Until last night, I've never lost an uncle or aunt to death. (With six divorces among my parents' siblings, I've lost contact with some of the uncles and aunts by marriage--but not by death.) Our parents are still relatively young. Diane's parents and my parents are all four 66-68. So we hadn't had to face the passing of their generation. My Uncle Channing was, of my parents' brothers and sisters, the one I knew least. He was a bit of an enigma to me. But here's what I am proudest of: he rose to the occasion of his wife's battle with Alzheimer's. He became so kind and gentle. He respectfully ushered her around and cared for her. At this point, she may not know that he's gone. But even with her growing fog, he loved her as he'd promised so long ago.
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Six observations about coaching little league (from someone who's been doing it since 1989): 1) Practices that last 2 hours are half as effective as practices that last 1 hour. 2) Practicing every day makes the coaches self-satisfied, but the kids tend to lose the fun. 3) Small amounts of money pay big dividends. On rare occasions I'll play "hit the bucket," where the first player to field a ground ball cleanly and hit the red bucket at home plate gets a buck. You'd think you offered tickets on the first manned mission to Mars. 4) Make sure one of the assistant coaches is much younger than you but still significantly older than the boys on the team. (Here is the advantage of having one son who's 11 and another who's 22.) That way the kids can have batting practice for an hour, but YOUR shoulder doesn't feel like it needs surgery the next morning. 5) It's just a game. 6) It's just a game.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Words to think about from Jimmy Buffett ("Barefoot Children in the Rain"): "Wrinkles only go where the smiles have been." Having probably put well over half my life astern, I like that.
I'm reminded by my little league team that some children have no one to be their advocate. No one to protect them. They have to grow up way too quickly. But my observation elsewhere is that many young parents, eager to be advocates for their children, are tempted to go the other way in being overprotective. They always side with their child against the teacher, against the little league coach, against really anyone who doesn't agree that THEIR CHILD IS THE MOST PRECOCIOUS CHILD AROUND AND HE/SHE IS NEVER WRONG. If a child isn't playing enough, it's the coach's fault. He must not like the child. Or he's playing favorites. If a child doesn't make All-Stars, then the people voting had some vendetta against the parent (since the child obviously should have made it). This is the Oliver Stone conspiracy theory of how All-Star voting takes place. (Stay tuned to this blog for my ranting and raving against the whole idea of All-Stars.) If a child gets in trouble at school, it's the teacher's fault--even if the teacher is known to be loving and competent. Do we really do our children any favors by giving them a sense of entitlement? Does it prepare them for the world to let them know that anytime they run into trouble, THEY aren't responsible? It's a frightening thing to me to run into such children--whether as a coach in little league or as a professor in college. Everyone is tempted to think their child is precocious--uniquely funny, artistic, smart, and insightful. In fact, we want so desperately to believe that about our kids. But they're just children. (A very, very few are, in fact, precocious--but they're still kids.) God love 'em every one.
Friday, April 23, 2004
I guess I'm the kind of customer that companies depend on. I'm an obsessive-compulsive loyalist. Which means this. I like Lever 2000 soap. That's all I'll use. It's all I've used for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I carry a bar with me rather than use the little freebies in the motel rooms. And with my O-C personality, I like to keep about 20 bars in the cabinet so I don't run out. I've stuck with Crest toothpaste, Gillette foamy shaving cream (although sometimes I'll go crazy and opt for the exotic Lemon-Lime scent), Gillette disposable razors, and Paul Mitchell shampoo (no comments, please, about how little good it's doing) my whole adult life. I never have to ask myself, "What kind of aftershave will I buy this time?" Always the same. Nor do I have to ask what kind of vehicle we're going to buy. It will be some kind of Chrysler. (That does have something to do with the fact that my father-in-law was a lifelong Chrysler employee and we get the family discount!) I wonder how much of this goes back to the loyalty bred and preached into me by my father. My dad believed that we made a living by the good businesses of Neosho, Missouri that advertised in our newspaper. And so, we were expected to buy products from those stores and from those stores alone. Once I used some of my paper route money to buy a new baseball glove from a sports store on the square. You guessed it: they were committed nonadvertisers in the Neosho Daily News. When I got home, Dad gave me the lecture about loyalty. The next day I took the glove back, went to the newspaper-friendly sports store on the other side of the square and bought another one. A few times people who were upset with me have suggested that I leave Churches of Christ. Ha! Try getting me to buy Ivory soap! Or brush with Colgate. Or shave with a Bic. I'm afraid people in this wonderful religious tribe are stuck with me!
Thursday, April 22, 2004
More holy ground to walk on last night. First, there was the testimony in "Oasis" from a woman who said she is a "recovering screamer." Her eloquent words drew us to the love of God and invited us to be a more open community. Then, in the elders' meeting there were so many sacred moments. There was the welcoming of a new member who was converted by missionaries in Turkey. He's been imprisoned five different times for sharing his faith--three of those times in cities visited by Paul (yes--THAT Paul). Then there was the young couple placing membership who are taking a survey trip to Tanzania this summer--and, because of their devotion to world missions, are planning to get married while there. (I know a beautiful spot about 19,200 feet up that I might suggest! I'm sure a tent on the slopes of Kilimanjaro would make a beautiful honeymoon.) And then we blessed a couple who has born the pain of childlessness and now find themselves as parents to two teenagers. It's an amazing story of love: two teens who are not parentless because an eighth grader's teacher (from last year) has now become her "mom."
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
I have an embarrassing confession to make: I don't watch reality tv shows. None of them. Nada. Not "Survivor," not "American Idol," not "The Apprentice," not "Fear Factor." I've never seen Trump say, "You're fired!" (except on "Today Show" highlights). And watching people eat bugs doesn't do it for me. I'm not anti-TV. I O-D on sports during baseball season. I just can't get into reality shows. As I read about some of the reality celebs in this morning's USA Today (while experiencing my normal 2-hour airport delay!), I wonder: What's the appeal of Kelly and Justin, Clay, Ruben, Bill Rancic, and William Hung (the "She Bangs" guy who is endearing, though perhaps lacking in self-awareness)? Could part of it be weariness with real celebs? Are people finally seeing through the lunacy of our celeb-worshipping culture? Are we tired of watching people who specialize in image management and who change spouses and "significant others" as soon as they move up or down the ladder of celebrity? (An A-list star can't remain attached to a husband who's stuck on B-level status, can she?) Maybe the reality people seem, well, real. Maybe people think that Kelly would be more fun to chat with over lunch than Brittany. Or maybe I'm just jealous about the whole thing--that no network has yet come up with Reality Preacher. On that note, I'm off to try to get a plane to take me home.
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Dontrelle Willis is having a decent season so far for the Florida Marlins. As a pitcher, he's 2-0 with a .000 ERA. As a hitter, he's batting 1.000 (6-for-6). My little league team isn't quite that hot, though we are 4-1, and 2-0 in conference play after a 10-8 victory in the late game last night. That's right: last game at the ballpark last night and the first flight (5:45) out of Abilene this morning!
Monday, April 19, 2004
In the year I was born, Elie Wiesel wrote a stirring memoir of the Holocaust called Night. It was a brutally honest account from this man who lost both his parents and his younger sister in concentration camps. Here is a stirring interview with this Nobel Peace Prize winner (1986) in which he talks about his faith. It isn't the existence of God he doubts, he says, but the ways of God. (If this sounds blasphemous to you, go back and read biblical literature again!) In other words, his crisis is one of "God's apparent absence." He speaks profoundly about evil, suffering, prayer, and faith. "The tragedy of the believer is greater than the tragedy of the unbeliever," Wiesel claims. Why? Because the suffering all around is just what an unbeliever might expect. But an honest believer is faced with cognitive dissonance. Once you face up to this, there is, for sure, a chance you might lose your faith. But there is also a chance your faith can move to a deeper level of trust. As for me, I'll take Wiesel's struggles over the easy, breezy health-and-wealth stuff that fills Christian bookstores. (Actually, my own preference would be for the writings of Philip Yancey, who constantly faces the reality of suffering -- but from the perspective of a Christ-follower.)
Sunday, April 18, 2004
"Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat do die." - Anne Lamott "When you forgive someone, you are dancing to the rhythm of the divine heartbeat." - Lewis Smedes
Thursday, April 15, 2004
The prayer time on Wednesday nights is becoming holy ground. Judy Thomas has sort of become my prayer partner to pray for people (since Diane teaches 6th grade girls on Wednesday nights). She's such a special woman in our life. All three of my children have attended and Diane teaches at Sam Thomas Elementary School (named for her husband, who died suddenly just before we got to Abilene in 1991). Plus, God has graciously let me minister side-by-side around the country with Brandon. (By the way, here is the site for Brandon's new blog.) Here's one observation: the mentally handicapped members of our church (and there are several who come from DRI and a group home) have no reluctance to come ask for prayers. They have an openness, an honesty, a passion for God that makes me want to grow in my God-hunger and spiritual honesty. They come with great concerns for people they love. Last night one brother came to ask for our prayers for his friend who'll be participating in the Special Olympics at ACU this weekend. I love that in our church our brothers and sisters who are mentally-handicapped aren't seen as a project. They are vital, gifted members of the body. With their simple minds and deep spirits they are calling us to the way of Christ. Well, what do you expect to read from the father of a little girl who was mentally-handicapped and who was loved and valued by this church?
When Mel Gibson responded to critics of his blockbuster The Passion of the Christ by saying they had a "problem with the four Gospels," not with his film, he was staking a claim to authenticity: My Jesus is the real one, not yours. Go to this link to check out more of Chris Suellentrop's article "Jesus Christ: Choose Your Own Savior."
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
With both of us working outside the home, we have found ways to share house-cleaning and parenting duties. I am the bed-maker, the morning picker-up-er, and the dish rinser. I also cook about half the meals. (Plus I'm really good at running to Joe Allen's or Subway for carry-out.) But sometimes it hits me that there is a whole other world I'm oblivious to. This afternoon Diane is leaving for about 28 hours. The stuff I'm now in charge of is, well, more urgent than my normal routine. Pick up Chris. ("If you don't pick him up, he'll be stuck there.") Feed the dogs. ("If you or Chris don't feed them, they won't eat.") Give Chris his allergy and antacid meds (reflecting two of my genetic gifts to him). Pack his lunch. These are things I rarely think about. Somehow they just get done. Because I travel so much, Diane is used to covering all home bases. But this is rare. I am, for 28 hours, the . . . adult parent . . . default parent . . . last-line-of-defense parent. I can do this. (On the other hand, if any of you happen to drive by Thomas Elementary around 4:00 and there's one kid that looks like me standing around, would you pick him up and bring him to church?)
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Chris's early life was pretty unpredictable because of Megan's health condition. It meant he sometimes got dropped off with people in the middle of the night as we headed back to pediatric ICU. It also meant lots of visits from Pa-Pa and Grandma -- visits which also meant that Mommy (and Daddy) wouldn't be around for a while. My mom, formerly editor of the Neosho Daily News, has for years written a weekly Bombeck-esque column for the paper. This is a classic from 1996. (Hey, it's my blog. You tell your own family stories!) As my older one approaches his wedding date and my younger one nears his "graduation" from elementary school, this brings back lots of memories. "Have you told Chris that Grandma is coming?" I asked my oldest two days before my long-planned trip to Texas. This was a legitimate question. The three-year-old likes Grandma okay, especially after I've been around a couple of days - but he learned early on what my arrival means. It means Mommy and [Daddy] are leaving. And true to history, when I was to come this time was the signal for them to leave for a few days. From the time he was born, there were many fast trips to Texas. Actually, the very first trip was not to care for him, but for the other two, when he was only three days old and had to return to the hospital for two weeks for treatment of a strep infection he had picked up in the hospital nursery. After that, however, Mom and Dad were often in and out of the hospital with his sister. The little guy would wake up in the morning and there would be - Grandma! One time, a call came to Missouri and I replied, "I'm on my way." At 10 p.m. I got off the plane and there he was- the little one - in the arms of the neighbor. I took him, got instructions for his current meds and took him home. Did I mention he was still nursing at the time? I set him up on the counter and said, "Okay, Babe, what do you want to eat?" I think the unspoken answer was "Nothing!" The next day we made a fast trip to Fort Worth to visit the parents at the children's hospital, so he could figure out where Mama was. His older brother has never had this reaction when I came. As the oldest grandchild he has always been anxious to come see Papa and Grandma, have us visit and talk ad infinitum on the phone. Even now as a teen-ager he was very gracious about having a grandma take him to school and even pick him up from the school party, attend his ball games and cheer him on in track. As for the preparation for my most recent arrival, my son said they would discuss it with the little guy. He told me they were going to say, "Chris-man, have you noticed only two suitcases are being packed?" So, here's how that visit went. I arrived Thursday. Chris was glad to see me and showed me his room. Friday, when the two suitcases came out, he smelled a rat and he didn't let Mom out of his sight. Saturday we took Mom and Dad to the airport. He spent most of the rest of the day in his room, ducking into the closet when I came in to check on him. Sunday morning he chose a seat in church on the other side of his big brother, who said, "He never sits by me." I told him we had at least established the pecking order. Big brother rated below Mom but above Grandma. Monday he tried to convince me he had seen Mama's airplane come back. ("It's the same color.") We needed to go to the airport. That night he slipped into big brother's bed - previously a big "no-no" but allowed that night. I must have done something right. They're bonding. One time when they thought I wasn't looking, the big brother even put toothpaste on the little guy's brush. I have to admit I never did get the shoes on right like, I was told, Mommy does it - putting high tops on with the laces already tied. We compromised, however. He wore cowboy boots with his shorts. On our four-day stay together the little guy and I, carrying the bag with juice, animal crackers and cheese sticks, went to two baseball practices, two track meets, one baseball game and one baseball pitching lesson. Then Mom and Dad came home, Dad bone-weary from completing the Boston Marathon in a respectable time. That last night I slept in the guest bed, big brother went to sleep to the bass guitar sounds of country music (This is West Texas, for goodness sakes) and the little guy nestled into his favorite spot - on the big bed between Mom and Dad.
Monday, April 12, 2004
Barbara Brown Taylor on worship: "When I was a little girl, like many little girls I took ballet lessons. The paraphernalia was fascinating to me: the satin slippers, the stiff net tutu, the pink tights. It would have suited me to spend the whole hour admiring myself in front of the mirror, but my teacher kept insisting that I come away from there to learn the basic positions essential to ballet. Under her tutelage, I learned to bend my feet this way and that, sometimes straining so hard I feared my knees would pop from their sockets. I arched my back, I held my head up, I made perfect O's with my arms. I stretched and sweated over the positions until my bones ached and my muscles yelled out loud. Then one day I got to put them all together, bending and rising and sweeping the air like someone to whom gravity no longer applied. I got to dance. "That memory sustains me in worship, where I practice the basic positions of faith. They are named gloria, kyrie, credo, sanctus. They are named the prayers of the people, the peace, the breaking of the bread. Each one requires my full attention and best efforts; each one teaches me a particular way to move, so that when God invites me to put them all together, I may jump with joy to join the dance."
Sunday, April 11, 2004
This morning was our 10th Easter morning to gather at Megan's grave. I could not have survived the past years since my daughter's death without belief in the Resurrection of Christ. This morning I read to those gathered with us the blessing I wrote the day before she died. A couple dozen of us gathered in her pediatric ICU room, and these words were spoken over her--words that reflected her love for the children's song "I'm in the Lord's Army." (As I recall, I tried to read it but couldn't, and Darryl Tippens finished for me.) Megan, You have been a blessing from God for ten years. You have worn us out--but much more you have taught us about the deeper meanings of life. With your joy, your love, and your pure spirit, you have challenged our petty complaints about life. Just as you have lived with great joy, may you die with the joy and peace of the Lord upon you. You have always wanted to march in the Lord's Army. Your mother, your brothers, these friends, and I all release you into his hands. Please save a place in the ranks for us, for we will always look forward to seeing you again. May the Lord bless you and keep you; May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Christ is risen -- he is risen indeed! This morning a choir at church sang the "Hallelujah Chorus" as powerfully as I've ever heard it. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought, How would we survive without the hope that Easter assures?
Friday, April 09, 2004
A few moments ago, a dear friend of mine in Phoenix, Joe Smith, died after a courageous battle with cancer. To the end of his life, he continued to be a witness to the goodness and mercy of God. Highland members may remember seeing the video I showed a month or two ago where I had interviewed Joe. He was a big fan of Zoe music, and I'd asked him at our last two conferences (in Nashville and Fresno) to give his testimony. Seven months ago I published (with his permission) part of a note he'd sent me. Here it is again. Read it carefully on this Good Friday! "Recovery in the hospital went very well -- I heard myself described as a 'highly motivated' patient. I thank God for his mercy in giving me the ability to heal rapidly. One of the things I resolved, on the day I was diagnosed nearly 3 1/2 years ago, was to give him the glory, whether in life or in death. Of course, I immediately started looking for rationale to support the assertion that he would be given more glory if I lived, because I preferred living. In doing all this reflection, I seriously pondered the question, Does God get more glory through living (a triumphant, miraculous healing, for example) or through dying (a dignified, submissive passing)? I came to the conclusion that the answer was neither -- that the glory was in the struggle. (With a theology like this, no wonder I've had so many recurrences!) Anyway, if I've struggled well, I just wanted to be sure he got the credit."
An interesting Good Friday story on NPR this morning. Go to this link and look for the story "In Mexican Town, Holy Week Rituals Persist."
Thursday, April 08, 2004
I'm "full" from last night: from meeting with the missions committee and hearing again their vision(s) for sending missionaries; from hearing Barbara Hallmark's stirring testimony in Oasis; and then from meeting with the elders. Those elders meetings are a highlight of my life--full of blessings and prayers. Today is Maundy Thursday. Growing up in a Church of Christ, I didn't know much about the flow of Holy Week. (Honestly, Easter had more to do with the Easter Bunny and sermons against Easter.) But the name of this day comes from Christ's command that his disciples should love one another (John 13:34). A good prayer for the day (from THE DIVINE HOURS: Prayers for Springtime): "Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that I, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Two games! The Rangers are only TWO GAMES out of 1st place in the AL West. "Sure," you might be saying, "but it's early in the season." (Only two games into the season, of course.) But we're Rangers fans. Never say never! I'm wondering how many readers of this blog keep coming hoping to find something spiritually enriching . . . only to find my rantings about baseball, coaching, Fox News, guacamole, the Atkins diet, my defense of having a basketball goal in our living room, etc. Stay tuned. I've spoken to my team of writers, and they're working on improving the content.
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
From Brian McLaren: I think it's safe to say that there was a lot of variety in the early church -- different structures, titles, styles, liturgies, non-liturgies, emphases, language, taboos, problems, etc. Modern minds, however, wanted to systematize the Bible just as they wanted to systematize everything else. They wanted "The New Testament Church" to be as consistent as the McDonald's franchise: same menu, same pricing, same bathroom soap. The whole biotic world was being systematized in a science called taxonomy under the elegant rubric of kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. Similarly, the elements of the Bible (modern systematicians hoped) could be captured and tamed and dissected and analyzed and categorized and rendered elegantly neat -- like stuffed mammals posed in an exhibit at a museum. Going to a museum is a lot more convenient than going out into the forest to see animals in their natural habitat, and getting the Bible in this systematized way was similarly more convenient. One could stay clean and out of danger, and museum creatures need neither food nor cleaning -- an added bonus. Similarly, I think there was a desire to get the messy business of reading over and done with once and for all.
The Texas Rangers are only ONE GAME out of 1st in the AL West!! We're A-Rod-less, I-Rod-less, Rafael-less, Juan-less . . . and yet we're still within a game of 1st. After so many years in the cellar, maybe the Rangers should go back to one of the fundamentals of little league baseball: give everyone a snack after the game.
Monday, April 05, 2004
Great article about Highland's teens (and teens from other churches) in this morning's Abilene Reporter News. I've been asked to speak in ACU's chapel today on Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. That's what happens when the Church of Christ tries to observe the Christian calendar. You wind up with Palm Monday! (By the way, if you're one of the parents bringing a Highland preschooler to chapel to wave a palm branch, please meet me in Moody Coliseum at 10:45.)
Sunday, April 04, 2004
Discerning readers of this blog will know that a good way to make money gambling on college basketball would be to see who I pick, and then put money on the other team. For what it's worth, Duke was safely ahead when I fell asleep last night. All right . . . UConn over GT. You read it here.
Saturday, April 03, 2004
Tyler Crotty is suddenly famous--rocketed to stardom by David Letterman. Why is this 13 year old in the spotlight? Because of a hilarious clip of him behind George Bush while the President is making a speech. In the video, Tyler is bored out of his gourd. He's rubbing his eyes, stetching his arms, cracking his neck, and yawning. For that performance, he's enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. Even got a kind-hearted letter from the President thanking him for his support. As a minister, I'm thinking of several people I could make famous. Maybe I could mount a hidden videocam to scan the crowd tomorrow morning. (The Sunday where everyone missed an hour of sleep would be an especially good day for such a project!) Surely there's someone we could send to the Letterman Show!
Friday, April 02, 2004
I've recently had lots of people trying to reach me through Highland's website. I think something I wrote Wednesday hit a nerve. Here's my direct line for you blog readers: RunMichael@aol.com. (I started on AOL while training for the Boston Marathon in the mid-90s. So . . . RunMichael.)
Thursday, April 01, 2004
A month ago I drove a Grand Cherokee. Now I'm driving a storage shed filled with a bucket of baseballs, a couple bats, a water cooler big enough to bring the water levels of local lakes up to normal levels, extra bases, catcher's gear, the "team bag," a first aid kit (in case I have to perform an emergency appendectomy out there), big orange cones (for drills), and a couple gloves.