shadow

I witnessed something amazing today. I saw a total solar eclipse from less than a mile from the centerline. We drove 920 miles to see something that lasted 2 minutes and 36 seconds and it was worth every mile.

I started planning the adventure a year or so ago. At first, I thought maybe we’d just find a spot on a dirt road or corn field and enjoy the event. In April, I decided to try and find someone who had a yard we could share. I reached out to the library and was eventually put in touch with a guy named Jeff, who lives in Fairmont, NE.

My bride, my stepson, and I got up Saturday morning and left at 4am, arriving in Salina, KS that evening. The next day we drove the 2 hours to Fairmont to meet our hosts. They turned out to be some really great folks.

Monday morning we left Salina and headed north. It was cloudy, nasty, and raining in spots. It was beginning to look like our eclipse day was going to be a bust. We said a quick prayer and hit the road.

The closer we got, the higher and thinner the clouds became. We arrived in Fairmont, passed out Mardi Gras beads to the Cornhuskers, and started steaming 20 pounds of boudin. Cause that’s what we do.

About 11:30, the event started. After a few minutes of passing clouds, the blue sky opened up to a perfect view of God’s sky show. Gradually, more and more of the sun was obscured by the black disc of the moon. After 12:30 or so, with totality still a half hour away, things got weird. The light had an oddish quality to it, the breeze was blowing, and it was cooling off rapidly.

We marveled at the crescents in the shadows and the odd way our own shadows looked. None of the edges were clear; they almost wavered on their own.

I looked behind my shoulder at about 2 minutes before 1:00 and saw this huge dark area racing towards us. The moon’s shadow was coming for us at 1500 mph. It was literally overwhelming. Looking back at the sun, an incredibly bright pinpoint of light showed us the diamond ring.

Totality. Two minutes, thirty six seconds of the most surreal, amazing, wondrous sight I have ever seen. Every single person present gasped audibly. The entire 360° horizon looked like a sunset. The light was an eerie twilight, and the black hole in the sky directly over the sun made every one of my senses scream; acutely aware that this just ain’t right. The temperature dropped 20° and the wind picked up. I’m not a bit ashamed to say I shed some tears.

All too quickly, it was over. Sure, we glanced at the sun a few more times, but the anticipation wasn’t there. We had seen something no one in this country had in almost 40 years.

I can’t wait to see the next one.

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pride

Almost 27 years ago, I became a parent for the first time. My daughter was an amazing little person, and was soon followed by two boys who were no less amazing. As they grew and learned how to do “things”, their mom and I made sure we told them they had done a good job, and that we were proud of them.They learned to walk, they learned to talk, and they learned all the tasks and lessons of their lives.

We tried not to miss anything, but from time to time, we missed a chance to let them know that we were proud; that we were impressed. As a result, for the most part, they’ve all three developed into responsible, moral adults with good character and reputation. I’m more than proud of all three of them every single day.

I had an epiphany the other day whilst sitting in church. One of the verses our pastor used was from Matthew, chapter 25, when the servant hears the words “well done, my good and faithful servant.” Most of my life I’ve had the desire to hear these words one day when I get to heaven and I stand in front of Jesus. The light bulb that went off was when I realized that if I had waited until my kids were grown to tell them I was proud of them, in all likelihood there might not be a whole lot to be proud of.

You see, my kids needed that feedback, that reassurance, the idea that Daddy and Mommy approve and are pleased with them to know what to do and what not to do. Sometimes we’re far too quick in our lives to say “yeah, see, God got you” when something bad happens. When was the last time you did something to help someone, the last time you gave of your heart, your time, or your gifts, skills, and talents and then felt really good about it?

Felt that God was proud of you?

God isn’t sitting up in heaven on some gilded throne just watching what we do, checking off boxes when we screw up and keeping score.

Sometimes we get to know what it feels like for our Heavenly Dad to say “well done; I’m proud of you.”

One of my favorite reminders of this is 2 Corinthians 2:15; “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (NASB)

We remind God of Jesus.

Wow.

restoring

Holidays – that time between Halloween and New Year’s Day that encompasses the “major” holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mostly focused in recent years by retailers and marketers as the time between Turkey Dinner and December 25 to ask for things, get things, spend money and generally contribute to the bottom line of that which drives our ever increasingly materialistic western civilization…capitalism with a generous dose of “good will toward fellow men”. Oh, and throw in a little religion to boot, unless it offends you, then water it down even more so as not to injure.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been caught up in the wrappings and trappings of the season myself. I’ll also admit that I enjoy most of it. I love the lights, I enjoy the food, I certainly like giving and getting gifts, and the time spent with family has taken on new meaning and importance recently. What I once took for granted, I have a new appreciation for. Those things I learned to hate, I am starting to love again. To those people I hurt, I am working to make amends and restore the relationships.

Not too long ago, life was significantly different for me. It was different for those around me as well. For the people who loved me, watching me try to destroy myself time and time again must have been incredibly painful and truly gut-wrenching. I couldn’t see what I was doing to myself, although at some level I knew that what I really wanted was to die. I was stuck between an impossibly bad place and a worse place. I didn’t want to keep living like I was but I didn’t know how to live any differently than I was doing.

Nothing made sense and no one understood. I thought no one cared and couldn’t understand how anyone could love a loser like me. I hid it well for a long time. I hid behind an outgoing personality and a sense of humor. I learned to bury my emotions, deny my self-loathing, and pretend everything was just lovely. Alcohol made that so much easier and worked for a while.

Eventually it quit working and the consequences piled up high enough that I had to decide it was either do something different or continue to die; I was out of options. I made the decision to stop fighting, stop trying to control it all and worked very hard to find and learn humility, honesty, openness and willingness. So far, it has worked pretty well for 1,208 days in a row, on purpose.

The best part isn’t about me, though. The best part is what I see in and from others. I see an amazing woman that agreed to marry me almost a year ago and did so four months ago. I see some fantastic kids of mine that might just enjoy being around me again. I see a couple of other wonderful kids that became part of my family when their mom married me. I see brothers, in-laws, nephews, nieces, parents, and others who come visit and enjoy Thanksgiving Day with my new bride and me at our home. I get to see the smiles, the joy, the laughter, and the kinship that can be credited to God not giving up when almost everyone else did.

Several years ago, I mentioned to my girlfriend (not yet my wife), that I had a dream of all of her kids and my kids being together during the holidays. I’m pretty sure at the time that I gave that little chance of actually happening, and it was another one of those “yeah, right, God; I bet you can’t do this” sort of things. Last weekend, she and I had all of our kids over to decorate the house, then roast hot dogs and s’mores around the fire pit. I was humbled by the power of my God once again.

In my first blog post, Surrender, I mentioned the art of restoring broken pottery (kintsugi). Since then, I’ve learned that what is even more beautiful than the single restored broken piece is a living room, kitchen and back porch filled with people who wouldn’t be there if not for some brokenness. I’ve learned there really is nothing that God can’t use, and I’ve learned a new appreciation for His ability to make the impossible real.

wishes

Wishing-Well_BethSmiley.jpg

 Wishing-Well_BethSmiley – photo credit 

I haven’t blogged for a while, and my wife suggested I should, so in my best interest, here we go!

There’s a place just west of Shreveport that holds a special place in my heart. Today it became even more precious.

A little more than four years ago, I reconnected with a friend from my past. At the time, I didn’t realize that would change my life in an incredible way. What was apparent was that this girl was very special to me from the very beginning. One of the first times I came to visit her, we decided to spend some time at the Gardens of the American Rose Center. The grounds are beautiful; the flowers are gorgeous, and there are unique little spots to lose oneself throughout the place.

One of these spots is a little wishing well with a rusty bucket hanging from the reel. We stopped for a few minutes and each tossed in a quarter and made a wish. The two of us walked to a small wooden bench; she asked me what I wished and I told her I couldn’t tell her, of course. I asked her, and she told me that she couldn’t tell me (probably out of spite). At this point, I told her she didn’t have to tell me, because I already knew.

The look on her face when I told her that her wish was for my wish to come true was priceless. I knew I had guessed right, and at that moment, knew something truly special had just transpired.

The next four years were filled with life. Good, bad, sad, happy, angry, joyful times happened, breakups, funerals, happiness, and the clutter of passing days marched on. I lost the last thing I cared about and through much pain and humility, learned I was worthy to my God and myself, then He gave me a new life.

Last Saturday I married that girl.

Today we returned from our honeymoon and went back to that wishing well.

I got to tell her both our wishes came true that day…

My wish was that we would return to that spot after we were married.

God is so good.

patience

I think I’ve figured out how to get rich. I’m pretty sure I could make a billion dollars if I invented an instant oven. No more wasting all those long minutes waiting on the microwave to warm up frozen dinners, reheat leftovers, or pop popcorn. I’d have people knocking down my door to throw money at me.

No one I know likes to wait. Especially me. Waiting for anything, good or bad, is a royal pain in the butt. I don’t want to wait to start my weekend plans, and I certainly don’t look forward to getting a tooth pulled, but in both cases, waiting is required. Sure, one is anticipation and one is dread; nevertheless, we wait.

But back to my invention. I’m not THAT old, but I remember the days when a hot meal or beverage meant using fire or electricity on the top of the stove or in the oven. I’ve spent a bit of time camping without a camp stove. Gathering wood, building a fire, and warming food up in this manner is even more time consuming. Technology, for the most part, seems to be a response to lack of patience.

Automobiles replaced horses, who had to walk, run, eat, and rest; air travel is even faster than cars. Ovens and stoves replaced woodburning stoves; microwaves can now cook almost anything (with notable exceptions). Few restaurants had drive through windows back in the day; now they’re ubiquitous. We rent movies instantly and no longer even have to drive to the video store. Companies are even experimenting with drones to speed up package deliveries so we no longer have to wait for the delivery truck.

Instant gratification. I didn’t have to be taught impatience. I learned that very early in life. I remember sneaking under the Christmas tree along with my brothers (guilt by association) to sneak the tape off the gifts until my mom learned to hide them, sometimes better than we learned to find them. I heard someone once say, “I want what I want when I want it.” That’s me, except I added “…and I want it now.” I think this had something to do with my efforts over the years to change my feelings. I knew what to do when I felt down and didn’t want to, or was feeling up and wanted more.

Immediately. Now. No waiting. Fast results. Watchwords of the advertising community.

Patience is hard.

Patience isn’t natural.

Patience takes work.

Patience is crucial.

Patience is valuable.

Patience is a virtue. It is described numerous times in the Bible. God saw fit to address impatience because we as humans are impatient. From Proverbs to Psalms to Isaiah, and again in the New Testament, patience is addressed. 1 Corinthians 13:4, starts out, “Love is patient…”. Ephesians 4:2 contains, “…be patient…”, and Proverbs 14:29 reads in part, “Whoever is patient has great understanding…”.

Patience is something that we learn by having to use it. I don’t learn to be patient by getting what I want when I want it. I learn to be patient by realizing and understanding that my waiting and lack of immediate answers is exactly what is supposed to happen. Recovery programs use sayings like “One day at a time” and “If you pray for patience you will be given many opportunities to practice it.” Acceptance is one of the hardest principles I have been asked to face.

I remember as a child, our family would take vacations. From the time my parents told us about the impending trip, the anticipation began. We would study the road atlas, prior to the internet, read the brochures that were mailed from our destination, and, as the time approached, we would begin packing and planning for the grand journey. The morning of the departure would arrive, and the next few hours or days were filled with seeing new places, enjoying new experiences, and living life in the moment. Although I remember the “destinations”, for me, the preparation and the anticipation are now my favorite memories. It was like an extended version of Christmas Eve.

I’ve spent a lot of time waiting for tomorrow. I’ve spent years waiting for the next thing. Along the way I think I’ve missed some things alongside the road. Although I still miss the patience train often, I try to appreciate the now. Today I choose to pay attention and enjoy the journey, making memories along the way.

I’ve heard it said that it’s about the journey, not the destination. The truth is it’s about both.

“Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” – Tertullian

yesterday

One of the things that I’ve struggled with is something that I can never really change.  Other than its presence in my mind, it doesn’t exist.  But in it is all that I know.  All of the memories, good and bad, all of the successes and failures I’ve had, and all of the sins and wrongs I’ve committed, as well as all the miracles I’ve seen and been a part of.  Although it exists only in my memories, I cannot deny it has a very real impact on me today.

 

The past.

 

It would be easy to sit here and write a litany of past transgressions and victories, putting words on a screen that extol the virtues of a new found life and perspective, but that would be far too simple.  My demons know my name, and what they whisper in my ear will not have the power and depth of those that whisper in your ear.  From my experience, it is clear that each must come to terms with those whispers; that each of us must find the rebuttal that is required to quiet the voices.

Coming from a perspective that teaches me the truth of forgiveness and salvation in Christ, I understand that the price of my transgressions have been paid in full, and that they have been obliterated, forgotten, and completely eliminated; that they will never be held against me by my Savior and Father (H.P. for my recovery friends).

That’s not where I get stuck.  It’s in the real, day to day memories and how all those little things stack up in a way that only I can see.  It’s in how I can beat myself up regarding some very bad choices I made in the past in regards to the way I treated people and the damage that is evident in those relationships today. It is in the “unfinished”…the tasks and goals I set for myself years ago that remain like the partially glued together pieces of the model ship in the box that has a hull and a deck, but no masts, sails, or rigging.

Words and phrases such as “If I only would have…”  or “I never…” or “If I had done…”, regret, shame, embarrassment, and failure echo in the empty hallways of the past that I never entered.  It is easy for me to envision how much “better” things could be; how much “happier” that I would be had I just been…  well… better at predicting the future.

I’m thinking that’s really where I get stuck.  If I’d only known then what I know now.  If I had, I’d have finished the educational goals I set for myself long ago, rather than wait until I’m 49 years old.  I’d have never bought that first beer when I graduated from high school a week after my 18th birthday if I’d known that a very long, painful struggle with alcoholism was on its way. I’d have bought some of that stock from the department store I worked one Christmas and hung on to it.

We all have these “ifonlys”.

 

I’m not sure exactly where it came from, but I heard something a couple of weeks ago that made a lot of sense.

Fear lives in tomorrow, regret lives in yesterday, and gratitude lives in today.

 

I can’t change the past; my yesterdays can’t be modified, changed, or deleted.  I don’t have a Doc Brown DeLorean with a flux capacitor to go back and make changes. By the same token, I can’t go see what tomorrow holds before I get there. At the very least, I wouldn’t understand it.

What I’ve learned over the past few years is that what I can do with my past is use it.  Use it to understand my today. Use it to see why God has blessed me with an understanding for broken people.  I can remember, not forget, the choices of yesterday that weren’t very wise and try not to repeat them. Most of all, I can begin to understand that God, in His infinite wisdom and omniscience, can use all things for good (Romans 8:28).

Sometimes it’s really hard to see the “good”.  Once again, that would mean being able to see the future.  Impossible.

All I have is today.  And I can choose gratitude over fear and regret.  Grateful for everything that has worked together to put me exactly where I am today.

 

The thing is…

My limited ability means that sometimes, even when I can’t see it at the time, God was there in my yesterday.  He’s in my future.  I can’t go back and I can’t see the future.  All I have is today.

That’s where I find God.

In today.

 

One of the most beautiful and powerful verses in the Bible is Exodus 3:14.

Not “I was.”

Not “I will be.”

 

 

I AM.

 

fear

fear

I never really understood the word fear, and I still don’t.  But there’s a few things I’ve figured out that work for me.  As I think back, I remember being afraid of certain things when I was a little kid.  I remember one of my fears was deep water, and one swimming pool especially.  There was this pool at the local YMCA where I took swimming lessons one year.  The only thing that made it different was that it was a very large pool and it was inside a huge cavernous building that echoed.  I’m not sure why, but that place scared me.  The water was deep and dark, and that huge building just seemed to make the water deeper and darker.  I didn’t like it one bit.

As I grew older, my fears grew up.  To this day I am terrified of tornadoes.  But I know why.  Can’t see ’em coming.   I know when the weather gets tornadoey, but I can’t see anything but the sky above me for all the trees.  You can’t fool me, though, I’ve seen the Wizard of Oz.  Those tornadoes don’t come straight down on top of you.  They twist and turn and snake their way toward you, ripping up mobile homes on the way to destroy your house.  And you can’t see ’em coming.  When I see things going past my house that normally wouldn’t be, like trash cans, sheds, and fences, I shut myself up in a tiny room with a pillow over my head.

I’ve come to a conclusion about fear.  I’m afraid of one thing.   So far, all of my fears have this one thing in common.  Snakes, tornadoes, deep scary water, spiders…all of them.  But before I get to that, some may say that it is good to have a healthy fear of say, for example, tigers.  I think the term for this is respect.  I respect a tiger enough not to go running around in their enclosure at the zoo.  I respect the law enough not to take things I want out of the store without paying for them.  What I think that all fear has in common is that all fear is really about one thing.  I believe for the most part that we are all afraid of the unknown.  Insecurity, illness, injury, accidents and death make us afraid.  We don’t know what will happen, we don’t know what to do, and we just don’t know what to expect.  Someone once said, “I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m afraid of what I think is in the dark.”

Then there was another fear.  One that I was “supposed” to have.  After all, I was taught to fear God.  Oh, I know, there’s probably about four words for “fear” in Greek and three more in Hebrew or whatever language it was written in, but guess what?  I understand English.  There is ONE word for fear.  I’ve seen it watered down to mean awe or respect, or any number of those kind of justifications, but I was taught that I should FEAR the Lord.  To put it very simply, to fear means to be scared of.

Now that I’m older and have managed to make it this far and get some experience from life, I think those people who taught me to be afraid of God were wrong.  Here’s why.  The first time fear is mentioned in the Bible it was right after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and they hid from Him, saying they were “afraid”.  Fear entered the world at the same time sin entered the world.  Fear and sin walk hand in hand on this earth.

Someone once told me that the phrase “fear not” is written in the Bible 365 times, one for every day of the year.  One particular truth about fear is 1 John 4:18 (NIV) – There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Fear and God just don’t go together.

I think that when I’m afraid of the unknown, I’m looking away from God.  See, that verse tells me that perfect love (God) drives out fear, and I can’t be made perfect (like God) when I’m afraid.

In other words, they just don’t go together.

The unknown is what I fear.

When I get wrapped up in the worry, the insecurity, the lack of control, the unknown…FEAR…what I think I’m really doing is something that God really doesn’t appreciate.

I make my fear bigger than Him.

I make it an idol.

I make it my god.

You see, when I realize and understand that there really is no unknown, there is no fear.

Only faith.