Life’s Too Short

There’s this video going around right now that’s making everyone feel all the feels. In it, a youngish African-American man comes home and his younger brother is in his house. He hasn’t seen him in 4 or 5 years, I think it is. They laugh, and hug, and it’s great. Then his mom enters the video, and he hasn’t seen her in ten years (I think both mom and brother had been in some African country). The older son completely devolves to his childhood, it looks like. He falls on the ground, cries, and hugs his mother.

The first thing I thought of was this one time I forgot my lunch when I was in high school. The bus stop was literally right across the street from my house, and I remember standing there with a big group of kids when my mom came onto the front porch with my brown bag in her hand and yelled “Tommy, you forgot your lunch!”

I must have rolled my eyes or something, because she set it on the porch and went back inside. Immediately, all the kids started mockingly calling out “Tommy, Tommy.”

I went and got my lunch, and it was more of that stuff the whole way to school. I don’t remember how the situation was resolved with my mom. It was true I’d been extremely embarrassed, but it wasn’t right to be rude to my mom.

Anyway, I saw that video of the kid breaking down when he saw his mom and it occurred to me that’s probably what I’d do, too. I’d give anything now for my mom to hold up my lunch and call out “Tommy!”

The point of this isn’t to have a pity party–my mom’s been gone many, many years. I just want to say that life is too short to be consumed with stupid things. If you’re a kid and you somehow read this, your parents are going to embarrass you sometimes. Maybe they’ll even do it on purpose (I remember taking the boys to the fair a couple years ago, and my older son brought a friend. They were playing this really loud fair music and my wife and I started dancing along behind my son and his buddy–he was horrified. And when we ran into one of the cool kids from school, he practically screamed “stop!!” Too bad, really, because my booty song came on…). Let it go when that happens. It’s making memories. Things you’ll look back on later and be glad they happened.

Be embarrassed, that’s fine. Just never forget that if your parents didn’t really love you, they wouldn’t take the time to act the fool in front of your friends. For my part, I love doing that stuff, and I am not above sacrificing my dignity for a laugh. I just wanted to say that, in the words of Bradley Nowell from Sublime, life’s too short, so love the ones you got.

Burdens

I remember waking up after my rotator cuff surgery and being/feeling pretty wasted and confused. And in quite a bit of pain. The nurses were struggling to get my blood pressure down. I muttered something like, “my wife…” and then fell back asleep. When I woke up again, she was standing there. I was dazedly watching them drain off some of my blood into something like a little squeeze ball, and the pain was lessening.

Somehow, my pain became more manageable, and my blood pressure went down. I don’t remember getting dressed, but I became aware I was wearing sweat pants or pajamas or something and a button up shirt about 4 sizes too big was sort of draped over me with only one arm through the sleeve. It was time to go home, which was very close, but I couldn’t walk very well.

I got to my wife’s car courtesy of a wheelchair, but I didn’t know how I was going to make it into our apartment. Jenny ended up calling her dad to help, because she couldn’t lift me. I am no lightweight, but Ken held me up and helped me walk into the apartment, my arm over his shoulder. I was leaning quite heavily on him. He helped me to the restroom to pee, and I was afraid (probably he was, too) that I would need help with my pants. Thankfully, I didn’t, and I was able to do my business and get to the couch, where I would spend quite a bit of time over the next month.

I remember being grateful for his help; that he was there when we needed him. Ken and Linda have always been like that, and probably always will be, so long as they are able. They are always willing.

I remember my sisters pretty much taking over parenting duties after my dad was gone and mom was really starting to get sicker. I was a teen, and it couldn’t have been easy. But they all helped with whatever care I needed, and I’d like to think I turned out OK.

I remember when my gall bladder crapped the bed a couple years ago (on Valentine’s Day, no less) because of a gall stone that felt like the size of a watermelon jammed into the neck of my gallbladder. It hurt like the devil was poking me with a pitchfork. Jenny slept in a chair next to my bed for two days, and Ken and Linda kept the boys for two days while I was in the hospital.

I remember also texting with my best friend, who is also a pastor. He asked me if I was ok (because I was the one who messaged him first to tell him I was in the hospital and why). Told him I was a little scared because I had never gotten surgery. He said he’d grab his chaplain’s badge and be right there, which he did and was. And sat with me all night.

Those are just a few of the times I have felt like–and probably actually been–a burden to someone. Today I was thinking about that, I don’t know why. And it occurred to me that helping the people you care about isn’t necessarily a burden, even if in actuality it’s sometimes a  hardship.

Today, our pastor posted a meme on Facebook about hardships, and how they involve (roughly translated) ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Certainly they have in my life.

I don’t know how good I have been at doing similar things, but I hope the answer to that is “ok.” I am, after all, an ordinary person. I am no pastor, no bible scholar. No hero. I am just a man, a person like you are, and I do my best to serve God, to whom I feel like I must also be a burden.

Yet there I go back to my statement a few paragraphs ago. “Helping the people you care about isn’t necessarily a burden.”

If that is true, then the God of the universe cares about me, which is an extraordinary thing. The God whose hands shaped the world and whose breath made it alive cares about me. He cares about you, too.

Don’t discount that, even it doesn’t feel true at times. Even if it feels He isn’t close. I promise you, He is near.

Time has brought me clarity and truth on a few things, and because you’ve stayed with me this long, please take another minute or so and don’t go just yet.

The first thing is that even when I stood in my mom’s hospital room when she was in a coma and weighed about 80 pounds, God was with me and with her in her haze of painkillers. I know because earlier on, I heard her ask him to be. The last two things I heard her say on this earth were “where’s Tommy?” and then “good” when I told her I was there.

He was with me when I was 5 or 6 and bad things happened. I saw and felt the truth of that as a grown man, kneeling at the side of the Colorado river.

He was with me when my friend took his life less than a half mile from my bedroom.

He was with me through relationships that ended, and jobs that were lost. He was with me when I was steeped in my sin, and had no idea he was even there.

My shoulders may have sagged, and I may have felt like I was alone.

He was there, much like when my father-in-law helped me walk from our car to the house, helping me walk with my arm draped over his shoulder.

He was there for me, carrying my burden. Carrying YOUR burden, in the form of a roughly hewn cross.

I wasn’t a burden to him, because helping the ones you love isn’t a burden.

You aren’t, either.

Maybe a more accurate statement would be to say, you don’t mind bearing a burden for someone you love, or helping them bear it. Even when that burden IS the person you love.

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Top 6

So today I want to take a few minutes and not think about a few things that really have been bugging me lately, and concentrate on what I feel is really important, that I am so very grateful for.

  1. For some reason, God sees my usefulness, even when I do not. He has seen fit to allow me to be part of an amazing and spirit filled congregation, at a bible-believing and bible-teaching church, with a pastor I have known for nearly a decade, and consider a personal friend. I get to serve with people I love and respect, and that’s awesome.
  2. At this moment, I have two young men I get to be dad to in my life. They challenge me greatly. They frustrate me sometimes, but at the end of it is a blessing—always, always a blessing and a reminder of God’s love for me. That he chose me to be their father. Me, with parental relationships cut drastically short by life, and only a couple of good, effective fathers (my brothers-in-law) for example in my younger years. I struggle at times, but I know it, and I can pray through it. That’s what I plan to do—concentrate my effort on that area in a way I haven’t always done.
  3. My wife—my lovely, talented, and inspiring wife. I say lovely not just because she is a pleasure to my eyes, but a pleasure to my inner self—to my heart and to my soul. God sent her to me in her boldness, and in her faith. She believes in me, even when I don’t believe in myself. Who does that? Jen does. Even when I’m a giant hairy toolbag.
  4. My job. Everyone who works out here complains about it at times, and that’s understandable. The elements are unforgiving, and the hours are sometimes long. So long that eventually it wears on every part of your life—except maybe the checkbook. And that’s what happened to me. I got weary, complacent, ungrateful, and laid off. Three days later, I was rehired. In a job capacity that suited me and my skill-set. Working for a boss that is a very decent and family oriented man. Working with people that are 4 oddballs, and very colorful characters, but quite the team. I really like them, even when they tick me off with the pranks.
  5. Similar to my first point, for some reason, I was extended a hand to help pull me from the muck my life had become. This hand from a God who welcomed me into the family, but first defeated me in my rebellion, which so desperately needed to happen. See, the thing about abject capitulation; the thing about supplication, the thing about crawling to his feet, with the world dragging behind you like a parachute, is that when you get there—head down—he tells you to look up. He sees you, the real you. The you of addictions, and sin, and meanness, and sarcasm, and misuse of your gifts, and he tells you to look up. He reaches down and lifts your head. He lifted my head—he does whenever it goes down. (this last one is partially inspired by the poem linked at the bottom)
  6. My life, without changing anything

Today, this very morning, I felt like God told me to start living my life with more abandon, and less inhibition. So I’m going for it. Life is pretty good. Make of it what you will. Believe it or not, and any other cliché you want to insert here.

I don’t know how the execution of this inspiration will work out, or how successful I will be. But I do know that while I am not perfect, I also don’t want to be the guy who gets to the end and wishes he’d tried harder.

I’ll leave you with this poem. It’s wonderful, and powerful, and means a lot to me.

 

 

Heart Problem

It seems like everywhere I look lately, there is violence. There is a thesaurus of words related to violent acts. Words like “shot,” or “shot to death,” or “murdered.” Sometimes, refreshing new expressions like “racially-motivated attack. Any incident involving a gun, though, definitely brings out the worst in people. Take the Bataclan shooting in Paris a little while back, for instance. Not going to go too far into specifics, because that isn’t really what I’m after this morning. Today I’m just amazed that so many are doing the blame-game thing already. Just as they did in Paris, and so many other places.

Making the situation a political talking point. It shouldn’t be that at all. For “either” position.

Blame is apportioned and absolved for violent acts. Guns will be taken away, and people will live. Or guns will be taken away and people will die. It’s radical Islam. It’s gun enthusiasts. It’s Wal-Mart. It’s George W. Bush. Skynet has become self-aware.

I do not believe it’s the fault of the gun, however. Or the knife, or Colonel Mustard and the candlestick. I think somewhere along the way, people forgot the value of a human life, if they ever knew it at all.

Violent things are just…expected in this sad world. It’s “the way things are these days.”

It doesn’t have to be.

I didn’t expect to, but I was flipping through one of Stephen King’s Gunslinger novels, and I found a statement I mostly agreed with regarding gun violence, and violence in general:

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I believe our culture in this time has made it commonplace to deny responsibility for our actions, and blame our circumstances instead. Maybe the people we hang out with, or used to.

Except that’s crap, and everyone knows it, whether they admit it or not. Our hearts have become withered things, nearly immune to effect or influence from the death on every side. It’s our hearts, man.

We can’t seem to recognize wrong anymore.

Our circumstances in life can certainly influence our thoughts and opinions, but saying your actions are not a choice–even in a passionate moment–is patently false. We may not be able to affect what happens to us in life to a very large extent, but I believe it is a fundamental truth that we always, always choose our actions.

I grew up in a very blue collar neighborhood in a very blue collar town. Lots of my friends experimented with all kinds of things, and got into all kinds of trouble. You would hear people say things like “he ran with a bad crowd.” Or perhaps, “It’s no wonder that happened. Did you ever see his parents?”

Listen, friend. There are times it may not seem that way, but we really do have the ability to choose our actions, and “I couldn’t help myself” is only as true as you make it. Viktor Frankl wrote that “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I believe that statement is true. I know it’s true because with adulthood and the advent of Christ in my life, I find myself making much better choices. I think it came with the ability to stop putting myself first so freaking always. It wasn’t necessarily because I hung out with different or better people. It wasn’t because someone dumped a bucket of “smart” over my head.

It was because I started making better choices, and I stopped believing (and doing) the stupid things people told me to do because it was what they thought was best for me, or true about me.

For example, when I was in eighth grade, I had a teacher tell me privately he thought I should stop hanging out with my friends because they were bringing me down, and minimizing my potential. I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now.

I didn’t say anything to him then, but I wanted to tell him to screw himself. The friends he was talking about ended up literally saving my life, just a few years later.

I learned a lot about the value of a human life during my teen years, in lots of ways. If you know me at all, you know that story. If you don’t, ask me and I’d be happy to tell you about it. I have links on here somewhere to my Facebook and email accounts.

I wouldn’t change a thing about my life, good or bad.

My life got me here. It was very hard at times, but it was worth it. And I don’t think I began to explore my true potential until I took the offered hand of a carpenter, rough with calluses and scars.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to realize my full potential, because God made us all to be perfect, and sinless. Our very ancient family chose differently.

So I will never be perfect. Neither will you. Practicing social justice might make you a better person, but you’re still going to make mistakes. At the core of you, and the core of me, we may always be the same person. That does not mean we make the same choices.

From an old Everclear song, “I will always be weird, I will always be lame.”

That may be so (it is with me), but with the growth and freedom that Frankl mentions, and with faith, and maturity, and the ability to love comes a little wisdom, along with the ability to choose wisely. And we can begin to work on our heart problems.

So that’s me. And yes, to re-iterate, I think we, as a society, have a heart problem.

And I think we can fix it.

I think the answer lies in what this coming weekend is all about–Easter. It’s not about chocolate, or caramel, or finding eggs. It’s about how a man came, who was really a lot more than just a man. It’s about how he gave his life to fix our heart problem, and came back so we could understand why.

You may know me, and you may not. You don’t owe me anything, but I’d like to ask you for a favor, whoever you are.

Find a house of worship this coming weekend. You will hear a message there that could change your life, and help to fix your heart problem.

Please, give it a chance. Go there, wherever “there” is.

Hear the message, and respond. It will really change your life–maybe even save it.

.j

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It appears I have found myself in a bit of a quandary this Valentine’s day. I wanted to do something original for my wife, so she could really understand what she means to me. So the first thing I tried to do was sit down and write her a song. There were two main problems with that idea:
1. I don’t know how to write songs.
2. I have about a 2 note range, and I don’t know how to sing, so when I do, it looks and sounds something like this:

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or maybe this:

So my romantic idea of a sweeping, romantic love ballad was dashed on the rocks.
Next I thought about a Valentine’s Day breakfast in bed thing, then I remembered:

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So that was out. And a light turned on in my really big, peach fuzzy head.
Why don’t I just tell her how I feel, and embarrass her publicly.
Check. I can do that. What better way than Hall & Oates memes?

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Oh, wait, that’s Beyonce.

Here’s another idea:

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I could do that, but, really, this is a good way to describe how I feel:

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Just a couple more truths.

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And this, from me, but through the immortal words of pop artist and ladies man, Rick Astley. Things I am never gonna:

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But seriously.
You are proof that the Father answers prayer. Look at our kids, and our home, and our life.
I love you, pretty girl. Happy Valentine’s Day.

RIPs in Advance

So the celebrities have really been checking out at an increasingly rapid rate, especially musicians and singers. The men and women who made the music of the 60s, 70s, and 80s are getting a little long in the tooth, and you never know what’s going to happen, or when. I enjoy a lot of that older music (real instruments, and real vocals–good and bad) because I have older sisters that introduced me to it when I was younger. I am really grateful for that.

When they pass, social networking goes bananas with tributes and RIPs. So I thought I would pay some respect to the bands I loved when I was younger, and love today.

Ozzy Osbourne/Black Sabbath and solo. My friend had a Paranoid LP, and we played it a lot when I was younger. Then I got one of my own from my sisters, I think. Such a great and heavy record. Today, Ozzy speaks like a stroke victim in recovery, but he can still sing. Ozzfest 2002 was awesome.

Deep Purple. Amazing band. I only need two works to prove it. Highway Star.

Styx. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.

Journey. They rock, and the ladies love them. What’s not to love?

Judas Priest. Oh, my gosh. Still one of my favorite bands from the 80’s. Rob Halford is in his 60’s, but he still has it.

Iron Maiden. A friend had a recording of Live After Death. So good. And Piece of Mind? Please…

Don’t let me forget Bruce Springsteen, either. Not metal, but Born in the USA and The River were like old friends during a really tough time. And then my sister gave me the live boxed set for my birthday, I think. Done–lifelong fan of his music. Never mind his politics.

That’s the beauty of recorded music. The performers will be gone, but we will have the music forever.

Band-Aid on a Neck Wound

I think it’s completely understandable that when there is some sort of gun-related crime that makes the National news, people become more concerned about the ease of obtaining firearms, especially if the incident is a multiple-victim shooting.

There have been so many of those of late, the President has vowed to issue an executive order for what he and those like him have deemed better gun control laws.

Ok, go ahead.

It just seems to me that they are–metaphorically speaking–putting a Band-Aid on a neck wound. They may temporarily stop the bleeding, but the wound is still there.

If you doubt the veracity of that statement, take a long look at Chicago crime statistics–where you will find some very tough gun control laws.

In my opinion, our nation’s problem with guns is more related to the de-valuing of human life, and less related to gun purchases at firearm expos and large capacity magazines.

For so many, I believe, human life is meaningless.

The President rails against well publicized gun violence when it occurs, but at the same time supports an organization responsible for literally, millions of deaths. How am I then to take his diatribes seriously?

From what news sources indicate from all sides of the spectrum, gun purchases are surging. I’m not sure what that will mean in the end, but it’s seems very possible this president will go down in the annals of history a little differently than he would probably like to.

Maybe his executive order will help things. I really hope so. Time will tell.

Maybe the President will realize that all lives really do matter, and that simple truth needs to resonate.