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.


I don’t run from myself.  I don’t wish to be someone else.  I don’t spend time trying to be other people, but the guy in my mirror keeps changing.  His glasses have changed, and he is more nearsighted.  Liver spots.  Even when frozen off, tend to find new spaces on his face.  He is getting older, but the guy in my head still talks and sounds at most 30ish.

And yet, the Christian scriptures describe God as the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Timeless.  Not subject to the ravages of time.  Hmmm.

Just sitting here, I am replacing myself.  Cell for cell, and not quite replacing each cell as wondrously as I did in my first few years of life.

I now own five toilets in three buildings.  All functioning again after yesterday’s work by Paul.  No, all five flushing again after the nice plumber came out for four hours today.  He said tree roots don’t mind “gray” water, but they don’t help toilets to flush without sending relics into showers.  My wife hates relics.   Wait, the one in the guest end of the house sounds like a small machine gun when filling, and rattles pipes in the kitchen.  So, after one more servicing, they will all be maintained.  Not improved.  Just maintained.

And yet, for forty years the Israelites making an extended, generation-wiping detour in the desert never had shoes or tents, or clothes wearing out.  Timeless.

I have pains that take longer to heal.  Some never will.  I didn’t make life choices to bring pain, I thought.

And yet, heaven supposedly tolerates neither pain nor tears.

In the last 2,000 years, we’ve left nothing unchanged, unedited: governmental forms, trade, technologies, medicine, science.  Many changes are wondrous.  Some bring bad effects.

And yet, no one has said anything as lasting, as improbable, as heart-stoppingly hopeful as a carpenter-cum-late-blooming rabbi that authorities unsuccessfully rubbed out.

Did you ever feel as if time does not make sense?  As if time itself is somehow not right?

It could be that our weirdest acceptance of the incongruous is that we take time for granted, as the given.

When it is not.


Nabeel, faith and noes.

Nabeel Qureshi was a most educated youth minister.  Most never attend med school, maintain the years of A’s it takes to get and stay there, and they don’t face proliferating possibilities like Nabeel faced.  He wrestled to be a doc on three continents, to retell his conversion from Islam on six continents, and encourage this newest generation’s dreams.

I suggested he write a book.  To keep it simple.  To reveal his story as a form other Muslims could follow simply.  Not easily, but distilling complex questions into simple steps Nabeel took to follow God, Allah, he thought.

He grew into a warrior.  I watched postings to YouTube and the web and laughed aloud, “Be the first on your block to merit your very own fatwah!”

Then Nabeel was married, having a beautiful child and dying of stomach cancer as Muslims cheered wildly at life’s cruel judgment.  I prayed God to heal him.  I posted one such prayer to this blog.

God said, “No.”

People apologize for God, and bend the light on the matter saying, “God healed him, He just healed Nabeel by taking him to heaven.”  Touching sentiment.  God said, “No” to healing Nabeel and extending his impact here.  Nabeel died.

How does faith look after that?  For Nabeel, watch his haunting YouTubes on our hope in Christ out of this world into the next.  Beautiful.  Courageous.  Faith-filled.  Watch them.

For me it’s a gut kick.  Worse than watching your college team get man handled by a 3A high school squad.  Having been injured to the point of dying, I know that if I choose who prays for me, I want them praying for me like I’d pray for me to live.  If you hide behind, “whatever is Your Will, Father” in some non-invested theologically secure place, then save your breath.  No one knows if those prayers get answered.

Yes.  It’s harder to pray like cheering for your team, like cheering for mom if she’s sick.  Yes, the let downs are harder, but prayers uttered in wildly cheering faith is what I hope for if it is me, my child, my wife.  Those answers stiffen your prayers for decades.  Will you ride with me?

When we get off, finally, on the other side, I’ll introduce you to Nabeel.  He cheers from the other side now, see?


Dearest Dr. Mackey

imageI wanted to thank you for caring for Legolas in his final days.  You fought with all the tools at your disposal.  We were fortunate to have a dear friend help make those treatments possible.  His cascading failures were too many, he was finishing, and you did not hesitate to call us back to the hospital.  Thank you.

More than the days, I wanted to thank you for his final minutes as we ended his struggles.  I saw your tears at his passing, and was so sorry you had just gone through the same thing with your dog of so many years just last week.

I want most of all to say thanks for standing back as I lingered, insuring that as life and light faded from his eyes, I was the last thing  he would see in this world with Jill peering over.

I have thought for years that as other pets faded in the seconds after a vet said the heart had stopped, that the eyes were still too clear, too focused for all of the passing to be done.  I sensed that as death came and all that it brings to an animal, it had an anchor, a last comfort if it could see Jill or me.

The newest research says that the short term memory, cognitive functions, and even motor functions shut down — before the senses when the thalamus can no longer relay information to the cerebral cortex — all in minutes.

But Legolas could not close his eyes, and all the rest was passing from his ability to see and process or understand me.  I had a sense years ago to hold the gaze until the eyes lost the clarity, lost the lucidity.  And only then to move away.

Somehow the science seems to bear it true.  So the last thing he saw was our tears, yours, Jill’s and mine.  The last thing he felt was my petting and stroking his fur, and the last thing he heard was our voices.

As a child, my father taught me that part of God assigning dominion to us over these animals was that when their sojourn ends, we who have enjoyed them should be the last ones they see.

Thank you for affording us that.

Please Do Not Reach Out to Me

Jill, my beloved, has a great BS detector.  She catches trendy phrases that are empty and useless quite quickly and grows to hate them.  Fast. 

Hers is “Reach Out to –”  As in “I reached out to ____”.  Will you “reach out to ___ tomorrow and see if we can close this deal?” 

Mine is “It’s complicated.” 

Both should now be banished to scriptwriter Hades, maledicted, and dispensed with forthwith and post haste.  Forever.  Amen.

Why?  We trivialize both.  I have a couple of images of reaching out emblazoned in my mind, burnished into my memory because they were so poignant, so beautiful, almost beatific. 

One was a daughter who had left home in such a fury a couple of decades before booking the flight to go home before her father who had taken sick could die.  She flew across the country, rented the car, drove to the hospital where the step mother held sway and walked in to see her dad.  She had to reach back to both of them, if she was ever to spend any moments, see any closure, steal any moments on this side of death. 

The other was a hot August afternoon in Beaumont when I had accompanied my father to two doctor visits with my brother driving and then we went to re-hab.  He was terrible.  He genuinely hated being in rehab, and as a doctor who had prescribed it for thousands, I was stumped.

We were now home.  Sitting on the back porch where I was sweating and he was comfortable and I asked him, “Are you going to fight this?”

He sat silently for minutes.  He then reached up and articulated five things that were taking their toll all at the same time inside him.  He counted them on his fingers for me.  Five.  Then with moist eyes, he reached for my hand, told me how much he loved his wife, my mom, and nodded at me.  Wordless.

He reached out to me, showing me how to face death, parting from your beloved, and making sure someone takes care of her. 

Calling someone for an appointment.  Texting someone.  Putting a hashtag in front of your tweet to them.  Emailing an update.  NONE of those actually “reach out” to anyone unless they end in a touch.  Consummate in a conversation where you can see the other’s eyes, hear them breathe, know their unspoken thoughts.  That is reaching out.  All else is less,  Reaching out is hard and human and connected.  We have trivialized it to mean digital communication that we had rather not do. 

Please, do not use ‘reach out’ that way.  Say “Call, email, tweet, whistle”, — anything more precise.  We tend to trivialize and cheapen so many, many great words. 

Oh, and life has complexities and textures and interconnections and questions.  Act.  Act on your hope or wish.  Never use “it’s complicated” to excuse sitting and watching relationships die.  The friend on the plane had a zillion complications to keep her from flying and entering that hospital room to salvage two relationships.  My father had a thousand reasons to continue being private and strong at that hot August table on the porch, rather than shamelessly ticking off the five that would end his wife and wordlessly passing the care of his beloved to a son who must have looked more like he did in high school than the white haired man at the table. 

So act.  Truly reach out to someone who is dying of “complications” wondering where you are.