Which Pappaw?

I escaped from Walmart’s widened aisles awaiting a deluge of Black-Friday-on-Thursday night shoppers.  Sky: dazzling blue.  Wind: minimal.  Temperature: perfect for sweat shirt.

I parked close, a great benefit in coming before the storm.  I approached my truck, triggered the locks, opened the door, and had three bags in mid hoist when it caught my eye, sitting in the back seat, with a seat belt trailing across it.

A bright yellow card was addressed to “Pappaw” in Claire’s handwriting.  She’s great at birthdays, and who-wants-what-for-Christmas.

I first thought, “How could a card addressed to Pappaw, to the man who adopted my mom, to a WW1 vet returned to Texas to build an F.W. Woolworth in Temple TX, who was a chair of deacons for 20 years, who toured the west with Mammaw, my sister and I in a trailer, and whose funeral I conducted forty years ago leave a card addressed to him in my truck?”

Avalanches of thought tumble out quickly.

My daughter-in-law who never met my Pappaw, addressed my birthday card using the “grandparent” name I chose for me.  The envelope had fallen into the seat as I collected the fleece and card two nights ago.

And I missed him.  Ached.  And I thought I’ll never attain to his stature in my life in my grandkids’ eyes.

And in missing him, I saw my hope of heaven is far deeper than I admit.  From this year’s bumper crop of people dying to leave this world, few will be missed by their own family in a generation.  The memories of the remainder will recede in the future’s busy world.

If Pappaw’s story continues to affect anyone on my passing, his story must remain his to tell in heaven.  Think of it another way.  If many remember JFK, Luther, Newton, C.S. Lewis or Tolkien: that’s nothing to them, meaningless with no heaven.  Legacies do nothing for the deceased.

One of his hopes is certain.  He never wanted to burden Mammaw.  So, he wrote my sister a letter @ 5 a.m. that Saturday, dressed for work (at age 78!), sat in his rocker, and was gone.  No burden: granted.  His other hope? Was to sing in heaven.

Picking up the yellow envelope I prayed once more his hope is confirmed, so I’ll see him again and apologize for slip streaming into both his names: Thomas L. and Pappaw.

Shocker

Greatness, it may be, is akin to thankfulness.

If you are great, popular, famous or any of the other notions we confuse together, you can’t live in front of a stadium full of people.  Sooner or later you’re home with –.  Do any of them love you for you, or do they all want or need something of your greatness?

And then you’re alone, with your greatness.  Do you even like you?  Can you enjoy hours with just you for company?

You cannot be great all the time for others.  It will kill you.

Thankfulness, may be somewhat similar.  You can be thankful for countries, freedoms, movies, God, salvation, and so on in stadiums, venues, or with a few.

When it is just you and a few, do they sense you are grateful for them, for who they are to you, beyond what they do for you.

And then there’s that being alone, again.  Does gratitude form attitudes with which you face challenges, disappointments, challenges, or life’s raw edges?

Sooner or later, greatness and thankfulness converge in private moments where either humility deepens you, or you must get back in front of someone, anyone.

 

 

Jodie almost died, again

It had been a long time: eleven years.  It had been eleven years since Jodie almost died.

Consider eleven years.  ISIS arose to prominence and to have many of its heads cut off.  Ossama was executed and buried at sea.  Barak Obama served as president between Bush and Trump.  Countless stars fell from their orbits passing into eternity … some at their own hands, others of natural causes.

Jodie finished high school, worked on a guest ranch, dated a few guys, became beautiful, began a career at her dad’s place, and had a profound impact for Christ on many young people passing through her home, her church, and her life.

And I could almost forget.  Forget the doctor’s warning quietly to Greg and Mitz that should Jodie live to age 12, she would have exceeded almost all expectations.

I could almost forget that each sibling and every pet, not to speak of mom and dad arose in the nights at some prodding, to find her cratering at the onslaught of brittle diabetes.

When life is too horrible, when countries fall down insanely seizing and killing any within them, when children enter life addicted to opiates, and other news drones on during CNN; I tend to move on from Jodie, who could simply slip away in a night.

I prayed for her Thursday night before bed, but did not call Mitz and Greg because, I tend to move on from all the hard and frightening things because I cannot hold them all before me all the time, all night, much less all day.

I hate things I cannot fight in this world.  I pray for them, against them, and I feel frustrated that they remind me I don’t have an answer for everything.  I don’t have a solution for everything.  And Jodie or I could either one slip into the night tonight.

So I rely on a bit of forgetfulness.  I rely on a lot of faith to move on, to move forward.  And I must remember, what an astonishing gift every day for Jodie since age 12 has been.  Every hour.  Every minute.  And see?  I seem to have as hard a time holding all that wonder before me all the time as all the unanswerable, frightening things.

So I hold a smaller number of things before me than I pray for in the morning, and make my way through my day with forgetfulness, and faith, and Hope.  All gifts from One with a hole in His hand, as if He knew how few things I can hold in my attention all day and get anything done.

Wealth

I’ve flown to Norfolk to perform a wedding for Rachel Reon and Aaron White.  I’m staying at the Hampton in Smithfield and am amazed, again, to drive through towns that smack of history in both the Revolutionary War and Civil War, and that almost all hearken back to England for their original naming.

Don’t miss the five to ten ways I am wealthy in that first paragraph.

This afternoon at two o’clock I walked into the Trinity Methodist sanctuary with Aaron and his best men to watch Rachel and her best girls walk down the aisle.  No bombs.  No sirens.  No flack jackets.  A dress she will hopefully only wear once.  Tuxes.  Flowers.  Food at the reception.  Small jazz group playing at the reception.  People travelling from around the country.  No one detained.  People smiling in photos.  No one imprisoned.  People getting to know strangers.  No one shot.  Multiple ethnic groups sitting together and enjoying each other.

Don’t miss the twenty or so ways we were wealthy in that paragraph when insanity erupted 141 miles away in Charlotesville.

And Rachel, whose parents, and grandparents have all remained married, stood looking up into the intently focused eyes of her Aaron making his promises in front of his parents and grandparents who have all remained faithful and married — and she felt blessed.  In ways she can barely comprehend.  She will return to Illinois to finish her Masters and Aaron will find employment there, and they will pursue God’s will and their careers and family — unbelievably fortunate and blessed.

And we, as Americans must all become more intentional in how we say thanks, in how we become stewards of the astonishing gifts raining down on us.

It was humid outside the church as we exited, and I almost complained as the rain began before Mark and I could get to the car.  I winced.  How quickly I brandish a whine rather than a “hallelujah” in my days.

Sometimes wealth dulls my senses, rather than sharpens my awareness of the otherness, of the other-worldliness of the blessings cascading around me.  That makes me the pauper sitting at the feast, seething at what else I want, rather than kicking back and rejoicing with those around me.

I know.  Silly.

Nabeel, wish you were here

I am the bull pen this weekend.  Rachel Reon hoped to have Nabeel Qureshi do her wedding.  Not many girls can access med school graduates who get hired by Ravi Zacharias as apologetic powerhouses in the face of Muslims who hate him for leaving the faith.  And speaking so well against it.

I am filling in as Nabeel has been in the hospital at MD Anderson for 22 days straight.  Muslims rejoice to point to his stomach cancer as Allah’s judgment, and the doctors pulled him into emergency surgery, again, a few hours ago.

Nabeel, I will perform Rachel and Aaron’s wedding  tomorrow, while you remind us of what’s truest in Christianity.  As you skirt the abyss of death with thousands of people who hate you cheering for your demise, we will see Rachel and Aaron married.  Ever since that first Easter Sunday, out of stunning sadness, and out of the mouth of over-awing defeat God in Christ has snatched victory, snatched hope, and stolen joy for us over, and over, and over again.

So we pray for your healing, continually ask for healing.  We owe you that.  We owe Christ that.  We owe you both the asking when it seems o’erwhelmingly hopeless.  We owe you and Christ the asking for healing especially as your enemies are set for revelry.

And if God relents and lets you expend your last breath praising Him, then we owe Christ and you and your enemies clear testimony.  Beyond fatalism for Allah’s will, Christians dwell in a divergent land of hope inside Jehovah’s sovereign, best choices for us.  We ask, and when He heals you, we praise Him.  We ask, and if He deigns to take you, we mourn and still praise Him.

When you get out of the hospital, promise me a photo with a smarmy script saying “because we asked!” or something else mushy.  Wish you were here to do the ceremony, praying, hoping against hope, cheering for you.

Rachel, by the way, will be amazing, in part, due to your investing in her.  Get well.

Thank you, George

George Whittenburg died yesterday.  His Amarillo memorial is Saturday and twenty churches can’t hold all who thank God for him.  Twenty prison cells can’t hold everyone who will rejoice at his passing.

A family that drowned a young man in an Agatha Christie-esque middle-of-a-huge-lake horror will rejoice in cells.  They fooled Texas Rangers and the F.B.I. but not George.  He spent years taking ’em down.

A lawyer who “won” a paltry verdict for his client and then abused her, will smile from his prison way-station on his way to Dante’s 7th Inferno level.  We can hope.  Again, George spent years, itching to conclude her horror, he strategized with Job’s patience and Machiavelli’s genius to bring her justice.

He loved finding crooked lawyers in his sights, and loved scorching them even more.

Offenders hurt, killed or maimed the wrong people, if victims or surviving kin found George.  It didn’t matter how hopeless survivors found George, he wrangled hope for the hopeless seemingly ex nihilo; spelling doom for those who smugly felt successfully incorrigible.

His full softball team of children, their umpteen grandchildren and great-grand-kids flourished in his and Ann’s high expectations.   Shoot, you’d learn to bear up under great expectations if father and grandfather played on the state’s and nation’s stages.

He read voraciously, pursued ideas assiduously, loved conversation, worshipped deeply, and doted on children while gently, firmly pushing each to some greatness.  The house’s washing machines and driers sat at opposite ends.  “Learn to take care of yourself” was in the blueprints.  The two sets of two hot water tanks were in series, so everyone played sports, showered, attacked evening schedules and studies to be fresh in an early morning.  The sheer scale of life at the home boggled outsiders’ minds.

It was simply Whittenburg if you lived there.

Twenty hours won’t contain half the stories left untold at Saturday’s memorial, but that was George.  He was always more than you could take in, more than you countered, and more than you appreciated in any conversation, kindness or advice.   Complex and nuanced, merciless in logic: sitting in his complete focus spelled hope for many and disaster for fools.

When I was younger and my grandfather died, I felt as if one layer of protection between me and death, between me and disaster had been removed.  I’ve not often felt that since, but George’s passing leaves a layer of protection to be replaced.  If you have ears to hear, fill the layer.

I’ll miss him now, but if his faith’s correctly placed, we’ll continue conversations on writers, actors on the world’s stage, and intriguing ideas on the other side of the River.  Notice I didn’t say “finish”.  George can’t finish his thoughts, again, he enjoyed wrestling with far more than twenty volumes of deep conversations might skim the surface of.

Hoarding

We bought a five acre place.  Seeing it the first time, I swear Redd Foxx ambled out to us: Sanford and Son.  Hoarders had hidden cameras.

We bought 5.5 acres.  One acre is a pond, so 4.5 acres.  The folks living there 30 years kept everything.

I thought $20K to get rid of junk, but I was wrong!  In America people collect everything.  Everything.  In a hundred countries I might bury it all in a ravine or public dump — my grand children’s future ski hill.

But in the U. S. entrepreneurs and collectors, hold auctions!  On a rainy Saturday cars, trucks and trailers wedged in everywhere.  The food truck’s fusion tacos were delicious.

People bought a long-dead work-over rig, two trucks, a Mercedes complete with seven-foot snake, and Lincoln Continental with four field mice nests.  Think field mouse bigger than a squirrel.  Oh, and a motor home with a dead body.  Not really, but it smelled like it.

Miracle!  Buyers paid money, and then carted everything off on trailers!

They bought six boats: sail boat, pontoon boat and smaller ones.  Buyers brought tires, put tires on old trailers and drove away with boats.

One bought and winched out of trees a 25 foot trailer piled 12 feet high with styrofoam: a boat dock in an alternate universe future.  Women paid for the privilege of first, second and third pass through 2,000 glass jars.  I recycled 9 boxes.  She bought all five pumps with handles.  He didn’t buy four sewing machines, but bought the eight fall tall, all-wood cabinet with 56 drawers full of door knobs, electrical insulators: pure treasure.  Loaded it and drove off.

Someone bought the storage shed, and “dog house”: a metal building you park on a drilling floor of a large rig: and its materials (spark plugs, air and oil filters, carburetor kits).  Winched them onto a flatbed and drove off.

Then a “steel guy” brought chain saws and a massive tractor to pull 14 farm implements, including two manure spreaders — one of which he sold the owner 20 years ago.  He cut trees growing up through tractors and implements, and winched them out from vine snarls.

That left five pickup loads of cardboard, two of glass, three of recyclable plastics, and one huge roll-off of uncyclables.  That left shrubs, poison ivy, briers, trash trees, and monster vines shielding skids of shingles, tons of termite infused hardwood flooring, 1,500 bricks and concrete blocks, four trailers of oilfield pipe, bird houses, chains, saw blades, wood making tools, collars, PVC, black poly, 20 rotted tarps (and counting), Formica, car parts, tools, yard implements, trash, swings, and clothes.  Want a Cowboys jersey with “54” on it?  Randy White.  Chuck Howley.

We hoard.  We cram attics, basements, and storage locker(s).  Does we require it all to live well?  Will we really sell it for thousands?  How will we get to so many projects?  Maybe we think keeping future projects keeps Death overlooking us until we finish them all.  Not even our own kids care for most of our treasure.

I learned.  Again.  Recycle now.  Put it back in the economy.  Live with less.  Buy back space. Give to people in need.  Donate to help others with work.  Move out the 500 dollars of crap in the garage and pull in the $20,000+ car from the hail.

You’ll never sail that boat on your one acre lake from a dock you never built, let it go.

We’ve re-purposed over one point five acres.  Horses will graze there.  You?