Monday, August 25, 2008

Labor Day

I love this time of year!

Mid-August is when we begin preparing for one of the greatest of all holidays- Labor Day. Millions around this great nation celebrate the national work force by- ahem- not working! And sportsmen appreciate this glorious day more than most- Labor Day is the opening day of dove season!

Ah, dove season! Where grizzled old sportsmen are reminded what poor shooters they are. Where standing half-hidden amongst the bug-infested stalks of an un-harvested row of corn in 90 degree heat for a chance to shoot at the sky where a bird was is seen as a beautiful thing. We’ll spend $25 bucks on shotgun shells, $20 on licenses, $10 bucks for entry into a hunt, $15 on snacks and drinks, all for a chance to shoot and eat a bird that weighs less than 5 ounces!

Dove hunting is a raucous social activity; that is why most hunters like it. Unlike deer hunting where you must sit motionless in total silence in a swaying treetop wearing bright orange and hope a deer gets comes close enough to shoot but not close enough to smell you. Honestly, it is no fun to dove hunt alone- a dove hunter will become distracted by thinking about what to do if a dove flies within range of his shotgun; and when it does, he usually is too slow to shoot because he was busy thinking. No, it takes a pack of people with stories to tell to keep watching the skies. While one hunter is spooning the dirt from his beanie-weenies, and another is lying about past hunts, his hunting buddies can keep watch. And when someone yells, “DOVE!” everyone jumps to their feet hoping for a chance to watch their buddies unload their shotguns into clean air and miss the bird. It resembles a bearded meerkat colony wearing clashing camo or shorts and adult beverage t-shirts.

People brag a lot at dove hunts. A lot. Some hunters will tell stories that never happened. Not that they are liars, but, lets just say their DNA will stimulate their brains to over-embellish a memory to the point that it is unrecognizable, even to others who experienced it. Like the time the doves were so thick that you could kill your limit with one well-placed shot. Or the time when the ground was littered by lead shot from so many hunters shooting so many doves. Or my personal favorite, the hunter who ran out of shells and shot a dove out of the air with his bow and arrow. He had serious DNA issues.

Some hunters like to consume vast amounts of adult beverages from tall cans while carrying loaded firearms. Let me state for the record that is a horrible and dangerous activity. However, most become so attached to those interesting cans that they forget they are hunting. They’ll spend hours in the shade on their truck tailgates talking about what good shooters they are. They’ll throw their dead soldiers in the air and show off by hitting them one out of three shots. That’s what I hear, anyway; I don’t drink and I don’t hunt with those who are drinking. My DNA stimulates an extra measure of self-preservation.

Me? I like to take those dark dove breasts, wrap them in a thin slice of bacon and grill them on the bar-b-q just a few minutes until hot and tender; crack open a big-ole’ baked potato and slather it in butter; and spoon up a few dips of baked beans. Top it off with corn on the cob and the heel of a loaf of wheat bread and you have a veritable feast of mouth-watering pleasure!

Well, that’s what I’d do if I could hit ‘em…... come Labor Day...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Life is ..... hard.....

Today I mourn the loss of a special young man. Justin Magers is a church member and friend of our church staff. Saturday Justin was killed in an auto-motorcycle accident while serving as a special language instructor in India.

Justin was driving the motorcycle when he was forced, by another vehicle, into oncoming traffic. Justin was killed instantly. A close friend of Justin's, Jon Miller, was critically injured and is at this moment fighting for his life. Jon's parents live in Cabot, Arkansas, where some of our church staff have relatives on that staff.

God's word teaches that there is a time to live, a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3). I understand that. I get the fact that we all must experience our lives until we are called home. I know there is a beginning and an end of our time here. I get it.

What I don't get is how God determines the schedule. In my extremely myopic vision, it seems to me that it is to the benefit of the Kingdom for Justin to serve in India. He had a passion for the people there, and a great love for those with whom he worked. Justin wanted to see the world come to Christ, and was willing to cross it to make it happen. Surely, God could have allowed his life and ministry to continue. Surely, Justin's guardian angel should have been able to protect him and save him. And surely, the Kingdom work done in India has been set back due to Justin's loss.

As my mind wanders through the possible purposes, I wonder if this is another event that is part of God's permissive will; not necessarily His preference, but something He allows to happen due to a set of circumstances He deems important. Maybe God allowed this to happen in order to bring attention to the lack of people willing to give it all away to serve another. Maybe this has happened to protect Justin or to prevent something even more horrible at a later time.

I cannot allow the thought that the enemy sneaks into my thought process- that God really didn't care what happened at all to Justin. That is the voice of the enemy, who thrives on sadness, grief, and frustration.

Because I am who I am and because God is Who He is, I will not know the answer to the questions surrounding the death of Justin Magers. Because of the love letter God sent to us, I do, however, know some things....

1) God is not surprised by things that happen.

2) God has a plan. And that plan offers hope and life.

3) We'll see Justin again.

As I continue to think thru the "why" of this, I'll suppose I'll have to add this to the growing list of questions I want to ask when I see Jesus, face-to-face.

My guess?

My guess is that we'll see people across the world moved and motivated by the life of one young man willing to go. People will be changed because one man said "I will go; I will follow where you lead".

Justin was willing to give up his life here in the states to serve the lost people of India. And I believe that Justin's death will somehow introduce someone to faith in Jesus Christ.

Justin would be pleased. Justin, you are the man. Blessings, my brother.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fireproof

Last night, my sweet wife and I had the opportunity to preview a movie by Sherwood Films entitled "FireProof". Wow.

The nature of entertainment being what it is, and the varied tastes of the media consumer- even within the church- I seldom recommend a book or movie. I must, however, insist that you see this movie.

First, some background. Sherwood Films is the media arm of Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, GA. This church is in the movie business! "FireProof" is their third feature-length film, following on the heels of "Flywheel" and the widely-acclaimed "Facing the Giants". The first two films are made up entirely of members of their church. Shot and edited by church staff members and writers Alex and Stephen Kendrick. A colossal undertaking performed with excellence and fascinating special effects from a Southern Baptist Church.... Unbelievable!

The film is about marriage; growing apart; divorce; doing the right things; reconciliation. That is it in a few words; however, the 2-hour journey from opening credits to closing song is a funny, serious look at real life between millions of couples. I laughed out loud; cried out loud, too. I think it is a fabulous look at how our Father can restore what He put together. See it.



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

CCR as a Ministry Tool

I am sitting at my desk in downtown Tulsa, working late, trying to catch up from last week's hectic schedule. I am listening to our Pastor's iTunes account; a little Credence Clearwater Revival is good for the soul every now and then. In moderation. I can only listen when the maintenance staff has left for the evening- even they frown upon my chicken-wing and limp-legged dancing style.

I also am wondering about the scope of ministry of the church. The big "C" Church, not our family of faith in downtown Tulsa. I confess that I don't understand all the dynamics of ministry, nor the appropriate parameters for ministry, nor the cost evolved in a lack of ministry. We focus so much time and energy on what we purport to be ministry, and I have to ask myself the same question asked at the conclusion of Jim and Casper Go to Church, where the atheist asks the minister "is this what Jesus asked you guys to do?"

I don't really care for the book or its premise. Nonetheless, I seem to be haunted by this theme in my own life and "ministry". Eric- what you are doing- is that what Jesus asked you to do?

I sit in a comfortable chair at a high-quality workstation with cool computer hardware and software, plenty of music equipment, and the freedom to use it all in ministry. And I stay very busy with it all.

As for my call, I do feel this is what Jesus would have me do right now. I use the gifts He gave, in the position I am in, to serve this church family. I get that. I'm all over that.

As for ministry... now there's the rub.

We as a church constantly evaluate ourselves in service, ministry, education, worship, fellowship, finances- you name it, we measure it. We invest resources in measuring program effectiveness, program potential, and return on investment (now that is a sore subject for another post...). However, I continue to look downtown and around town and see unchurched people. Lots of them. They play golf at courses I pass on my way home from church. They are at pools and sports fields early on Sundays so they will have their Saturdays free. And I wonder to myself, what lengths should we go to try to reach those families?

And what about the intelligentsia of the area- those who consider themselves too intellectual to consider the necessity of a Savior even a remote possibility? They can be found at any time of the day at Starbucks and Panera Bread and Barnes and Noble and other hang-outs for smart people. (I am smart enough for the drive-through,that is about it.....). Not to mention our friends and acquaintances who wear black all day long in 100-degree heat; those for whom goth has given a unique persona. Those who give no consideration to the hereafter or to a Creator who passionately wants to Love them face to face.

But in thinking through all this muddle, these two questions battle for my attention:

How far should we (as a church) go to gain the attention of the lost and unchurched?

Once we have their attention, when and where does the ministry occur?


I'd ask for your input (the three humans who read this blog) to these questions. I am not taking a poll, and will not use your answers in research. I am curious for other people's opinions.

They directly relate to my first question... Eric, is this what Jesus asked you to do?

We'll delve further into these questions in a later post. Now I need to go- "Bad Moon Rising" is next on the playlist.

Life is good!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Friendship

I have been thinking.

Specifically, I have been thinking about our friends. We are blessed to have friends all over the southern states, some in foreign places like Wisconsin and New Jersey. What has forced my delightful consideration of our friends? A few things...

One, the list of friends to contact when my Dad died. I realized there were friends who would come at the drop of a hat, with no consideration of time or distance. Those friends are a beautiful and valuable part of our lives.

Another was born from joining cyberlife on Facebook. As of this writing, I have 78 friends on Facebook, and I don't even go to it every day. However, I have found and been found by people I have not seen in 20 years, but through this social networking site, I suddenly realized the scope of our friendships over the past 22 years of our married life.

We have discovered old college friends, work acquaintances, choir members, and girlfriends (We don't dwell too much on that...). But we (I do most of the surfing) thoroughly enjoy becoming reacquainted with folks who come complete with fond and beautiful memories.

Another source of this chain of thought comes from planning my sweet wife's birthday event. This is a big milestone, and I have considered how to include friends and family from the depth and breadth of our marriage in the celebration. I began a mental list of friends I would like to include, and the problem soon made itself known. I called to mind friends from former churches; friends from college and seminary; friends from home, friends from here. As I mentally tallied the list, I thought that it must be nice to live in one place all your lives, and only have to manage a small set of life-long friends.

It didn't take long to realize what a mis-directed thought that is....

While thinking, the reality of this blessing dawned on me- the blessing of having many friends in many places. And it is a unique blessing, for I believe in every church we've served, in college and seminary, there is at least one family who would respond to our crisis in a moment's notice. As the song says, "you find out who your friends are...."

Some of our oldest (I mean people with whom we have been friends the longest) are coming to Tulsa this weekend. Our beautiful friends have been friends for 20 years now. These are the kind of friends you can vacation with, and not wear makeup. These are the friends who are friends, even when you haven't seen each other for a year- you just pick up where you left off. The McBrides are a priceless part of our friendship family, and we are better because of their friendship.

I admit that managing friendships across several states and two decades is a daunting task. However, I am discovering the joy of warm memories while counting our blessings... one friendship at a time.

Life is indeed, good.....

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Life's Been Good to Me (So Far.....)

Well, ok. Now you've done it.

I hope my recent hiatus has served to offer some fresh perspectives on life in general, and writing, specifically. I hope to regain my writing momentum and offer my simple nuggets of wisdom on a more regular basis. Now that I think about it, nuggets are really just small bits of something larger. A nugget is just larger than a flake..... better to be a nugget than a flake....

Anyway..... Life is Good.

It was announced just yesterday that the world-renown recording group known as the "Eagles" will play the opening concert in our not-quite completed Bank of Oklahoma Center. That concert is in September, and I know where they will sell at least 3 seats.

My family plays their DVD from the Melbourne tour quite regularly, and quite loudly. And so, to honor the lyrics from that wonderful Joe Walsh song....

Life's Been Good to Me (So Far.....)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Blogger's Block

Wow- it has certainly been a long time since my weary hands poorly typed a blog message. I guess "Blogger's Block" is a reality after all....

Life is good....

The kids are out of school now. Sweet Madilyn is attending our church's day cmp this summer, and will be at church all day, every day. We have a spectacular program featuring lots of day trips, swimming, picnicing, Zooing (is that a word?) and other fun activities. She loves it! She will also attend the local High School Basketball Camp in a few weeks... She is beautiful, so funny, and such a delight!

I love her so much!

Andrew has completed his junior year, and is now officially a senior... in High School! Where has the time gone? It was just a few weeks ago I was holding this fragile babe, arms shaking, wondering to myself, "What have I done?" It was just a few weeks ago when he spit up in my shirt pocket as I was going out to lead worship at our church.... weeks ago, I held him in my arms as I baptized him in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit... just yesterday, we talked late into the night of his first broken heart....

Now, he works two jobs (mowing and church day camp) to fuel his truck and his summer activities, and I hardly see him anymore. Except at night, or when he needs some cash to carry him over 'till payday.

I love him so much!

And sweet Jane has completed her service at one of the nicer elementary schools in the Tulsa school system. She has become a victim of politics, however; she will not be reassigned to her school that she learned to love. Further, she won't know where she will be assigned until July. But, she loves those children!

Jane begins her summer position on Monday at our church's day camp. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Yes, we will all work for the church this summer while Mads plays all week long at the church. Carpool heaven! Tomorrow Jane and I will spend the day together, shopping and arguing, arguing and shopping... and making up... we need to get a few things for the house. Jane is so good with our kids, and is the perfect mom... God made her in a uique way, a way that nurtures our children and loves and protects and pushes. She is such a blessing!

I love her so much!

And me-

I just go to work every day, come home at night, lay around, help out some with the trash and the dishes and the towels and the sheets... and soak in the blessings of my beautiful family. We will never be on a reality show for the most awesome family; we'll never have a magnificent dream home built by ABC; and we'll probably spend our time working for ways to stretch the dollar, get the kids through school, and still have some capital for retirement.

And as I go to bed at night, I count my blessings. I sleep well, because I never reach the end of the list.

Life is good....

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Clear the Stage

Clear the Stage

I ran across this video on YouTube. Please take the 9 or so minutes required to listen from beginning to end.

Hear it.

Live it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Dose of Reality

I grew up in the country- the riverbottoms and cottonfields of West Tennessee, specifically. Though for some, the jury is still out on whether I've grown up or not. But alas, I regress....

The move to Tulsa several years ago has been, shall we say, eye-opening. Tulsa is a lovely, progressive town with vision for growth, infrasturcture to support it, and all the political and social problems relative to a mid-major city in the midwestern United States.

The church I serve is downtown; the city is building a new baseball stadium across the parking lot from our main entrance (woo-hoo!!!!!). One block north of our main entrance is the city Greyhound Busline station. Two blocks west of our location is the YMCA. Travelling between the two sites are individuals and families with nowhere to live. Some are travelling through to other locations with a day or two layover; others migrate to the bus station hoping for a free meal or free bus ticket to a better way of life. The "Y" offers a hot shower and a hot meal and an overnight cot for men who are down on their luck. And every day and every night, they walk right by our church.

Last year we opened the First Baptist Church Caring Center on the other side of the bus station. There, we serve individuals and families who have overwhelming physical needs- food; clothing; companionship. Sometimes the Caring Center will send a family here for counsel; more often than not, the church sends people to the caring center for help. The Caring Center is staffed by a legion of volunteers and is supported through the budget of our church. It is a wonderful ministry, and literally hundreds and hundreds of struggling people have benefitted from its existence.

Yesterday was our annual Caring Center Outreach Luncheon, where dozens of volunteers cook a hot meal, prepare gift bags, and invite Tulsa's homeless population to the church for a meal, some entertainment, and a presentation of the gospel message. It is a neat time; once you get over the intimidation of the dress- and- smell of most of the guests. We served a couple hundred hungry souls yesterday; some familiar to the churh and the caring center, some not. There were several who have been a part of the Tulsa homeless community for years now. We know their names, we know the general area in which they "live". My heart breaks for them.

Most disturbing, however, was the number of children- and babies- that we saw yesterday. Single moms with infants living in their cars at night because they have nowhere else to stay. One mom was on the streets with her toddler daugter in order to escape an abusive situation at home. Beautiful newborn babies who laugh easily and cry loudly. Children who haven't had a hot meal in days. While it is difficult to reserve judgement ("there, but for the grace of God, go I") on the parents, it is obvious they are doing the best that they can. They provided a good meal for their kids yesterday, which was more than they got on Monday.

I think the Bible would have us be generous to this community- very generous. Grace is controversial at best, and at its worst, is indefensable. After all, isn't that, at its very nature, the purpose of grace? To offer value and purpose and hope to the undeserving?

The truth is, none of us are deserving of any good thing. We are all blessed beyond belief, and grace is lavished on us every day. It's time to send it on down the line.

We pray for our homeless community and attempt to serve their needs as best we can. And yesterday, it was good to see some folks still kicking, still "making it" on the streets. But our hope is that they can get off the streets, get their lives together, and either restore or build the necessary relationships that will keep them off the street. And so next year, we will see them as volunteers, not as clients.

By the grace of God.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Surprises

“Get up if you’re going with me.”

As I rolled my sleepy 10-year-old head out of bed, I could barely contain my excitement! It was always fun to go to the river and run our trot lines, do some fishing with hand poles, maybe shoot our .22 rifle a little- all things that 10-yr-old southern boys like to do.

I dressed quickly and quietly. In the back of my mind was the fear that I would be too slow or forget something or otherwise be the cause of us leaving late, and my dad would not let me go with him anymore. Years later, Dad told me how he enjoyed those times with me. Well, most of them.

I entered the kitchen in sock feet (my worn boots were kept by the kitchen door) to the smell of fried bacon and the sound of a fork scrambling eggs in an iron skillet. “Can’t find the pepper”, my Dad said, with that early morning ‘don’t-wake-the-girls’ whisper. I didn’t know where the pepper was, either, so Dad reached for his outdoors lunchbox- the big, grey, heavy-duty plastic boxes reserved only for high in the sky steel construction workers or trucking company employees, and pulled out his emergency supply of pepper. He doused a generous supply of pepper on our eggs, and an odd thing happened. The eggs turned a funny caramel color, and smelled burnt. I glanced up at Dad, but he was busy scrambling, and either didn’t notice, or if he did, he didn’t show it.

Once the eggs were cooked, he piled them on the plate with our bacon and white bread, a bountiful 4:00 am feast. I sucked down the eggs, which had a foul, bitter taste, but I would not let my face show its displeasure. I watched as he ate, stern jaw set with age and hard work, and to my surprise, I watched a knowing smile grow across his stubbly face. Suddenly, he laughed out loud as the realization of his mistake dawned. You see, dad kept shakers of salt and pepper- and coffee- in his lunchbox. It was coffee that he had heaped on our eggs that morning. We ate in silence, each wearing a grin that said “this ain’t good, but it’s all we’ll get for a while, so we gotta eat it”. And gone was the hurried sense of urgency to get to the river before the sun came up. The pace of the morning seemed to relax as father and son cleared the table of the breakfast dishes, laced up our matching boots, and quietly locked away the worries of the day inside the kitchen door. Whether or not we caught any fish at all, it would be a good day.

There were to be lots of good days, growing up in the cotton fields and river bottoms of West Tennessee. We lived indoors and outdoors, went to school and work and church and didn’t hunt or fish on Sundays. My hometown was small, and every parent parented everyone else’s kids, with many thanks. Every kid should be so privileged to grow up in a small town. Even more, every kid should grow up in my family.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stormy, Stormy Night

Last week in our part of Oklahoma, we witnessed what is commonly know as "one of those Oklahoma storms", complete with lightning, thunder, hail, and lots of rain and wind.

It all started about....

....2:00 AM. I woke up from a deep sleep with a painful back and bulging bladder. As my senses collected themselves and I hoisted myself from the bed, I was aware of a faint ringing sound. Having suffered tinnitus for dozens of years, this was nothing new for me. However, this sound was different. As I walked down the hallway to the kids bathroom on the way to the television, it began to dawn on me what I was hearing. The tornado sirens were sounding in our sleepy little community. As I finished my business, I turned back toward the bedrooms to awaken my sweet wife and children. We put on some clothes and shoes, and hurried to the hallway with our pillows and purses. The weathermen on television were telling of severe weather all over northeastern Oklahoma. Outside, the sirens were wailing their plaintive but steady cry. The wind was gathering with mounting fury as the rain came down in sheets. Periodic hail interrupted the sound of pounding rain on the windows and roof. Pea-sized, now bean-sized, with a few penny and nickel-sized chunks of ice fell on the patio.

We were nervous, but not anxious. We have completed this drill more than once, and we all, well, sort-of- knew that nothing would happen.

The sound of rain and wind faded; the tornado sirens ceased their wail. We listened to our friends at the news station deliver updated reports of terrifying weather in surrounding communities. We relaxed...

The wind picked up, the rain came in earnest, complete with additional hail and sirens. Three times in the course of 2 hours we were summonsed to the protection of a central room in our home, and urged to stay away from windows.

Finally our bodies' desire for sleep superseded our fear of the weather, so we decided to return to the warm confines of our beds and try to get some sleep.

When the first light of morning broke across Green Country, we could look outside and know we were safe, that we had been spared a terrific and terrible storm. Others were not so lucky, and suffered terribly. Homes and businesses destroyed; damage in the millions of dollars. Some structures will need to be torn down and rebuilt completely. Some owners will choose to take their losses and move on to another area of the country.

Another area without sudden and powerful spring storms. Locations with milder weather and not so many difficult memories.

Locations that offer hope for their futures.

My family is grateful for being spared the brunt of the storm, and we pray for those who were not spared. We will press on one more day here in Green Country, Oklahoma.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Or So I Thought....

Ever have one of those days?

I was so looking forward to having a rare day off today. With Easter coming early and working through spring break, missing a week of work with the passing of my dad, and trying to make up that work, I was ready for a day at home. I need a haircut; I need to clean my guns; I need to clean out dad's truck so I can take it to have it detailed (clean it to have it cleaned- it is really dirty!). Plus, I have a little work left to do for Sunday.

I wanted to sleep late- no go. I had to take my beautiful daughter to school. I was coming right back, and that is where my wonderful day turned into a circus.

I was just running down the mountain, so I wore shorts and a t-shirt, house shoes, and a world-class bedhead. 43 degrees outside, but no big deal- I'll be right back.

Or so I thought.

When I slammed the door to get the latch to work, it inadvertently locked. My house keys were on the kitchen counter. I realized that when I returned from the school.

No big deal, I thought, I'll call my son on my cell and have him bring a key. But my cell phone was on the counter, next to my keys.

Following a brief, but intense, effort to try to break the door knob, I knew I'd need to develop a plan. Have you ever had to develop a plan while shivering in the garage? Anyway, my plan was to go to the bank and withdraw some cash (I did have my wallet), order breakfast at McDonald's in order to get some change so I could find a payphone to call my wife and get her to call my son's school to let him come home to unlock the door. Nothing to it!

Or so I thought.

I went to the ATM, and was third in line behind two people who were either illiterate or didn't speak english and were using a translation manual to get them through the ATM process. One had to open their car door in order to get to the control panel they couldn't reach. So it took a while- no big deal. A couple of deep breaths, and I had my temper under control. I finally took my turn and hurried off with my cash, which promptly fell to the floor underneath my right foot. I had to stop to pick it up, blocking the vehicle behind me form accessing the ATM for about three seconds. It seemed like a lot longer with his horn blaring in my ear.

I took the cash to McDonald's, where I was the ninth car in line at the drive-through widow. No big deal, I'll just take my turn. Today was slow day, evidently a special marketing opportunity to help customers learn patience. Finally, my turn came, and I ordered a sausage biscuit with egg. The lady I paid was very professional and polite. The lady who gave my my order looked like she had worked all night with the flu. She was less than pleasant. Oh well, no big deal.

Or so I thought.

I left McDonald's to try and find a pay phone I could reach from inside my truck. While driving around, I also noticed that my sausage biscuit with egg had cheese on it, a definite no-no in my world. By that time, I had a lot invested in that biscuit, so-

I went back to McDonald's and got in the drive-through line again. I waited through the slow-day marketing experience again. When my turn arrived again, I told the nice lady about the problem. Only they nice lady and the flu lady had changed places. She was not happy- but changed my sandwich anyway. OK. On to find a payphone.

How long has it been since you've tried to find a payphone? Especially one where I could use it from within my truck? Remember it is 43 degrees outside and I'm sporting shorts, tshirt, house shoes, and bedhead.

I finally settled on a payphone at a remote gas station. The phone was in the front of the station, and the station was deserted when I got out. While I inserted the change, and began the call, the parking lot suddenly filled with vehicles, and more than a few were waiting on the payphone. They were dressed in baggy pants, army jackets, and hoodies or bandannas. I needed to make this fast.

I called my wife, who didn't answer her phone. I left a message, got in the truck, and drove home as fast as I could. Surely she'll get the message and my son will be over soon....

Or so I thought.

She got the message, and then promptly forgot to call the school. For half an hour, she wondered around with those 4th graders, taking care of them and their needs in that warm classroom while I was stuck in the garage. While I waited, I cleaned out the door pockets and console of the truck- I had .22 LR, .22 shorts, 12gauge slugs, .30-.30 win, .38 special, toothpicks, cucumber and turnip seeds all in the door pockets alone.

Finally, my son drove up, laughing his sweet laugh that makes me want to rip his hair out. He unlocked the door without a work, then drove back to school.

I think I'll go back to bed and get up again and try to start this day over. It'll have to get better...

Or so I think....

Monday, March 31, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Tomorrow would have been my Dad's 76th birthday. Yes, he was an April Fool baby. So appropriate! He loved to laugh and make others laugh. I'm sure he has them rolling in the aisles in heaven....

Tuesday was his funeral service. We began with a moving rendition of "Beulah Land", sung by yours truly. Following a brief comment and prayer from Dad's pastor, I played for my two sisters to sing Dad's favorite song, "One Day at a Time". They sang beautifully, and Dad would have been proud.

I had the honor of speaking for a few minutes about Dad. I spoke about his love of family, his love of fun, and his faith.

My stepmom's granddaughter and great-granddaughter closed the service with "Precious Memories". There are thousands of memories- everybody has a "Bob" story. The tears flowed freely and frequently.

We had a brief time at the cemetery, then on to the church for a full-blown Southern feed.

It took a few days to tie up loose ends in his estate, but that has all been completed as far as I know. So now, we are left with the empty spot that Dad used to fill. I don't have anyone to call at 10:00 am and 9:00 pm anymore. I love my Dad, and miss him terribly. But I cannot tell you how much fun I had with my sisters and their spouses! We know where Dad is today, and that we'll see him again- and that frees us to be ourselves. We had a great time together!

I'll take a few days to recover and heal a little before I write more normal stuff. So for now, hug your family. Have a good laugh, know where you're going.

Life is good! Really, really good.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Home

Today is Easter Sunday morning of 2008. At just past 4:00 in the morning, the only sound in Daddy’s house is the gentle whooshing of his oxygen supply and the machine that generates it. We’ve kept watch over Daddy through the night, thinking that each breath might be his last. And that’s ok. Daddy is non-responsive now, laboring to draw each breath. It’s time to let go.

There were a lot of people in the house earlier today- well, I guess that technically that would be yesterday- family and friends and well-wishers bringing food and kind thoughts and sweet prayers. But it is very odd that this house be so full of people, and still be so quiet. This house- this home- is always a hub of activity, abuzz with the flow and laughter of life. The quiet that blankets the rooms here is unnatural. I’m sure that will soon change.

We have spent a very sweet time with Daddy. This afternoon, my sisters and I had a chance to hang out with him. He couldn’t speak or open his eyes, but he knew we were there. My younger sister, sitting in the bed with Daddy, gently rubbed his hair, his shoulder, his tattooed forearm. I couldn’t help but think of my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, with Scout telling Boo Radley that “it’s okay, you can pet Jim if’n you want to…” She left a while ago to go home for some rest, taking my wife and daughter with her. My older sister is in bed next to Daddy now, gently singing songs he might remember; songs about heaven, hymns we have sung in church. We don’t know if he can hear in his physical body, but I think his spirit, his soul is being comforted. Her voice, low and hushed, is beautiful.

I can’t sing to him- tears choke off my vocal cords. I can’t get in the bed with him- too many people there already. But I stand next to him, hold his hand, and thank God for the blessing of my fun-loving, beautiful dad. And I pray that he is not suffering; that I can let him go.

Mrs. Jean, our angelic stepmom, is walking the house. She has showered and dressed for the day; she is making me a ham and biscuit for breakfast. Pretty soon, the family will return. We’ll watch with Daddy until Jesus decides he’s had enough. And this cold Easter day, my Dad- Daddy- can celebrate with all the hosts of heaven the resurrection of Jesus face to face….

If I believe what I say I believe, really….
How bad can that be?

All night we kept vigil over our father and husband. But at 6:30 AM, Jesus decided it was time for Daddy to go home. With a final labored breath, Daddy let go and slipped gently into the new home God has been preparing for him for almost 76 years. We were all there- Ms. Jean, my two sisters, and me- crying the soul-deep cry of the mourner while offering praise and thanksgiving to the Heavenly Father for releasing our Dad from his tortured body here. In his new home, there is no cancer. No deaf ear. No irregular heartbeat. All is fresh and new! Go, Dad- you are the man!

He was born April 1, 1932, a holiday perfect for his personality and character. And he went home at 6:30 am, just as the first light of dawn was breaking on this resurrection Sunday. He was the first one today to enjoy the Sunrise Service of Easter- only he really gets to see the real sunrise service of Easter- in heaven.

I love you, Daddy. I’m proud of you. Rest now- I’ll see you in a little while…..

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On the Road Again

Tomorrow is the day!

My sweet family is returning from a week-long tour of the mid-southern states of Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and back to Oklahoma. Through all that travel, they have visited Jane’s parents in Kentucky and my family in Tennessee. I have been reminded once again how pitiful I am as a single man. Just tonight, at 11:30, I was washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and bagging garbage before the family came home, hoping they wouldn’t discover my untoward slobbiness. Of course, when they read this, they’ll know. Actually, my wife will know anyway. We disagree on the way I sweep, the way I put dishes in the dishwasher, the way I fold clothes. And so to keep the peace, I just don’t do any of those things. Though it hurts my feelings when I'm discouraged from helping, I feel I must oblige.

But while she is away, I must take action!

I had to have clean clothes to wear as well as clean dishes from which to eat my frozen bachelor meals. It is so amazing what a person can do when times get desperate! So I got creative- I put my two dirty plates and two dirty glasses and two dirty forks in the dishwasher. I also put my jeans and last pair of black socks in there as well. Two birds at once! Or so I thought....

When I finish mopping the soapy water from the dishwasher off the floor, I’ll have to wear my blue suit instead of my jeans because I had to cut them from the inside of the dishwasher. They got sucked down into the drain. That’s okay, because I have some blue socks in the drawer; the black ones from the dishwasher were ground underneath the twisty arm that throws water up to the top rack, where my socks were. They left little cotton/poly furballs everywhere. It looked like my daughter's Webkins threw up dozens of little wet, black hairballs.

In the morning I must untangle the sheets so I can make up the bed. I’ve also lost my toenail clippers- could they be in the bed? And I am out of toothpaste- fortunately there is some leftover bacon grease, and I think I can make a tasty paste to use to clean my teeth.

While my family was traveling, I had beautiful conversations with my oldest son, Andrew. He has let me worry and cry about dad, he took care of my girls, and kept me posted on each and every home-cooked meal he had. I was forced to hang up on him a couple of times when he would call and only say. “mmmmmm,”. He was eating tenderloin (both pork and venison) and homemade biscuits, cheesecake, or bar-b-que. I was eating pork and beans from the can and Chee-to sandwiches.

My precious daughter just wants to love on her Daddy; I concur. And my beautiful better half is just that, the better part of me. I miss her so much! I am not much without my best friend.

The evidence is in the dishwasher.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Faith

While I am trying to grow into this blogging thing, deciding what to write, how to write it, and why I should write, I struggle not only with content, but with purpose. As I browse other blogs, and seem to notice a theme; most of them, at some point, deal with personal issues of great importance to them. And so today’s entry will reflect an issue important to me.

I have been a follower of Jesus Christ for many years. I have experienced times of wonderful growth, times of spiritual drought. I have experienced times of unbounded joy with Jesus, as well as times of deep sorrow, where all I have to cling to is my faith. I have had entertaining times when people told me that Jesus wasn’t real; my faith was wasted on falsehoods and fallacies, fairy tales that had no basis in truths. Those times were funny because the Holy Spirit was talking to me the whole time they were speaking!

And now we celebrate the baptism and commitment of our daughter to faith in Christ. We pray that she develops and grows in her faith and we parent her to offer the best opportunity for that. These days afford easy opportunities for rejoicing, for celebration and sharing our faith with family and friends.

Simultaneously, we are walking through the final weeks of the life of my father. My faith exhibits itself differently in this situation. I find a silent strength, an underlying comfort that allows me to celebrate and to grieve. It also affords hope and assurance that I will see my dad- and my mom- again one day.

You may believe faith is a personal thing, designed to be kept to oneself; fine. My faith is personal for me. However, my faith is very real; faith in a living Savior who loves me and gave His life for me, and who will return for me someday. Go ahead and tell me it isn’t real; the smile on my face will be me talking to Jesus about you talking about me!

Life is good….

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Good Times

What a wonderful gift- the gift of hoops.

Today Jane and I met with sweet Madilyn's teacher for our Parent / Teacher conference. That went well, all is good. And when I arrived at the plantation, I discovered my two children playing basketball in the drive. Not one to back down from a challenge, I parked in the street so we could use the entire driveway for the court. As I dropped my backpack against the fence, sweet Jane came out to see what I was up to.

Then it happened...

Eric and Madilyn vs. Jane and Andrew. Live at Madison Square! We played hoops for a good while, laughing and yelling, disturbing the neighbors and stopping neighborhood traffic. Andrew was barefoot; Jane was wearing a long-sleeved tee; I was wearing my business casual; Madilyn wore a grin as big as all outdoors.

We don't get out very much as a family, and with as much fun as we had this afternoon, we have all we need right out in the driveway.

For our neighbors: if it embarasses you to drive by while we are playing, don't drive by.

Life is good....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On the River

The morning was still and quiet, and we worked silently in the coolness of the early dawn. I was at the motor, keeping the nose of the boat against the current, tucked under an overhanging willow tree. Daddy was in the front of the boat, tying a new trotline onto the base of the tree. We would stretch that line across the muddy Hatchie River, bait the 20 or so hooks, and wait for the fish to bite. But only if we got this line tied.

I couldn’t see Daddy at all through the leafy mess. I could hear the words he was using as he struggled to keep his balance, and tie off the line. Some of the words I knew, some I didn’t. And so Dad had worked up quite a frustration when the very large cotton-mouth snake fell out of the tree and into the middle of our boat.
As a young man of 14 or so, I still thought of my dad as a fearless man of steel, sinew, and bone, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But the man I saw at that moment was anything but fearless. It was really more a case of self-preservation, I think. For when that snake fell into our boat and began frantically trying to escape by crawling toward the front of the boat, dad’s brain disengaged and his fear kicked in. He grabbed his trusty rusty .22 rifle, pumped a shell into the chamber and zeroed in on the poisonous snake.

And I watched this action unfold, it dawned on me that my dad was not fearless when it came to poisonous snakes in close proximity. I also realized that Daddy was about to shoot several holes in the bottom of our aluminum boat, while we were several miles down river from the boat ramp. With great poise and precision, I screamed like a schoolgirl and threw dad the paddle I kept in the back of the boat. And I backed the boat from under the tree, in case he had a twin brother. Or father. Daddy dropped the rifle, picked up the paddle, and with a savage fury began to beat the poor snake to a bloody pulp. With great, wood-chopping blows, daddy wielded that paddle like a 10 –pound sledge hammer, blow after blow, until there was nothing left but a slimy 6 foot black body ending in a bloody mess on the front seat of the boat.
I didn’t know what to say. Daddy was out of breath from exertion and, I suppose, fear, so he didn’t say anything either. For a moment, we sat looking at each other. Dad slowly reached down with the shredded stump of the paddle (that was all that was left) and scooped the snake out into the water, where it slowly disappeared beneath the muddy waves. I had to ask, “Daddy, were you really gonna shoot that snake in the boat?” I don’t remember his response, but I do remember- all these years later- regretting that I asked the question.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

What's in a Name?

My dad was born Robert Baptist Barron in April of 1932. April 1st, to be specific; a prophetically appropriate April Fool baby. I cannot imagine another man on the planet who is named for a major religious denomination who was born on an outrageous holiday who could get away with so much while living such a wonderfully full life.

It all began for dad at Baptist Hospital in Memphis. Born eleventh of thirteen children, my dad was the first to be born away from home. Due to serious health complications (I assume brought on by the trauma of giving birth to 10 other kids at home), my grandmother was rushed 35 miles to Baptist Hospital in a desperate effort to save her life, as well as the life of her unborn son. A harrowing surgery was successful in saving the life of my grandmother and my Dad. My grateful Poppa, in an effort to show his appreciation to the Baptist Hospital of Memphis, named my dad for the hospital that saved his life.

Really, Poppa, couldn't you have just written the hospital a nice thank-you note?

Parents, think really hard before you name your children.

Even so, life is good....

The Circle is Complete

In the rural south, a familiar and popular song tells of the circle of faith a family shares, securing their eternal home as a family. "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" has been recorded many times, and is a haunting reminder of whether or not family members will be reunited in "a better home a-waitin' in the sky, Lord, in the sky"...

This past Thursday my beautiful daughter completed the circle for our family by recognizing Jesus Christ's authority and asking Him to come into her heart, forgiving her and securing her place in heaven. That is my joyfully tearful translation of her thoughts, and I could not be happier for her! Submitting to any authority is a difficult idea in today's society. And while my wife, my son and I have all submitted to the authority of Christ, we wished for our little princess to make that decision on her own, by herself, in her own time.

This morning in the early worship service my precious daughter walked down to the front of the church to tell our beloved Pastor. He celebrated with her, confirmed her decision, and prayed with her. According to the teachings of Jesus Christ, my precious daughter is now a new creature, having been cleansed of all unrighteousness. And she will learn to live in joy, in peace, in celebration as she learns more about what Jesus taught, why He came, and why He is coming again. As a Christian, it doesn't get any better than this.... except to have the privilege to perform her baptism ceremony! Now our family circle is unbroken........Amen and Amen! Hallelujah!

Life is good....


video

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Toward the Finish Line


I've written about my Dad in a previous post, and wanted to issue an update on his declining health. He called me early this morning to tell me that he had a great night of rest, and felt really really good. No pain, no dizziness, a big appetite are things that evade him on most days. He was so pumped!

This evening when I spoke with him, he said this hadn't turned out to be a good day after all. His heart has jumped out of rhythm, leaving him tired, weak, and feeling empty and sluggish. His pain has returned with a vengeance, so he has maxed out his morphine for the evening. The cadence of his speech, an easy southern dialect, is slow and labored. After a few minutes of speaking, it was obvious that he was tiring.

His beloved brother fell today while fishing, tearing the scalp from his skull, landing him in the hospital for a night of observation. Dad didn't even make it to the hospital to visit him.

He is still committed to selling some fence posts tomorrow morning before church, and to taking my sister and her family out for lunch. He will push himself until he absolutely cannot go another step.

This is the cloth from which I am cut. I am watching and learning and remembering.

No matter what, life is good....

Short Story - "A Test of Wills"

I heard him just as the first color of daylight sun broke across the crooked ridges and cutover timber along the eastern horizon. If this didn’t play out just right, it would not be a good day.

I remained perfectly still, ears straining for the telltale sounds that would give away his position. My eyes strained to pierce the dark shadows yet unreached by the thin fingers of dawn’s early light. Every sound, even my own measured breathing was amplified a thousand times by the fever, and I was sure that my heartbeat would give me away, would reveal my hiding place that I had worked so hard to secure.

For days I had struggled, trying desperately to get-and stay- ahead of my adversary. And even though the outdoor temperature was well below freezing, salty beads of sweat dripped slowly down the bridge of my nose, around the side of my flared nostril, and down over the top of my dry lips. My hands, now clammy with sweat, gripped the Turkish walnut of my rifle, my only friend in this harsh environ. Others before me had tried to hide from the old man, but each, in turn, had been discovered, and turn in turn, been defeated. I willed my muscles to remain absolutely still, fighting with everything in me the urge to turn my head and look behind me. I had discovered a long time ago that careful hiding is a learned skill, and if I were to triumph here, I would have to remain deathly still for a long time.

Another noise, long and deliberate- he was looking for something, for someone- for me! He knew I was there, somewhere, a danger in hiding. I felt the fear rise in my throat as I realized just how close he was; close, but unsure of my exact location. The straining muscles in my shoulders and back ached; cramps racked my legs from lack of motion. I needed to cough, or to clear my throat, or to take in a deep calming breath to slow my racing heart, but I dared no such thing. For me to be so close, and then be discovered... I didn’t want to think about what would happen if I were discovered.

I was not prepared for the inevitable confrontation- though I had yet to get into position, I dared not move. Though I had chosen my hiding place well, I still felt exposed to the entirety of God’s creation under the pressure of the hunt. Calm my breathing! Slowly, in, out, in, hold, out…

Eons of time and generations of man and beast have passed, following this same ritual of survival: the hunter, the hunted, and the struggle for survival. For one, the opportunity to eat another meal, to hunt another day. For the other, the possibility of a premature crossing of the bonds of eternity. Today I will have the opportunity to face this test; soon I would be required to measure my skill not only against my adversary, but against this age-old ritual.

It had been quiet for some time, and I decided to risk a quick look around- I had to know what was going on- even at the risk of exposing my location. I squinted my eyes against the early light, daring to look first to my periphery to the right- I saw nothing. Everything was as it was when I glided silently to my hiding place hours ago. No threats, nothing to reveal my hiding place.

Then I slowly turned, eyes first and head slowly following, to the left. I took a full minute to turn my sweating brow just a few degrees. STOP! From the outer edges of my field of vision I saw movement- he was here! His enormous head was down, studying something on the ground. He was so close I could see the bumps and ridges of unnatural growth at the base of his enormous horns. I could see the fog of his breath as he snorted around- I could not tell if he was looking for me, or just looking for something in general. Once again the fever caused my heart to race, the pounding in my temples flashing like neon and threatening to announce my presence.

He was looking away now, moving slowly, resignedly away from me and my hiding place. This would be my best opportunity to gently and silently move my gun to the ready position. Fighting against the urge to move frantically, I willed my head up ever so slightly, just enough to get a solid look. I held my raspy breath as I raised the old rifle to my shoulder. It took a full half-minute to get it there- I was not willing to risk discovery while I moved. In this time, the grey monster slowly ambled away, as if awaiting my arrival, my violent greeting.

The whole time, my eyes never left the back of the monster’s head. “Relax and breathe!” I told myself. H-o-l-d… o-u-t… i-n… o-u-t. As I slowed my rate of respiration, I squinted my eyes to get a better look, as well as to keep the beading sweat from obscuring my vision altogether. Against my instincts, I willed my body:

Hold still…..

Deep breath….

Now hold it….

Safety off….

Now gently squeeze the trigger, easy, let it surprise me….

The Timney trigger breaks crisply at 3 and a half pounds. The energy stored in the main sear spring, released from its holding place, is transferred to the firing pin. The firing pin makes a small but firm indention in the primer of the .30-06 cartridge, causing a small explosion that ignites the modern smokeless powder and propels the 168 grain bullet from the end of the barrel at over 1800 feet per second. The 1 in 10 rifling spins the bullet tightly, ensuring supreme accuracy, even over the short distance from my hiding place to the back of his shoulder. The bullet enters the shoulder, breaking the shoulder blade and mushrooming as designed. The expanded jacket rips through muscle, sinew, lungs, tearing a vicious wound channel and exits the front of the chest, a perfect quartering away shot. While in my mind all of time and eternity stood still, this careful ballet of science and art takes place in the span of a split second.

I quickly cycled the bolt, ejecting the spent casing and chambering another round. I made myself wait, heart racing even more, breathing now coming in short, desperate gasps, the effects of the fever now in full frenzy. The sweat stung my eyes- where did he go? The echo of the report of the rifle caused a shrill ringing in my ears, so much so that I had to strain to hear the sounds of running feet, of groans, of anything.

Could this be it, after all these years? Many good men had tried and failed to take this guy, old and wise with cunning. I closed my eyes and waited.

Two minutes became ten. The natural sounds of the world returned; the whistles and chirping of the birds, the squirrels rummaging for tender shoots or nuts. Ten minutes became thirty. I need a drink! Or a smoke, though I neither drink nor smoke. Following the passing of the better part of an hour, with my patience run completely dry, I had to know. Looking around and seeing nothing out of the ordinary, I slowly climbed from the stand in which I had been hiding. Sixteen feet down the ladder to the edge of the bean field, quiet in the early stillness of morning.

Shy of 20 yards away, lying in his last footsteps, was the most magnificent 14 point atypical whitetail, grey with age, neck swollen from the amazing chemical and physical changes brought on by the rut.

This old man will make a beautiful mount, and will provide food for my family for another few months. As I ran my hand over his beautiful hollow hair, I said a prayer of thanksgiving to the Father for providing once again for my family, and marveled at the intricacy and beauty of His creation.

It would be a good day after all.

Frustration in the Midwest

Politics, for me, is a frustrating excercise. As we careen into a November election, we are constantly bombarded by ads from party candidates who berate and condemn one another while touting their own experience, skill, ideas, yada, yada, yada. Attorneys, career polititians, men and women who come from a society completely immersed in self-preservation of their political careers often make decisions based on wo can help them with their pet projects. Finding the hard truths and sorting it from the half-truths, the aspersions, the waffling, on and on and on....

AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And the worst is knowing there is not a candidate in the race who believes what I believe; who holds precious the ideas of individual liberty and individual responsibility as prescribed in our constitution. Not one of the candidates represents my values, my belief system. So I am relegated again to voting for the candidate who will de-value my belief system the least.

This is an eternal political season.

However, my hope is not in government, in politicians, or in any man or woman. "Some trust in horses, some trust in chariots, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God!" Psalm 20:7

A Letter of Recommendation

A few months ago my son brought home a school assignment for me to complete. This assignment would be a part of his permanent record, and required a great deal of thought and preparation. The assignment- write a letter of recommendation for my son, just as if I were writing a letter of recommendation for an employee or acquaintance.

Following is my response.


Parental Letter of Recommendation for Andrew Xxxxxx Xxxxxx
December 19, 2007

I am privileged to write this letter of recommendation in support of my son and close friend, Andrew Xxxxxx. Andrew and I first met a little over 17 years ago in Memphis, TN, and have through the years developed a deep and trusting relationship. I have witnessed tremendous growth and maturity during those years, and I count each day as a precious privilege to know and work with and love and be loved by Andrew.

Few children bring their parents the pleasure and joy Andrew has brought to his mother and me. And few children impact their entire families the way Andrew has impacted our family. As a young child, Andrew exhibited a love for and skill in drawing and interpreting the world around him. He has developed a wonderful, yet wacky sense of humor that we find delightful and refreshingly unique to Andrew. Even now in his later teens, Andrew continues to impress us with his respect, his calm, and his maturity.

Andrew accepts his responsibilities around the house with a minimum of grumbling and complaining for a 17-year-old, and given enough information, is quite capable and consistent in making good decisions.

Andrew is exceptionally patient with his 8-year-old sister, and she simply adores him. Even as a teenager, Andrew shows great restraint in not strangling or otherwise muffling his sister when she goes on a talking rampage. Andrew does love her, and she knows she is loved.

Andrew possesses leadership abilities beyond his years. Those skills remain mostly undeveloped, and like a muscle, those abilities must be exercised to grow and to fully mature. Because Andrew is a very likable person, he can be an influencer of people, and will, in the near future, be a leader of people.

Andrew knows what it is to face, and to overcome personal obstacles. Through our family’s move to Sand Springs, Andrew has demonstrated a calm strength that has allowed him to rise above those obstacles.

In conclusion, I am honored to know and support Andrew Xxxxxx. Andrew is now at the point in his life where he has demonstrated a consistent ability to make good decisions (with the exception of his sideburns and his shirttail), and has earned some independence from us, his parents. And that is a most difficult challenge as I have grown accustomed to having him close by all the time, and there is no relationship that can replace the relationship I share with my precious son.


Respectfully submitted,
Eric Xxxxxx

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Miracle Man of Kentucky

The phone rang tonight. As I answered, a boyish voice laughingly said, "Hello? Hello?"

I answered again, this time with the universal sign of welcome in telephone etiquette, "Who is this!"

My eighty-something year-old father-in-law was on the other end of the line, laughing. He gave his name, and said he didn't think I could understand him. When I asked why, he replied that he didn't have his teeth in, and he had a hard time understanding himself!

My sweet father-in-law is a wonderful miracle man. He and my mother-in-law have been wonderfully kind and gracious to our family, especially our children. But my father-in-law is an amazing example of God's provision for care, healing, and recovery.

I first met my father-in-law before he was my father-in-law. Obviously. As I recall, it was a cold February weekend when I drove to Western Kentucky to my girlfriend's home. He was in a recliner, with a 4-pronged cane, recovering from yet another surgery on a leg injured in a motorcycle accident.

While riding to work one morning, he was hit by a car while turning onto a side street. His right leg was crushed, his ankle a broken mess. By the time I met him, he'd had several surgeries on his leg and ankle. For a time, the physicians were sure he would lose that leg, but the Providence of God offered him care that was not planned by mortals in this life.

My FIL (lazyhand for 'father-in-law') was scheduled for yet another evaluation for the removal of his leg at famed Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN. While there, a visiting surgeon learned by happenstance (?) of his case, was consulted, and was secured to perform an unusual and limb-saving surgery, including titanium rods and pins, in my FIL's leg. And then he was gone, on to his next assignment.

My FIL has had multiple surgeries related to his leg. He has survived heart valve replacement and bypass surgery; hip replacement surgery; he has had concrete forced into his spine to bring relief from back pain; he has an aortic aneurysm on his heart that may let go at any beat; and has had brain surgery where he had to learn to talk, eat, and walk again. He has been written about in several medical journals, and is a walking miracle. I have seen my FIL model a quiet strength and determination through all his medial trials.

And now he is joking about not having his teeth in. He has a wonderful spirit, an easy laugh, and is faithful to his church and his family. I have spend a lot of time thinking about my own father in these last weeks of his life, but he is not the only man in my family for whom I have great respect and admiration. I am a blessed man.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

On Living and Dying in Tennessee

To borrow from Mark Twain, "reports of my father's early demise are greatly exaggerated".

Several of our church friends have asked about my father's failing health these past few days. I sense that they incorrectly believe his health is worse than it is, and so I hope to set the record straight.

Dad's health is declining slowly, but steadily. He is now in constant pain, but the pain is generally manageable. Since his normal pain meds are not bringing the relief he desires, he has turned to morphine for his pain management.

The quality of his vision is dependant on the amount of swelling in the back of his head, a location where the evil cancer has taken hold. Most days my stepmom reads his bible lesson and scripture to him. It also affects his ability to sleep; so he now takes advantage of a high dosage sleeping pill. His coughing and severe congestion will eventually necessitate the use of a suction device that helps clear his airways. He will begin breathing treatments soon to help alleviate the congestion caused by the cancer in his lung.

Hospice care has begun their regular visits. Dad complains that they only come at dinnertime; they have eaten several pounds of his last batch of "Bob-e-que", to his consternation. He also believes their care is "premashure", but appreciates the medication they afford.

Dad still drives the 4-wheeler at the farm, mops the tile floor, grills pork shoulders for family and friends, bowls two days a week (111, 117, 186 last week...). He tires easily, watches lots of John Wayne westerns and Tom and Jerry cartoons. But he is still going...

While these are difficult days, I must confess that my dad and I are blessed! We are 500 miles apart; he has (the docs say) only a few weeks- months at best- to live, and yet Dad is living every day to its fullest, with as much energy and humor as he can throw at it. We have become very close these last dozen months, and have said what fathers and sons should say to each other before their time together ends. And I have the privilege of watching my dad face eternity with courage and dignity. I am so proud of him!

Tomorrow morning, dad is sharing what he has been going through with a group of men in his church. He- my DAD!!!- wants to help them prepare for their eternity- to find completion, to find peace. Peace with their families, with their Lord.

Bob the Evangelist!? Who knew?

I am privileged to walk this journey with my dad. He is living before us, with grace and humor, the final days of a follower of Christ, doing it so all around him can see how it is supposed to be done. I'm watching Dad- and someday I hope to be as good a model for my children as you are to me. Well done, Dad!

Take a pill.... get some rest.

Friday, February 22, 2008

My Kids Are Growing Up....

As I type, my son is walking out the door to get in his own truck to go over to his "friend-girl's" house (I still can't say it...). He's 17, and a great kid. Very respectful, a bit lazy, but a wonderful son.

I seem to remember him getting his driver's license, and his first day of school, but what happened to all the time in between? I have noticed that I have gotten older, what with my AARP applications, bifocals, and blood pressure pills, but....

Where did all that time go?

My newborn daughter is now 8 years old, taller than my 5'2" wife.... She loves basketball and Webkins... and her Daddy. Tonight she and her mom are re-arranging her bedroom. Again.

Let's see... I remember bringing her home from the hospital, and now she is sharing clothes with the love of my life?

Where did all that time go?

More importantly, what will I do with the time I have left.....

Thursday, February 21, 2008

FNP-9: Personal Defense Handgun


My concealed carry weapon of choice is the FNP-9 manufactured by the renowned FN Herstal Company of Belgium. FNH has manufactured firearms for the militaries of many countries for decades.

I find my FNP-9 quite comfortable in the hand, and its controls are easy to find and manipulate. This firearm utilizes an interesting fire control assembly that makes field stripping easy and fast; however, if you want to disassemble for detail cleaning, that is a different story.

I love to shoot this gun! I have just under 700 rounds of 9x19 in multiple flavors with -0- malfuntions of any kind. I realize this does not a classic make; but it sure makes me feel good about this gun.

I carry it IWB with an Uncle Mike's #5 IWB holster. I will purchase a VMII or Summer Special when they become available, but the UM works for now. When carrying OWB, I use the Blackhawk SERPA with retention. Locks in tight, and sturdy as steel. Well, almost. It also "locks" into the belt and waistband- it is a booger to take off; but I find comfort in that a BG will not take it from me.

Accuracy is dependent on the shooter; if I do my job well, the gun will do its job well. While others share differing opinions, I find the FNP-9 to be an exceptional firearm value. And fun, to boot!

My Dad Has Cancer

My dad has cancer.

He was diagnosed with lung cancer at 74 hard years of age, following a 45-year career of cigarettes that he gave up in 1987, when he was ordained as deacon in my home church (“a deacon shouldn’t smoke, I suppose” Daddy said.). There was really no surprise in the diagnosis; but the journey following the declaration has been unavoidably tumultuous. As of this writing, Dad still feels pretty good and does mostly whatever he has the stamina to do; however, the docs say he only as a few months before the cancer takes him.

I have grieved and mourned for a year now, and there are times when I think so much about the end of Dad’s life, that I forget about all the years leading up to the end. And that idea has spawned a fresh sense of urgency in me to share my relationship with my Dad. It is probably a fairly typical tale of fathers and sons, thicker than water, and at the same time, oddly funny. And I find myself remembering events, odd and funny things that can only happen to a father and his son. And while I love my sisters and my mom (who died in 1996), it seems to me that the really funny or poignant memories revolve around my dad. Maybe I only remember it that way; maybe his impending death has my subconscious focused on my relationship with him; either way, I cherish my days with him, past and present.

As I write, I find myself at times laughing so that I can’t type; sometimes, wiping tears from the keyboard. And I find myself referring to my dad as both Dad and Daddy- sometimes one or the other seems to be more appropriate. I can’t tell why or which to use consistently, for he is both the more formal “Dad”, the one who reads his Bible and his Sunday School lesson every day and delivers Meals on Wheels and prayers at church, and the familiar “Daddy”, who reads the comics, enjoys action toys from Cracker Barrel, who yells at the University of Memphis Tigers and Atlanta Braves on television, and who reminds me has lived a full life and he is ready to go; that he is proud of his kids, of his grandkids. Of me. Pardon me while I get some Kleenex.

Blogging Without a Thought

I have considered blogging for quite a long time, and have never had the nerve to get started. I want to improve my writing skills as well as share some insights and thoughts with.... well.... maybe, nobody.

Anyway, here we go....