SOMETHING IN COMMON

something in common

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I was approached by a man as I was walking to my truck a couple of weeks ago. He was a man of small stature and a quick glance had me guessing he was a shell of a once proud man.

He was hunched over with worn, dirty clothes. His hair was unkept and his smile revealed what looked like a battered and worn picket fence. He was friendly enough as he explained to me that he was in need of a ride.

I have to confess I didn’t want to give him a ride. He cleverly asked me which way I was headed and his 25% gamble paid off. Looks like we were both headed east. Rats… I wasn’t going to lie and I figured God had a lesson for me. If not I sensed God wanted to use what really isn’t mine to help the old guy out.

This short journey was the kind that was filled with conversation. The bum’s conversation I should say. As he gave me his detailed life story, I muttered a few “Yeah’s and Naw’s.”

He was a veteran, served in Vietnam, worked construction until his health wouldn’t allow it any longer. He said he was a “God Fearing Man.” I guess we had something in common. He shared with me how his Daddy raised him right, I learned we had even more in common.

My new pal just kept on talking, he got more animated when he shared with me how they, whoever they were, cut down his meds. He explained the necessity for his meds because he was depressed and kinda crazy. At this point, I was with him on the depressed side. The other crazy side? I was a relieved to learn something we didn’t have in common. At least not in my opinion anyway.

My new buddy was headed to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles to acquire a new I.D. he’d lost. I was trapped in one of those 15-minute drives that seem to last an hour and a half.

As he was rambling I thought about some of my cousins who were Vietnam veterans. I pondered my cousin Larry who’s knees are shot and the only health care he has is the Veterans Hospital. The VA’s answer to Larry’s knees? Drugs. They want to give him pain pills and prolong the inevitable, either a surgery or death from Agent Orange complications.

I also envisioned my other cousin Mike, who is a retired California Highway Patrolman. His foot has got to the point where the pain, due to left over shrapnel from a land mine has him struggling to walk. He’s been carrying that souvenir for over 40 years. He was awarded a Purple Heart, I guess that makes him a bonafide hero. He is in my book anyway.

I considered the differences between this man and my cousins as I drove glancing between the road and him, nodding agreeably. The thing that struck me first, was that this was a pretty organized person who knew where to go to get what he wanted, or what he considered a necessity, namely drugs.

The next thing that struck me was his self-appointed title of “crazy.” I have another four cousins who served in the military during that era, one of which was in Special Forces. There are more than one of these cousins who any average person I know would consider “crazy.”

The difference between the people I know who are crazy and the people who claim to be crazy is this; The people who are truly nutso, don’t know it! The truly “crazy” people think they’re normal and the rest of the world is “crazy”!

I’m not saying my passenger didn’t have a tough life. Maybe he had it worse than some of the others, I don’t know. It’s just my observation.

As I pulled into the DMV my new friend panicked, “OH NO”! “I have a brand new 5th in my pack”! ” I can’t take that in there”! My opportunity to speak had finally arrived. I quickly offered, “There’s a trash can right there in front.” He looked at me like I was crazy.

He rapidly studied the situation and declared, “I can find a place to stash it.” I was seeing more clearly than ever at this point.

After he got out and we exchanged pleasantries, I watched him for a few seconds. Before I drove away the realization crept over me that we had more things in common than I was comfortable with.

I was slowly yet overwhelmingly overcome with wisdom speaking to my soul,

It spoke to me from inside my heart softly whispering,

“But by the grace of God…There Go i…”

SUNDAY

CHURCH BELLS courtesy of photobucket.com

Repost from last year.

Sunday is a peculiar day of the week for me. I know the obvious reasons for its stand alone importance relative to the other days of the week. It’s the first day of the week, it’s the Sabbath, therefore, a resting day appointed by God.

Sunday is more than that for me. You see, me and Sunday have had what your might call a stormy past.

When I was young it was Church on Wednesday and twice on Sunday. Going to church wasn’t an option. Oh my parents said it was, but somehow when I tried to exercise my option it ended with, “GET IN THE CAR”!

I thought when I was young, “Boy, just wait till I’m a grown up, I’m NEVER goin ta church”!

Time seemed to pass slowly, but eventually I did grow up and true to my word, I quit “Goin ta church.” During my dark years, God’s Spirit hounded me. I hated Sundays, I was moving at light speed through the week.

I was the epitome of “Burning The Candle At Both Ends.” Given the chance I’d work 15 hours a day on Sundays. Eventually, I’d find myself stopping with nowhere to run and no place to hide. Alone with the Holy Spirit torturing my soul.

During those days, if I happened to hear just the right song and I was alone, the pain in my soul would manifest itself with moisture in my eyes.

I remember a specific song written by Kris Kristofferson, sung by Johnny Cash. The song is “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” That song for whatever reason stirred up the memories of my childhood and made me long to live a better life than the one I was trapped in.

These days Sunday is still peculiar for me although for different reasons. It doesn’t feel like the first day of the week to me. It feels more like the last day of the week. It is my day of reflection, it is my rest from the last week, not my rest for the next week.

I’m not running from God anymore and I have a different focus when I share the Bible story of Jonah. I don’t dwell as much on the miracle of Jonah being swallowed by a whale and sitting in the whale’s stomach for three symbolic days.

I focus more on the fact that Jonah physically tried to run from God and the wisdom that he ultimately gained in the process. Proven by the fact that Jonah penned the story himself.

Running from God seems like “chasing the wind.” It is futile but not to a lost world or a madman.

Occasionally my girls would want a day off from Church, sometimes we’d give it to them. Other times my wife and I would explain to them that it wasn’t the ritual of going to Church that honored God. It is the obedience and sacrifice of our time to show thanks and respect to God.

Similar to a tithe offering, we’re going to give, not to get. In that process, we gain more than we can ever give. In a humble state of being before God is where we found Him.

God has used my foolishness to give a bit of wisdom. I’m no Solomon, but wise enough to warn the young people in my life that with free will comes choices. With choices come consequences, either positive or negative.

I remind them that God is in control, He either causes or allows all things in life. I don’t want them to carry the spiritual and physical scars of an undisciplined life. It is my deepest desire to not have them wander this earth as the walking wounded.

It saddens me to think of a cold wind blowing across the faces of the tormented souls with tears in their eyes on Sundays because they hear Church Bells ringing in the distance.

Who’s Name Will Be Called Next

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I arrived a few minutes early for a meeting at a local Starbucks. The line wrapped away from the entrance to the store. As I was standing in line the newcomers took a few seconds to acclimate to the procedure of where to stand in line to order.

One of the ladies in front was dilly-dallying at the baked goods as an older guy walked in. He quickly gathered his bearings and saw the line and the opening caused by Mrs. Dally. He stepped to the front of the line and ordered his drink with authority.

I hate standing in lines. Patience has never been one of my strong suits. It’s not only the close proximity to strangers that bothers me, it sometimes like this time, is their actions. There always seems to be someone who thinks they’re above standing in line with the “regular” people.

Not many of us like to be “cut” in front of. Many times it gets a little dicey when the to-cool-for-school cutter gets called out. “HEY,” “NO CUTS”! Just like grade school all over again.

We all have a sense of what’s fair. Most of us play by the rules, subjecting ourselves to what’s equitable to everyone involved. When someone comes along in line and takes their turn out of order, we get a little upset.

We feel the anger, sometimes regret having said something, sometimes for having said nothing. We always sense the injustice in someone going before his or her turn.

So it is in this life. This life is like a big line and God hasn’t passed out any numbers. He knows the number of our turn in line, we don’t.

There aren’t many people looking to take cuts in this line. No, this is the line where you dread your turn at the front of the line.

When I was a freshman in high school for about a week during P.E. we had mandatory square dance lessons. Everybody dreaded it. After a couple days of being forced to dance like cowboys and cowgirls, we all were beginning to enjoy it. (Although all of us denied it)

The boys would line up in a long line coming out of the boys locker rooms on one side of the gym and the girls on the opposite side. As the boys line walked towards the girls line to pair up in the middle of the gym, there was more serious calculating in this scenario than in the math class.

Boys and girls alike counting from the front of the line back, seeing who fate would pair us up with. There was pushing, jumping out of line and finally settling into an accepted fate, good or bad.

Similarly we all want the perfect position in the line of life. Like in the square dance line, one can only move back so far before the inevitable turn has to be taken.

As we all move closer to the front of the line we all witness other people cutting in line. God calling them out of what we know as the proper order. Like a line at the post office, we feel anger or sadness, almost always injustice, especially when He calls the young ones.

What a person believes will impact how they’re going to react to being in the front of this life line. When we are called and pass through the doors that no human we know has come back from, what will await us?

Will we become grasshoppers in another life? Some people in the line think that it’s over. No soul, no nothing, just a permanent dirt nap. Others think that if they’ve been “pretty good,” and there is a God, things will work out.

As I look around I see and hear them taking. I wonder as we move closer to the front of the line, with absolutely no authority to jump back in line and time, how anyone can think they have the authority as a God to determine their value or worth.

How can they judge for themselves if they are worthy or not? If they had that authority to judge themselves, they would also have the authority to have command over they’re own life and death.

I’m learning that as we share this line of life, we need to reach out and do our best before God to help them understand what’s on the other side.

Each day that passes gets us a little closer to the front of this line, no one is looking for cuts now.

None of us know for sure who’s name will be called next.

MERMAID MAN

MERMAID MAN courtesy of Photobucket

My wife, our youngest, and myself while flying on a plane to visit family across the country got a bit bored.

I spotted an older gentleman sitting across the aisle from us. He was a distinguished looking man, probably in his mid to late seventies.

He sported close to a full head of silver hair and proudly wore it the same as he has since the 50’s or 60’s. Parted on the left side of his scalp, the mini-wave moving upward away from the part, cresting about three-quarters of the way toward the opposite side, and flattening as it reached the other side of his scalp.

Soon after take-off he dozed off. Slumped forward in his seat with his stomach and his seat belt keeping him in his chair.

As he slept I noticed he had a striking resemblance to a superhero named “Mermaid Man.”

For those readers who don’t have younger children might not recognize the name. He is a character from the “Sponge Bob Square Pants” cartoon. In this cartoon, Mermaid Man is an old retired superhero that lives in a retirement home with his lifelong sidekick “Barnacle Boy.”

Even though the super hero’s are over the hill the main character Sponge Bob, still respects and admires them.

As the flight wore on my daughter settled into her book, my wife started nodding off like the superhero across the aisle, and I picked up my pen and began to ponder on paper.

The man who would be our neighbor for over the next three hours had my attention. He most certainly was a dignified looking man, even at his age. Although I have no way of knowing for sure, he and his wife had the look of parents. Maybe they were flying to visit family as well.

My guess is his son or daughter at some point in their lives thought he was a real superhero. Maybe even more now than in the past. Perhaps he has more value now than ever before in his life.

At his age, he has had time to gain wisdom, to understand life and how fleeting it is. Because he understands this, he might be sacrificing his comfort flying across the country with us to spend some of that precious time with his family.

My physical peak is past me now as well, not as far past as Mermaid Man, but past none the less.

This day and Mermaid Man remind me of the analogy in the Bible of how a flower represents our life. It grows and blooms into its full designed form and beauty, then begins to fade, wither, and eventually die.

So it is with all of our lives. The purpose of our having been here might be a little like the flower as well. To bring joy into those looking upon our lives and enjoying and learning from our process of life.

As we grow the elders look upon our lives like the flower. Even though they’ve seen other flowers grow, they marvel at yet another. Each one is special and unique.

When we bloom into the physical climax of our lives, the elders stand proud, pleased in another beautiful life blooming. The younger lives see and admire the blossom as well, looking forward to their turn in the process of life.

Maybe the most important part of the process comes next. As we wither and lose the majesty or beauty once possessed in our process, what are we teaching and showing the younger ones following us?

Maybe some day I’ll look like Mermaid Man too? Mr. McGoo is more likely…

Never mind the dwindling blossom of what I once looked like, what have I learned now that I’m an over the hill superhero? I can’t leap buildings in a single bound anymore, so what value do I have?

My value starts by acknowledging the One who sent me, and the task or mission set before me. Although the acts of wisdom are physical, they are acts of teaching, caring and showing what grace received looks like. Wisdom is more easily understood this side of the blossom.

I bet if I would have followed Mermaid Man out of the airport, I would have got to see “The Boat Mobile”!

NEVER SAY NEVER

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When I was younger I said some pretty dumb things. Never mind just saying them, I would back them up with even more ignorant declarations.

Let me give you one simple example. I have a friend named Mike. My group of friends and even family like to tease a bit. (Actually a lot) Mike made a comment about me someday driving a specific type of car. We were judgemental as well as ignorant, but it falls under the same category.

My answer wasn’t a simple, “Nuh-Uh”! I had to give a very detailed declaration. “I’d rather crawl through the desert all the way to California, on my hands and knees, through broken glass, without water, dragging my tongue over the glass and hot pavement, than drive that type of car there”!!!

…My wife drives that type of car now…

This is just one example, I have enough to fill an encyclopedia size set of books.

Although with age and wisdom we realize that this is a very short life, we also realize that never is a long time.

I’m very appreciative of that forgiveness thing Jesus talked about because there’s been a lot of times I’ve gone back on my word.

I could be the size of a barn with all the words I’ve had to eat. Maybe I’d be skinny due to the fact that my foot was usually in my mouth. You get the point. (and pun)

I try to choose my words a little more carefully these days. The Proverb, “Pride goeth before a fall, after humility, comes honor.” This Bible verse has more meaning in my life now than ever before.

I’ve also learned that words are powerful, but not as powerful as actions. Talking the talk, is much easier than walking the walk. Since we as humans are not perfect and given to weakness. It’s not bad advice to follow the rule of “Never Say Never.”

There are some exceptions to that rule. There are also some self-fulfilling prophecies in those powerful words.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say, “I’m never gonna…” Finish the statement any number of ways and we’ve all heard most of them. “I’m never gonna be rich.” Or, “I’m never gonna get outta this place.” Maybe, “I’m never gonna trust another person as long as I live”! One of the most popular is, “I’m never gonna go to church again”!

A bitter heart is powerful.

I have to admit all the nevers I quoted and didn’t keep. I’d rather lose integrity for a short time, in order to gain wisdom for a lifetime.

Although I failed many times to keep my sometimes ignorant word because I didn’t and can admit it, I have peace.

I think quite often those “never declarations” find their motivations in fear. Fear of failing, fear of rejection, and fear of losing control. That seems more like existing than living.

The gift of life has its struggles and disappointments, but it also has the promise of God to those of us who believe.

The “never” that I count on through the days that make up my life is the one promise in scripture. (partial) “I WILL NEVER LEAVE THEE OR FORSAKE THEE.”

This promise of “never” is also the forgiveness for my unkept “nevers.”

By the way, I never told Mike I got my wife that car…