I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way

imgres   It is “school time” again and a recent conversation with my son, Nicholas, reminded me AGAIN of just how independent he has become.  Telling me about his upcoming move to Boston, I reflected on the passage of time and pulled from my writings, something I wrote 11 years ago this week when I took him to Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.  I hope you enjoy it.

What do you say to your first-born when you realize that from this moment on he will no longer be living with you?  He will come and visit and even have extended stays, but in all reality, he will never again live with you.

While fighting back tears and hugging him with a lingering sigh at the airport, I decided I wouldn’t have it any other way.  He has not only graduated from high school, he has graduated from needing his mother and me on a day-to-day basis.  Only a sickness born of pathetic, selfish love would have it any other way.  His time had come and grieve as I will, Nicholas David, our first-born, is now a man, maturing and moving into the future without need of our daily attention and direction.

But before I left him, I did have a few of those “I need you Dad” moments.  Besides the obvious, like needing me to pay for his tuition, room and food supply for the next 4 months, I lifted and lugged his collection of college freshman paraphernalia up to the 3rd floor of Mamie Mell Smith Hall, a rather odd name for a male dormitory.  Finally delivered, we began our onslaught on the obvious.

Not unlike when he was 8 and we moved into his new room at 620 Hill Road, he took care of putting up his toys and I pushed and prodded the more practical items.  He wired his window to the world, a newly purchased Dell computer, while I made his bed.  Standing among the mostly empty boxes, I asked a question I had asked at least a million times.  I said, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”  He pointed to a tall, skinny box in the corner, yet unopened.  I must admit I had seen it but carefully ignored it.

Written on the side of the box, were the words that strike fear into every mechanically dysfunctional male since the beginning of time—“Assembly Required.”  It was a small, but ominous looking multi-purpose bookshelf.  I took a deep breath and knelt down beside it, not sure whether to pray or to pretend.  I decided to do both.  I prayed for yet another chance to be the all-knowing, all-powerful Daddy of his early years and I pretended to be the ever-confident, ever-mechanical Fix-It man of my forgotten years.

So, I began my rarely traveled journey to the land of “required assembly.”  Not having made this journey with regularity and even less success, I started with a very non-male-like thing.  I read the instructions.  What did I have to lose?  He wasn’t watching!

Looking back on this moment, I am convinced these instructions were written for every mechanically dysfunctional father trying to make one final installment on the indispensability of parents, in general, and fathers, in particular.
I needed no tools and even less coordination.  “Assembly Required” completed, I stood by the bookshelf and announced to Nicholas my accomplishment.  He smiled his approval and I swaggered with fatherly pride moving it to the corner it would occupy for the upcoming semester.  It was a glorious moment for this mechanically dysfunctional father!

Looking out the airplane window on the way home, I smiled remembering the satisfaction this father got out of being with his son while working on and satisfying a worthy goal together.  And then I felt the smile of God.  A smile born out of his desire to be with me, work with me and realize a worthy goal together.

My hope for you today is a simple one.  Do a practical thing that helps another person and then bask in the smile of God.  We really can (do a simple task that helps another person) and God really does (smile on our efforts)!  Thanks be to God.

History Was Hollering This Week

The hollering of history was deafening this week.  Being a child of the 60s, this week could not pass without a salute to the significance of  “Three Days of Peace and Music.”  The year was 1969; the location was a patch of farmland in White Lake, a hamlet in the upstate New York town of Bethel and 50 miles from a place called “Woodstock.”

The event started as a simple music festival to raise funds for a recording studio and rock-and-roll retreat near the town of Woodstock, New York.  Despite the relative inexperience of the promoters, they were able to sign a roster of top acts including Jefferson Airplane, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie and Crosby, Stills and Nash.  No wonder history was hollering!!!

The cast of musical characters an irrational rarity, the size of the event ballooned from an expected 50,000 to 500,000.  Most remembered, however, was not the talent or the size, but the result.  The result of this under-organized, over-populated Rock and Roll extravaganza was a nonviolent, mostly free (the overwhelming crowds simply swarmed the gates), 1960s youth counterculture at its best.  With the Vietnam War simmering in the background, the Woodstock rockers simply wanted the world to “give peace a chance.”

Another “holler” came from a different part of New York when I heard “Lady Liberty” is closing.  Actually, it is only the interior of the Statue of Liberty, which will be shut down on October 29 for a year of renovations.  Contractors will spend $27.25 million to update stairwells, add new fire suppression systems and elevators, and rehabilitate restrooms.  

To reflect on her magnificence, Lady Liberty stands 305 feet, 1 inch tall.  Her skin consists of 62,000 pounds of copper, the thickness of 2 pennies.  Originally erected in Paris, she was then disassembled into 350 pieces, put in 214 crates and shipped to America where her awaiting pedestal was the world’s largest solid mass of concrete at the time.  

Broken chains at Liberty’s right foot suggest she is ready to step over them, leaving enslavement for freedom.  For soldiers sailing to war through New York Harbor, she is among their last sight upon leaving home and one of their first upon returning.  Jim Denison rightly recognizes “the interior renovation of our country’s most famous symbol of freedom is a metaphor for our times … if our interior is not strong, our exterior will soon decay and crumble.”  

The history of these two events holler with the hope for “peace.”  The first, a protest of war unearthed in a musical plea for peace, the second, a monument of freedom and democracy built on the aspirations of a country.  The first reminds us that peace is more than the absence of war.  The second reminds us that real honest-to-God, life-sustaining peace is always an “inside-out” proposition.  

They both remind me that holy history hollers with the fact that peace comes from God.  He blesses His people with it (Psalm 29:11) as we live the life He designed for us:  “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.”  The best part of this peace is that nothing can remove it from us. Isaiah 54:10 states “though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.”

I am child of the 60s and I admire Woodstock’s call to “give peace a chance.”  I am a citizen of this great nation and revel in the words written inside Lady Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  But heaven hollers with the news that I am first and foremost a child of God, birthed in His freedom and bathed in His peace.  Now that is a holler worth hearing!

Meditations from the Mountains

Last week Neva and I experienced a rarity.  We went to the mountains.  It is not that I don’t like to look at the mountains.  It is not that I don’t like to drive through the mountains.  But to stay in the mountains, or better yet, stay on the side of a mountain.  Well, that is another story and that is our story last week.
It was a surprise I gave Neva for our anniversary.  As I have mentioned many times, my idea of “camping” is a stay at a Holiday Inn.  Neva, not so much, she would prefer a tent.  Or, at least, that is what my “Outdoor Darling” claims; however, the only tent I have seen her in is with her second graders in the back yard of our home while doing a camping unit. 

In this case, I figured a cabin would be a fair compromise.  I did my Internet search and found a cabin not far from Gatlinburg, but as I later discovered, it was 30 minutes from the exit off the expressway, most of it a vertical incline.  She was thrilled with the choice and I was “King of the mountain,” especially when I discovered the cabin was equipped with Direct TV.  With hand resting on the Bible, I can tell you I did NOT know it was equipped with that window to the world of my struggling, bumbling Cincinnati Reds.  But it was.

It was not the two losses and one win the Reds had against the Pirates I remember.  It was the trip down the mountain to the river, by foot!  We hiked to the river and we did not get lost.  We followed the map given when we checked in and began “living the life” of a hiker.  As we sat in the cool river water at the bottom of the mountain, basking in the glow of lessons learned, I began to organize my “meditations from the mountains.”

I learned you should not hold hands on a mountain trail.  The path isn’t wide enough and your arms must be free to balance your downhill, uneven steps.

I learned you lean into the mountain as you go up and only slightly back as you go down.  The hike is always about staying on your feet and keeping your head up.

I learned rocks in the river are slippery and rocks beside the river are hard.  Holding hands and making sure one of the bodies’ behind those hands is braced and steady, is an absolute necessity.

The common theme of my meditations from the mountains surrounds the need for balance.  Life is in fact a “balancing act.”   We balance our doing with our being.  We balance our work with our play.  We balance our exertion with rest.  We thrive when are in balance and we deteriorate when are not.

So, how is your balance?  Need someone to hold your hand until you get steady?  Need to go apart before you come apart?  Need to lean into the heartbeat of God before you lose yours?  To quote a famous shoe company, “Just Do It!”  Or in this case, you may need to “just undo it!”

Hurry Up, Slow Down and Listen

My preparation for speaking this week led me down an old path.  Not surprisingly, that path had a book clearly lodged in it, flashing like a DETOUR sign alongside the expressway.  It is one of those “small” books (barely over 100 pages) that had a “super-sized” influence on my life. 

The author is Parker J. Palmer and the title of the book is Let Your Life Speak:  Listening for the Voice of Vocation.  Hardly a page into the first chapter, the author pulls a line from a poem by William Stafford called “Ask Me” and stops me “alive” in my tracks:  “Ask me whether what I have done is my life.”  More than a poetic line of wonderment, it is a disquieting declaration of everyone who reflects seriously about whether the life we are living is the same as the life that wants to live in us.  Palmer concludes, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” 

Every time I stand to speak, I am reminded of the absolute necessity of listening.  Listening to God, to myself and to “certain” others, is the platform for my speaking.  As I listened to Palmer again this week, I was struck by what he calls the five “shadows” in leaders’ lives.  These deep, unconscious beliefs cause harm to the leader as well as others.  The shadows can be stated like this:
    1.    I am what I do.
    2.    This is a war—I must fight and win.
    3.    It all depends on me.
    4.    If we manage everything perfectly, we won’t have to deal with chaos and pain.
    5.    Nothing can fail or die on my watch.

Ask yourself honestly, which of these shadows, if any, have you lived and believed?  Take the third one.  When was the last time you blurted out unsolicited advice to someone?  Maybe it was the person who works with you or the driver who is in front of you or maybe even one of the people you live with called your family.  There are two problems with this.  It is not helpful to others (who needs unasked-for advice?) and it is not healthy to the person doing it (we have enough of our own stress).  So, what can we do about this “it all depends on me” shadow?

Since you asked (I would NEVER give unsolicited advice!), let me say it succinctly:  We slow down “enough” to listen. 
    •    We listen to God (how about a prayer that meditates on scripture and then just listens for God to speak?).
    •    We listen to ourselves (how about writing down our thoughts, feelings and frustrations and letting our lives speak to us?).
    •    We listen to “certain” others (how about talking deeply and regularly with a trusted group of friends?). 

At the end of the first chapter, Palmer concludes, “The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions.  The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy.  If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out.  But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree (or in a comfy chair for those indoor folks like me), the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.” 

So, hurry up and slow down and listen!