Monday, March 6, 2017

The spiderman is always hungry? Part 2

On candy stripe legs the spiderman comes
Softly through the shadow of the evening sun
Stealing past the windows of the blissfully dead
Looking for the victim shivering in bed - Lullaby, The Cure

This is the second post in a possible 3 or 4 part series. The first post is here.

But he was chasing after me. Not the spiderman. He knew where and when he could find me. Those candy stripe legs were both sweet and bitter to my taste. No, this was the one who could quell the spiderman's appetite. The one who could forbid him from approaching me ever again. And I was slowing down. By some miracle I was beginning to slow down long enough for him to embrace me as I lay a shivering dead boy in my bed.

I remember senior year in high school when, through the course of a Peer Ministry class, a core group of us gathered to deepen, find, or consider our relationship with God. We took our Catholic faith seriously and explored who we were in relation to God and who he could possibly be in our lives. I remember the room that we gathered in every Monday night and this night in particular. Our teacher had us relax and I encountered a tree where, when I descended into it, I found my place where I felt safe. It was my bedroom at home. It held everything that I held dear and was my place of isolation and comfort. I loved that room and probably spent way too much time in it. But I wasn't alone in the room this night. 

God was there. 

And my teacher, the guide, wanted me to ask something of God. He invited me to ask God the question that I always wanted to ask him. He wanted me to bare my soul to him and even if I was afraid of the answer he wanted me to ask. I cried, not knowing what to expect. I was afraid. But I asked God only this:

"Do you love me?"

Now mind you I had grown up in church. I knew all the stories and most of the Bible verses that proclaimed God's love for me. But none of that seemed to matter on that night. I don't know what possessed me to ask that question because I should have known the answer. I wondered, if I revealed the childishness of it, that I would be laughed at, dismissed, or chided. I wondered if I ever told anyone that they would roll their eyes and wonder aloud why I wasted such a marvelous opportunity on a drop dead stupid question such as that. But nothing else mattered at that marvelous moment.

To my surprise, I wasn't rejected. He assured me that he did, indeed, love me. I snapped out of the brief journey into his heart and felt different. I can't say that I was convicted of my sin at that point and my need for a savior, but I became more convinced of his love for me. Maybe, just maybe, the spiderman's hunger could be satisfied. Maybe the fear that he held over me could be swallowed by a magnificent love that was near me my whole life but that I knew little of. Maybe.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The spiderman is always hungry - Part 1

And I feel like I'm being eaten
By a thousand million shivering furry holes
And I know that in the morning
I will wake up in the shivering cold
And the spiderman is always hungry... - Lullaby, The Cure

There are more spidermen in my life than I care to admit. 

Recently I watched a video in which a pastor talked about his fear of rejection and how that contributed to a sin issue that he was struggling with. He went back, time and time again, to this sin rather than face the fact that he could not constructively deal with the feelings that flooded him from being rejected or even from the fear that he would be.

I can relate. I sure can relate to that. I have had numerous conversations with my wife and others where I confessed that I struggle with this fear and I see now, perhaps more clearly than ever, how this solidifies sinful attitudes and patterns in my life. 

I remember this so acutely in an exercise that we engaged in a while back when our church was thinking of retooling our adult education classes. We split into two rather large groups and were were told explore some questions about topics that we would think that adults in our church would be interested in learning about, when we could possibly fit in these teaching sessions, etc. One of the questions I remember was who we would consider to be some of the better teachers in the church. Now I had done a fair amount of teaching up to that point and I was looking for someone in my group to speak up and name me as one of the people that belonged in that category. I feared that no one would. And they didn't. And my heart sank. I had been rejected. My name was not written on the list.

You see, this spiderman is always hungry.

Now I did have a saving grace. The other group was tasked with coming up with the same information that we were. So, I thought there was a bit of hope here. Hope that I would make their list. Hope that what I thought about myself, that I had this gift to teach, was true. As the group returned and brought what was recorded on the large newsprint I quickly looked for my name on the list that they generated. It was there and I breathed a sigh of relief. 

Since that day, though, I have wondered. I have often wondered who I would think myself to be if my name was left off of the list. Would I have struggled mightily with this area of my self concept? Would I have rejected all those years of teaching and preaching as somehow illegitimate? Would I have participated in the discussion as vigorously as I did when the other group returned? Would I have gone for a long drive after the meeting to think about what had just happened?

One thing I can say is that, even as I type this, I realize that his appetite has not been satiated. There seems to be less in my life that would suggest that he will leave me alone.

No. This spiderman still hungers for me. The spiderman is always hungry.

Monday, February 27, 2017

As I sat next to her

The invitation was extended to me to follow along as the Scriptures were read from the platform. I was sitting next to her and our shoulders touched slightly, our legs more so, and I was stricken. As I slipped on my glasses to focus on the passage it occurred to me. Maybe for the first time, maybe for the thousandth I can't tell, but there it was. I realized that my eyes were dimmed, somewhat, but her love for me blazed. It still blazed.

I sought a love like this my whole life. As I looked, pondered, pretended, fretted I never could be certain I would ever find it. I wasn't even sure that it could be found. For me. As we continued our journey together after the promises that we made before God I saw the shadows of what I thought I found silently retreat from the light of her pursuit and promise. 

As my glasses scraped my temples hooking themselves over my ears my eyes grew wide. The love that He has for me was incarnate in her. It has soft flesh shaped by hard bone. It is the cold steel of her resolve and the warmth of her breath on my neck. It is in the stars that He has stolen from the sky and cast into her eyes and in the strength that I buy from her. Her strength that she gladly gives to me.

Removing my glasses I stared for a moment at the blurred lines and couldn't help but smile knowing that this is my forever.

Thanks be to God that she is my forever.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A thousand thoughts

There are a thousand thoughts in my head and even more emotions as I deal with the death of my Grandma. I can't possibly articulate them all or even slow down enough to get them all down on "paper". When I write, I process (as the scrawl on my sermon notes can attest) and, as a result, it is so hard to just get it all out. Some of the thoughts that I have written about death in the past year or two come flooding back and I want to frame them more personally in the light of the peaceful death of my Grandma. I want to go to a cabin somewhere and just write until my fingers ache and until I don't have to cry anymore. 

But these days, this Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday will be filled to the brim with activity after activity that won't let me do that. I can't punch out and meditate on what just happened. I can't sit down in a creaky, straight-backed chair and pound on the keyboard as the thoughts pass through. There is no time for thinking. No time to stop. No time to just breathe and be held.

This is my lot, I know God, if it were not I would not be in the midst of all of it. 

I'll laugh and cry this weekend and into next week. I'll watch my sons as they participate in archery and basketball. I'll referee the little guys at Upwards. I'll see my brothers and sisters and their spouses and family and recall the times we had with her. I'll teach this Sunday. I'll bolt out of church to get to calling hours by 2:00 PM down in Hornell. I'll head home only to go back again the next day. I'll figure out if I am to do the first reading, second reading, or the responsorial Psalm at the funeral. Our family will stand (as tall as we are) like a wall inside of the church where the mass will be held. We'll be comforted by our common bond in Christ and remember that only time separates us from her for distance has been erased. We'll commit her body to the ground and remember that we are all but dust. I'll get my brother to the airport early Tuesday morning in time for his flight back to Wisconsin and then head back home to head out to work again. All of it will hold significant value and meaning.

And then can I breathe, God? Can I write what I need to in order to order my thoughts and process all of this? Will it be then that I can stop this feeling in the pit of my stomach? Will it be then that my brain will stop spinning and my steps will be lighter? Will it all just fade or will I treat this with the sacredness that I think that it deserves? 

I don't know. I just don't know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Heaven's's time to move on

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. Psalm 116:15

Forceful ageing
Help me I'm fading
Heaven's waiting
It's time to move on - Prayer for the Dying, Seal

My Grandma died yesterday. A mom, grandma, great grandma was transported into the wide-open arms of a God who, I dare say, was excited to see her. He couldn't wait to hold her and show Himself to her. The One she served and loved must have been filled with so much joy as she sat amazed gazing into His eyes. "See?" I can hear Him say, "See? You knew it was all true and you will spend an eternity here. This is My Rest. Enter it through my Son Whom you loved."

Her work here is done. Her sometimes twisted journey deep into the heart of God is complete for her faith has been swallowed by her sight and her hope is now certain. Only love remains and she can now do perfectly what she sought to do so imperfectly yet so beautifully her entire life: love the Love of her life.

Tell me Grandma. Please tell me what it is like! You haven't even been there a day, but please tell me. Is it as beautiful as you thought it would be? Oh what I would give to sit on the couch now with you in your little place where we ate pizza and Nan's mint brownies and hear everything. I want to know everything...can we sit together for hour? 15 minutes? Maybe just a that even too much?

How strong is your heart? How sure are your legs? Your eyes! Your eyes must be so bright and beautiful as you take it all in. You felt much love here, you always said that you did. But, tell me...please tell me what love you feel now. And what about she pretty?

What will you be doing up there? What manner of work has he given to you? Will you bake? Will you make those perogies that you wished you would have just a couple of days ago? I remember the polka music playing on the radio as you moved to prepare the house for our arrival. You said it helped you get everything done. I bet you don't need it now to accomplish what He has set before you.

Grandma, thank you. Thank you for allowing Nan and I to have one last conversation with you as you peacefully folded yourself into the arms of your Savior. Thank you for the smile and even the laughter on Monday that I will never forget. Thank you for loving Nan and my boys the way you did. Thank you for the grace you gave us when our visits were not as frequent as even we would have liked them to be. Thank you for serving Christ until your death. And thank you for the laughter. Oh the laughter.

I can't wait to hear you laugh again.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Their today, yesterday, and next week

And so it was. 

The Summer before their Senior year burst onto them as they sought to make it a memorable one together. The pool party was packed with the Juniors looking forward to their last trip through the halls of the school as the sun beat down. Most were swimming while a few exposed their less tanned undersides to the darkening rays. The music blared from the boomboxes coordinated to 92.5 WMJQ much to many's dismay. However, the two of them were lost in the moment as everyone who wanted to lined up on the springboard that jutted into the in-ground pool.

I might as well jump...go ahead and jump...forget it an jump...

And with each mention of the word jump a body would be flung into the air trying to avoid the last one that hit the water. It was all rather chaotic and the unbridled laughter and excitement made more than a few sides and stomachs ache from taking in the scene. They knew that these days would end soon enough, but it seemed so far into the future that they chose not to sully their minds with the thoughts of their future past. Today. Today was what they had and would be their tomorrow and next week.

Mark grabbed some lemonade and brought it to her. "Here," he offered as she reclined on the chair. She moved her feet over slightly to give him a place to sit as they talked. "Do you need anything else?"
"No," she smiled. "Let's just stay here for a bit. Together." she answered less shyly than she would have even two days prior.
"You know, I am looking forward to the retreat at the end of the Summer," he continued knowing that she would be there as well.
"Really? Me too," she acknowledged. "Why are you so interested in it?"
"I just get the sense that there is more than this. I mean, my parents, our teachers, have told me so much about Jesus and I just think, well, I know there is so much more than stories about him and all of this," he replied slightly motioning to the scene.
"There is, I mean, there's gotta be. Right?" she said. "Let's promise that we'll talk more about Him together OK? I mean, it seems like it's more..He is more than what a lot of people let on."
"I promise. Even if no one else does, we'll do this. Together."
Mark felt a deepening connection to Nan as they went so deep, so briefly deep. Of course with everyone around them they knew their private conversation wouldn't last long. "You're too dry," Jeff laughed looking straight at Mark. "You're going in."
Mark tried to run but it was no use as he was tossed into the pool. When he resurfaced slightly gasping for air he noticed that Nan had jumped in after him. She put his arms around his neck and laughed.
"You gotta love those idiots," she giggled and laughed some more.
"Oh yeah," Mark agreed and though for a brief instant how much he was going to miss this when he was older.

But this day was more that today for him. It was his yesterday and he convinced himself, again, that it would also be his forever.

Friday, September 9, 2016

That which brings us together

“I can’t bring myself to think that Trump will be in charge. In the simplest terms, what brings us together is good, and what separates us is bad.” Brad Pitt on the prospects of a Donald Trump Presidency

Believe it or not, this is not a post on who you should vote for this year come November. I read this quote and thought to myself that Mr. Pitt can't literally mean this. As someone who is a Christ-follower, I cannot endorse this definition of "good" and I think that, if he gave this a little more thought, he would not continue to offer this either.

Now there is a lot about Christ that is unifying (reconciling) and the heart of the Gospel is the unity that we have re-found through Christ with God himself. This unity was lost in the Garden way back in Genesis 3 so much so that I was, at one time, an enemy of God. Christ brought me near to God through the work he finished on the cross and in his resurrection from the dead. He died for my sins so that I would not have to die for my own sins and face eternal separation from God in Hell. In that sense unity is more than good. It is very good.

But in another sense, Christ himself said that he came to bring division and in that very same chapter in Genesis I see that this unity with God would be brought about through conflict. Conflict divides and, in this case, the serpent (Satan and his offspring) would be in conflict with the eventual offspring of Eve (Christ and his offspring). This conflict persists to this day so much so that a deep down, unifying friendship with Satan is considered to be something that will separate me from God in this life and in the next.

So in some sense I want separation, and in another I want unity. This is where Mr. Pitt's definition of that which is "good" breaks down. It breaks down hard because he could seek to be unified with those that, he has determined, are seeking to split the country. If he allied himself with Mr. Trump he would find plenty of unity within that sphere, but he would, as he sees it, be part and parcel with those who seek to divide. On the other hand, in seeking separation from that movement he thinks that this will lead to unity in the country as a whole. He would rather be divided from Mr. Trump's followers much like I, as a Christ-follower, would seek separation from Satan.

So, I guess, all of this to say that a definition of "good" would, more properly, be that which is grounded in the character and nature of God himself. If God says that separation from this thing or that is a good then that division is good and I need to pursue it. On the flip side, God also says that unifying myself with certain things is good so I need to run after that as well. All of this springs from who he is and what he is like. 

Thanks be to God that Christ came to show us the Father. And he did that so remarkably.