Monday, January 27, 2014

Eighteen Again...

It hits me most in church.
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I don't know if it's regret, or bitterness, or fondness, or little bit of it all.

I feel it most when I see people now I knew from so many years ago.

I guess it's because those who were so intimately part of our past are inextricably linked to our future. Because there's something unique about those who know how little your pond really was-those who stopped at the same red light on main st, those who bought their nails from the same hardware store on the corner before the stuff marts took over.

I think that's why so many, regardless of their age or physical condition, still seem to be in a psychological state of eighteen years old.  That's when we began to come of age, when we put away many childish things and had to take some responsibility for ourselves-when some began to realize the world really didn't revolve around them.  

When your eighteen, the world still seems new...inviting...innocuous- the preponderance of hurt and loss still safely reserved for future times.  And, there's just something about relationships from those times-a component for which others will never have.  After eighteen, we spend a great deal of time trying to re-invent ourselves and photo shop a more attractive life image and reputation.  But, those who knew us when, well, they know us better. They know who we were, who we are, and who we're pretending to be.

There's just something about that age which seems to mark us forever- and a perspective none, except those who knew us then, will ever have.

And so, I sit there in church and see the middle-aged faces of people I knew back when-those I worked with before they were married, those I played baseball with before we had our own kids.  And, it feels kind of weird.  I see their more weathered faces, retreating hairlines, bulging mid-sections. Some times, it makes focusing on worship a little challenging.

Even so, I perceive them much the same way I did twenty five or so years earlier.  I see them as I see myself: A forty three year old man caught in a dynamic suspension between youth and age- still wondering what it will feel like to grow up, still amazed I'm old enough to drive a car, pay a mortgage, vote for president, and have a kid of my own- wondering at the same time, why my knee hurts so much.

Now, I even coach a basketball team with a guy I played basketball with in high school almost thirty years ago.

He looks different.

So do I.

And, I guess this is just the nature of life, of living, of growing old. Maybe it's true that age is just a state of mind. So, it's probably best not to fight this ascent of age, but find ways to embrace and enjoy what it provides-to accept I've entered into the grown-up era regardless of what my mind is telling me.

But still, many days my greatest wish is time would somehow rescind itself-that I could find an eighteen year old boy again and tell him so much of what I know now.

I would tell him to eat less and laugh more.

I would tell him to drive less and walk more.

I would tell him to talk less and listen more.

I would tell him to leave less, stay home more...

and hug his momma before he left.

But most of all,
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I would tell him life, like it does so often,

will get out of whack.

And when it does,

don't get bitter,

go to a quiet place,

get on his knees,

and pray...

more....

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Maybe They Were Right About Elvis...

I hit the best nine iron of my life about thirty years ago at the tender age of twelve.
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I didn't, however, launch some soft balata Titleist high above the thick Bermuda grass and land it close to a tight pin on a narrow green.  Nor was the shot some wind-cheating knockdown hook that rolled perfectly towards its target with laser-like precision.  No, the recipient of my blow wasn't actually on a golf course or driving range, and wasn't even a golf ball either.  Unfortunately, it happened to be an unsuspecting, three inch Fowler's toad quietly lounging himself in my backyard at the time.  His crime:  picking the wrong tuft of bluegrass upon which to sun himself.

And, I've never admitted this to anyone (except my wife) until now.

It's not that I don't like animals, although close proximity to cat hair does form red, itchy welts about my body and make me feel like an eighteen foot python confused my neck for a small varmint.  Even so, I don't necessarily wish them ill will.  But, neither do I feel excessive (or any at all really) compulsion to protect or defend or make more comfortable our feline friends.  This indifference toward cats extends to much of the animal kingdom as well. I'm not sure if my ambivalence and past amphibious abuse makes me normal/disturbed/criminal or what?

But, it's the truth, and my pseudo disclaimer for the following observation:

I've noticed our culture seemingly esteems animals more highly than humans.  I'm sure you've all heard the stories about the extreme fines and jail time those who steal or destroy Bald Eagle eggs face, while women are legally justified to terminate babies in the self-interests of reproductive destiny.  And, I'm sure many have heard arguments, and possibly employed them at some point, of the man vs. animal/eggs vs. baby debates.  It's likely too, most have also seen videos on television of helpless and formerly abused animals destined for certain death unless adopted by generous families (I must add in a note of self-defense that I went to the local S.P.C.A. several years ago and brought home a dog for the kids, though I honestly feel no real fondness for the pooch). I'm not saying that such videos/advertisements are bad, it just appears abused children don't attract quite the same attention or reaction.

Nothing new there.

But, from the "In Case You Hadn't Noticed File," this week a jury convicted Dr. (and I use that title for identification purposes only) Kermit Gosnell on three counts of first degree murder related to botched abortions in his Philadelphia clinic.

The gruesome testimony, which included stories of babies being delivered alive only to have their spinal cords snipped, (which, incidentally, is apparently the way legal abortions are sometimes performed as long as the neck severing occurs inside the mother and not out) seems to have passed with  relatively little commotion from much of America and its media.

I couldn't help but wonder what the response and American reaction would have been had a National Zoo worker snipped the spinal columns of three little, cute baby pandas?  In all this, I try to reconcile grace, love, and understanding while staying consistent to a faith that just won't let me accept abortion as a means of birth control and neck snipping of babies who potentially could live independent from the mother regardless of their current geographical location.

And, often I wonder as a Christian man if I should get involved at all or just shake the dust off and move on?

But,something about "terminating" a gamete, zygote, fetus, baby, or whatever politically correct term we use to rationalize murder and assuage guilt, just offends my animal desensitized sensibilities.  And, regardless of your opinion about abortion, I hope we could all agree that late term procedures Gosnell employed were particularly heinous.

Is this what we've come to? What could be more defenseless, more worthy of defense than an innocent little baby growing inside his mother?

Invariably some will point to specific moments in history like the end of prohibition, the end of school sponsored prayer, or even Elvis and his gyrating hips as the definitive moment of societal devolution. I tend to think, however, there is nothing new under the sun and we've steadily consumed bits of sewage for so long the larger doses are now just more palatable.  But, I think it is worth mentioning the landmark supreme court decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973, essentially legalizing what I believe is murder, seems to me a particularly notorious historical event along the decadence timeline.

And, I really hope my previous and current animal opinions don't disqualify me from saying so.

Nevertheless, the apostle Paul spoke prophetically about the battle we face being not against flesh and blood, but instead spoke of an unforeseen enemy wielding great power in the struggle for men's souls-by spiritual forces and beings operating in another dimension yet so cunning in the world we know.

And, I suppose he was right.

But, even so, much of the time

the battle feels so overwhelming,

lost mostly,

because

the bad guys just don't fight

fair...


Ephesians 6:12 NIV
--12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities,against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.




Monday, March 25, 2013

Accounting 101...

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We were young once, and friends. Not best friends, but good enough to open up his kitchen cabinets, pull out a glass, and pour it full of tea from his mother's refrigerator.

We both liked basketball- a sport for which his lean, muscular frame seemed well-suited.  We swam in the lake during summer.  We shot at birds in the barn with bb guns, talked about girls, and laughed a lot like young boys do-our wits imminently compatible. We went to church together.

Last night he died.  He was forty years old.

He had nearly died twenty-five or so years earlier.  After church one summer night, four teenagers left together in a car; they would never be the same.  For many years afterward, the impact of that tragic night left a visible scar on a large tree in their path.  He flew across the back seat and hit the door with his head.  It bowed out noticeably.   The others suffered lacerations and broken bones.

Frankie wasn't as lucky.

I remember seeing him in the intensive care unit while he lay in a coma for weeks with all kinds of machines hooked to his lifeless looking body.  Doctors drilled out his skull and placed a tube in it to help with the bleeding and swelling- the likelihood of recovery slim at that point. The medical staff prepared the family for the worst of possibilities, and for many days, those who knew him agonized over his tenuous existence-intense prayers spoken often through desperate tears. And finally, after much waiting, God provided the answer they wanted. Slowly, he began to improve until finally he left the hospital to start his therapy.

But, his brain had suffered and he was different.

I didn't see him much after that.  I left for college shortly thereafter, and well, things just kind of changed like they always do- the world kept spinning madly along.

A few years later the family still battled the insurance company over the implications of that night.  His lawyer deposed me about how Frankie had changed and what the rest of his life would look like.  For many reasons, I really didn't know how to answer his questions back then.  I was only twenty-two years old, with smooth sailing in my past- bitter storms still mostly ahead in the distance.

All I can remember saying is, at one time, he and I were a lot alike.  Young boys from a similar place, from a similar moment in time, likely with similar hopes and similar dreams.  But now, after all of this, I just couldn't imagine he would ever enjoy the same prospects for life as me- that somehow he seemed cognitively changed in a way that would make our futures very different.

And, I remember feeling guilty at the time for not having known him better than I did, for not being able to answer that question with more clarity, for an accident that held him back and yet pushed me on.

Today, I feel that way again.

I saw him very occasionally throughout these past twenty years.  I should have made a better effort to know his new life, to be a friend again.

But, I had my excuses.

Nevertheless, his brief life isn't a story of some manifest destiny to broken dreams or even unanswerable questions of what ifs.  It is a reminder to those of us who live, to whom so much has been given, of just how much responsibility we share for each other.

Of how no one or no thing is simply just an accident, of how we are all quickly destined again to dust.

Of how we must escape the prison of self-indulgent living, transform our faith from a theological position into a physical discipline, and be a father to the fatherless, defender of the defenseless,  friend to those who need one most.

On his account, I was past due.

Now, forever delinquent.

And still, after so many years, continuing to ask for the grace I desperately need, but don't deserve.

Meanwhile, a lonely mother grieves for the son she loved and lost. And tonight, in a world mostly asleep, will sit quietly in a dark room and weep.

A wise man once said for everything there is a season.  And, I suppose he was right.  But, even so,
the summer sometimes seems to pass before we ever noticed it began.

And the cold, hard winters-
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well,  so often,

they just seem to come

way

too

soon...


Ecclesiastes 3:
1.There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance...






Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Poured Out and... Breathless...

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It is quiet mostly.

But, just as thick calm settles like dust around the blackened room where I type, a dissonant wind infiltrates the deep silence of this bottomless night. It billows about the tree tops and bends the metal of our slick roof in a high pitched, uneven tone.

I hope it doesn't break.

It's late.

And, here I sit restless...wondering...

My wife and children, they sleep quietly upstairs, and are safe now from the demons wrestling with me-demons that assault my faith, and have me asking questions like, "how could it all be true?"

There was a time when this dark abyss didn't scare me so-when confronting it seemed so benign, almost welcoming.

When my faith burned brighter than any night.

Now, it flickers, as if the wind itself is trying to extinguish what little embers still breathe. I feel the steady cadence of my beating heart, acutely aware of our tenuous existence here, of systems so precisely designed, but destined to fail nonetheless. I feel a heaviness pressing down, closing in.

There was a time when I looked high to the steeple on my church while driving by, like a little kid peeling away a tiny corner of a wrapped present, desperate for a peek of some glorious fragment inside.

When seeing it made me gasp for air.

Now, I pass safely on the other side, without even a listless glance.  

There was a time when I prayed hard and often-when breathless again, I talked to God, when I believed he heard me, when it just poured out easy- like water rushing down a steep ravine, when he seemed so real, so alive, so much like a father I loved, when I believed I was his son.

Now, my prayers are less frequent, more strained.

I read last night from J.I. Packer's book, "Knowing God."  Packer said knowing and studying about God was not the end, but the means to an end.  He suggested that an academic knowledge or belief in God was only the beginning to a relationship with him.

I want that again.

I need that again.

Because, I have a family to lead,

and for better or worse, a legacy to leave.

And, we are a quickly vanishing vapor.

And, I am beginning to hear with stunning clarity,

the clock of my own life,

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ticking...