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?


Decanting Souls

Jan asked, “Will we decant mom on Sunday, then?”

The week was full of boxes crammed with scrapbooks, photos, and correspondences — scattered through the house, the storage building, the pool house and workshop: detritus of Barbara K. Johnson’s life.

We laughed hard to hear little Jill write her mother in the hospital, that she neither believed her brother that mom was in the hospital, or worse, was having a baby and it was another boy.  It was funniest when Jan read, “And please do NOT call him Douglas” to the youngest, Doug.  So my dearest Jill held strong opinions at age nine and could articulately express them.

We each mutely read the neatly typed letter wherein Philip, their dad, said he had not had sexual relations with the woman he had run off with over the weekend, and he would return as pastor if all could be forgiven.

Steve quietly sorted the box with all of the bills that Phil returned unpaid to the hospital, pharmacy, and utility company after he left for good with the woman and emptied all of the accounts.

And I was struck by the probability that all great fiction, all award winning plays are barely recognizable shadows of authors’ families, or the shattered family of friends, or the shattering family at home.

And all these years later, the siblings taking cues from the astounding woman of God they had as mother, these siblings who had visited the man of unpaid bills in the nursing home as he wept and laughed with them, were choosing what will go to flame tonight in a bonfire of vanities, joys, and deep realities.  And they cho0se what to give to children and grandchildren.

Doug, who happens to be an award winning woodcarver has carried out one last wish from Nana, Barbara, and carved a final resting box for her ashes, kept safe in the plastic bag in which they were delivered over a year ago.  And on Sunday we will decant her ashes, as reverently as the siblings decanted the correspondences, savored them, laughed and wept over them.  We will decant them into Doug’s box preparing them for February when these four proud children of Barbara K Johnson will head to a windswept cemetery in South Dakot to send her ashes on a slow journey of becoming one with the dust of Alcester from whence she came.

And that will be the end of it, unless you know anything about Jesus and final banquets at the juncture of time and eternity, where we will decant life in the limited way we know it here, as an aperitif toward heaven.

On Being A Yankee Fan

On being a Yankee’s fan

When I was a child, my family sojourned from Texas’ sweltering coast out to New Mexico to a sprawling Baptist convention center called Glorieta.  It accommodated 3,000 people using a staff of retirees that oversaw a few hundred college students working for God and very little money. 

Some division of the Sunday School Board trained each week all summer and all held worship every night of the summer except Fridays.  My mother’s parents, my Mamma and Pappaw, managed various posts and spent their summers up there. 

A child from the Texas Gulf Coast wearing a sweater in July?  Climbing over boulders, chasing Horned Toads, seeing deer, and going rock hunting on afternoons to find mine tailings of white quartz interlaced with rose — these comprised as good a picture of Heaven as I needed to that point. 

And in the evenings I raptly listened to music from musicians around the country in choirs, orchestras, and an organ that shook my chest — except when Mammaw could get the Yankees on her little transistor TV with rabbit ears.  We hid out in her hotel room. 

Mammaw added her own coverage about Marris, Mantle, Yogi and the Boys of Summer like a school girl swooning at Elvis.  I watched a grainy four-inch screen where the diamond was easy to recognize, but Marris and Mantle looked like identical grainy twins.  How did she know which was which?

When the Yankees were ahead, all was marvelous.  When the world’s evil forces arose to thwart them, it drove my Mammaw to the closest swear word in her extensive vocabulary — “Bears!” 

So the Yankees, God, the Mountains, astounding choral and orchestral music all formed one seamless, living and breathing snapshot of Heaven for me. 

Fan for life.  That included Steinbrenner and Reggie, Mr. October, Jackson who came, and like summer faded in their times. 

And in this latest instantiation it included the Rocket, Pettite, The Captain, and Mariano Rivera, who along with others led a Bible study in that hallowed ground while quietly making others fan his career into the Hall of Fame. 

The Yankees are hopelessly out of the playoffs.  They will rebuild.  Mariano is the next-to-last member of a team that came together — to leave.  He played his last game this week, and he could have rolled every pitch to home plate; Yankee fans would still have stood to give an ovation to one of their longest serving, brightest Boys of Summer.  And Mammaw?  She cheered from Heaven because the best Yankees love God, and the organ music as it fills the park, and the orchestral smack of the bats, gloves, and crowds; and when the air gets cold in October as in the Mountains?  Then they play their best.