Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Blessings in Unusual Places

If you have read my postings (thanks) you know that my daughter, Jessie, has a best friend named Maya. Maya's parents, Chuck & Denine, are good friends and neighbors. Chuck is a drummer for Terri Clark. Chuck was diagnosed with cancer last year. He has not been able to work because of his treatments for several months. Several weeks ago, Terri Clark did a benefit show for Chuck that included a new artist, Joanna Cotten. Tonight, Joanna did her own benefit concert for chuck. There, at 3rd and Lindsley, a small bar, we sat at a table with Chuck and Denine and other friends to hear Joanna play. Joanna is bluesy country blonde bombshell. When she did her song, "Miracle in Lee County" she passed KFC buckets through the crowd to collect a little extra money for Chuck and Denine. As the bucket passed us, people dropped a variety of bills into the bucket. I noticed that Denine was fighting tears and I felt how humbling it must be to have hundreds of people gather just because they want to support you. I reached across the table and held her hand for a moment and then a friend beside her gave her a hug.

Chuck had been playing with Joanna for a couple of songs and rejoined us at the table as Joanna sang her song, "Keep My Faith." I have heard this song only twice (until I bought her CD tonight) and both times I heard this powerful song, the entire room disappeared as I was drawn into the lyrics and Joanna's beautiful voice. The song is about trials in life and the little miracles that help us keep our faith in something larger than ourselves. Tears filled my eyes listening tonight as I thought of Chuck, Denine, Maya, and Patrick and the trials of their lives these days. Who knew you could find the spirit of God and be overcome by God's love in a little bar on a Wednesday night. What a blessing!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I Hate New Year's Resolutions

(My very first Testing in TKD)

(Thursday, January 1, 2008 - Transferred from a previous blog spot.)

I completely and totally despise New Year's resolutions.

I used to try to make them, but I would usually fall short and give up on them. So, I don't like to make them myself and I have really come to dislike the one's that other's make. I go to theYMCA regularly, but I know now for the next two months I am going to have to fight even harder to get to an eliptical machine because of all the people who have resolutions to '"exercise more in 2008. I am sure it is well intentioned and it may really be helpful. I understand that the end of a year is a good time reflect on who you are and what you want to be different in your life. I also understand that the first of the year is new opportunity (or excuse) to try one more time to make some significant change in your life.

What I find in my own life is that I will usually work harder at things I really really want to work harder at and I will not do that for things that deep down I really don't want to do. That is, saying I need to change something usually doesn't make me do it. I am like most of us; I will not change until my discomfort with where I am is bigger than my fear and/or discomfort with change. However, I spent far too many years thinking of change as a one-time event that I either passed or failed. However, my perspective has been changing over the past several years.

From previous posts, most of you are now aware that I continue to wrestle with issues of saying "NO". I continue to struggle with that. Only recently (as in the past year or so) have I gotten better at this, but I still need to refine this because I continue to find myself often spread too thin with all that I have to do. So, will I work on that in 2008? Yes, but as I have been for the last several years.

Like most people I struggle with finances. I have too little in savings and too many debts. Part of this is my fault because of poor choices and part is due to difficult circumstances that have compounded over the past few years, but the combination of these things has been personally humiliating. I wish I could say that at some point I made a decision to fix my finances and everything since then has been getting better, but it is not the case. I have decided several times to make changes and then I continue to make mistakes. Currently we are making active efforts to increase our savings and pay down some debt. Will I continue to do that in 2008? Yes, as I have been...unfortunately.

Finally, slowly throughout 2007 I gave up some exercising a little at a time. By the end of October I was not getting more than 2 days of exercise per week and, even then, it was not very intense. I have now gained 10lbs and my weight keeps creeping upward. In 2004 I weighed 225. That was down from 262, but now I am at 245. Okay it is really more like 249, but I am having trouble accepting that. I have been increasing my workouts since the first of November. I just got done going through my calendar for January and figuring out when I can put regular workouts into my schedule. I am choosing to participate in workout offered at our church on Sunday Nights this winter rather than leading small group/support groups. (That involves both saying, "No" and emphasizing exercise -- A bonus!) So, in 2008, I will continue to get my exercise back to an acceptable level. I will go to the YMCA a couple days a week and I will continue in Taekwondo a couple days a week (I just got my yellow belt!).

So, I don't really like "New Year's" resolutions, but I guess I do make resolutions. What I hope is different about what I do is that I want to be "perfect" in this, but I probably won't be. If I mess up one day or one week, my "resolution" is not over. I just get up the next day and get back on track. It is the process and the progress that is important, not perfection. (A lesson I learned from Taekwondo.) Oh, yeah, fighting that internal push to be perfect...that is a lifelong resolution

Blessed By My Friend Kevin

(Kevin is back row, center, in the blue shirt)

(Thursday, November 1, 2007 - Transferred from a previous blog spot.)

This is a writing from my friend Kevin. I have known him for 30 years. He was in a terrible bike accident two years ago. I found his reflections quite moving. I just wanted to share this.

Seven Hundred Thirty Days

Seven hundred and thirty days ago my life changed.

I've read about life changing days, the ingredients and outcomes, but never had one of my own.
One of the problems I have had over the last seven hundred and thirty days is this: my life-changing day did not make me a better person, not yet at least. My life-changing day did not birth me back into the world where the little things that used to anger and frustrate me have no affect anymore. I'm still annoyed when the house is messy. I still get pissed off when people are stupid and phony. My life-changing day has not made me into a tranquil peace lover who can smile at dysfunction and live within it. I've not yet mastered the ancient art of "being" in the moment. I've not given speeches about my new life. People aren't flocking to hear about my fresh life strategy, the balanced life that was born from that day when I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I would never see my wife and our three children again.

Seven hundred and thirty days ago my life changed, and it's still changing, and I am growing weary of the recovery.

One year ago today, on the three hundred sixty fifth day since my life changed, we went to Disneyworld . I didn't want to be in town, didn't want to mark the year anniversary with anything normal, because normal is a far cry from what it used to be. We took the kids out of school, were gone for an entire week, and we pledged allegiance to the Mouse. On the first morning in the park, we stood in front of Cinderella's castle, taking pictures and basking in the shining opulence that results from the collision of materialism and fantasy. It was awesome, maybe even a panacea. And out of this sea of joy and bliss walked a Disney "cast member," that being the fantasized title given to anyone working within the park, who asked if we would like to be Grand Marshalls for the Disney Main Street Parade that afternoon.

If you have never been to Disneyworld , this is like being selected at random to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl or flip the switch to light the White House Christmas tree. Thousands of people will line the streets in the park, they will all wave and cheer, and they will wish they could be you, not watching the parade, but IN the parade. "Of course we would."
It was a different view, looking out from the cartoonish fire engine that carried the royal family. I was waving and the kids were laughing and I wondered what triumphant or tragic story brought these other people to Orlando . Me? I was escaping and celebrating simultaneously. And if they knew our story, would they really want to trade places? If there are ten million stories in a naked city, how many are their in a over clothed fantasy world? But one year ago there we were, and I am sure I wasn't the only one who needed the escape, the fantasy, the celebration.

A year earlier my wife received one of those phone calls, the kind that stops you in your tracks and brings other people to your side as they stand helpless and watch you run down the hall, get into your car and race to the hospital uncertain of what you will find when you arrive. She spent the next twelve days between the emergency room and the ICU, trips back and forth from our home to the hospital, sitting while I was in surgery, wondering when I would wake up and wondering in what condition her husband would be when he did wake up, if he woke up.
I'm no catch, believe me, I've always thought my wife could have done better, and she loves me fiercely. Even when I don't think she loves me, which is usually because of my frail insecurity and blinding selfishness, she really does love me, and those twelve days when I was unconscious drained some life from her. Our kids too.

After my wife got "the" phone call, after she rushed to the ER and sat with the chaplain and received the news about my injuries, after she saw me with blood pooling in my eye sockets and a head swelling as fast as a party balloon, she went home to tell the kids, "Daddy had a bicycle wreck this morning, and he is in the hospital, and..."

As I understand it, that is the point our youngest child held back her own tears and implored her mommy, "now don't you cry mommy. Don't you cry." I would suspect that for a five year old who has known only love, security and ease of life, such a thing is difficult to say to a mommy. "Don't you cry." That's what mommy's usually say to five year old little girls. But the tables were turned that day, and the youngest in the family did not want the gravity of the situation to rock her world anymore than it already had. "Now don't you cry mommy," offered not as a consolation but as a directive: You can't cry. I'll feel worse if you cry.

She was only five, and she wanted to cry, it was her right, her privilege as a child. With the news only moments old, her defiant response was to tell her mother not to cry, not because she couldn't handle her mother's tears, but because she wanted permission for her own, and if the only adult in the room was crying, where was she to lay her head for comfort? If someone stronger and braver than herself could not console her, what was she to do? "Now don't you cry mommy."

And for the next twelve days, waiting for daddy to wake up, people flooded our home, held vigil with my wife at the hospital, and cared for our children.

People still ask me about my "accident." And I've developed a script that I offer in response to that specific question. Maybe it's my way of coping, maybe it's my passive aggressive way of getting back at the woman who pulled in front of me and started this whole nightmare, but I correct anyone who uses the word "accident." Like some expert on a subject they know nothing about, I respond to my questioners, "None of my actions were accidental I can assure you. I did everything on purpose to try and miss that car, because I knew that when bike versus car, bike loses every time." I delve into this long litany about taking evasive action to miss the car, which is not easy when you are descending a hill going twenty four miles an hour with only fifteen feet to stop. And almost every time, when I finish the story, I wonder why I am still so needy that I have to give them all the facts. Can't I be done with this? Isn't it time to move on? Even so, I anxiously await the next opportunity to tell my story, and then when I finish, I'm left with a emotional hangover, feeling guilty and weak for vomiting my pain onto someone else. What I really want to say is that I am exhausted with trauma and I am having a difficult time doing the day to day stuff that comes from being a husband and a father and a minister while thinking about my life changing day, everyday, for the past two years.

I screamed "No" to the woman in the burgundy Honda, and two split seconds later, maybe less, maybe one or two seconds more, I had broken my back and a few ribs, crushed every bone in my face, and was on the side of the road doing everything in my power to stay conscious because my scrambled brain told me that if I went to sleep I would never wake up.

That was my moment. My moment of being one with life and death in the very presence of reality, and that very reality was consumed with staying awake to see my wife and children again. And because I was awake for the entire event, I was scared from what I could deduce. I stuck my tongue into the chasm in the roof on my mouth. The teeth on the left side of my face were pushed back and down about a half-inch. This was the line where the left side of my skull was separated from the right side, like two equal halves of a watermelon. The trauma surgeon later told my wife that every bone in my face was broken, with some fragments floating unattached to anything in my cranial space.

At the point of impact, when my face hit the pavement with the force of a catapult, I felt nothing, which might not be believable, given the extent of the damage. But I felt nothing.
I heard everything, however. Heard it? Yes. Think of a coarse cereal. Grape Nuts. When you eat Grape Nuts, you can hear the crunch radiate through your skull into your eardrums. That is what I heard in an instant. I initially felt no pain, but I heard the force of the impact. I heard the crunch of my skull. I can run my finger over my chin or around my eye socket today and feel the titanium that will hold me together for the rest of my life. And the sound echoes still.

I come from a great family. Mom and dad? Champion parents. My sister? Phenomenal. She loves me with all her heart, just like my mom and dad taught her to love her little brother. Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins. I am rich with best friends. I've had a legion of fantastic people cross my path and walk with me. And in those morning moments before I went to sleep for twelve days, I thought of none of these wonderful people on the side of the road. My awareness was focused on four people and the pool of blood that was pouring from my head on the ground beneath me. Amidst the crimson flood, I thought not of my life's entirety but rather the four people I do life with intimately; the people who see me at my best and worst and love me anyway, the ones who know the color of my underwear, who want me to tuck them in at night, two and three times, the one who has been uniquely present for my journey from teenager to middle aged man. I thought of these four people, my wife who is either yoked or stuck with me for the rest of our lives, and our three children who are the very product of love. They were born from love, wow, and on the side of the road all I could think about was staying awake so I could articulate just one more time my love for each of them. My life didn't flash before my eyes, just the lives of four people I would die for, and dammit, I didn't want to die on the side of the road seven hundred and thirty days ago. So I fought, drifting in and out of consciousness between the pain and the blood.

I never knew the color of spilt blood wasn't really red. In the blink of an eye, because her depth perception wasn't true or because she was day dreaming or because she never saw me at all, her left turn into my descending path put me face to face with the fact that blood, when pouring from one's skull, is not really red at all. It's deeper. It's scarlet, like an antique velvet quilt unseen for decades, or even some kind of haunting, bio-engineered purple seen only in your imagination, but it's definitely not red.

On the side of the road, the first drops hit my orange seat post, the steel tube that connects the saddle to the bottom bracket where the pedals are. Deep blood coursing through my face and cranium only seconds before was now painting a sick kaleidoscope on the ground beneath me. Blood on Molteni Orange bicycle paint. Blood on sandy black asphalt. Blood on blue grey cycling gloves. Blood in shade. Blood in sunlight. New colors I had never seen before.

Was this canvas being painted at the expense of my life? Must I stare death in the eye to see for myself the exact color of the blood in my skull? I'd have settled for just calling it red like everyone else, but I no longer had that option.

In the literal blink of an eye the drops went from a dribble to a pour, like someone holding a pitcher of tea next to my head and steadily pouring its contents on the ground; the color changed again. The first drops were already turning, slowly changing like an existential mood ring. "My blood should be inside me, not on the ground," and I think my blood was angry and scared about that too, so it changed color to tell me the situation was far less than optimal, in case I didn't know already. The drops at the edge of the purple pond were now almost brown.

I've heard that we humans carry a large volume of blood in our skulls. It facilitates cognition and sensory aptitude, but the funny thing is, with all that cognitive and sensory blood rushing out of my head I was still able to feel everything, and sense not only the loss of blood, but the possibility that I may lose more than that. "I may lose my life." I thought that thought. I felt that feeling. I lived both.

And at the moment that I was scared to death, literally scared because of my own death, I was alive…alive for my wife, alive for my children, and alive to see the color of my blood on the ground that was definitely not red.
That was seven hundred thirty days ago.

One year ago today trying to find normal, I was gleefully skipping around the pain at Disneyworld .

Today, two years to the day after my wreck, as if a counter balance to the Magic Kingdom , I started off the morning with a glass of water and my first anti-depressant. As I pulled out of the pharmacy parking lot on day seven hundred twenty nine reading the instructions on the pill bottle, "take one pill in the morning," I half chuckled at the irony.
My life changing day is now two years old. Not a day goes by that I don't recall that day, when I twist and my back shoots with pain or when the numbness in my face sends tingles down my neck, or when I see someone on a bicycle not wearing a helmet, or when an ambulance rushes past me with sirens blaring, or when I kiss that little five year old goodnight, she's now seven, that day has brought me to this one, taking a pill to help me cope. I quit rationalizing a long time ago how I was better than everyone else on prescription psychotropics. But still, I'd rather have been able to cope on my own, finding that great inner spiritual peace that I peddle, leaving people in my wake as I walked by, "wow, he's incredible, so strong, and so together." But instead, I've got this little pill, and I hope it helps.

I'm a Jesus man, I think. I love the person Jesus, I think. Love how he lived. Love how he died. Its not the only way to live, but it's the way I have chosen. Its hard, this way, but it is good. Oh sure, I claim the title of Christian, but that has become so convoluted and heavy laden I think it does more harm as a title than good, so I just say I'm a Jesus man. This colors most of my activity and response, but I recognize that its all mostly mystery, and I am OK with that, even as a vocational minister.
I came home from the hospital in a back brace, with my jaw wired shut and with a quarter sized hole in my neck as a result of the emergency tracheotomy. And as a cruel joke, I came home to a kitchen full of food that I could not eat. Actually, I drank some of it. If you've never had fried chicken and potatoes and gravy and a biscuit in a blender with milk, you should try it.
I also came home to a few mixed emotions. I cried when I walked through the front door. Actually, I whimpered. It's hard to cry when your jaw is surgically shut and there are pieces of wire woven through your gums to hold your teeth in place. So I whimpered, and I went to bed. I got out occasionally for a shower and for medicine routines. And I took some phone calls.

One was particularly poignant. A former church member, and I don't use that term loosely, called me and wished me well, and said, "You know, I think this might actually be good for our church. We've really rallied, and you know, we've come together in a way."
I had one of those moments of clarity when the words come to your mind quickly and you realize that there is one response to such a statement and one response only. I did so through clenched teeth not because of anger but because of necessity, fully aware that I was about to startle a church member who had no idea what she had just said, or how offensive it was to the hearer. I offered slowly in calculated response, very clearly to this sweet yet shallow soul, "Hell no this wasn't a good thing. I would never say my children wondering if their daddy would come home or not "good." I would never say what Alyson had to go through was "good" or beneficial to any congregation for that matter. This is hard on all of us, I hurt, Alyson is exhausted, the kids are scared and it's not "good," and the notion that my life can be disposable or of some utility so a congregation can be the better from my pain just doesn't fit with me or my Jesus."

I'm a Jesus man, and while I am still trying to figure out what that means, I am damn sure that Jesus didn't coordinate the breaking of my back and the exploding of my face to bring some unity to a little church.

She meant well, I guess, and like I said, she's a former church member now. Maybe I am too.

So I took this pill today. My family doctor and my therapist and my neurologist all are on the same page. They say the amount of psychic energy I am using to get through the day is spiking, and this pill can be useful in my entire course of therapy. They know I work in a helping profession, although I am not sure how much of a helper I have been in the last seven hundred and thirty days. They also know that my mother, who was standing in the kitchen in my home when I returned from the hospital, died eight months later. I preached her funeral and instead of sitting with tired shoulders on the front pew with my dad and my sister, I offered holy words for her. I had to postpone my grief, because I had to go to work. I did it lovingly. I don't begrudge the request she made of me, and that's another thing that sucks about being a minister. Don't get me wrong, its not all bad, there is good, but the worst thing is that in becoming a minister, you lose some of your humanity. People forget that you are human too, and the title doesn't mean you are any better at coping with trauma and loss yourself, at least not in my case anyway.

One month after I got out of the hospital, at the annual budget conference for the church, a senior gentleman stood up and made a motion to reduce my salary by twenty five percent because the pledges were not coming in like he thought they should and you get the point, "we gotta line this budget up with our pledges and the pastor makes more than anybody in our budget so..."

I was not there but I heard about it, and it infuriated me. Remember, my life-changing day did not give me that fresh outlook to suffer fools any better. And I wondered, while I was still in a back brace, while I still had a bandage over the hole in my neck, while I was facing monumental medical bills, why in the hell would a man who has gone to church his entire life, be him a Christian or a Jesus man or impostor, think this the best time to reduce my income by twenty five percent? Am I supposed to be so unattached to mammon that I would say, "sure, that's' a good idea?"

Maybe I am. I'll study that one. And I am human, and I want to send my kids to good universities, and pay for their straight teeth, and give them a good place to ride their bikes and play in the backyard, maybe a nice vacation every year.

I guess I am still angry with the woman who pulled out in front of me, maybe even madder that she never contacted me, never checked on me. Maybe I'm disappointed at the theology that allowed a woman to tell me that God wanted this to happen so a church could find some unity. Maybe I'm mad that a man I am pledged to serve would show so little care and concern for me and my family. Maybe I'm mad at myself for needing and wanting that twenty five percent. Maybe I'm mad that I can't call my mother anymore. Maybe I'm mad for not coping any better two years later.
Or, maybe I'm just me, and these last two years are the threads woven together to make a life. My life.

I guess I'll always be in recovery from something, or maybe even from myself.
And if I have learned anything between day one and seven hundred thirty, it is this: any love you get is enough to get you through.

And the fact that I am out of bed today is a pretty good sign. I just wrote nine pages without a break. This pill is good!

Actually, the pill isn't supposed to start working for another week; the doctor says it will take that long for the tiny magical chemicals to be absorbed into my system. So, I guess my recovery to date has more to do with me than the pill I took this morning.
Maybe I'm doing better than I thought?

Copyright 2007, Kevin M. Roberts

The Unexamined Life

(Saturday, October 13, 2007 - Transferred from a previous blog spot.)

The unexamined life is not worth living.
Socrates, in Plato, Dialogues, ApologyGreek philosopher in Athens (469 BC - 399 BC)

Socrates apparently spoke these words in his own defense just before he was sentenced to death. There are several ways that this saying could be applied to life, however it has particular meaning for me right now. I have been working 60 hours plus for several weeks now. I have been running from one meeting to another. The stress of the work is spilling over into the rest of my life. I am less available at home and for other things I would like to be doing. My absence at home has been adding to stress for Lynda. I finally realized that for several weeks I have been just going to the next thing and figuring out what I am supposed to be doing and then going to the next thing and figuring out what is needed of me there. When I finally came up for air, I was sitting at dinner with friends and realized that I had not laughed in a very long time. I realized that I had not paused to think about what I was doing and that feelings of stress and loneliness were overtaking me. I am sure this is not the life that God intends for us. What good is a life if we are just going through the motions of doing what we are needed to do, but we never take time to reflect, pray, refresh, or renew. Even Jesus went away from the crowds with his friends and retreated at times. Granted, it was not always successful for him either. The life I have been living is not a life I want to be living. I know, I am the only one who can fix that and I am trying to sort that out. However, what I know is that I need to pause a little more often to reflect and renew. I am missing myself, my family, and God these days.

We Just Do What We Can

(Saturday, August 25, 2007 - Transferred from a previous blog spot)

I was on my way out of town yesterday to make a meeting in Atlanta that I was already going to be late for (by a whole day!) when my mom called to tell me that she had learned that her husband's heart is not functioning properly.They are trying to figure out exactly how bad it is and what they can do about it, but there is a huge portion of his heart that seems to be damaged. Mom was upset and I offered what empathy I could. She explained that she was upset by this, but that she was crying because she had just talked to Lynda (my wife). She said she had called Lynda to tell her about Jim and she had told Lynda that neither of them had been able to cut their grass in a while and because they had been watering the grass was getting tall. Without prompting, Lynda just said, "Welll, I can probably come over and cut it tonight." Mom said she was very moved by this gesture. My response to her was, "Well, we just do what we can."

As I drove down the road I was thinking about how many times I use the phrase "Just let me know what you need and I will do what I can." Lynda and I do that a lot! Most of the time, like with mom, we really don't mind. However, when we are part of so many groups and we tend to do that wherever we are, that can add up very quickly. Between church, the girls' schools, work, professional organizations, denominational work, etc. Everywhere we go, we always try to "do what we can". I am usually glad to help others when I have the chance and I enjoying using whatever abilities I have to help others, but I think sometimes it might be appropriate to realize that doing what I can for lots of people means that I sometimes feel like I am giving out of emptiness. Paul wrote, All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. Perhaps it is taking a bit of liberty with the text, but it seems that it is not necessarily beneficial for me or my family for me to do everything "I can do." Sometimes I set good boundaries and when I say I will do what I can I really mean that I can't do everything and I may have say no, but too often I find myself saying yes to too many things I can do instead really focusing on fewer things that are better to do. I working on it anyway.

Long Days + Sleepless Nights = Free T-Shirt

(Monday, July 23, 2007 - transferred from another blog spot)

Camp Was Awsome!

I am just back from being at Youth camp with the youth from FBC Nashville. We went to Blue Horizon in Panama City Beach, FL and again we were with the FBC New Orleans youth. So, when you are in a small room with 18 7th and 8th grade guys and the bunks are stacked 3 high, you don't have a lot of personal space. I have to admit that I am not the most patient person when it comes to getting my sleep. So, some of the guys may have been frustrated with me by the time we left, but in retrospect, that stuff is just a dot compared to the infinite fun and meaning I got out of the week.

Once again, we had Tom Richter of Queens New York as our camp pastor. He is extremely funny and extremely poinant. He expands the traditional revival type evangelism to be about the whole package of walking in the way of Christ. He had wonderful messages about making wise choices (all things are permissable, but not all things are beneficial - like eating dangerously cheesy cheetos and coke every meal for three days), about materialism (How much is enough), and giving all you have to God (physicall, spiritually, and materially.) I came away with a renewed sense of dedication and peace about my life.

Our kids were good to me. They were attentive and welcoming. They wrestled with difficult issues and sought the Lord in many ways and about many things. I was blessed to be a part of their week. I was further blessed by the fact that they also seem to understand that camp does not just happen and involves the hard work of many many people and the sacrifice of vacation time. (In all honesty, it didn't seem like much of a sacrifice to me.)

Anyway, I am grateful to God for the chance to be at camp with these youth, for our church, and for our great God.

Victory in Jesus Gets Me Everytime

(February 13, 2007 - Transferred from a previous blog spot.)

I grew up in a Baptist church. I have been in Baptist churches since infancy. I went to a Baptist college. I graduated from a Baptist Seminary. And that list goes on and on. However, I am not really proud these days to be identified with the Southern Baptists I grew up with. I don't see the historical Baptist principles in the Southern Baptist Convention anymore. For many years, I have strongly identified with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. There are many kindred historic Baptists there. However, as I have sought to live out my faith and demonstrate God's love to others, eventually limits of all structures seem to fail me. There is no one place that I can COMPLETELY say, "This is where I fit perfectly."

I have been on a journey for the last 10 to 12 years to really discern what I believe and it has been a journey of intellectual analysis, attempts to integrate my understanding of faith into a coherent set of thoughts that systematically runs through most areas of my life. I can now reasonably articulate what I believe. The way I talk about the specifics of what I believe makes some of my friends and family uncomfortable. I don't always fit in any nice little boxes. I feel comfortable in what I believe and that I don't perfectly fit with any group, especially Baptists.

HOWEVER, I have the most wonderful experience in church sometimes that transcends my capacity to analyze or rationalize. That is singing the old hymns. This past Sunday at church, we sang "Victory In Jesus". It is one of my favorites. As soon as we started singing, I felt tears welling up in my eyes and by the time we finished they were running down my face. This happens whenever we sing that song and a handful of others. I have no rational explanation for this. It is not the words, per se, that are causing this response. It is some experience of being with a body of people and singing the song that seems significant. I am instantaneously connected with the hundreds (maybe thousands) of times I have sung that song in churches since I was a child. I think of the very first church I ever attended and standing by my parents as they sang this song. I remember attending church with my grandparents (on both sides) and probably singing this song with them. I remember the church I attended in high school where I sang this song with friends. And on and on. I feel content and connected with the body of believers and with God. It is an emotional and spiritual experience that is beyond my ability to understand.

It is at those moments that I realize, I can analyze and theorize my faith understanding and try to get it into something coherent and understandable, but ultimately my relationship with God and my "faith" is something that transcends that in way that seeks out the very core of my existence and, without rational explanation, connects me with that which is greater than me. And it gets me every time. Thank God!

Remembering Jenni

(September 14, 2006)

Two years ago, my daughter, Jessie was just weeks away from starting 5th grade. Two of Jessie's best friends were Maya and Jenni. Both Maya and Jenni lived on our street. Jenni lived just two doors down.

One day, Jenni went to another friend's home and they went to play in the woods that run behind our homes. On that day they were swinging from vines in the woods until one of the vines pulled a large limb loose. It fell striking Jenni in the head. She later died from her injuries and Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. Jenni was her parents' only child.

In the past two years not a single day has passed that I have not thought of Kathy and Johnny (Jenni's parents) as I drive by their house. At our house, we have prayed as a family for Jenni's family and I have prayed for them as I drive by every day. I thought of them every time Jessie hit a life milestone - a birthday, braces, 6th grade, 7th grade, church youth group, etc. I thought about Kathy and Johnny who don't have that. I could not help thinking of them every day as I drove by their house. The problem was that I would always "drive BY." I never stopped. I didn't call. I don't really have any good reasons why I didn't. I have been busy. I know that I feel guilty. I feel guilty that I have by 12 year-old daughter and Kathy and Johnny do not. I spend some time every week sitting with people who are grieving. I know how to do that, but this was different for me. It was too close to me.

Anyway, after literal years of driving by, today I stopped. Kathy and Johnny were in the front yard. I stopped to apologize for not coming by and to see how they are doing. Johnny knows when I ask how he is doing, I mean it. So, he opened up. He told me that he still hurts like it was yesterday. He said, "Nothing has changed - even a little." He added, "The only thing that has changed is people don't come by anymore." That one hurt. I cried as I told him how I prayed for him regularly and how we thought of Jenni often and I cried as I apologized for not stopping by before. We talked a while longer until Jessie got home from school and walked down to the house. I felt that familiar guilt coming on and I left with Jessie. I promised to call Johnny for lunch some time and I will.

I pray God's forgiveness for not being His hands and ears for Kathy and Johnny. I have let my many shortcomings deny me the opportunity walk with them and let them share with me on the walk down the rocky, dirty road that is this life.

I transferred this message from a previous blog spot. I read through it again as I posted it. It is now 2008. I still think of Kathy and Johnny when I pass by their house, but still suck at being any good as a support for them. I pray for them, but God forgive me, I don't get much farther than that.