Look Behind You

My iPod is on shuffle and I was just getting started on my day’s work when I stopped for just a second to listen and take a breath. I wanted to think about blessings, and see how that would affect the course of my day. Yesterday was pretty good.

I woke up and I took a breath, and then another. Each followed in succession–a chain of little blessings.

I stared at the bright numbers on my bedside alarm and felt my wife’s warm hand on my shoulder. Across the hall, my six year-old had the CD from his VBS playing in his room. Something about his God being so big and so mighty.

Word.

After service, I had the privilege to pray with someone who I didn’t know before but am glad to now. Later, after church, my older boy told me he wanted to start tithing.

When I stood at the front of the stage, I made brief eye contact with my counterpart on the other side and then someone came up to him as well. So great for people to come forward in boldness of faith and humility of spirit. God is always faithful.

My wife and I are a little sore from tearing out carpet and throwing stuff around at the new building, but being able to do that is a blessing, too. I really hope that we have the opportunity to help the people of Yuma and elsewhere to see God with eyes opened anew to possibility.

I’m fortunate to have a job that keeps us fed and housed–many do not.

I have the opportunity to give, but I’m not very good at it in my own right, and pray I will do better–both locally and globally.

The funny thing about blessings is that when they come, we don’t always see them. Sometimes, they are clothed in struggle, or obscured by the world.

Nevertheless, with each person coming into our life in some way–any way–also comes opportunity to show Jesus to someone. They are not obstacles to our ends, but opportunities for ministry. That’s how Jesus looked at them–shouldn’t we as well?

Blessings so often come through hard work, even toil. Shouldn’t we be grateful? After all, Jesus was not afraid to get his hands dirty. Sometimes bloody.

We look at our lives and the world and we want things to change, and change yesterday, so to speak.

They aren’t going to.

Sometimes we aren’t delivered from circumstances–perhaps even most of the time. Yet God is faithful to bring us through them. That’s a blessing, too.

When I look backward and try to follow the path that brought me here today, what I see are jagged and sometimes halting steps. Yet they eventually pick up again. I see path lit by a chain of blessings, like little golden lights.

I will not try to minimize your toil, your suffering. How could I? I don’t know what it’s like to be you. Yet I will promise you this. There will come a point when you are able to stand and look backward. You will see how you got to were you are, and your path will make a lot more sense. It’s easier to see the blessings in your path by the light of your journey.

Psalm 119:105. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Look behind you and you’ll see where that happened.

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Something Old, Something New

dsc_0026_2-smallI’ve had a realization gradually dawning on me over the past few months–it’s been like the slowest sunrise ever, peeking over the Eastern horizon and making me squint to shield my eyes a little bit, so I can keep going.

I’ve always felt I was hanging onto my California sensibilities for many things, and didn’t really care much what people did, provided no one got hurt. In a sense, I still don’t, because it’s true it is not my business and if people want to do gross or stupid things to each other then I am inclined to let them. Free country and all that.

Yet lately I’ve found there are things that I do care about, because I believe the truth that scripture tells me about them. Part of this curriculum I’ve been part of for these last couple years has required that I delve more deeply into the Bible than I ever have before–that I read many textbooks and lectures about it, and that I study and study some more.

I realize this is not going to win me any popularity contests, or make me Mr. Congeniality. Many people I know will probably feel I am going backward in my way of thinking, and perhaps in a sense I am. Let me also say that I am not here to name or discuss issues or politics–nor red ball caps or making anything great again.

What I’m after is simply describing something I feel convicted about anew, and that is the truth of the Gospel and the changes it has wrought in my life. I came to this conclusion on my own, through studying and studying some more. I sought no proof of anything, because for the most part I already believed. I sought only to learn, and I believe I did learn.

I learned that an aged document could be full of truth that still applies to lives today. Those truths do not always mean a path free of obstacles–especially not in today’s climate of…whatever. I learned that I can allow myself to be affected or unaffected by the opinions of others regarding this document and its many versions. I choose to be unaffected, and I give zero craps about whether or not people agree with me. Well, not exactly. I want them to care about their lives and realize there’s a lot more than just the here and now, but I cannot make them feel any particular way.

I can only live my life reflecting what I believe and act out of the truths that are so evident to me. This is something I have thusfar done with varying degrees of success. I will continue to try, and sometimes I will fail. Because I am just a man, and we do that sometimes–actually all times, eventually.

This is not so for God. He doesn’t fail–not in any way. I kind of feel like my life has been like one of those giant jawbreaker candies. As it melts away, it changes colors and different things are revealed. Different flavors become evident, until you get to the center. I feel I am at my center now, and this is where I want to be, for as long as I can.

This means I’ll serve my family and my God as best I can. This may mean I spend the rest of my life in this Sea Level community, writing blogs and telling people about the miracles done in my life, and the healing I’ve seen. That’s fine with me. I believe if God wants me somewhere else, doing something else, he’ll let me know in some way. I believe this because his Word still exists, with his promises about our lives recorded in it. And I believe God keeps his promises for the faithful.

That’s really what I want to be; one of the faithful. So think of me what you wish. My own beliefs–my faith–has been something that has changed my life. It’s been a gradual change, but a real one. If anyone wants specifics, just ask. I am happy to discuss it.

 

The Best Thing I’ve Ever Done

There’s been so little good going on in the world lately, today I decided that was what I wanted to talk about–something good. Except what had I done that was good? What was the best thing I’d done? I knew I’d made a ton of mistakes.

What was the best thing I could think of? What was the best decision I’ve ever made? What that I have done has made my life better? For that, I go back to December of 2008.

Ken and Linda came to San Diego for a visit, and we went to Old Town to look at the sites and have some Mexican food. I decided that would be the day I said something to them about wanting to marry Jenny.

We did Old Town for a while, and we had lunch at some place whose name escapes me. I think that night, we also took in the Christmas program at Shadow Mountain Community Church, where David Jeremiah preaches. I remember when I attended there, the Christmas programs were quite extraordinary. I don’t remember the one we saw with Jenny’s parents, though, because I was kind of nervous, knowing what was coming later.

We stopped to get something to eat at Denny’s on the way back–it was the first place Jenny and I had eaten together–right before going to the zoo, and we had breakfast. So that night, it seemed like a good enough place to go with her folks for a late dinner. About halfway through, I decided that Jenny needed to take David to the restroom, and I would text her after I talked to her mom and dad.

After a minute or two, I mumbled something out–I don’t remember what I said. I do remember that Linda did one of those fist pumps people do. “Yes!” The only problem was that I forgot to text Jenny and tell her to come back. She must have waited five minutes in the Denny’s bathroom with her chicken sandwich getting cold.

Worked out for the best, though. At least I think so.

Now that the talking part was out of the way, we actually had to get engaged. I began formulating big plans for that. There would be a horse. An expensive dinner at Seaport Village. Clowns and balloons–Ok, maybe not that. But if you have a cliché in mind regarding a marriage proposal, I was going to do it.

It would be December 22, 2008.

Only one problem–I found out a couple days later, that was the annual Whitson family Christmas. There was nothing I could do–I couldn’t tell her that it was marriage proposal weekend. It would have ruined the surprise. So I drove to Yuma that Saturday, as I always did. It was around lunch time, and I knew everyone was already there, or would be soon.

I had to pick up the ring at the jewelers (it had been sized), and it wasn’t ready yet. So I walked over to the Walmart a couple of stores over to kill some time. I stood in the book aisle and read the ending of Marley & Me (see, I have a dark side. But I didn’t know what would happen to the darn dog at that point), and was soon puffy-eyed and teared up over the grave-digging scene. Big mistake.

Eventually, I secured the ring and went to Ken and Linda’s. The party was already on, and soon after it was time for gifts. The ring was in my pocket in a little ziplock baggie, wrapped in white tissue paper. Jenny and I were sitting on the blue and white “love seat,” and eventually, I figured “what the heck?” I went into the bathroom to fish the ring out of my pocket. I came back and gifts were just about done. David was across the room, and Jenny’s brother and wife were standing with their back to us. Her grandma was on the big couch, but wasn’t looking at us. I told her I had one gift left. I started to kneel, and said something stupid, like asking her what she was doing for the next 50 years or so. 4 year old David crashed into us right then–exactly then. I realized Grandma Marie HAD been looking after all. I slipped the ring on her finger, and that was the beginning of the best thing I’ve ever done. The smartest thing I’ve ever done.

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George Michael and 90 Seconds in Hell

Anyone who’s seen much of 2016 would have to acknowledge that quite a few celebrities have checked out this year–and there’s still almost a week to go, so there could be more. What I’m thinking about today, having just heard about Carrie Fisher, is not Princess Leia. It’s George Michael. Why, you might be wondering? I know little of his music, and that video with the “Choose Life” shirts? My goodness. Before I continue, watch/listen to this…and think of the portly doofus in that picture below.

My George Michael/Wham! memory is from an audition for a musical I did back in high school. I did OK on the acting part, and didn’t embarrass myself singing–as part of the chorus, anyway–I didn’t do a solo. The problem was the dancing.

Anyone who knows me knows I lack even the smallest gracefulness.

HS

Yes, I’m that guy. Many pounds and many years later. But dancing was part of the audition. One of the cheerleaders (Mona Nicholson) came up with a short, choreographed routine to the Wham! song Wake me up Before You Go-Go, which was a pretty big hit for George and his silent, guitar “playing” partner. I’m sure he had a name, but I don’t want to look it up.

So there we are–a handful of guys–on the tarmac outside the gym where the play would be performed. We’re standing there while Mona (yes, she was attractive) demonstrated the few steps for us. All I could think of at the time was to pray that no one saw me. The finger-snapping, “Jitterbug!” intro to the song came on and my humiliation began.

My hands/arms were held out from my sides like I was playing a drunken airplane running in a loose circle. I put the “boom-boom” into no hearts that day. I am tall. I am clumsy. And I demonstrated that fully on that 80’s afternoon. 85? 86? I can’t remember that part.

Maybe if any of my friends from those days read this, they can help me fill in some time gaps. I feel like it was springtime of 1986. Anyway, I’ll remember that time as long as I live, even if it isn’t the most masculine thing I’ve ever done.

I also remember there was this big number toward the end of the title song, “The Pajama Game.” We all had to wear pajamas for that last song. Someone (I have my suspicions) decided it would be funny to hide my pajama top. I searched frantically for it, but in the end had to “borrow” one from somebody that was about five sizes smaller than my own. Years later I would see Chris Farley crooning “Fat Guy in a Little Coat,” and it made me think of that. I had to raise my arms and do jazz hands at the end, looking like an obese genie that had just popped out of a bottle of Crisco.

I think my sisters came to the performance, but my mom didn’t, that I can remember. She was alive, but without much health or energy left. Probably a good thing–I put a hurtin’ on that pajama top.

So when I think about George Michael, I think it’s sad he’s gone–I think it’s sad when anyone shuffles off this mortal coil. But I don’t think of his hit songs from the early 90’s when his image comes to mind. I think of that white tee-shirt emblazoned with “Choose Life.” I think of stuffing my midriff into a third grader’s pajama top.

So “adios,” George. Thanks for making my 90 seconds of horror possible.

 

Thanks for the Opportunity

To the men who are the “fathers” of my kids:

I want to tell you something. Science may tell you that you are responsible for the lives of these two young men. You might believe that, and it might even be true—but only in the biological sense. They do not belong to you anymore, if they ever did. They belong to God, and to my wife and I, in that order.

You see, being a father is not just contributing DNA. At most, I believe that is a catalyst for what follows. Being biologically responsible for their lives and being in their lives is not the same, and the former is not worth nearly as much as the latter. For 8 years, I have watched one of my boys grow strongly toward manhood. And as the former Senator from New York once said, it took a village—in this instance, a village named Whitson.

This kid is special: a natural athlete and musician, more talented in every way than I could ever hope to be. I’m sorry for whatever occurred in your life that caused you to become the sort of man—the sort of father—who would eschew any sort of responsibility, and I could not care less if it was because his mother asked you to.

You find a way, in a family. You lead the way.

Yet when I think about the fact that you did shirk that and every responsibility you had with this young man, I am glad for it. Because through it, God called me into this family. I met the love of my life, and her amazing heart has been part of my own healing journey. I get to be the man and father I didn’t have personally, and always wished to be. I didn’t think I would ever have the chance.

I claim the responsibility of raising this young man to know the Lord, and to know me, in all my imperfections and brokenness. To know the real me; the one I’ve been both chasing and running away from my whole life. Now I’m found, and a lot of it had to do with my son. And in the smallest of ways, you are partially responsible for that, too.

And you, unknown father. Your many ignored responsibilities and rampant selfishness make me want to abandon the values I treasure and know to be true and worthwhile for the brief moment of satisfaction I would get from knocking your two or three remaining teeth down your irresponsible throat.

I don’t get to do that, and I am glad. It took me a long time to find peace in my life, and I would not give it up for anything. Instead, I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray you find the absolution you may not have even been seeking after. Brother, you need it, and it is the only peace you will ever find, should you decide you want to really know what life is about, which is loving and protecting those under your roof—and teaching them about what matters most in life, which is knowing and serving the God of the universe, made real in the person of Jesus. Also, I might add, the best place to find healing.

He will not know that because of you. If I do right by him, he will know it because of me, and my wife. Let me tell you something about this boy you left by the wayside. He has a strong will, and an artistic sensibility I can only wish for. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s learning how to loved and more importantly, be loved. No nine year old boy should have to learn how to be loved.

Let me tell you something, and I want to make sure you understand, because I barely understand it myself. Whether or not you support it is up to you. As a father—as a man—if you have a family it is your responsibility to fight for it. Ignoring that responsibility should be criminal. It teaches the kid they aren’t worth fighting for, and that’s what we’re dealing with now. Nine years of abandoned parental responsibility—on both sides of that coin. He doesn’t really even know what love is, but we’re going to teach him.

Do you know what my wife and I did a couple of nights ago? We got on our knees beside this young man’s bed and we comforted him, or tried to. My wife has this amazing and God-given ability to comfort, and even when it feels impossible, she does her best. She tells him every day that he is beautiful and loved. She strokes his hair, and says soft and loving things. I’d like it to be, but that’s not really me. I’m more of a brute. I suppose my wife and I are both strong, but in different ways. We may be weak apart, but we are strong together. We intercede for this beautiful young man every day. That same night I just spoke of?

A very good but relatively new friend pointed out that what I needed to do was fight for my kids, in a very real and literal way. From my knees. I’ll tell you the truth—it was and remains exhausting. I claim that responsibility, too. I will love and protect and pray for my family, my kids.

I’m no warrior. I’m probably nowhere near as tough as you. Yet I will fight the only way I know how, and give my kids the best shot I can. I may have to fight that battle every single night of my life, but it’s got to be the best reason to fight there is.

Neither one of you two did that. May you one day live to realize that, and become the men you can be. That, however, is not my responsibility.

It’s yours.

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Paradoxical Illogicalities and Limp Bizkit

limpbizkitThere’s been a great deal of conversation lately (if you can call it that) regarding the 2016 election and the behavior of each of the candidates—both current and past. This person is dishonest and corrupt. That person is an unrepentant sexual predator. The truth is that there exists credible (and in-credible) evidence to legitimize each viewpoint, depending on how you roll.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

What I’m wondering is what is it about the ardent supporters for each person that makes them willing to overlook such obvious…character flaws in the person they support, while calling for the metaphorical heads of the opposition. The truth is that when you take a good and close look at each candidate one thing (to me) becomes appallingly clear.

They’re people. They’re fallible people like us, albeit with a lot more money, and as such each also seems to have that same tendency everyone else does: they do stupid things about as often as the average person.

They make mistakes.

That said, what is behind the everyday person’s willingness to overlook mistakes with a light shining on them brighter than Kleig lights on a movie set?

Some of these fallacies are not very nice. Some illegal. Some resulted in death and other traumas. In either case, the people involved are proven to be crass and inconsiderate—even profanely so—on more than one occasion.

Yet even so we carry blue signs and wear red hats. I don’t get it. It seems like nothing matters to anyone—nothing real.

Rather, to quote the 90’s philosopher/poets Limp Bizkit, “It’s all about the he-says, she-says bull—“

Why? People don’t even seem to know what they’re for anymore, in any way they can explain. They can tell you what they’re against, though.

“Never Trump.”

“Jail her.”

[Insert slogan here]

What matters to you?

PC or Bust

I’ve been thinking about political correctness the past few days, and I decided I was tired of it. It’s too demanding–and that much ambiguity is unattainable. One must become racially, sexually, politically, religiously and culturally ambiguous–or “fluid,” I believe they say now.

Don’t distinguish yourself from the pack in any way, because we are all the same–meat-covered cookies.

Refer to people without gender specificity. Tell your DNA it isn’t the boss of you.

Referring to one’s self as any particular color is racist. We are all opaque.

Fiscal and governmental concerns? Nah. Give lots of stuff to people–who cares how it’s paid for.

Don’t worship, just…be. And wear scarves and patchouli so you can better find your oneness.

Personal pronouns? Make up one. We have 26 letters. Or maybe–since letters are specific–they should all be “—.”

Are you fleeing another country because it sucks? Which country? Oh, never mind, I can’t ask you that. Do you have ID? Oh, wait. Verboten. Sorry.

Do you identify as an ampersand? Come on, &. There are no letters.

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