leaves one-dollar to my father. So my aunt, ever the peacemaker, split her inheritance with my father. My father gave it to his 2nd wife to invest in her business.

Fifteen years later my fathers’ will leaves five-hundred dollars to my sister; one-dollar, adjusted for inflation. A series of events led to separation between sis and my dad. Snippets I remember, I don’t remember much, am certain the sister remembers more. Bathroom door with holes; altar to a fit of violence; phone cords ripped out of a teen-age girls’ wall, hard words and failures to give grace.

The dark fruit fully ripens. The daughter tires of pursuing relationship with the father, the son vows (early on) to never be angry and out of control. Dark fruit opens to seed…ever to continue the line of violence?

Bitterness and betrayal read well but are crushing and painful spelled out. It has been written that God “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the grandchildren…” Bad fruit is redeemed by the Wine of redemption spilling into family lines and breaking violence. Conroy novels generally end on a note of redemption. May we say when the last page has turned that the story was worth the telling.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How Fragile We Are

Death hovers like the child underfoot in the kitchen, invisible until you trip over him. Stories of death seem prevalent this week; the thirty-nine year old acquaintance, the seventy-six year old husband, the five motorcycle riders killed on the local highway. The stories seep into conversation, show up in newspapers, are whispered about at work; “Her husband died yesterday. I can’t believe she’s working today.” They remind us that we don’t know when we will get tripped up, when we will fall.

“It’s senseless death that disturbs me,” my coworker said.

“Right,” said I, “as opposed to healthy, normative, fun logical death.” Death still surprises us. It wasn’t part of the plan---was a result of the curse. That is why we fight it so hard, struggle so against it. I understand what my coworker meant. When both my friends, both named Eric (the other with a K) died it was difficult. Prayers for healing not answered for this life; cut down in their prime. Seemingly senseless, the question without easy answer.

“Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Christ, addressing the newspaper accounts, the whispers and whys identifies death as a wake-up call. Repent, he says. Make a decision today. No one is guaranteed tomorrow.

The message echoes through the scriptures as we hear the Preacher say, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting; Because that is the end of every man and the living takes it to heart.”

That is why I delight in the dark red roses blooming outside my front door. Leaving for work and returning home they remind me that life has colour and sweet perfume. Possibilities abound. That too is why I enjoy my forty-five minute commute (most days). A week ago the eastern sky was bright pink, Mt. San Jacinto bathed in crimson. Yesterday two coyotes raced across the highway and into the shadow of the windmills. So I am reminded to embrace life while I have it.

As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow: For soon it is gone and we fly away….So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Course Correction

Hold on while I finish patting myself on the back. There we go. I have kept my goal of posting every week save vacations. I can see the end of the year from here. Providence has added much to my plate for these last months. To accomodate new committments, Tuesday/Wednesday seem to be more realistic for posting. Look for this weeks' post Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Freedom and Bondage

“To the best of our knowledge, the New Hebrides had no Christian influence before John Williams and James Harris…Both of these missionaries were killed and eaten by cannibals…Forty-eight years later, John Paton wrote, “Thus were the New Hebrides baptized with the blood of martyrs…”

What cause are you willing to baptize with your blood? What hill are you willing to die on? I’ve landed on a principle which flows from Christ’s dying on a hill for me. It colors my politics; it covers the steps of my days and allows blessed sleep at night. Freedom is the hill I would die on.

A severe sample of bondage is found in Sue Fishkoffs’ book Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority. “Observant Jews do not eat milk and meat together…they will not eat meat from a plate that has ever touched dairy, just in case a nano-sized speck of cheese is clinging to it for dear life.” What a way to live! Apart from freedom in Christ we all live like this. Each of us lives with the fear that some small speck of cheese will keep us from heaven, some small dark secret will open us up to public derision.

The decrees and debts against us have been openly nailed to the cross so that we can walk in openness and freedom. Paul rails against such bondage when he says, “Why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” It is for freedom Christ set us free.

Free in God it is consistent that in my politics I fight against the bondage of men. God ordains that government has two responsibilities, to protect and to establish justice. When government begins to encroach on freedoms apart from these then I will fight. If government makes rules on what my pastor can say from the pulpit we will come to blows. When we move toward socialism there will be struggle. As government seeks to limit freedom, I will seek to legitimately oppose. Government that greatly shackles mankind is opposed to the principle of freedom that there is in Christ. Whether then we are bound by spiritual legalism or earthly government we are held captive.

Freedom flowing from the crucifixion of Christ crystallizes for me the energy and motivation that directs my life. What drives you? What eats at you enough that you’d be willing to be eaten by cannibals for it?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Treasures

Empty Handed

Money is stolen and people die. The resultant tailspin will kill you if these things secure your final hope. The stories you are about to hear are true. The names aren’t changed; there are no innocents. I listen to stories over coffee. Here are three of them.

An older lady in her seventies her hand steady as she holds the coffee cup though her visage is clearly shaken. Twenty-thousand dollars in one-hundred dollar bills. This is the amount of money she told me she was keeping in her house. Perhaps I should have used the past-tense instead of present progressive here as the money is no longer in her house. It was stolen. “I want to kill the man that stole it. I know who it was,” she said. She has a guy who takes care of all her household maintenance and he is the guilty party. She’s not going to kill him though, she will let Karma do that; what comes ‘round goes ‘round. She’s spent the last months feeling deathly ill. This was all the money she’d had for retirement.

“How’s life treating you,” I ask Mike as I pull a shot of expresso on ice. He reaches for the expresso over the cart that pulls his oxygen tank. I expect talk of the weather when I ask that question; talk of death startles. “My girlfriend died two months ago. She had COPD like I do. Neither of us worked so we talked a lot. Texted a lot. She had other complications. Died of heart failure. They have me on Paxil and some other meds. Helps me through it.”

We call him ‘The Cowboy.’ When he goes home he puts on a western duster, 1800’s western garb and puts the spurs back on his boots. He’s been out on disability for three months, a knee injury, hip injury and sick wife keeping him out from work. “You go to church, don’t you,” he asks. He tells me he started going to church some weeks ago. Seems that both he and the wife lost hope during the interim. He put a gun to his head and was seconds short of pulling the trigger. What saved him? He couldn’t handle the thought of her being alone.

Marauders will come and take away those things we hold dearest. It is human nature to hold tight to those things we can taste, touch and see. Guaranteed though, in this world they disappear. In the most perfect of marriages one or both partners dies. The wisest and richest man, striving after pleasure and possessions has said he hated life for, “all was vanity and striving after the wind…”

Let us drink deeply the pleasures of life while they are ours; the laughter of friendship, kiss of a lover, money in the bank (or under the mattress). Let us also remember daily that material things are temporal. We must not trust in them for our security and significance. Investing our whole heart in treasure here warrants destruction and hopelessness. Setting our hearts on heaven secures hope and eternal security. Let us be wise with our investment.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.



Photo courtesy of Kelsey_Lovefusionphoto's at http://www.flickr.com/photos/supersonicphotos/with/4483487579/

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sleeping Sweet

Of the many gifts I have one elicits hate among my acquaintances. I can sleep anyplace at any time. You are either envious or you can relate. There is no in between. Can I sleep on car rides, bus rides and plane rides? Yes. Can I take afternoon naps? Check. Being able to sleep at night seems one of those nature vs. nurture arguments. It has to do with the status of your soul, the events in your life, and the chemicals occurring in your body.

As a kid I had many nights where sleep did not come because I could not breathe. There was a strong overlay of fear which made the situation even worse. The more anxious I became the harder it got to breathe and sleep became impossible. I would lay in bed and call to mind the type of winding roads found in Dr. Seuss stories and Escher paintings---roads that lead someplace but have no end. I would imagine myself hiking those roads en route to great adventure and peaceful places. Finally rest and sleep would come.

Many people see sleep as interrupting life. This belief leads to a greater failure to achieve sleep. I see sleep as a merciful escape and welcome its coming. When one spends days and nights in breathless agony, the coming of sleep is greatly welcome. The bible speaks of God’s mercies as being new every morning. If there are no new mornings however, there are no new days of mercy. Sleep is a gift.

The gift of sleep doesn’t come easy to all of us. Stress and sickness can steal sleep away from us for seasons. The Psalms speak of being “weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears.” Being quiet and still make bed a perfect place to reflect on life, but brain spinning will rob of rest.

Spinning thoughts at night rob of rest, but spinning on the bike and good diet help establish decent sleep patterns. Numerous studies attest to this many citing such chemicals as Serotonin as necessary for good sleep. On top of that is emotional health. When I can crawl into bed feeling right with God and having a clear conscience the sheets surround and dreams are sweet. Darkness in my life counteracts rich rest.

Though sleep comes easily to me it still remains a battle to get it enough and in good quality. So I write this as a reminder to myself (and you by extension) to watch diet, exercise and conscience and to watch the clock on the wall as well. Recognizing that there will be nights of short sleep and days of duress but that I can take steps to assure sweet sleep. That makes for one less nap I have to take.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Simplify Your Life

"As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness."

"Before printing was discovered, a century was equal to a thousand years."
-Henry David Thoreau


A sample ballot, a letter from a non-profit requesting support, an application for Rite Aids’ Wellness program, a McDonald’s receipt, a paycheck stub, Bicycling magazine, a JC Penney coupon—these are just some of the paper that has come into my house in the last week. While all this is coming in through the door I have been working clean the rest of my house, a Sisyphean task for certain.

A search for ‘getting rid of clutter’ produced 1,590,000 results on Bing, which seems to rank up there with ‘eating well’ and exercise as a challenge we face. It is estimated that a weeks worth of the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century. We have al this mail and all this information pouring into our lives. Technological advances have made it even worse.

I have boxes and boxes of photographs which I’ve taken beginning at the age of six. Prior to Daguerre (circa 1840) people didn’t have boxes and boxes of photographs. It’s not even likely that they had one or two in the living room. Boxes full of pictures, boxes full of magazines, it can get overwhelming. It makes me thankful for whirlwinds and catastrophes.

While away for a weekend the hose on my washing machine blew. With great force it sprayed water to both ends of my garage. That water landed on boxes of magazines, manuals and letters. You can’t undo water damage. Photos stick together and books warp making them useless. I was forced to chuck boxes of things. It was a great relief. I don’t miss them at all. Downsizing dramatically would be difficult though.

Have you heard of this ‘100 Thing Challenge?’ The idea seems simple: whittle your life down to 100 things. Let me just say this; I have a teenage daughter. I think there are 100 things in her bathroom. I couldn’t do it. I like my shirts (maybe twenty tee-shirts alone), I like my shorts, I like my CD collection.

It’s the clutter and the paper I abhor most. I burned out the paper shredder this past weekend. It was glorious. In the end it seems it all comes back to discipline. Organize, be aggressive, be purposeful all apply to the piles in my life as much as they do to my eating habits and my exercise regimen. I wonder if there’s a magazine I could subscribe to that would help me with that?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Letting Go

He’d driven through the night alternating between murky coffee and vivid flashback. The kid was three years old when the fights began, four years old when the court order came to move out. She’d moved out later; new boyfriend, new neighborhood, same old empty soul. They’d kept renting the thing, until, if, the economy ever turned.

The house stood empty now. They were between tenants and he’d grabbed the short straw to fix up the place. Unlocking the front door he found himself staring into the backyard. Flicking up the lock he stepped out onto the brick. Overgrown ivy and trees bending heavy long branches hedged him in. Then his breath stuck in his throat. The one place there should have been branches---there weren’t.

A small sapling of an aspen he’d planted it the first year they moved in. The white branches shaded the yard; the grass greener, colors brighter by contrast in the corner where it had stood. There was no grass now only the blood brown earth where the tree had stood, roots still spread out like veins trying to bring life to a missing heart.



‘Suite No. 1 in F’ was turned full blast and he poured a Guinness as oboes, bassoons, trumpets and flutes celebrated Water Music. He suspected this would all change. The empty walls and the stark bathroom would give ground to colour and perfume.

They’d met over vegetables at Trader Joes. A common liking for water cress giving way to soup and nuts. Fruit and salad to bowls and settings led to discussions of decour, single servings, and what was best eaten over the table vs. in front of the television. Grilled cheese seemed equally suited for both. Now the discussions were all ‘hypothetical,’ what would it look like if they both did the dishes? She right handed, he ambidextrous-could they still use the same paring knife?

He thought about how he liked his music and his kitchen and the preset Favorites on his computer. It was all nice, comfortable, safe and selfish. White, plain, boring and, yes, stark like the walls in the den and the paint in the kitchen. He suspected he was going to have to learn to give up his selfishness, his space; learn to share and die to self. A world of colour seemed vastly greater than the white safety of those walls.



She’d never really touched her mom. Sure there was the occasional hug but those were quick and shallow, lack of touch the norm in the house she grew up in. So she was surprised, really, to be comfortable now—with this touch, in this place.

The sheets on the bed, the cool on the air, the body always on the bed, all made for skin that was irritated, dry and itchy. So she poured the lotion onto her hands and massaged it into toes and feet, ankles and calves, thigh and back, arms and shoulders. She eased the hair out of the eyes and brushed the hair back in place. These were the saddest days and somehow the richest.

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit , He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Disclaimer

The stressful events of this past week (romance-wonderful but still stressful; my father admitted into a psych hospital-5150, not so wonderful; a six-day work week, and losing/finding a renter for the house) have affected me adversely so that I am currently on codeine for cough and antibiotics for lack of breathing linked to the aforementioned cough. The cough medicine strictly advises again both driving and blogging during usage. Therefore, the blog post which would normally have appeared in this specific location will appear tomorrow prior to midnight Pacific Time.

Note that posts will now occur on Mondays due to changes in this bloggers' schedule.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Fall Colours

The days are shorter, shadows longer, short-sleeve shirts are stowed, long-sleeve sweaters unpacked; so begins October. My mood changes as Fall is unfurled. A somber mellowness sets in as clouds billow. The coming Santa Ana winds ignite restlessness and a bone dry hunger. Still the wind is fresh and in the crisp clear sky there is a promise of refreshing to come, things in the air too deep to fathom.

Fall brings the daughters’ birthday; fourteen this year. Fourteen rich years; unique, ever-changing and fun-filled. Two years until she can drive, twenty years until she can date. The cycle of life continues, the trees turn from greens to crimsons, changes deep, visible only in variegation.

Autumn this year is a mix, the usual solemn mood mixed with expectation, hope, longing as God cultivates a relationship begun in summer. Satisfying to the soul as mulled cider on a cold night---delectable, spicy, awakening the senses.

As the calendar marches toward Dia de Los Muertos I know this season will bring with it dark days. Dad dances with his Alzheimer's. It leads him into a psych ward then steps away to dance with another partner. The 18th mom would have turned 82. So we must all taste ‘pan de muerto.’

The swamp cooler covered, the gas furnace lit I reach for another glass of Syrah. Turning down the thermostat I crack the window and let in the chill air. The days come in an array of color complex as leaves in fall, bright as the burgundy sunset, the ‘bread of life’ ever victorious over the ‘bread of death.’


Photo courtesy of
http://www.flickr.com/photos/kikisdad/

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pessimism-The Tension We Live In

I see the glass as half-full—until a catastrophe hurls it sideways. As a child I read a self-help book which advised to always expect the worse and you’d never be disappointed. Ah, the lies that seep into our minds over a lifetime. As I write sunlight streams into my window, I sip black coffee from a favorite mug and listen to soul-stirring music. I sigh…this is good. Enjoying the quiet I rise to get another cup. The phone rings, it’s the ex-wife with questions about finances and child scheduling. Silence shattered, the tension we live in.

For me it was Hillary Tower; the first infatuation, the first heartbreak. I was six, she some years older, maybe eleven or twelve. Spring and summer we did gymnastics on her front lawn, ring-around-the-Rosie, skipping and laughing. Then one day she was gone. No note, no goodbye, no warning. I remember standing in the kitchen as my mother told me Hillary was gone.

I’m certain you’ve noticed the change in my Facebook status to ‘in a relationship.’ Friendship in any form is miraculous. Let’s face it-we are quirky, selfish, scarred and scared beings. When God brings another human being into the journey with us it is an amazing gift. When that gift comes into our lives through the opposite sex we brush Eden. We know Eden didn’t stay perfect for long. That is the core of my angst.

I am a man of flesh and bone. I trust my experience; I remember all the Hillary Tower episodes in my life. I look at the glass, and the catastrophe, and forget Him who holds the glass aright, Him who drives the storm.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” says the writer of Hebrews. We spend a lifetime learning lies and longer knocking them down with truth. Yes life sucks and evil reigns. Yet God is able to do ‘far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…” It is to God I must look to keep from getting bogged down in my pessimism. That is the tension we live in.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Room

The dry heaves subside quickly. I splash cold water on my face and brush my teeth. Lock up the house and crank the ignition in the car. Pop in some minty-fresh gum. This is not going to be a good day.

The walk from the parking lot into the facility happens in slow-motion; only my thoughts are racing. I pull open the glass doors, heavy, difficult to open, making escape difficult. Sign my name feeling out of place in shorts and tee shirt.

Down the hallway, not chemically clean, smells assault nose and mouth; urine and sweet sick smells which my brain can’t catalogue. Try not to look into the rooms as I pass by, “Doctor my eyes have seen the years and the slow parade of fears…without crying.”

Demons and darkness mingle with deaths’ odor, breathing is a struggle. I hesitate to enter the room. Dragons less an enemy than the black void I must step into.

I cross the threshold; embittered emotions from childhood veil me in. I flail about, drowning in a pool, unable to firmly grasp anything. Soul deep I feel nothing—unsure of myself because nobody’s ever met me there. No voice to give direction, no arms to lift me up. The boy becomes teenager and runs into different arms for feeling, touch and strokes.

Another step forward another deep breath. Attune my ears to a different voice. A Voice that spoke while I drowned, calling directions, giving guidance, reaching into the darkness, affirming worth, confirming value.

I listen to that Voice now, cast myself into those arms. Raise my hands to do battle. Sweat breaks on my forehead; I recall a man without soul, a manipulator of people; hiding emptiness with a smile.

A choice I must make---we must make. Does my past own me? Am I beholden to darkness?

I step into the room and greet my father. He barely responds. I pray over him. I pray to the Father that frees from darkness, demons and guilt. I kiss my father and embrace the day with all it brings.

H/t to GB for help with the creative process

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Time For Every Purpose

Meteor fire lit up the sky, and we spoke of things burned in life’s wreckage.

And there is a time for every event under heaven—
Relationships destroyed by betrayal and boredom, livelihoods lost due to economic downturn, houses sold by short-sale and children seen on weekends.

A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build up.


I told him there was a delightful new woman in my life; he prays for reconciliation—at times-hungers for the arms of a woman.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.

Blink and you miss God’s gifts, streaking into your life in a blaze. The workday week brightens as a customer becomes friend also; heart to heart while on the clock. The five a.m. text-the baby’s born via C, and there he is on your cell phone screen.

A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones;

At a baby shower on Saturday, I asked the dad when the baby was due; he said he wasn’t sure; they’d just changed the date. I’m guessing the mom knows.

Boy leaves the house for college, girl leaves college for the mission field, stones cast, arrows loosed.

a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.

Dismal stories of broken marriages, I hear them too often-he is bored, he found someone else; they don’t talk, he doesn’t listen.

Lovers, misunderstood, trembling and fearful, come together and fulfill the promise; “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered.”

“The conclusion, when all has been heard is; fear God and keep his commandments. For God will bring every act to judgement, everything which is hidden whether it is good or evil. "

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Neighborhood Beautification



He should have been wearing a trench coat. The knock on the door always jars me. Opening it to see my neighbor I expect the normal request to borrow money. Nope. “Do you do a lot of shopping,” he asks. In response to my confused look he counters, “I have this friend that will sell you forty dollars worth of food stamps for twenty dollars. All the neighbors are partaking.”

Cindy is in good shape for fifty-seven. She waitresses at Carrows. Her garden inspired the planting of my rose bush. She waters her garden in bikini, but sometimes in silk dress; depending on if she wants to dress up. Currently she sleeps in her backyard (her bedroom is being redone.)

Wednesday I came home to find Cindy digging a trench in front of our houses. “You missed it,” she says. “The clouds opened up and poured rain. It was raining and hailing. I’ve never seen hail like that here! Another minute and it would have been running into our houses.” I asked, “How long you lived here?” “Since 1974.” So when she says she’s never seen hail fall like it did in this flood it carries some weight. So we spend the last hours of daylight digging a trench in-case the floods returned.

Sunsets are awesome in the high desert. I step outside to catch the colors in the sky and find ‘Junior,’ the two-year old playing in front of my house, no parents in sight. “Hey dude isn’t that an awesome sunset,” I ask, pointing to the sky. Junior isn’t very articulate. I go on to spend a small chunk of time with the kid chattering on about rocks and colors in the sky. Junior now runs to greet me every time he’s outside.

Junior is a child at risk. His mom is a teenager. He’s being raised by grandma and grandpa-who are maybe forty-years old. All live next door. All four have different colored skin. I gave grandpa James a drive to work and heard more of the story. Grandma had an affair and broke up with James. Subsequently she went to jail, was released, went back to James. The teenager is hers—but I’m not sure she’s his.

Cookie came to my door one night begging me to call 911. We wave to each other now and talk about roses. Since I’ve planted my Ingrid Bergman she has decided to begin planting flowers again.

The coffee-cup saying is to ‘Bloom Where You’re Planted.’ Christ’s words are more sobering, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Time to open that front door and connect with our neighbors. God will supply the means; a call to 911, digging a ditch or raising a rose bush. It’s up to us to reach out and connect beyond that. Then to enjoy the resultant bright blooms our neighborhoods.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Questions, Peace and God

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

“Christians would share this verse with me about ‘peace that passes understanding,’ but I felt no peace. Laying there in the hospital, I questioned my salvation…” I asked my friend if he ever received that peace. The answer surprised me. “No, I haven’t.” Four years since his car accident and my friend, a mature follower of Christ, hasn’t known peace.

This chunk of conversation rattled me so that I’ve been chewing on it all week. I understand lack of peace. Finances are ever an issue. I look at my bills, eyeball my bank account and walk away overcome with anxiety. Guilt is an issue too. Guilt projected by others, guilt piled on by self-you should visit your dad in the hospital, you should be the perfect parent, you shouldn’t have gotten into this financial situation. The car dying when I couldn’t afford a new one, the marriage ending period; all trials potentially rob us of peace.

Scripturally, peace seems the end result in the process. And it is a process. First fight anxiety by thinking rightly about God. Think rightly about circumstances as well. Having my material ducks in a row allows me peace. Ducks in a row make great targets for Satan and circumstances though. Which ducks did God promise would remain standing? Perfect health? Owning a house? An intact marriage? Peace eludes me, too, when I insist on having things never promised by God in the first place.

Peace is seen as smooth and happy circumstances when it’s often the opposite. We think of it as the lake without ripple, its water like glass. Truly it’s more like the old beer commercial-the bull is running amok in the cafeteria but your table is calm though the bull rages. The internal and external pain may still rage, the questions still persist, peace permeates all.

Peace is derived from the right perspective. We give thanks because all things come from the hand of God. The grappling and the pain, the qualms and the questions God will honor when they are based in scripture and set against His true character. It will never arrive via false facts and fairy tale expectations.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lasting Friendship

Three months is a long time to a girl of thirteen years. It is a tenuous age and having one close friend by your side a strong security. Times are turbulent and the friend must move where the family goes—where the work is.
“Three months isn’t long,” I say.

My daughter sees not only empty time but perpetual distance saying, “You’d feel badly if Matt moved or you couldn’t talk to Glenn,” alluding to some of my friends. The conversation doesn’t take place in a vacuum. We are driving home from a visit to family of a friend I’ve had since fifth grade. In his kitchen, days earlier, John had noted, “There probably aren’t many folk like us; who’ve been friends since childhood.”

75 % of us have close friends, while 25% of us have no close confidantes, according to a controversial article in the American Social Review (June 2006). “These close bonds of friendship don’t just happen,” I say, “They take work”

What makes for lasting friendships; camaraderie of close confidantes, as opposed to an acquaintance you’ve known for years? How have we built on that initial connectedness?

Thinking through my rich connections two key components are factors in each friendship I have. We make time to talk; phone-to-phone and face-to-face. We take time to construct common experience. In each strong friendship I have I can name hikes and dinners, bike rides and shows, gut busting laughter and spirit breaking tears. In all these things we aggressively take time to touch base.

My daughter’s only begun that rich adventure we call friendship. You’re well into the journey. What’s set your friendships apart from the rest? What would you say to my daughter? En route I’m hoping that my having more than a handful of heart-healing, soul-stirring friendships speaks through these months and into her years.

Picture courtesy of Collection of The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Death The Elephant In The Room

The rage percolates and pours out on family and caregiver. Violence hurled at the nurse during the ultrasound, “You poke me with that one time and you’ll be wearing it.” Scarier still that minutes later he said he couldn’t remember the incident. The anger deep inside, spilling out from a soul still in rebellion.

Dad’s in the hospital again. Talk of congestive heart failure and rehabilitation, going home and getting better. We make small talk while he eats his lunch. Death is the elephant in the room.

“What do you want on your tombstone,” the counselor asked. The answer easier now than ten years ago: Lived large, laughed out loud, fought his fears, quit posing and pretending, taught his daughter all the above.

The Preacher wrote, “It is better to go into a house of mourning than into a house of celebration for that is the end of all men; and it causes the living to take notice.” How are you doing at unpacking your pachyderm? What do you want on your tombstone?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Problem With Prosperity


" I spoke to you in your prosperity; But you said, "I will not listen!"

When cancer comes or the lover leaves it’s God’s fault. When there is food on the table, money in the bank, and health in relationships it’s due to personal discipline and acumen. That’s been my paradigm most of my life. Growing in my knowledge and experience of God I still teetered between two beliefs: 1) God is the giver of all good things 2) Things come my way because I deserve them.

A chunk of my life was spent on cruise control. Got married, had a kid, went to church, went to work, rode the bicycle, hugged the wife, went to sleep. I made time for prayer and bible reading, went to meetings with men and dinners with couples. Funny thing about cruise control, it’s easy to fall asleep at the wheel, to trust in pride, arrogance and the way you’ve always done things.

“God needs to heal this marriage or blow it up,” I choked out over the phone. The threat of restraining order came quickly after. Three weeks of confusion as night after night found me sleeping in hotels. Pride and arrogance weren’t much help.

The marriage blew up. At the end of my rope I was ready to listen. One of the lifelines God threw me happens on Tuesday.

I spend every other Tuesday with a bunch of men. A group of guys that pray like this, “Grant me continued humbling, brokenness and transformation.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are those who mourn…the gentle…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…” Most of these guys were controlled by demons, drugs and even basketball. Today they count it joy to be controlled by God.

Prosperity isn’t the problem. If it were the book of Job wouldn’t end with God restoring his fortune twofold. The problem is with me. Prosperity allows me to be complacent, money in the bank fools me into thinking I’m good without God. May I remember that Jesus blessed those poor in spirit, but to the man who relied on silos full of grain he said, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you.”

Photo courtesy of:
George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).
http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/ggbain.09237/

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Preferable

"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows he carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted."

Bloody, mangled,
Escape through barbed wire,
Gashes preferable,
To His crown of thorns.




Bloated, swollen,
Swimming through jellyfish,
Stings preferable,
To the jagged whip.

Battered, raw,
Crashing through pane of glass,
Clarity preferable,
To soldiers' fists.

Body, broken,
Crucified upon a cross,
Mercy preferable,
To deserved wrath.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Clean Underwear

I did my dishes, made my bed and cleaned the crockery-a months’ worth of cleaning in a day. Leaving town on vacation, nothing like coming home to crisp clean sheets and shiny sinks. That’s the face, the place; I’d like you to see. I’m lying to you. I clean for another reason.

One mustn’t leave the house in dirty underwear. If you die in a car wreck, or a helicopter drops on your head, or you choke on a Clif Bar it’s imperative that you are wearing spotless skivvies. Irrefutable logic it’s not, still it appeals to a maternal archetype.

When the plane plummets into the ocean and I die (the seat cushion as boogie board-good; as flotation device-not so great) I don’t want you to find my house in its usual state of ‘controlled chaos.’ There’s something else I don’t want you to find and I hadn’t even thought about it until one night of live theatre.

The folks at “Mortified” describe themselves as “a comic excavation of the strange and extraordinary things we created as kids. ...Adults sharing their own adolescent journals, letters, poems, lyrics, home movies, stories and more.” Funny stuff and for me, frightening. I’ve kept a journal since high school. You remember high school? Oh, you don’t?

I’d left the place clean but in my closet was a box of journals. When I got home I ripped the box open. Opening to the journal entries for my senior I found entries such as the following:

Thursday Jan. 19: I had a dream. Something with Jude and I fell asleep. I woke up and she was gone. I went to school. I brought my squirt gun.

Friday Feb. 10: Demi is soooo cute.

Monday Feb. 14: I gave Valentines to Judy, Dana, and Cheryl and Demi.

Monday Feb. 20: Keith and I went to meet Barbie and Lynette for brunch.

Wed. March 29: Neca called. Date is all set up for Friday night. Last show ever of Carol Burnett was on. Sob, sob.


Cleaning underwear is easy. Bonfires and Wite-out leave evidence behind.

Monday, July 05, 2010

This Old Tent

It has touched the thigh of a woman and the nose of a bear. It has sat underneath the lightning storm in Spearfish—more awesome than the Black Hills Passion Play, the reason I camped there. From the warm Virgin waters of Zion National Park to cold snow in Yosemite she’s experienced it all. The tears and turmoil of the brutal break-up with my first love was seen through the same eyes that saw my 40th birthday celebrated with wife and child while camping in northern California.

Hailey and I were going camping for Father’s Day. Pulling my tent out from storage started me thinking about the places the tent has gone; Twenty-five years of adventure, a quarter century of road trips; hail and hunger cycling from San Francisco to Malibu, ecstasy and elation on the top of Mt. Whitney, tears and questions in Zion, imagined Indian attacks at Canyon De Chelly. Each journey was a rich time of exploration, awakening and growth; each quest brought perspective and satisfaction of soul.

A tent serves not only as shelter, but as altar to gain perspective and remind of what God has done. No wonder Peter wanted to set up tents at the transfiguration (“Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles (tents): one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”) After bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, God told them to live in tents seven days, commemorating their foray into freedom.

This summer when you take out that tent, when you unpack that camping gear, when you bring out that old ice chest-stop and give a thought to where it’s been, to where you’ve been. When you arrive at your vacation spot and you are settled in, take time to look forward. What does your future look like? What kind of wilderness is God leading you out of? Then take the next steps forward knowing what you’ve already walked through.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Elder Care

I understand my dad’s unwillingness to go to a hospital. I would think this would motivate him to take his medicine. A handful of medicines correspond to alphabetized ailments-Alzheimer’s, blood pressure, congestion, diabetes…Possibly they make him feel tired or anesthetized, perhaps he doesn’t like the chemicals, maybe he likes control. Perchance he’s just plain paranoid.

My daughter Hailey and I went to visit dad on Father’s Day. He was very weak and every breath was a struggle. When I spoke to him about using an inhaler he said, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” He will use expletives when he wants to be left alone. Vitriol and violence seethe beneath, leading to constant outbursts.

Straightforward and direct, Hailey lets me know her mind. Leaving my dad’s house we set out for dinner. Over sandwiches at Jersey Mikes we discussed my sunset years. The thirteen year olds’ bottom line: If I’m as cantankerous as “Grandpa” I won’t have Hailey’s support.

The way we react to the trials of old age are a response to the person we’ve become on the way there. I will respond differently to old age than my father. Albeit Alzheimer’s comes knocking my actions will be poles apart from papa. Primarily because Christ is at work in me to kill pride and promote humility. From that point of grace a thousand other decisions have led me down a different road than that travelled by my dad.

A friend’s mother, a godly woman and gentle spirit, wrestles with senility. After returning from visiting a long-time friend she commented, “I’d like to go and visit Ann.” My friend replied, “Mom, you just saw her yesterday.” To which she replied, “Oh! Did I have a good time?”

The weekend was a good reminder that my actions don’t occur inside a vacuum. Character qualities that I practice will, by God’s grace, flow out naturally in action.

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps…”

Photo appears courtesy of: Collection: A. D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library Accession Number: 15/5/3090.00176b

Monday, June 21, 2010

Riptides and Wilderness

"God would never make it in the travel industry because He’s always leading his best clients into the wilderness. He even led His own son into the wilderness first….So there must be something good for us in it."--John Piper

I am consistently amazed at people that visit a National Park and think that they’re just visiting a bigger Disneyland. “Hey Marge, go pet that Buffalo!” Dead Men Walking, a report by the Wilderness Medical Society reports that in National Parks for the period from 1992 to 2007 there were 78,488 people involved in 65,439 SAR (Search and Rescue) incidents. These included 2,659 fatalities, 24,288 injured or sick people, and 13,212 "saves," or saved lives. The wilderness is a dangerous place.

Wilderness humbles. As a teenager I would drive thirty miles through winding canyons to get to the beach. Watching waves crash on shore solidified my faith in a God that “sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.” One summer, caught in a riptide, inhaling salt water, the waves brought only terror.

I was caught up in a financial riptide once. Ten years ago my debt was overwhelming. Each month I borrowed from one creditor to pay another. I’d see land and another wave would roll in and slam me under the water. Air-gasp-wave-slam. I made it to shore gasping and heaving.

I alternate between fear and excitement. I look back in fear. I press forward in anticipation. My manager post, my current apartment, phone calls from friends, all appeared when I was certain the next wave would drown me.

There is one other thing I realized-between breaths, before dying, during the gasping and heaving. I wasn’t bored. I was fully alive.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Technological Slaughter of Suburbia

In the early 1900’s radio was blamed for the disintegration of neighborly community. A ridiculous concept, of course, as everyone knows television slaughtered suburbia. These theories are now all passé—current thought is that keyboards are doing the killing. Charles Blow states, “I increasingly believe that less neighborliness is becoming intrinsic to the modern American experience — a most unfortunate development,” and, “I am very much aware that social networks are rewiring our relationships and that our keyboard communities are affecting the attachments in our actual ones.” I see Mr. Blows’ smoke, um, point here while at the same time wondering what world Mr. Blow lives in.

While visiting the orthodontist this week my daughter, Hailey, ran into one of her friends. The girls eagerly chatted while both I and the other dad sought to exit the office with girls in tow---with no success. We, the fathers, introduced ourselves and spent the next five minutes discussing work, his daughters’ adoption, the local junior high school and retirement. Pulling out of the parking lot I made comment to Hailey that he’d had his daughter since she was three. “Boy, he shared a lot with you,” she said. In five minutes we’d established a delightful neighborly bond.

Satisfying my desire and keeping an earlier commitment I purchased a rose bush this week; an Ingrid Bergman, mildly scented and burgundy red. While out in front of my house (and perhaps that is key) watering, two of my neighbors stopped by and commented. One told me that she’d moved into her house last year with thirty plants but only three had survived. She loves roses and was now planning on visiting the local nursery to buy one. Cindy’s tree shares its shade with my yard. Cindy’s flower-bed inspired me to add color to the front of my house; and we had a short conversation regarding the beautification of the neighborhood.

I sit in front of my computer as much as the next guy (though maybe not as much as the girl I work with who is addicted to “World of Warcraft.”) Walking out of my front door life presented opportunity for “tangible, meaningful engagement” with a network of neighbors. I even asked Cindy to water “Ingrid” while I was on vacation. Perhaps all it takes is being approachable and a willingness to say, “Hi.” Reaching out with hands wide open makes us better ourselves and leads to stronger community---there Charles Blow and I fully agree.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Spandex and Cotton

Past the junkyard,
I bicycle,
Empty shells and cars in disarray.
In the open space,
Two men trade money,
For contraband.

Beyond the dump,
Black Ravens,
Swirling in and out of the refuse.
Near the dark water,
Penguins of trash bags,
Flutter and fly.

A verdant pathway,
I dismount,
From the table, you rise to greet me.
Around the courtyard,
Lavender, Iris, Summer Phlox,
Perfume the air.

At the table,
We converse.
Form tight spandex and flowing cotton.
Amidst the flowers,
Talk of the Father,
Traversing lives.

Path gives way,
To blacktop,
Tangle of jungle gyms and homeless.
Next to the park bench,
Rucksacks and cardboard,
Obscure the grass.

Back towards home,
I race,
An old man totters in jogging shorts.
Back onto cement,
Salty silt and sweat,
I wipe my eyes.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Divorce and Forgiveness

Pop quiz: Think of one or more of your divorced friends. Have they moved on past their divorce or when they talk of ‘the ex,’ are they still bitter, angry and unforgiving? I’m betting you chose B-bitter, angry and unforgiving. If you’re divorced, what about you?

I hear the objections, everything from mental abuse to not adequately doing the dishes. My wife claimed my failure to consistently do the dishes drove her to an affair with the guy who put the tile in our bathroom. I’ve done battle with desire for vengeance and vindication over forgiveness and mercy.

Why choose forgiveness? Primarily we must forgive because Jesus commands us to. As one of my friend’s jokingly states, “It’s in the red letters, so you have to do it.” We have said the prayer many times, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The verse goes on to say “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

What is forgiveness? It’s a complicated answer and I’m a simple man so I think of it in simple terms. Forgiveness is not seeking revenge but actively seeking blessing for the one who wronged us. It’s a helluva lot easier on paper than it is in real life.

I still feel the rolling rage. When I first found out about the affair I would have moments, minutes and hours that I felt intense, marrow-deep, blood-red rage. The rage would come out of nowhere-there was no predicting when I would feel it. I rarely experience it now but it still comes, unbidden and then quietly exits.

In those dark days it was a mental battle to choose forgiveness. A forgiving attitude swam against the current of my emotion and my desire for vindication. Speaking of those mental battles Paul used imagery of warfare, for such it is, “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh—for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.” Of which he means mental fortresses, not material ones.

Be patient with yourself in the process. Forgiveness isn’t the initial feeling, the immediate thoughts you have aren’t going to be positive. At that point simply allow yourself to be willing to be willing to forgive. Give God the process. Keep giving God the process. It will be an ongoing battle.

A healthy heart and head are the final reasons to forgive. Failure to forgive will ensure that your thoughts are continuously on your ex. They will continue to enslave you through your failure to forgive them. Cutting them loose with forgiveness frees your head and heart to pursue better things and newer adventures.

Fight to forgive then for we do not want to be those old bitter men we experience in our bible studies and bars and who we overhear grumbling at the supermarket. Life has so much more to offer us as we press forward in forgiveness and mercy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Between The Air-The Conclusion

“His name was Ivars. They met in one of the refugee camps before coming here. She was fourteen, he, seventeen. They were in love. Days before mom was leaving with the family for the states, he disappeared. Nobody’s sure what happened. There were rumours-KGB, CIA. I just know that for years mom kept his picture next to the cyanide capsules she travelled with. At the end he gave her the music box, a little piano.”

“So the piano’s the key to this thing. Come on kiddo, let’s go see if we can stir up a little treble with this Sara girl.” I drove, she gave directions. Not a bad start for a relationship. Miss Sara has a little apartment in the hills above the city. Climbing the stairs up to the door nearly gave me a nosebleed. Looked like somebody had beat me to it. On the porch there were small drops of blood. Knocking, no Sara. “Kyra, you keep lookout. I’ll let myself in. If we get company, you holler.” She gave a slight nod.

I looked all the obvious places, the lingerie drawer, the bookcase, her desk and came up empty. Leaving the bedroom I heard the scream.

Kyra knelt in the entryway. “Damn step,” she said. “I got bored hanging outside and thought I’d help you search. I know her better than you do. On my way down I touched this under the lip of the door. No blood,” as she stood back up.

“She placed the key in my palm, drawing her hand back over my fingers as she let go. The tag on the keys read, ‘Hat Top Hotel-Rooms and Boxes by the hour.’ This case was getting to be like a little matryoshka, those Russian nesting dolls.

Down the stairs, into the car and away to the Hat Top Hotel, our relationship was moving fast. There was no main office just a main door leading to rows of P.O. boxes. This was too simple. The key fit easily inside the box and there was the music box. I handed it to Kyra.

In staccato words between tears she said, “Everything looks okay. What now?”

"Tomorrow we’ll go back to Sara’s. Maybe we’ll get lucky. I’ll meet you at the office at 9:00”

This trip found Sara in her apartment. While Kyra looked like everything you’d want in a dress, Sara looked like she could beat up your kid brother. “I figured we’d cross paths sooner or later,” she said. “Find anything interesting in my apartment yesterday?”

“Sara, we were so worried about you! The blood yesterday, and bad blood thanks to your quick disappearing act. Have you seen mom’s music box, Sara?”

Sara spoke slowly at first and gradually increased tempo, “This is going to take a while. Can I get you anything? Fine. The blood came from me. I really need to get those damn cracks in the cement fixed. I tripped coming into the kitchen and ripped off a toenail. Nothing major.

I’m CIA. I know Kyra, it’s hard to believe. After that incident with the police, I gave up trusting authorities in uniform. I rebelled. Then I decided that, I at least could be good. I could stand for something. So after college I enlisted.

While working on a case dealing with Nazi spies I came across information about the music box, I remembered you and your mom. Sorry Kyra-please forgive me.

We don’t know who Ivars worked for, if he worked for anyone at all. We do know this. He had compiled a list of top Nazi officials. Perhaps he thought it would help the war effort, perhaps he thought it would be useful after victory, I don’t know. What I now know is this. He had it engraved between the wood on the music box. Your mom’s music box."


I enjoyed the cool feel of my clothes as they touched my skin, dry material on dry skin. The air conditioner purred like a kitten with no fear of the thermometer. The knock sounded loudly on the glass pane of the agency door. I sat in my chair and awaited the next paycheck as Kyra led our new client back to my office.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stretch Break-Between the Air Part 1

Between the air-conditioner and the news broadcast on the FM, I missed the first knock. “Coming,” I hollered mid-stride. There were few benefits to summer, and the way she dressed was one of them. The sun-tanned arms, the curves of her legs, the piercing steel-blue eyes. “Wow,” I thought, hoping I hadn’t said it out loud. “Come in,” I said, motioning toward my desk.

She sat across from me, her calves not much wider than those of the red-leather chair that half-surrounded her. “Kyra Bronson,” extending her perfectly manicured nails in my direction.

“Mac. Mac Flintridge,” I stated. What Mac Flintridge looked like wasn’t important. It was the solidity of his presence that impressed itself so heavily on the senses. “Which is it, something lost that you need found or something you found that you wish still lost?”

She breathed shallow, tears welling up in those eyes, “My mom, well, something of my moms’. A music box. She fled with it, through the camps and coming to the country. I think it has something to do with Sara.”

“Coffee Miss Bronson? Or would you prefer something that packs more heat? Who is Sara?”

“I’d best have coffee,” she said as she recounted this story from her high school years.

“It was late. We’d gone driving with a group of boys, they took one car, Sara and I took hers’. Sara kinda thought it’d be fun to play ‘hide-and-seek’ and veered off onto one of those little dirt roads that crisscross the outskirts of the valley. We thought nothing of it as we flew down that little dirt road.
The cops came out of nowhere. First we thought it was the boys messin around but then we saw it was a cop car. Lights flashing and siren wailing we were pulled over. Sara opened the car door and stepped outside of the car. The cop screamed, “Freeze!” He walked over to Sara and threw her against the car while screaming questions at her. “Why are you out here? What are you doing?” He unclipped his flashlight and shined it into her eyes saying, ”Why are your eyes dilating? What are you up to?” Sara screamed at the officer, requesting his badge number. He slammed her up against the car again with an injunction to be on our way. When we got home we called a friend on the force to complain, but were told to forget it-we’d never get anywhere.
Sara changed after that. She started hanging out with the rough kids. We drifted apart that year, her and I. Later on I heard rumors of drug use. She was in and out of violent relationships; the violence was mutual I understand.”

Kyra was briefly silent. I heard the air conditioner grow louder as if in fierce battle with the heat. Kyra picked up her story. “We connected again through an old friend. Things were going well. We seemed good together. When my mom was sick she spent a lot of time with her. After my mom passed….”

Her coffee sat untouched. I got up to grab myself another drink from the cabinet. Something cold, organic, healthy; I reach for a Shiner Bock. Raised my eyebrows in question of another drink for her. I take in the scene, the red chair, the blue summer dress, the long black hair falling straight. “She died, your mom?”

“Yes, cancer of course. Sara was with us much of the time. She was a great help to me, to, to, to us both. Later though, when I went to look for the box, I couldn’t find it, can you help? My mom left a little money. I wouldn’t know where to start.”

I had ulterior motives, no work on the docket, and an air conditioning unit that was on its last breath. “Sure I’ll help. Tell me more about this box. Then we’ll go talk to Sara.”
....To be continued

Monday, May 10, 2010

Anxiety, Paralysis and Baby-Steps

I dislike confrontation. I have a passive bent. I have a house that needs to be sold. I spent chunks of time this week worrying about calling the realtor and the renter. Decisions would have to be made-would the renter freak out and move out? Is this a wise move in this economy? I found myself frozen in a ‘paralysis of analysis.’ Hesitant to move, I thought of the Israelites.

Pharaoh wakes after a bad nights’ sleep to find every firstborn mammal dead. In roiling anger, army in tow (six hundred select chariots and the second string chariots behind), he screams out after Moses. Fleeing at midnight Moses and company have already left town. As the Egyptians bear down on Israel they experience their own paralysis.

With the Egyptians behind and the sea in front Israel panics, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the Wilderness?” they say to Moses. Moses seems to stall out himself until God nudges him saying, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.”

The sons of Israel had to begin moving before God ‘swept the sea back.’ The first guy in line placed his sandal in Red Sea sludge trusting the next step wouldn’t be his last.

That is what frees from paralysis. The first step sets in motion a series of events. Step-by-step as each step unfolds take the next step and “do the next right thing.”*

So the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea. The following morning Moses stretched out his hand and the sea returned to its normal state and the Egyptians were overthrown in the midst of the sea.

While life doesn’t guarantee us miraculous victories, we are promised wars in the wilderness. If we freeze and fret victory is impossible. Forging forward solidifies faith and allows God opportunity to guide.

“Remember that the shadow a thing casts often far exceeds the size of the thing itself (especially if the light be low on the horizon) and though some future fear may strut brave darkness as you approach, the thing itself will be but a speck when seen from beyond.”-Jim Elliot

*H/t New Life Ministries

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Summer Contrasts

The monsoons come in summer. At sunset Hailey and I plant ourselves on the trunk of my car and watch the lightning show. Atop the hills to the east, north and south the lightning bolts flash. It is quite the show to watch as darkness overwhelms twilight all grows dark. Then the lightning flashes. Five, four, three, two, one…we count until the thunder comes. The results of the high heat and humidity also bring about frightening and revolting consequences.

The Sawtooth Complex fire was started by lightning on July 9, 2006. The fire burned 61, 700 acres and destroyed 58 homes. The fire burned for nine days and was fully contained on July 18th. While the threat of fire is frightening there are less life threatening consequences of summer as well. The high heat bakes the Salton Sea and a collapsing temperature inversion creates algae blooms which microorganisms eat-creating a very strong sulfur stink.

One thing that doesn’t stink about summer is sleeping in. When the daughter sleeps over the rest of the year I have the privilege of kissing her goodnight and kissing her awake in the morning. Day breaks early on school days and the battle for quick breakfasts, furious face-washes and timely teeth-brushings seems never ending. Summer mornings I plant a kiss on her cheek and nudge her to move over and we catch a couple more hours of sleep. Breakfasts are bigger; bacon in the microwave, pancakes on the griddle.

Temperatures in the lower desert will hover around 115 degrees while in the high desert we get off with temps around 100. In the lower desert the air-conditioners run non-stop. Folks either leave town or become daytime prisoners in their own homes. Hence business slows down considerably. We take vacations.

This year will find us kayaking an ocean estuary and riding rail through redwoods. I truly enjoy the high-desert summer heat but it is good to go someplace where you need to sleep with a blanket.

Soon enough those blankets will need to be pulled from the home closet again, the swamp coolers covered back up and the air-conditioners turned off. In the low desert old folks will come outside again. Life will speed up and Fall will be upon us.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Coffee and Cigarettes

Tomorrow someone will hand us a large amount of extra time and a big chunk of extra money. What will we do with it?

“Coffee doesn’t taste good without cigarettes,” Elsa rasped as she explained why she’s cutting down on both. In her twenties, looking every bit the archetype of a Norwegian, she posed for some pictures. She went on to be on the cover of a magazine in Norway- the kind of magazine her parents didn’t tell their friends about, though dad may have read copies while in his youth.

Even models have biological clocks. At the age of twenty-five Elsa set her career aside to raise three boys. Fast forward that digital clock thirty years ahead. The boys are all grown up and Elsa’s life consists of coffee, cigarettes and trips to the high desert for massages and marijuana-until this month. This month Elsa is giving up cigarettes and coffee to begin focusing on herself. She had made phone calls to some magazines to see if they want to do a retrospective, the model at 60.

Five years down the road my daughter will be college age. Twelve years down the road I’ll be retirement age. Hailey’s hurtling toward twenty will mean more time on my own. Do I invest it or squander it? Do I try to get some interviews and relive my glory days, “Blogging Barista Bicycles into Sixties?”

Pastor John Piper has challenged my thinking in this area (you can read his book “Don’t Waste Your Life online): Do I want to spend the last years of my life standing on a beach in my Bermuda shorts and throwing shells into the sea? Or can I leverage my retirement to invest it in mankind?

Plan, Pray and Dream: If I’m going to leverage my time and money investment later then I need to think through options now. My present time investment is in Hailey-school and clubs and homework. Dreaming big but practical-What’s my heart desire for five years down the road? For me it would be some involvement in missionary work, World Vision is located two hours from home, my church is located five minutes from my doorstep.

Whether to give up coffee, cigarettes or self isn’t the right question. The correct question is what gives greater significance to life. In the final retrospective; what will they write in our obituary?

Clock courtesy of AlexKerhead

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wind of Refreshing

The sweat tickles your nose and burns your eyes. You remove your hat to cool yourself off and the sweat flows down your face and your neck. All day in this wilderness and the heat is wearing you out. Placing the hat back in its place you find partial shade and a large rock. The shade helps but the rock is hard and warm to the touch. Laying down on the rock you watch as the horizon rises up toward the sun and shadows appear. Your senses subconsciously notice before you are aware of the change……….

Last Spring saw the death of my mom and a season full of hospital visits, funeral preparations and property issues. That season is still vivid and the fatigue still felt. On the heels of that year visits to the hospital to see my dad and watching his slow demise are harder dealt with. A small emotional ogre preys on me powered by dad’s violent attacks on his wife and the phone calls after each outburst. Arguing with my dad; his self-hatred and control-issues; the ogre crouches in the depths of my psyche.

Every work day draws a different battle. My staff overlooks things I think they should see. Quality seems less important than maintaining personal energy for their personal lives. Things constantly break. I constantly fix. I realize the problem is primarily me. I’m not energized by work, feels like classic burn-out.*

Life is static on the home front as well. Don’t reach for the psych manual yet. I’m not suffering from depression. There are aspects of the day that I fully enjoy, days with my daughter and jaunts in Joshua Tree. There’s a present dryness there though.

…….The wind is coming-a cool breeze, a hint of moisture, a drop in air temperature. As you breathe in through your nose you are reinvigorated. Steps seemed impossible in the heat but that little puff makes you want to dance the jig. It is a wind of refreshing. It is what I am praying for in this coming season. Join me, will you?

*Except I don’t believe in that.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Agajanian On Fire

A girl named Olga stole my heart,
For a second while I fixed her bagel,
Light cream cheese, she blinked
And my heart skipped a beat.
A strong beat, perhaps with raucous guitar and
Piano accompaniment or,
Segovia on strings, Agajanian on fire,
I dream.

Windows open in my big house
By the ocean, the breeze blows in,
Wind over wheat fields,
Garth Brooks croons of dances past,
First love and fireworks.

A synchronicity of nerves on edge,
From battles at work,
Squirrel Zippers, perhaps,
But they make my feet tap,
And I don’t feel much like dancing.

Father flails in hospital again,
In the dark of my living room,
I pursue perspective,
Jars of Clay carries me,
Balanced between hope and angst.

Heart longing to touch,
Something bigger than itself,
Again,
I’ll choose Waits, he knows that pain,
And Powell, who knows the Healer.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Passover Deliverance

“But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants.”

“Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.”

Drawn together by thin cords they came to celebrate the Passover Seder this sacred week.

Gaunt and Goth, all in black she embraced each family member. Her once gorgeous curves reduced to straight lines by diet and drug, nicotine and nerves. The loss of a sister, failure of heart; the loss of a son, unending questions; the loss of a husband, bitter betrayal. Sweet of heart and gentle of spirit, who will lift the darkness?


Her hair cut manly-short, her clothing masculine-but not. Pink blouse cut to accentuate form, stylish slacks, womanhood waits, wrestling, underneath the surface.

The bronze silk shimmered; her dress too tight around her waist reveals stomach. What was too tight around waist was too loose up top, discloses breasts.

Their child of two-and-a half, conceived of science and in third-parties, all little girl she chased the puppy around the back-yard.
Deep seated anger and gender confusion are part of a bigger brokenness.
Hearts dying to love, the water turns to blood. Who can cleanse and purify, making the water pristine?

The hail fell hard on his life. His first wife dying young, unexplained heart problem, divorce took number two and Mrs. Number three battling cancer. Pacing, he took a phone call; busy with business, can’t sit for blessing. Moving, talking, joking; masks for his lack of peace and quiet. Who is big enough to shield and protect from catastrophic pain? Who can restore the years the locusts have eaten?

Arms akimbo, His arms frame the doorposts, the blood of The Lamb, slaughtered, stains the doorway.

For Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Testimony

(For Hailey)

I lusted after that magnifying glass. Today I can still feel the smooth glass, see that beautiful orb encased by a gold band and the way it slid softly into the round leather case that it was attached to. It was owned by my neighbor. I stole it from him. At seven years old I was fully acquainted with my own evil and the shame that sin produces.

My father was in prison and my mom was in and out of the hospital. Dad was a plumber for Los Angeles County, fixing all the county buildings including the jails. Mom worked as a nurse at Valley Presbyterian Hospital.

I first heard Jesus’ words in a Mormon living-room*. On the days that mom worked the Mormon family down the street took care of my sister and I. I remember hearing Jesus talk about loving your neighbor. Statements about ‘removing the log from your own eye before removing the speck from the eye of your brother’ struck me as true. This man did not teach as normal men his message was deeper, different.

I attended the Junior High Youth Group to meet girls but stuck around for the sermons. It became clear to me that Christ was God incarnate. Understanding enough doctrine to know that I wanted Christ to lead my life, I made a public profession and was baptized at the age of sixteen.

One college afternoon found me walking across the campus lawn thinking, “Is this all there is?” That same season we had a new pastor at the church. Lanny was the first pastor that I’d heard preach from the bible and exegete the text. During this time I enrolled in an evangelism program. As I trained for the course I came to fully understand that I was a sinner and could not earn my salvation. I grew increasingly hungry to read the bible and spend time in study with other Christians.

Growing in grace began to free me from the extensive guilt which had ruled my life. The process would be lifelong, but understanding that God chose me before time began and loves me unconditionally radically changed my outlook on life. Guilts’ little brother anxiety had followed me around for a long time as well. He began to leave me alone after I realized that I could “cast all my anxiety upon Him, because He cares for me.”

In the years since God has been gracious and compassionate, though that sometimes meant using a two-by-four to get my attention. Christ is ever sweeter, joy is ever greater and mercy is poured out abundantly on this sinner saved by grace.


* God shielded me from the counterfeit while calling me to the true.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Embracing the Possible

It is one of the rules of the road trip. When scanning for music on the radio you must listen to whatever musical station the scanner stops at. Hailey and I were out on the road listening to the radio. The first stop of the dial was one of those top-40s stations. I raised my hand to hit the scan button-road rules or not. From the back-seat I hear, “Embrace it dad.” So I took a small step out of my comfort zone and listened to the music.

Most of us approach life like we approach the roll of plastic wrap in our kitchen drawer-being careful to avoid the cutting edge. Really though, where’s the true joy? Where do the greatest rewards happen? Where does the greatest character growth occur?

What does the cutting edge look like to you? We stand on the brink of difficult times as a country with more people than ever in need of assistance. Go grab your calendar and check-book. Could you invest in a neighborhood shelter, take part in the reading program at the local library that you’ve thought about on and off (and off and off) for the last year?

Maybe start smaller scale. Be thankful for one more thing today. Take one small step toward that big God you’ve been avoiding. Write that letter to Aunt Sophie telling her how much her cookie recipe has always meant to you.

Put your hand to the plow. Listen to the music. Step out of your comfort level. Embrace the challenge.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

In 3D

I have received many responses on the dating site I participate in---mostly rejections. Granted my face is less ‘ruggedly handsome’ and more ‘ravaged’ per the Janis Ian song. There is another reason that I don’t do well on the dating site. Though I’m good on paper, I’m much better in three dimensions.

I should have seen it coming. I was working for a large insurance company when email came on the scene. Slaving in the quarry of cubicles my neighbor would email me rather than greet me in person. Corporate bosses would email messages rather than face me with an issue—“Greetings Dillo. How does a nice long vacation sound?” Nobody would leave their ergonomically positioned chair to interact person to person.

Professors across the country are banning laptops from classrooms.
José A. Bowen, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, is removing them from lecture halls and urging his colleagues to "teach naked" — without machines. Bowen says class time should be used for engaging discussion, something that reliance on technology discourages.

“Taste and see,” are words the psalmist uses to drive our experience of God. An experience that engages all five senses will have a greater impact on us than an event that is only seen. Partial engagement equals distractions. At the bowling alley I saw a girl bowling and texting at the same time. Needless to say she was not fully engaged. I guess you could say she was on ‘pins and windows.’ Fullness and joy in either event did not occur but only dissipated involvement in each.

Laptops and cell-phones are great tools for interacting with the world. A friend of mine is a truck driver. Texting and phone calls allow us to stay in touch throughout the week. Those electronic messages are but a shadow of the interaction we enjoy when we get together for a meal. Face to face we are fully engaged, Facebook to Facebook is a quick note in passing.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Water Comes Back To Joshua Tree





Instead of water my last visit to Barker Dam found a wide expanse of stinking green algae. The effects of a drought year with .67 inches of rain. God gave rain this year and the dam is full. A stormy winter will make way for a splendorous spring.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Boredom An Epiphany

"From 7:00 to 8:00 we take our early evening nap, and then for an hour before we go to bed at 9:00 we waste time. "As you can see, that leaves almost no time for brooding, lagging, plodding, or procrastinating, and if we stopped to think or laugh, we'd never get nothing done."

"You mean you'd never get anything done," corrected Milo.

"We don't want to get anything done," snapped another angrily; "we want to get nothing done, and we can do that without your help."

"You see," continued another in a more conciliatory tone, "it's really quite strenuous doing nothing all day, so once a week we take a holiday and go nowhere, which was just where we were going when you came along. Would you care to join us?"

"I might as well," thought Milo; "that's where I seem to be going anyway." -The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster.


****************************************************************

An attack by pirates would be a welcome change. Steady winds and a strong sail propel the boat miles offshore. Long passed are the shipping lanes and boats staying close to harbor. Now we are out, somewhere, in the middle of the ocean.

The sea grows calm and smooth as glass. The wind, no longer steady, has ceased blowing. To complicate matters there is no motor. The only thing that could make matters worse would be… “Yes it would have been a good idea to recharge the battery for the GPS.” Drifting without direction, powerless and visionless I count the minutes until I leave work.

Like the Polar Bear at the zoo I pace back-and-forth. I stand and sip coffee as I face another day without challenge, another visionless morning. Even as I stare out the window my mind seeks to grasp something solid. Thinking through options that make life interesting I have an epiphany.

Difficulties and trials stretch one's limits and allow little opportunity for boredom. I grab a sheet of paper and proceed to outline the last five years of my life. It looks something like this:

2005: Move to desert. Start new job. Get kicked out of house.
2006: Move into new house. Find out about affair. Begin divorce proceedings.
2007: Look for new job. Fret about finances. New job opportunity.
2008: Divorce final. Mom gets cancer. Take care of mom.
2009: Mom passes away. Lose consulting job.

Looking at the list I think to myself, “Maybe boredom’s not a bad thing.” Quick upon the heels of that thought two others rush in:

1) Boredom is another trial. 2) I must learn to fill the boredom with things that make a difference.

Unlike the Polar Bear I can make my time productive. In the lulls at work I can pray. I can create and plan ways to encourage others. I can dream big and not let boredom become my master. Could it be that boredom too is a steady wind moving me onto greater adventure?

What do you think?