Posts Tagged ‘time’

October Trumpets 7

These bright little trumpet-shaped flowers appeared on my fence last year in early October. This afternoon while walking around the yard, I found them on the same fence again. More buds than flowers but no less beautiful. I had forgotten all about them, and it amazes me that they bloom defiantly at this odd time of the year. They hid throughout spring and survived the withering heat of a Louisiana summer. It just so happens that today is the first cool day we’ve had at the end of the summer, a sign of things to come later but not here to stay just yet.

Summer in Louisiana is Ordinary Time in every sense. “Winter never feels truly at home in New Orleans. An unwelcomed visitor that shows up long enough to remind us of what we’re missing, then leaves us just in time for us to forget again.” (A Love Song for Bobby Long) I guess that’s part of the reason that the changing of seasons has always been sacred to me. It affects me deeply. As much as I love springtime, the new colors, and digging in the dirt with my hands, I think I’ve always loved fall the most.

By the time summer finally wanes everything and everyone is parched and wilting. For some reason my soul usually feels that way by now. Every chance I get I have the windows in my house and car wide open during spring and fall. For a few days this week I’ll get to soak it in as we go from summer to fall to summer to fall again finally. I suppose the main reason the changing seasons affect me so much is that they mark time for me in a way the calendar never can. I feel and know for myself that time is passing. It gives me sacred time to reflect, to take in, to breath out, to mourn, to look forward, to wonder…

The school year is getting underway. The Fair will be coming round before long ushering in the holiday season earlier and earlier every year. While the long awaited ball games kick off and the post-season plays out, the parched leaves will give up their color in a brilliant show and fall slowly to the ground, over and over making room for memories. This is a time for remembering, and I don’t want to rush it. September, take your sweet time.

  • Meditate
  • exercise
  • write
  • read
  • cut my hair

… all things I’ve been meaning to “make time” to do. Lol. That’s a joke. We don’t “make” time. We spend it, use it, waste it, cherish it, but we don’t make it. We have a limited allotment and are only allowed withdrawals. It’s easy to go into auto-pilot or damage-control, doing only what must be done to get through to another day. I’m burnt out on things that waste my time. I’m going to have to start spending time on those things that bring the most fulfillment and make the biggest difference… but there are soooo many distractions. I’m going to have to work on those. Maybe I’ll start tomorrow…

I received one of the highest compliments I’ve ever been given this afternoon. While leaving a courthouse in a north Louisana parish (county), I was stopped by a guy in the hall who knew me. He said he remembered me coming to the state prison where he was incarcerated over five years ago. He apologized for not remembering my name but said he remembered my face.

I’m glad that was all he remembered. Not a sermon. Not a personality. Just my face. It’s not about what we say, what we profess, but what we do that makes a difference. Being there may be the most significant thing we can do for the hurting, the lonely, and the dying. Case in point.

I don’t share this to brag. I share it with the upmost humility and will cherish the compliment more than any Amen, any applause, or any paycheck I received in the ministry. I’ve had a lot of regrets from things I said and did while pastoring. There are a lot of sermons I’d like to have back, plenty of deacon’s meetings I wish I would’ve missed, a few services I’d rather have skipped, but there is not one minute spent with inmates in the state prison that I regret.

Of all the things I have ever been involved with, nothing has been more personally, spirtually, or humanly gratifying than time spent with those guys. I always believed “there for the grace of God, go I.” Only one mistake separated them from me, only one. I cannot tell you the number of times I drove an hour one way after an 8 hour day to spend time with those guys. So many times I was tired and didn’t ‘feel’ like going but was always so glad I did on the way home late at night.

On this very ordinary, aggravating, stress-filled work day it did wonders for my soul to be remembered.

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:37-40

 


Please remember Steve. He’s out of the state prison and recently completed his diesel mechanic training. He’s serving as an inmate trustee cleaning the courthouse and doing maintenance on the Sheriff’s department vehicles until his sentence is served in 2012. He’s up for parole next year and asked for all the prayers he could get.

Yeah, I know. I haven’t been around much lately. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t had anything to write about or maybe too much to write about. Life happens. I haven’t felt like writing. It’s felt like an exercise, and I’ve been slack on that too for the last few weeks. There has been work, lots of work. There’s been sickness. Between the four of us somebody’s always passing something around. There’s been lots of family time, for which I’m very grateful, and there’s also been death. My grandmother ended her struggle with Alzheimer’s three weeks ago.

I never really expected to be affected by her passing as much as I was. I thought that I had dealt with this already. She started going downhill a few years ago, and for the last two rarely knew most of us. I don’t know that I fully grieved the loss a few years ago, or maybe it was a slow constant awareness of things lost. My feelings on the subject had degraded to indifference. Then she died.

I have been very fortunate in my life to have known all of my great grandparents during my childhood and also to have never lost an immediate family member in my now 31 years of life. I have had my share of death in the pastorate. It’s part and parcel with the trade. I spent many hours going through prolonged terminal illness with several people. You cannot help but become emotionally invested in others during such ordeals, but this was different.

Not only had we lost our grandmother, but in manys ways her passing closed a door on a huge portion of my life. Growing up as a child in south Louisiana is long since past and will not be again. Although myself and my cousins have grown up and are trying to find our way in the world, I believe each of us are those same little kids at Maw-Maw’s house. We may look like we’ve got it together, but in many ways we all still battle our same childhood insecurities. We just think when we’re kids that the grown ups have their act together. Ignorance is bliss, right? All sorts of family drama have not made handling any of this any easier.

My grandmother asked me a few years ago to preach her funeral. I agreed. Little did I know that I would no longer be pastoring churches and seldom preaching when the time came. The task is hard enough in and of itself, but so much of my belief system has radically changed. There are more things that I do not know than I used to know. Gone is the dogmatism. I live in the tension of mystery and paradox. I ended up spending most of my time ulogizing her and speaking briefly about her faith, which was also my faith. It didn’t help matters that her funeral fell on my birthday, but we move on, although walking slowly.

Do not hurry
As you walk with grief,
It does not help the journey.

Walk slowly,
Pausing often:
Do not hurry
As you walk with grief.

Be not disturbed
By memories that come unbidden.
Swiftly forgive;
And let Christ speak for you unspoken words
Unfinished conversation
Will be be resolved in Him.
Be not disturbed.

Be gentle with the one
Who walks with grief,
If it is you,
Be gentle with yourself.

Swiftly forgive;
Walk slowly
Pausing often.

Take time,
be gentle
As you walk with grief.

– From Celtic Daily Prayer by the Northumbria Community

I’ve been thinking a lot about death the last few weeks. Morbid, I know, but someone has to do it. I don’t know what happens when you die. I know all the lines about heaven and hell and what gets you where. I don’t think it works quite the way we’ve been told. The whole system is too conveniently construed to give power to those who want power and peace of mind to those who need peace of mind. Truthfully, I don’t think anything happens when you die. That really sucks when you think about it. Even hell seems preferable to nothing.

Listening to “Last Request (acoustic)” by Paolo Nutini a few days ago really brought home the gravity of the moment of our death and sums up my feelings about nothingness:

Slow down, lie down
Remember it’s just you and me
Don’t sell out, bow out
Remember how this used to be
I just want you to know something, is that alright?
Baby let’s get closer, tonight

[chorus]
Grant my last request and just let me hold you, don’t shrug your shoulders
Lay down beside me
Sure I can accept that we’re going nowhere
But one last time let’s go there
Lay down beside me, ohhh

I’ve found that I’m bound to wander down that long way road, ohhh
And I realise all about your lies,
But I’m no wiser than the fool that I was before.
I just want you to know something, is that alright?
Baby let’s get closer, tonight.

[chorus repeat]

Baby, baby, baby
Tell me how can, how can this be wrong?

[chorus repeat 2x]

Ooohhhh wohhhhohhh, yeah
Lay down beside me
One last time let’s go there,
Lay down beside me.

When you think about dying, it makes every day of living that much more precious. I don’t really know how long we have on this earth. Even if it were 80 years, it would not be enough. What matters most isn’t how much money you made and the stuff you’ve bought. What matters most is those you loved and the time you spent with each of them, which makes grieving over a death or loss of relationship all the more difficult.

Grief is a strange and unwelcome guest that you just don’t know what to do with and can’t wait to get rid of. I’ve been grieving in a way over leaving pastoral ministry. Not that I miss it, but that I get angry thinking of how I was used and tossed aside. Learning the painful truth that relationships were a means to an end for most people. They were friends with my position but not with me. I grieve over time wasted but find a measure of comfort in knowing it led me to where I am now. I also grieve over the loss of my childhood, the loss of innocence. Many people that I’ve talked to who have deprogrammed from ministry and from church go through a process of grieving with all of its stages. I’m somewhere in the mix… not where I was but not where I’m going. I’m just trying to take one day at a time and be myself. I’m not qualified to be more than that.

I’ve been working a lot the last few weeks, which is a good thing. I’m trying to get back on track making up for lost time, which has been a needed distraction. I’ve been able to be home a lot but not as much as I’d like. I’m looking forward to down time for the holidays and a change of pace come January. Something’s got to give. If you don’t mind, you might not hear from me again until 2008. Silence is therapeutic, and I’m overdue.

Happy holidays to all of you. I’ll drink a spiked egg nog in your honor and put 2007 to rest.

It never ceases to amaze me to hear what my kids come up with. My five-year old Timothy and I stopped by Sonic a few days ago to pick up a couple happy meals for he and his younger brother Andrew.  The attendant said the total was $6.08 and would be out shortly. I pulled out six $1 bills, dug in my console for loose change, and found a dime. I asked Timothy if he knew what a dime was, but he didn’t. I told him it was the same as 10 pennies. He laughed and said, “you’re so silly, Daddy.”

“No, I’m serious. It’s just like giving somebody 10 pennies,” I told him. Thinking I might quiz him while we were waiting, I asked him, “They said it costs $6 and 8 cents. So if I give her six dollars and 10 cents, how much change will she give me back?”

Without hesitation he said, “two pennies.”

Wow! That’s pretty cool. I know they didn’t talk much about money in Pre-K last year. I thought it was amazing that he did basic math in his head without any visual aids to play with. I decided to try again, “If it costs $6 and I gave her a $10 bill, how much change would she give me back?”

“Four dollars,” he spit out laughing.

Well, I’ll be dang. “You’re just too smart, Timothy. You’re gonna be the smartest kindergartner ever.”

“Yeah, I know,” he grinned all over himself.

I asked him a couple other math questions because it took forever to get our order, but the game quickly broke down because he was tired of it. When the attendant finally brought our happy meals, I gave her my $6 and my dime. She fumbled around with her change dispenser and her money apron. I really wasn’t sure if she didn’t know how much change to give me or was fresh out of pennies. She said, “I’ll be right back.”

I kind of laughed, “No, really I don’t need it. Keep the change.”

Kids can be a lot of fun. They can also be a lot of work and quite a challenge at times, but overall they’re a blast. My boys are at such a fun age and fairly independent. Even Andrew who’s 3 has the whole potty training thing down, can get his own snacks, and dress himself too. He’s even mastering the remote like his brother and his daddy. The boys even play really well together most of the time. Often when it’s really good, I wish I could just freeze time and keep them at this age forever. Who needs acne, girls, and graduation? You can keep the change.

Because they’re my kids, they don’t have to do anything to make me love them and can’t do anything to make me stop, but some things they do just really get me. I thought a lot about what makes them such a joy. I think more than anything I can see myself in them and relive parts of my childhood through them, but the greatest joy is seeing them do new things, learning, and growing. Everyday there’s something new to be amazed by. I guess I can’t imagine keeping them the same. I don’t want china dolls on the shelf.

I think they’re growing up way too fast, and I know it will only get faster. As much as I love these moments, I don’t really want to freeze time. I want to make each moment count, even if it is only two cents. On second thought, I’ll take the change.

If you’ve read much of my blog, you will know that I’ve been like a kid in the candy store the last year and a half learning to live life all over again. I’ve been through self-admitted detox to break my addiction to vocational Christianity and have begun the journey to truly know Christ and to know myself. My family is well and happy. I wish I could freeze time and keep my two boys at 4 and 1.5 years old forever, if not for the joy of watching them grow up. I’m in love with my wife who is still my best friend after 13 years. My business is finally turning a corner, and 2006 is looking to be my best year yet. I’m in love with life and am pursuing my passions.

Before you think I’m in a state of disillusioned euphoria, let me tell you that I have never been more in touch with reality. My mood vacillates almost as much as the balance in my checkbook. All things considered life is good, very good, and for that reason death is beginning to sting. Watching my kids grow up and the seasons change makes time seem to race on by. Who knows how many more years God will allow me. Forty, if I’m lucky. 1976 didn’t used to seem that long ago. My grandparents are getting older, and their health is failing. My grandfather was invincible when we were growing up, and now he seems very human. My grandmother has alzheimers and doesn’t even know her own husband or her own children anymore.

I read the Bible differently these days. I try to read it for what it really says, not for what I want it to say, or for what others have told me it says. [This is the point in the movie where you may want to change channels for a bit or risk getting really messed up theologically.] I’m not so sure anymore what I believe about heaven and hell. If both are real, something tells me people won’t be divided up so nice and neatly as we’ve been led to believe. If Jesus told us anything about it, He said that there will be a lot of surprises for many people. Some days I default to the nice Sunday School version of life that allows you to sleep in peace knowing that you’re an insider and have nothing to worry about. Some days I think that the blood of Christ covers every sin and no one is turned away. Some days I wonder if we just don’t die like every other creature and cease to be, simply return to the earth from which we came. No matter, death still stings.

I fell in love with the music of Johnny Cash some time last year, especially his later recordings. Johnny Cash was a man in touch with death and pain. He was able to vocalize what we think and feel about death like no other. You cannot listen to his music and not come face to face with your own mortality, which, I believe, is the key to truly enjoying life. The stark reality of death makes life more precious.

I don’t think we should live in fear of death but nor should we surrender to it. I’ve seen many terminally ill people over the years who cling to every last breath they can muster long after their body has given out. There is something in the human spirit that fights against death and clings to life. I’m not afraid to die, but not because I know exactly what happens after death. I’m not afraid to die, because I know God and trust Him to do with me what He will. Until my time comes, and it will, I will celebrate life and enjoy every day I’m given. One day, I will fight the good fight then lay this body down and rest in Him.