Saturday, August 22, 2009

The One That Got Away
For awhile, I was wondering if we would make it. The evening began like most other Friday nights from back then. I would leave work in the afternoon and rush to my fishing buddy’s home near Percy Priest Lake on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. Our destination was Four Corners Marina for a quick summertime bass tournament from 7:00 until midnight with other anglers anxious to ply their craft in the deep waters of this rocky reservoir. It was fun like nothing else. This night, however, was quite different.

We made our typical fifteen mile ride up the lake and into the serpentine river channel. It was there we spent most of our time hitting the several spots that always produced as the sun dropped behind the horizon and darkness filled the sky. Several largemouth and a few smallmouth bass had accepted our offerings when the first rumbling noises filled the humid July air. “Looks like we might get wet,” my partner deduced. Until now, thunder was all we heard. That was about to change. The first bolt of brilliant electricity descended rapidly further stimulating our heightened environmental sensitivities. “That’s not good,” Dave astutely surmised. Our concern derived not only from the lightning and the damaging winds that could follow, but also from the location of the storm. It was directly down river between us and the safer confounds of his truck back at the marina. Priest Lake is undeveloped with essentially nothing upon its shores. We were in no man’s land with no place to go. We couldn’t run much further up river in his boat and if we went down river the storm would attack us sooner as we sped across the main lake body. Neither prospect inspired confidence. We decided to stay put and keep fishing.

The thunderous explosions began to increase in duration and frequency. The sky above maintained a nearly constant state of illumination. Large drops of rain splattered the river far behind us and continued a steady processional to our waiting vessel. The voracious wind detached leaves from the swaying limbs of their tree’s trunk. My heart pounded at a frenzied pace. My mouth was dry and breath shallow. Fear paralyzed my movements. I moved lower to the boat’s floor and below the level of the stern light reducing my profile and potential target. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Static electricity shocked the tip of my index finger attached to the metal handle of my fishing reel. And then suddenly, it happened. A bright light exploded on the bank just within sight of our boat. The noise was deafening. I felt the heat radiate out from the affected area. I had been in storms before including a tornado that tore the roof from our church in northwest Alabama when I was a child. I was old enough now, however, to truly understand the sober realities of Mother Nature. I had never been more frightened. All I kept wondering was how friends would explain to my wife that my zeal for fishing had led to my untimely demise.

My partner said a few hail Marys and I offered my own protestant versions of contrite pleas for safety. I also was sure to ask forgiveness for my errant past in case deliverance never came. I made a couple of deals with God on the river that fateful night if he let me out in one piece. I promised to be a better man and to appreciate the blessing it was just to be able to wet my line. I promised to tell my wife that I loved her every time we separated. I promised to call my Mother more often and never skip Sunday morning church for a fishing adventure. I promised to be a good Father myself if that occasion ever came. Some of those promises I’ve kept to this day and others I’ve fallen a bit short on. But, even now, when storms come and lightning strikes I recall with amazing acuity the agreements made with him back then on that stormy river.

Sometimes God uses the quiet whispers of his gentle Spirit to illuminate the road less traveled. Other times he employs bolder and more apparent methods preferring a brilliant display of cosmic power to jolt us from our lukewarm stupors. And sometimes, if we are lucky, he teaches a spiritual physics lesson with a simple bolt of lightning-a lesson that reveals the potential disaster of death ill-prepared for and helps us see more clearly the potential energy left in living…

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Narrow Path...

The water was cold, the kind of cold that vacuums the last bits of oxygen right out of your lungs and makes you gasp for more. I stepped in first and then she descended down the several stairs and into the frigid waters of the baptistery beside me. I wasn’t sure if she was shaking from the water or from the fear or from both. I tried suppressing the tears that quickly gained momentum behind my eyelids.

We had talked about this day before. For a couple of years her interest peaked and waned and peaked again. She was yearning for commitment and wanted access to a deeper spiritual dimension. Public baptism was her way of obeying that call and illuminating the narrow path of a road less traveled. She was asking for answers. She was knocking at his door. She was seeking him. And, in the midst of it all, God found her.

Jesus said it would be that way. The gates of heaven would forever remain elusive unless all became like little children, he proclaimed. What does youth possess that age distorts? How do we again become like little children? How do we recapture the innocence of those early years? Most of all, how do we destroy the pride that creates such catastrophic walls?

I plunged her under. She floated a bit, then hobbled to regain her footing and arose quickly as her Mother snapped a picture from up above. The tears erupted. I hugged my daughter tight. Her nervous smile was confirmation she knew something grand had occurred, but wasn’t quite sure what. Vivid images flooded my own mind and soul. I recalled the day she was born. I remembered looking through the glass of the hospital nursery and watching her trying to make some sense of this new world. I remembered her first, muffled sounds. I remembered the sweet smell of her powdered flesh as I held her close to my warmer body. What I remembered most, however, was feeling her pointed arrow penetrate the center of my hardened heart. And now, eleven years later, she had pierced it once more. I had never been more proud.

She mentioned often in the days leading up to this moment that she knew God loved her and she wanted him to know how much she loved him back. Funny thing though, he already knew. He always did. Her passion made me want to find that place again for myself. It made me want to discover those still waters and greener pastures. I wanted him to find me again and restore my soul because life has done well at obscuring his more regal destination.

The road to God is narrow and winding and seems fraught with peril at every twist. But, maybe it's not. Maybe it just appears that way to prideful travelers stubbornly using their own distorted map instead of simply stopping and asking for directions. Nevertheless, it truly is a fortunate man who makes just the right turns that, in the end, lead him gently back to where he first began…

Matthew 7:7
7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Luke 15:20,23-2420 So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him...23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

Matthew 18:1-3
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 7:13-14
13 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Long Road Home

It was a simple letter crudely scrawled on an old piece of notebook paper. From apparently nowhere it appeared in a yellowed-half torn envelope on the corner of the desk in my office at work. There was no post mark, a clear indication that the message inside was likely intercepted before reaching its intended target. I nearly threw it away before my curiosity and good sense interrupted my hastiness. I tried my best to decipher the poorly crafted wording and interpret the author’s meaning. Phonics has its limitations, you know? But, what it lacked in grammatical proficiency it easily made up for in heart-wrenching poignancy.

A young boy named Samuel had written the letter affectionately addressed to James. From the backwards writing of the “J,” the numerous spelling errors, and handwriting challenges, I determined Samuel to be around five years old with a plus or minus two years margin of error. Whatever his age, Samuel was obviously hurting. “Dear James,” it read, “I miss you so much. I wish you were living in Virginia.” He then marked the paper with “XOOOX” before concluding his remarks with “Love, Samuel.” Below the text Samuel designed what appeared to be a map between Virginia and Arizona where James likely lives.

I’m still confounded at how this letter made it to my desk. I wonder about the nature of the relationship between the two characters in this moving piece of vulnerable correspondence. Who are they? What caused this separation? Are they brothers, perhaps, separated by circumstances beyond their control? Is James in college? Is he in prison? Maybe James has provided for Samuel the only authentic, loving relationship he has known during his brief existence. Clearly something grand inspired Samuel’s fondness for James and the current emptiness he is experiencing in the absence of his friend. It’s ashamed. Love is hard to find, but easy to lose. Love, like nothing else, possesses such great potential for joy and despair.

The fact is, no matter how hard we may try to disprove it, people need people. Samuel knows this and is willing to admit it. His passionate appeal to his friend is a heartrending message many much older than him find difficult to make. Years of pain and pride have a way of building impenetrable walls. Great wisdom lies between the lines of Samuel’s elementary note that I desperately need. Writers, thinkers, and philosophers spend much time pontificating about the simple truth expressed so eloquently from the heart of this child. It truly is a lonely man who sets to traverse the ocean of life in a dinghy made for only one.