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Monday, August 31, 2009

Power or Powder?

I wrote this a couple weeks ago.

Some things I write don't make the blog for whatever reason.  Either they need more context to be understood or I feel like they're too personal.  I think this one was on the edge of needing a little more context, but I think you'll get where I'm coming from.  I sometimes cringe to put posts like this out there cause people think I'm in a depression or something...not so.  But just because I carry on in ministry doesn't mean I don't question my faith, my salvation at times, and sometimes my sanity..hahaha.  I hope this encourages someone, but even if it doesn't, it is the truth of my life on some days and I can't get away from that now, can I?

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Having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it…

 

Herein lies one of my greatest faith fears.  I have been reared in an American Christian Church Subculture my whole life.  I don’t remember a day that I didn’t believe in God--not just a little bit, but a lot a bit.  I didn’t even have a chance to think differently than I do, and if I did, it would have been like choosing to learn a whole new language all the while taking a vow that I would not speak even a word in the language of my native tongue.  I could have done this, but you’d understand if I told you that this would have seemed daunting, time consuming.  It was just easier to continue to speak in the language I was taught, regardless of whether it was the best language or not.  I knew it, and that made it the best one for me.

The analogy breaks down on several levels, but you understand where I’m coming from.  By the time my brain was developed enough to question the credibility of my faith, not my faith in God, but my faith in the sect of Christianity that was peddling their subjective interpretation, I already had so many chips in the pot that I felt unmotivated to start from scratch.  I was pot committed you might say.  Who wants to defy all the people that have labored to inculcate truth (their version) into one’s life?  Who wants to tie a little pouch on the end of a stick, throw it over their shoulder, and head out the door to explore the wide world of religious thought with nothing but a gut instinct telling you something’s just not right?  Who wants to apply themselves to that sort of devout search for truth when so much infrastructure has been fastened and fortified within?  It might be spiritual, but it just doesn’t feel all that practical at that point in the game.  So you decide to do with what you got and make the best of it. 

But this form of godliness thing has to be the greatest deception.  You’re not a raving drunk, a perverted pedophile, or a godless atheist…you’re simply a shinny piece of pressboard furniture.  Veneer covered.  From a distance, quite similar to the real thing, but upon closer inspection, it’s a joke.  It’s not Jesus.  It’s a joke.  A Jesus-looking joke.  And here’s the reason why.

It’s got no power.  It’s got love.  It’s got faith.  It’s got morality.  It just ain’t got no power. 

I feel this a lot.  And I’m a pastor.  I feel like I’m a pretty good guy.  I’ve got a better than average personality.  I have an above average resume’.  I’ve learned certain skills that attract people, skills that you can acquire by heading over to Barnes and Noble and grabbing a book off the New York Times best seller rack or frequenting a couple leadership conferences a year and taking good notes.  People skills, communication skills, listening skills, management skills, writing skills, etc.  But is this what pastoring has become?  Mad Skills?  I don’t think so.

It seems to me that all you have to be is sexy or savvy in today’s church culture and you get a free ride.  You’re good.  God is with you.  If he wasn’t, you wouldn’t be sexy or savvy.  Right?  But this isn’t God-powered living.  This is American business strategy applied to the upside-down, inside-out Kingdom of God.  It has energy, but does it have power?  It will induce inspiration, but does it produce transformation?  It’s like what one Indian said when he went to church for the first time, “Lots of Wind, Lots of Dust, No Rain.”  No Rain. 

It doesn’t matter how must wind and dust we kick up each week, if it doesn’t produce rain, it’s not worth a rat’s rump.  And sometimes I feel like a lot of wind and dust, smoke and mirrors. 

And here’s where my background comes into play.  Even if I don’t sense any power behind my preaching or pastoring or praying, I just keep going because I don’t know what else I would do if I didn’t do it.  It’s not only my fault, it’s my default.  It’s actually easy for me to feel like things are successful without “power” being one of the determining factors.  Why?  Because I don’t know any different, with or without power.  I’ve so infrequently seen power in my faith, that I don’t even hold myself accountable to experience it anymore.  Things like love, passion, faithfulness…these are the things I hold myself accountable to.  They are wonderful virtues, but they are not POWER.  They can all be fabricated and manipulated.  You wanna know how I know that?  Because I’ve done it, more times than I’d like to admit, I’ve done it.  But power can’t be faked, really it can’t.  You either got it or you don’t.  And if you’re used to be honest with yourself (few are), you know whether it’s power or powder.  You just know.  And people around you do, too.  You can’t feign power. 

And sometimes--I’m just saying--power is as far away as the planet Pluto.  I’m busily carrying on with ministry…as if.  As if I’m really powered by God.  As if I’m just fine.  As if I’m godly.  But I’m not.  I’m just a “form” on many days.  A shell of a sham.  And here’s the kicker…I don’t know any better on most days because power just hasn’t been part of the discipleship grid for the better part of my life. 

Anybody else out there scared to death that they are but a form of godliness living in denial of its power?  

Friday, August 28, 2009

Full time/Part time...

I've been able to spend some concentrated time with my girls the last couple days.  Heidi is leading our woman's retreat and I'm on full-time parent duty for three straight days.  Here's the difference between part-time duty and full-time duty as a parent...

Part time means you have time to yourself when you want it and time with them when you want it.

Full time means that option is not available for you because whether you want it or not, you're with them regardless.

Part time allows you the flexibility to get away when you're feeling a little annoyed with their incessant sibling cat fights.

Full time allows you the beautiful opportunity to shape them with discipline all day long with no breathers or union breaks.

Part time gives you an alibi of work demands when you're really just selfishly needing time to not be "home" with the chaos of child rearing.

Full time gives you a broom, a toilet plunger and a dish rag and tells you that you can feel bad for yourself on your own time...oh, wait a minute, you don't have your own time.

Part time allows things to be broken up into bite size chunks of time so you don't get overwhelmed with too much of a good thing.

Full time allows you an occasional break from monotony in the bathroom while you fake like you have to take a dookie...loitering becomes a necessary survival technique.

Part time makes you feel like you're an amazing parent cause you get to swoop in a become the instant Hero when you come home from work and the kids treat you like the Messiah.

Full time makes you feel like you're a demon parent 'cause you get treated like crap due to the excessive exposure throughout the day that leads to a built up immunity in your children to your voice, presence, and discipline.  Face it, you're invisible and you're the one that's there all the time.

So anybody who says that staying home with kids full time isn't a job, I submit to you that you clench your fist behind your back, put on brass knuckles with your free hand, feign a smile that makes them feel like you're agreeing with them and then uncork a haymaker that lands a cold-cock special on their snot-box that they won't soon forget, even in the next life.  Then help them up and tell them to never utter that sentiment again for as long as they live.  

Got it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thoughts on Facebook and Futility...

Sometimes I forget why I'm doing something in the middle of doing it.

It's like I start something with the vigor of a Viking, and at first, it is motivated purely.  As the "thing" progresses (or digresses depending on your vantage point), autopilot starts, what we'll call, the second 8 hour shift of the work schedule.  It carries me into the early hours of the night and passes the baton off at the stroke of midnight to what we'll call the "third shift" of a habit's continuum.  It is in this third shift that autopilot is the most innocuous.  It is dark during this shift, everything is upside down and backwards.  You are fighting to stay awake but wanting to fall asleep.  Whatever it was that you set out to do in the first shift, you have all but abandoned, leaving behind nothing but the shed snakeskin of thoughtless futility.  Whatever the "purist" was inside of you, he isn't anymore.  He's lost his voice and though he's shouting angrily, all you hear is the raspy sound of air being violently forced over tired vocal cords.  It's tragic, really.

I watch this cycle run its course in my life quite often.  

My Facebook is one great example of this.  

When I met "Facebook" initially, I was drawn to her user-friendliness.  This is important to a technically challenged web-surfer like myself.  If the waves are too vicious, I will just sit on the shore and take pictures of all the other surfers.  Facebook took my hand and helped me to see that it's really easy to connect with the whole world.  All I had to do was give her my email, my birthday, a six-lettered password and "shizzam!", the rest would come to me.  And it did.  All I needed to do was Accept or Ignore for days on end.  Oh, occasionally I would stalk an old friend and ask to be added to their plethora of friends, but usually I just sat back and let the Facebook Fairies do their thing.  

She continued to dazzle me with her simple ways.  We did have a couple rough patches early in our relationship when she went off and got a facelift.  Go figure...facebook getting a facelift!  I guess there is a lot of competition out there these days, so I don't blame her.  It didn't take long to get used to the cosmetic changes and before long, we were hitting on all cylinders once again.  I haven't known her for very long, but just the other day I caught myself in the middle of something that didn't seem right.

Have you ever caught yourself doing something that felt weird even though the day before it felt perfectly fine?  It was like I was saying before, I was in the middle of something that wasn't me anymore.  I was posting little status updates like an attention starved cat.  I didn't even need cat nip; I was purring and rubbing up against people's legs leaving my itchy hair all over them.  Maybe it was the turnoff of getting status updates from some people ad nauseam.  Maybe it was watching myself try to come up with clever one liners to catch someone's eye.  Maybe it was the inability to respond to all the notifications simply because I made the mistake of creating another avenue of accessibility, unknowingly promising a friend-like connection that I couldn't make good on.  I mean, who can be friends with 858 friends and expect anything but a logjam of information-overload?  And I did this to myself...well, Mrs. Facebook helped me expedite things with her magical networking skills, but once the train got going, I started pumping in the coal like a soot-faced miner.

My motivations in this relationship started very innocent, very pure.  But over time, I think I lost my mind and my heart in it all.  There are a couple passages in Ecclesiastes that have rocked me lately...
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Much dreaming and many words are meaningless.  - Ecclesiastes 5:7

As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.  - Ecclesiastes 5:3

And Proverbs has one that's even scarier...

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. - Pro. 10:19
____________________

I just caught myself in a torrent of wordiness that was foolishness.  No matter how much you love words, you can prostitute them until they are rubbish.  Words are far too precious for that sort of tomfoolery.  

I'm not going to over-react and can my Facebook account, but you can expect a whole heck of a lot less purring and leg rubbing, I assure you.  Nobody likes being the scratching pole for people who need to get a life.

I'm off to get a life, a real live life.  It will be so good--at least this is the hope--that I won't have time to be on Facebook playing pretend.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Paternal Proximity...

There's something profound that happens when you're with your dad. It's sort of hard to explain because it's not something scientific as much as spiritual. Whatever telepathy is to the mind, paternity is to the man. It's like you can feel things being deposited in your soul just being in close proximity. Words aren't necessary, thought they can expedite the soul exchange. There's something calming about being close to your dad, like things are going to be alright or something. This is where words start to break down in their painted pictures.
In this picture, my dad, Charles Frank Holdridge, and I are splitting wood with a Ford tractor passed down from my dad's dad. My grandpa actually built the splitter with odds and ends he pieced together from farm scraps. You see, my dad grew up on a farm, some 600 acres of fields, streams and mountains in the Catskill Mountains. He plowed fields, cut and bailed hay, fixed farm equipment, milked cows, butchered pigs, and flirted with neighboring farm girls. I come from agrarian stock, you might say. So even though I'm the son of a Christian School principal turned small town pastor, I'm really the son of a farmer at heart. He would just as soon be in the pollen as the pulpit. He loves to garden. He loves to fell trees. He loves to bushhog the back fields, He loves to burn wood in the winter. That's where I come in.
Every year, we visit Oswego in the month of August right about the time when dad has finished cutting down the trees, hauling them out of the woods, dicing them into chunks and throwing them next to the dilapidated shed where I used to huff gas in my naughty nines or terrible tens. There is a stack of unsplit wood there every year when our family rolls in the driveway for a week long stay at my parents house, my childhood home. It's about 5 feet high and takes up the space of a large in-ground pool. For those of you that are wood whisperers, it's about 10 to 12 cord of hard wood...anything from Wild Cherry to Soft Maple is represented in this stack of satanic sap-saturated sticks.
Dad and I will rise early in the morning and split or wait for the cool of the evening. You don't want to work with wood in the early afternoon, which is the sweltering heart of heat. We chipped away at the pile this year in 4 seperate time frames, partly because I'm not the agile workhorse I used to be and dad's not God's gift to physical shows of strength himself. We worked very methodically this year, and that was fine by me. Slow and steady wins the race.
As we worked, this synergetic and mysterious presence that exists between a father and son hit me quite viscerally. I soaked in the time like I was experiencing it in slow motion, knowing that these times won't always be. I watched dad with sideways glances so as to not be caught staring. I didn't completely know what I was looking for, but there was no doubt, I was looking for something.
I think I was looking for presence with my dad. A quiet, quintessential presence that can't be mistaken for anything but sacred. A man-moment that generations of men have wished to be able to articulate, but have perennially been lost for words to do so. Maybe it was never meant to be reduced to words. Maybe that sort of masculine minimalism only defiles it, vilolates it. I don't know.
But as I split and stacked wood with my dad once again this year, I was reminded again that the nut doesn't fall too far from the tree. It can't. It needs to stay close to its source, its sustenance. It grows best when it stays close. And maybe that's what I'm trying to get at here, there's something eternally amazing that happens when I get close to my dad and we work hard at something together. When we sweat together.
Something was deposited into me this past week. It is a vaccine that not enough young men have injected into their heart's bloodstream. It is that paternal proximity that we need to live. We can't live without it no matter how hard we try.
And, oh, do we ever try.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

500th blog...(the honest toil of writing)

This is my 500th post.  

It's been almost 4 years of slogging through blogging.  It has been the best of times; it has been the worst of times.  There are moments when I don't feel I have anything else to write about; there are moments within those moments that I don't feel I have anything left to say about life.  But then there are moments when I can't shut myself up, I am a Tasmanian Devil spinning to and fro with more to say that I have time or finger-energy to type out.  

The life of writing has become almost an obsession to me as of late, and it is this blogging phenomenon that has sprinkled something in my drink to intoxicate me.  I feel drunk sometimes on my love for/of words and phrases and how when they get placed into a sentence just so, they can induce goosebumps.  The evocative, provocative life of writing has bewitched me.

I don't know what there is about letters and words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs and chapters and books that hold me hostage.  I love even the dusty smell of old books.  If you peek around the corner in a bookstore or a library you may find me with a book cracked wide open in my hand sniffing the crease like a little boy huffing gas in the garage. (I know a little something about that as well, but I'll leave that story for another day)  It's a mix of dust and ink and recycled paper and cardboard all braided together.  You can even throw in the unpleasant smell of mothballs if you like and I'm still a taker.  I'm a sucker for literature.  

I love reading things via the internet, but it doesn't hold a candle to the antiquated ritual of reading a hard cover book with coffee stains and earmarks and faded pages edged with an almost smoker-stained yellow--if that's a color.  I love making little notations in pencil that come to me in the moment, sometimes woven together with the threaded theme of the author, sometimes a disconnected dreamworld of doodled chimeras.  I love circling words that are new to me, ones that I wish to add to my emaciated vocabulary.  Oh, how I wish I had a better retaining wall to hold in all those beautiful words I came across.  But alas, I leak something terrible.  I sand bag, but at the end of the day, my IQ isn't what I wished it was and the words that I come across vanish from my short-term memory leaving my vocabulary as malnourished as it was a day's start.

So to commemorate this, my 500th blog, I just want to say that I wouldn't trade a day of my life for another.  For every season has impassioned my heart whether by feast or famine.  Both have served to strengthen my affections.  Both have guided me to where I sit, how I sit.  

Oh, how I love to read good writing.  I'm hoping that I can one day write good reading, but even if that day never comes according to my inner expectations, I will write just the same.  

So far all you writers out there, pick up your palsy pens and make music of your musings. 

Monday, August 10, 2009

A night to remember...

Last night something beautiful happened.

To put it into context allow me to paint some canvas around the focal point of last night to texture the setting.

Lately, our youngest, Taylor has been vexed with fear and worry that has been paralyzing her personality as well as making it impossible for her to sleep at night without a melodrama that makes you want to not exist anymore. Through much conversation and almost acrobatic age appropriate talking/listening to her little 5 year old spirit, we have identified a few things that have cause pause in her soul, which is a nice way of saying "stunted in her internal growth". They are as follows:

1. We left her home about 7 weeks ago accidentally. We were taking our car to someone's house and Heidi thought she was in the car with me and I thought she was in the van with Heidi when, in reality, she was upstairs trying to find some shoes to wear. We drove off with oblivious confidence only to get to our destination Taylorless. I rushed home to find her weeping in the entry way of our home. She seemed ok with it initially as I explained to her the perfectly logical misstep we made and tried to assure her that we didn't, in fact, forget her, we just made the mistake of thinking the other person had her and as such...blah, blah, blah...the rationale is superflouos because to her, "We forgot her and left her alone." For a couple weeks we noticed no change of patterns in her temperment or faculties. What we didn't know is the latent nature of this sort of occurence. A couple weeks of gestation surfaced in an inordinate fear of being left alone.

2. Another thing that piggybacked that traumatic experience happened at a friends house. They (her and another youngster) were innocently talking about life and somehow or another started talking about how a young boy in the area was kidnapped way back when. Her little friend was about 6 years old, so he explained this experience in the vivid details of a 6 year older's perspective. It went something like this...the child walked away from the parents, a mean man gave the kid some candy and lured him into his car and then was taken away and killed by this unfeeling terrorist of children. "Manslaughter" in the laymen's terms of a 6 yr. old. Abduction, Kidnapping, Murder...these are concepts and words that no 6 year old has the mental apparatus to interpret well...heck, adults don't even know how to process this sort of lunacy. That spun her into a panic of sorts that made her fearful that she would be taken and killed by someone if she didn't stay right next to us. And I mean "right next" to us. There have been times in the last couple weeks were if we leave her sight she will run to find us and we're simply in the next room. She can't be upstairs if we're downstairs, furthermore, she can't be in the kitchen if we're in the dining room. It's that outlandish. But this is what fear does, it kills innocence.

3. The third trauma--which won't feel that traumatic to you or I because we've been desensitized to this travesty--is the divorce of John and Kate from the hit show on TLC "John and Kate plus 8". They have loved this show the last couple years and have developed a real kinship with this family. When their relationship started to unravel in the late spring, all the girls were deeply affected, but I think Taylor maybe the most. One of the things that made this marital breakdown most distubing is that they just had an episode this past year where John and Kate flew the whole family to Hawaii, where John grew up, and beautifully reenacted their wedding and renewed their vows to each other. They even looked at the children as said, "We will never get divorced because we would never do that to you!" My girls took this vow to be what it was, a vow...a promise...a cross-your-heart-hope-to-die-stick-a-needle-in-your-eye covenant that can't be broken or reniged upon. So when they watched as lies came forth and vows unravelled, they were heartbroken, but Taylor was petrified. She trasfered their relationship to ours, and was deathly afraid that Heidi and I were going to get a divorce. She would get out of bed and walked down the stairs to see if we were on the couch snuggling. She kept reminding us that we made vows to each other and that we couldn't break those vows. But inside, she knew that it didn't matter what you said, that just like John and Kate, you could get a divorce if you really wanted to. It disabled her.

4. Mix those three things with the death of a someone in our band whose family is very close to ours, and you have a formula for obsessive-compulsive paranoia. Which is what she has been tettering on for about a solid month. Nathan's death--a 19 guy from our praise band killed in a car accident in June--spoke into her little heart that Mommy could leave in the car and someone could run a light, hit her, and kill her. Every time Heidi would leave, she would uncontrollably cry believing that it might be the last time she would see her. Suffice it to say that when children interact with depravity and brokenness at a level they are not intended to in their premature state, they can't take it in stride. It suffocates them, paralyzes them, kills them on the inside.

So there's some paint around what I wanted to share with you about the beauty of last night. Cheri, who happens to be the mother of the young man who was killed about 7 weeks ago, came over to pray with our family, especially the girls. We all sat on the floor in our living room and talked about fear, life, worry, the kingdom, prayer, pressure, Jesus and most importantly how each of these things relates to TRUTH. What we neede more than anything was to believe TRUTH. Cheri asked the girls questions and they responded with their take on what was the matter. They listened to her with bated breath. They spoke out their concerns, anxieties, feelings and wonderments. Anything from things they picture in their little minds (the mug shot of Michael Jackson) to questions about Nathan's death (how, when, where, who, why). I spoke into their lives as a father who was trying to pierce the shroud of deception with the sword of truth. Heidi was holding the girls and speaking her motherly femininity into these "little women". We spoke openly about anything and everything that we could think to dig out from under the darkness of deception. No more nebulous feelings that have no attachment to reality. No more believing lies that disguise themselves as logical. No more hoping it will go away with time. No more handling this with kid gloves. It was time for battle, which is to say it was time for prayer.

After we had vented all the pent up pressures and shared all the, even, embarrassing secrets, we sat on the floor in a circle and Cheri prayed individually with each of the girls and then anointed them with oil in the name of Jesus. When she did this, they would open their eyes and watch her tilt the little pastic bottle of oil to the side, leaving a little thin layer of liquid on her index finger. She would slowly move her finger to the center of their foreheads and cover them with the cross signifying Jesus healing presence. I think they were both stupefied and mystified by this this symbolic gesture, but after she left, they said they liked it! They said they wished we could talk like that every night and pray together with Cheri. I couldn't agree more.

I could go on, but I'll leave it at that. Thank God for Christ's enduring and abiding presence that joins us still in the fat middle of our frailty and fragility. May he bind us up with his wounds afresh.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

One of those rare days...

Yesterday I spent the day with my family and a few friends on the Michigan lakeshore 30 minutes north of Muskegon.  The day couldn't have been carved out of time with any better precision.  It was a masterpiece; put it this way, God got an Oscar last night. 

We drove through the most enchanting woods to get to this little three bedroom cabin sitting perched up above the sea of sand and fresh water.  As we drove up and down the cavernous ravines on this idyllic dirt road, the scenery was piercingly gorgeous.  The forrest was dark and mysterious.  I felt an almost telepathic invitation to explore its contours.  Sun rays were exploding through openings in the thick leafy canopy, shafts of luminescent spotlights decorating the landscape like a Dave Matthews Band stage.  You could see where someone got the idea of dry ice and intelligent lighting.  It felt like we were interrupting an orchestra dress rehearsal, something choreographed with brilliant artistry and toilsome preparation.  It took a moment to realize that we were simply interrupting God as he played with his symphonic creation.  The Maestro was leading with his little wand, head tilted back and eyes closed, smiling from ear to ear.  It was a sight for sore eyes.

As we wove our way through the dirt road toward the bluffs, I caught myself smirking with delight.  I didn't even know I was until I felt the corners of my mouth taut as if being held back with fairy ropes.  I collected myself and caught up to the yellow truck I was following.  As we pulled into the driveway of this summer cabin I could just feel that this was going to be a day almost predestined to bless my heart.  

Everything about the day felt like a trip back in time, from the fresh garden green beans that I ate raw, to the smell of one of the Great Lakes in the late summer, to the sound of the surf in the distance, to the sight of sailboats darting to and fro trying to catch the wind just right.  Something about this day took me back to my 18 childhood years spent in Oswego, N.Y. on the shores of Lake Ontario.  The wind had a taste to it.  The cabin had a smell to it that only lakeside dwellings do, a mix of winter's beating and summer's healing playing tug-a-war with this vacation home.  It's nostalgic to me.

We sat out on the beach for a couple hours watching the girls play in the water while building sand castles and teepees out of driftwood.  We ate munchies and talked about everything in general and nothing in specific, just the way you hope to spend a vacation day.  

We went into town and got some ice cream at an Amish tourist trap.  The ice cream was supposedly homemade, probably made that morning by three 5 years olds in the barn.  The place smelled of cow manure, one of my favorite aromas on the planet.  Heidi wasn't all that keen on the Holstein refuse, but it's good for her.   She is from Iowa, so we can't let her forget that, even though it was the quarantined city of Des Moines which sits apart from the rest of the surrounding communities like Joseph wearing his coat of many colors around his farm-smellin' brothers.  So, needless to say, she's not "Corn-fed and Hormone-free" like the cows were described to be on this little Amish plantation in northern Michigan.  And I'm glad, especially about the hormone-free part.

We headed back to the shore and started getting the pork-loin prepared for grilling.  The wind was starting to die down and the sun was starting its decent casting long, lovely shadows.  I love this part of the evening when a silence starts to hover and life starts to unfold in almost slow motion.  

As we finished grilling, my buddy, Dave, brought out a couple packages for my birthday.  I opened the first one and it was an Etch-a-Sketch that he bought off E-bay.  It was vintage, still in the box from the early 80's.  He knew a couple stories that I had shared about how that was one of my favorite toys from boyhood.  He pointed to another package and told me this was a little more fragile.  I opened it with kid-gloves and to my surprise, it was a bottle of wine from 1974, my birth year.  He said that he's not all that sentimental, but I would have to argue that point.  I'm not sure I've ever received a gift that took so much thought and sentiment.  I was blessed to be the object of such forethought and honor.  

Dave and I took a walk through the woods and did some sight-seeing.  We would stop and talk about different trees, memories from the past, and whatever knee-jerk emotional reactions we were having to the spell this wooded area was casting upon us.  There wasn't a temperature.  It was neither hot nor cold.  It was like the porridge in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, "just right".  I can't remember the last time I felt this sort of psuedo-weightlessness to life.  You walked along as if floating in a anti-gravitational chamber, moving through time with effortless ease.  These are the times I wish I could just stop and bottle up only to break open when caught in a firestorm of frenetic activity and frantic anxiety, pouring it over myself like a salve.  But I guess that is what makes it bittersweetly special, it only happens once in a great while, and even then, completely unexpected.  

As we drove home, I soaked in the recollections of the day trying to marinade it into the muscle tissue of my memory.  I won't soon forget these freeze frames in the film of my story.

Life is good.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Toilet paper is important...

It is my birthday...so in honor of this hallowed day, I want to tell you a story.  It happened to me.  I happened to it.  Rather, I happened upon it just this last week.  It goes something like this...

My family and I went out to dinner last week to the Olive Garden.  It's America's version of vintage Italian.  We had a gift certificate for $25 dollars with which to feed our family of 5.  This proved to be quite difficult.  After perusing the menu for a few minutes, we gave into the idea that we were going to have to spend about $10 more of our own money in order for this to work.  The girls got their kids meals and Heidi and I decided to get the all-you-can-eat salad with that succulent house dressing.  Every ingredient is baptized in this dressing which, I'm sure, takes away from the nutritional value of the salad making it equivalent to eating a quarter pounder with cheese from McDonalds.  But that is neither here nor there.  Suffice it say, it's horribly wonderful!

There is only one drawback to me eating my fill of Olive Garden salad.  And for some of you it could be a drawback that would keep you from eating the salad ever again, not so with me.  This drawback is nothing other than IBS.  This is not in any way associated with the IRS or CBS.  It is the medical condition known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Few foods awaken this sleeping giant from it slumber within my rib cage/cave, but there's something about the combination of ingredients in this salad that calls it forth like Lazarus, and when it comes forth, let me tell you, it cometh forth!

We left the restaurant and decided to go to Barnes and Noble to read some books.  It is only about two blocks down from the Olive Garden, but I assure you that if it was three blocks I could have soiled my pants.  My stomach was contracting violently and my mental fortitude to convince my stomach to hold back from its expunging instinct was giving way by the second.  I walked into the bookstore like I was walking with stilts, movements methodical and painful.  I didn't make eye contact with anyone, I simply kept my Olympic-like focus and quickened my pace as I drew nigh to the bathrooms in the back left had corner of the establishment.  The closer I got, the more my body desired to give birth.  You know of what I speak.  I seriously don't think I could have walked 2 more steps than I did to get to the toilet, I cut it razor close.

As I sat there thanking God for his mercy, I noticed the toilet dispenser to my left looking quite bare.  It is one of those big plastic contraptions that has a reserve roll in case of emergency that can be pulled down into place, but to my horror, as I reached up into the container, the reserve roll was nothing but a cardboard nub.  My mind cascaded into a spin cycle of trouble-shooting wondering how I was going to walk all hunched over into the next stall to find a much needed swath of toilet paper.  As I sat there waiting for the bathroom to empty (there seemed to be two, maybe three, other users), I noticed a piece of paper towel to my right lying on the floor like a ram caught in the thicket.  It couldn't have been bigger than an 8x10 piece, but I knew it would do the trick.  I picked it up, investigated it to see if it had been used and if so, the degree to which it had been used, and proceeded to use it to cleanse myself of all infirmities.  In that moment I seriously lifted up a prayer of thanks to God for his abundant provision.  I think I heard him laugh, but I'm not sure.

I washed my hands with thrice the time and intensity I normally do, and proceeded to go browse some books in the new release section.  But as the story goes, my bowels were not done with me yet.  It didn't take but about 5 minutes to realize that I was going to have to revisit the boy's room and finish what I started.  I moved swiftly to the back corner of the building, this time with a bit less desperation and a bit more reconnaissance under my belt.  I turned the corner and made my way to "the other" stall making sure there was ample toilet paper to accommodate me.  There was.  As I sat down and started round two of number 2, I heard the door open up and the footsteps of a victim walking toward the other stall--the ill-equipped stall, the "you-don't-know-what-you're-getting-yourself-into" stall.  He stepped inside, closed the door, slide the lock in place, put down the toilet seat, pulled down his pants, sighed a sigh of relief and took care of business.  The whole time I just sat there filled with empathetic pity for this man's present state.  He was like a sheep led to the slaughter house, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb. 

I was about finished with my deal when I had a brilliant idea.  I thought about unrolling a ton of toilet paper, wadding it up into a ball and rolling it under the partition.  But that seemed a little over-the-top as I played out the situation in my head.  Just then, another idea passed before my mind.  I would unroll the toilet paper so that it would hang down below the partition inviting this man to grab ahold and yank down however much he desired.  And that is what I did.  I figured that I would expose about 12 inches of toilet paper so that when he figured out that his dispenser was empty and looked around in desperation for something to wipe with, he would spot this "white towel of surrender" conveniently hanging there as if to say, "Take me, Use me, I'm Yours."  

As I pulled up my pants, I tapped the metal barrier to draw a little attention, and with that, I made my way to the sink to wash my hands and left the bathroom feeling good about my humanitarian aide.  I don't know how the situation turned out.  I almost faked like I left the bathroom so that I could listen to see how the events would unfold, but I was nervous that he would bend over and look under the stall walls seeing my feet standing there stalking him.  I decided to just jet and leave it in "God's hands".   

I think life is this simple.  Helping other people.  Learning from our own mistakes and pitfalls and joys and successes and helping others toward wholeness.  Sometimes it's as simple as leaving about 10 inches of toilet paper under the splash guard to help a brother out.  This is what I hope my life will mean when it's done...simple acts of aide to my fellowman that show I'm conscious of their plight and am seeking to sojourn with them in this cruel world that sometimes comes to us in the form of empty toilet paper dispensers.  

Life is funny.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Needs to needles...wine to water.

I do not write often enough about wonders of my wife.  She is my best friend and my "soulover".  

Last weekend we experienced the inevitable bumps in the road along the way.  There were dissimilarities of perspective that were throwing monkey wrenches into the gears of our relationship.  (notice I said, "monkey wrenches" plural, this was not just one thing)  Our time with each other was minimal due to weddings, parties, and God-only-knows-what else.  Our proximity to each other's deferred hopes and dismissed hurts was getting further and further apart.  And when needs go unmet, something interesting happens.  Needs turn into what I call "Needles".  Small, sharp needles that prick the inside of your heart incessantly, causing irritation and agitation.  I felt them inside of her, I felt them inside of myself.

For three days they reproduced like jackrabbits inside my abdominal cavity, causing deep discomfort and masculine paralysis.  I wasn't sure of the cause of every one of my feelings anymore, I just knew they were there and they were cloning themselves by the hour.  I could see her heart closing off to me as my heart shut down and went into a coma.  Again, this lasted for three days inside of me, even after we talked and got some of our thoughts out on the table.

Late nights of disagreement.  Sleepless hours of tossing and turning in bed.  Zombie-like encounters with people throughout the day as I nursed this unavoidable reality or discord going on in the primary relationship of my life.  It's like trying to go and pick apples with an artificial limb.  You can do it, just not real easy.  That is what life feels like when I'm not in sync with my wife, artificial.  My interaction with ministry, friends, my daughters and my world seems robotic and retarded.  I'm just not myself when my wife and I aren't ourselves.  It's that pesky "one flesh" thing.

But on Tuesday night, I was finally able to write a long letter to her verbalizing my thoughts.  It took some time to turn the water of feelings into the wine of words, but this is always necessary in order for the genesis of reconciliation.  I spoke out my burgeoning frustrations as well as my deepest apologies from my own deficiencies.  It felt good to get stuff processed in the open.

To make a long story less long, the last several days have been wonderful.  There has been a new surge of love and lust filling our hearts for each other.  There has been a high sensitivity to each others needs keeping them from turning into "needles".  There has been laughter and late-night conversations.  There has been friendship.  Deep friendship.

How I love her.  She is my lifeblood.