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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Blizzard of '77...

The only other rival earliest memory I have to the Pez memory is the Blizzard of '77.  And looking back at the pictures, I have no doubt why.  It was a wonderland of the most intense snowfall you have ever seen.  

We lived on 45 West Van Buren down in the humble little city of Oswego, N.Y., the home of the great Fort Ontario and some of the best salmon fishing in the world.  We lived about a thousand feet from the lakeshore, right next to Wright's Landing, a fishing dock that serviced thousands of fisherman frothing at the mouth to win the latest tournament whether it was in search of the biggest King Salmon, Brown Trout, Steelhead, or Lake Perch.  There were tournaments all the time.  But I digress.

The point is that we lived right on the lake.  Lake + Winter = Lake Effect.  For those of you who don't know what I speak of when I speak of lake effect, it is the beautiful marriage of weather patterns that produces snowflakes the size of ping pong balls.  The warmth of the lake collides with the frigid air producing snow that looks like it's been manually fed, and artificially bred to cause natural disasters.  When you see the dark clouds forming over the lake coming from East to West, you might as well board up the windows, get out your canned venison and batten down the hatches, cause it's gonna be a doozy.  

Being only three or four, winter was still a mystery to me.  I didn't understand the climate, the region of the world we lived in, or the nuances of lake effect snow...I only knew that for about 4 to 5 months the world got really cold and white stuff rained down from on high covering the earth with a pure mirth that made my heart flutter with joy.  

And the winter of '77?  Oh my.  It snowed for almost 5 days straight at one point, dropping a record 5-7 feet piled so high that the snow banks were touching the power lines in some drifted areas.  School was canceled, a national emergency was called, and people were everywhere shoveling themselves out of their own personal snowy tomb.  

My dad shoveled out our porch and sidewalk and the snowbanks were so high that we could climb up on the roof of the porch and slide down without consequence.  You could literally climb on the neighbor's roof and jump off into drifts without fearing injury.  I felt invincible, almost immortal, like we were in heaven playing in the clouds or something like that.  My brother and I would play and play and play until our cheeks were frostbitten and our noses were caked with icicles.  Our snowsuits were so oversized that we waddled around like penguins with excruciating lower back pain. 

I can't tell you the euphoria of living in what could only be described as the North Pole.  We would play for hours on end no longer earth bound and gravity conscious.  We were free, as free as I ever remember being in my life.  And my dad and mom let us rule and reign without the cautious "Be careful!" to suck the life out of our adventure.  I needed that kind of green light as a little boy every once in a while.  I don't think I saw enough green lights along the way to test my masculine heart.

The Blizzard of '77.  It sounds like the song, "it was the summer of '69"...

"...it was the closest thing to heaven.....back in the blizzard of '77...."  lalalala.

...cause it was.  It still is.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pez candy, consciousness, and having a dad...

One of my earliest memories was when my dad came home from a trip.  I can't remember if he was still in the Air Force and was coming home after some training or if he was a brand new principal at the Christian School and was coming home from a conference of some sort, but I remember him coming to the front door and my brother Tim and I standing there waiting for him to ascend the steps of our porch.

I then remember him giving us each a Pez candy dispenser and some refills to put in them.  I had never seen anything so remarkable in my life.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Pez phenomenon, it was this plastic, spring loaded contraption with a head on top of it that you could lift up forcing a piece of candy out like a bowel movement, partially because of the spring-loaded featured mixed with a masterfully engineered "head" that was connected to gears and levers and pulleys and such.  

I remember being nothing short of bewitched as I loaded this candy container like a staple gun and locked the bottom of it like I was about ready to go shoot chickadees with my B-B gun.  I would lift the head of this plastic dispenser like I was trying to encourage it after long day.  It would reward my encouragement with a little treat conditioning me like Pavlov's dog.  I can't tell you the withdrawal that occurs after you get used to the instant gratification of a sweet reward only to run out of those little rectangular sugar pills.  It's like coming off Crack Cocaine.  I remember trying to fill it with other foreign substances just for the placebo effect, but nothing else seemed to tame the wild beast of my flesh.

To the best of my memory, this is the first time I felt a consciousness about my life.  I don't remember anything before this moment.  I'm sure some shrink could drudge up some potty training mishap or the accidental eating of a piece of currency, but I'm not willing to have someone dangle a pendulum in front of me whispering something to me in a hushed voice with bad breath, so we'll never know, will we?

This was the first time I remember having a dad.  He was tall and strong and better yet, he was the bearer of crystalized nectar.  I remember that he was dressed in a suit and was so much larger than life.  I remember seeing him embrace my mom and take up both my brother and I into his strong arms.  I remember just knowing that I was safe and loved.  

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Antiquated memories...

I've decided to start writing about stories from my childhood.  I'm scared about losing stories from my past.  It's funny how the passing of time causes memories to slip away.  Some of the stories I will share are simple ubiquitous pastimes that speak of universal human longings, behaviors and activities.  Others might be unique to me alone, I don't know.

I just don't want to lose the early years of my life.  My life now seems so far away from my past, and yet there are times when it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  The older I get, the younger I feel.  Some of the emotions that I experienced when I was five still persist.  Some of the fears that used to paralyze me still constrict my heart in times of testing.  Some of the same longings and disappointments that I used to nurse in my childhood still pang deep within my breast.  I'm intimidated by the same things.  I'm excited by the same sights and sounds and smells.  Though my current life seems filled with high risk/high reward responsibilities, my heart still feels small town, underwhelming.  I can't believe how many times during a given week I am minding my own business in the 21st century when something will come out of nowhere and transport me back into the 20th century. (wow, that makes it seem like I'm being transported back into antiquity!)  Something that I felt in the late 70's, something I experienced in the mid-80's, something I was scared of in the early 90's...these "somethings" linger latent inside me and are "necromanticly" summoned in times when I'm digging deep to find my true identity.  

So many things written on my heart in the early years still carry me today.  I reach back to draw upon the story of my life when I need strength or wisdom.  I sift through my past to find hidden treasure when I'm facing something that seems insurmountable.  I flip through the rolodex-like memory bank to unearth dormant story-lines to inform the present situation.  I can't believe how many things I lean into that my parents have said or done to shape me.  I can't believe how often things I'm facing mirror a memory that prepped me to engage a moment with poise.  Sometimes the memory doesn't appear at first to hold much value...boring almost to the casual onlooker.  But for me, the memory has a nourishment that speaks something strong into my spirit.  It's like having an memorial IV drip.  

The better part of my past is nothing to write home about.  Or to write to anyone about really.  But I think it's just that sort of realization that makes it all the more special to me.  The ordinary textures and common themes are becoming more and more pregnant with life to me.  Nothing noteworthy, nothing earth-shattering.  But I find myself rubber-necking to get a second look, a double-take to see if I've missed something I didn't see before.

I don't know how long I'll do it.  I may interject other little current events in the mix, I may not.  I may not make it a week.  There's no elephantine vision for this personal project.  Just a thought that crossed my mind last night just before I drifted off to sleep.  We'll see if it seems as compelling tomorrow as it does this morning.

Here's to antiquity...

Cheers.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Content Driftwood...

What a weekend! At the end of a run like that sometimes I feel like limp seaweed washed ashore by the crashing waves. I lay atop the choppy waters like I'm doing the dead man's float hoping the current will carry me to dry ground.

Driftwood. You ever feel like that. It's a great feeling when you're spent due to Kingdom service. It's as fulfilling as it gets when you lay down your life for your friends. I think it was Paul who said, "I will very gladly spend myself for you, and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less?" I love that kind of passion. I love that kind of question. There are just days when you come to the end of yourself, and it's there you meet the Carrier Himself who carries you along to the finish line. I felt that several times this weekend.

Last night, I had a hankering to go to a movie--a late one--by myself. I don't do this often enough. I just sat in the theater with a handful of people and got lost in the story. After it was all said and done, people cleared from the theater, but I stayed to watch the scrolling credits until the screen went pitch black. I love listening to the postlude and being entranced by the ascending vertical movement of the words. It's hypnotizing, especially when you're in the state of being and the frame of mind I was coming off the breakneck pace of the weekend. It's cathartic to me. There is a healing that comes in these late-night movies by myself that I can't quite explain.

As I was driving home, I was recounting all the many gifts I have in my life. My wife tops the list of earthly treasures, what with her gorgeous frame and her tender love of my soul. My daughters come in a close second requiring a veritable photo-finish. My church continues to bless me with their patience and grace. My extended family is something I lean into mentally when the going gets tough. My wonderful home and my overwhelming accumulation of possessions, most of which I don't really need to survive. The talents to Lord has seen fit to lavish on me that I don't deserve. The physical health and strength to sustain me when I put on the full court press for the Kingdom, like this last weekend. My band that faithfully and sacrificially stands by my side in the fight for "warship" (my worship for raw worship). My friendships with other men that continue to develop into an alliance of brotherhood. I could think of more given the time, but suffice it to say that I'm blessed beyond measure.

So even though I feel like driftwood today, I say that with a feeling of deep satisfaction. For there are times that it feels so good to relax and let yourself be carried to the shore by the waves of the Father's love. And when he lays you down on the sandy beach, there is something about that feeling of contentment that comes over you that is unrivaled.

So today I'm just going to lay on the shore prostrate, thankful that I'm who I am where I am. I wish I could take time to feel this more in my life.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bloodletting...

Bloodletting is the withdrawal of often considerable quantities of blood from a patient in the belief that this would cure or prevent a great many illnesses and diseases. It was a tremendously popular medical practice from antiquity up to the late 19th century, a time span of almost 2,000 years.

I don't know why this came to my mind this morning, but I've been looking for ways to relieve the pressure burgeoning inside my heart the last two days.  This process of bloodletting can take on many forms for me.  Writing, conversation with people, listening to music, praying, reading, movies, playing with my girls, snuggling with my wife, etc.  All of these things tend to prevent "a great many illnesses and diseases" to infest my soul's bloodstream weakening me--sometimes killing me.

Please know this--I'm not a cutter.  I'm not advocating self-mutilation or what is know as SI (Self-Injury).  I'm talking about something symbolic here based on the ancient practice of bloodletting.  But it does intrigue me that though bloodletting isn't practiced in modern medicine anymore, the all too common epidemic of cutting yourself to relieve pain is growing in its popularity, especially among youth.  But I digress.

The point is that I find a release and a cure in the letting out of my sickly lifeblood.  When I sense a disease or infection coursing through my spirit's veins, there is nothing as critical as letting it out to God, people, or even myself.  The worst thing I can do is hold it in.  All that does is spread the disease of dis"ease" inside of me--like keeping yourself from puking when the very act of hurling would purge the toxins that are bringing you paralyzing misery.  

Puking, bloodletting, venting...these disciplines are vital to the long-term health of the heart--if you care about that sort of thing.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Out of tune...

- It snowed this past weekend.
- Tons of people were gone for spring break.
- I lost my voice.
- My wife is sick.
- I slept horrible the last two nights.
- The small of my back is smarting something fierce.
- The Yankees lost their season opener.
- Michigan St. decided to not show up for the Finals last night.
- Our girls are constantly revealing more and more crap they're learning at school.
- I've been battle temptation the last two days.
- After a few good weeks, I feel my insides tightening with anxiety again today.
- I've got so much to coordinate coming into this Easter weekend.
- I feel disconnected from important people in my life.
- I missed 24 last night.
- I woke up dizzy for some reason.
- I've been battling "the second-guessing-of-myself" virus that defies immunization.
- I miss my Dad and Mom.
- I'm worrying for certain members of my flock.

And the list goes on and on.

Isn't it great that "though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we can be renewed day by day"?  I don't know why it's so much easier to compile a list of garbage than it is to compile of list of goodness...but it is.

Tune my heart to sing Thy praise.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Writing...

It's been well over a week since my last entry.  I go in spurts.  Sadly, you can tell the amount of time I'm spending in cathartic contemplation based on the frequency of my blogs.  If I'm getting away from the clamor and clutter of life, I tend to have more things to share and more time to share it.  If I'm caught in the undertow of life's unforgiving and relentless waves of busyness, I can't get into a wordy water-fight cause my squirt-gun is bone dry.  And when I can't write, I tend to get constipated with conflicting content.  Thoughts remain random and unprocessed.  Life moves along, each day piggy-backing on the next like a stack of unopened bills.  Relationships tend toward encounters of happenstance, a crapshoot of loose connection.  It's hard to explain, but writing orders my chaotic and crowded mind.

Writing forces me to define and refine my loose ends of emotion.  Instead of the all-to-common answer of "I don't know" or "I'm not sure" to the question of "How are you doing?", I can piece together some words that render out what would otherwise remain ineffable feelings tabled inside.  The discipline of writing gives my heart the release valve of voice.  Instead of being gagged with a rag and duck taped to a basement chair, I'm taking time to fight for my heart's expression.  There is pathos under there that is difficult to put into words, for sure.  Often I squeeze my eyelids shut, clench my jaw, and tighten my fists in frustration as I'm trying to find the right words.  But I've found that to find the right words, you have to write words.  And even if the right words don't emerge, the simple act of writing tends to loosen the log-jammed linguist within.  Instead of answering people with the all to common responses of "that's a good question" or "I have no idea" or "it's hard to put into words", I can actually give voice to the voids, vacuums and vacancies within, that typically stay latent and silent.

Writing also helps me to unload baggage that is building up inside my being.  If I don't cathartically vent once in a while, I tend to collect thoughts, feelings, ideas and questions inside of me like a consummate pack-rat with a messy attic.  This collection of dust and debris only serves to clutter my heart with confusion and combustion.  Without writing I feel like I'm going to blow sometimes, congested in my conscience and confused with conflicting content.  I stack thoughts on top of each other like boxes hoping that I'll remember where I'm putting stuff when the time comes to retrieve it.  I rarely remember.  Most ruminations get buried and forgotten.  Stacks of unlabeled boxes filled with "only God knows what" collect dust and take up space within.  This labeling process of writing can't be overstated.  Writing is labeling to me.  Ordering the collections of thoughts I've acquired over the years into a rolodex of intelligent contributions has become critical to what I've called "stewarding influence".  I've learned that words are a huge part of influence.  Words awaken, inspire, unearth, and emancipate.  They are critical to the passing on of passion.  

I remember a verse in the Bible that says, "How will they know unless they hear, and how will they hear unless someone tells them?"  (that's the gist of it)  No longer can we take a mulligan of "It's just hard to put into words" or one of my favorites "...for lack of better words..." as they stumble through a poor transfer of information or translation of affection.  When the heart gets lost in translation, you can't tell me the kingdom doesn't suffer.  

I know how important the wordless gospel of our life is.  I know that we-must-preach-the-gospel-and-if-necessary-use-words business.  I know the Scripture that speaks of loving with actions and truth and not just words and tongue.  These are viable counterpoints, but I don't think God is affirming the lame-brain heralding of the message in the name of etymological ignorance.  Action is urgent, but words are an emergency as well.  It kills me when the world writes off God because of poor communication skills.  How we say things is just as important as what we say.  It just is.

I never did quite get this in the flight simulator of Bible College.  But as I've engaged the real word of humanity, I'm finding creative communication to be paramount to effective ministry, not only speaking, but listening.  Not only preaching, but conversing.  It must be comedic, poetic, relevant, provocative, solemn, simple, and engaging.  You can say that it only matters that you have a good heart, but I encourage you to go out there and see how far you get with a good heart.  A good heart without a good mouth is like a good engine without a good car.  And you can say things like, "It's better to be seen and not heard" or "Well done is better than well said.", but at the end of the day, words matter immensely.  

And this is why writing matters to me.  What, to many, may be a big fat waste of time is, to me, a big fat fight for meaning.  And it's really about a fight for the heart, because tears might give you a peek into someone's soul, and actions might lead you down a path to someone's passions, but it is the medium of words that most beautifully expresses the nuanced textures of someone's holy heart.