Monday, November 4, 2019

Awake

A friend of mine just went home.
At the beginning of the week, Rhonda and I drove to Swedish Hospital to celebrate the birth of a lad whose parents I was privileged to marry a short while ago. His eyes opened to this world for the very first time on Tuesday morning. He is beautiful and sweet and tiny. And his parents shine almost as much as he does.  🙂
In contrast, I just left the house where another closed his eyes to this world for the last time. When he opens them again it will be to a different world. 
He was in church last Sunday.
Tired.
Waiting for release. 
I have seen him at least once or twice a week for the past several weeks as he wanted to talk to me about many things.
Sometimes we just read the bible together.
Sometimes we discussed what it said.
Sometimes we talked about his antique cars.
Or roller skating.
Or his travels.
Or his cancer.
A couple weeks ago, as I sat down, I asked him how we was, and he said, "I'm doing about as good as I can. I think. I just want to get back to church. But my legs are so wobbly I can't even get to the wheel-chair by myself. Can you help with that?"
I said we would figure out something. And we did. (Thank you, Brian and Stanley). 🙂
Then I said, "How are you with Jesus?"
And he said, "He's closer than ever. Sometimes I can see him right there!" And his voice rose a bit in decibel, and he lifted his shaky right arm, emphatically gesturing to a space maybe two feet in front of him.
"I'm ready to go." he said. 
And it wasn't morbid.
It wasn't even depressing.
It was just true.
He was ready to enter into the future that his faith had promised. He had been assured of it's reality by the one he was counting on, and had in fact seen more clearly now as that day grew near. He is home.
Eyes closed.
Eyes opened.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Was It A Divine Appointment...or... Did We Get Conned by Conrad?

    I think that it works this way...with grace.
    Receive.  
    Give away.  
    Release.
    Repeat.

   Dino wheeled the little, blue Celica down Nampa-Caldwell Boulevard toward the college campus we attended. It was late Friday night, or rather early Saturday morning. We were both feeling really good about life in general. The end of the week, marked the beginning of spring break. All the finals for winter quarter were over. We had just left “Grampa and Gramma Dennises” place, which was kind of a home away from home for a handful of baseball players (and their occasional date) from our college team. 
   They had a hot-tub. 
   There was always a lot of free snack food, AND THEY HAD CABLE TV! (Remember, this was 1983, so that was a big deal).
   In addition to the freedom that we were feeling because of the end of the term at school, Spring Break also meant a trip to Portland for a week of baseball, eating out and staying in hotels. No studying, no cramming, no reading text books, just baseball. 
    When your greatest concern is whether or not your forkball is moving well, life feels pretty golden.
   The strong odor of sugar beets being processed at the factory on the edge of town, wafted into the car. We both struggled to keep our eyes open as the headlights illumined the gray-brown pavement. A hundred yards or so down the road, Dino noticed a figure cloaked in a black jacket stagger from the shoulder onto the middle of the road.
     “What is up with that guy?”
   I lifted my face, leaned toward the dashboard of the car and squinted into the darkness. Dino slowed the car and looped past the obviously drunk fellow that was wandering down the deserted stretch of roadway. I looked at my watch. It was after one a.m. I looked over to Dino. He looked over to me.
    “Do you think we should do something?” he asked
    “Yeah, I guess so. I mean there’s not much traffic, but it’s pretty cold and he’s got a long way to go before he gets to Nampa. Who knows what might happen to him between here and there.”
    Dino turned the car around and quickly we were pulling up behind the fellow in the black jacket. He just kept on walking. My friend put the car in park and we both got out. Dino reached him before I did and put his right hand on the man’s shoulder. He stopped walking and spun around to face us.
To tell the truth, I can’t remember what we said to him or who spoke first. All I can remember is the tired, care-worn face that was looking into ours, as the headlights from the Celica struck him. He blinked and looked at us, struggling to stand on the flat ground as though he were on the deck of a ship rolling on the waves. Two or three days worth of gray-white whiskers covered his cheeks and chin.
     In a few minutes the three of us were on our way to Nampa.
   His name was Conrad. He was very drunk. He told us that he was headed for Boise. There was some position at some factory there that he said he was to interview for on Monday. He had come all the way from Montana.
    Now, if you would have asked us, I’m sure Dino and I would have told you that we weren’t born yesterday, but the truth is, our experience in matters like this was very limited.
   It was decided that we would bring Conrad back to the dormitory. He could sleep in a sleeping bag on my room-mate’s bed. My room-mate had already gone home for vacation. Then, in the morning, we would run Conrad into town and send him off with a little help; food and such, and hustle back to campus to meet the rest of the baseball team as we piled into the vans that would head out for Portland.
   As I lay in bed that night, looking over at the sixty-something-year-old man five feet across from me in the other twin bed, my mind raced ahead to my future. Somehow, baseball didn’t seem so important anymore.
    In the middle of the night, Conrad got up from bed and found his way to the bathroom. He vomited several times into the toilet. There’s no mistaking that noise. He spent the rest of the night sleeping on the floor next to the commode.
    The following day, the sun rose unfettered by clouds and all things seemed possible. Conrad came joyfully down the stairs and we ate some breakfast together. He rustled through the pockets of his jacket and announced, “Here it is!”
    “What’s that?” I said.
   “The phone number for Dwayne. He’s my friend at the company I’m interviewing with. Yep, you just drop me off downtown and I’ll give him a call. Then things will be off and running. Things are gonna be O.K!”
    In view of the previous night, I marveled at his clarity and optimism.
   Dino arrived shortly and the three of us climbed once more into the Celica and headed for downtown Nampa. We pulled over across from the Hong Kong restaurant and stood on the sidewalk for a moment.
   “Well Conrad,” Dino started, “You take care of yourself! You hear?”
   “Oh, I will. I got me a job waitin’ for me in Boise you know.”
   Dino nodded.
   “I’ll just go inside here and give Dwayne a call in a minute and I’m all set.”
    Conrad smiled. 
    It was supposed to reassure us, but it didn’t.  
    I handed him a sack lunch.
   “Do you have any money?” Dino asked.
   “Oh, I’m alright, like I said, as soon as I get ahold of Dwayne…”
Dino and I both dug into our pockets and handed him some cash. It wasn’t much, maybe ten bucks or so. Then we patted him on the back and hesitantly walked back to the car as Conrad walked into the restaurant behind us.
     After going a block or two, Dino asked, “Do you think he’s gonna be okay?”
     “I don’t know.”
     “Did you buy his story about the job in Boise, or do you think he conned us?
     I shrugged.
   Dino turned the car around and we headed back to the Hong Kong. Moments later we were standing inside the restaurant. A short time after that we had learned from the hostess that Conrad had walked into the lounge immediately after entering. The bartender told us that he had informed Conrad that the bar was not open yet but pointed him across the street to a lounge that was open. We started to walk across the street then stopped. I guess neither one of us really wanted to catch him there. We returned to the car, said a short prayer and headed back to campus. Less than an hour later we were traveling down I-84 with 20 other guys headed for the Blues Pass, leaving Idaho in the rear-view mirror.
    Did we get conned by Conrad? I don’t know. Most likely there was no job in Boise. Most likely the money we gave him there on the sidewalk was gone in an hour or two. Maybe it lasted him to the next day. I don’t know.
    I guess though, I don’t really care. Dino and I did what we felt we were supposed to do as an offering of obedience that night and the next day.

    None of us likes to “get took.” 
   That goes without saying. 
   Still, I have this feeling that when the Lord fed the 5000, there were a few who were in it just for the free bread and fish. They didn’t all become disciples. Jesus knew that and he fed them anyway. I am certain that in my life, I have given food, money or both to many people who were using me. I am also certain that I will do that many more times before my turn here is done. It really doesn’t bother me that much. That doesn’t mean I like getting conned. It just means that I like the fact that God trusts me with the means and opportunity to give. As sure as I am that some of my support has been under the heading of “throwing good after bad,” I am also confident that more than occasionally, what I gave, hit the mark it was directed toward, and I have no problem resting easy in that understanding...no matter where Conrad went after he left the Hong Kong.

Friday, August 2, 2019

All The Little Choices...

   Life.
   Real life.
   It is a knapsack full of triumph, stumbles, detours, joy, and pain.
   I believe...there is also an active, living, force that works against us in this unfolding story, and he's clever regarding how he goes about the subterfuge.
   He knows that mostly if we saw what he was up to we would not give him any attention at all.  So, he will use as many little distractions as it takes until we struggle to hear the voice of the one who made us; the one who keeps us, loves us and calls towards becoming the best version of ourselves that is possible.
 
   That is what these few paragraphs are about....

   Mr. Waldemarsen.
   He was at least 6' 4".
   Norwegian.
   Well over 200 lbs.
   Square jaw.
   Broad shoulders.
   Crew-cut hair.
   When he talked, which wasn't a whole bunch, you could hear the accent, heavy in his voice.  Most of the time I saw him, he was wearing maroon, rubber galoshes that went over his calves.  They had a gold stripe around the top.
    He lived in town, but he and his wife owned property just west of ours.  Probably 10-12 acres.  He had a few horses, mules, donkeys and cows...oh and one day he began to keep bees in the wooden stacks of hives toward the north end of his field. Sometimes he brought my Mom fresh honey, still dripping from the comb in a Ball canning jar with no lid.
   His arms swung low to his sides when he walked, his back straight; striding across the field to feed his cows looking like the famous "Sasquatch" video of the 70's.
   If he saw me, across the barbed-wire fence line, headed towards our barn to feed our own animals, he would stop, lift one of those swinging, tree-branch arms high in the air, smile broadly and wave.
  Sometimes I saw him talking to my parents, but in all of the years that I was growing up on the farm, I don't remember having a single conversation with him myself.  We didn't really have any reason to talk.  I was a kid growing up; doing my chores around the farm, hoping to get away and do something more exciting as soon as it was possible and he was working around his animals, the bees and his barn because he loved it.  He spent his free time puttering around all that was there on the property, I tried to spend my free time anywhere else I could escape to.
   During the summer of 1983, as a junior in college, I had secured a job in Chicago as Athletic Director a North-side Boy's and Girl's Club.  It was going to be a huge step for me, committing to dive into an adventure not only far from home but in a city that was literally a thousand times larger than the one I grew up in.  There would be a myriad of fresh challenges to encounter.
   It was just a few days before I left that my Mom handed me an envelope with a card inside.  She said it was from Mr. Waldemarsen.  My name was scrawled in cursive outside the envelope, and I noticed a small bulge in the center of the envelope, and rubbed my thumb across it before tearing it open.
   The card inside was small and white.
   It said, "Best Wishes..." across the front.
   When I opened it up, a tiny piece of wood tumbled out onto my palm.  It was about an inch long, and one-fourth inch wide.  It was also a fourth of an inch tall at one end; planing down to a razor-thin edge at the other.  There was a note written on the lower half of the card.
   One sentence.
   It said, "The enemy knows how to use the smallest wedge to separate you from God, so be watchful."
   And then beneath that sentence, "Sincerely, Don."  Then there was a smiley face.  :)
   Truth.
   I remember that note often.
   I wish I'd kept it.
   I later thanked him for it.
   He just smiled, put a huge hand
on my shoulder, and said, "I knew you were headed for an adventure, and when we go on an adventure, it's smart to prepare however we can."
   Indeed.
 



Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Place In Between

I watched for awhile, a young man at work in the shadow of Mickiewicz Square.

He was walking a tightrope,
suspended above the grass-covered park with the opera-house fountain in the background
and I thought...How hard it is to be "in between"

In between where we have been and
where we wish to go.

A thought.
           (A step)
                 A hope.
                        (Another step)
                                     A dream.
                                           (Another step)
                                                        A hunger.
                                                               (One more step)
                                                                            A prayer.

Just one foot following another...it sounds so simple.
Right heel in front of left toe.
Left heel in front of right toe.

But with each step,
the further we move away from home, or comfort....
That distance which separates us from anyone or anything in front of us, that may give us security,

                                S    E    E   M   S       T  O       G   R   O   W

Along with fear.
.....and questions
.....and negative self-perception
....until all of the GRACE-sufficiency that stilled our heart,
                                                                     hangs on the tightrope
                                                                                             by its fingertips.

I have watched as others who are closer to where they wish to be
Than the place they left behind, give up the journey.

Their shoulders sag,
                  eyes empty; 
                         they return to that place familiar, but faith-less.

Lord,
Grant us eyes to see the destination
ears to hear your voice beyond our fears
a heart to sense the peace of your presence
the will to follow one step at a time....

But, most of all, when we feel paralyzed in that place in between
Help us to move away from the image of:
                                             who we have been

that we may make firm-footed steps,
                           toward who you believe we can become...

Friday, July 12, 2019

Twenty-five, Forty

Discomfort, dis-ease and dirt, is what I think we see, when he said, "...whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done it unto to me..."
What I'm learning is that the flow of this statement runs opposite to that initial take.  Though it does contain the challenge for me to move from my comfort zone into relationship with those who I may typically pass by, it is also an opportunity for me to connect with Christ in a way not offered in ANY OTHER fashion while here on this planet.  He is reconciling us to himself through this process...WE CAN TOUCH JESUS WHEN WE TOUCH SOMEONE ELSE.

These thoughts have been calling to me as if in a conversation between myself, another I have not yet met, and of course the one who made us both....like the echo of a song that at least for now, has no melody...

What if...(I believed it was you)
          who held a truth I need to hear
Only you...there in the shadow
Only you...had what I needed
Something,
Anything,
Even just one thing       
     that was meant for me.

That could set me free, (not just for a day)
But for all my days
and the only way,
that I may
ever know...this gift
This gift that you were holding, (in outstretched hands)    
Right in front of me was if.. (If I met you there)
There in the shadow
         
Would that be enough?                 
enough wonder,  (to carry me)
Enough hope, 
to capture (my attention)
to stir my mind, (and my intentions)
...to change my heart

What if...(an open mind)
Could open my eyes
And that was enough...that I would know,
Somewhere in the deep 
That it was You...
Standing in the street
Standing in the shadow (the shadow of the tree)
It was you...
Knocking at the door
It was you...You in this time and space    
that could set me free…
              and heal this broken place (in me)
It was always you...(even though I couldn't see)      
you held this key…(in outstretched hands)

ONCE MORE...
Would that be enough?                 
enough wonder,  (to carry me)
Enough hope, 
to capture (my attention)
to stir my mind, (and my intentions)
...to change my heart

I think I believe...
I DO BELIEVE...
That somehow we are all connected;              
In the pain (and in the joy)
When we are all giving (and all receiving)
From each other...(it's black and white)
I SEE YOU NOW...(I was so blind) 
You and I by ourselves...ONE… (the loneliest number)
But now I know...

That if...(an invitation)
That if…(to an open door)
I will walk 
And I will hold 
   all you have kept for me (and me for you)
        We can both be made whole        
                and even more   
                            than we could ever be                                  
                                       If we walked (through this life)                                                     
                                                                                           Alone.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

O' We Of Brittle Faith

If our mouths can only speak words of contempt,
                                teach us the power of silence, 
                                                                   ...O' we of brittle faith.
When our heart is wounded by actions of another,
                                please be our healing power, 
                                                                   ...O' we of brittle faith.
Should we weaken in our resolve toward your will and not our own,
                                strengthen us with your spirit, 
                                                                    ...O' we of brittle faith.
If our ignorance reveals itself in prejudice,
                                soften our resistance to repent,
                                                            ...O' we of brittle faith.
When we are so aligned with what serves us most,
                                save us from striving for our own comfort,
                                                             ...O' we of brittle faith.
Should we feed our ego, and seek a position of power,
                                humble us with a reminder of the cross,
                                                                     ...O' we of brittle faith.

Jesus, "we" is really just me, in a thousand situations that play out in my memory.  
You have seen me at my best, when I bend and move easily into the way of your spirit.  
You have also seen me rigid and dry,
                               living in my own way, like hardened clay;
                                                building defenses and supports to what I desire.
Lead me to an open-handed release of this brittle faith that I have held onto in exchange for
the living hope,
         stretching faith,
              and enlightened joy, that I can find in a heart of flesh, and not of stone.