Sliced and Diced…

I am sitting here thinking about another surgery scheduled for next week. This brings my total up to 12. When I tell people that number they almost always look at me and say “that’s a lot”. So I was wondering how many surgeries people have in their lifetime. It turns out that that number is not really easy to come up with. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of research on that subject. The closest I  have found is one study that estimates the average person in the U.S. will have about 9 surgeries in their lifetime.

This really wasn’t my idea of an area to be above average in, but here I am.

My ideal of being above average normally revolves around something like being taller than average (which I am). When those kinds of things happen I can sit back and just say  how lucky I am to be above average.

I hear a lot of talk about “averages” and other statistics. Homeless numbers, unemployment calculations, 1-percenters, numbers below the poverty line. To me, one of the things that those numbers do is to make things less personal. We milk those numbers for all they are worth. Slicing and dicing the “facts” until they are just noise, not a real conversation. I’m not saying that there is not a place for statistics in our life, but it is one thing to say that there are less than 1% homeless in our city and quite another thing to stop and talk to some of them on the street or in the parking lot of a convenience store and buy them breakfast or lunch.

The same principle applies in so many areas of our lives. Back to my surgery, I can say that I am above average in number of surgeries, but that fact means nothing to me when I think about someone who is near and dear to my heart who has had at least double the number of surgeries that I have and is much, much, younger.

Look at immigration and race in our country. It is one thing to have cold facts and figures on how many do this, and how many do that, and what rights they have, and what rights I have, and quite another to sit down and talk to people who are different than I am and to really get to know them.

So what do I do? I slow down. I stop and talk. I find out what the real issues are. I make it personal to me. And write about it. And maybe start a real conversation.

 

 

 

To be like Bezalel…

Sometimes I really wish I was like Bezalel. Apparently Bezalel had mad maker skills. He was filled with the spirit and knew how to make just about anything. God told Moses in Exodus 31 to put Bezalel to work making all the parts of the tabernacle. Bezalel could work with Gold, he could work with Silver and Bronze, he could chisel out Stone, he could work with Wood and make it all beautiful. He could even teach others how to do the same things!

When Bezalel was put in charge of  making all the things for the Tabernacle, I could imagine his joy. This must have been the ultimate honor for him, here he was with all this ability and he could work for God! He could bring honor to God by doing his best work.

Yes, I was reading this and I wished I was like him. I make things too but I don’t think my work comes as easy as his. I remember thinking that my making was only in small ways like in wood (or computers), he could do it all.

But there is a dark side to this story that is not as easy to see. I wondered where Bezalel had learned all these skills and I realized something. This story is not long after they leave Egypt. Bezalel would have gotten all these abilities as a slave! That put a brand new spin on the way I considered him. Can you imagine being super talented and artistic and having absolutely no control over what you did? Your owner controlled what you made, when you made it and what happened to it after you were done. All your beautiful work, your artistry, your every effort at work, did nothing for you at all. Compliments in a job well done? Not from a slave owner. Good work was expected. Your reward was your life and you were lucky to have that. Provide poor work and be punished.

But then Moses came and with God’s help led him out of slavery! He was free! He could make things the way he wanted and  be satisfied with his work when done. That joy and honor is now exploded to a thousand times what I had imagined before. Yes, he was filled with the Spirit. Yes, he had mad skills at making things. Yes, he could teach others. But he was no longer a slave! He could take joy in his work and have real happiness.

And I realized that I am really like Bezalel after all. No, I don’t have his mad maker skills at crafting things but I have skills that I learned when I was a slave to sin. I didn’t leave all those skills behind when I became free. And you know what? I have the Spirit too! I am filled with the Spirit and can use those old skills in God’s work as a free man, finding joy and honor and  happiness in working and teaching and doing what I can do.

God didn’t demand that I forget everything I ever knew. He just asked me to trust Him and live. And so I use what skills I have to bring honor to Him.

Dust in the Wind…

With a title like that you may think this post is going to be about the band ‘Kansas’, and in this case you would be right. I have been in mourning over the loss of good friends the last few weeks and I told my daughter that I was ready to write about something happy.

A while back (probably a couple of years) we were having lunch with my daughter and the conversation turned to music. Don’t hold me to this, but I believe the conversation was about what concerts I may have seen when I was younger. I remember saying that I had seen quite a few and had actually met the members of Kansas. The waitress was standing beside us refilling our water and she blurted out, “You mean the band!?”. And of course my daughter and wife promptly told me that they had never knew I had done that and wanted the whole story.

So here it is. There were three of us guys that were room mates in college. One of us left to become a night time DJ at a the rock station KMOD in Tulsa, Oklahoma (at the time it was the type of station where the DJ would turn up the gain on the microphone really high and then whisper into the mic in a low voice). Time passed and the two of us that were left stayed in touch and one day the band Kansas was scheduled to perform in Tulsa. Well, we couldn’t miss that so we packed up in the car and took off (ok, we probably skipped a couple of classes too).

Since were in Tulsa we crashed at our friends house and being normal college buddies, he let us go with him to the station to see how things worked. In reality, working as a DJ is pretty dull much of the time. You are on a really strict schedule and there wasn’t anything for us to do except sit around and talk quietly during a song. So we were laying around on the floor waiting until it was time to leave for the concert.

What he hadn’t mentioned to us was that the members of the band were coming to the station to give an interview. There was quite a bit of commotion as they came in and we scrambled up to see what was going on. And there they were, Steve, Robby, Phil and Rich, walking through the room, laughing and cutting up and they came right up to us and introduced themselves. They even shook hands with us!

There wasn’t much more to the story than that, they all went off into the studio and had their interview while my room mate and I sat and watched through the window in shocked silence. Then they left and we scrambled to get to the arena and get our seats.

By the way, The concert was great. And my daughter told me that If I had told her that story earlier in her life I would have been a cooler dad. Ah for missed opportunities.

 

For Jenny, Life goes on…

Last year I was asked to perform a wedding ceremony for a wonderful couple. At first I couldn’t even believe that I was the one they asked. After getting over that shock, I went through the ordination process and was authorized and ready to go.

But before the wedding date came a diagnosis. Cancer, and not an easy one either. The ceremony was delayed due to the treatments and the sickness they caused.

After months of waiting, the cancer was pushed down and the ceremony was back on. It was a wonderful time. My first (and so far only) wedding service. Joy was everywhere.

Now to fast forward to January, just a bare 6 months later. I was asked if I could speak at her funeral. The cancer had ravaged her and paralyzed her and finally wore her down.

I miss Jenny. She had a heart for others that would not stop. She had her quirks, just like we all do, but that only made her more special.

We used to call her ‘mom’. We would all go to a restaurant and tell the waitress we were all her kids. We would joke about her always being the first to leave, and never leaving a good tip (we would always make it right). And we would laugh and she would laugh right along with us.

But life goes on: for us, for her friends, for her new husband, for the rest of the family. And I am honored. Honored that I was able to know her and know that she respected and trusted me enough to play a big role in some major events in her life. Honored that I was even asked to speak at the funeral.

I made it through reading the obituary at the funeral. I wasn’t able to speak more because of the mess of emotions I feel. But if I were to speak, it would be to say what I have written here.

Goodbye friend and sister and mom. We will meet again, because life goes on; for us and for you.

Walking the plank

I remember a trip I made to the west coast on business quite a few years ago. I was supposed to install a computer and satellite equipment on a ship to send data back to headquarters. Back then, this type of setup was new, different, and uncommon. It was one of the first business trips I had ever made so I was looking forward to new experiences. Not only was it one of my first trips but it was out to California, near Santa Barbara.

I found the port and the ship with no problems and drove onto the pier that evening to check it out before I started to work the next day (this was very pre-9/11). Checking in with the captain, he casually mentioned as I was leaving that they would probably have to move the ship a short distance because the port was so busy, but I should be able to find them with no problems.

The next morning, I arrived and sure enough, the ship was gone from its place. Not worried, I asked around and was given directions to the ship. Here was my first surprise, to get to the ship, I had to cross over two other ships. Again, this was pre-9/11 so my wandering around somewhat aimlessly didn’t raise any alarms (or any notice for that matter). Then the second surprise happened.

I found the ship I was supposed to get on and there was not a walkway with handrails attached like there had been for the other two ships. To get to my ship there was a plank from the railing of the ship I was on to the railing of the ship I was trying to get to. It was a 2×12 board, and probably about 10-12 feet long. Down below, about 30 feet between the ships to the water. If you have ever been to the sea side, you know that the water is normally not completely still so the ships were moving gradually back and forth and up and down. Not a huge amount of movement but to me it seemed like a jump rope, and just as thick.

There was no pride involved in my getting on board. To get across that plank, I got on my hands and knees and grabbed that 11 and 1/4 inch wide board as tightly as I could and I crawled across. I have heard it said , “don’t look down”, but I did anyway. I didn’t freeze in the middle of the trip, but my guts were churning by the time I got across.

I didn’t leave the ship all day. I didn’t go off for lunch because I didn’t want to face that plank again. When time came to leave, I crawled across again. I didn’t care if anyone was watching or not. I just wanted to get across. The ship didn’t move again for a week, every morning I would cross that plank to get to work and every evening I would cross that plank to get back to dry land.  Some days I would even leave at noon to get lunch.

What was taking me so long was the equipment, the satellite dish and receiver were working just fine but the computer was giving me problems. I had to put in a service call and they computer vendor sent someone out to help me get the computer running. I met them at the dock and we went across the ships to get on board. When we got to our ship I went across without thinking about it and turned around to see the computer technician staring at the plank and the water below and not moving. In fact, they had their mouth hanging open because I had not crawled across, I had walked across without a second thought. During that week I had learned how to walk across, improving without my even realizing that there was an accomplishment. The water movement and difficulty was still there, my perception had changed drastically.

At this point it would have been oh so tempting to be proud of what I had done, to say “it’s no big deal”, or “don’t be a coward”. But I didn’t, and I am glad. I went back across to help carry their equipment and simply told them, “Let me help, It’s ok to crawl across, nobody will think twice about it”.

And isn’t that the way with life? We make it through things that are hard with a lot of struggle and worry only to find the same thing happening again. So we go through it again and again and again. And one day wbalancinge start to talk to someone else who is facing the same sort of problem and they look at it and they stop, frozen in fear. Maybe they look at us with their mouth open, trying to figure out how we made it through that same situation and (at least to them) made it look easy.

So just let them know that it wasn’t easy, it was scary and big and messy…And it’s ok to crawl across as many times as you need to… And I can help.

 

 

 

 

Wealth … and Questions?

Not long ago I was sitting on a Lear jet feeling sorry for myself. Pretty much the ultimate in mixed messages.

If you have never flown on a private jet before, it is pretty luxurious. Cushy seats, flight departure is when you show up, the pilots walk you through security. Fast and comfortable.

Once again the Spirit had to practically slap me on the back of my head to make me notice what was happening. Let me repeat…”I was sitting on a Lear jet feeling sorry for myself“. That is almost literally what I wrote in my notebook that I keep for Spirit thoughts. I have made no secret in this blog that I have a problem with pride. This was just another aspect of it. Instead of feeling gratitude and, yes, a little bit of awe at just getting the privilege of riding in such luxury, I had let a lot of other things take my mind to places I really didn’t need to go.

Yes, Fast and Comfortable. It is so Image result for bob newhart stop it gifeasy to get used to those things. After all, I want my food fast, I want my service fast, I want to be comfortable. But that wasn’t enough, I had an actual ‘first-world problem’ episode. And the Spirit told me to stop.  Stop and look at myself, stop and look around at the world, stop using my privilege without thinking about it. Just stop.

I would like to say that I did stop, but I haven’t completely succeeded yet. I have small victories each day where I live in the moment and appreciate what is happening around me. I am building on those. Fortunately for me, God has given me grace and mercy to cover all those other times when I don’t appreciate what I am and what I have.

This hasn’t been an easy entry to make. Not easy because it leads me to a lot of other thoughts that are not in my normal zone. Am I really open to the Spirit leading me where I should go and not just where I want to go? Am I rationalizing my actions and comforts? Do I realize how much white privilege I have and what am I , personally, doing about it? What do I do with my success?

So this won’t be a fast process for me (or comfortable). I have a lot of questions and not very many answers but I know that the Spirit is leading me somewhere. And I just want to have that complete trust in God to go.

As I close I am going to just leave a fact and a thought that have been on my mind a lot lately; about 50% of the worlds population lives on less than $2 per day and 80% of the worlds population lives on less than $10 per day. Just think about that number a minute and let it soak in. $10 per day is only $3,650 per year. (And yes, statistic persons, this is adjusted to US dollars). I may not be a millionaire, but in the eyes of the rest of the world, I am in the 1%.

 

Scaring and Caring…

I remember the time I got to use a Billy Pugh. That sounds funny because not everyone knows what a Billy Pugh is. It has an official name “Personnel Transfer Basket”, but nobody ever calls it that.  It is a pretty simple device really, sort of a cage with some nylon mesh. It is used to move people and baggage from the deck of a boat to an offshore oil platform.

You toss your bags into the middle, step on and hold on while the crane lifts you up and deposits you on the platform 90 feet over head. Easy, nothing to it. Oh, did I mention that you didn’t get in the middle? You hang on the outside. And swing. And hope you got a good crane operator who can compensate for the wind.

And during this whole process I wasn’t afraid, in fact I didn’t even care. Not even while the wind was really too high for crane operations and we were swinging around about 120 feet in the air coming close to crashing into the structure. Not even when the others with me were yelling to the rig personnel to get us down. I didn’t care because I was seasick.

I had never been seasick before so I didn’t take any medicine before the boat trip. But this time there was a storm and the seas were high and the boat tossed and tossed and tossed. And, yes, I tossed too. So when we finally arrived after a boat trip of 10 years (ok, about 3 hours), I was at a point that I didn’t care about anything. Just get me someplace stable and leave me alone. So my trip on the Billy Pugh was not scary at all. Just something to be endured. So, I endured. We stopped and I got off. And that’s all that story. No fear and no care.

Now I look around at the world I live in and all I see is fear. It seems like everyone is trying to make me afraid to think in different ways, or afraid to change the way I act, or afraid to talk to someone who is different than me, or afraid to be confident in my savior. And I find myself becoming numb. It’s just like being in a storm and being tossed (be afraid of this) and tossed (be afraid of that) and tossed (be afraid of them) and tossed (be afraid of yourself). And I get sick and I don’t care. I don’t care about myself and I don’t care about others.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I can live without fear and still care. God doesn’t want me to live in fear. The bible says over and over “Don’t be afraid”. I don’t have to be afraid of anything because He has me covered. He loves me and is with me and because of that, the tossing of the world trying to make me become afraid shrinks to become like a storm in a bathtub. Nothing to be afraid of.

That makes a great thing happen. Because I don’t have that fear I can stop and look around. I can see without fear and I can care.

Abba, your wonderful love drives out fear. I can stand with your Spirit inside me and see the world as it is, broken and in need of care. Within your fearlessness I can act. Amen