Getting it right?

As I was driving through Birmingham yesterday, I began to reminiscence. When I drive down the side streets and alleys and rabbit trails that my daddy drove down in Birmingham or even as I explore new ones that I have learned on my own, I feel oddly like I am my dad. When I go to the school because my son has lost his keys, as I walk I look down and see my father‘s feet and legs walking. When I sit on the hillside at a funeral because another family is hurting and because my presence matters, I know I’m living out who he was. 

With all of these things and so many more, like when I look at my hands or my face in the mirror and I see that same little wrinkle of skin on the right side of my neck just as he had, I see my father. I hear his words coming out of my mouth, sometimes in jest, sometimes with admonition, and sometimes in frustration or even anger. 

I haven’t changed that much in the two and a half years since he passed. I was already becoming him. I will never be him, never be as much as he was, but I will always be becoming him. But it’s so stark now, now that the original is gone. And here I am – and my brother and my sister too – his walking, talking carbon copies, so much like the original… but like any copy, not exact and usually lacking just a bit.

I think he would be proud. He said he was. In a strange way it makes me miss him less and more at the same time. I guess maybe I wish I could say, “Daddy, how am I doing? Am I doing it right? I need you to show me just one more time.” 

So one more time I play him over in my mind. And I hear his words and I feel his breath and his big hands and those dark brown, often soft and sometimes glaring eyes, and I think I’m getting most of it right.

That time I considered putting my kids on e-Bay

This is a memory from 2009, but worth sharing.

I’m considering putting my kids on e-Bay. A picture is worth a thousand words and should explain my rationale. (See the picture at the top of the blog.)

No, it hasn’t snowed in my son’s room. The white fluffy stuff covering the floor some six to eight inches deep is Styrofoam beanbag pellets. Before I discovered the Styrofoam blizzard, I knew the bag had a leak and would have to be discarded and a small mess cleaned up. I had to leave it as it was for a while and knew I’d get back to it. Then, I found little pellets scattered in the hallway. I was scolding the kids for having scattered them into the hallway, all the while thinking they had simply walked through the small spill and allowed static electricity to do its magic. So, I began vacuuming and calmly explaining – more or less calmly – how making a small mess worse created more work than necessary and took time away from other things, from more enjoyable things. Then, I turned the corner and saw their room. I had been calm up that point. I wasn’t calm any longer. I was loud.

In life, I really do try to make it a philosophy to laugh instead of cry. I’m trying to laugh. See for yourself and decide what you would do. In the meantime, I’m setting up my e-Bay account.

Daddy, why’s this sock in my drawer?

“Daddy, why’s this sock in my drawer”? I love it when they call me Daddy. I’ve learned more about the love of God and how it mediates His righteous anger in the few years since I became a dad than I did in the almost 40 years before. (Yep, I started late.) It’s not that I don’t get angry – and with cause. See, for example, my note about wanting to put them on e-Bay after they filled their room with beanbag pellets. But I took the picture of the room, all the while still very unhappy, to say the least, knowing that eventually love would overcome anger.

Isn’t that what God does for us? He picks us up out of our mess – that we’ve made – and He’s not always happy about it, I’m sure. But He picks us up, knowing His love will overcome His righteous anger and that He’ll clean up the mess, just like I did with the beanbag pellets.

I figure God likes being called “Abba Father” even more than we like saying it, as awesome as that is, for the same reason I love hearing silly, little questions like “Daddy, why’s this sock in my drawer?”

Out of the Mouth of Babes

This is from several years ago when my kids were younger and I drove them to school daily. I miss those days, the laughter, and the lessons.

Scripture tells us that out of the mouth of babes comes perfected praise. This is related to the idea that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. I think this because babes just say whatever is in their hearts or minds, unfiltered, without reservation or self-editing. We mature adults, on the other hand, filter our prayers to make us sound better, forgetting that God looks on the heart more than He listens to the words. But, that’s a deep lesson for another day. Now, I’d also like to suggest that out of the mouth of babes God has perfected humor.

I pray with my children at night and everyday on the way to school. Some of the most beautiful and heart-felt prayers have come out of their mouths, which is one reason I like to hear them pray aloud. And sometimes they’re just plain funny, especially my son’s. A few weeks ago our Spanish and Portuguese speaking neighbors to the south along with the home of Calhoun and the seat of Southern rebellion were blessed. Nick was closing his prayer. He typically prays a very encompassing prayer. But he often has a unique twist on the God-bless-everyone approach. In his conclusion he prayed, “And God bless South America and South Carolina.” Today, he was even more encompassing in his prayer. Today, the solar system is blessed, in particular Venus and Mars, as he prayed God’s blessing on this corner of the cosmos. You can’t make this stuff up. You just have to enjoy it when it comes. So I smiled inside and said an amen to his prayer.

As a father, on one hand I want to direct him to focus his prayers and think about specific needs of others, as well as his own. But, on the other hand, you never know when out of the mouth of babes God has perfected praise, or in this case prayer, and just possibly the gravitational pull of one of our neighboring planets was intensified because of his prayer just enough to deflect a killer asteroid from a collision path with earth. I’m not out there in space. But God sees all and in His mysteries could have prompted the prayer to move something more than Dad’s face into a smile.

Jesus said not to forbid the little children from coming to Him. Moreover, we must become like a child to enter the Kingdom. Maybe it could be that as I try to focus my child’s prayer with my mature, adult thinking, instead I should listen and learn and expand my own narrow prayers. So, God bless Mars and Venus.

One for my Pocket

This is a memory from some years ago.

I was doing a little bit of laundry in the morning before anyone else got up. I couldn’t sleep and knew I needed some blue jeans for the day. As I was putting some of my things to wash, I grabbed a few pair of pants belonging to the kids. I learned long ago that many things go in pants pockets that don’t necessarily need to go in a washing machine. As I cleaned out the pockets of Olivia’s shorts, I found three individually wrapped Life Savers that she had taken from the candy bowl in my office.

My colleagues and I keep hard candy of various sorts on our desks at work. It’s there free for students or any other guests who come to the office. Most ask before taking a piece. Some don’t, realizing it’s there for them. My regulars, such as other faculty members or students who have taken a number of classes with me, will with ease lift a piece or two out of the bowl and crunch away as we talk, never hesitating to enjoy what has been freely provided for them. The candy is clearly out there for the taking as a gesture of hospitality.

My children have a different relationship with my candy bowl. I try to monitor their sugar intake because too much sugar is just not healthy. Also, if we’re passing through the office on the way to lunch or something, I don’t want them filling up on empty calories. So, they’ve learned to ask before taking candy from the bowl. But even though they have to ask, there is yet a different relationship that they have with the candy because of the relationship they have with me. That’s Daddy’s candy. And if it’s Daddy’s, then it’s potentially theirs in a different kind of way than it is for anyone else.

Here’s how the candy bowl rules developed. Early on they learned only one piece at a time was all I would allow them. Our exchange would go something like this.

“May I have some candy?”

“Yes, but only one.”

“Please…” and the pleading for additional sugar to rot their teeth would begin. Eventually, they figured out a subtler tactic.  

“Could I have one now and one for my pocket?”

I relented to this request. It became the pattern. They could have one now and one for their pocket, which sometimes turned out to be as many ones as their little pockets could hold. This is how the three pieces ended up in Olivia’s pocket.

I’ve said before I’ve learned more about God since I became a parent than in the years before. Here, too, I see my Heavenly Father. Several things come to mind.

If it’s His, it’s mine. But I do need to ask. He knows better what and when and how I need His blessings, but still I often have not because I ask not.

Second, I don’t have to take just one blessing from the bowl. I can take one, or many, for my pocket. For example, if it’s wisdom I need, James tells me God gives liberally. In fact, in many areas of our Christian walk God has a pocket full of blessings, but we fail to stuff our pockets.

Third, we need to check our spiritual pockets more often. As I said, I found three hard mints in Olivia’s pockets that morning. They were blessing from her Dad’s candy bowl, waiting to be eaten and enjoyed. But she had stuffed them in her little pocket and gone on with her day, forgetting about them at some point. Eventually they ended up in the laundry and in this little blurb.

I looked through my pockets that morning and discovered they were full and running over also. I counted so many wonderful blessings, including two precious kids who were still asleep just down the hall. That’s two pieces of candy right there. I have a Christian heritage of parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents who poured themselves into me. I have a pastor and several mentors in the faith, including some who have now passed to their reward, who also have given of themselves for my spiritual sweet tooth. That’s a pocket full!! And the list could go on of friends and family and colleagues and sunshine and flowers and…. and of the Holy Spirit that will lead me and comfort me and assure me that all of the candy in the bowl is for me, and I have permission to take some for my pocket. I just need to remember to fill my pockets more often and enjoy the blessings He has so richly and freely provided.

Now if I could only find something spiritual about the dehydrated earthworm I found in Nick’s pocket.

Well, enjoy your day and check your pockets. You never know what goodies from God you’ve stuck there and forgotten about.

Be Like Marvin

Early this morning, I was meditating on my Sunday school lesson for the day. It focuses on two sad Christmas gifts. One is the gift not received, the other the gift not offered.

The first is like the Gospel rejected, which is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18) “who ignore so great a salvation” (Heb. 2:3). This is sad. Imagine a gift, bought and paid for, sitting under the tree as the intended recipient rejects it, leaving it unopened. That’s pretty sad. 

But the second is, to me, even sadder, the gift that is bought and paid for but never offered.

I never met my Granddaddy Rizzo. He passed a few years before I was born. But as I hear stories of him, I feel I know him because I have seen his character traits that come through in those stories exhibited in my dad, Aunt Susie, and Uncle Allen. There are lots of these anecdotes about his life that I have filed away in my mind, but about a year ago I learned a bit more about one of them. 

Just about everyone who talks about my grandfather says things about his jovial nature and how nice he was, but for most of his life he wasn’t a Christian. Then shortly before he passed he had a conversation with my Maw-maw’s brother Ralph Creel. Uncle Ralph was a minister, and I’m sure he had shared the Gospel with my grandfather. During one of their last visits together, my grandfather shared, “Ralph, I’ve met someone since I saw you last.” My uncle inquired who and the response was “Jesus.” My grandfather passed shortly after that conversation.

For years, I assumed it was my uncle’s and Maw-maw’s witness that brought Granddaddy to Christ. And I’m sure it was, but I never really knew the details of his friendship with Marvin Burns until last year. (If you attend church with me, Marvin is Wayne’s father and Rita’s father-in-law.) 

Marvin was a minister. He and my grandfather were friends, so my grandfather often chauffeured him to his speaking engagements. On these trips I’m sure they talked about kids and motorcycles and all kinds of things. But at each church service my grandfather heard Marvin offering him the gift of salvation through Jesus in his sermon and saw him living the gift as they rode along together. 

But with my lesson topic in mind, I began to ponder what if Marvin had never offered his friendship. Or what if he didn’t want to offend my grandfather? Or what if he felt religion is a personal matter? Or what if he for however many reasons never offered the gift of Christ’s love to my granddaddy? But he did, and sometime in 1955 or 56 my grandfather accepted “the” Christmas gift because someone offered it to him. 

So first, let me say if you have thus far left the gift of the love of Jesus and salvation through him under the tree, rejected and unopened, well, don’t. Just don’t. That’s just rude… and so sad and foolish. It is “the indescribable gift” (2 Cor 9:15) that was put there for you. It is a costly gift, one you could never afford on your own. Fortunately, “it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), free for the receiving, purchased just for you. 

And if you have received this amazing gift, why aren’t you sharing it? Get busy and be like Marvin!