Sorry I’ve been MIA

Yes, I’m leaving this one for the grammar freaks to fret about, punctual on punctuation as they may be.

“What ever on earth does she mean here?”

Sorry.

I’ve been MIA to MIA (as was marked on my luggage this past week).

You see, before last week, my brain was burnt. I decided maybe it was time to let my body get that way, instead.

Miami made for a nice brain-break.

The waters looked like the blue and green of the Caribbean this past week, and the sand looked like it was shipped down from the Gulf. (My little iPhone probably doesn’t do either of them justice.)

I actually had no plans to see those wavy waters. As it was, I received a last-minute invitation, based on bumming a portion of a hotel room from my sister, along with the use of her frequent-flyer miles. As awesome as that sounds, I still had to convince myself that our plane rides would allow for the final polishing edits of my dissertation. After much arm-twisting, I decided that was a small price to pay.

After 4 nights and 3 days:

  • I accomplished the best tan I’ve had in the past 2 decades (all in the 1st day, thereafter having to hide beneath the beach umbrella each time I heard my skin sizzling like bacon);
  • I unintentionally swam with 2 sharks (after which my oldest son informed me that it’s never a good idea to follow a school of interesting-looking fish who have been chased into the shallows); and
  • I unabashedly looked forward to a small, delicious piece of dark chocolate snuggled up on my pillow every evening (thereafter being tucked safely in my warm tummy).

Within a couple of days of being home, I managed to:

  • scrape off one side of my tan in a road rash cycling incident,
  • splash around at our waterfront while cheering T as he did a triathlon (thinking maybe I could get some of my tan to come back through the scabs),
  • wave goodbye to T as he hit the road for his big move, and
  • finally submit my (typed) final edits to my committee.

I should mention that I only shed tears on one of those aforementioned occasions, but will leave it to you to decide upon which.

Maybe a surprise vacate does clear the mind for taking on the world once again.

Guess I’m truly not sorry I’ve been MIA.

 

The Great Physician’s Hearing Aid Prescription for the Church

Matthew 13 (NIV)

The Parable of the Sower

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Whoever has ears, let them hear.

That line was never more meaningful to me than it became at our Church’s Annual Conference on Tuesday night, when I found myself in need of a hearing aid from God.

We had gathered to celebrate God’s presence in mission work, with seeds being cast over soil across the world through our conference. It included a processional of flags from across the world, of which I was privileged enough to get to lead in one side of the flag-bearers. As I carried the Afghanistan flag, I prayed the whole while for all of those in that country – our military men and women as well – to feel the power of God’s loving presence in their lives. No sooner did those many country’s flags spread out across the front of the auditorium than a tremendous storm began to blow in from the west.

The assembly of people were standing, singing ‘How Great is our God.’

The sky went black with an ominous cloud. The wind was rattling the wall of windows behind me. Large trees were bending. One loud thunder clap, and we lost all power, with nighttime settling on top of us early.

Immediate removal of musical accompaniment did not stop the crowd from standing resolute and continuing to sing of the greatness of our Lord. Soon, we had gone into “…then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee. How great Thou art, How great Thou art.”

The challenge came more to the speakers, working to bring thunderous voices from their diaphragms, than it did to our color guard trying to orderly dismiss ourselves, or to ushers working to provide a candlelit nuance, or to workers rushing to open windows and doors for some air flow. The storm at our conference had subsided, but its passing over us wasn’t going to bring instant repair to a blown transformer outside.

As I stood in the auditorium, straining to hear, I began to see a parable unfold.

Jesus explained the meaning of his parable to his followers in this way:

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Often times, we ‘churchy-folk’ like to think Jesus was talking about ‘unchurched-folk’ hearing the Word for the first time, but my ears heard it differently this time around; my eyes saw it in a new light (albeit dimly lit).

As the storm came up, many of the people who were in the auditorium were glancing around nervously, peering out at the scary-look cloud, unable to sing. Frozen in fear. I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t worth giving some attention (and will admit that I did). But, truthfully, there was no additional cover to seek. Praising God in the storm was the very best action to be taken in this case. That seed of praise had been”[snatched] away” from some of the hearts there, though (vs. 19). They could no longer hear the praise over the storm or see God at work because they were blinded by their fear. A few exited immediately upon the storm blowing over.

Within minutes, many of those same ‘churchy-folk’ who hadn’t left, proclaiming God’s greatness only minutes earlier, became frustrated with the darkness surrounding them, the stillness of the warming air, the inability to hear all that was being said in the natural. They began to slip out, little by little, until the auditorium was about three-fourths its capacity. As Jesus said, “they [lasted] only a short time…they quickly [fell] away” (vs. 20-21).

The thorny hearts (vs. 22) became of greatest concern to me personally, to be honest (because, as thorns tend to do, they also reached out to choke out the life – or at least the ears – of those around them). I stood in the back with some friends and fellow flag bearers. If we had strained to hear before, we were surely straining by then. A brother in Christ from South Sudan had taken the stage to thank our conference for the hope we were providing to his people. He had grown up as a child who was taken to carry a weapon of war in the country of Sudan. Yet, he had escaped that life. He had wanted a new life for the generations to follow his, a life that brought hope and peace. He and others had suffered much, but trusted God much, for such a new beginning as that – a beginning that was symbolized in the natural when South Sudan became its own country. Despite the positive word this messenger brought, I also knew what had been encountered for the past year by this brother and another pastor brother in South Sudan with Visa problems to be able to bring it. After much disappointment and even greater patience, our South Sudanese brother had finally been able to come to the states, just so we could be blessed with this encounter. Let me reiterate that his presence among us was special – as though we were personally being thanked by God’s very own messenger. Yet, this messenger was a man from another place than ours, with a different accent than ours, with a low, humble voice that didn’t boom like some of the other speakers. He was working to convey God’s gratitude to straining human ears.

The thorniness didn’t allow some hearts to offer the respect our messenger-brother deserved. Some of those who had earlier exited stood outside the outer open doors, chatting and laughing about earthly “worries” (things that were apparently of greater interest than kingdom issues). After some time, realizing that many on the back rows had one straining ear on the stage and another ear being disrupted by these competing exchanges, a man I know in local missions respectfully closed the outer door. Not only did this act not serve to send a gentle message to the boisterous men outside, but it seemed to encourage the young ladies who were working the desk behind us to become louder, talking between themselves and bursting out in laughter over one of their cell phones ringing during the service. After several ‘teacher glances’ behind me that served to be absolutely ineffective, I closed the set of inner doors in front of the immature offenders. Almost immediately, the doors slung back open, with one of the young ladies slamming down the door stops without concern for the noise it created. She snapped at me, “We’re watching this. The doors need to stay open.” To this, the mother in me kicked in. Without taking the time to explain to her the gravity of our guest’s presence with us, instead, I replied, “Then watch with your eyes, not your mouths, so others can hear.” The seed was not going to be fruitful among the thorns, who deceitfully claimed to want to hear the word, but in essence, served to choke it out from others. I hate that I got snagged by them – as did many others who continued to slip out, leaving less than one-half of our original assembly.

An offering was taken, in which conference envelopes had already been prepared from churches. Many more left during that time, staying only to the point at which they felt their obligation to be there (to turn in their envelopes) had been fulfilled. (I’ve attended worship out of obligation before, too. What about you?)

Jesus said:

13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]

I pray that Jesus can heal my heart where my soul can learn to better receive His Word – that I can learn to discern with my heart, to see through spirit-filled eyes.

It’s interesting to me that those standing and praising until the very end of that celebration service – despite the darkness, despite the lack of sound equipment, despite the lack of many conveniences of our modern American day – appeared to be approximately one-fourth of the original group. This was the soil who heard the word through their hearts more than their ears (the same as 1/4 of Jesus’ 4 groups). Seeing how this service was about the mission field (which comes with many similar circumstances), I’m going to be bold enough to proclaim that I believe them to be the seed who will “[produce] crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (vs. 23).

Because Jesus also said:

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.

17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Oh, LORD, let me be a seer, a hearer, and a doer of Your Word.

My Chief Lesson

For any additional lightness in my pocketbook today, my heart is feeling many more times heavy.

I lost a best friend last night. A loyal companion. An intense playmate.

He was the one who loved it whenever I put my feet all over him.

He was the one who looked most forward to taking long evening walks with me next to his side.

He was the one who would chase me around our couches, then turn the other direction and run from me – always keeping me rolling in giggles.

And he was the one who would chase his tail just to entertain everyone else.

I guess you’d call him our “pack clown.”

Through highly intelligent eyes, he anticipated what I wanted from him.

Through a curious and loving heart, he didn’t always do what I asked him not to do.

And with that ridiculous tongue hanging out, his humor came through in his big canine smile.

***

Last night, as we were walking home with some of the rest of our pack, he began to wheeze. He veered from a well-known path, desperately trying to remain upright. Within seconds, he was retching and trying to regain his uprightness where he had collapsed. Our 2 T’s headed off to get the car, as I sat helplessly in an unknown neighbor’s yard, watching my buddy’s gums and tongue turn gray, as he strained to squeeze anything through his air passage.

We never saw it coming.

Forty minutes earlier, he and I had been doing the happy dance together. (I had come in from work and asked if he wanted to go on a W-A-L-K, which was my joke with my family – that he was so smart he could spell.)

Chief – that was our sweet boy’s name – ran to the rack where his collar and lead were hanging, jumped around in circles, then came back smacking his long tail into everything that managed to horizontally get in his way. As he saw me grab up my tennis shoes, he impatiently danced around some more, finally unable to contain his excitement, jumping up to “hug” me – just before he turned back and waited to be fitted into his own “sports gear.” He always got so excited about our family walks. He loved to explore, and he loved doing it as a family unit – a pack.

It seemed like it took years to get to the emergency clinic after the incident (since his vet was already closed by then). My oldest son left his ballgame to meet us there, instinctively understanding this would be the last chance he’d have for loving on his pup.

Although they intubated Chief the minute we arrived, that wasn’t going to get rid of the clot in his lung. We were told that he could remain on a mechanical respirator for $1,000 per day, but even if we could afford that, his life would no longer be his own.

Though we got to be with him as he was euthanized, he was already on so much medication to ease his stress, only we were the ones who were aware. Despite our prayer over him, it was a distressful departing. No sooner had we stepped out of one room, after saying our unworthy good-byes, than we were presented with a $400 bill, immediately due. Was that the closure then?

We’re all numb today – traumatized. We brought Chief home, so his remains can at least be close by. But that’s never enough, is it?

I want my friend back. Waking up this morning without him on his bed was disorienting. Driving through my neighborhood this morning, passing the sidewalk of our final journey together, was excruciating. I dread going home this afternoon, to abide in the obvious emptiness without his presence to greet me. My grief feels immense.

Yet, there is a Chief lesson that I’ve learned in this.

Grieving is important. It reminds us of the immense capability we have to love; the importance of sharing in that love as part of living. What would a relationship be worth if there were no pain in its loss?

Chief holds a special place in our hearts. I can’t imagine going on without him to brighten our days.

But I can’t imagine how much less our lives would be had we never had him to love in the first place.

A friend loves at all times…
Proverbs 17:17a

 

 

 

 

Where’s Your Gumption Gonna’ Getcha’?

We just finished our interview and acceptance process of students for the upcoming year.
I’ve gone through these proceedings more times than I care to remember at this point – painstakingly scoring academic records, notifying applicants of missing materials, deciding who gets to be interviewed, and then trying to determine as much about a person’s lifetime building capacity of character and experience within fewer minutes than I can count on my fingers and toes. It can be emotionally exhausting for everyone involved.

To be honest, regardless of all the fuss, in many ways, I find the interview process to be completely unnecessary for me to make any decisions at all. I can easily see if a student is academically prepared to intellectually excel in our program. And if I want to know if a student has the fortitude to roll up a set of sleeves and the work ethic to see something through, I have the ability to make those assessments within the first few weeks of the program. Granted, I can dig pretty deeply within just a few minutes of an interview to find out what I need to know for applicants to get in…but I have to wait and see if these folks have what it takes to keep them here.

What I find out about an applicant isn’t really the greatest point of our interview process, anyway. Truthfully, it’s not nearly as important for me to see through the interview facade that gets spread on like peanut butter for that short amount of time as it is for the applicant to see through the opacity of himself or herself. I mean, in the end, I’m not the one who’ll be undertaking this career challenge along with all of the circumstances that each of these individuals will be facing in life. I long ago made my own decision and had the gumption to stick to it.

Gumption.

gumptionI like that word. It should be used more often in all the self-help tripe that gets plastered across the huge quarter section of the bookstore and slapped over half-naked bodies on magazine covers.

Gumption may not be stylish for a fashion cover, but it makes me appreciate the years that cause me to go well beyond the counting I can do on my fingers and toes anymore.

Old folks surely know all about gumption.

Gumption is the best response to life when it’s kicking you around and trying its bloody best to hold you down.

Gumption puts its head down and pushes the plow ’til the work’s done.

Gumption won’t take no for an answer.

***

This was an exciting week for many of our program’s applicants. They opened the mailbox to letters of acceptance.

This was a heartbreaking week for many of our program’s applicants. They opened the mailbox to letters of “not this time.”

What the individuals in either of these groups do from here will be determined by their…you got it – Gumption!

I can think of some program applicants, particularly, who received that second type of letter in the past but showed a great deal of gumption.

Those applicants were not accepted during their first year of applying. With every measure of gumption (while likely swallowing some salty tears), each one asked to be considered for the following year. Once accepted, two of them came (in separate years) and finished at the top of their classes, each receiving the class excellence award. One of these women is now the head of her department and has trained and employed multiple students beyond herself. Another applicant was an alternate, accepted in the final moments before classes began, after other individuals no longer believed their positions were of as great importance as they had at the time of the interview. This student persisted and later became an instructor in the program for a time. In each of these cases, excellence by perseverance made itself known. Without the gumption to brush themselves off and try again, those ladies’ gumption would’ve gone untapped.

The media likes to show big winners – either when they’re on top or when they’ve just lost everything they once had. What we don’t hear enough about are those who have lost a lot in life but who have the gumption to go on. They’re already winners – despite setbacks, despite life sending them in directions they didn’t choose to take, despite heartbreaks. Why? Because gumption understands that winning is about picking yourself up and continuing to move. Whether the movement is ahead or in a different direction, one thing’s for certain…

Life can’t hold those folks down.

They’ve got GUMPTION.

 

 

 

Just Relax…

“Just relax,” the nurse prodded, as I set the book aside, earmarking the chapter I’d been reading on anxiety.

Sure. Relax, I chided inside my head. That always works to tell yourself that, almost…um, never.

“I’ll let you sit here for a few minutes before I take your blood pressure again. I’m sure you’ve just been rushing around this morning.”

I dropped my head in shame, thinking of the irritable words I had mumbled at the line of cars that were keeping me from getting to my doctor’s appointment on time. You know, blaming others always reduces anxiety – just like reading books about it.

I drummed my toes on the step that I had used to get up on the table that reminded me I was the patient – meaning that something was wrong with me. Oh yeah? Not nearly as wrong as that stupid step that’s bent downward. I recognized that my legs were plenty long enough that I should have ordinarily been able to be flat-footed upon it. I was beginning to feel a little less anxious now. Transference always did the trick.

Just as I was feeling more relaxed, the nurse came back in and squeezed my arm again with the blood pressure cuff.

“Oh.”

Oh? That’s all I was going to get, huh? “So I take it that my forced meditation didn’t work?” I figured one of us needed to verbalize the obvious.

“It actually went up some more. We’ll have you lie down for awhile after your check-up and try again.”

All the issues stacked on my office desk began to send mind-texts to me. The post-it reminders on my brain were piling up. After my little office table nap, my blood pressure had sky-rocketed. Brilliant.

The next thing I know, my doctor is blah-blahing about medicine to reduce my blood pressure.

“Wait a minute, doc. I can’t do that. My blood pressure’s just high because I have a lot on my plate this week, and being here is just putting me further behind.” Seemed like a reasonable excuse to me. Yeah, I know. Emphasis on excuse.

“Well, I’ll tell you what,” she reasoned back. “Let’s just start you on it this week, then, and when things settle down – and we see that your blood pressure does too – we can talk about you coming off of it.”

And therein lies my new pet peeve. Reasonable people. Don’t they just get all over your nerves?


Talkin’ ’bout MY(?) Generation

My last post mentioned how my heritage sometimes confuses me.

If that’s the case, then my generation is even more confusing to me.

By birthright, I am the product of the Builders generation. They grew up during the Depression, went off to (or felt the effects of) WWII in their teen years, and brought remarkable recovery to our country through their work ethic and sacrifice. They knew how to work hard to conserve. And by that definition, they were quite conservative. They were also good rule makers. They knew they’d earned enough respect to be. I’m going to claim the right for them to be called the “Follow Me” generation.

If by birthright, I belonged to the Builders, my heart (or at least my curiosity) followed the Boomers. I was a late-life child, so I had three older siblings who were part of the Baby Boomer generation. They were born into that time of our country’s prosperity. Their generation had a little more time on their hands – time to shake their hips to Elvis while developing a liberal dose of attitude. If the Builders were rule makers, the Boomers tried to be rule breakers. They worked for the means to be heard. By their sheer numbers, alone, they demanded to have a voice and demanded to use resources that had previously been conserved – sometimes to good advantage, other times, not so much. They were both lovers & fighters, always in a struggle for something they were still working to define. I call them the “Hear Me” (or maybe “Feel Me, Free Me”) generation.

I came along as a Gen-X-er, or part of Generation X. That’s cool if you’re one of the X-Men, I suppose. Otherwise, you’re just classified as a rebel without a cause a large part of the time. We really weren’t about bucking authority. We just mostly liked to fight it in our songs. We were hard rock meets Madonna, which is probably why Botox seemed sensible. You get the picture (frightening as it may be). Our real problem was that we were confused about what the X actually was. It made us feel like some strange, unsolvable algebraic equation. Now, we’re just a bunch of cool cynics. Just call us the “Show Me” generation. 

Generation

Generation Y comes behind us, grabbing up my older sons in their wake. This bunch is often referred to as the “Me Now” generation. I’ve changed that to the “See Me” generation. It’s not really their fault they have a narcissistic tendency. Even before all their BFF’s showed up on reality TV, home videos were big when they were growing up. I’m pretty sure this generation figured out how to take selfies long before they had digital cameras built into their phones or a Facebook page to display them. They had to. They figured their parents, who worked all the time, wouldn’t see them grow up otherwise. Relax. I think Wall Street may have more to do with their me-attitudes than their parents or the iPhone. Otherwise, we’ll all have to admit that they’re protesting us.

(People have a little trouble agreeing about the separation between Ys & Zs. It always takes many years out for generational divisions to become more obvious. Y’s didn’t even last until Y2K. The Z’s were the cross-overs. So I’m calling for a re-vote on the Millenial name.)

In my humble opinion (okay, it’s not), Generation Z should be re-framed as Millenials (not Millenialists, mind you), since they showed up around the turn of the century (and, even upon their arrival, the world didn’t end). Communication certainly took a turn though (for better or worse? depends on who you talk to – and whether it’s through social media), with the overwhelming addition of personal technology for every BODY. Despite having their own phones at the age of…2-1/2, this group is supposedly part of an attitude shift back towards responsibility (since a long-lasting downturn in economy strangely corresponds to either a crime wave or an upturn in responsibility). My youngest son falls in there – except for the criminal part. If this group stays on track, I might rename them the “Be Me” generation.

The little Alphas are just coming onto the scene (leaders of the pack – ?? –  currently trailing behind the rest of us) – and there’s apparently going to be a large number of them. (I guess when there’s no money to go out on the town, couples find other ways to be entertained.) They’re the ones who are really going to Shake, Rattle, & Roll (or maybe that’s what they’re doing now). I think the Alphas are scheduled to begin primary school by 6 months of age and apparently will be working by age 9 to begin replenishing our Social Security deficit. So I’ll just call them the “Bite Me” generation. (You know, because they’re still teething. What were you thinking?)

Looking at generational profiles is like looking at a horoscope. Sure, you’ll find some generalizations that sound like you. Yet, despite a warped world trying to cause us to become unglued so it can then remold us…in the end, we’re responsible for our own choices of who we’re going to be.

As for me, I’m dumping the X-Generation & heading into the Next Generation. (Yeah, um, that was an enterprising Star Trek pun – or two.)

JLP